The New York Mets have one more game left before the All-Star Break, but they’ve already passed the mathematical halfway point of the season. They have a 46-39 record, and are in a virtual three-way tie with the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants for the National League’s wild card spots. (The Reds have a percentage point lead by virtue of playing two fewer games than the other teams.)
If you predicted the Mets would be in this position back during spring training, let’s go in on some lottery tickets – you pick the numbers.
David Wright is putting together an MVP caliber season and is breaking all sorts of Mets career records. (I was in the ballpark when he set the franchise career mark for runs scored.)
Johan Santana has been remarkable since returning from shoulder surgery. He provided the highlight of the first half – a game that some fans have been waiting 50 years to see – the Mets’ first no-hitter. (I was not in the ballpark for that one – I had to catch SNY’s rebroadcast of the game to really appreciate it.)
As good as Santana has been, R.A. Dickey has been even better. He’s become a national story as he puts together a Cy Young caliber season. Dickey became the first pitcher in more than 20 years to throw back-to-back one-hitters. (I was in the ballpark for the second one.)
After missing more than a month with a quad injury, Ruben Tejada is back and he’s making it easy to forget Jose Reyes. Though there’s a danger in predicting too much, too soon for a young player, it’s easy to imagine Tejada as the Mets’ shortstop for many years to come.
Scott Hairston has been phenomenal at hitting home runs off of left-handed pitching – he’s done so well that he shares the overall team lead in homers with Ike Davis and Lucas Duda.
Jonathan Niese and Robert Parnell are both showing signs of developing into the pitchers we hoped they could be.
There’s a lot to be happy about with the 2012 New York Mets – most of all the never-say-die attitude that allowed them to make one ninth inning comeback this week and almost complete another.
But if the Mets are going to make a real playoff run, they can’t be happy with what they’ve achieved so far.
The Mets need to strengthen their bullpen, find a right-handed hitting catcher to complement Josh Thole, and add another right-handed bat to better balance their lineup (they’re 12-20 against left-handed starters this season.)
Nobody expected the Mets to play well enough to contend now, except for Terry Collins. So there might be some temptation to stand pat and see what happens – maybe Jason Bay will come back and hit like the player the Mets thought they signed before the 2010 season. Maybe Mike Nickeas will start living up to the potential he showed during spring training. Maybe players like Josh Edgin and Jenrry Mejia will come up from Buffalo and provide the boost the bullpen needs.
The Mets’ youth movement – aside from Tejada and Niese – has not been an unqualified success. Davis and Duda have been disappointments this year, though Davis at least is showing signs that he might be turning things around. Kirk Nieuwenhuis enjoyed some early success, but he’s having trouble adjusting to the way opponents are pitching to him now. Jordany Valdespin has provided a spark, but what will he do when pitchers stop throwing him fastballs?
The players at the core of the Mets’ success in 2012 are not the kids. Wright is 29, Santana and Dickey are in their 30s. How do you tell them to wait around for the next stage of a youth movement to arrive in 2013 or 2014? (And where are the upper level position players that will be part of that next stage?) How do you tell your fans that the team really isn’t good enough to go for it this year, while still trying to get them to keep buying tickets and coming to the ballpark?
I don’t want to see Sandy Alderson make any ill-advised trades like the one Jim Duquette completed in 2004 that sent Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano. But I don’t think I have to worry on that score. The mistake that Duquette made wasn’t in trading his top prospect – it was that he traded his best prospect for a mediocre player who was injured.
I am worried that Alderson and his bosses will get hung up on the allure of an all home-grown team. Watching players come up through the farm system is fun, but you usually have to trade some of those prospects for some of the players you need for your major league team.
I guess over the next few weeks, we’ll find out what Alderson is thinking and where the 2012 Mets are headed.