The New York Mets have fallen from the grace early in the 2013 season. They unleashed a juggernaut offense against the San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins and Minnesota Twins with home runs in multiple consecutive games, clutch two-out hitting and crooked numbers galore. They were 7-4 at one point.
But then they played a double header against the Colorado Rockies and lost twice.
In the Mets’ defense they had to endure frigid temperatures and snow in Denver, but so did the Rockies. They swept the Mets last August in a four-game series in Queens, when the temperature was high.
The gap between the Mets’ potential and what they actually accomplish is vast. They are as polarizing as the differences between frigid Denver and the humid summer of New York City.
Ike Davis is struggling in the early going, Daniel Murphy is knocking the ball to all parts of the field and David Wright is consistent on offense. All of that is to be expected, but what is most shocking is the defensive deterioration of Ruben Tejada. He was nearly non-existent with his bat throughout Spring Training and has already committed six errors this season. Tejada threw away a toss to Ike Davis during the second half of an April 16 doubleheader against the Rockies, driving in the tying runs late in the game on an error. The Mets lost in the tenth inning.
John Buck is on a historic hot streak, Jordany Valdespin looks promising and Matt Harvey is brilliant in the front end of the rotation as a No. 2 to Jonathon Niese. But two crucial anchors of the Mets infield, Davis at first base and Tejada at shortstop, are struggling on different sides of the plate.
Mets fans have been spoiled by Tejada’s basic, reliable defensive prowess. Now he is unable to make those tough plays look routine, and is even botching routine grounders and throwing wildly. Davis was scorching throughout the second half of last season but often finds himself behind in pitch counts because he cannot lay off breaking balls in the dirt and far outside.
It is easy to win games when the lineup is able to go completely around the order in one inning, but that is a rarity. Under the veil of massive run support is a pitching rotation that only has two quality starters and a combustible bullpen. The relievers could not even contain an 8-2 lead during the nightcap of the April 16 doubleheader. Then again, Tejada and Wright botched easy groundball plays.
The team, now 7-6, seemed dominant before it arrived in Denver. Now the Mets are out of sync. The infield cannot capitalize on the groundballs that the pitching staff induces; the offense goes cold when the score tightens up; and the team does not have an established closer or leadoff hitter. Manager Terry Collins mixes up the lineup so often that some players do not know if they are starters or just off the bench. He must be held accountable for when the lineup cannot cash in with runners in scoring position but most of the chips he has to play with are barely Major League caliber.
The first week of Mets baseball was an unexpected outburst of runs that fans had reason to be excited about, but they must have known it would not last. The series’ against the Padres, Marlins and Twins were thrilling, but those teams are all near bottom of the barrel in the MLB as well.
Once the Mets face real competition their massive flaws will be exposed, sometimes on national television. Their potential will shine, at times, when the defense and offense work in harmony.
Do not expect the Mets to contend for the postseason, or even win over four games in a row, but the glimmers of how good they can be is enough to keep watching.