40 Wins and No Excuses
In the New York Post, Joel Sherman brought up an eye-opening, and valid argument for Mets fans living in their Mets-centric cocoon and thinking that it’s only their beloved orange and blue getting struck with injuries and other forms of “bad luck”. In truth, many other teams in the NL have problems of their own.
Feeding off that article, and taking an unbiased perspective, let’s take it a step further and look at the adversity faced by all of the National League teams that have won 40 games.
Many are surprised to see the Brewers at the top of the NL Central, and for good reason. After all, they lost not one but two ace starters from the top of their rotation during the winter (C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets). In addition, high-paid setup man David Riske pitched in one game before being lost for the season, and Rickie Weeks is also gone for the year. Before you underestimate the loss of Weeks, take a look at the numbers other than batting averages — specifically, the OBPs of .342, .374, and .363 the last three years. It appeared that this would finally be his breakout year, as he was hitting .272 with 9 homers, 24 RBI, and a .517 SLG through the first 37 games, and improved his defense considerably (no small thanks to the addition of Willie Randolph to the coaching staff).
Yes, the Brewers still have Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but the Mets had David Wright and Carlos Beltran until a week ago. The Brewers also have the .199-hitting strikeout machine Bill Hall in the lineup regularly, and are “treading water” with both starting shortstop J.J. Hardy and starting catcher Jason Kendall hovering around .220. And recently, starting pitchers Dave Bush and Braden Looper have suffered sore arms, with Bush going to the DL.
The Mets just beat the Cardinals three games out of four — without Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, J.J. Putz, John Maine, and Oliver Perez — which suggests that they can play on the Cardinals’ level, in spite of all the injuries. But let’s take a look at the Cardinals and their woes. Aside from Albert Pujols, the Cardinals offense has been a disappointment, mainly because Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel have been in season-long slumps. And before you cry about the lack of production in the Mets’ lineup, consider that on Opening Day, Khalil Greene was the Cards’ cleanup hitter.
Speaking of, Greene has been on and off the DL with an anxiety disorder, one of several key Cardinal contributors to be disabled — a list that also includes power-hitting third baseman Troy Glaus. Ace starter Chris Carpenter is finally healthy, but #2 starter Kyle Lohse has been out since June 3rd. Their bullpen is a fragile, patchwork collection of journeymen bridging the gap to the great Ryan Franklin. But somehow this team is five games over .500. Is it all Albert Pujols?
Some say the Dodgers are the best team in baseball, yet, they’ve been without Manny Ramirez for the past two months, they have yet to settle on a #5 starter, and Guillermo Mota is one of their top middle relievers. The bullpen has also been affected by a serious step backward by youngster Cory Wade, who is sporting an ERA near 6, resulting in the use of Jeff Weaver of all people.
Sans Manny, the Dodgers are devoid of any superstars. What they do have is a group of solid, athletic, all-around ballplayers who play good defense and put the bat on the ball. No stars, but no excuses, either.
The Giants’ starting lineup places Bengie Molina in the cleanup spot. Their team batting average is .260, and they are 28th out of 30 teams in MLB in runs scored. Yes, they have Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in the starting rotation, but they also have a collection of nobodies in the bullpen, with Brian Wilson closing games.
Ace starter Jeff Francis has been out all year with injury. Relievers Ryan Speier and Taylor Buchholz have also been absent from the bullpen, and most recently Manny Corpas has been disabled. Star in the making Troy Tulowitzki has been in a season-long slump, and All-Star third baseman Garrett Atkins has been benched for poor performance — not to mention the team is without Matt Holliday, who was traded to the A’s in the offseason. Take a look at their lineup, and it doesn’t look remarkably better than the names Jerry Manuel has been writing on the card for the past two months.
The Current Mets (37-37)
No one questions that the Mets have been hit hard by injuries, and their roster has been a little more affected than most other teams. But at the same time, the current collection of personnel is not nearly as destitute as some people believe.
For all the stars on the disabled list, the Mets still have the best starting pitcher in NL (Johan Santana), the best closer in the NL (K-Rod), the NL’s leading hitter (David Wright), the most RBI from the catcher’s position, and one of the best-performing bullpens. Carlos Beltran was Wright’s main competition for the batting title until a week ago, and he was available for 62 of the Mets’ first 67 games. In Luis Castillo, they have an on-base machine who is a basestealing threat and is playing above-average defense. Though there are better right fielders than Ryan Church, there are many more that are worse. Yes Gary Sheffield is a hundred and fify-seven years old, but he still puts a scare into opposing pitchers (and managers), and is currently sixth in the NL among left fielders in homeruns and ninth in RBI. Not spectacular, but not awful, either.
True enough — the Mets are shorthanded, and without their superstars. But looking at what other teams have gone through, and how they’ve responded, makes it difficult to comprehend the defeatist mentality expressed by their manager. Maybe Omar Minaya is to blame for not doing a better job of fortifying the troops, or maybe he shares the sentiment that the Mets have enough talent on their current roster to compete against the rest of the National League. After all, aside from the Dodgers, no one is running away with a divison or looking like a powerhouse.
It could be argued that the paring down of the Mets’ roster due to injuries has put the team on a level plane with the rest of the NL — in regard to pure talent. So the question is this: do you judge the team based on its adversity, or on how they perform in the face of it?