On August 13 of last season, Mike Piazza returned from a long stint on the disabled list. The following seven days would be the only time during the entire season that he, Cliff Floyd and Jose Reyes all appeared in the lineup at the same time. During that week, Piazza hit .300, Reyes hit .407, Floyd hit .631 and the Mets went 5-0 while scoring roughly eight runs per game.
Cliff Floyd then left the team to have surgery on his ankle. The Mets went 5-7 between Floyd's departure and August 31. The following day the Mets lost Jose Reyes for the remainder of the season and the team played 7-19 during September.
Last season, Floyd was on pace to hit roughly 30 home runs while batting .290 before going down with season ending ankle surgery. And although Piazza has come under fire of late for having offensive stats in decline, if healthy he can still be counted on to hit a minimum of 30 home runs while knocking in close to 100 runs with a batting average around .290. They may not be the stats he put up at 28-years-old, but that is most likely because he isn't 28-years-old, he is 34 and allowed to age. No matter how one looks at it, a .290-30 homer-100 RBI season would still put Piazza among the top right-handed hitters in the game, not to mention the best hitting catcher in the National League.
For Piazza to succeed he needs protection in the lineup and Floyd can do just that. Regardless if Floyd bats directly behind him, the fact that the team has a legitimate threat within reach of Piazza's slot in the batting order makes a pitcher all the more likely to give the Mets catcher something to hit at least once during his at-bat.
Consider Piazza's batting average and home run rate throughout each month of the season. During April and May, when, for the most part, Piazza had former All-Stars around him, he hit .336 while hitting home runs at a rate better then his career average. During the games after Floyd left the team for surgery and Piazza had Timo Perez, Jason Phillips, and on one occasion Matt Watson hitting around him, he hit .243 without a single home run during all of September.
This isn't because he is 34-years-old and this isn't because he didn't play first base. It's because pitchers had nothing to lose by walking him. A healthy Cliff Floyd changes the entire dichotomy of the relationship between a pitcher, Mike Piazza, the lineup around Piazza and the pitches that will be thrown to all of them.
What's more, not only do Floyd and Piazza give the Mets' lineup potent left-handed and right-handed hitters, their leadership and past success add a much-needed credibility to an otherwise young and inexperienced starting eight. Without them, the Mets lineup lacks any potential to scare an opposing team and it simply has no chance of scoring more than a couple runs per game on a consistent basis.
If Mike Piazza can stay healthy; If he can keep his bat in the lineup more than 135 games during the season; If Cliff Floyd can rebound from ankle surgery and collect a full season's worth of at bats; and If both players can perform even close to their career averages, with the addition of Kaz Matsui and Jose Reyes at the top of the order, the Mets could conceivably score close to 750 runs this season. That would be 100 more than last season, giving the them a great chance at playing "meaningful games" in September.
Stay tuned for Part Three of The 2004 New York Mets "IF" List…
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