Thursday, July 12, 2012

As the 2nd Half Begins

As the second part of the season begins tonight in Atlanta, I'm reminded of a throwaway line from one of the articles Adam Rubin penned before the season.  In it, he said that with the 2nd Wild Card being added for the 2012 season, the Mets could theoretically finish in 3rd place in the National League East and make the Playoffs.  He was obviously being tongue in cheek when he wrote it.  And being that Rubin is the gold standard when it comes to Mets beat writers (and in the top percent of all of those who cover baseball), his little sentence from months back goes to show you what most people felt about the Mets coming into this season.

Maybe it was blind optimism, or an at the time misguided belief, but there were a host of fans (myself included) who expected more out of this team.  Expecting the 2012 Mets to make the Playoffs may not have been what I had on my mind when the first pitch was thrown by Johan at chilly Citi Field in early April.  I expected them to compete, though.  I expected them to play their asses off.  I expected them to surprise.  So far, they've done all of the above.  Coming out of the All-Star break, they sit at 46-40, and in third place.  Yet, being in third place in the NL East means they're one half game out of a Playoff spot.

The All-Star break wasn't without incident for the Mets, as they found out that Dillon Gee will have to undergo what will most likely turn out to be season ending surgery on his pitching shoulder.  The blood clot he had wasn't minor (as was the case with Bobby Parnell last year and Tom Glavine a few years ago).  For Gee, it was much more serious.  And because of that, the Mets are a starter down.  The health of Gee is the most important issue here.  Thankfully, he appears to be out of the woods.  Sandy Alderson said the Sunday before the break that a "convergence of events" might force the Mets' hand regarding Matt Harvey, who's currently pitching quite well in AAA for the Bisons.  Before it was known that Gee would likely be out for the season, the Mets intimated that Miguel Batista (a person who has no business on the team in any capacity, let alone starting games in July with the team in contention), would likely be the short term fill in for Gee.

With it now known that Gee is likely lost for the remainder of the regular season, it's time to turn to Harvey.  If Chris Young is good to go on regular rest his next turn through the rotation, Harvey wouldn't be needed until July 21st.  That would give him another start in AAA, and some time to exhale before potentially making his Major League debut against the Dodgers at Citi Field on the 21st.  No one is expecting Matt Harvey to be a savior.  But the Mets don't need a savior.  They need someone who has quality stuff, and the potential to give them quality innings.  Chris Schwinden has shown that he possesses neither quality.  Jeremy Hefner doesn't appear to be an option, and it would be cost prohibitive for the Mets to acquire a quality arm from outside the organization.  Therefore, the choice seems to be between Batista and Harvey.  And it really shouldn't be a difficult one.  Toby Hyde, who does a tremendous job at, thinks it's time for Harvey to be called up.  As Toby points out, Harvey has flaws.  He won't be perfect or refined from the get-go.  Again, though, he likely gives the Mets a better chance to win than Miguel Batista.  And, unlike Batista, he's part of the team's future.  This wouldn't be a matter of the Mets rushing a prospect to the detriment of his development.  Harvey is basically ready.  He's simply marinating, waiting to be unleashed.

The Mets have a legitimate shot to make the Playoffs.  Let's say that again:  The Mets have a legitimate shot to make the Playoffs, and they're not doing it with smoke in mirrors.  Unlike the eventual sub .500 teases that were the 2010 and 2011 squads,  they have a rotation that's above average, led by Cy Young favorite R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, and an emerging Jon Niese - whose ERA is finally starting to match his peripherals.  They have an offense - led by MVP candidate David Wright - that's 8th in the Majors in runs and 9th in OBP, making it one that certainly has the ingredients to continue to contend.  The bullpen issues have been addressed somewhat with the promotions of Pedro Beato and Josh Edgin, and will likely be fortified in the coming weeks with the return of Frank Francisco and an acquisition from outside the organization.

Towards the end of the first half of the season,  Citi Field started to feel a little bit like Shea used to (although the new place doesn't shake, unfortunately).  The fans began to make more noise than they had been, started to rise in unison as they so often did at Shea.  It started to feel like the fans once again expected the team to come through each inning, and hold on in the end.  It all began on the night the fans had been anticipating for the better part of four seasons: the first signature moment at Citi Field.  That moment came on June 1st when Johan Santana completed the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise.  That night, Citi Field finally sounded like home.  Mets fans make a different noise than any other fans during times of triumph and celebration.  The crowd noise starts and eventually becomes a loud murmur...the murmur reaches a crescendo, and then becomes a roar.  At the time of exhilaration, the roar raises several octaves and becomes an explosive shriek.  Listen to the buildup before the last strike of the 1986 World Series and the moment after Marty Barret swings and misses, and then listen to the buildup before the last strike of Johan's no-no and the moment after David Freese swings and misses.  The sound is the same.

Mets fans want to make that sound a few more times this season.  The Mets, like every other team in Major League Baseball, have flaws.  They also have a Manager who seems to have the ear of each one of his players, a third baseman determined to have the best year of his career, and a starting rotation that's on a bit of a mission.  Starting tonight in Atlanta, the Mets take the first step towards trying to turn their very solid first half performance into a Postseason berth.  And my tongue isn't in my cheek as I say that.   



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