Are Nats for real or do Mets just suck?

Posted: May 12, 2010 in Mets

That is the question I’ve been pondering after seeing my beloved Mets lose a second series at home this season to the once lowly Washington Nationals.
With today’s 6-4 victory (I’ll get to that atrocity in a moment), the Nationals are 19-15 and have second place all to themselves in the National League East. They sit 1 1/2 games back of the Phillies and a game in front of the 18-16 Mets.
In some ways, I should be happy with where the Mets are right now. They’re getting virtually no production from Jose Reyes or Jason Bay. David Wright has been off and on, but overall has been solid (just not in late pressure situations). Jeff Francoeur started off hot and is in a month-long funk, while catcher Rod Barajas and rookie first baseman Ike Davis have been godsends, the most pleasant of pleasant surprises.
Pitching wise, the starting staff has been erratic but the bullpen overall has been quite good, with closer Francisco “K-Fraud” Rodriguez being the weak link right now (I don’t even count Manny Acosta, since Jerry doesn’t either as he’s seemingly had three or four appearances in the month he’s been on the team).
Back to the Nationals. They’re a feel good story, no doubt. As currently constructed, I believe they’re a team that is playing way over its head. Looking at its starting pitching staff and seeing the likes of Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, John Lannan and Livan Hernandez just doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of anyone. Ryan Zimmerman is a great player at third base and Adam Dunn is a proven slugger, but the rest of the offense isn’t all that impressive, Pudge Rodriguez’s hot start notwithstanding. Their bullpen, namely Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps, is a prime reason they’re playing well. Clippard is an unbelievable 7-1 as a setup man, leading the NL in wins right now. Capps is 14-for-14 in save opportunities, posting an ERA under 1. This isn’t going to last all year, just don’t think it can. But with Stephen Strasburg just about ready to make his MLB debut (he threw six shutout innings for AAA Syracuse tonight) and reliever Drew Storen also close, the Nats are getting better all the time (to quote the Beatles). And when Jordan Zimmermann comes back from his injury, the Nats will have two young studs at the top of the rotation (maybe three if Scott Olsen continues to pitch well).
On to today’s debacle. The Mets, coming off an emotional comeback victory last night, fell 6-4 to the Nationals to fall out of second place and lose the series two games to one. New York is now 0-6 in the rubber game of three-game sets, a stat that must change if they hope to make a run at the playoffs.
The way they lost today was frustrating to say the least. Early this year, Mike Pelfrey looked like he was finally emerging as an ace. Lately, he looks like the same maddeningly inconsistent Mike Pelfrey we’ve known since he came up four years ago. Case in point, he started the game in fine fashion by striking out the side in the first. In the second, he put the first three batters on (two by hit, one by walk), strikes out the next two hitters and comes one strike from getting out of the inning when he allowed a two-run single to Craig Stammen. The opposing pitcher! Lapses in focus like this have become a calling card for Pelf, if he had taken care of Stammen (who later added another RBI hit), the Mets win the game.
Another scrub who killed the Mets today was Roger Bernadina, who came into the game with a .212 career average over parts of the last three seasons and no homers in just over 100 ABs. Today, he looked like the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds, slugging a pair of home runs (the first two of his career) and making a tremendous diving catch in right to rob Jeff Francoeur of a three-run double in the fifth, keeping the game tied at 4. His second homer was a two-out, two-run jack off an 88 mph meatball by the aforementioned K-Fraud (if you have K as part of your nickname, please throw a fastball over 90 please) which sucked the life out of the crowd and propelled the Nats to victory. If Zimmerman or Dunn had hit the shot, you’d still be frustrated but you can take it. They’re very good players. Surrendering a pair of jacks to Bernadina and allowing the pitcher to drive in three runs really angers me as a fan, just shows a lack of focus by pitchers who should know better. You’ve got to bear down on every hitter, not just the ones you view as threats. We’ve seen bases loaded walks to the pitchers and game-winning homers by Laynce Nix, now a coming-out party for future Hall of Famer Roger Bernadina.
So, to answer the question in my post title, I don’t think the Nats are for real, although they’re getting close with the pending arrival of Strasburg. I don’t think the Mets suck either, but they’re so inconsistent in so many ways. With a few more hits in some of these close games, the Mets could easily have two or three more wins (and that’s a conservative estimate). If Reyes and Bay performed at their career norms, the team would be in much better shape. But they haven’t, yet the Mets have their heads above water for now. New York has a difficult road ahead, starting with a four-game series at the Marlins, a pair of two-game sets at Atlanta and Washington and then home three-game series with the Yankees and Phillies. If the Mets could go 7-7 or 8-6 in those 14 games, they might be able to stick in the race well into the summer. And today, Carlos Beltran did some running in St. Lucie and reported no pain. If the Mets get him back in a month and he can perform close to the level we’re accustomed to, that will be like making a big trade in June. We’ll see, just hope we can start seeing some consistency. Was the eight-game winning streak just a mirage or is this team basically a .500 squad? The next 14 games will go a long way in giving us the answer.

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