The New York Mets Are Playoff Bound

Everything is going so smoothly for the New York Mets right now that many of the baseball team’s long suffering fans are looking over their shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop. They may have to keep waiting, as the New York Mets look like they are going to demolish the National League East and coast into the playoffs. But rooters of the New York Mets must remember the old saying that goes something like this, “You are never as good as you look when you are winning and never as bad as you look when you are losing.” That last part should be amended now that the Royals have hit rock bottom, but even though the New York Mets are on cruise control in June, that doesn’t mean they have no problems. Still, it takes quite a pessimist to try to rain on this parade.

No team in baseball has even close to the lead that the New York Mets have on their nearest pursuers. The New York Mets have a nine and a half game advantage on Philadelphia as I type this, having just beaten the Phillies in every manner possible in four straight games, all in the City of Brotherly Love to boot. Philadelphia simply does not have the starting pitching to consistently put together good stretches of play, and with the Braves sitting a dozen games out and looking like they more apt to head to the outhouse than the penthouse, the Mets could probably play .500 ball the rest of the way and still finish with 90 victories. That number would be more than enough to take the division the way things are currently stacking up.

Indeed, with the young Florida Marlins improving every day and the Washington Nationals having somewhat recovered from their awful start, those two teams have as good a chance as making a run at the New York Mets as do the other pretenders. Atlanta has to be cut some slack, having dominated the East for so long, but they look lost. The way the New York Mets have played the last few weeks, if they were to lose this division, it would take a collapse of immense proportion to achieve it.
The New York Mets have three players with 47 plus RBI in David Wright, Carlos Delgado, and Carlos Beltran. Three others have at least 20. Third baseman Wright is hitting .336 with a slugging percentage of .580; the young star also has 13 homers to go with his 47 RBI. Over at first, the New York Mets have gotten just what they had penciled Carlos Delgado in for at the beginning of the year. The slugging Delgado has hammered 19 homers and picked up 49 runs batted in. The other Carlos, Carlos Beltran, is finally beginning to show why the New York Mets went out and paid him big bucks last year. The fleet centerfielder has 18 long balls and a team leading 52 men knocked in, and he is hitting an even .300, besides giving the New York Mets 12 stolen bases to add to their major league leading team total of 73.

28 of those thefts have been courtesy of shortstop Jose Reyes, who also leads the New York Mets with 8 triples. The second base combination of Jose Valentin and Chris Woodward has given the New York Mets 33 runs batted in, which are 33 more than Anderson Hernandez had delivered. He was injured early in the year, but the New York Mets probably already had seen enough of his bat to realize he wasn’t going to contribute much at the plate at any rate. Top farm prospect Lastings Milledge, called up to fill in for outfielder Xavier Nady, who underwent an appendectomy, did an admirable job, with a pair of homers and 11 RBI; the New York Mets are most likely going to return him to the minors where he can play everyday when Nady returns. Catcher Paul LoDuca, picked up from Florida, has proven to be an adept handler of the pitchers and a great situational hitter for the New York Mets. Only Cliff Floyd has been a bust so far this year, as the outfielder began the baseball season horribly. The oft injured Floyd is battling his usual foot and leg problems, but even he has shown signs of life at the plate as of late.
Pitching wise, the New York Mets have a current rotation of Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Steve Trachsel, Orlando Hernandez, and Alay Soler. The fans favorite whipping boy,Victor Zambrano, went down with elbow problems early in the season, causing the New York Mets to go out and find any arms that were available. After turning to options such as Jose Lima and John Maine, the New York Mets dealt embattled reliever Jorge Julio to Arizona for “El Duque” Hernandez, who has been solid as a starter so far. Glavine has been very, very good, allowing 79 hits in 89 innings on the way to a 9-2 mark. Pedro Martinez has more than a strikeout an inning, and is 6-2 for the New York Mets, despite going 0-1 in the month of May through little fault of his own. Soler, a Cuban import, is 2-1 in his 3 decisions, giving up just 21 hits in 27 innings pitched. Trachsel is doing what he does best, eating up innings and giving his team a chance to win.

The bullpen has gotten the job done for the New York Mets, but if there is a chink in the armor it will develop here. Closer Billy Wagner still hits the high 90s with his fastball, but he has blown 3 save chances and has looked shaky on other occasions. Set-up man Duaner Sanchez has appeared in 30 of the first 64 games for the New York Mets, and although he was lights out early on, his ERA in June is 8.10. Aaron Heilman has shared a similar season as Sanchez, with a May ERA of 3.38 and a June earned run average well over 10.00. 36 year old Darren Oliver, who has been with 6 teams in the last 6 years, has been nothing short of wonderful in 19 times out, with an ERA of 2.86 in short and long relief. Pedro Feliciano has given up just 3 earned runs in his last 10 appearances, with submarine throwing Chad Bradford even better, allowing only 1 in his last 10 for the New York Mets.

The schedule for the New York Mets is going to get very tough in the next few weeks. They will be hosting the slugging Reds for four home games before heading into an interleague road trip nightmare; nine games with Toronto, Boston, and the rival Yankees. Lightweights Pittsburgh and Florida come to Shea Stadium to face the New York Mets after that, and then comes the All-Star game in Pittsburgh. The New York Mets will close the regular season with 19 games against teams that are currently well under .500, including the Braves.

Speaking of the All-Star game, the New York Mets should be well represented. Delgado, Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Martinez, and Glavine should all be there, perhaps along with Wagner. But you can bet the New York Mets, and second year manager Willie Randolph, have their eyes on a much bigger prize than the All-Star game. Randolph, who weathered early criticism and is now being accepted by the New York Mets’ faithful, has stressed an even keel approach to things and trying to play the game the way it should be played. Sitting next to Joe Torre as a Yankees’ coach for several years couldn’t possibly have hurt; now the New York Mets hope to duplicate some of the post-season success that their cross-town adversaries have had. It certainly looks like the New York Mets are going to get the opportunity this year.

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