With 79 games remaining in the 2008 regular season, the Mets are still fighting themselves - both on the field and in the clubhouse. But as their less than stellar play has continued, the Phillies have gotten worse. The Marlins are finally coming back to Earth, and the Braves are being overcome by their myriad of injuries (some expected and some not).
Injuries are not an excuse. With or without their starting outfielders, a member of their starting rotation and their setup man, the Mets should still be several games better than they are. As of now, they aren't. Save for their miserable 2 game funk against Seattle, the Mets have either won or split each one of their series over the last 2 1/2 weeks. As I've already noted, injuries aren't an excuse. The team should've been able to withstand the offensive dropoff by relying on their starters. But Oliver Perez hasn't been reliable, and Pedro Martinez was tipping his changeup the last few games. With those two right, things should begin to fall into place.
The return of Ryan Church has given the team immediate benefits. Believe it or not, Moises Alou is slated to come back this weekend at Philadelphia (he homered last night in a rehab game). IF, and this is a huge IF Moises Alou gets off the plane unscathed in Philadelphia, doesn't slip in the shower, and doesn't pull a hammy putting his pants on, this team will be whole for the first time all year come this Friday.
Remember this: When the season began, Alou was out. Duaner was still rehabbing, and Pedro was lost almost immediately. Castro was out. Beltran was coming off knee surgery. By the time Duaner came back, Alou was gone again (and Pedro was still out). When Pedro came back, Church was out and then Alou got hurt again. When Church came back, it came out that Pedro had been tipping his pitches - meaning he had only been back in name, not presence. Come this Friday in Philadelphia - when the Mets are hopefully somewhere between 1 and 3 games back in the loss column, the whole team will be together for the first time this season.
Instead of running out a lineup that consists of a corner outfield that includes some combination of Nick Evans, Marlon Anderson, Damion Easley, Andy Phillips and Endy Chavz (still love you Endy), the outfield will be Alou, Beltran and Church. We all screamed because of the Mets' offensive inconsistencies, but no one could've really expected a team with a 5 through 9 that was like swiss cheese to become an offensive juggernaut.
The much maligned bullpen looks to be something more than average. Billy Wagner had a rough week, but has otherwise been as dominant as ever. Duaner Sanchez has shaken off the rust, has his ERA in the 3's, and is again filthy in the 8th inning. Joe Smith has so far avoided a swoon. Pedro Feliciano still walks too many for my liking, but is death to lefties. Aaron Heilman even looks like a productive member of the pen again.
Say what you want about Johan Santana, but the man has an ERA that's sitting at 3.00. As has been repeated here ad nauseum, he is a notorious second half pitcher. One would think that he's starting to get used to the team and the city, and that he's beginning to learn the tendencies of NL hitters and the NL style. Watch for him to be utter filth in the second half. John Maine needs to last longer in games, but is right around where we expected him to be. Mike Pelfrey is progressing (lowering his WHIP and BAA each month), and has become more of a sure thing with each start. Oliver Perez has revamped his delivery, and Pedro will hopefully stop tipping his change.
The season to this point has felt like a climb up a mountain that keeps coming apart, causing the team to lose its footing way too often. There haven't been enough comebacks. There haven't been enough moments that make you jump up and scream out of pure joy. Instead, there has been lots of head-shaking and a great deal of disbelieving half smirks borne out of witnessing one more thing go wrong. Whether it's been a freak injury or a terrible call, a lazy play or a bad hop. Whether it's been a first pitch pop out with the bases loaded, a four pitch walk to the lead off hitter or an inexcusable mental mistake - it's been something.
The thing about Mets fans, is that we're all die-hards. You won't find a Met fan casually watching a game or not being able to name most of the 1991 roster. You won't see us wearing ill fitting hats, sitting in Shea staring off into space while the rest of the stadium is standing up. Sometimes being a fan of this team is destructive. A loss ruins your mood for a few hours, a bad loss ruins your mood for the rest of the night, and a devastating loss ruins your mood right up until first pitch the next night. This isn't healthy, but neither are our other assorted vices.
The next 6 games are huge. I'll be heading down to Philadeplhia on the 5th after shaking off my July 4th hangover, and I hope to roll into the ballpark with the Mets having a chance to tie the Phillies in the loss column or snatch 1st place from them altogether. There are 2 more games against St. Louis and their annoying overachieving team, before the return of Alou and the Independence Day stampede into Philadelphia. For the first time in 2008, the team should be whole on Friday. There should be 40% Mets fans in Philadelphia for this set. Those of you who are thinking about coming down, stop thinking and buy tickets. Come join us as we attempt to take back the Division that belongs to us.