First-Half Report Card
From an outsider’s perspective, Mets fans should be very happy that their team is in first place at the half, a full two games ahead of the Braves and four and a half in front of the Phillies (or “Philthies”, as some fans like to call them). Perhaps as exciting is the fact that the crosstown Yankees are struggling through their worst season in over ten years, under .500 and ten games out of first.
The insiders, however, know better.
Most diehard Mets fans are not happy with the 2007 team, for several reasons — the most glaring of which is that they’re somehow not last year’s team. At this time in 2006, the Mets were 52-36 and running away with the NL East — 12 games ahead of Philadelphia and 13 over Atlanta. Currently, they’re 48-39, which is not bad, but below this team’s par.
Maybe Mets fans were spoiled by last year’s runaway, and expected a similarly relaxed summer in 2007. The frustration is that the faces have not changed from last season, so one would expect similar, if not better results. After all, aren’t Jose Reyes and David Wright getting better every day? Shouldn’t Carlos Beltran be in his prime years right now? Weren’t John Maine and Oliver Perez supposed to solidify the starting rotation?
Something happened on the way to running away with the division again, and it started around mid-May. On May 6th, the Mets were a .700 team, with a 20-9 record. We Mets fans were all patting ourselves on the back — this was going to be a lot easier than we thought! It wasn’t quite as noticeable then, but the snowball was at the top of the mountain at that point. Of course, we didn’t expect the Mets to continue at a .700 clip, so the losses here and there weren’t a big deal. What was a big deal, however, was the sudden change in offensive strategy and the slowly evolving change in overall attitude.
In April, the Mets mixed some small ball into their offense, creating runs with walks, bunts, steals, hit-and-runs, and productive outs. By the first week of May, however, players stopped taking strikes and getting into deep counts. As the month went on, some bunts were not well-placed, and there were some defensive lapses. Here and there, you’d see someone not run out a ground ball late in game that was out of hand. It was a subtle change, to be sure, starting with a few veterans. First, Carlos Delgado began watching fly balls from the batters box, rather than running. Not a big deal at the time, but then you saw Delgado and occasionally Beltran not running hard on the bases all the time. Or Beltran would “forget” how many outs there were. Soon, David Wright was occasionally dogging it down to first on ground balls back to the pitcher or to the right side. Paul LoDuca was first-pitch swinging in situations he should have been taking. Damion Easley would allow ground balls to pass about a foot to his side without a dive — or let well-thrown balls plunk off his glove. But the Mets were still winning, and all these “little” issues could be explained away, in one way or another, and justified by Willie Randolph. Little did Randolph know that his turn of the cheek to this little snowball in May would create an avalanche in June.
Of course, we don’t need to go into detail recounting June — most of us were there, and saw what happened. It wasn’t the 12-16 record that bothered us so much as the team’s glaring lack of passion throughout the month. The tenacity of the 2006 team had vanished — rather than go for the kill when it smelled blood, these 2007 Mets rolled over and played dead when things got too tough. If the opposing team had opened up a lead to four runs or more, the Mets bagged the game. The notion of quality at-bats went out the window. Hustling down the line? Diving for balls? Why bother? The game was out of reach, better to save energy for the next night. After all, look what playing hard did for Moises Alou and Endy Chavez — it sent them to the DL.
At the end of June, the Mets looked like they were about to turn it around, taking three straight from the Phillies in Citizen’s Bank Park. But they didn’t take the fourth game — a game they could have, and should have won. In fact, it looked as though the Mets were happy enough with winning the series, taking three out of four, and didn’t care so much whether they won that final game in Philadelphia. And they didn’t — they lost 5-3 to an average rookie pitcher with a 5.00 ERA. Any bit of fire that might have been left in that series was completely snuffed by the thin air in Colorado, as the Mets were pasted in three straight by a cumulative score of 34-12. Again, it wasn’t the losing so much as the sleepwalking that frustrated us fans. If you’re not interested in playing on a particular evening, and it’s a West Coast game, let us know ahead of time and we’ll hit the sack early — thanks. If you don’t care to perform, why should we care to watch?
The final four games of the first half, in Houston, brought similarly mixed results. The Mets won two of the first three games, including a remarkably dramatic, gumption-filled 17-inning victory. But two things were wrong with this series — and both resulted in losses. The first issue is, how does Wandy Rodriguez throw a complete-game, 4-hit shutout against the “mighty” Mets? Secondly, after the tremendous, hard-fought win of game three, how do you simply roll over and give away game four to Roy Oswalt and the Astros? And don’t you dare try to tell us fans that you didn’t give that game away — we saw the starting lineup, and the starting pitcher. If Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph were given reports that Dave Williams was ready to make a Major League start, then someone needs to be fired — because an 82-MPH fastball with zero command is not going to cut it in a Sunday over-30 league, much less an MLB game. And please, do not use the excuse that he had to be on the roster, because we know full well that either David Newhan or Sandy Alomar could have been dropped from the roster to clear a second spot with, say, Brian Lawrence or Philip Humber for that one day. Instead, we saw the .210-hitting Newhan batting second, and Alomar batting in the 8th slot, while the hot-hitting Ramon Castro sat the bench. You can’t put one over on Mets fans, we’re too smart. We can see when a team is satisfied with a split in a four-game series, and chooses to use the final game against an All-Star as an opportunity for Williams to get another rehab start, crossing your fingers he can go five innings — rather than KNOW he can give you a quality outing.
So how do we grade the first half of the season? Hard to say. If the first half ended on May 15th, it would be an “A” — at worst, an “A-“. Yet, it’s difficult to give a first-place team lower than a “B”, even if the effort at times has been more deserving of an “F”. That said, it may be more appropriate to grade the Mets on their 2007 season as a whole — which, at this point, is “Incomplete”.
Keep checking back here over the All-Star break, as MetsToday will be presenting a player-by-player analysis of the team, based on first-half performances and observations.
Meantime, post your comments on what you think of the Mets’ 2007 season so far.