When the New York Mets arrive in Philadelphia on Tuesday to start a three game set with the defending division champion, the Philadelphia Phillies, they should feel proud of the way they have started the 2011 season and confident that they can compete with any team in the National League after taking two out of three from the Florida Marlins in the opening weekend. Yes, it has only been three games. Yes, it was the Florida Marlins. However, even the most pessimistic of Met fans have to be encouraged by the way the team played over the weekend and at least minimally hopeful that they can carry this type of baseball for a substantial period of time.
For starters, besides an error from David Wright and a misplayed pop-up in shallow center field, the defense has been spectacular over the first three games. Rookie Brad Emaus has remained calm in his opening days as a major leaguer and has come through big on multiple hard-hit balls to the right side of the infield. The outfielders are hitting their cutoff men, and pitchers are successfully holding on runners and preventing stolen bases. After a quiet start on opening day, the offense came alive on Saturday and Sunday, hitting extremely aggressively against Ricky Nolasco and Javier Vasquez. Willie Harris, Jason Bay's temporary replacement, has been on fire and has contributed big hits to the Mets thus far, and Ike Davis has also shown no signs of a "sophomore slump."
Finally, the pitching has been good. It hasn't been perfect, but it has certainly been sufficient and has kept us in the ballgame. While R.A. Dickey was brilliant on Sunday, Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese did not have the movement or the velocity I was expecting on their pitches. And I know it's only one appearance, but watching K-Rod blow that save on Saturday was very frustrating and discouraging. On the other hand, Rule 5 pick Pedro Beato was terrific in two innings of relief on Friday night. It's a long season. Of course not all of your pitchers are going to be spot-on every night, and there will be struggles, so it's nothing to get bent out of shape about, especially so early in the season.
Having said that, I am very excited about the upcoming Mets-Phillies. For one, they are facing the back end of the rotation for the first two games in Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton. If the offense continues to hit like it did over the weekend, I see no reason why we should not be able to win at least one game, if not two. Secondly, their lineup is not nearly as strong as it usually is with Chase Utley on the disabled list and Jayson Werth now on the Washington Nationals. Because Manager Terry Collins has chosen to skip fifth starter Chris Capuano the first time through the rotation, he will be sending out Chris Young, Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese to face the NL East champs, a combination of pitchers I feel very comfortable with, particularly Pelfrey and Niese, as they have experience pitching in Citizens Bank Park.
The bottom line is that it would be hard to argue that the New York Mets have not gotten off to a solid start in 2011. Despite blowing a ninth-inning lead on Saturday, they still managed to score multiple runs in extra innings on the road, something that is extremely rare for this team. Last year, it took the Mets until June to win a series on the road, and were 2-8 in rubber games on the road as a whole. Even if the Mets win one game in Philadelphia this week, they should consider themselves winners. I have always been a strong believer in that a playoff team needs to be able to play .500 ball on the road and go two out of three at home, which adds up to 90 wins, more often than not the number of games needed to make the post-season. So when you sit down to watch the Mets this week, at least for now, appreciate the fact that they truly are carrying themselves in a different manner than previous seasons. Whether it continues to work or not is obviously impossible to say, but let's take it one game at a time.