04/19/2010 11:15 AM ET
A season of unexpected pleasures
Watching Mets players develop is rewarding
By Howard Megdal / SNY.tv
Oliver Perez appears to have reinvented himself early on in 2010, with positive results. (AP)

I know, I know. The Mets are 4-8. There have been massive mental errors, some difficult losses and the team finds itself in last place, behind even the Nationals, whose starters have a 7.48 ERA.

So is it strange that I am really enjoying the Mets' season so far?

I know this puts me at odds with most people. The argument seems to boil down to one side claiming that it is early, so the misery could be short-lived, while the other talks about it as a continuation of the misery that began when the ball left Yadier Molina's bat in October 2006.

But I guess for me, there have been plenty of individual reasons to take pleasure from the 2010 season so far, within a larger context: I don't expect this team to be very good.

On the eve of the season, I had the Mets at 73-89. And that still seems about right to me. Simply put, assuming greatness (or even goodness) from a team that prepared to begin the season with Gary Matthews, Mike Jacobs and Alex Cora in the starting lineup, and with the return of both Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran uncertain, struck me as optimism bordering on foolishness.

So what's been enjoyable about the first twelve games? For one thing, Game No. 11 on Saturday. That alone may be the enduring memory of the 2010 season. I have never been more entertained by a single baseball game.

The pleasure of a pitchers' duel is how important every single run is. That tension kept up for 20 innings. If that alone had factored into Saturday's game, it would elevate the experience above most for me.

But Saturday had so much more. It had vintage Johan Santana pitching. It had guys out of position making fantastic plays, like Alex Cora at first base, and Kyle Lohse in left field.

And although I am always a fan of position players pitching, usually it happens with a game out of hand. I don't ever remember seeing position players pitch with a ballgame's outcome still in the balance -- let alone doing so for three full innings.

Incidentally, one other takeaway from Saturday: Jerry Manuel clearly outmanaged Tony La Russa. This is not to give Manuel credit for managing a great game. For instance, giving away an out by having Luis Castillo bunt against a center fielder pitching reminded me of that old Police Squad! bit where Frank Drebin responds to someone taking a hostage by taking a hostage of his own.

But for all the complaints about Manuel, he was clearly a step ahead of La Russa, a manager who will likely end up in Cooperstown. It was just a reminder that Manuel's biggest mistake as manager has been to manage teams that don't create rosters as well as La Russa's Cardinals and Athletics teams. This is not to say Manuel's been great; rather, it is amazing to see an apparent Hall of Fame manager so clearly get outclassed strategically by a guy who may not have a job next month.

And besides that classic game, I've been looking forward to every other one with eager anticipation.

For one thing, the starting pitcher is fascinating to me nearly every time out. In the case of Santana, the reason is obvious: the visceral joy of watching Santana pitch. With Mike Pelfrey, it has been the joy of seeing a truly decent guy get his third pitch (a splitter) working.

In the case of Oliver Perez, it has been the chance to watch someone reinvent himself. Absent that plus-plus fastball, Perez has become a pitcher of many tricks, with a cutter and change mixing with an above average heater and tremendous slider and slow slider (acts like a curveball). And Jon Niese gives every indication that he is growing into a strong rotation member as well (provided he doesn't need to pitch regularly in Colorado, where the altitude is kryptonite to his curveball).

Even John Maine is compelling, in a car accident sort of way. I feel for him. Clearly, he's simply physically unable to throw the fastball that got him to the Major Leagues. But to see him last night, pitching for his job, was an absolutely fascinating spectacle.

And I haven't even mentioned the unexpected pleasure of seeing Jeff Francoeur repeatedly work out a walk. Frankly, even the 2-0 counts are still new and exciting.

I think that gets to the heart of it, frankly. The joy of baseball lies in the unexpected pleasures. It breaks our heart with the unexpected miseries. And there have been no shortage of the latter in recent years. Make no mistake: 2007 was so miserable precisely because Mets fans had already begun mapping out how to properly skip work and get to Shea Stadium for postseason baseball. The team even told us: "Your postseason has come." And, well, it didn't.

Even 2009, on the heels of twin late-season swoons, was unexpected misery. One can't expect nearly every single player on the roster to be afflicted with season-ending injuries. When Jerry Manuel joked on the Friday before Jose Reyes returned that he'd be in the lineup "unless he gets hit by a car", it was a reminder. In 2009, Jose Reyes actually did get hit by a car, on the Whitestone Bridge, while riding with Mets trainer Ray Ramirez. That really happened.

But from this angle, here in 2010, the only things that can happen unexpectedly are good ones. Should the Mets rally and challenge for a playoff spot in 2010, it will be surprising. That the team seems ready to move on from the ridiculous notion of starting Matthews and Mike Jacobs so soon is a type of dexterity seldom seem in recent years by the organization.

And Jacobs' designation for assignment, in particular, seems destined to provide another pleasure. Either Chris Carter will finally get a chance to hit big league pitching on a regular basis, or Ike Davis can hasten the arrival of New York's first-ever Jewish superstar while single-handedly saving the Mets' offense. (No pressure, Ike.)

Yes, one gets the feeling that the Mets will find a way to replace Jacobs, fail to utilize Carter, Davis or the Korean War of prospects, Nick Evans, and make Frank Catalanotto both the everyday first baseman and cleanup hitter.

But maybe they will surprise us all. The Mets have another 150 games worth of unexpected pleasures, and here at the bottom, pleasure is all you can reasonably expect.

Howard Megdal is a contributor to SNY.tv, MLBTradeRumors.com and the editor of The Perpetual Post. His book, The Baseball Talmud, is available now. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/HowardMegdal.
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