Jockbeat: The Mets at Midseason
They're only four games under .500, but the problem now isn't just that the Phillies appear much stronger, but that Florida and Atlanta are in front of them in the NL East. There's just too many teams ahead of the Mets and too many holes they have to dig themselves out of for any optimism.
So far, Citi Field seems fairly neutral as a hitters park. At the All-Star break, the Mets were hitting .269 with 28 home runs at home and on the road .270 with 24 HRs. Jump ball. For some unexplained reason, though, Mets pitchers are much more comfortable at Citi Field (3.70 ERA) than in other NL parks (5.07). Johan Santana's mysterious fade after his sensational first two months may be due to overwork -- 18 starts and 116.1 innings up to the All-Star Game -- but he's still averaging almost a strikeout per inning and has won 10 games. F-Rod has been, overall, everything New York could have hoped for, 23-3 in save opportunities and a 1.90 ERA. With the exception of Pedro Feliciano (48 games, 2.52 ERA), the rest of the staff has ranged from the mediocre to the disastrous -- 11th out of 16 teams at 4.33.
It just isn't likely that the Mets are going to do a sharp turnaround in pitching. Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, and Livan Hernandez are a combined 17-13 with an ERA of 4.76, and there's no help coming on the horizon.
Even worse news, though, is that the Mets can't get back in the field what they give up on the mound. They're currently 9th in the National League in runs scored, and that's probably going to get much worse if Carlos Beltran doesn't come back. (As of Thursday, the outlook for a quick recovery from a bruised knee was gloomy.) Beltran was headed for the kind of season that would have cemented his Hall of Fame credentials, leading the team in batting (.336), RBIs (40), OBA (.425), and Slugging (.527) when he left the lineup -- this is addition to stealing 11 of 12 bases and heading for another Gold Glove in center field. How much have the Mets missed him? They're 7-13 without him.
The team's biggest puzzle is David Wright, whose batting average for much of the season was hovering in the .350-.360 range. His current slump, which has brought him down to around .320, is no reason to panic, but his baffling lack of power is. With just 5 home runs in 87 games, he's headed, easily, for his worst power numbers as a major league player. (What odds would you have gotten at the beginning of the season if you'd have bet that Gary Sheffield would have twice as many home runs as David Wright at this point in the season?)
As we go to press, Carlos Delgado (who wasn't doing badly when he was injured after 26 games, hitting .298 and on track for at least 120 RBIs) is taking batting and fielding practice, and yesterday's report on Jose Reyes is that the strained hamstring is showing "much improvement." But by the time both are back in the lineup, the Mets season may be effectively over, especially with Beltran not likely to reappear until late season if at all.
Our guess is that Jerry Manuel won't survive the seven-game western road trip which begins August 6 and the team will return to New York on August 12 without him. Look for the Mets to finish around 76-86.