Friday, June 18, 2010

Ron Artest, Oliver Perez and the Mets' amazing turnaround

On June 5, Oliver Perez was put on the DL. Since then, the Mets are 10-1. Much of the rise of the Mets has come from addition by subtraction.

The Mets started their season with several players who did not belong on a major-league roster. The Angels were willing to eat $20 million just to get rid of Gary Matthews Jr. The lowly Royals released Mike Jacobs.

Omar Minaya gave Jerry Manuel a problematic roster, but Manuel made it worse. On Opening Day, he started Matthews in center over Angel Pagan and batted Jacobs cleanup. John Maine and Perez were not only in the rotation without earning spots, but starting ahead of Mike Pelfrey, who had been demoted to fourth starter.

By the time the Mets admitted that Jacobs had to go and Ike Davis should be promoted, they were 4-8. Since then, the Mets are 34-20.

It took longer to get rid of Gary Matthews Jr. and Frank Catalanotto, but at least the Mets have the makings of a bench now with Chris Carter and Jesus Feliciano.

But when Perez refused to be demoted, the Mets faced a crisis. Lots of people wanted the Mets to cut Ollie, but it would have been a mistake to release Perez outright with a year and a half left on his contract. After being dumped by Detroit, Dontrelle Willis has a 1.80 ERA in two starts for Arizona. Jeff Suppan was awful with Milwuakee, but after the Brewers got rid of him, he was reunited with Dave Duncan in St. Louis and pitched well in his first start for the Cardinals.

If the Mets cut Ollie, you just know that someone would pick him up, straighten him out, at least briefly, and at the end of the season, Ollie would be pulling a Ron Artest and thanking his psychiatrist for helping him contribute to a title.

But when Ollie refused to go the minors, the Mets were stuck. They needed to clear a roster spot to activate Jon Niese from the DL. It's easy to look back in hindsight and say that they would have found a good way to get Niese back on the team, such as sending Jenrry Mejia to the minors. But with the kind of moves this team makes, who knows. Maybe Niese would not have been brought back right away.

Finally getting Ollie on the DL showed that the team wanted to win by getting rid of someone who was not putting the team first. And it opened up a spot for Niese, who has gone 3-0 since his return, sparking the 10-1 run.

Minaya has made some good moves, notably acquiring R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi. The combination of Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco is a huge upgrade at catcher.

Manuel is a dubious strategist, but under his leadership, the Mets are now half a game out of first, so he's got to get credit for that.

When the Mets first played the Yankees this year less than a month ago, I predicted a Yankee sweep and hoped the Mets could take a game. A lot has changed in a short time. I'm still going to have to with the Yankees since the Mets won't have their Citi Field advantage, but I expect the Mets to win at least one game and be competitive throughout the series.

Last year's trip to Yankee Stadium sparked the collapse of the season, thanks to Luis Castillo's drop and Johan Santana's implosion. Let's hope things are a lot better this time around!

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