Aug 23

Looking at the attack ….

I’d like to thank those of you who read the blog and posted while I was away. It means a lot that you would do so.

Some miserable weather on the East Coast last night and I didn’t get back until today. I heard how the Mets did this weekend, and there’s something fitting about then finally winning a road series against a National League team but losing a chance to sweep behind Johan Santana because the offense disappeared again.

The offense has been dreadful this summer and is largely responsible for the Mets’ fade. It produced in June, but mostly because David Wright sizzled that month. It cooled in July, which is when the slide began.

Last year it was easy to blame the offensive problems on the injuries to Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Wright’s season-long funk. There’s more to it this season. Without getting into a lot of statistics, here’s the primary reasons for the Mets’ offensive decline this summer.

1) Jose Reyes: Let’s start at the top of the order. Reyes missed significant time in April, then was foolishly forced into the No. 3 slot in the order which took away what he did best as a player. I understood Jerry Manuel’s objective, but it was flawed thinking and disrupted the flow of the batting order. Manuel is known for how poorly he handles the pitching staff, but this showed he did not know how to best utilize his players.

Without Reyes on top, there was limited continuity to the order. Further complicating things was Manuel’s poor decision to rush Reyes back from his oblique injury. Three weeks were literally wasted. Reyes is healthy now, but except for a stretch when he was returned to the leadoff slot has largely been inconsistent this season. And, he’s not running wild on the bases. The Mets are always better when he gets on and runs and there have been too many stretches where he has not.

NEXT YEAR: Whomever manages the Mets next season it is hoped he won’t fool around with Reyes. The assumption is he’ll be healthy again and able to produce from the outset. Reyes remains prone to giving away at-bats and needs to increase his on-base percentage by walking more and striking out less.

WRIGHT: Needs to be more consistent

2) David Wright: His power numbers have improved over last season but not to where he’ll reach 30 homers. He should hit over 20 and drive in 100, but the expectations are 30 and close to 120. Wright remains too streaky and prone to the strikeout. There has been improvement, but not enough as he gives away far too many at-bats.

For the second straight summer, because of the loss of Carlos Beltran, Wright was asked to carry the offense, but I don’t believe he’s that type of player. He’s more of a complementary player in a complete offense, such as 2006, but he’s not one to shoulder the heavy load by himself. Wright is at his best when he’s disciplined and going up the middle and to right field. This is when his stroke is shortest and most compact, which reduces his strikeouts. Wright is on pace for 176 hits and 172 strikeouts.

Wright has also bounced around in the batting order, but he clearly produced best when he hit No. 3 in front of Ike Davis. His next best slot was fifth and his worst was cleanup where he hit .167 in 60 wasted at-bats. Again, a manager not knowing what’s best for his player.

NEXT YEAR: If Wright is able to discipline himself more and cut down on his strikeouts he can again reach the .300, 30, 120 levels. He’s still the best this club has to offer because we don’t know about Beltran.

3) Carlos Beltran: Beltran is moving farther and farther away from his days as an elite offensive force. He missed the first half of the season, which I believe in large part to the foolish way the Mets handled him last year, and has never taken off since his return. Until Beltran is fully healthy, and he’s not, he’s not the same player and will continue to decline. If the Mets’ could unload his $18.5 million contract they would, but since he’s not tradeable his value is in the hope of a comeback.

Beltran is also hitting out of place in the order. As he was rushed back he was force fed the clean-up slot. Truth is, the Mets were at their best in June when Ike Davis was hitting clean-up.

NEXT YEAR: He’s coming back, presumably healthy. It will be interesting to see if they move him to right field which should take a toll from his legs and consequently help him at the plate. Once a dangerous base stealer, I don’t see that anymore.

BAY: Way too little celebrating.

4) Jason Bay: It was a lost season for Bay, who’s likely won’t be back for this season. Year one, clearly was a bust, but he has produced before and I am willing to give him the benefit of doubt. The over/under for his homer total was 30, but he won’t hit 10. Bay hustled, but it still amounts to being thrown out by a step. Like Wright, he was a strikeout machine.

The decision to move Reyes was in large part to get Bay going. But, it amounted to screwing up two spots in the batting order. Initially, to jump start him he should have hit either second, fifth or sixth. There was just too much pressure for him in the clean-up slot.

NEXT YEAR: Assuming a healthy Beltran, Bay should hit fifth. I thought there were other priorities other than Bay last season and I haven’t changed from that spot. He has a track record of being productive, but he’s not a big bopper and won’t ever be at Citi Field. With a clear head, the numbers should get better. That he’s not an excuse-maker and hustles works in his favor.

5) Jeff Francoeur: Francoeur got off to a hot start because he opened the season with patience and selectivity. He ever walked a few times. However, as the season progressed he continued to fall into bad habits and gave away a lot of at-bats.

Francoeur strikes out roughly 20 percent of the time. And he’s an oddity in that he hits over .300 when swinging at the first pitch and less than .220 when the count reaches 3-0. At 3-1 and 3-2 he’s almost a sure out.

When the Mets traded for Francoeur, he immediately produced, but this year demonstrated why Atlanta thought he was expendable and why the Mets are sure to not bring him back.

NEXT YEAR: The assumption is Francoeur won’t be back unless there’s a re-injury to Beltran that changes everybody’s thinking. The Mets will need a fourth outfielder, but I don’t believe Francoeur wants that role. Hell, he could be gone on waivers by the end of the month.

6): An unsettled order: I’ve touched on it a few times, but the Mets were their best when there was some consistency in the batting order. Players hit out of position, and other players were buried. There’s a delicate balance to the perfect batting order and there was too much inconsistency. A early flaw was not taking advantage of Rod Barajas’ power in the early months by not batting him higher. Another was sticking with Bay at clean-up way too long when it was obvious he wasn’t going to produce. Yet another was not moving Angel Pagan to second earlier. He was obviously not a lead-off hitter.

NEXT YEAR: Things change, they always seem to for the Mets, but if everybody comes back healthy there should be more consistency in the line-up. Unless the impossible happens and they are able to unload Luis Castillo, the second baseman, Ruben Tejada, should hit eighth. We’ll also see more of Josh Thole next year, presumably seventh.

Aug 19

Mets Chat Room; trying to win on the road.

The Mets will try to win their first road series tonight since a three-game sweep of Cleveland in mid-June. They are 10-20 on the road since then, a stat that pretty much says it all about their slide from contention.

Game #121 at Astros

They’ve only won two road series this season, both in interleague play.

Here’s another one: they are hitting a major-league worst .214 since the All-Star break. For good measure, they haven’t scored more than three runs in six straight games.

The frustrating thing is their weakness going into the season – their starting pitching – has been lights out lately. Definitely good enough to contend if they had any offense.

Tonight it will be Pat Misch going for the Mets.

The Mets activated Rod Barajas this afternoon and he’ll be in the lineup tonight. Jerry Manuel said the Mets are still in the race and Barajas is likely to get more playing time than Josh Thole.

The catching situation typifies the dysfunctional nature of the Mets. They are carrying three catchers, which makes no sense in the National League. And, making it worse is they continue to play shorthanded because Oliver Perez is useless.

Here’s tonight’s lineup at Houston:

Jose Reyes, SS

Luis Castillo, 2B

Angel Pagan, CF

David Wright, 3B

Ike Davis, 1B

Jeff Francoeur, RF

Chris Carter, LF

Rod Barajas, C

Pat Misch, LP

Aug 16

Looking for a silver thread ….

The Mets are 10 games behind Atlanta and below .500. They have an upcoming schedule at Houston – which is playing better since the Roy Oswalt trade – and Pittsburgh – which always plays them tough. This is their last chance to make up some ground and bring interest into September.

Frankly, while I doubt they’ll make a real run, there could be some interesting ball ahead.

Their pitching, supposedly the weak link entering the season, has been surprisingly good, and if not for Mike Pelfrey’s July slide it would be good enough to have them in contention. What has been dismal, and has since the beginning of the season has been the offense. Also weak has been the bullpen.

As the season slowly fades into disappointment and winter, let’s take a moment to look at some of the positives through 117 games:

1) The record. Seriously. Last year on this date they were 55-62 and sinking fast. David Wright had just been plunked and would be rendered useless for the rest of the season. They have made improvement and with a full season from Carlos Beltran and a productive year from Jason Bay, they’d be over .500 and within spitting distance even with their bullpen woes. Hey, you take your positives when you can.

2) Johan Santana. We’re looking at 15 victories easily with a little run support. There was a brief four-game stretch when we were wondering about his fastball and whether he was still an ace. Well, he is. There are times when I wonder if he regrets coming here, but he’s the ultimate professional and will never show it. The Mets are lucky to have him, and hopefully the younger pitchers in the rotation are learning from him. Eventually, there will be a decline, but not now.

3) Angel Pagan. He began the season behind Gary Matthews, but has evolved into the Mets’ most reliable offensive performer. He’s the best they have with RISP, has some pop, can steal a base, and has surpassed Beltran as the team’s best center fielder. What Pagan showed last year was no fluke. This is a player the Mets can build around.

4) Ike Davis. He wasn’t supposed to be here until late in the season, perhaps September, but has become one of the NL’s premier’s rookies. He hits for power and should finish with over 20 homers and plays a sparkling first base. Davis has made Daniel Murphy a footnote. First base will be his for years to come.

5) Josh Thole. Another young player who arrived ahead of schedule. The pitchers like throwing to him and he’s not an easy out at the plate. Rod Barajas is coming back, but the position is Thole’s to keep. The time he’s getting now will only help him in the future.

6) Jon Niese. The question as the fifth starter going in, Niese has become a dependable starter, perhaps the No. 2 with Pelfrey being erratic. He’s not afraid to challenge hitters and works quickly and efficiently and with remarkable poise. He’s getting more adept at making adjustments within the game. He was in demand at the trade deadline, but the Mets were wise to say no.

7) R. A. Dickey. The other shoe has yet to drop for Dickey. He’s been impressive from the outset, but none more so than rebounding against the Phillies after the same team hammered him the previous week. That’s hard to do. The way things are going, it wouldn’t surprise me if he led the team in victories before it is all over. The Mets still need to add a starter in the offseason, but not to replace Dickey.

8) Hisanori Takahashi. The numbers are night and day between Takahashi the starter and the reliever. Forced into the starter’s role, he performed admirably before being exposed. He’s great one time through the order and that should be his role. Hopefully, Pat Misch will step in and allow Takahashi to do what he does best.

9) Bobby Parnell. Still a work in progress, but he’s made strides since last season when he was yanked around between roles. I believe Parnell has what it takes to develop into a solid set-up man. The experience he’s getting now can only bring hope.

10) Mike Pelfrey. I mean the pre-July Pelfrey. For two months he was better than one could have imagined, working with confidence and command of all of his pitches. Then came July, but has last two starts have been much better, an indication he might have learned from his slide. Of all the things I’m anxious to see during the final six weeks the most is whether Pelfrey can rebound completely. It would say a lot about his maturation process if he can take something out of his adversity.

11) Ruben Tejada. There’s no questioning his defense, and although he’s not hitting now he showed some glimpses early. The Mets played with energy when he was in the lineup replacing Luis Castillo when the latter was on the disabled list. I think the Mets will be in good hands when he finally takes over for Castillo.

12) Jose Reyes. If nothing else, the Mets finally learned Reyes is a leadoff hitter and nothing else. He’s lost focus at times this season, but he’s overcome his injury problems and the team still thinks highly enough to want to sign him to an extension. Perhaps the focus will always be a problem, but when he’s on his game he’s still a dynamic presence at the top of the order.

13) David Wright. Despite a horrible pace for 176 strikeouts, which must come down, he’s also on pace to hit 24 homers and drive in 107 runs, showing an improvement over last season’s power outage. Wright has been streaky all season, but he’s still the best this franchise has to offer.