Tuesday, July 26, 2011

They ain't dead yet

I stopped listening to Benigno and Roberts on WFAN back in May because (1) Benigno is a moron and (2) for guys who claim to be Mets fans, they are awfully negative. But because the FAN is the No. 1 AM station on my car stereo, when I head out to grab lunch, out of habit I'll tune in to 660 and occasionally catch a bit of their show, against my better judgement.

So there I was this afternoon, running out to the Landmark Deli for an "Emeril Calling" roast beef wrap, when I turned on the radio just in time to hear those paragons of positivity declare several times, while discussing what kind of return the Mets could get for Carlos Beltran, that the Mets are dead.

I'll admit that my optimism borders on the lunatic. I'm the kind of fan who will hold on to every last shred of hope until mathematical elimination is nigh. But really, with more than a third of the season left to play, we're calling the Mets done?

Sure, Atlanta was 7 1/2 games ahead of the Mets in a crowded field for the Wild Card entering Tuesday's second game of a four-game set in Cincinnati. But 60 games is a lot of baseball left, so could we please hold off on the shovels? Good Lord.

Yes, to win 90 games the Mets would need to go 39-21 over their final 60 games while the Braves go no better than 30-29 in their final 59. Unlikely? Maybe. Impossible? Not at all.

The Mets took a step forward and improved to 52-51 with an 8-6 win over the Reds Tuesday night in a game that featured some sloppy play by the home team and some very gutsy work by a shorthanded Mets bullpen, with Beato, Acosta, Igarashi and Byrdak combining to save a win for Jon Niese, who imploded in the fifth after four solid innings.

The Mets have had a tough schedule so far, particularly since May 27, when 14 of the 18 series were against playoff contenders. The only games that weren't were against Oakland and the Dodgers (Mets went 5-2) and five against the Marlins (the Mets won just once). In that stretch of 51 games, the Mets went 26-25. Not bad, considering the strength of schedule and the lack of David Wright, Ike Davis, and for a bit, Jose Reyes.

The rest of the way gets easier, providing the Mets get better at home. After this road trip the Mets will have the final third of the season left, 54 games, and 33 will be at Citi Field. They play the Braves nine times, six at home. That's an opportunity.

Terry Collins has expected his players to step up when needed all season, and when Beltran is traded, that just means Lucas Duda and Jason Pridie will have a chance to show what they have. Collins mentioned this week that if Beltran leaves and he senses any negativity in the clubhouse, he'll move quickly to squash it, noting that most of the players are fighting not only to win games now but for a spot on the roster next season. So there's dual motivation.

As for Beltran, we keep hearing that the Mets won't get top prospects for a two-month rental, but the fact remains that among the outfielders who will be available, Beltran is the best player and the biggest impact bat. So Sandy Alderson is smart to wait this out to the end to see who coughs up the most.

But I'm at a point where if the offers for Beltran are that underwhelming -- and especially if the Mets can pick up another game or two between now and Friday -- the Mets should just keep Beltran and ride the season out. (As I finish this, the Mets could pick up another half game and move to 6 1/2 games out if the Pirates can beat the Braves, but it's the top of the 18th inning. Yikes.)

With so many home dates left, the Mets should consider the value of keeping its top players and going for it. If it doesn't work out, so what? They lose out on a couple of middling prospects.

But if the Mets can catch fire? How much are all those "meaningful games" worth, not just in dollars but in karma?

Like I said, I'm a lunatic. Or fanatic. A fan.

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