We've learned a few things about the Mets in their first three games of the 2010 season.
We've learned that Johan Santana looks just fine after last season got cut short by injury, we've learned that the team finally figured out how to make fans enjoy going to Citi Field and we've learned that there's an awfully fine line between winning and losing for this year's club.
Thursday night's loss is a case study in that final point. Jon Niese's final line shows that he gave up three earned runs, but that's the problem with a stat that assigns personal responsibility for things that have to do with the entire team. All night long there were Mets fielders reacting slowly, resisting excessive effort and, in the case of Fernando Tatis, somehow becoming intangible in the face of balls hit in their direction.
These weren't egregious errors nor do they absolve Niese of any culpability in the loss, but they were the kinds of plays that extend innings, add pitches and stretch a thin team farther than it can reasonably go without breaking. That's how the Mets lost 3-1 on Thursday and it's the kind of loss that's going to hurt them the most this season.
Until the Mets get Carlos Beltran, Daniel Murphy and Jose Reyes back in the lineup, expectations for their play are, naturally, ratcheted down. They still need to pick up wins now, though, because those wins will mean that the team doesn't need to wildly overperform whatever projection you might have had for the team before the season began.
Those missing players are the reason why the lineup needed so much help from shoddy Marlins pitching and defense to score runs. It's tough to avoid that dropoff, but the defensive indifference shown on Thursday night is exactly what a team with a fragile pitching staff and weakened offense can't afford if they hope to have any chance of being relevant when they are finally at full strength.
Thankfully, there's good news on that front. Reyes is expected to play on Saturday against the Nationals. It's the first day he's eligible to play after being on the disabled list, which is a good bit of news. So is word that Beltran will start running any day now. Should that go well, he's right on target for a mid-May return to the lineup.
Now the rest of the team has to show that Beltran's return will actually wind up meaning something.