A Puncher’s Chance

NOTE: this is a post by Mike Steffanos of Mike’s Mets, a blog I’ve enjoyed thoroughly for its personal touch and candidness since 2005. Mike’s writing style and perspective is decidedly different from mine, which I hope you find to be an enjoyable change of pace (gotta mix things up once in a while, right?). Please direct your comments to him — and be nice, as I’d like him to write here again. Thanks – Joe

Since coming a whisker short of making it to the World Series in 2006, the Mets have had a way of failing to meet expectations. They collapsed historically in 2007, and then the bullpen imploded the following year. The 2009 season was lost to injuries, while last year’s campaign featured a maddeningly slow fade to irrelevance.

Losing has consequences. The fan base eroded as the casual and trend-following fans drifted away. Among the diehards who stayed, anger, discontent and disillusionment became predominant emotional baggage.

A winter of endless stories about ownership’s financial missteps added hopelessness for the future to the mix, and the almost overwhelmingly negative coverage of the Mets on and off the field only intensified all of these feelings among the faithful.

The challenge for new manager Terry Collins and the 2011 Mets was to diffuse this unhealthy miasma of emotions. While some fans were so disgruntled that nothing short of a miracle season would win then back, for most of us the bar was relatively low. We would have been happy with a team that played hard and smart and won somewhere around half their games.

The early results in this regard have been abysmal. Sunday’s win over the Braves allowed Mets fans to take a collective deep breath, but the Mets have still lost nine of their last eleven games. Moreover, they lost them looking progressively more nervous and sloppy. Even the most patient fans are beginning to wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

With sixteen games played, the Mets have completed ten percent of their schedule. Their pitching has been pretty awful, but when they do get respectable results, the offense disappears. In games where the bats look good, the pitching comes up short or the defense gives runs away. Poor baserunning has also been an ongoing concern.

As a fan, how you’ve reacted to the disappointing start is most likely reflective of what you felt heading into the season. Since you’re bothering to read these words you’re clearly not one of the casual fans who have already tuned out the Mets and moved on.

If you numbered among the completely disgruntled heading in, the 5-11 start has simply confirmed what you felt all along. Sandy Alderson and company tried to retool a broken team with inexpensive parts, and their stumbling start is the natural result. Two Rule 5 guys on the opening day roster? What are we, the freaking Royals? Fire the Wilpons! Break up the core!

If you are a relentlessly incurable optimist, your rose-colored glasses see the first sixteen games as a small blip on the road to better days. Soon the Mets will right the ship. Brad Emaus is Dan Uggla light. Mike Pelfrey really is an ace. Chris Young has 25 starts in that arm. The bullpen is better than people think. The wildcard is within reach!

While I know folks in both categories, I think it’s fair to say that most of us inhabit that grey-colored region between both extremes. We are the fans who were hoping for hard and smart and a finish somewhere north of break-even. We wanted to see some progress away from recent disappointments that would instill hope for the future.

Ten percent is a small sample size. There is still plenty of time for the Mets to be a reasonably entertaining team to watch this season and start building something better for the future. Still, I found this early season stumble to be troubling in one regard.

Since their historic collapse at the end of the 2007 season, the Mets have shown a disturbing tendency to allow a bad stretch to snowball into something far worse. Poor roster construction, injuries and just plain bad luck have played a part in this, but after watching this team closely over the past several seasons I feel like I can see these stretches coming. What happened to them over the past week was all too familiar.

It’s a given that the Mets organization could use some semblance of a playoff push this season just to sell some tickets. I believe that it’s also important to redefine the character of this team. I’d like to see them react to an adverse stretch with something more than deer-in-the-headlights panic.

The Mets took quite a few punches in 2006, and yet made it oh so close to the Promised Land. I very much enjoyed rooting for a team for which I felt a level of respect and admiration. I still love the Mets as much now as I did back then, but I can’t say that I respect their toughness and level of fight.

No matter how smart the front office might be, I don’t believe the Mets will move forward as an organization until they shed this reputation as a soft team. That will never happen until this team can convince their fans and themselves that they can take a good punch and stay in the fight. There’s still plenty of time to do that, but the early returns are unsatisfactory.

Mike Steffanos is the founder of Mike's Mets, a blog that's been respected and enjoyed by many fans since 2005. Mike began blogging about the Mets because he got tired of listening to so-called "experts" speak for him as a Met fan, and also, because he contracted Lyme Disease and needed something else to obsess over. After a brief hiatus from blogging, Mike is back at the keyboard and will occasionally offer his perspective here at MetsToday.
  1. mic April 19, 2011 at 8:55 am
    Or PUBLICLY take the easy way out and ‘rebuild’. AND when i say rebuild I mean aggressively using TRADES as opposed to passively ..by letting contracts expire.
  2. Jay from Cuse April 19, 2011 at 9:20 am
    I agree with a lot of what you’re saying Mike, especially the part about us grey area fans. Did I expect a contender? No, but the “letter” I got from Terry Collins said we’d have a smart, fundamentally sound baseball team that would grind out every at bat and be gritty. They are NOT that team right now. I’m optimistic that they can turn the ship around enough not to fight the Nats for the cellar but the Marlins for third, but I need to see more out of this team soon.
    I also, reluctantly, agree with you assessment of bad moments snowballing out of control for this team. They don’t seem to rally around themselves when things go sideways and they seem to let the ‘bad luck’ aspect of their recent struggles to effect them much more than they lead on to.
    Great thoughts, I can always use another Mets blog to read to make my day even brighter!
  3. Joe April 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm
    “what are we, the freaking Royals?’

    no, they have a better record & are playing better

  4. Mike S. April 19, 2011 at 1:01 pm
    Mic — I”m not sure what type of rebuilding you mean. I really don’t think there is a need for a “tear it down and start over” rebuild in a large market like NY. If if does happen, it would be more likely due to the owner’s finances, and I believe that would ratchet up the pressure on the Wilpoms to sell.

    If you mean identify the players who aren’t part of the medium to long-term future and use them as chps to bring in others who might, I agree.
    Jay — thanks for the kind words. I’m also optimistic that this team can turn it around. I hope this reward us for that optimism.
    Joe — Fair point.

    Thanks for the comments.

    • Professor Longnose April 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm
      Who on the current roster do you think is still going to be a Met the next time they contend for a playoff spot?
      • Sparks April 19, 2011 at 11:58 pm
        Professor Longnose, that is an excellent question. It should be THE question, in fact, for everyone who predicts doom if [insert player whose fan club you run] is traded away between now and January.

        I’m sorry, but the Mets are undeniably AWFUL right now. Even with some significant changes in their near future, they’re realistically not contending for anything any sooner than 2013. Who from the 2006 squad is even possibly going to be in the primes of their careers by then?

        They tried. It didn’t work. Time to move on.

  5. Mike S. April 19, 2011 at 1:03 pm
    Jay — make that “I hope they reward us…”

    Jeez, Mike, write much…

  6. Mic April 19, 2011 at 10:40 pm
    Mike S.
    Tonight Jon Niese had a quality start. Beato gave up an unearned run. 1-3 had nothing to say.

    1. Trade DW. Ike is the leader going forward.
    2. Trade palfrey. Krod? No rush unless arms are in the deal. Note we have no luck with closets, experience is a must.

    3. Reyes and Beltran can go. Both will net assets. The primary reason I trade reyes is that pagan moves into the leadoff spot, and Tejada can go into the 7 hole.
    I like cb to stay. He remains as a 3-4 hitter, gold glove ofer and won’t cost 17 mil in his next contract. David is key. He can net 4 high level prospects ala texeira.

    4.my model is San Diego who after trading peavy are instant contenders. Also Houston are Better for having traded oswalt.

    5. Sooner or later, Henry will be promoted, joining RA, Niese, and ? I think Beato should start also and Cappy go to the pen.familia and Harvey will contend by next spr. however, I think Harvey, a college grad, could be in AA by June and AAA in sept.

  7. Joe Janish April 19, 2011 at 11:03 pm
    Mike S., how did you like the “fire” Terry Collins showed tonight?

    How long — in your opinion — has the team looked “soft” ? I’m curious if it is parallel to the Mets’ managers of the recent past — i.e., Collins, Manuel, Randolph, Howe. Not a pulse among them.

    • Mike S. April 20, 2011 at 2:03 am
      Joe, i don’t see them as soft as in not caring about winning, or not trying hard enough. I see them as a club who, when under pressure, gets tight and fails to perform at an optimal level.

      My definition of toughness in sports is the ability to produce your best performances under pressure, not your worst. That’s the manner I think the Mets are soft. Does that make sense?

    • Mike S. April 20, 2011 at 3:00 am
      I’m sorry. You asked me how long I feel they’ve been soft, and I didn’t answer that part. I think the early returns under Randolph were good. I thought they changed sometime in 2007. I thought Jose Valentin getting hurt cost them some leadership, and then Pedro never really was Pedro again. I guess that makes it more reflective of the players than the manager.
  8. Mike S. April 20, 2011 at 1:58 am
    Guys – I think if they make the right moves they can contend somewhat next year and more seriously in 2013. 2013 is only 2 years from now, guys. I think there are guys on the roster now that can be pieces of the puzzle then.

    I think if they can improve the pitching and make some smart moves offensively they can be better quicker than they look like they can right now. Some of these players will still be here, although their roles may be different (Pagan 4th OF, Thole backup C).

    The Mets model should be the Red Sox, who are able to retool/rebuild withouth sinking down to absolute suckitude.