Thursday, June 17, 2010

No more drama, lots more wins

While Jonathon Niese was turning in his third straight start of seven innings or more and three earned runs or less — we haven't seen that since the legend that is Jae Seo — which continued the impressive string of performances by Mets starting pitchers, Gary Cohen asked Ron Darling about how the rotation was able to turn things around so dramatically.

The answer, said Darling, was less drama. And he is spot on.

Replacing John Maine and Ollie Perez with R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi served to eliminate two unreliable players from the equation and add two pitchers who throw strikes, are far more consistent, and give the Mets a much greater chance of winning when they are on the mound.

Throw in the return of a healthy Niese, who is showing us all why the team has been so high on him, and suddenly a starting rotation filled with uncertainty has become the rock on which the Mets' resurgence has been built.

Certainly, the offense has been performing as well. David Wright is smashing the ball, Angel Pagan and Jeff Francoeur are hitting, and the team is finally getting the clutch hit and scoring runners on base. But you cannot underestimate the psychological impact that consistently good starting pitching has had on this ballclub.

There's no need to press at the plate knowing that you won't need to score 10 runs to win. You play better in the field because you know your pitcher is going to throw strikes. The bullpen gets extra rest because the starters can go more than five or six innings. Everything is improved.

Niese and Johan Santana both got plenty of run support in the two wins over Cleveland, but they also both went seven innings and held the opposing offense in check.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are wondering whether Pedro Martinez can be their savior. Who's in better shape on the mound? And how has the Phillies offense done since they were nabbed with a camera and binoculars, by the way?

Again, it's tough to get too excited with five straight wins over the Orioles and Indians, but the Mets have been playing very good (dare I say playoff-caliber) baseball for a while now, going 11-2 in June. As long as the pitching is there, that success should continue, even with a tougher schedule in the next couple of weeks.

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