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Kallet: Despite Mets’ Strong Start, Abysmal Back End Of Rotation Could Doom Club In A Hurry

Jeremy Hefner (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Jeremy Hefner (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

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By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
» More Columns

Niese, Harvey and pray for rain … or snow.

The Mets have gotten off to a very nice start — as they often do — entering Tuesday’s (scheduled) four-game series in Colorado. The club has been the beneficiary of a very light early-season schedule, kicking off 2013 at home against San Diego and Miami and on the road against Philadelphia and Minnesota.

The offense has been spectacular thus far, with the Amazin’s scoring 69 runs in just 11 games — what’s up, John Buck? — and the front end of the starting rotation has been exceptional.

Jon Niese struggled in his last start partly due to the elements in Minneapolis — we’ll give him a pass on that one — yet he still boasts a 2-0 record with a 3.57 ERA over his first three starts. The left-hander surrendered two runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Padres on Opening Day and two runs — one earned — over six frames against the Marlins five days later.

And what can I say about Matt Harvey that hasn’t already been said? We’re not even into May yet and the 24-year-old has become the clear-cut ace of the staff. He’s come out of the gate pitching like a seasoned veteran and a Cy Young Award winner. After Saturday’s dominant start against the Twins, the former first-round pick is 3-0 with an 0.82 ERA and a 0.55 WHIP. He’s struck out 25 batters and allowed six hits and six walks in 22 innings. Two runs on six hits in 22 innings!

But while that’s all well and good, the back end of New York’s rotation has been predictably abysmal. Dillon Gee, Jeremy Hefner and Aaron Laffey — the current No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 starters — have a combined 6.23 ERA in 23 2/3 innings pitched.

Yeah, it’s been ugly.

Gee is a No. 5 starter who is currently filling in as a No. 3, so Mets fans can’t be too down on him. I trust that he’ll get it together soon and start pitching like a No. 5 man again — his ERA should be between 4.30 and  4.50 — but he has no business being a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. As for Hefner and Laffey, I don’t believe that they are good enough to be steady major league pitchers — even in the No. 4 and No. 5 slots..

The Mets can be a very competitive ballclub, but they’re going to have serious trouble winning series consistently moving forward with Hefner and Laffey pitching every fifth day. And with those two starters pitching in back-to-back games every week, it’s nearly impossible for this team to run off a winning streak of more than three games.

The Mets’ rotation was initially meant to include Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum. With those two healthy, New York’s rotation would have been one of the strongest in the National League.

But Santana, of course, is out for the season, and Marcum’s status is up the air. The 31-year-old veteran, who is dealing with nerve inflammation in his neck, threw a 30-pitch bullpen session this past Wednesday and said that he felt good. According to ESPN, he will throw a bullpen session on Tuesday and then will toss three or four innings in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Thursday.

If all goes well, Marcum could come off the disabled list at some point next week. That would be a huge lift for the Mets, as it would erase Laffey from the staff. But the injury-prone Marcum has already had one setback since signing with the Mets, so pinning hope on him returning next week could be wishful thinking.

And then there is the case of top prospect Zack Wheeler.

Mets fans are licking their lips in anticipation of the 22-year-old being called up and becoming the club’s version of Stephen Strasburg. But general manager Sandy Alderson is being smart by letting the former sixth-overall pick refine his stuff in Las Vegas before hastily rushing him up the big leagues. And more importantly, if New York calls up Wheeler after April 2o it will assure itself of an extra year of team control over the hard-throwing right-hander.

Mets fans will hopefully see “The Wheel Deal” in Flushing at some point in early May.

But what if Marcum suffers yet another setback and is out until the All-Star break or longer? What if Wheeler doesn’t get his first cup of coffee until June? Both scenarios are highly conceivable, and either one would likely result in yet another fourth-place finish for New York.

Two consecutive games have been snowed out — on Sunday in Minneapolis and on Monday in Denver — and despite how well this club is playing right now, I’m welcoming the postponements. A doubleheader is on tap for Tuesday, but snow and rain are in the forecast throughout the day. Wednesday isn’t looking too promising, either.

It’s simple, really. The Mets will not win enough games to stay relevant with Hefner and Laffey anchoring the back end of the rotation. If this team has any aspirations of contending through the summer months and even into September, Wheeler and Marcum will have to complement Niese and Harvey — and Gee will have to return to the No. 5 spot.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

With a starting rotation of Niese, Harvey, Marcum, Wheeler and Gee, can this team compete for the second Wild Card spot in the National League? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…

Brad Kallet is a web producer for CBSNewYork.com/WFAN.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.