Steve Schreiber of Amazin' Avenue and I exchanged some questions in preparation for this week's Phillies-Mets series. My responses to his questions are over here. His answers to my questions are below. Enjoy!
The second half of the season has been brutal for the Mets, to put it kindly. What are the causes of their struggles?
Really, it's a whole mess of issues that have compounded but of late, the biggest has been that the Mets have no offense whatsoever. David Wright, off of his delirious first half, has cooled down and so has everybody else. Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis have been very streaky, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Lucas Duda earned themselves trips to Buffalo (though Duda's back now), Josh Thole has been abysmal since returning from the concussion he suffered a few months back (thanks, Ty Wigginton) and the Mets do not have any semblance of a starting outfield. It's basically a bunch of platoon/bench guys in Andres Torres, Scott Hairston, Mike Baxter, Duda, Jordany Valdespin, etc. The Mets scored 5 runs in a 4 game series with the Rockies, who have far and away the worst pitching staff in baseball. I think that about sums it up.
Beyond that, the starting pitching has not been as good as it was in the first half (though it's been much better of late). Johan Santana was atrocious, allowing 33 runs over his last 5 starts before being shut down. The loss of Dillon Gee was a tough blow, as his stability and innings were so valuable to the pitching staff. And Chris Young's sort of wavered between alright and awful for a few weeks now. The bullpen has also been iffy at best, which is sadly a bit of an upgrade from the first half.
Despite the instability on the rest of the roster, David Wright is once again turning in another fine season. With a team option for 2013 almost certain to be picked up by the Mets, are there any signs that the Mets plan to commit the money necessary to lock up their start third baseman long term?
There haven't been any clear signs yet, as GM Sandy Alderson has been mostly noncommittal in regards to the team's payroll for next year. However, Alderson did state a few days ago that he expects David Wright and R.A. Dickey (who also is in the last year of his deal in 2013) to stay with the club beyond next season. I want to believe him because Wright and Dickey are two of the most talented and most popular players on the team but at the same time, we heard similar sentiments regarding Jose Reyes a year ago and he's currently sporting rainbow colors in the shadow of that home run whirligig in Miami. There are differences between the two situations, sure -- the Mets should arguably have more available money without the specter of the Madoff lawsuit over their heads and based on the fact that they took on minority investors earlier this year, though they are still in tremendous debt thanks to gobs of money owed to pay off Citi Field and SNY, among other things.
In the end, I think it comes down more to what David wants than what the team is willing to spend on him. He's been quoted recently saying that his goal is to win, whether that's with the Mets or elsewhere, so I'd imagine the team is sort of "on the clock". They're going to have to make some moves this offseason to show David why he should stay (if it's true that they really want to keep him, of course). This story will surely dominate the headlines over the winter and it's realistic that if they don't re-sign him this offseason, he's a goner since he's said he doesn't want to negotiate during the season.
R.A. Dickey has been one of the best stories in baseball this season, with the re-born knuckleballer making a strong push for National League Cy Young Award honors. The biggest, and most obvious, difference between his 2011 season and his tremendous 2012 campaign is his strikeout totals. Has Dickey made any obvious changes since last season, or has he just simply gotten "better" at his craft? How do you see the team addressing Dickey's contract situation?
It's a little of both for Dickey, as he has made an obvious change but his repertoire has also gotten better incrementally over time. The biggest change for Dickey this year is that he toyed with a high knuckleball, which he used to great success during his incredible run back in May and June. The incredible thing about R.A. is that he throws the knuckleball so hard and changes speeds with it, that unlike a conventional knuckler who'd get torched throwing up in the zone, he can throw the pitch up there and it'll get swings and misses just because of the velocity and the quick, sudden movement. That's been a huge part of his success and his increased strikeout rate. Beyond that, he is still developing the pitch and fine-tuning it. Since joining the Mets in 2010, he's always had excellent command but that has only improved this year, as he's walking a career best 2.0 batters per nine innings. And he still has his fastball to surprise batters with. It may only register 85 MPH or so on the gun but in comparison to the knuckler, it's a very useful pitch.
Dickey's contract situation is a lot like David Wright's. Both guys have options for 2013, though thanks to the extension Sandy Alderson worked out prior to the 2011 season, Dickey's is dirt-cheap at just $5 million. I think it'll end up mirroring Wright's situation, in a way. Dickey, like Wright, has said that he wants to win and he hopes to be a part of the solution with this team. The difference between Dickey and Wright is that R.A. is 38 and he's got a family to feed, so I'd imagine long term security is a big priority. I think I speak for many Mets fans saying that we hope both guys are here for a long time -- they're great guys who are really easy to root for and they're both incredibly good at what they do.
With Johan Santana shut down for the season, were you more encouraged by his recovery from injury (including this summer's dramatic no-hitter), or disappointed about the lefty's inability to remain healthy once again?
I don't know if I speak for everybody else but I would definitely say I was more encouraged by his recovery and his ability to take the mound for every start in the first half. His first two months were way more successful than anybody was expecting, as he tossed to a 2.75 ERA with over a strikeout an inning through 59 innings. And of course, the no-hitter is one of my greatest memories as a Met fan, something I'll cherish forever and I can't discount that in evaluating his season. Things took a turn for the worse in July and August as he fatigued but I think it was to be expected for a guy coming off of major shoulder surgery who'd been working to return since essentially December. He's done a lot of pitching this year, he reached his goal of starting opening day and accomplished a hell of a lot more than that. Now we just have to cross our fingers that he'll be ready to go in 2013, hopefully from wire-to-wire.
Which Mets players have been playing well over the past two weeks, and which ones have been struggling?
The positives lately have been Ike Davis, who's hitting .296/.398/.521 in August and Scott Hairston, who's been hitting for average but not for power. He's long overdue for a home run, as he hasn't hit one all month. Two of the three starters you'll see have been very good -- through his first 6 big league starts, young righty Matt Harvey has exhibited the top of the rotation stuff we've all heard about and lefty Jon Niese finally looks to be coming into his own this year.
Pick an offensive player, just about any offensive player and they've been struggling. David Wright has been merely good but he's started striking out a lot again, Daniel Murphy is mired in an awful slump, Ruben Tejada has struggled a bit after rolling through most of this season. Andres Torres is just 5 for his last 36. It hasn't been very pretty lately offensively. On the pitching side, closer Frank Francisco has been awful since his return from the DL a few weeks back and took out his frustrations on a few water coolers in the dugout last week.