Depleted Mets aim for more consistency
Return of injured stars, cleaner fundamentals are objectives
NEW YORK -- Injuries have shaken the Mets to their very core, and this is not a metaphor. They play regularly now without two of the players identified as members of their core, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, and a third -- Carlos Delgado -- who hasn't played since May 10 and still has the fourth-most home runs on the team. Moreover, their disabled list is entirely too similar to their Opening Day roster.
And they certainly suffer because of the attrition, but also because those who are physically able to perform have not performed well and because the team's reserve strength is so shallow, you can see right down to the bottom of the National League East. The Mets are not headed to that depth, no matter the gravity of their situation.
But a fourth-place finish hardly seems out of the question.
From an overall standpoint, the team's standing is surprising in contradicting ways. The Mets could have fallen out of contention because of all the injuries, but haven't. At the same time, their tendency to play games scarred by unsound fundamentals -- before and since the spate of injuries -- is greater than anyone could have anticipated, and it has cost them at least a half-dozen games.
The injuries aren't so many that they camouflage the mistakes.
Team MVP: A temptation exists to characterize David Wright as the Mets' MVP by default. And probably, had Carlos Beltran continued to produce as he had before his knee undermined his performance, he would have warranted this unofficial designation. But for all his struggles, Wright leads the team in runs, RBIs, doubles, triples, stolen bases and walks. And he and Alex Cora serve as the team's conscience and spokesmen.
Call him "Ace": No debating this. Johan Santana is the Mets' primary starting pitcher, even though his more recent work hardly has been comparable to his performance in his first 10 starts. Without him, the Mets could be competing with the Nationals for last place.
Greatest strength: To identify one aspect of the Mets as a strength is impossible. Their winning percentage is below par because the batting order disappears from time to time, the rotation is inconsistent, and so too the bullpen. The defense is prone to make grand misplays and bunch its mistakes. And the bench was markedly thin before so many front-line players were disabled.
Biggest problem: The injuries have been overwhelming and undermining on a team that lacked depth before the first disabled list assignment. No team can survive the loss of its leadoff man, No. 3 hitter, primary slugger, shortstop, center fielder, primary setup reliever and two starting pitchers. And few teams make so many fundamental mistakes.
Greatest surprise: Omir Santos and Fernando Nieve provided more than anyone had anticipated before some reality set in. But the spike in Wright's strikeout total and conspicuous absence of home runs is stunning as well as troubling.
Team needs: Many. The Mets' thinking needs an adjustment, one that will deny entry to the self-fulfilling prophecy and reinforce the notion that throwing to the proper base, backing up throws, sliding, secondary leads, hitting cutoff men, signaling baserunners as they approach the plate and keeping the double play in order can offset other problems. A few home runs would be another desirable change.
He said it: "[A 6 1/2-game deficit] in 80 games isn't that tough. I've played them long enough to know that this team can beat you in a lot of different ways." -- Jeff Francoeur, after coming over from the Braves in a trade for Ryan Church
Mark your calendar: The Mets play 13 games -- the first seven at Citi Field -- against the Braves, Phillies, Marlins and Cubs, beginning Aug. 18. In the event they emerge as a contender, their season is likely to be determined in that sequence of games.
Fearless second-half prediction: Few Mets teams have been so prone to making so many fundamentally poor moves in the field and on the bases. That sort of problem doesn't usually disappear in the second half of a season. The disadvantage the Mets face may be too great for a flawed team to overcome even if all the missing pieces return by mid-August.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.