Sitting 1/2 game behind the first place Atlanta Braves, the Mets sport a respectable 14-12 road mark this season but have lost three of their last four on the road. As disappointing as the Mets have been, the Marlins have now lost 11 of their last 15 games after being swept by the Reds, good for fourth place (3 games out of first) in the NL East. Granted two of those wins came against the struggling Mets.
If one glances at the Mets' schedule for the next two weeks, coupled with the standings in the National League East, it is not hard to come to the conclusion that they have reached a make-or-break point in the young season. Throughout the first two months, even with the timid offense and horrendous defense, the Mets have always clung to the "Hey, we're still in first place" notion. Well, now the Braves have overtaken the Mets, who once led the Braves by 3.5 games, playing their best baseball of the season. They are also close to having both Chipper Jones and Gary Sheffield healthy together for the first time all season. If the Mets' bats and gloves don't come alive on this extended trip, they could find themselves several games behind Atlanta by the end of this 13-game odyssey, which would set the stage for a long summer of playing catch-up with the Braves. And with the Wild Card looking like its going to come out of either the Central or West, it looks like the Mets will have to win their division if they want to play in the post season.
The Mets enter Florida brandishing their three best pitchers for what may turn out to be an important series with the fish. Pedro Astacio (6-2, 2.65 ERA), Jeff D'Amico (4-4, 3.03 ERA) and Al Leiter (5-4, 2.69 ERA) take their respective turns against the Marlins for the Mets, but will have to face AJ Burnett (5-5, 3.54 ERA), Ryan Dempster (3-5, 4.31 ERA), and Julian Tavarez (2-3, 9.09 ERA).
For the Marlins, Tavarez has been the biggest dissapointment in the starting rotation. In seven starts this year, he has averaged just under five innings per game. He also has nearly as many walks (18) as strike outs (19). The way he's pitched, he is lucky to have two wins.
Astacio and D'Amico have been pleasant surprises for the Mets. There was fear that both pitchers would be plagued by injuries for the better part of the season, and while it's still early in the season, both seem fairly healthy. The Mets hope they can stay that way.
A Closer Look
There is really no use denying it anymore; the Mets have a poor offense. Well, that's not entirely true. There has to BE an offense in order for it to be poor.
Ok, so the offense is not that bad. The Mets have scored more runs than four National League teams; the Brewers, Cubs, Padres, and Pirates, but even that comes as a surprise since the Mets' team on-base percentage (.311) and slugging percentage (.357) top only the mighty Pittsburgh Pirates (.297 and .355 respectably). We know offense has been a problem, now let's point fingers (and perhaps toes as there may be several culprits).
Mike Piazza - Normally a .858 OPS from the team's catcher is a glorious thing, but considering Piazza's career OPS is .966, it looks like Mike's been taking batting advice from Alf.
Mo Vaughn - Nobody should have expected great things from an aging slugger who has missed a year and is now entering a pitchers' park. He's on pace for 12 home runs, which would be an two more than last season's first baseman, but even Zeile's OPS was over .700 last season, whereas Mo's is .681.
Roberto Alomar - Did the Mets trade for Robby Alomar or did they just get Jose Vizcaino back? Why such a great player like Alomar is playing so poorly is a mystery- especially after coming off one of his best seasons.
Jeromy Burnitz - Burnitz hasn't been this bad at the plate since the last time he was a Mets way back in 1994. His lowest OPS since then has been .812 in 2000, there is no reason for it to have dropped below .700 this season.
Roger Cedeno - Cedeno has a .596 OPS, but we're going to cut him some slack. It should be common knowledge by now that Cedeno is not an early season hitter. He probably be better off just sitting the bench and pinch running next April. With one day left in May, Cedeno has a .716 OPS for the month, which isn't good, but is not necessarily bad for a sample size of one month for Cedeno.
There were only three regular position players left off this list of suspects, but they could have easily been added. Alfonzo is playing well after coming off an injury-plagued season, but more is expected from him. Payton is mimicing his poor performance from last season, but has drawn walks at a higher rate than last season. And Rey Ordonez is even worse than usual, but he was never realy considered part of the offense anyway.
The Marlins have activated OF Kevin Millar (left abdominal strain) from the disabled list...The Mets reportedly have offered LHP Al Leiter a two-year contract extension that, with incentives and buyouts, could earn him about $18 million...Marlins catcher Charles Johnson is batting only .189 with two homers and 11 RBI. He is hitting only .214 (61-285) with four homers and 30 RBI since last year's All-Star break...The Mets are expected to activate John Valentin off the disabled list in time for the series opener...Marlins 2B Luis Castillo carried a 17-game hit streak into Thursday night's game against Cincinnati...Mets co-owner Nelson Doubleday was not happy when an independent appraiser placed the value of the franchise at $391 million. His expected sale of 50 percent of the team to co-owner Fred Wilpon is on hold while his lawyers investigate the appraisal.