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Fraternizing With the Enemy

It's always a bad idea to fraternize with the enemy, and even worse, to fraternize with the enemy's fans, but for the sake of getting to know the Phils' current opponents, the first place New York Mets, I traded interviews with the author of the Mets Today blog.  My responses to his questions about the Phillies are available here.  You can find his answers about a few burning Mets questions below the fold. (After reading his last answer, are Mets' fans and Phillies' fans really that different?)

1) Can the Mets sustain the amazing defensive play that has been part of their early season success?

That's a very interesting angle, and it is definitely a part of the Mets' success. I'm surprised the stats are that telling, because though I'd seen the improvement with my own eyes, the modern uber-numbers usually dispel my old-school observations/analysis. That said, my mythical/subjective opinion of the defense, based solely on my eyewitness account of the last two years:

1. When Endy Chavez and Carlos Beltran are in the outfield together, there are more flyball outs.
2. Jose Reyes was once a guy who could make the spectacular play, but botch the easy one. He's now making the routine plays, and may make a run for a Gold Glove in the next few years.
3. David Wright is underrated as a defensive player, and nearly all of his miscues are throwing errors --- mainly due to a two-smack pound in the glove he does before he lets go of the ball. He's gradually eliminating that hitch, and making less throwing errors as a result.
4. Carlos Delgado's range is hampered by the fact that he wears cement boots and the first base area is made of oatmeal (isn't it?). However, he is remarkably effective at scooping throws in the dirt. It seems that he saves at least two throwing errors a game, making up for his lack of range.
5. Paul LoDuca has worked extensively on his footwork with catching coach Tom Nieto, and is throwing better now than he ever has in his career.

So based on the above, yes, I do believe that the Mets can sustain their strong defense, mainly because Wright and Reyes continue to improve and Beltran is solid in center. However, when Shawn Green and Moises Alou return, we'll see more balls drop for hits in the outfield. The weakest link on the defense right now is Damion Easley, who may have less range than Delgado and carries a bullfrog in his glove --- though the stats don't bear out my criticism. No matter, because Jose Valentin will be back soon, and he has evolved into a very strong defensive player (though we'll see how his injured knee will affect his play).

2) With Shawn Green and Moises Alou on the DL and Carlos Beltran hurting, is the Mets' outfield their Achilles' heel?

Not so much the outfield as much as the lack of offense. Strong defense in the outfield has helped the Mets considerably, and that's due to Chavez and Carlos Gomez playing instead of Green and Alou. Gomez has tremendous speed, range, and polish in the field --- unfortunately he's nowhere near ready to contribute at a level of an Alou or Green. If the Mets would improve their situational hitting --- i.e., taking pitches, moving runners, getting bunts down, etc. --- they wouldn't miss Alou and Green as much.

3) In 50 years, which tandem will be remembered more in New York baseball lore: Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter or David Wright and Jose Reyes?

C'mon, that's an easy one --- Wright and Reyes. A-Rod will be on the West Coast next year and still not winning any rings.

4) Who'd the Mets pay off to get sub-3.00 ERAs for almost 30 starts from Oliver Perez, John Maine, and Orlando Hernandez and how long was the bargain for?

The Devil wears Prada, and New York has plenty fashionable items to offer Satan in return for remarkable pitching. In all seriousness, Oliver Perez is for real --- he has no-hit stuff nearly every time he goes out there, and is learning to pitch as opposed to simply throw. Maine's fallen back to earth recently, but is still a strong 6-7-inning guy who will win with the Mets' offense behind him. As for El Duque, let's just say I'm always on the edge of my seat, waiting for his arm to follow the ball on a pitch. I have no idea how he continues to baffle batters AND remain healthy. Voo-doo, maybe (the Mets do have a AAA team in N'Awlins now).

5) How's it feel being THE baseball team in New York right now?

Sweet, though a little strange --- it's been a while since we've been in this spot. I've been practicing the smug look that Yankee fans have flashed the last ten years, and starting to get it down (you have to kind of purse your lips and tweak the corners of your mouth up, and tilt your head back a bit --- which gets uncomfortable after a while). I was around for the last time the Mets owned NYC, in the mid-1980s, and the feeling is similar: part happiness, part paranoia that it's all going to come crashing down. For some reason, the majority of Mets fans are pessimists, and/or prefer to be supporting an underdog. Nonetheless, there is great joy in watching Yankee fans panic.