By end of 2011, injuries prove too much for Mets
Club showed flashes of what could have been had health prevailed
NEW YORK -- This was not a season in which the Mets were supposed to succeed. And yet their new manager, Terry Collins, never quite believed that, urging his team to be better than the sum of its parts.
For three months, the Mets were -- at times even significantly so. But injuries and a pair of trades ultimately caught up to the Mets in another disappointing season, their fifth since last making the playoffs in 2006.
"I never would have thought that we'd be in the position that we are in, especially after that short burst of success that we had," third baseman David Wright said. "Each year you don't go to the playoffs, it's a failed opportunity. It's one year that you lose."
Were it not for a dreadful start to the season, with 11 losses in their first 15 games, the Mets might have made a better run of it than they did. As it was, they hung close until July, until the trades of Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran sent the Mets into a second-half spiral -- undoing much of their fine work from earlier in the summer.
They were deals, in retrospect, that had to be made. Given the financial constraints surrounding the team, new general manager Sandy Alderson understood that the Mets had to unburden themselves of Rodriguez's pricey contract option and Beltran's expiring deal; in the latter case at least, Alderson received more in return than most believed possible.
And still the team persevered. Had injuries not undermined their efforts throughout the summer months, the Mets might have continued outperforming expectations despite losing their best relief pitcher and one of their top sluggers. As it was, their transaction log came to include disabled list stints for Wright, Ike Davis, Jose Reyes (twice), Johan Santana, Chris Young, Daniel Murphy, Jon Niese, Jason Bay, Angel Pagan and Bobby Parnell, among others. Many of the injuries -- including those to Wright, Davis, Young and Murphy -- proved to be quite serious.
The Mets, meanwhile, were left to make do with the few healthy players that they had.
"There are always going to be some silver linings," Collins said. "I'm very, very proud of the way these guys played. They could have folded it up [in July] with the way things were going at one time. It was just one after another. No matter if it was on the field or off the field, they were just getting beat up. And they just didn't let it bother them."
Collins referenced the breakouts of young players such as Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada as reasons to be optimistic for 2012. He might also have mentioned healthy seasons for Wright, Davis, Reyes and Santana. Over the past three years, the Mets have grown all too familiar with the rooms and corridors of Manhattan's Hospital for Special Surgery; even the club's longtime vice president of media relations, Jay Horwitz, suffered a season-ending ankle injury in early September.
"I left Spring Training with a good baseball team," Collins said. "We left with a very good baseball team and we couldn't keep it together. That's just the nature of the beast. So we're disappointed with the outcome of the wins and losses, but yet I was very proud of the way they played."
If nothing else, it was certainly an eventful summer. What follows is a look back on all the highs, the lows and the points between of a 2011 season gone awry:
Record: 77-85, fourth in NL East
Defining moment: With the team struggling after the All-Star break and rapidly falling out of the Wild Card race, the Mets traded Beltran to the Giants on July 27. They won their next three games, then lost five in a row and never recovered. But the deal netted them one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, Zack Wheeler, who figures to play a significant role in the franchise's rebuilding efforts.
What went right: As the Mets began looking toward 2012, several players stood out. Duda replaced Beltran in right field and made the most of his opportunity, leading the club in home runs after the All-Star break. Nick Evans quite possibly played his way onto the roster next season with his strong play down the stretch. And Tejada outperformed most estimates of his abilities, holding his own at the plate while providing superlative defense at both middle infield positions. ... Until Niese suffered a season-ending injury in late August, the Mets received marked consistency from their starting pitchers, using the same five-man rotation for a franchise-record 106 consecutive games. R.A. Dickey in particular stood out for his consistency with a long run of quality starts in August and September. ... Reyes looked like a legitimate National league MVP candidate for most of the season's first half, transforming into one of the game's best overall hitters. ... Rookies Justin Turner and Dillon Gee both excelled throughout the first half of the season. ... In the team's feel-good story of the summer, Jason Isringhausen came full circle with the Mets, working his way back from a third Tommy John surgery to notch his 300th career save.
What went wrong: Injuries haunted the Mets at every turn. To wit: Santana never made it back to the big leagues following shoulder surgery, despite initial estimates pegging his return for late June or early July. Reyes lost seven weeks to a pair of hamstring injuries in the midst of his best season as a professional. Davis sat out the final four months with a bone bruise in his ankle that was supposed to sideline him for merely two weeks. Wright missed more than two months with a stress fracture in his lower back. Young sustained a season-ending shoulder injury after only four starts. Murphy tore the MCL in his left knee and missed the season's final two months. Niese lost the final month to a midsection injury. Bay, Pagan and Parnell all spent time on the DL. ... The Mets never found stability in their bullpen, especially after Rodriguez departed for Milwaukee. Parnell did not impress during his audition at closer. ... Until a late-season surge, Bay's struggles at the plate continued as he spent most of the summer tinkering with his stance. ... Pagan and Wright both took steps backward in the field, combining to commit more than two dozen errors. ... Mike Pelfrey could not repeat his breakout performance of 2010, finishing with a career-high in losses.
Biggest surprise: For a club ranking among the league's strongest defensive teams just one year ago, the steps backward came as both a surprise and a concern. Wright and Pagan in particular struggled, but other issues surfaced throughout the summer. For example: Catcher Josh Thole ranked first in the NL in passed balls by a wide margin, Murphy struggled to acclimate to second base and Davis, perhaps the team's best overall defender, missed two-thirds of the season due to injury.