Thursday, May 10, 2012
Mets making magic on a budget
By Adam Rubin
For so many years we were sold a faulty premise -- that New Yorkers will not stand to wait for building from within, as if the New York Yankees' dynasty was not fueled as much by the homegrown core of Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams as by the team's wild free-agent spending.
Austerity has shifted the New York Mets' pendulum far in the other direction.
But in terms of likability, and energy and enthusiasm, this Mets team -- now five games over .500 for the first time in two years and coming off a sweep in Philly -- demonstrates that you don't have to break the bank to put an appealing product on the field.
Does that mean the current success will be sustainable in the short term? Probably not. Yet the viewing should be enjoyable as the Mets build to something better.
Talent is talent. There's a reason why the 2007 Mets raced to a seven-game lead with 17 to play.
Grit is grit. There's a reason the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies caught the Mets.
These Mets have plenty of the latter. Youth often means tenacity, because there is always something to prove to avoid a return to the minors. Realistically, though, they do not have enough of the former, in all likelihood, for any kind of sustained run at a wild-card spot.
Already, right-hander Mike Pelfrey is lost for the season to Tommy John surgery.
For now, Miguel Batista is holding Pelfrey's place until about June 1 for Chris Young -- and that's if everything continues with its promising progression as Young returns from surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his right shoulder. Young is due to pitch in his first official minor league game Thursday night for Class A St. Lucie.
It is that Batista type of paper-thin depth that likely will ultimately prevent 2012 from being a wildly improbable season for the Mets.
A promising wave of pitching prospects is not going to be a factor this season. From a distance, 2010 first-round pick Matt Harvey's four-start success -- 3-0 with a 0.78 ERA -- offers the illusion of major league readiness. But Triple-A Buffalo pitching coach Mark Brewer and a scout in attendance for Harvey's most recent outing confirmed the six scoreless innings he tossed Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves' top affiliate were highly deceptive.
Harvey barely used his changeup. Eliminating that pitch at the major league level will not fly.
And the diving two-seam fastball Harvey repackaged during spring training was not there, either, during the start at Gwinnett. The pitches moved on a flat plane rather than dive, which will make 96 mph seem like 86 mph to major league batters. Triple-A Braves hitters may have been cajoled, but the same arsenal will not be successful in the bigs.
The bottom line: The Mets have defied statistics in some respects. They have been outscored by 18 runs, which suggests to sabermetricians their record ought to be closer to 14-17 than 18-13.
They will have to withstand the next spurt with Ronny Cedeno at shortstop and a hitting-challenged tandem behind the plate -- Rob Johnson and Mike Nickeas.
And hold your breath lefty reliever Tim Byrdak remains healthy.
Yet the Mets keep winning. They're doing it with youth. And the success is fun in the interim while other touted National League East teams try to get their acts together.
Maybe continued skepticism has a positive byproduct, too.
"No one believed in us, and I hope they don't still," first baseman Ike Davis said after the sweep in Philly. "We're just going to continue to play hard. We have a lot of young guys -- I mean, basically the whole team -- but surrounded with some good veterans. And it's just exciting. It's a good atmosphere in the clubhouse."