Mets of Two Faces

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There’s a famous episode of Seinfeld that I saw again the other day — and it’s quite the episode, with the Human Fund (Money for People), Festivus, and the H&H Bagel strike all squeezed into 20-something minutes — where Jerry dates a girl who alternatively looks pretty or less-so based on the lighting. She’s a two face. Sometimes it’s a pretty face, sometimes not so much, and it’s hard to predict how she’s going to look in different situations. Jerry insists that they only meet in a booth at Monk’s diner that has the perfect lighting as otherwise her appearance becomes too frightening, the girl can’t figure out why Jerry won’t see her anywhere else, Kramer winds up thinking she’s two different people . . . situational comedy ensues.

So this whole plot might sound familiar to you if you’ve been watching the team in Flushing play recently. So I’ll ask you: What else can you think of that has two faces and is involved with a comedian Jerry?

If you said the Mets, award yourself one (1) point. If you named either of Jerry Lewis’ wives, half-credit (1/2).

It’s funny to think that just a week ago the Mets were 20-23 off a 2-6 road trip, heads were being called for, seals were being broken, trumpets were being blown, the horsemen of the apocalypse were ready to burn Citi Field to the ground . . . things weren’t looking so great. The rotation had just imploded. People were picking days for Jerry Manuel to be fired. (I picked the off-day on Monday.) In the two faces of the Mets, this is the girl on the front porch of the Constanza house — Yikes, in other words. They looked like the worst non-Astros team in baseball.

Then the Mets won took five out of six from last year’s pennant winners, the Yankees and Phillies. These five wins included a sweep of the Phillies, during which the Mets did not allow a single Phillies runner to cross home plate, and Jayson Werth returning his beard to the Civil War soldier he borrowed it from. All of a sudden, everyone on the Mets looks like they can play baseball well. David Wright’s strikeouts are less noticeable, fans appear to be accepting that Angel Pagan is actually sort of good, and Fernando Nieve “only” pitched in three of the six games on the homestand and warmed up for just one other, and is scheduled to start on Saturday . . . because there’s no such things as too much Fernando Nieve. Of course, I should mention Jose Reyes, only I’ll do it in all-caps: JOSE REYES! I really enjoy seeing him play well again, it’s been a while. This is all the good face of the Mets, the two faced girl in the softly lit booth at Monk’s diner.

The Mets indeed have been maddeningly two-faced this season — I believe this may have something to do with it:

— In games started by Mike Pelfrey or Johan Santana, the Mets are 14-6.

— In games started by everyone else, the Mets are 11-17.

Now, of course, every teams record with their two best starters is going to be better than their record with the other three starters. It’s also easy enough to point out that the Mets have allowed just 3.9 runs per game this season, and that would indicate that their pitching/defense has been decent and probably not part of the problem, though seven shutouts (five in games started by Pelfrey and Santana) will lower your runs allowed per game and hide some of the bad days. The Mets offense scoring a just below average number of runs (4.44 per game) was probably part of the problem as well. They have also lost an inordinate number of one-run games, indicating a bit of bad luck in close affairs. Their record at home (19-9) is far, far better than their road record (6-14). There are more things to blame for the two face act than just the poorness of the previous non-Santana/Pelfrey starters.

On the other hand, the team left spring training with a rotation of Johan Santana, John Maine, Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, and Oliver Perez, and have been up and down from week to week and game to game. Those two things have to be somewhat related. I mean, they just saw their starting staff noticeable improve when three of the members disappeared in a week’s time. Really think about that for a second — that was the rotation the Mets felt gave them a best chance to win this season, and it got BETTER when three of the members were removed.

Now, to be fair, I’m not sure I would have picked the rotation any differently coming out of spring training knowing only what I knew then. There were reasons to be hopeful for every rotation candidate the team went with — maybe not great reasons, but there were reasons to be found. Sure, Johan Santana was coming off elbow surgery, but also had a similar procedure done a few years ago and won a Cy Young after. And, yes, John Maine had shoulder issues, but did return to make four starts with decent velocity in September. Oliver Perez was Oliver Perez, but he went to the API’s boot camp for troubled athletes and seemed to be taking his struggles seriously. Mike Pelfrey put up an ERA north of five in 2009, but he also appeared to be the victim of some bad luck and a most unhelpful defense. Finally, Jon Niese was a rookie, but looked ready to make the jump to the majors even last season. Yes, some of them had been injured, and some of them had been bad, and some of them had been Oliver Perez, but they had all had big league success in the past. There were reasons to think that they could all do it again.

Then again . . .  the plan was to rely on FIVE pitchers who were injured, ineffective, or both last season. Think about it: that was the Mets’ actual plan for this season. It wasn’t the backup plan, or the last-ditch plan, or the “oh-crap-it’s-due-tomorrow-what-can-I-possibly-turn-in-for-my-science-fair-project?” plan. No, this particular starting rotation was the result of the Mets’ decision makers gathering together and saying to themselves: “This. This is the best idea we can put into action. This is plan for our starting rotation we choose to embrace. Oliver Perez is our best option. We embrace Oliver Perez as our best hope.”

That was their actual plan.

But, hey, sometimes it isn’t too late to correct earlier mistakes, and the Mets roster appears to keep getting better despite no new players being added to the organization. Give them credit, because they’re fixing their earlier mistakes. A struggling Mike Jacobs and a last-gasp Frank Catalanotto disappeared; Ike Davis and Chris Carter replaced them, and the roster improved. I suspect that a rotation with Hisanori Takahashi and R.A. Dickey is better than a rotation with Oliver Perez and an injured John Maine, and so far that seems to be the case. The team keeps getting better as more of the opening day roster disappears.

Maybe the rotation improvements won’t last. R.A. Dickey throws a knuckleball, so he is, by the nature of his craft, unpredictable. Hisanori Takahashi seems to have learned to pitch like Daisuke Matsuzaka learned to pitch, where the goal is to strike everyone out and a walk is better than giving in and pitching to contact. Maybe he’ll throw a no-hitter and walk seven batters, or maybe he’ll walk seven batters and surrender ten runs in three innings. It’s hard to tell. Perhaps the hitch in his delivery is just throwing everyone off for the time being, and once they figure it out, Takahashi won’t seem as effective. It’s tough to say that these two pitchers are going to continue their success, but it’s even tougher to imagine Maine and Perez doing any better.

It’s
been so hard to get a handle on the Mets. Perhaps they only look good in the soft lighting of Citi Field, or only when they get good pitching, or only when they play struggling teams. Maybe it’s because they’re so top-heavy, they only win when a few of their star players are hot. All I know is that it’s been a two faced season, and I have no idea what to expect next.

Thanks to Keith Allison’s Flickr photostream for the image of Mike Pelfrey.

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Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

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