As we close out the first 28 days of the 2011 MLB season I step back for a quick look at the progress/regress of the Mets and my local St. Louis Cardinals.
For much of the first 20 plus games of this first month, the Mets have found shown tremendous roster weakness and the instability I expected with the implementation of a new management regime.
While there was not a major overhaul of the everyday lineup (based upon off season projections), injuries as always played a huge role in the clubs dismal kickoff to 2011.
In reality the only majorly impacted position on opening day was second base as Sandy Alderson and his handpicked henchman JP Ricciardi exerted their power and basically made rule 5 draftee Brad Emaus the opening day starter based upon Ricciardi’s selection of the former Blue Jay via the rule 5 process. Three weeks and 37 MLB at bats later that “experiment” was deemed a failure as the youngster was optioned to the minors and thus offered back to the Jays for half the cost of the Mets draft fee.
Thus arose the opportunity for Daniel Murphy to exhibit his potential (following a diligent off season regimen to learn the position) as the everyday second sacker. Murph has yet to totally embarrass himself (other than some poor base running decisions) and has shown some ability to be a decent contact hitter and somewhat capable defender.
The early/continued injuries to Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay contributed mightily to the Mets horrid 5-13 start. The oblique injury to Angel Pagan has surprisingly coincided with Bay’s return and the team’s solid if unimpressive 5 game winning streak. Young Jason Pridie has filled in well (better than Willie Harris) as the daily centerfielder and the return of Bay also seems to have bolstered the lineup as evidenced by David Wrights recent production along with Beltran playing every day and making excellent contact at the plate if still a bit tentative in the outfield.
Free agent to be shortstop Jose Reyes has played well with what appears to be a more carefree and thus productive manner. Now if he can be convinced to take a few pitches, his chances for better plate coverage and on base numbers would certainly improve. The Mets need Reyes on base at all costs and he needs to change his free swinging approach that continues to hold him from being the best all around shortstop in the game.
While it’s great to see the camaraderie between catcher Josh Thole and back up Mike Nickeas via Thole’s words of support for Nickeas via Twitter, the return of veteran Ronny Paulino this week will bolster the teams backstop position and the options Terry Collins can look to off the bench. I have nothing but respect for Mike Nickeas, he’s worked hard to get to the big leagues, but quite simply there’s been a reason that a 28 year old catcher has been a career minor leaguer until this season. Thole’s handling of the “mixed” staff has been respectable and hopefully his offensive production will continue to pick up.
Ahhhh, the pitching staff. It’s been quite surprising to see the near return to form of cheap free agent pickups Chris Young and Chris Capuano though Young’s injury past has already raised its ugly head. Mike Pelfrey’s struggles will forever haunt him and unfortunately he’ll never be much more than a typical number 3 starting MLB pitcher. The ‘Ace” tag placed upon him was simply unfair based on his history.
The performances of both RA Dickey and Jon Niese have been staid if below what I’d expected from them thus far. It’s nice to see young Dillon Gee earn a big league job following his pair of impressive starts filling in for the injured Young and he’ll now get the opportunity to be the long guy out of the bullpen .(I’d have liked to see Pat Misch get a closer look in this role but..)
The emergence of Rule 5 draftee Pedro Beato as a later innings set up reliever has been a nice surprise giving the management team a .500 record to date in selecting other teams’ prospects for a $50K fee.
Taylor Buchholz, Ryota Igarashi and Jason Isringhausen have been as good or even a bit better than expected as the mid to late innings bullpen guys bridging to the closer Francisco Rodriguez who has been solid if unspectacular in basically doing what he’s done since arriving in New York, which is force Mets fans to hold their collective breath every time he enters a game and building the drama more often than not before getting the final out. (A trend that will hopefully continue...maybe with a little less drama)
Meanwhile here in the stormy, tornadic Midwest the hometown Redbirds have seen a marked decline in home attendance thus far (at least based on actual fannies in the seats) and a dramatic loss of competence from their closers.
The Cardinals offense which came alive on their 10 game swing through California and Arizona about ten days ago has continued to provide ample support only to see primarily solid starts from the rotation be wasted by the bullpen as whole.
Surprisingly solid starts from Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse have been pleasant surprises to this observer and the relative effectiveness of ace Chris Carpenter has been steadying along with the continued impressive pitching of young Jaime Garcia while the implosion of first Ryan Franklin who as the team’s closer blew 5 save opportunities before “losing” his job to a “non determined” pitcher who has appeared to be Mitchell Boggs through last night when he proceeded to give back what looked to be a Redbird win in Houston after the Cards took a ninth inning lead by failing to properly field his position on a bunt, throwing a wild pitch and giving up four singles allowing the Astros to score 2 runs in the bottom of the ninth.
The return from injury by Nick Punto seems to be a nice addition to the lineup and appears to be an upgrade from injured Skip Schumaker at second base.
The Cardinals who were expecting big things from 3rd baseman David Freese have seen little evidence thus far that the bargain corner combo of Freese and Daniel DeScalso will provide much either offensively or defensively.
A tweaked Albert Pujols hamstring is apparently nothing to be worried about as the 1st baseman was able to pinch hit and stay in for defense last night. His numbers...well he is Albert Pujols will be just fine or better.
Steady shortstop play and offense from Ryan Theriot will continue to be a huge key to the offense as center fielder Colby Rasmus continues to hopefully mature as both a hitter and defender (he consistently misses cutoff men on throws). Matt Holliday’s return to the line up along with the professional hitting and production from Lance Berkman added to the recent more consistent bat from catcher Yadier Molina should keep the Cards competitive for the near future and with any luck the balance of 2011.
As of today, I’d expect from what we’ve seen, that the Cardinals will battle with the Reds and Brewers for the NL Central while winning 82-85 games and that with any luck my Mets will be in wild card contention until the beginning of August and will ultimately fall off winning about 78-80 games.
The Mets five game win streak will be tested in Washington again tonight as RA Dickey brings his dancing knuckle ball to our Nation’s capital hoping to mark the likes of Werth, LaRoche and of course last night’s homer hog Wilson Ramos off his dance card.
The Cardinals will continue Lance Berkman’s Houston homecoming tonight hoping to avoid another bullpen collapse as they turn to the surprisingly effective Kyle Lohse and his 3-1 record against what should be an inferior Astros team.
AS ALWAYS !!