The New York Mets: Looking For Bright Spots In A Season Gone Wrong

The way the New York Mets season is going, one half expects Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez to pull a Bob Uecker:

"That's all we got, one goddamn hit?"

"You can't say goddamn on the air."

"Don't worry, nobody is listening anyway."

"The post-game show is brought to you by . . . Christ, I can't find it. To hell with it."

Of course Mike Francesa pretty much did that, going even further with his now infamous, somewhat-comical, somewhat-correct, breathless rant about the state of the Mets.

The 2012 season for the Mets was supposed to be a rebuilding, see-what-we-have year, with an eye toward 2013 and behind. But the Mets threw everyone off the scent when they unexpectedly had some first half success. That 46-40 record at the All-Star break was based on rock-solid starting pitching and a penchant for two-out, run-scoring hits, but when those things disappeared, the curtain was pulled back and the team was exposed, left with a lousy bullpen, patchwork starting pitching, no power and no speed. At minimum, though, the Mets were expected to play fundamentally sound, hustling baseball. Terry Collins has stated many times that he wouldn't put up with anything less. But smart, crisp baseball went out the window with the winning (even their pitching staff is fielding the ball about as well as the Detroit Tigers' pitchers did in the 2006 World Series). The snowball of sloppy play has turned into an avalanche. And questions whether the team has quit for the season have surfaced.

"We have not packed it in. But as I told our guys, in our game, perception is reality. When you sit on the outside and watch a game like tonight, the perception is, ‘They packed it in.' And I won't stand for it. I believe in accountability. I believe in how you play the game right. I'm the manager here and when you have a game like that when it looks like they're not prepared, that's my fault."

That was Collins after Tuesday night's mistake-filled 6-2 loss. They followed that up with a mistake-filled 5-2 loss on Wednesday, a mistake-filled 1-0 loss on Thursday and a lethargic 3-1 loss on Friday to baseball's worst team. Either Collins has lost his team or a manager just doesn't have that much control over his players, or it's a combination of both. One thing we've learned about Collins the last season-plus that he's been managing the Mets is that he cares. A lot. He cares about his players. He cares about winning. He cares about playing baseball the correct way. He cares about doing the right thing. But his ability to get his team to at least give the appearance that they care as much as he does has waned.

Things have spiraled out of control in Queens, but this team wasn't about this year anyway. Unfortunately, as we look for bright spots from the 2012 season, there aren't as many as the team (and its fans) would have liked. There were no positive, taking-a-step-forward years for Lucas Duda or Ike Davis (though he's rebounded from disaster to somewhat productive). Johan Santana and Jason Bay's years have ended/are ending in catastrophe. Josh Thole, Daniel Murphy, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Dillon Gee and Bobby Parnell? Have any of these guys progressed to the point of guaranteeing anything about their future as keystones to the franchise? Parnell is the best of that group, but his pitching acumen hasn't quite caught up to the speed of his fastball, but its getting there. What do we make of Jordany Valdespin? The team doesn't seem to have any real outfield prospects on the horizon, so they're forced to use a second baseman out there, and, not surprisingly, he looks like a second baseman playing the outfield. Are his five pinch-hit home runs and occasional clutch at-bats more telling about him or his .242 average and .278 on base percentage?

But we're not here to bury the Mets. There is brightness and light among the wreckage. Ruben Tejada plays like a veteran, not a 22-year-old. His plate discipline and baseball IQ at the plate and in the field has been impressive. He certainly has taken a big step forward in his first year as starting shortstop, with his .304 average and .347 on base percentage. R.A. Dickey, the 37-year-old-going-on-27-year-old knuckleballer, has been a Cy Young contender all season (2.82 ERA, 1.027 WHIP, 181 strikeouts in 175.1 innings, 136 ERA+ and 15-4 record). David Wright carried the offensive load the first half of the year, and with his .933-OPS season, the Mets should surely try to sign him for the long haul (and he finally hit his 200th career home run on Friday night). Jon Niese (3.51 ERA, 1.151 WHIP, 134 strikeouts in 159 innings, 109 ERA+ and 10-7 record) has shown that the faith the team entrusted in him when they gave him a contract extension in the spring wasn't unfounded. Maybe the most important development of 2012 has been Matt Harvey. Besides being the team's best hitter (.455 average), he's started his major league career in impressive fashion, with a 2.75 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .186 batting average against and 43 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched in his six starts. And now Collin McHugh has opened eyes and has to be a name considered for the future, after his seven-shutout-inning debut on Thursday.

Are those enough positives on a rebuilding team in a season gone awry? Met fans will surely put up with a smart, done-the-right-way reconstruction process, but they were just hoping that 2012 would be closer to 1984 than 1979.

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