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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Many Faces of a .500 Team

On the evening of May 31st, fresh from not playing a baseball game on Memorial Day, we were 26-26. In June, we went 13-13. It's July 1 and our record stands at 39-39. (This is my version of sabermetrics.)

In the New York Times, Lee Jenkins can't seem to stand the sight of us, starting his description of our sixth win in nine games this way: “Four out of five days, the Mets are easy to ignore, a quintessential .500 club that is last in its division and stuck in a summer malaise.”

Huh? Did the boys play the three-man-lift trick on poor Lee before yesterday's game? First of all, there's no such thing as a quintessential .500 team — compare the moods in say, the camps of the Yankees (39-38) and the A's (38-40). Or the Phillies (40-39) and us. .500 can feel like an accomplishment or a debacle — and if you're a team that yo-yos above and below it all spring, you can get acquainted with both feelings multiple times. We've learned something about that: By my count (more sabermetrics) we've hit .500 on the rise 10 times this year, and touched it on the decline seven times.

Seriously, how are we anything like the Yankees, Blue Jays, A's, Phillies or Tigers, to pick a few other corks bobbing on the surface? The Yankees are on the verge of panic, caught between trying to jump-start an old, flawed team with more money or tear it down and rebuild. The A's and Tigers are jubilant, enjoying the sight of their young players finally clicking. The Phillies are in habitual disarray, for the umpteenth season in a row seeking a psychological explanation for how such a talented roster can produce so little. Between the AL thing and the Canada thing I couldn't tell you Thing One about the Blue Jays, but I'm sure there's something unique going on there too.

Nor do I see a summer malaise. Not when I look at a team that's won three series in a row — if we do that through the finish line, I'll keep my October schedule clear. And not when I look at the current roster. I see a team still in transition and overdue for some moves, but not one going down the drain or doomed to ride out the schedule in mediocrity.

I see David Wright having a terrific offensive year and showing signs that he's calming down and beating a case of the youthful yips at third. I see Jose Reyes maturing dramatically in the field and developing good baseball instincts to go with his considerable talent. I see Carlos Beltran's speed coming back. I see Mike Cameron quietly becoming a better-rounded hitter while losing nary a thing in switching from center to right. I see Cliff Floyd enjoying a hard-won, much-deserved career year.

I see Pedro Martinez becoming everything his champions thought he'd be and more. I see Victor Zambrano taking Rick Peterson's lessons to heart, even if putting them into practice needs a bit more work. I see Kris Benson making people talk about his pitching and not his wife. I see Aaron Heilman with better stuff and more faith in that stuff, a couple of recent blips notwithstanding. I see Heath Bell continuing to do a terrific job stranding inherited runners. I see Royce Ring showing signs that he could be deadly on lefties. I see Roberto Hernandez still enjoying a renaissance.

I see Willie Randolph commanding the roster and the clubhouse with a firm, patient hand. (Maybe a little too patient, but that's better than not patient enough.) I don't see Omar Minaya, but that's because I assume he's working the phones somewhere. I have seen him thinking big without selling off crucial young talent, which is the way to go — even if the thought of Gary Sheffield made us nervous/angry/sick.

Do we have flaws beyond the bad luck (in our case, injuries and poor performances at first and second) that happens to every team? Indeed we do: Some of our young guys are too young and some of our old guys are too old, and some games it feels like the two are pulling in opposite, equally bad directions. Do we have problems that are hard to fix? Yes — Mike Piazza's decline needs to be managed (though he's still an awfully potent bat for a catcher), we're stuck with Tom Glavine in the rotation and there's little chance of fixing the Kaz Matsui disaster in-season. Have Willie and Omar been a little too patient at times? I think so: It's past time to drop Kaz Ishii from the rotation, move Wright up in the lineup, stop wasting roster spots on Dae-Sung Koo and Victor Diaz and see what Jae Seo would add.

But as for the rest, let's hang in there. The Nats aren't going to go 20-6 with an 0.00 ERA from their closer every month. We're just 3.5 out of the wild card. I think this 39-39, .500 team as of July 1 is better-constructed and stronger than the 0-0, .500 team of April 4. And I have faith that Willie and Omar will do the right things to keep us on the upward path, and make some of those overdue decisions soonest. The cliche is you find out what you have in April and May, get what you need in June and July, and go for it in August and September. We're a little behind the curve on phase two of that operation, perhaps, but not too late by any means.

Our glass of Metdom? Definitely half-full.

6 comments to The Many Faces of a .500 Team

  • Anonymous

    Awesome analysis, partner. I was going to use October to get my back waxed but maybe I'll hold off.
    You reminded me of a little conspiracy jaunt I was a couple of months ago (what's a blog without paranoia)? Lee Jenkins is a fine writer but he and the Times see everything through Pinstriped lenses. Yeah, the News does it, too — BOSS BURPS; Mets Clinch Division — but that's the lot they cast, so I understand it. With the Times, it's out and out irritating elitism and it's misplaced because I'll never believe Yankee fans run to read about their team the way we run to read about ours.
    Witness three ledes I saved (like a nut) from Jenkins in April:
    April 20
    Mets fans are generally considered among the most vocal supporters in sports, as evidenced by the booing that serves as the Shea Stadium soundtrack. Yet the Yankees drown them out in almost every way imaginable. For Mets fans to get anyone to listen to them, they have little choice but to drive to Philadelphia and sidle up behind the mike.
    April 24
    On the same day that fans in the Bronx fled Yankee Stadium as if it were a disaster area, they lingered all afternoon at the ballpark in Queens. The locals did not seem to feel the hard winds that blew into their faces, or hear the jets that took off every other inning from La Guardia Airport, or remember that the Mets are supposed to be the second team in town
    April 25
    When Willie Randolph popped out of the Mets' dugout for batting practice yesterday afternoon, he was greeted with a set of standings that New York will keep all summer long.
    Willie 10-8. Joe 7-11.
    To make out the tally, which a group of fans had affixed to a bright orange sign, Randolph had to peer through the crowd at Shea Stadium and squint as if he were reading an eye chart. When he realized that the sign was comparing his record this season with the record of his mentor, Yankees Manager Joe Torre, he had to suppress a smile. “Oh, well,” Randolph said. “It's still early.”
    With that, he ran out to first base, slipped on the bag while catching a throw and fell head over cleats. It was a fitting start to a day in which the Mets came tumbling back to the turf with an 11-4 loss to the Washington Nationals. By sundown, Torre had picked up a game in the standings: Willie 10-9, Joe 8-11
    Where was I? Oh yeah, everybody's against us.

  • Anonymous

    since the baseball beats are subject to rotation every couple of years, if not sooner, i have this hunch that jenkins, a fairly new hire for the times, is pushing for the yankees next season.

  • Anonymous

    'pushing for the Yankees,' eh?
    Sounds like there could be a new eupemism for doin' the ol' number two in there somewhere.

  • Anonymous

    Isn't that how Elvis died, bless his soul?

  • Anonymous

    I believe he was, in fact, “dropping a Clemens” at the time.

  • Anonymous

    That's why he was the King.