Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mets Sleepwalking Their Way To An Early Fall

It is only July 1 and there are 84 games left, so it is a little early for Mets fans to be crying that the sky is falling and a change needs to be made, but the sky is falling and a change needs to be made.

I understand that the roster is badly depleted by injury and once those players come back, there is a good possibility that the Mets will again become a playoff contender. But there is also the possibility that Delgado, Beltran, Reyes, Maine, Perez, Pagan, and the rest won't ever really be healthy this year. And the possibility that by the time they do come back, they'll be too far back to help.

Right now the Mets are in third place in the East, three games behind Philadelphia. They're five behind San Francisco for the Wild Card. Both of those spots are reachable and all of the teams they're chasing are extremely flawed. But the Mets also went 9-18 in June and show no signs of holding onto their spot, let along of gaining ground on anyone.

Was Mark DeRosa the solution? Probably not. The Indians reportedly wanted Bobby Parnell in return, and no matter how bad the offense gets, the Mets probably can't trade a young potential pitching star for an aging journeyman utilityman (two euphemisms for "not relly good enough to lock down a position anywhere"). DeRosa is versatile and has some power, both of which the Mets need. But he isn't good enough to supplant any of the injured players once they return. If a trade happens, it needs to be for a full-fledged star who can make the offense go, and who will stay in the lineup when the Mets are healthy. An outfielder is most likely (goodbye Pagan and Church).

Right now there are too many teams in the hunt (that is, too close to be willing to trade away good talent) for the Mets to make the kind of move they need to, so perhaps Omar Minaya can be taken off the hook. Dumping a young pitcher for another .270 guy who will hit 15-20 homers is not a move they can make. They need a stud and considering how terribly the rest of the East is playing, the Mets can wait. But that window is closing fast. And Minaya is to blame for signing Oliver Perez at a premium instead of Derek Lowe.

And as unfair as it may seem to start pointing fingers at the manager with this many starters on the disabled list, I am continually baffled by some of the things Jerry Manuel does. It seems that every game I see on TV, I am confused by some critical move he makes, so I have to assume it happens in the ones I don't see as well.

On Sunday the Mets trailed the Yankees by 1. Frankie Rodriguez had two runners on base with two outs in the top of the 9th. Derek Jeter was batting with Mariano Rivera on deck. What did Manuel do? He had Frankie pitch to Jeter. Once the count got to two balls, they then intentionally walked him. But they gave Derek Freaking Jeter three pitches to drive into a gap somewhere rather than just putting him on and going after a guy with two career at bats.

Then they were on TV again on Monday against the Brewers. With runners on 1st and 2nd and one out in the top of the 2nd inning, the Mets had Brian Schneider hitting. I'm not sure what you know about Brian Schneider, but let's just say he must be a really, really good defensive catcher if he's still in the league. Luis Castillo was on deck and Castillo has been hitting well of late. So obviously, the play is to have Schneider bunt the runners both into scoring position and have Castillo take a shot at driving them in with two outs because you can assume that the Brewers won't walk Castillo to load the bases for the pitcher in only the 2nd inning. And even if they did, at least you force their hand...make them make the tough decisions and put their pitcher on the spot. If nothing else, you make the pitcher throw 5-10 more pitches. Nope. Nothing doing; Schneider stuck out, Castillo flew out. Braden Looper cruised through 5 more easy innings, Brewers roll.

Many times Manuel doesn't seem to make proper situational pitching substitutions. They've become the NL leader in stolen bases, but still don't seem to have any kind of identity on offense. They don't seem to hit-and-run when it's called for. They seem to miss many bunting opportunities. They don't exactly play small-ball, but they have no power game either. And they've made a number of baserunning blunder. He doesn't have any semblance of a consistent batting order to allow his players to feel comfortable in a role. The announcers hammer the players every single time they're on ESPN about not having leaders, but I don't think it is the players that are problem. Wright leads the league in hitting, catches everything hit at him, is the first off the bench for high fives and does everything that is asked of him. Santana clearly is the anchor for the pitchers. Sheffield is a model citizen and is having a great year. They have leaders in place who are leading. But there seems to be no direction from the club.

Manuel seems like a good guy. He has a sense of humor. He is intelligent. He is good with the media and deflects attention well. But he doesn't seem like the kind of manager who will light a fire under these guys and after 5 years of being calm and composed and mechanical and average (under Manual and Willie Randolph), maybe they need someone to come in and scream at them every now and then. Like Bobby Valentine.

No comments: