Blame Mighty Casey

So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat.

Ernest Thayler, “Casey at the Bat.”

Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat” is on the short list of my favorite things ever. If you’re not very familiar with the full text of the poem or haven’t read it in a while, go check it out now and come back here.

The situation: The Mudville nine are down 4-2 with two out in the ninth inning. Against all odds, a pair of terrible hitters — Flynn and Johnny Blake — reach base, bringing up the team’s best slugger, Casey. He strikes out on three pitches.

Casey appears the goat. His air-shattering whiff means there will be no light hearts or laughing men or shouting children in Mudville.

But think about it another way: Maybe Mighty Casey is not at fault for the Nine’s fate. He is, after all, marooned in a lineup full of “lulus” and “cakes” — to use Thayer’s awesome words. No doubt he has been carrying Flynn and Johnny Blake on his back all season. No doubt Flynn and Johnny Blake dribbled out in their first four at-bats that day in Mudville. And the skipper isn’t doing his team any favors batting a star hitter behind Blake the cake.

You might even say “Casey at the Bat” is the original Blame Beltran narrative. The club can only muster a couple runs in eight innings, but we put the onus on its best player for the loss.

The Mets, these past few years, have been dragged down by too many lulus. We remember the times Carlos Beltran and David Wright fail in big spots because we expect them to get hits. No one ever wrote poems about the dozens of times Flynn made the last out in Mudville because no one thought he’d come through in the first place.

The Mets failed to add a player of Casey’s stature or anything close this offseason, so many fans and media expect they won’t improve over their past couple of miserable seasons. But quietly, Sandy Alderson and his crew rid the Mets’ lineup of the Johnny Blakes.

Assuming Lucas Duda starts most of the games in left field until Jason Bay returns, the worst hitter in the Mets’ lineup is probably Brad Emaus. And Emaus, a patient hitter with good Minor League numbers, is (we hope) hardly an automatic out. As long as Beltran stays healthy and Wright and Jose Reyes play like they can, the Mets will have three legitimate offensive stars in their lineup. Bay, Duda, Ike Davis and Angel Pagan should all hit. And there likely won’t be many eighth hitters in the National League better than Josh Thole.

With no obvious gaping holes in their lineup, the Mets should score a lot of runs. Though none of their starting pitchers is Johan Santana, all five appear apt to keep the team in games. The bullpen, cobbled together though it may be, looks decent.

Will everything proceed smoothly then? Of course not. Players will get hurt, pitchers will bomb, Francisco Rodriguez will blow a couple of late leads. These things happen. But the Mets, with a deeper club and a manager hopefully less eager to destroy his pitching staff, should be better prepared to shoulder those blows.

That might be hard to believe if you read certain newspapers, magazines and websites or listen to a large subsection of the fanbase. The disappointing finishes of the last few years combined with the perpetual drumbeat of bad news about the team’s owners have sucked much of the dialogue regarding the team’s chances in 2011 into a maelstrom of negativity. “Only the Mets.” “Same old Mets.” “Blame Beltran.”

But these are not the same old Mets. There is a new manager and front office. Eighteen of the team’s 25 players were not on the Opening Day roster last year. Change does not guarantee success, but this is hardly the team that mustered a Francoeurian 90 OPS+ in 2010 and gave 40 cumulative starts to Livan Hernandez and Tim Redding in 2009.

Is improved depth and more organizational foresight enough for the Mets to take down the Braves and Phillies in the division? Probably not, though way crazier things have happened in baseball. The Mets should win more games than they lose, and do so with players that might actually be part of their future, guys we are excited to watch.

That certainly won’t be enough for some people, and doubtless we’ll still be exposed to plenty of that negativity from the stricken multitudes. But really, who cares? We have the choice to tune out the nonsense and celebrate good players playing baseball, knowing that the front office does seem to have the Mets moving in the right direction and that the team will still be around enjoying the trappings of their huge market whenever its ownership situation is settled. Starting at 7:10 p.m. tonight, all that really matters – as far as I’m concerned, at least — is what the team does on the field.

Here we go.

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