By Michael Mandelkern
The New York Mets have been a tremendous disappointment this season, to put it lightly. The team has gone a horrendous 20-42 since the All-Star break after a promising 46-40 start. Now the Mets, at 66-82, are mathematically unable to finish the last 14 games of the season with a winning record.
Although the Mets are irrelevant in the Wild Card race, knuckleball starter R.A. Dickey has shined all season. He is a National League Cy Young Award frontrunner with a 2.67 ERA, number one in the NL and 205 strikeouts, just one behind Los Angeles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw. Dickey also ranks highest in the NL in total innings pitched with 212.
Dickey has 18 wins but should have already passed 20 wins. The lineup, however, flicked away several spoon-fed victories. On August 3 Dickey threw seven innings of two-run ball against the San Diego Padres with nine strikeouts but the lineup only scrounged eight scattered hits and one run. He faced the same outcome, more or less, happened on September 11. If he had been pitching for an at least adequate offensive team there is no doubt he would lead the NL in wins.
The absence of starter Dillon Gee since mid-July and ace Johan Santana since late August has forced manager Terry Collins to experiment with untested minor league arms to fill the rest of the rotation. Starter Jonathan Niese is 11-9 this season with a 3.46 ERA and along with Dickey is the only other symbol of reliability in the rotation this season.
Prized pitching prospect Matt Harvey made his debut in late-July with a promising 2.73 ERA over 10 starts, holding his opponents to a .200 batting average. He can throw a 95 mph fastball over 95 pitches into a start. Once he refines his command and varies his pitches Harvey will cement his reputation as one of the brightest young stars in baseball.
One batter in the lineup the rotation cannot blame for a lack of support is David Wright. He entered the All-Star break with a scorching .351/.441/.563 in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. As of September 18, however, he has cooled off to a still enviable .310/.397/.490 for the season. Wright still remains the most formidable batter in the lineup. He is no longer the MVP candidate he once was in July, but the Mets’ self-destruction highlights how dependent the team is on his offensive production.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy has been streaky (averaging .240 in June and then surging to .360 in July), but as of September 18 he is averaging .294 and ranks sixth in the NL with 37 doubles. He lacks power but is the most reliable batter to get a hit aside from Wright.
First baseman Ike Davis has 27 home runs and 81 runs batted in but a lowly .225 average and 130 strikeouts. Putting him in the lineup is like buying a lottery ticket: you will most likely lose but the gains could be plentiful.
Shortstop Ruben Tejada has been solid defensively all season so his power and average are not a primary concern. He is comfortable with turning double plays, hustles to make difficult plays and, at 22 years old, will only get better.
No one expected the Mets to be good, and they aren’t. A short-lived consistency of two-out runs early in the season and brief winning record created an illusion that the team might have a chance at the postseason for the first time since 2006. Once the smoke cleared a team of inexperienced prospects with an overall lack of power and speed was exposed.
But practice makes perfect, and two more weeks won’t hurt.