By Ernie Palladino
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For a short while there, and in the end it could prove out as a VERY short while, the Mets could look at their Yankees counterparts and have a laugh over the pinstripers’ starting rotation.
Terry Collins’ club, after all, had won seven of 10 games on the strength of their starting arms. Even Johan Santana, a wild card given his long and laborious comeback from 2010 shoulder surgery, had pitched well in his first two outings.
And then came the last two games against the Braves. Both Santana and R.A. Dickey produced their two worst outings as big-leaguers, Santana lasting just 1 1/3 innings in a 9-3 rout Tuesday night, and the knuckleball Dickey following that with a tidy 4 1/3-inning, eight-run outing in a 14-6 loss Wednesday.
That was the end of a string of 14 quality starts for Dickey.
Heading into that last game, the Mets had gotten a 2.80 ERA out of their starters in a surprising start. Remember, these guys have cut their payroll by $50 million thanks to the investment fallout with that white-haired fellow, Bernie Madoff, who won’t be going to any Mets games anytime soon.
They’re not expected to do anything this year, especially after letting Jose Reyes swim off to the Marlins. The only contribution he’ll make for the Mets this year will be in that highlight tribute they plan to give him next Tuesday, when he visits Citi Field for the first time in an alien uniform.
Still, the Mets got off hot. But this 3-3 road trip, which was low-lighted by their two-game implosion in Atlanta, showed that the Mets might well be coming down to earth now. Sure, there was some offense, and Ike Davis continues to be a bright spot. But if the pitching goes south, it’ll be all over.
It could well be tipping. It takes time for power pitchers to find their true groove, and Santana appears to be struggling to find his location. Dickey’s knuckler didn’t knuckle the way it was supposed to Wednesday, and we saw the results.
There’s no saying that Dickey’s butterfly won’t come around. History says it probably will. But Santana is worrisome. How long will the shoulder hold up? Is this going to be a long string where location and mound comfort will be issues?
If that’s the case, does anybody really believe the offense will produce enough to overcome the pitching woes? David Wright is doing fine, sitting atop the majors at .500. Ike Davis has three homers, one of which came when Tommy Hanson pitched around Wright Monday to get to Davis. He banged that one for three runs in the last Mets victory. But his 2-for-5 outing Wednesday that included a solo homer left his overall average at a still-struggling .156.
Does anyone really believe rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ .321 average will hold up over the season. If you’re banking on a rookie leadoff hitter to do the job, hold your breath.
The last two games may signal that the Mets are coming back down to earth to, say, a 79-win season.
But that’s about where they belong, anyway.
Will the real rotation please stand up? Mets fans, do you think the starting five is coming down to earth, or were the last two games a fluke? Sound off below!