Break time is over! The NL earned home-field advantage, Chipper got himself a hit in his final All-Star Game, and the official second half of the season is under way. Right before the break, Atlanta leapfrogged the Mets into second place in the NL East, a place they've spent most of the season. They'll try to put some distance between them and the Mets as they pursue the division lead. I exchanged questions with Steve Schreiber of Amazin' Avenue regarding this series.
TC: In your honest opinion, where did you expect the Mets to be at the Break before the 2012 season started?
AA: I was probably more optimistic than most people in general and even I'm surprised at where they are right now. My guess before the season was that they'd be a 75-80 win team and so I would've assumed they'd be somewhere around .500 at the break or maybe a few games under. There was plenty of snark when talking about the Mets' projections for this season but the assumption that they would be near historic levels of bad were mostly ridiculous and often downright lazy (Yankees' broadcaster Michael Kay, for instance, said on Twitter that the Mets would win 55-60 games and that the roster was "terrible"). There were plenty of questions coming into the year (How is Johan's shoulder? Will David Wright rebound? etc.) but I assumed they'd at least hit a bit, considering they have a lot of guys who work the count and get at base at a solid clip, and that the starters would be average-ish with room to improve.
What everybody got wrong was that the rotation would be outstanding, while the bullpen would be awful. The rotation really has been great thanks to improvements from R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee, the health of Johan Santana and the signing of Chris Young to take injured Mike Pelfrey's slot. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the loss of Gee, though. For now, it looks like Miguel Batista will take over, which doesn't inspire much confidence in the fanbase. In time, top prospect Matt Harvey could take that spot, once the front office feels he's ready. Meanwhile, while the bullpen has mostly been a disaster, outside of Bobby Parnell and Tim Byrdak, the offense has been a strong point, thanks to David Wright and the team's ability to rack up two-out runs (certainly unsustainable but I'll take it). The team defense...eh, let's not talk about that.
More Q&A and pitching matchups after the jump.
TC: The Mets have stayed in contention with mostly homegrown talent on their roster. Are they looking to trade or do you think they're content with what they have now?
AA: I do think they'll make some sort of trade. It probably won't be anything earth-shattering (I don't foresee Justin Upton in right field any time soon) but there are places to patch holes if they can find some bargains. The bullpen is the most obvious place to look for help and it seems likely that they will make some sort of acquisition to bolster that by July 31. They could also potentially use a backup catcher that can hit his weight, a right handed bat that hits lefties to balance out their lefty heavy lineup (and that role also could be filled by Jason Bay) and possibly even a starting pitcher with Gee going down. I think bullpen help is the most likely target and considering there have been rumors that the Mets are interested in the Rockies' Ramon Hernandez, I could see them adding a righthanded catcher who can actually hit. They're not looking to deal away any big prospects but they do have some depth when it comes to useful lower tier prospects. They also have money saved up, which they could use to eat salary and that could help them to pry away a useful player without having to give up too many promising minor leaguers.
TC: Predict the future: Are David Wright and R.A. Dickey the NL's MVP and Cy Young Award winner? Why or why not?
AA: I do think (hope?) that both will be in the conversation through the end of the year. I'm also going to assume that both wouldn't win, just because that seems too much like wishful thinking. If I ultimately had to pick one, I think I might actually go with R.A. Dickey to win the Cy Young award. Don't get me wrong -- I think David Wright can (and should) win the MVP if he keeps hitting at this ridiculous pace and the team keeps winning. But I could also see a scenario playing out where Joey Votto or Andrew McCutchen wins it, likely on the strength of one of them having more home runs or something silly. Knowing that the voters love to reward guys who hit home runs and that's the one thing Wright lacks in comparison, I could see him finishing as a runner-up (though to be fair, Votto and McCutchen are certainly worthy choices).
I chose Dickey to win the Cy Young because while I think we all realize that his incredible run in May and June is not sustainable, it's important to remember just how good he was in 2010 and 2011. He was easily the Mets' best and most reliable pitcher coming into this season and I don't see why he wouldn't at least be able to pitch at that level during the second half, if not a little better considering all of the swings and misses he's now getting. The incredible first half has made a really nice baseline for him, so that even if he regresses back a bit towards his 2010/2011 numbers, I think the entire product is still going to look appealing enough to Cy Young voters. Plus, he's already got 12 WINZ to go along with that and Cy Young voters still seem to love WINZ (and not to mention his whole backstory, though I'm admittedly not sure if that belongs in a Cy Young vote). Certainly, Matt Cain and others will play a big role as well but I feel like R.A.'s got a pretty good shot at it.
TC: Ike Davis has seemed to turn his fortunes around, hitting .294 with seven home runs since June 9. What do you think was troubling him earlier in the season?
AA: I think the long layoff last season played a bit of a role there. His mechanics at the plate were funky for a while and he made some big changes in spring training, as this great piece over at Beyond The Box Score shows. For the first two plus months of the year, it often seemed like he started his swing too early with this gigantic leg kick, which naturally resulted in the bat going through the zone too early and forced him to commit to swinging the bat before actually being able to detect where the pitch was going. While he's never been a low strikeout guy, his strikeout rate went through the roof and his walk rate plummeted. At some point in June, he switched back to his old swing mechanics where he raised his hands back up and dumped the leg kick and he's looked a lot better. As you noted, he's hit .294/.351/.635 since June 9 and most importantly, he's struck out 18 times in 94 plate appearances, a much more manageable 19.1%.
TC: What's the status of Dillon Gee and how long do you expect him to be out of action?
AA: As of last night, the latest news on Gee was that he's decided to undergo surgery on Friday to fix the damaged artery in his shoulder that caused the blood clot. It looks like that'll put him out of action for 6-8 weeks at the minimum, meaning that the earliest he'd probably return would be sometime in September. It's a real shame, too, as he'd shown so much improvement this year. For all intents and purposes, I'm going to assume he's finished for the season -- it wouldn't surprise me if the Mets try to play it safe here and just let him heal up for the start of spring training in 2013. His long-term health is obviously so much more important than baseball.
Thanks for the answers, Steve. I hope to see a great series!
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