Four games against the Mets. The Phils could be 2 games out or 10 at the end of this series. Needless to say, it's big. As I've done in the past (here and here), I exchanged questions with with Joe Janish of Mets Today about the state of our teams. Here are his answers about the Mets. Mine about the Phils can be found here over at Mets Today.
1) Beltran and Alou are back and hitting well. Has this been the key to the Mets putting some distance between them and the Braves and Phillies in the NL East race?
Absolutely. Without Beltran and Alou hitting as well as they are, the Mets do not win at least a half-dozen games over the last 3-4 weeks. David Wright is also quietly (if that's possible) emerging as the team's MVP -- he hit .333 in July and is .413 so far in August.
2) How has trade deadline acquisition of Luis Castillo impacted the team?
It's made a greater impact than most fans imagined. Castillo's defense,while not the Gold Glover he once was, has been a significant upgrade.He's also solidified the #2 spot in the lineup -- which for the Mets offense is a big deal. The lineup is filled with overly aggressive hitters, and the offense had tended to wait for the big inning or the home run. Castillo's game is a contrast to that style -- he takes a lot of pitches and plays small ball. His presence has elevated the Mets' offense in that they now manufacture runs consistently -- much of it also has to do with him allowing Jose Reyes to run in front of him.
3) John Maine, Orlando Hernandez, and Oliver Perez - is it the pitching coach?
Yes and no. Maine was a highly touted farmhand in the Baltimore organization before flaming out in his 10-game audition with the Orioles as a 24-year-old. I think he simply needed more time to develop, and the O's weren't going to wait around. At the same time, Maine seems to be the type of guy who benefits greatly from guidance, and is willing to learn -- so being under Rick Peterson's watchful eye and getting to pick the brains of Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez has undoubtedly affected his development. Perez needed a change of scenery -- he had completely lost his confidence in Pittsburgh, and then became confused by all the mechanical instructions they put in his head. Peterson corrected a few minor flaws in his delivery, gave him less to think about, and let him loose. You can see by the look on his face whether he's going to pitch a good game -- confidence is everything with him. As for Orlando Hernandez, I truly believe his issue was physical. El Duque was an excellent pitcher with the Yankees before undergoing rotator cuff in May 2003, and historically, it takes anywhere from 18-24 months for a YOUNG pitcher to fully recover (Hernandez may have been over 40 at the time of surgery, for all we know). Further, many who do come back have pitched more poorly the second year of their return. Though El Duquecame back to pitch effectively in 15 games in 2004, it may have been a mirage, and I think it took all of 2005 and most of 2006 to a.) get his shoulder completely healthy and b.) learn to pitch without the extra velocity he had prior to the injury.
4) Will Pedro return and have an impact?
The New York media and fans are waiting for him to ride in on a white horse, but I'm just not seeing it -- mostly due to what I said about El Duque in the previous question. Shoulder surgery is not like Tommy John surgery -- for the most part, people do not come back and pitch effectively. If they do, it's either for a very short period or it takes a very long time to get there. That said, I'm curbing my enthusiasm, and not expecting anything. If he can come in and pitch lights out, it will be a pleasant surprise -- but the Mets should be able to hold the fort without him. I'd rather see him come back close to 100% next spring,then chance a relapse by rushing him into games now.
5) How far do you see this team going this year?
If the Mets don't make the post season, it will be a major disappointment. How far they get in October, however, is too much of a crapshoot to predict, mainly because the Mets don't have a Roy Oswalt or a Tim Hudson (or a Cole Hamels, for that matter), their bullpen has been shaky, and the offense is not the juggernaut it was a year ago. I'm simply hoping to go to a few playoff games at Shea, and whatever happens from there will be gravy.