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6/14/2007 11:59:00 AM

NL East: A Mets' mess?

By Ben Reiter

Perhaps Mets fans should start keeping their thumb-worn copies of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy next to their televisions, as a constant reminder of Douglas Adams' famous mantra: DON'T PANIC.

Just as the crosstown Yanks have awakened from a slumber that consumed their first two months of the season, June is shaping up to be a mensis horribilis for Flushing's finest. They've lost 10 of 12 this month, dropping all four series they've played so far -- and they appear to be struggling in all facets of the game simultaneously.

After an April in which they ranked third in the majors in runs (132, or 5.5/game), third in OPS (.809) and first in ERA (2.96), in June the Mets through yesterday stood 25th in runs (37, or 3.4/game), 25th in OPS (.667), and 26th in ERA (5.05).

The nadir, they must hope, came Tuesday night, when Dodgers starter Hong-Chi Kuo -- he of the one career previous hit -- slugged a mammoth blast off John Maine (which was, in fact, L.A.'s third homer in three Maine pitches), and flipped his bat away, Manny-style, as if he was disgusted that Maine would deign to throw him -- Hong-Chi Kuo! -- such junk.

Here's the thing, though, Mets fans: Your boys remain in great shape. Despite their struggles, they still have a two game lead in the tough NL East, and at 36-28 are one game off of having the best record in the league. They also remain the most talented and well-rounded team in the NL.

The staff is still, by-and-large, performing well. Remove the back-to-back stinkers Tom Glavine and Oliver Perez threw last weekend against the Tigers, who are the hottest offensive team in the league right now, and the club's June ERA would stand at 3.55. A rejuvenated El Duque (2.38 ERA on the season, 3.09 in June) has been pitching like he's a lad of 46 again. Maine, despite getting KO'd (or is it Kuo'd?) on Tuesday night, allowed only two earned runs in each of his two previous June starts; and Jorge Sosa's been the best of the bunch recently, surrendering just one earned run in earning the Mets' only two June wins before suffering through a pair of bad innings against the Dodgers last night.

The even-better news for Mets pitchers is that by late summer, Sosa may be spearheading the team's relief corps; all that Pedro Martinez, who threw 50 pitches off the mound in Port St. Lucie on Tuesday, will be asked to do when he returns is pitch like the best fourth starter in the NL, which shouldn't be a terribly difficult task.

The Mets' offensive woes have been slightly more pernicious. It must be noted that through yesterday the outfield combination of Carlos Gomez, Ben Johnson, Endy Chavez and David Newhan (who have hit three homers between them in 2007), had twice as many June at-bats as did the Opening Day starting trio of Carlos Beltran, Shawn Green and Moises Alou. (For more on Alou's possible return, see the links below). But the Mets' real bugaboo -- and this has been a season-long issue -- has been their situational hitting. As a team, New York is hitting only .250 with runners in scoring position, and the worst offenders have been the sluggers the Mets count on most to get those big hits: David Wright (.217 with RISP), Carlos Delgado (.197), and Beltran (.237).

That the Mets still rank 12th in runs scored overall with their three RBI leaders struggling so badly with men on second and/or third speaks to just how talented an offensive ball club they actually are. It would be foolish to think that that talented triumverate will continue to scuffle so badly in the clutch; after all, in the previous three seasons combined Wright hit .325 with RISP, Delgado .296 and Beltran .293.

Manager Willie Randolph, stoic in both the best and worst of times, is aware that all he has to do is wait for his three giants, and his team at large, to wake up. They've got too much talent not to. "It's what I know about winning baseball and the season, it ebbs and flows," Randolph said the other day.

Right now, the Mets' fortunes are at a definite ebb. Before you know it, they'll be flowing once more.




  • One kink in the Mets' hopes of recapturing their early season magic is that the return of Moises Alou -- who, as you may have forgotten, because he hasn't played in a full month, is hitting .318 -- may still be weeks away, as his 40-year old hamstring isn't improving.


  • Distance has allowed Nats outfielder Ryan Langerhans to finally reflect upon his traumatic whirlwind tour of the majors.


  • The Marlins' brawny second baseman Dan Uggla may have started slow, but now he's hitting the gaps so regularly that he's on pace to match Joe “Ducky” Medwick's 71 year-old NL doubles record of 64.


  • Phillies starter Freddy Garcia appears destined for shoulder surgery -- and with free agency looming may never again pitch in Philadelphia.


  • It's usually not a great sign when a baseball team's fifth-round pick had a dozen more touchdown passes than swings of the bat last year -- but we all should have long ago learned never to doubt John Schuerholz’s drafting chops.
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    posted by SI.com | View comments |  

    Comments:

    Posted: June 14, 2007 10:13 PM   by Anonymous
    Am I the only one who thinks Rafael Soriano should be the closer for the Braves instead of Wickman? Is it just me?
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