Around the NL East: Recapping New York’s First Half

With days of no baseball now behind us, the second half of the 2012 season is set to begin later today across Major League Baseball. Before the first games begin, however, let’s take a moment to take stock of the rest of the National League East and where the four teams chasing the Nationals currently stand. We’ll continue working our way up from the bottom of the NL East – next up are the New York Mets, who at 46-40 are 4.5 games behind Washington.

For the Mets, any success has to be considered a great achievement this year, especially considering the team was completely written off by nearly every major media outlet prior to the season began. New York was picked by everyone to finish in dead last in the NL East this year, with most suggesting that the team just didn’t have the talent to compete or the financial flexibility to add pieces if needed during the season. To date, the Mets have proved the former to be completely wrong.

Third baseman David Wright has been the center of the Mets' success this year. Will it be enough for the team to lock him up long term? (Image Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE)

Third baseman David Wright got off to a torrid start to the season and has maintained a strong pace, batting .351/.441/.563 with 11 HR and 59 RBI through 356 plate appearances. After facing a lot of questions about his future, Wright has seemingly silenced a lot of his critics and renewed the public Mets-fan desire for him to be retained long term before he reaches free agency after next season. An extension seems unlikely during the season, but this could be a major topic of conversation in New York this winter – just as the pending (and eventual) extension for Ryan Zimmerman was in Washington this past winter.

Ruben Tejada has helped some in New York forget about Jose Reyes, though the two are completely different players. Tejada has flashed some Reyes-like abilities defensively and is surprising most at the plate, batting .325/.381/.405 over 182 plate appearances. His counterpart up the middle, Daniel Murphy, has also had a decent first half, hitting .295/.335/.410 in 334 plate appearances. Kirk Nieuwenhuis has been a pleasant surprise coming off the bench as the team’s fourth outfielder, hitting .268/.329/.402 over 282 plate appearances.

Beyond that, the team has seen its struggles at the plate. First baseman Ike Davis has been a big disappointment, struggling to hit just .201/.271/.388. Josh Thole has failed to develop as expected behind the plate and the team is now rumored to be looking at alternative options before the trade deadline comes up later this month (they’ve already been liked to Colorado’s Ramon Hernandez and could be a fit for Boston’s Kelly Shoppach).

Injuries haven’t helped the Mets. Jason Bay continues to struggle to remain on the field, a trend the organization has had to face since signing him to a big free agent deal. He’s appeared in just 22 games this year, hitting just .187/.253/.373. Mike Baxter was becoming a good bench piece for the team before dislocating his collar bone crashing into the left field wall to preserve Johan Santana‘s no-hitter and has been out since. Plus the team lost Mike Pelfrey to Tommy John Surgery the first week of May.

Speaking of the team’s pitching staff, that has been the main piece that’s kept them in the running in the NL East.

Santana has bounced back to have a strong season. He’s 6-5 with a 3.24 ERA through 17 starts and of course, threw the first no-hitter in franchise history earlier this season. Considering the price the organization paid to acquire him (though none of the players they sent to Minnesota have amounted to anything), it’s nice to see Santana finally starting to look like his former self again. Fellow left-hander Jonathan Niese has also looked strong, posting a 7-4 record and 3.73 ERA.

But it’s been R.A. Dickey who has been the story in New York for the Mets. He’s 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 17 starts. He and Gio Gonzalez tied for the NL lead in wins in the season’s first half and a strong argument could have been made to justify him starting the All Star Game earlier this week. Dickey, who’s blossomed late in his career and is the only true knuckleball pitcher remaining in the Majors, has been nothing short of phenomenal this season for New York.

The Mets are going to need some added consistency from their bullpen in the season’s second half and someone is going to need to step up in the rotation to help Dickey, Santana, and Niese keep the team in the race. With Dillon Gee undergoing unexpected surgery to resolve a blood clot in his shoulder yesterday (and possibly out for the remainder of the season) the team’s depth just took a big hit. Jenrry Mejia has been a disappointment in the minors, but Gee’s injury could open the door for Matt Harvey to get his first chance at pitching in the Majors.

Washington and New York have 12 games remaining against eachother. They’ll play three at home on July 17-19 and three in New York from the 23-25. Mid-August the Mets will come back to town, on the 17-19. Washington will head back to New York, September 10-12.

Topics: David Wright, Dillon Gee, Jason Bay, Johan Santana, Jonathan Niese, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mets, Nationals, New York Mets, R.A. Dickey, Ruben Tejada, Washington Nationals

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