My, it is a beautiful day today, isn't it?
The Mets took Round 1 of the Subway Series, thanks to an epic battle won by K-Rod over A-Rod. Signs of thaw are everywhere, from Jason Bay to Jose Reyes. A series looms with the Philles, and a sweep would bring the Mets within two games of first place.
Yet it is awfully hard to buy in, isn't it?
Jeff Francoeur is hitting .211/.273/.362, but don't be fooled -- that's artificially high, buoyed by his huge start. The starting staff beyond Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey appears to be the souped-up 2010 Hisanori Takahashi, a knuckleballer (R.A. Dickey) and a loaner from Tabasco (Raul Valdes). And getting swept would keep the Mets in last place, eight games out before Memorial Day.
As Montgomery Burns' trained monkeys would say: It is the best of times. It is the blurst of times.
There really don't appear to be any middling players on the Mets right now, and that includes David Wright, by the way. It isn't clear to me why a player who, through age 27, is having a career on par with the very best to ever play his position has to deal with questions about whether he can be the best player on a championship team. Even his recent slump has shunted him all the way down to fifth in the Major Leagues among third basemen in OPS+.
But there you have it. Growing up, we made fun of Phillies fans for booing Mike Schmidt. Now, Mets fans are doing the same thing to the organization's closest facsimile to Schmidt.
But in the meantime, look at the other recent positive trends. Jason Bay is now up to an OPS+ of 132, perfectly strong for a left fielder, and his history suggests the two home runs Sunday night are the beginning of a string of them. Ike Davis has been all anyone could have reasonably expected, with an OPS+ of 134 and terrific defense at first base. And Angel Pagan, despite a slow start, has a 107 OPS+, above league average for his position, and is playing a tremendous center field.
The good news is similarly superlative on the pitching end. A few weeks ago, Roy Halladay was an ace and Johan Santana wasn't. In four starts each since that weekend series in Philadelphia, Halladay has a 3.54 ERA, and Santana has a 2.15 ERA, including last night's domination of the Yankees.
In reality, the only one threatening Santana's ace status has been Mike Pelfrey, who actually has a lower ERA than Santana in 2010. (His peripheral stats still trail Santana's to this point -- no shame in that, of course.)
And shouldn't someone point out that despite all the hand-wringing about what is wrong with Francisco Rodriguez, he has a sub-2.00 ERA, 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings, and a walk rate below his career average?
Naturally, this being the Mets, the bad news is just as bad as the good news is good. No one has any idea when Carlos Beltran will return. Oliver Perez is currently a lefty specialist Jerry Manuel doesn't trust. That makes him homeless.
Francoeur is of particular concern. He has struggled more than he did in Atlanta. It's as if he's taking poor-pitch-selection-enhancing drugs. In his last 129 plate appearances, Francoeur checks in at .137/.186/.214. To give you some perspective, Oliver Perez is at .158/.190/.161 for his career.
And with Francoeur making $5 million this year, it is hard to see the Mets accepting that he is a sunk cost when Beltran returns, either by putting Pagan in right or giving Beltran the right field job in the hope that it puts less stress on his knees.
Ultimately, that is perhaps the reason why it is hard to think of this upcoming series against the Phillies as the one that could catapult the Mets into contention to stay. There are no ready answers for the holes left on the team, even should Bay and Reyes start playing as expected to complement Wright, Davis, Santana, Pelfrey and K-Rod.
The answer to Francoeur is Pagan/Beltran in those two outfield spots, but there is zero reason to expect that Beltran is going to return healthy. (Not zero reason to hope, but to expect it.) The Mets, unwilling to swallow even Gary Matthews' remaining salary, seem like poor candidates to do the same with Francoeur.
Same goes for the rotation spots left open by John Maine and Perez, and the spot held by Jon Niese could be a long-term problem as well. Who thinks aggravating a violently torn hamstring from last season will require less than the typical amount of rest to rehabilitate it safely? Smart money is on more, of course.
Indeed, one of the better baseball truisms is that momentum is only as strong as tomorrow's starting pitcher.
Tuesday's starting pitcher? R.A. Dickey. He's a metaphor for the team's standing himself. He's had some recent success, a longer-term history of failure and his future is a great big unknown.