You know, for all the talk of R.A. Dickey's breakthrough season, Jon Niese's progression, and, uh, Miguel Batista's final start of the season, the Mets' best pitcher in 2011 was Chris Young. The free-agent scrap-heap starter — who was one of the more solid starters in baseball for a couple of years around the middle part of the last decade — came in on a minor-league contract and threw three rather terrific games for the Mets to start the year, including wins over Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. His last game was a win over Lee and the Phillies — the Mets actually needed twelve innings to win — in which he threw seven shutout innings, giving up just two hits and striking out seven.
And then, as has happened to Young throughout his career, he got hurt. Badly, as it turned out: He had surgery less than a week after that game to fix a "torn anterior capsule" in his throwing shoulder, essentially the same injury Johan Santana had suffered six months before that. Santana came back a little slower; Young comes back tonight.
It's specious to think that Young would have pitched at the level all season — 1.88 ERA, 2:1 K/BB ratio, 2:1 IP/H ratio — but it's worth noting that every time Young has been on the mound over the last two seasons, he's been excellent. Mind you, that has been only eight times, with four starts in San Diego in 2010 (2-0 with a 0.90 ERA) and the four starts for the Mets last year. He has made four starts in the minors this year, three in Port St. Lucie and one in Buffalo, and he's looked sharp in all four.
The difference between last year and this year, as far as the Mets are concerned, is that the Mets don't need Young to essentially be their No. 2 starter like they did last year; the first four slots are locked in, and they just need someone to hold down the No. 5 spot. Also, last year, the Mets were already in last place when Young went out; this year, they're a half-game out of first. Hopefully he can make more than four starts this time.
By the way: The Mets could really do some serious business this week before the Subway Series. The Marlins, tied with the Nationals for first, a half-game ahead of the Mets, play the Braves, who are just two games back. (Let's ignore the last-place Phillies for now, and doesn't it feel good to say that?) There's still a very real possibility that the Yankees-Mets series this weekend could feature two first-place teams. That might be fun.