- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

From Sacred Cow to Likely Bison

Ike Davis is neither here nor there right now, which is a shame for Ike and a shame for the Mets. He’s not here in the sense of looking like he’s a part of a team when it’s having its ups, as it did Tuesday night behind R.A. Dickey’s 11 dancing strikeouts, and it’s become impossible not to notice what a contributor he’s become to its intermittent downs. Lord knows he’s not the only one who’s been in a statistical funk. Andres Torres is 1-for-about a million and Mike Nickeas was the hitting equivalent of Rheingold — ice cold and extra dry — before rustling up his biweekly RBI.

But they’re Andres Torres and Mike Nickeas. It would be too blithe to dismiss them as unimportant to the Mets’ short- or long-term fortunes, but there are enough outfielders floating around the roster to sit Torres (or dump his one-year contract if circumstances grow dire enough) and Nickeas is a backup catcher exposed as such when given the opportunity to play, his yeoman handling of R.A.’s knuckleball notwithstanding. They come off as nice guys and I hope they find their groove soon for the sake of their careers and whatever help they can provide the greater good…but they’re Andres Torres and Mike Nickeas.

Ike Davis is a whole other thing, maybe a day from being optioned to a whole other town in a whole other league. Short of going 5-for-5 against Charlie Morton and a passel of Pirate relievers, Ike — a favorite son of Flushing whom we’d prefer not to think of as simply another partially proven youngster — seems inevitably Buffalo-bound. That much is easy to project if tough to swallow, especially for a fan still prone to wearing his WE LIKE IKE shirt with pride [1]. The temptation is to wave off Davis’s potential demotion with “c’mon, this is Ike Davis we’re talking about,” but at the rate he’s gone (.156/.212/.291), Ike has no star left to dim. In the major leagues, more than a quarter of a season into a personal baseball nightmare, the goodwill and the merchandising from 2010 cuts Ike no ice. At this level, there can be no sacred cows, just Bisons in waiting.

Ike’s not there in the sense that he’s not in Buffalo yet. But he should be soon. He has to be.

What’s most painful about watching Ike slouch toward Triple-A is how he’s flailing in his rush to get there. This is the team that takes pitches, works counts and manufactures baserunners, right? If so, Ike’s already on another team. There is no approach from him at the plate right now. Ike faces pitchers like he’s just passing through, knowing that in a matter of minutes he’ll be sitting and stewing again.

His at-bat in the eighth seemed to sum up his season. The Mets had just caught an enormous break when Pedro Alvarez couldn’t pick up Daniel Murphy’s grounder, which allowed an insurance run to score. The Mets had first and second with two out and were facing a pitcher, Juan Cruz, who’d already been driven to distraction by not getting a call he wanted and by Andrew McCutcheon not getting a firm grasp on a fly ball over his head. Never was there a better time to take the first pitch and let the reliever feel a little more pressure in a 3-1 game.

Ike felt the pressure. He swung and lofted a fly so lazy Andy Samberg is making a digital short about it right now. Threat over, inning over, funk deepened.

The Mets won anyway [2], with Terry Collins popping his nightly dose of Vitamin Byrdak and Frank Francisco keeping everybody’s language suitable for children, but Ike didn’t appear to be any part of it, and not just because he went 0-for-4. 0-for-4? Big deal. The greatest hitter in the universe, David Wright, went 0-for-4. James McDonald made most everybody look more like .156 neophytes than .403 worldbeaters. But, man, the ohfers Ike takes lately are just brutal and his visibly insular reactions to them cringe-inducing. There are brushes with moments of clarity, when an occasional hard-hit line drive shoots toward a rudely waiting webbing, but they’re not built on. He’s totaled two hits and one walk in his last ten games. Whatever defense he brings to bear as the only legitimate first baseman on call doesn’t come close to compensating for the acres of barren production he leaves in the wake of his sullen plate appearances.

If this were about a lousy May after a shaky April, maybe it wouldn’t feel that urgent. But it does. And it’s not because the Mets are in a white-hot, four-way battle for that last Selig-mandated Wild Card spot. The Mets should endeavor to win every game on their schedule, obviously, but this season is really critical for what it starts to tell us about the next few seasons. Ike Davis is a tentpole for what this franchise is supposed to become as it evolves — we hope — from earning pats on the head for not being as bad as people thought to administering kicks in the ass to anybody would get in its way.

If Ike is the Ike of most of 2010 and the part of 2011 before his ankle gave out and valley fever took its toll, then we know we have a genuine force at first base. If Ike is that Ike (which is the only Ike we’d ever seen since he first came up), we know we’re that much closer to contending; and we know re-signing Wright won’t be about gestures or sentimentality but about building a dangerous lineup that will have something to compete for sooner than later; and we can guess David the free agent will be that much more likely to want to stick around if he’s part of that kind of attack in that kind of context.

If Ike is this Ike — the one who couldn’t look more miserable at the plate or on the bench — there’s every reason to question his place in the Mets’ plans, which is a question no one was anticipating having to ask. The phrase Bobby Ojeda would throw around when Mike Pelfrey would get lit up seems applicable in Ike Davis’s case: there are no scholarships at this level. A trip to the next level down, ideally brief but as long as is required to be effective, seems imperative. The kid (all of 25) seems too good and usually too preternaturally confident to be this lost. There’s time to find that Ike Davis, but there’s no point in delaying the search.

I’m not that worried about the Ike Davis of 2012. It’s the Ike Davis of 2013 and beyond that concerns me.