Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011 in Review: More Than a Record

On April 1, the New York Mets kicked off their 50th season in the major leagues. Six short months and 162 games later, the team finished 2011 with a 77-85 record, good for fourth place in the National League East Division. On the surface to passersby, this season was a disappointing one. After all, the Mets have tons of money and play in the greatest city in the world. Shouldn't they be winning more than 77 games a year? To industry insiders, this kind of result may have been expected. The team was facing a financial crisis in the wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal, and they certainly didn't have the talent levels necessary to compete. Toss in more than a few key injuries, and it's no surprise that they finished so far under .500.

But if you're reading this blog, like me, you know that there's more to this season than just finishing 77-85. While we did get hammered with injuries the way Mike Piazza got hammered by Roger Clemens in 2000, for most of the season, Terry Collins and his team played with fire. A fire that brought back an exciting brand of baseball to Flushing Meadows. A fire that produced a good number of very exciting wins. A fire that helped clear away the ugly brush of the Omar Minaya era, so that the new seeds could be planted and a solid foundation could be built for years to come.

I thoroughly believe more good than bad happened to the New York Mets in 2011. First, let's get the Bad Stuff out of the way, remember what went wrong, acknowledge what didn't work. Then, we'll move on to the Good Stuff, as we have all year, and see that brighter days are truly ahead of us.

The Bad Stuff:
  • Medic! - Johan Santana, Jason Bay, Chris Young, Ike Davis, David Wright, Angel Pagan, Jose Reyes, Daniel Murphy, Scott Hairston, Jon Niese. What do all these Mets have in common? They spent significant time on the disabled list this season. Whether it was for most or all of the season (Santana, Young, Davis), the beginning (Bay), the middle (Wright, Pagan, Reyes twice), or the end (Murphy, Hairston, Niese), the injury bug was stinging like a wasp the whole year.
    • While each ailment is gruesome in its own special way, Ike Davis's downfall in Colorado may be the worst. On May 10, Davis and David Wright both charged a 4th-inning popup. Neither of them called for it, and we saw a very Little League-esque collision. Wright caught the ball, but Ike went down with pain in his left leg. What turned into a day-to-day strain turned into a protective boot and a DL stint that was supposed to last till July, then snowballed into a question of whether surgery would be necessary and a return date of 2012, we hope. I'm starting to think the Mets' team doctors got their degrees from the same place that gave "Weird Al" Yankovic his in the "Like a Surgeon" video. The misdiagnosis wiped out what was turning into a spectacular sophomore season for the young first baseman: before his untimely fall, Davis was hitting .302 with 7 home runs, 25 RBIs, and an OPS of .925 in 36 games.
  • Oy Bay - When Jason Bay made his return to left field in mid-April, he started off hot, hitting .391 in his first 6 games. It wouldn't last. Bay was extremely streaky as a hitter: when he was on he was on, but when he was off he was colder than ice. During one particularly horrid stretch in early summer, Jason went almost 90 at-bats without an extra-base hit. Then he would catch fire, hitting .347 with a .947 OPS in 18 games in June and July (including the team's first grand slam in 299 games in Detroit)...then it was back on the chain gang with a .107, 14 strikeout showing in the next 16 games. Bay got it together in the last month of the season before missing the last week with a sinus infection, finishing with perfectly ordinary numbers: .245 average with 12 home runs, 57 RBIs, and a .703 OPS in 444 at-bats. Those numbers aren't so horrible, but when you factor in the $16 million the team paid this year for those ordinary numbers, it counts as pretty bad. Jason has two years remaining on his 4-year, $66 million contract. You'd be tempted at this point to call him a bust...until you remember those amazing 18 games in June. Bay showed flashes of the player who hit 36 home runs in Boston in 2009, but just when you think he'd gotten back on track, he derailed again. Maybe he can work it out next year. He works so hard that maybe something will finally click. But until it does, Jason Bay will remain in holding in the Bad Stuff.
  • Bullpen BS (both abbreviations) - As has been commonplace in the last 5 years in Flushing, once the Mets' starter left the mound, all bets were off. It was rare when the New York bullpen could escape a game unscathed: whether it was Francisco Rodriguez walking his closer's tightrope every night, or DJ Carrasco and his 6.02 ERA balking away a game in Atlanta, or Ryota Igarashi and his unfulfilled potential, the clean up crew this year had a miserable time cleaning up. The low point was a stretch in May when the Mets lost six straight home games when leading in the 6th inning or later. Then when K-Rod was unloaded to Milwaukee at the All-Star Break, things got even worse. Jason Isringhausen reached 300 saves in the interim, but bottomed out once he reached that number. Bobby Parnell, who was so brilliant as a set-up man, bombed as closer, blowing about as many chances as he saved. Manny Acosta tried, but rarely inspired as 9th-inning man. We got to the point of missing K-Rod's nightly tightrope dance. Sandy Alderson has already come out and said that next year's closer "is not currently in the organization." Yeah, that sounds about right.
  • Rancid Home Cooking - If the Mets hadn't been such road warriors this year (43-38), they would have finished last in the division. New York went 34-47 this year in the so-called "friendly" confines of Citi Field. The low point of the season came in September, when the team had rallied to reach a 70-71 record and seemed poised to crack .500 again. Going 1-8 on that homestand took care of that problem. Unbelievably, the team finished the literal inverse of what they did last year: in 2010 New York went 47-34. If the Mets had managed that record this season, they would have won 90 games and could have played a part in last night's breakneck Wild Card finish. Perhaps it's good thing Sandy plans to move the fences in for next season. Maybe the additional offense David Wright and Jason Bay will contribute can give us a few extra wins.
If you're still reading at this point, don't worry: the demons have all been exorcised. It gets better from here.

The Good Stuff:
  • The Jose Reyes Show - Fans may remember what owner Fred Wilpon said about Jose Reyes in May. Four months later, Wilpon watched Reyes complete one of the more remarkable individual seasons in Met history. In the immediate aftermath of Wilpongate, Jose caught fire faster than a Spinal Tap drummer. From May 24 until July 2 (his first DL stint), a span of 34 games, Reyes hit a superhuman .413 and scored 37 runs, piling up 8 doubles, an other-worldly 9 triples, 17 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases. It's not often in their 50-season history the Mets have had the best baseball player on the planet, but for about a month and a half, they had him in Jose Reyes. Despite cooling off after a nagging left hamstring put him on the DL twice, Jose finished his 126-game season with 181 hits, 101 runs, 31 doubles, 16 triples (despite not hitting one after July 21), 39 stolen bases, 7 home runs, and 44 RBIs. His .337 batting average gave him the National League batting title, the first time a Met has garnered that distinction. Reyes becomes a free agent this off-season, and while his teammates, his manager, and even Reyes himself have said they want him to come back, it still remains to be seen where #7 will be in 2012. But if this really was his last year in the orange and blue, what a special year it was.
  • Carlos's Redemption - Coming into this season, not much was expected of Carlos Beltran. Coming off an injury-plagued 2009 and 2010, Beltran was moved from center to right field and was supposed to get day games after night games off to rest his knees. Perhaps the biggest irony of the season: in a year when everybody and their aunt was landing on the DL, Carlos Beltran led the team in games played during his stay in Flushing. Not just surviving in right, he thrived at the plate, hitting .289 with 15 home runs, 30 doubles, and 66 RBIs in 98 games before being traded to San Francisco in late July. The high point came the day after the Ike Davis injury, when Carlos went yard not once, not twice, but thrice against Ubaldo Jiminez and the Colorado Rockies. While he may never be able to shake the image of staring down the best curveball Adam Wainwright will ever throw, Beltran made his final act with the New York Mets memorable and enjoyable. Even more so, in an attempt to get something for him at the trade deadline, Sandy Alderson managed to get a heck of a prospect: top Giants organization pitcher Zack Wheeler. Wheeler shined in his 6 starts at Class-A Port St. Lucie in August and September, going 2-2 with an ERA of 2.00 in 27 innings, including 31 Ks and a 1.148 WHIP. Assuming Wheeler makes it to Citi Field in a couple years, the legacy of Carlos Beltran could be shining in Queens for years to come.
  • The Buffalo Boys - As a result of the plague of injuries that the baseball gods sent upon the team, first-year manager Terry Collins needed to milk the roster of Class-AAA Buffalo for all it was worth. After spending last year as the team's minor league field coordinator, Collins knew which players were ripe for the milking. Every month it seemed a fresh new face was tearing it up on the field. Whether it was Justin Turner in May (.325 with 20 RBIs in 20 starts, good for NL Rookie of the Month) or Nick Evans in August (.366 with 8 RBIs in 10 starts), Terry pushed all the right buttons with players who started the year in the minors.
    • The two biggest surprises came in the form of Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada. Duda really blossomed after his second call-up in June, finishing the season with a .293 average, 21 doubles, 10 home runs, and 50 RBIs in 301 at-bats. After Beltran's departure, Duda really picked it up, notching a key game-winning hit against San Diego in August and all but locking up a starting spot in right field in 2012.
    • Tejada filled in for Reyes at short and platooned with Turner at second, finishing the year at .284 with 15 doubles and 36 RBIs in 328 at-bats. He came into his own as a clutch hitter, going 6-11 with the bases loaded, including 3 run-scoring walks. The 21-year-old Tejada has all but assured himself that he will be a starter next season, either as shortstop if Reyes walks or second base if he stays.
    • And let's not forget Daniel Murphy. Scheduled to be starting first baseman last year before his injury led to the rise of Ike Davis, Murphy made a comeback this year in a big way. Able to play just about every position (never mind how well he could play each position), Murph provided more-than-steady offense in 109 games, before a leg injury against Atlanta knocked him out for the season. Daniel finished the year hitting .320 with 28 doubles and 49 RBIs.
    • While pitching in 2012 remains a mystery, the only mystery about the offense is who will get the most playing time. It's a good problem to have.
  • Gee Whiz - While the rotation this year was a mixed bag, one rookie made his way through the forest and into the forefront. Dillon Gee won 13 games and lost 6 in his first full season in the bigs, the first Met rookie to win that many games since Doc Gooden in 1984. While his ERA was a shaky 4.43, Gee did what he needed to do to get Ws, becoming the team's most consistent starter (save for R.A. Dickey, who was spectacular most of the year but never got any run support). I see it that 80% of the New York rotation is set for 2012: Santana, Dickey, Jon Niese, who had a solid year, and Dillon Gee, who could remain a staple on the mound for years to come.
Final Analysis:
On the first day of the season, I made predictions about how the New York Mets would do in 2011. While they missed a winning record and third place in the division, I do not consider this season a disappointment or a failure. Not just for the above reasons.

It's hard to be a Mets fan out here in the Midwest. I live 760 miles from the epicenter of the team. I'm surrounded by Cubs and White Sox fans to the west, Tigers fans to the east, and Reds fans to the south. Not to mention all those damn Yankee fans who are everywhere. But this season, I decided I was going to go all in. I started this blog. I subscribed to so I could watch every game on SNY and listen to Gary, Ron, and Keith. And after 77 wins and 85 losses, it was the best baseball season I've ever gone through. This was a fun team to watch. They played hard, never quit, surprised a few people, and set in place a solid foundation for the future. When I think of the 2011 New York Mets season, I'll remember Jose Reyes slicing the ball into a corner and racing down the base paths. I'll remember Carlos Beltran sending a souvenir off the end of his bat to the fans out on Shea Bridge. I'll remember Terry Collins smiling and high-fiving his team after 77 successful afternoons and evenings. But most of all, I'll remember this past summer when I watched the Mets game every night with my dad, himself a lifelong fan of the orange and blue, and writing about every single one of those games on Midwestern Met.

That's what a team that finished 77-85 means to me.

See you in 2012.



  1. It doesn't matter how good or bad a season was, there's always a sense of emptiness on the first few days without the mets. this team definitely played a different brand of baseball this year with terry collins in charge. should be a very interesting and eventful off-season - hopefully whatever sandy does turns out for the best.

    i enjoyed reading your game recaps this year, thanks for being the first person to follow my blog. here's to a successful 2012.

  2. Thanks a lot JB. I enjoyed reading your posts as well; that Terry Collins post from yesterday is a thing of beauty. You've got a bright future in sports journalism, my friend.

    To 2012.

  3. Hey MM,
    Great Column! Look forward to reading next year (and over the winter if something post worthy happens). I live 150 miles north of the city, and though I get all the games, have the chance to watch relatively few. This was by far my best season as a Mets fan and I give your wrap ups all the credit. Keep it coming!

    From Albany,