Monday, May 11

Round Tripping: Mets Are Hot And The Reason Starts With Pitching

Yesterday the Mets beat the Pirates 8-4 for their 7th straight win and remained atop the NL East. Just over a week ago after the Mets dropped a 6-5 10-inning loss the Phillies, many were wondering if it was even possible for the Mets to contend for the division. The focus of the ire of Met fans and the doubt of prognosticators was the starting pitching. Before this win streak, New York starters had a 5.45 ERA. The lowlights of which were Oliver Perez's 9.97 ERA and 1.05 walk to strikeout ratio, the fact that they have already used 7 different starters and the weekend in St. Louis where no starter went to the 6th and gave up 16 runs over 3 games. It appeared if fortunes did not change on the mound the Mets would not even get a chance to possibly give the division away again this year.

Of course the one bright spot on the mound for the Metropolitans has been Johan Santana. He is 4-1 with a 0.91 ERA and opponents are hitting .168 against him. His run support has been severely lackluster (less than 2 runs a start), but it has not stopped his confidence or performance. Santana has guided the Mets on two occasions to 1-0 victories. That fact is bolstered by the improvements GM Omar Minaya made to the bullpen in the offseason headlined by the signing of K-Rod. Rodriguez is 9-9 in saves so far. The offensive firepower is there and with the bullpen is so much improved it was frustrating to the fans and players that they had plugged one hole while another gashing one opened up.

The Mets were relying on Santana to be the anchor while John Maine, returning from injury, and Mike Pelfrey would be a solid front three. They re-signed Oliver Perez for $12 million per for 3 years which now seems like a joke. They also signed Livan Hernandez, yes the same Livan who was 1997 World Series MVP, to eat up some innings which he is usually good for. Perez is now on the DL for horrible pitching knee tendinitis and they have brought in John Niese from Triple-A and had Nelson Figueroa start a game as well.

Over the last 7 games however the starter ERA for New York has been 2.39 and no starter has gone less than 6 innings. Consequently, the Mets have shot up through the standings and confidence has returned as they are now where they though they would be at this point in the season. It has not been all pitching that has propelled the Mets; some bats have awoken as well. David Wright is over .300 now and hit two HR during the winning streak after struggling the previous weeks. "I think we just needed to get hot a little bit to realize how good we are," Wright said on Sunday. One player who has been terrific so far this season at the plate has been Carlos Beltran. With a .374 average, .600 slugging percentage, 24 RBI, and .467 on-base percentage Beltran has quietly been the most consistent hitter for New York.

132 games still remain in this baseball season so to say the Mets have permanently solved their pitching problems would truly be a cart-before-horse situation, but the recent stretch they have put together showed them that they could win consistently with their rotation and allowed them to avoid sinking into a deep hole with many more miles to tread.

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