2005-07-15 / Sports

Locals Need To Win Fast To Stay In Race

By Michael Avallone Sports Columnist

By Michael Avallone
Sports Columnist

It’s time to get back to reality. Both the Mets and Yankees open the second-half of their seasons with crucial series. The Bombers – who trail the Boston Red Sox by 2 ½ games in the AL East – visit Fenway for a four-game set. As for the Mets, they may be in last in the NL East – eight games behind the surprising Washington Nationals – but they’re only 5 ½ behind the Wild Card-leading Atlanta Braves, who invade Shea for four games.

A look back at some of the key positives and negatives from each team’s first-half.

New York Mets

Good

Pedro Martinez has given the Mets everything they had hoped for, and more. Not only is the three-time Cy Young award winner 10-3 with an NL-best 138 Ks, he’s creating a buzz around Shea Stadium much the same way Doc Gooden did 20 years ago. The Mets are averaging close to 39,000 fans during Pedro’s home starts, almost 5,000 more than days he does not pitch. A repeat of his first half would make Pedro the first Met to win 20 games since Frank Viola (20-10) tuned the trick 15 years ago.

Where would the Mets be without Cliff Floyd? Practically run out of town this past offseason, Floyd has responded with his best year (so far) since 2001. His misplay in the Pittsburgh meltdown aside, the Mets leftfielder has finally provided a return on the four-year, $26 million contract New York invested in him. His .287 batting average, 22 homers and 55 RBI lead the team and his solid defense has been a pleasant surprise. Most importantly, however, has been his ability to stay healthy.

David Wright has been touted as the next Scott Rolen for the last few years. The 22-year-old third baseman is doing nothing to dispel those whispers during his first full season in the bigs. Despite slumping towards the end of the first-half, Wright has been the Mets most consistent hitter all year, smashing 11 home runs to go along with a .281 batting average. He’s driven in 44 runs and already has 22 doubles as well as a team-leading 38 walks. The only problem so far has been his defense (15 errors); something that most predict will be fine given more time.

Bad

One of these days, the Mets will learn that closing out a game is good for not only their record, but for their fan’s blood pressure. Whether it be Opening Day in Cincinnati, the gut-wrenching loss to the Yankees in May and then a month later at Yankee Stadium or the most recent debacle in Pittsburgh, the Mets have losing heartbreakers down to a science. Still, Willie Randolph’s calm demeanor has helped keep the team from any extended losing streaks, keeping them in reach of both the division and Wild Card leaders.

The right-side of the infield has been like a game of Musical Chairs. Kaz Matsui, Chris Woodward, Marlon Anderson and Miguel Cairo have played second. Doug Mientkiewicz, Woodward, Anderson, Cairo, Brian Daubach and Jose Offerman have manned first. That’s seven different players rotating around two positions in the season’s first three months. That’s not exactly what the Mets had in mind when they traded for Mientkiewicz, but his .219 average has overshadowed his stellar fielding and he’s been on the DL for the last three weeks with a bum hamstring. As for Matsui, he all but lost his job to Cairo before going on the DL himself with a bruised knee.

The best thing Carlos Beltran could have done in the first-half was to head to the DL when he strained his right quad. He didn’t and it took a toll. Hitting .302 on May 21, the Mets $119-million man took himself out of that game against the Yankees and proceeded to have just one pinch-hit appearance over the next nine days. Beltran struggled once he returned, and despite being voted on to the All-Star team, is hitting .266 with 10 homers 44 RBI and only four steals. Now healthy, he did heat up the last week of the first-half, hitting over .300 with a home run and six RBI, not to mention three steals.

New York Yankees

Good

A farm system that was thought to be barren may have some life after all. Where would the Yankees be without rookies Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang? The young second baseman has a sweet stroke and has more than held his own, hitting .288 with six longballs. As for Wang, all he has done is rescue the pitching staff from early-season oblivion. The 25-year-old Taiwan native has been the Bombers most consistent pitcher, going 6-3 with a 3.89 ERA in 12 starts. Together, the duo has injected life into a club that was stagnating

Newsflash: Mariano Rivera is still as dominant as ever. Everyone was stunned when the Yankees closer was rocked by Boston in two early-season games. Arguably the greatest closer of all-time, he was even booed off the mound at Yankee Stadium during one of those losses. Fast-forward three months and Rivera’s numbers are staggering: 20-of-22 in save chances, a 1.01 ERA and an opponent’s batting average of .156. Boo that.

The usual cast of characters has produced for the Yankees. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui have all put up All-Star caliber numbers. A-Rod, in fact, is making a case for AL-MVP honors with a .317 average, 23 homers and 72 RBI. However, what has launched the Yankees to a season-high six-games above .500 has been….Jason Giambi? Vilified for admitting his steroid use, Giambi has been scorching so far in July, hitting better than .550 to go along with a Major League-leading five longballs. He may never be the player he was from 1999-2002, but his recent hot stretch shows he still has some thunder in his bat. Whether it lasts or not is another matter entirely.

Bad

Once the long-awaited deal for Randy Johnson was completed, the Yankees road to the World Series was seemingly paved. However, the 41-year-old Johnson has pitched like just that, a 41-year-old. The five–time Cy Young award winner has been anything but during his first year in the Bronx. Although Johnson is 9-6, his ERA stands at un-Randy like 4.16 and he has reached double digits in strikeouts only once in 19 starts. As it is, the 6-10 lefty is averaging only 8.25 Ks per nine innings, which would be his lowest full-season average since 1990.

Life hasn’t been too good for Tony Womack since signing with the Yankees. His play – particularly since early May – has been atrocious. He has only one extra-base hit since May 13 and is batting .243 with an unacceptable .276 OBP%. Although he does have 20 stolen bases, 14 of them came back in May. To be fair, he’s been abused by the Yanks, who signed him to be their second baseman and then quickly moved him to the outfield when it became clear Bernie Williams could not play centerfield on an everyday basis any longer.

The Yankees should have seen this coming. Williams’ defense has been sub-par for some time now, but his clutch bat would make up for it. No more. The 36-year-old has fewer and fewer highlights at the plate and his fielding gaffes – most notably against the Devil Rays and Mets last month – show just how far the former Gold Glover has fallen. Considering that the Yankees could have landed Carlos Beltran doesn’t help matters, and though he’s failed to live up to expectations so far in Queens doesn’t lessen the sting of what might turn out to be one move the Yankees will rue not making. Instead, the Bombers are left with rookie Melky Cabrera – who began the year at Double-A Trenton – roaming centerfield and performing just as bad with the glove as Williams and Womack were.

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