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NEW YORK METS: Swingin' for the (New) Fences.
Scoring runs wasn't necessarily the problem for this team last season. As concerns go, Offense probably ranks fourth behind the Wilpons; the Bullpen; and the Starting Rotation. And I'm pretty close to calling the Defense a greater concern than the Offense too.
While the Amazins lacked overall power last season, they still managed to scrap and claw their way on to the scoreboard. They showed some spunk and displayed a lot of come back ability. However, while last year's offensive effort was admirable, alas, it was not very formidable. Having to piece together most of their runs meant their opponents were in almost every game.
That said, the Bullpen also asked too much of the Offense late in games. The foot bone is connected to the ankle bone and so on..., so the real truth most likely lies some where between the plate and the pen. But we saw for ourselves, the inability to hold a lead combined with the lack of power/slugging, short circuited the Mets' season.
After a 5-13 start to the 2011 season, the Mets battled to play .500 baseball the rest of the way. That is not an indication of a lost cause. The Mets are engaged in a rebuilding process as much as Sandy Alderson chooses not to call it that. Even then, as presently constituted, the Mets are far from being lost. With regards to last season, I've long believed, you can't win pennants in April, but you sure can lose them in April. Would an improvement over 5-13 have helped the Mets last season? It's a tough call. The team that started in April was not the same team that finished in September. But, ..maybe. Perception wise however, a .500 season would have been more rewarding because it was realistically within reach.
Looking ahead to 2012, Met Fans are hoping the return of a healthy Ike Davis changes the team's power potential. And the whole organization is hoping that moving in the fences at Citi Field helps David Wright and Jason Bay with their power output as well. Throw in Lucas Duda, and these four men, very simply, are expected to hit home runs. Somewhere between 100-110 home runs would be nice. I think that's a very fair bar to set.
We know Daniel Murphy is a legit .300 hitter. And I believe there are .290 batting averages within the bats of Josh Thole and Ruben Tejada. The only player that is a virtual unknown to us, is our replacement center fielder; Andres Torres. Much is being made of a season he had two years ago. Otherwise, this team is very familiar to us.
Catcher; JOSH THOLE
I know Met Fans are divided over our starting catcher. I fall on the side of favor. More than that, I am an unabashed supporter of his. Thole was pressed into service a bit prematurely like many of his current team mates. He would no doubt have been better off playing in Buffalo last season. Instead, he played 114 games in the Bigs. Now I hope this doesn't sound OLD of me - but when I was a kid, if a rookie catcher hit .268, that was considered a success. His bat will progress ahead of his defensive abilities. But I feel Josh Thole will just work and will himself into being a better catcher. I know it sounds sappy and unscientific; call it a man-crush if you like; but I have no great want to replace Thole as the starting catcher. Like I said above, I believe there's a .290 hitter in him.
First Base; IKE DAVIS
Is he the Freak Who Saves Flushing? The injury he sustained in the collision with David Wright, AND contracting Valley Fever (?), can only be describes as - Freakish indeed. If he doesn't stay healthy this season, that means he's walking around with some really bad Karma. I'm just saying be prepared for a next potential calamity to out-stupefy the last two incidents; that's all.
When we last left Ike Davis the first baseman, he was among the N.L. RBI leaders and dropping absolute bombs onto the center field bridge at Citi Field. Then the Mets turned him into Ike Davis the Medical Mishap. All that is behind us now...; we hope.
We know this much about Ike Davis - He is self made. His production has come with and without protection in the line-up. At just 25 years old, Ike has given every reason to believe he is a legit clean-up hitter. Those long arms of his means he can reach for any pitch on either side of the plate, and jack it out of any park. And before he went down last season, he was hitting .300 as well.
No one knows what happened to Jason Bay. And theories about David Wright needing more sluggers around him in order to be successful again, are increasingly moving beyond just speculation, and might starting to bare some truth. We'll see about that. Point is, perhaps Ike's return to the line-up will also serve to upgrade Wright's and Bay's performance at the plate as well.
David Wright may be the face of this Franchise. But by season's end, this will become Ike Davis' team; if not sooner.
Second Base; DANIEL MURPHY
He's not an easy guy to talk about. Once you finish discussing his hitting, his professionalism, and his great attitude, everything else sounds like criticism of a very good guy. It's unfortunate. He is really a man with no position. Left Field; Right Field; Third Base; First Base; and Second Base; - He's tried them all. On top of that, a misplay at second base landed him on the disabled list yet again. But like Ike Davis, he's back; or so we hope.
As is with the case of Josh Thole, there is a divide among Met Fans regarding Murphy's usefulness to the team. He is really a man with no position. I have never agreed with the Mets' frequent, and highly unsuccessful experimentation with position changing. The list of players is long, highlighted by giving Jose Reyes a whirl at second base in favor of Kaz Matsui playing short. Daniel Murphy is just the latest lab rat.
The reason Daniel Murphy is such a conundrum is because he can flat out hit a baseball. Along with Ike Davis, they can become a fearsome number three and number four hitting duo. And I guess that says it - I like Daniel Murphy hitting third in this line-up.
However, adventures at second base lie ahead.
Shortstop; RUBEN TEJADA
Let the Post-Jose Reyes-Era begin! If we can just put our former shortstop out of our minds, we'd feel very good about going into the season with a young kid like Ruben Tejada; that's if you don't already. He will not steal bases like Jose did. And doesn't possess the occasional power Jose had. And he isn't as flamboyant as the Mets' former shortstop was. As a matter of fact, he didn't just appear over matched, he WAS over matched during his call-up in the 2010 season. He batted a Mendoza-like .213 in 78 games.
Last season he started changing opinions in the Ruben Tejada conversation. While still only twenty-one years old, he played in 96 games and finished the season with a .284 batting average. That's a .071 point increase over his prior season. In 2011, he proved more patient at the plate than we could have hoped for. He will take walks and seems as if he will keep his strike out totals under control.
I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do over a full season.
Third Base; DAVID WRIGHT
To lock-up David Wright long term, or not sign him long term - That is the question. Whether it is nobler for the Mets to retain him in the hopes they can recapture the David Wright of old - the David Wright of Shea Stadium - or by passing on the third baseman, end their time together with the David Wright who never quite seemed the same again after getting beaned in the head, and the David Wright who lost the mental battle against The Great Wall. And then will the exit come via a trade, or will they let him walk away the way they did with Jose Reyes?
For now, he is a Met. And for the most part, he's been one of the greatest Met players in the club's history. But he is in dire need of a throwback season similar to the '06, '07, and '08 seasons. We all thought 2010 was the season David Wright got back on track. It wound up that 2010 was sandwiched between the two worst campaigns of his career. So, David's new reality is that he now has a lot to prove all over again.
The Mets will tell you they moved in, and lowered the walls at Citi Field to make the park more neutral. But we all feel it's because David Wright was powerless against the Flushing Fortification in left. But even to right-center; once a wheelhouse of his at Shea; in Citi Field, many of the same David Wright flies the other way went to die in a fielder's glove.
Additionally, the 2011 season was the most angered we have ever seen our third baseman, not to mention so openly frustrated on the field.
Should David Wright stay healthy throughout the season, but only post numbers similar to 2009 and last year, he will have created more questions for himself, than he has provided answers for. His time as a Met has indeed reached a crucible. We all know how a player goes about erasing all shadows of doubt - Produce, and help your team win.
Left Field; JASON BAY
The Mets' 2010 free agent splash turned out to be nothing more than a drip. I know that's harsh. But then again, Jason Bay has been brutal. In kinder terms, he is a shell of the player he was in Pittsburgh, and Boston. And dare I say, he's been as mystifyingly bad as Roberto Alomar once turned out to be. In both cases, each player has suddenly, and inexplicably lost their ability to play anywhere near their own personal standards. And if it weren't for the money invested in Jason Bay's contract, he'd even warrant getting cut.
To his credit, even he has been at a loss for words, but has never shied away from the media. He's stood accountable for his play the whole time. And of course, he suffered a major concussion, and never used it as an excuse.
But Baseball is all about the numbers. In two seasons in New York, he played in 218 games; is batting a collective .252; is yet to reach 20 home runs (18); and in almost 800 at-bats, only has 104 RBI. That's not what the Mets had in mind when they purchased the outfielder to be a middle of the line-up player.
And sadly, the reports out of Florida do not bode well for the left fielder. His March was largely unimpressive, and the Media is stoking the "Should he be platooned" fires. Frankly, it wouldn't be such a bad idea if only the Mets had any reasonable quality on the bench. But they do not.
A kid like Kirk Nieuwenhuis might not be too far away however. He just might be ready to make the jump to the Bigs later this season.
The hopes are Jason Bay and David Wright, can both feed off having Ike Davis back in the line-up. Then Wright and Bay can in turn feed off each other. That's the perfect world scenario. For the 2012 season, we just need more - more than we've been getting, More than nothing, is something.
Center Field; ANDRES TORRES
He is a stop gap player, and finds himself in a Met uniform directly because of front office matters that trickled down and affected the club's ability to field a product more representative of New York City type financial resources. He is a by the book Money Ball signing, and the only new face in the line-up. He also has already been hampered with a strained calf.
Frankly, I have nothing too pressing to say about him. Can he roam center field effectively? Yes. Better than Angel Pagan? Yes. Are we judging him based too much on a good 2010 season with little else to speak of? Yes to that too.
Do I want him batting lead-off for the Mets? No. In the Mets current state, I'd sooner scour the farm to see if anyone is eager and ballsy enough to want to step forward and take a crack in the Bigs. But even I know center field is key to being strong defensively up the middle. I know he's a stop gap player; Torres knows it; and Alderson knows it. But if Torres can play like his did in 2010..., then perchance to dream.
I guess I'll just have to deal with this for now.
Right Field; LUCAS DUDA
Duuuuuda! He might move around like Frankenstein out in right field, but he's proving he can hit major leaguer pitching with consistent power. He too, like Ruben Tejada, looked inept when called up in the 2010 season. But like Thole, and Dillon Gee, and Tejada, Lucas Duda was pressed into early 2011 service as well.
In 100 games and 301 at-bats, the Big Dude batted a very respectable .292; hit 21 doubles; 10 home runs; had 50 rbi; and to me, walked an impressive 33 times. That's a good number for raw power kid like Duda. And he, like Ike Davis, can hit bombs out of any park. But it's good to see that he isn't showing himself to be too one dimensional at the plate.
The big question would now be, is there a Sophomore Jinx in his future? Or, can we safely project his 2012 numbers over 550 at-bats? If he fairs well, he's going to become an even bigger crowd favorite.
* * * * *
This line-up lacks a quality lead-off batter. And they lack overall speed. If anything, they will be plodding base to base; first to third; and from second to home. On the bright side, as a result, many close plays at the plate will seemingly make for more dramatic Mets' baseball..., no?
Kidding aside, I have no idea how these guys will stand up against the rest of the division. I do find them all very likable. But as I pointed out in my Pitching Summary, the Bullpen will largely dictate which direction this team takes.
Last season, the Mets' Offense, kept them alive in many games. With any reliable slugging, many losses could have easily been turned into wins. Just ask R. A. Dickey about that. Returning this season however, will be a few key bats that can very well make a difference; at least more so than last season. And with that, there's hope for better slugging ahead.
Let's Go Mets!