Mets Swing Hard and Mighty in Philly

By Michael Mandelkern

Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies’ grand slam against the Mets on August 28 seemed too overwhelming to overcome. After all, the Mets’ collectively scored eight runs throughout its six-game losing streak from August 19 to 24. And they only scored three runs and two runs, respectively, in their two wins on the 25th and 26th.

The Mets’ day off on the 27th could not have come at a better time: their 14-hit onslaught would have submerged two grand slams. They chipped away to tie the game in the top of the fifth inning 4-4, but a solo homer in the bottom from Chase Utley nudged the Phillies ahead. Mets starter Chris Young was lit up for five runs in 4 1/3 innings, but the bullpen stopped the bleeding in the fifth and put up zeroes in every subsequent frame.

But even with the aid of a spectacular bullpen the Mets still had to at least tie the game for extra innings. And they did, hanging by a thread in the top of the eighth inning. Catcher Kelly Shoppach launched a double to far left field with two outs and a 3-2 count, scoring David Wright from first base.

Mets reliever Bobby Parnell silenced pinch-hitter Ty Wiggington and the top two of their lineup in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Mets a chance to take the lead in the top of the tenth. David Wright’s single ignited an explosion. Ike Davis found a gap in center field to double Wright home, Lucas Duda followed with an RBI single and Shoppach smacked a two-run homer to left field. The third through sixth spot hitters combined for a commanding four runs of distance from Philadelphia.

The Phillies crowd emptied out and its lineup couldn’t get a runner past first base in the bottom of the 10th inning, ending the ball game 9-5. The Mets came from behind and created enough distance in the 10th inning to squeeze all life out of the top of the Phillies lineup. August 2 was the last time the Mets scored that many runs. The surge of offense was all the more satisfying after an excruciatingly long drought.

Down and Out in New York City

By Michael Mandelkern

The Mets have cowered into the depths of the Wild Card standings in the dog days of August. They have lost 12 out of their last 19 games played, seven of which were by a margin of three or less. The offense has put together a measly average of about 1.58 runs per game, and even got shut out three times.

The numbers prove that Mets’ starting pitching, for a significant amount of the losses, has given the lineup a chance to win. On August 20 ace starter R.A. Dickey only allowed one run over seven dominant innings against the Colorado Rockies. But he didn’t step off the mound with a win because his lineup only mustered one run itself. The bullpen predictably let the game get away over the final two innings, but the lineup must blame itself for its inefficiency with runners in scoring position.

The series’ against the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals from August 10 to August 19, with just one day off, were understandably difficult, but what’s most disconcerting is that the Mets haven’t fared any better against below-.500 teams. They lost two out of three games against both the San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins in early August, as well as in every other series played after August 3.

Facing the Rockies should be a punching bag opportunity. The Rockies starting pitching ERA has ballooned ever since management imposed a 75-pitch limit, which reflects its National League West-worst record of 48-73 on the season. However, the Mets have only scored three runs over the first two games (both of them losses) of the four-game home stand, two of which came on sacrifice flies. The Rockies have driven in nine runs and already eased the pressure of leaving New York on a down note. One more loss and the Mets drop their sixth series in a row.

The Mets’ 57-66 record is the season’s worst: two of the runs were unearned and derived from humiliatingly sloppy defense, and Ike Davis, David Wright and Daniel Murphy went down one-two-three in the bottom of the ninth inning. Nobody on base, no drama and no hope. They have lost 26 out of 37 games since July 13.

The Mets have barely shown a shed of its old skin since the All-Star break. The same team that defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in thrilling walk-off fashion on July 5 is now tied for third place with the Phillies and only a couple of losses away from the National League East basement. David Wright is no longer in the running for National League MVP. Johan Santana has gone from an ace to a folded poker hand.

Any game can be a breakthrough and snowball to a .500 record. That is what keeps Mets fans watching, but lately just praying, for at least a pinch of excitement.

Daniel Murphy Quietly Establishes Himself As A Future Piece

By Michael Mandelkern

The Mets revived some of their two-out potion in their August 17 series opener against the Washington Nationals. With Ruben Tejada and Andres Torres retired in the first inning, David Wright came through with a single followed by a double from Scott Hairston. Daniel Murphy sent the runners on second and third home with a soft floater to shallow center field. 2-0, 2 outs and Murphy advances his single to second base on a wild throw by Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper.

Even though the Mets ultimately lost 6-4 and Murphy failed to drive in Hairston’s doubles in the third and sixth innings, starting the game with an early lead and taking advantage of two-out opportunities renewed optimism in a team that has been sinking fast. It is a relief if they win at least one game in a series these days.

Some prominent players that management has its eyes on for next season are Wright, Tejada and Ike Davis. But Murphy’s name seldom comes up in that conversation and, instead, is continually spun around the trade rumor mill.

Murphy is a crucial piece to the puzzle who should not be brought up in any trade conversation. He has slumped over his last ten games, going 6 for 39 and watching his average slip from .304 to .293., but overall he is a productive and consistent everyday player. He is batting .293 against both lefties and righties and hit .305 over the past 30 days. Although Murphy has only hit four home runs this season, he has amassed 33 doubles (only two less than Wright) and 125 hits (12 under Wright). He is patient at the plate and doesn’t try to do too much. Murphy has about half the amount of Davis’ strikeouts; 53 compared to 108.

Tejada shines under the spotlight of filling Jose Reyes’ void. Davis is a first-round draft pick. Wright is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner and six-time All-Star. Murphy is underrated. He is consistent, hard working, humble, has remained loyal to the Mets for four seasons and wants to stay for the long haul. He can put himself on base as a two-spot hitter. As fifth in the lineup and with 51 RBIs on the season, he is one of the most reliable players in the lineup to drive in runs; only Wright and Davis surpass his RBI count. He can play multiple in-field positions, and outfield if necessary.

Murphy is not to blame for the Mets woes this season, and without him the Mets will only take a step in reverse.

Seeing the Glass as Half Full

All hope for a postseason run rapidly declined after the All-Star break. Finishing the season anywhere above 2011’s 77-85 record would be an accomplishment. The Mets’ star power has faded, but there is too much potential in the lineup for fans to stop watching, or at least long for a glimmer of production.

Andres Torres could be a dynamic leadoff hitter. He is always a threat to steal, when he can reach. Torres’ speed is reminiscent of Jose Reyes; the World Series champion can score on a sacrifice fly ball that falls into shallow center field. His on-base percentage is a modest .353, but his batting average is low at .242. Imagine if Torres could average .300 plus, or even .290. The Mets’ would certainly have more runners in scoring position opportunities if he could make hitting adjustments, but that would also call on the top of the lineup to drive him in.

Scott Hairston demonstrated flashes of power prior to the All-Star break, but otherwise he is deadweight. His slugging percentage is .516 but Hairston has a mere .305 on-base percentage. His 62 strikeouts in only 94 games played this season explains his inaccuracy. Every strikeout evokes the imagination of how far gone the ball would be had he connected. His all or nothing approach, however, often leaves him empty-handed. Hairston needs to make adjustments to hit for singles and extra bases when necessary to avoid brief at-bats.

Jason Bay is lost in a desert and gives the fans every reason to boo him with passion at Citi Field. Ike Davis possesses great strength but since his average barely hovers above .200 it is only likely to emerge in spurts. Josh Thole is too weak to blast anything beyond the infield and far too slow to run out any close plays.

Asking for drastic improvements from the Mets’ most hopeless elements of the lineup would be unfair and only result in frustration. Daniel Murphy, David Wright and Ruben Tejada are all hitting above .300. With some minor and modest adjustments, and even just spontaneous bursts of competency from Jason Bay and Josh Thole, the Mets would undoubtedly win more games.

Back to Winning, For Now

July is a month the Mets would rather forget. Aside from a two-of-three games victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in the beginning of July, the Mets lost every home stand and away series they played. But the team begins August undefeated (albeit with just two games played) after unexpectedly winning three out of four games in a series against the San Francisco Giants.

The series-taking drought is over, but the Mets stand two games below .500 and 11 back from the National League East division lead. One sign of encouragement is that they left AT&T Park on a destructive 9-1 note. Their first four runs were produced on two outs and none came from the long ball. All but two members of the starting lineup contributed to the small ball onslaught.

Just when the Mets find themselves on the brink of indifference amongst National League competition they play with the winning formula that has kept within reach of the Wild Card and, for much of the season, in playoff competition. Starter Chris Young rewarded a four-run first inning with seven innings of one run ball. Keeping the bullpen out of the first two-thirds of a game and fluffing a comfortable cushion for the starter early on has been key to getting wins.

On June 27 the Mets crushed the Chicago Cubs 17-1 at Wrigley Field and moved on to win three straight against a Los Angeles Dodgers team sans Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier on the West Coast. The Mets will begin a three-game set against the lowly San Diego Padres on August 3. It’s up to R.A. Dickey to get his team started on the right foot with an All-Star performance and for the lineup to continue its cohesive offense. The Amazins can return to Queens above .500 and prove every nonbeliever wrong if they can stay consistent.