Johan Santana's setback this past week reminded the Mets that nothing is guaranteed after shoulder surgery, and with Santana's return this season in doubt, Sandy Alderson expressed some uncertainty Friday about the two-time Cy Young Award winner in looking ahead to next year.
The plan is for Santana to reclaim his title as the Mets' ace, but who will fill out the rest of the rotation? And can that group hang with the Phillies and Braves, the pitching-rich bullies of the National League East?
For one night, that wasn't much of a concern as the Mets smacked four home runs, including two from Justin Turner, in an 11-7 victory over the Braves Saturday night at Citi Field. Josh Thole and Jason Bay also went deep as the Mets snapped a five-game losing streak, climbed back to .500 (56-56) and trimmed their wild-card deficit to eight games.
"Just winning felt good, climbing out of the rubble," Thole said. "We joked before the game -- we can't lose the rest of the season."
Jonathon Niese (11-8) kept the staff lead in wins despite allowing 10 hits and five runs in five innings. That's because the Mets made their spacious park look small for a change in their first four-homer game since June 13, 2010, at Camden Yards.
Turner launched his first into the Mets' bullpen -- the relievers scribbled slogans on the ball such as "oppo" for opposite-field homer -- and he delivered a two-run shot in the fourth that landed in the leftfield seats. When asked if it was special hitting two at spacious Citi, Turner smiled.
"You hit two home runs anywhere, it's an accomplishment," Turner said.
The five-game slide virtually buried the Mets' dimming playoff hopes, and catching up with the top two clubs in the NL East next year won't be easy. The Phillies have a staff with four aces -- along with impressive rookie Vance Worley -- and the Braves aren't too far behind, with the benefit of a shutdown relief corps. As for the Mets, their rotation is not expected to look much different than it does today, with the notable exception of Santana.
"I think what we've got right now is like four No. 3 starters," R.A. Dickey said. "We need a stopper. On any given day, it can be one of us, but I think Johan has really helped with that in the past. For the most part, we've taken the ball every fifth day to a man, and that's half the battle right there.''
Alderson likes what he has seen from the Mets' rotation, which entered the game ranked sixth in batting average (.256), seventh in WHIP (1.30), eighth in innings (677) and 10th in ERA (3.95). Of course, the Phillies were No. 1 in three of those categories (second in the other) and the Braves had a second place, two thirds and a seventh. "You know those guys are going to be there," the GM said, "and we want to match up as well as we possibly can. But it's about all of the elements of the team, not just the starting rotation."
That's why Alderson isn't targeting that area for a major upgrade this offseason. He will need to devote most of his offseason budget to the fund to re-sign Jose Reyes, anyway.
"Right now, except for some concern about the depth of our rotation, it's a fairly solid part of the team," Alderson said. "We don't have guys that have been dominant per se. But they've pitched well."
Chris Capuano is the only pending free agent, and Mike Pelfrey, who is arbitration-eligible, is likely to earn somewhere in the range of $5 million to $6 million for 2012. With that relatively modest raise, the Mets intend to keep him despite his struggles.
They have four members of the rotation on pace to make close to 30 starts, with Dillon Gee trailing slightly. There's value in that, as well. Just ask the Braves, who had to scratch Jair Jurrjens (12-4, 2.63 ERA) from Sunday's start and put him on the DL with a right knee strain.
"I think as a front office, that's what you want out of your guys -- reliability," Dickey said.