Sunday, July 22, 2012

46-39 Has Become 47-48. What to Do?

After entering the final day of the first half with a record of 46-39, the Mets have gone into a tailspin.  The reasons for the tailspin are numerous, and the ways in which they've lost games has been maddening.  There has been horrendous starting pitching, bad managing, a failure to come through with runners in scoring position (something the team excelled at for most of the season), and inaction by the front office over the last few weeks as far as addressing any of the above concerns.

Saturday, the Mets started Miguel Batista.  A move that was akin to a forfeit.  A move that was a slap in the face to the players who have been fighting all year, and to the fans who had to sit through the last act of the play that was the Miguel Batista show.  The fans knew Batista would pitch poorly, and so did the organization.  He did what everyone knew he would do, and is no longer part of the 25 man roster.  Today's game was far more painful than yesterday's, since the Mets should have won it easily.  Two key moments stick out:

The first:  With Kirk Nieuwenhuis on 2nd base and no one out in extra innings, the Mets elected to not bunt the winning run over to 3rd base.  Why did they elect against the bunt?  Because Mike Nickeas would be the batter in the spot that conceivably would've had Kirk at 3rd with one out.  The Mets have so little faith in Nickeas' ability to put a ball in play and end the game, that they decided against the conventional move.  Nickeas ended up batting with runners on 1st and 2nd and none out, and laid down a horrible bunt.  The Mets didn't score, the game went on.

The second:  With the bases loaded in the top of the 12th with two outs and two strikes on Matt Treanor, Ramon Ramirez threw a belt high fastball that was lined up the middle for the deciding hit.  No one should be giving up game winning hits to Matt Treanor, especially when you have him in a 1-2 hole.  Ramon Ramirez found a way to do it.  After Jason Bay struck out to end the game (how fitting), the Mets fell below the .500 mark for the first time in 2012.

Where do they go from here?  Before answering that question, the following must be pointed out:  Dillon Gee is most likely lost for the season after a blood clot was found in his pitching shoulder - a blood clot that resulted in surgery.  Johan Santana has landed on the disabled list with an injured ankle, and it's unknown how effective he'll be when he does return.  Terry Collins has done a terrible job with bullpen management.  Examples include bringing Tim Byrdak into a game to face consecutive right handed hitters, and his demented reliance on Miguel Batista in tight games.  The majority of the games over this 1-9 stretch have been close, and when bullpen management is poor during close losses, it ends up looking that much more glaring.  Again, Terry Collins has not been gifted with a solid bullpen.  But it's his job to manage what he has.

With that said, it's entirely possible that once Dillon Gee went down and Johan Santana began to falter, the front office simply decided it wasn't worth it to deal any of its valuable prospects for bullpen help or a bat for the bench.  They may have decided that the Mets' chances had shrunk significantly, and that the best bet would be to hang onto all of their potential 2013 contributors and ride this thing out.  And if that's the case, you really can't blame them.  Now that it's reached this point (5 games back of the 2nd Wild Card spot, down three fifths of their Opening Day rotation), the following should be the course of action:

-Jordany Valdespin needs to start every game where the Mets are opposed by a right hander.  Whether those starts come in left field or center field, they have to come.  If the Mets elect to give Daniel Murphy a day off, the starter at 2nd base should be Valdespin - not Ronny Cedeno.  You start Valdespin because he's clearly one of your best eight players, and because Valdespin playing every day should help the Mets to determine whether or not he should be in their plans for 2013 and beyond. 

-Daniel Murphy needs to start every day.  Terry Collins' lineups against lefties have gotten to the point of being comical.  Murphy is hitting .274 against lefties this year, and there's absolutely no reason for him to be on the bench against them...especially considering Ronny Cedeno is his replacement. 

-Mike Nickeas needs to be DFA'd.  As was pointed out earlier, Mike Nickeas is simply not a Major League Caliber hitter.  He's hitting .172 with a .245 OBP.  Whether it's for Lucas May or someone else off the scrap heap, it's time for Nickeas to be sent down.  Nice guy, awful player.

-Against right handed pitching, Kirk Nieuwenhuis needs to start over Andres Torres in Center Field.  Even with his rising strikeout total and recent slump, Nieuwenhuis may be a part of the Mets' long-term plans - whether it's as a platoon guy or something more.  Torres is not a part of the plan and is hitting .222 while playing sub-par defense.

There have been some positives during the hellish start to the second half:  In a bullpen that has been the worst in the Majors, Josh Edgin has come up and excelled.  Hopefully he can continue to be a solid contributor and become a key piece going forward.  Pedro Beato has shown flashes.  Daniel Murphy has been on fire.  David Wright has continued to be incredible.  Jonathon Niese has bounced back from a rough last start before the break, and is hopefully on his way to putting together his first truly successful complete season.    

Going forward, regardless of his rough start last night in Buffalo, Matt Harvey should be called up to make the start Thursday in Arizona.  No one expects Harvey to be terrific right away, or to not hit any rough patches.  However, he's clearly the best option.  And in a season that is turning in the wrong direction, Harvey can get some valuable Major League experience at the very least or be a potential contributor to a turnaround if things start to break right.  If Jenrry Mejia continues to improve in his relief appearances, he should be added to the pen in the it seems the Mets see him as a relief arm.

A team most expected to be a non-contending last place club sits at 47-48 on July 22nd.  Fans who had no expectations are now angry at a team that's still exceeding them.  And that's their right.  Still, it's important to keep the big picture in view.  The big picture, is that even through this brutal stretch, the team has continued to show fight (unlike some of their recent incarnations).  During the 1-9 clip, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong.

2012 was seen as a rebuilding year,but it's the fans' right to hope for more.  Coming off two consecutive seasons of second half fades that followed solid first halves, it's imperative for the 2012 Mets to get this thing under control.  To show the fans that the team is indeed headed in the right direction.  If they catch fire, the Playoffs still aren't a far fetched possibility - not with 67 games left and a 5 game deficit.  However, the Mets don't have to catch fire and reach the Postseason in order to make 2012 a successful season that helps them springboard into 2013 - a season that could have Zack Wheeler in the rotation to open the year.  They simply need to gather themselves and not allow this slide to become a repeat of 2010 and 2011 (even though 2011 was negatively affected by the front office with an eye towards the future).  They need to get back on track, because attendance is driven by wins, and (for now) payroll is driven by attendance.  Therefore, regardless of how much promise this team has and how bright their future may be, wins and losses matter for them more than they do for most of the other clubs.       


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