The Mets sit just 4.5 games behind the National League East-leading Nationals at the break and are 0.5 games out of the NL Wild Card hunt. But are they good enough to continue challenging for the rest of the season? Or will they fall back to the pack?
David Wright is a legitimate NL MVP candidate at the midway point, hitting .351 with 11 home runs and a 4.9 WAR. Ruben Tejada has had a season reminiscent of the man he replaced, Jose Reyes. When healthy, Tejada has posted a .325 average and .381 on-base percentage. But a strained right quadriceps has limited the shortstop to just 182 plate appearances so far. Rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis started off hot but has seen his production drop of late. Critics were calling for Ike Davis' demotion a month into the season, but the first baseman has begun to rebound and shares the team lead with 12 home runs. Daniel Murphy can hit for average, but hasn't developed a great eye at the plate (.335 OBP). Lucas Duda has 12 home runs, but is hitting just .249 with a .341 OBP, not taking the step forward many predicted. Andres Torres (.201, one home run), Jason Bay (.187, four home runs) and Josh Thole (.264, one home run) have not been productive. Wright's stellar performance drags the grade up here.
R.A. Dickey is in contention for the Cy Young Award after going 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA during the first half. He's already thrown back-to-back one-hitters and has the best strikeout ratio of anyone on the pitching staff. Johan Santana threw the franchise's first no-hitter on June 1 and has a 3.24 ERA. He's made a full recovery after undergoing surgery to repair the anterior capsule of his left shoulder and missing all of the 2011 season. Jon Niese (7-4, 3.73) is solid in the No. 3 slot and has proven adept at getting ground balls. Chris Young (2-2, 3.41 ERA) has already started more games than last season and has doubled his wins. He's proven to be a cheap and effective investment. Dillon Gee (6-7, 4.10 ERA) had been rounding out a very good staff until a blood clot in his right shoulder artery required surgery. Now the Mets will have to mix and match to find a replacement, possibly drawing from the bullpen, which has had plenty of issues already.
Scott Hairston has been incredibly valuable as a right-handed bat, hitting .249 with 12 home runs. Omar Quintanilla (.257 average, .350 OBP), Justin Turner (.281 average, .320 OBP) and Ronny Cedeno (.259 average, .351 OBP) have been quality infield fill-ins. Jordany Valdespin has had a rough time in the field on occasion, but he's shown a live bat (four home runs in 70 at-bats). Mike Baxter had been a big addition (.323 average, .392 OBP, .523 slugging) until he was injured making an outstanding play during Santana's no-hitter. Mike Nickeas has been even worse than Thole and shows almost zero offensive production (.172 average, one home run).
Where to begin.
Frank Francisco did manage to accrue 18 saves before being placed on the disabled list with a left oblique strain. But he also posted a 4.97 ERA and took three losses. Jon Rauch has decent numbers (4.02 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), but he's allowed those base runners at the worst possible times, sticking him with seven losses. Ramon Ramirez (2-1, 3.98 ERA) and Tim Byrdak (2-0, 3.57 ERA) have had their moments, but neither is a shut-down reliever. Bobby Parnell (2-1, 2.83 ERA) has been one of the few members of the staff to really distinguish himself. The bullpen's 4.94 ERA ranks last in the majors.
The Mets have a -9.8 team UZR/150, a metric that measures a fielder's ability to reach balls hit to his zone. That figure places them next to last in the majors, just beating out the Tigers. The team's .980 fielding percentage is fifth worst in MLB. The main culprits: Duda (-35.3 UZR/150), Murphy (-17.7) and Davis (-10.3). Nieuwenhuis has been awful in left and right field, but stellar in center. After posting three straight negative seasons at third base, Wright has rebounded with a 4.1 UZR/150 this season.
Terry Collins has been saddled with a very imperfect team this season and has them contending, not only for a Wild Card spot, but also for the National League East. The Mets sit just 4.5 games behind the first-place Nationals at the break. Collins also had the task of dealing with Santana's readjustment to the majors and made the difficult (and correct) decision to leave him in to finish the no-hitter, despite a rising pitch count. Collins does get docked a few points, however, for attempting to get one of Dickey's one-hitters changed to a no-hitter by lobbying for a first inning hit to be turned into an error on Wright. Awkward situation all around.
Alderson surely hasn't had a lot of money to work with, but he hasn't done well with what he's got. Seeking to upgrade center field and the bullpen, Alderson traded Angel Pagan to the Giants for Torres and Ramirez. Ramirez has been okay in the pen and Torres has been a good defender and poor hitter. Pagan, however, is hitting .284 with five home runs for a contender in San Francisco. Re-signing Hairston and Young were solid moves, but overall it's a similar team to last season's dud only with stellar performances from Wright and Dickey.
For the Mets to remain in contention, Wright and Dickey need to continue to be superstars or the Mets need help (cough, cough, trade). The rotation can be very good, the lineup and bench are competent, but the defense and bullpen need serious overhauls. Alderson can raise his grade in the second half with a strong trade deadline performance.