Wednesday, September 10, 2008

You Know It Don't Come Easy

The lead is the half the size it was at this time last year, but a 3.5-game cushion with 17 games to go still feels pretty good.

The Mets swept the two-game series with the Nationals tonight, by outscoring a Nationals' attack that's suddenly firing on all cylinders. Anyone who thought the Nationals were going to be pushovers because they're in last place haven't been paying attention. The offense is almost completely healthy, for one, and ended up scoring 18 runs in the abbreviated series with the Mets. Cristian Guzman-Ryan Zimmerman-Lastings Milledge-Elijah Dukes is nobody's idea of a juggernaut, but the men in the middle of the Nats' lineup have all had solid second halves of the season. Since the All-Star Break:

Guzman: .307/.346/.457
Zimmerman: .321/.386/.473
Milledge: .286/.352/.472
Dukes: .296/.406/.630

Luckily for Mets fans, New York simply has a deeper and more talented lineup and are a vastly superior defensive team. David Wright broke out of his short slump in a big way during this series, with six hits in the last two games, and suddenly appears to be locked in at the plate again. The Phenom has taken a step back from his 2007 numbers, but a big playoff series or two will re-establish him as one of the five best players in baseball. If it wasn't for Wright, the results of the last two games might have been wild Washington wins, and Phillies fans wouldn't be wondering tonight if their luck has run out.

So the Mets are surging and the Phillies are stumbling, even though the pitching performances from the last two nights are causes for concern. There was a lot of sarcasm directed Oliver Perez's way after last night's stinker, with the recurring theme being that his perceived free agent demands will need some readjusting. After the way the Nats smacked around Mike Pelfrey tonight, though, some people might owe Ollie an apology.

Aaron Heilman, though, that's another story. Heilman's Met career certainly seems to be drawing to a close; he is so unpopular with the fan base right now that he is veering dangerously close to Doug Sisk territory. It's not entirely fair - Heilman gave the Mets three excellent seasons in middle relief going into this year - but he has been so consistently ineffective this season that it's hard to justify giving him a baseball at a meaningful point in a game again this season.


tim said...

Besides Guzman, who no one would have ever projected this kind of season from, the other parts of that lineup add up to a lot of potential. All three have been touted as future all stars. This Nationals team wants to kick the Mets ass and the Mets, thankfully, were in an ass kicking mood. I expect the four in DC to be donnybrooks to say the least, without as many home runs, since the park is so big.

Without Wright the Mets would be at or below .500 right now, with no hope of a playoff berth.

You know how I feel about Heilman. He has nasty stuff but maybe not the disposition here, although this tendonitis issue raises a question, if he can't keep the ball down because of his knee, then maybe his disposition is not the problem. I mean, I'll give him this, as bad as a season he has had with all the booing and trash that people have said about him, me included, he's never asked out, asked to be sent down or asked to be traded, he just keeps going out there and trying. For that, he gets a tip of the hat. Where he is next year, is anyone's guess, but I think if this knee issue is for real, and the team has known about it all year long, then #1 I think Hielman will be back next season, and #2 what was Omar thinking not getting someone at the deadline to offset the fact that he had a surgically repaired arm, a balky knee and a sore elbow throwing out of his bullpen.

Brian said...

He (Omar)was thinking that it's not worth it to trade Daniel Murphy for a rental of a mediocre bullpen arm. It's one of the things he's done right. Murphy is another one of those guys without whom the Mets would be on the short end of the division race, particularly while Wright was in a miserable and prolonged (not short-he seemed to have completely lost the ability to hit in crucial situations ever since his game winning homer 3 weeks ago) offensive slump. (And forget Murphy...teams were asking for FMart!..for the likes of IbaƱez! Get real!)

At the trading deadline, what you do is pick up something from the scrap heap or your minor league system (Ayala and Stokes), hope you catch lightning in the bottle, and go with a hot hand. That's the way you manage a bullpen. It's one of the things Manuel has done right.

tim said...

Hindsight is the best sight and Ayala and Stokes, for the most part, have worked out. I was referring to at the time, that's a hell of a lot of restraint by Omar, maybe he actually learned from Sanchex/Hernandez debacle of '06.

I don't think anyone was asking for Murphy, were they? I believe it was either Niese or Martinez that were the targets of the Rockies for Fuentes. We know FMart isn't going to helpus any for the next two weeks and it remains to be seen whether Niese's contributions will be positive.

For the record I love Murphy and anyone who thinks we should trade that guy is out of their balls.

Brian said...

FMart, who held his own in AA at age 18, (extremely uncommon) still possesses the potential to be our next David Wright, and Neiese (a 21 year old lefty who is near major-league ready) to be our next John Maine. To trade either for a stopgap is unthinkable. Even a contender cannot mortgage their future unless they have a boatload of prospects, and even then, they have to get better value than that.

It's not just hindsight. We had Murphy, Evans, Pascucci, Carp, Kunz, Stokes, Parnell, and Muniz in our system. We also had Feliciano, Heilman, Sanchez, and Smith on the roster; guys who were underperforming, but who had histories of good performance. Chances are that one or more of them would be able to get hot enough to carry us through the season. Yes, there was a risk, but the risk was not great enough to justify trading any decent prospect (let alone F-Mart and Niese!) for anything but an All-Star with a good contract. And Manuel has actually put our players in roles that optimize their performance (e.g. the Murphy/Evans platoon) unlike Willie, who always managed to misuse his role players in the most egregious manner.

I agree that Omar showed considerable restraint. He seems to be sort of learning. We were very fortunate that Wags didn't need surgery before the deadline. Omar might have panicked.