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By Ed Coleman
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Mets manager Terry Collins said the following during spring training:
After a 13-10 first month of the season, Collins indeed has his team on point, despite back-to-back losses in Houston. And as you would expect, the manager is quite happy about the way his club has performed during the month of April.
Before we look at some of the players who have been key contributors, let’s check out some of the key factors:
LATE & CLOSE - The Mets haven’t done a great job delivering with RISP. They rank 17th out of 30 clubs with a .242 average, and they have left more men on base (185) than any other team in baseball. While we’re on the negative, the Mets have also struck out more than any team in the majors, and they’re still in single digits in stolen bases a month into the season. But from the seventh inning on in tight games, they’ve been clutch. They have a .286 team batting average and a .389 OBP in late & close situations.
TWO-OUT RUNS - The Mets are 2nd (NL, 5th overall) in team batting average, 2nd (NL, 5th overall) in drawing walks, and 2nd (NL, 5th overall) in OBP. They have done a great job of wearing out opposing starters in particular and getting into the bullpens early. And they have been extremely efficient in scoring with two outs — they now have scored 50 runs with two outs, that’s second most in the majors.
WINNING THE CLOSE ONES - Last season, the Mets were 5 under .500 (34-39) in games decided by one or two runs. Thus far this year it’s been a different story. They have executed better for the most part and have won 9 of 11 one or two run decisions. Pitcher R.A. Dickey says that speaks volumes about this team.
And Collins believes the way his club has fought its way through injuries has helped them bond together and strengthened their resolve.
David Wright has, of course, led the way. If not for Matt Kemp playing like he’s from another planet, Wright would be the Player of the Month for April. He’s hitting .395 (2nd only to Kemp) with three HRs and 14 RBI. He also has 16 walks and a .495 OBP, which leads the majors, and recently passed Daryl Strawberry to become the club’s all-time RBI leader.
Johan Santana is not far behind. The way he has pitched and made every start has given the team a palpable boost. In his first four starts, the Mets did not score a run for him while he was in the game, thus his 0-2 mark. In five starts, he has a 2.25 ERA, and has struck out 29 in 24 innings of work. Santana was his usual humble self when assessing his performance.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis can state a strong case for Rookie of the Month. He led all rookies with a .325 average and 26 hits in April. Nieuwenhuis compiled the third-best April rookie average in team history, behind only (surprise!) Rey Ordonez (.354 in 1996) and Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire (.345 in 1982). Nieuwenhuis has scored 11 runs and driven in eight, and of the six hits that knocked in those eight runs, five of them either tied the game, put the Mets ahead or brought them to within one run. Collins loves the play of his young outfielder.
Word of caution – Nieuwenhuis has struck out 27 times, one more than Ike Davis’ 26.
Josh Thole has been a solid two-way contributor. Thole is batting .313 and has a stellar .395 OBP by seeing more pitches at the plate this season. He’s hitting .400 (8-20) against lefties so far, and the amazing part is that through just one month, those 8 hits are more than he had (6) vs. lefties all last season. Thole also reached safely in 18 straight games to begin the season – the longest streak to start a season by a catcher in team history.
And Jon Rauch has been a revelation out of the bullpen. Rauch has had a great slider, has given up just six hits in 13 appearances, and is 3-0 with a 2.31 ERA.
And a second, and final, word of caution from the manager before we depart: remember, this team is still young — and inexperienced 1020-1.
Watch out for the speed bumps.
C U soon
Are you thrilled with the Mets’ performance so far? What do you expect in May? Sound off in the comments below…