During today’s Mets broadcast, Keith Hernandez (who usually knows better) was spewing some nonsense about how the brief shoving match the Mets and Marlins had yesterday had somehow woken up a slumbering Marlins team that previously had been waiting for the season to come to a merciful end. Let me just say right here that I think that is a load of ****. Were the Mets supposed to continue their previous passivity and allow teams to throw at them with impunity? After the past month, the Mets had been playing as though they were a meek group hoping to somehow hang on until the season ended; when something as obvious as Harvey Garcia’s throwing at Luis Castillo occurs, were they supposed to just let it pass so as not to rile the Marlins up?
Today’s embarrassing loss was due to Tom Glavine going out there, not getting a couple of close calls from home plate umpire Joe West and then letting the Marlins knock the ball around to score seven runs. The Mets mounted brief threats in the first few innings before they appeared to want to just get the game over with and hope that the Nationals could somehow help them out again. The momentum that the Mets had built yesterday stemmed from them finally hitting and pitching effectively in the same game; it had nothing to do with them getting angry. The fight may have had something to do with that, but the score didn’t. Conversely, today’s game didn’t have anything to do with awakening a slumbering Marlins team, but that the Mets got a horrible, probable farewell (as a Met anyway) performance from Glavine and couldn’t capitalize on Dontrelle Willis’s wildness. To think anything else is not only inaccurate, but appears to be an excuse on Hernandez’s part as to why the Mets lost today. They lost all of those games leading up to this because of their pitching, and it’s fitting that they lost out on a chance at the playoffs because of their pitching as well.
(I’m not going to offer any opinions about what the Mets need to do to avoid having this happen again; the fates of the players, coaches and manager; and the overall fallout of this collapse for a few days. Bold statements—-if there are any forthcoming—-shouldn’t be made when one is angry, disgusted, or bewildered. Once the situation can be seen with a clearer eye and unemotional state is when decisions should be made; and now is not that time.)
I’m no stat freak or fanatic along the lines of guys like Rob (C3P0) Neyer, but take a look a the following player’s stats for this year:
- Games: 126
- At Bats: 340
- Runs: 75
- Hits: 94
- Doubles: 14
- Home Runs: 28
- RBI: 66
- Walks: 132
- Strikeouts: 54
- Batting Average: .276
- OBP: .480
- Slugging: .565
- OPS+: 170
- Total Bases: 192
Now, without knowing who the player is and what kind of baggage he brings along with him, would you want him on your team? At least part time? Or simply as a DH because he can’t move in the field anymore?
The above player is Barry Bonds, and despite the speculation by members of the media that no one will want to sign him, if Bonds truly wants to play and is willing to take an incentive laden contract with a reasonable base salary, probably three-quarters of the teams in the American League would want to sign him and could use his bat. It’s all up to Bonds as to how much money he’s going to deem acceptable and how much of his pride he’s willing to swallow by having such a resume (regardless of the numerous allegations against him) and having to scrounge for a job, but he’s going to have options next season and he’s still a top tier bat, given those numbers.
My guess is that the Tigers will sign him to DH, move Gary Sheffield to first base (he wasn’t as bad as everyone said when he played the position briefly with the Yankees and will benefit from a full spring training at the position) and have a devastating offense next season. Tigers manager Jim Leyland knows and respects Bonds, and if anyone can keep him in line, it’s Leyland because he was the only manager that Bonds has ever had that was willing to stand up to him and not put up with his prima donna ****. It all depends on Bonds, his pride and salary demands.
The Mets attacked the Marlins like they’d spent Friday night in an isolation tank with a recording of Christopher (Mad Dog/The Biggest Idiot In The World) Russo being pumped in through the speaker systems on a continuous loop. Not only did they batter the Marlins pitching for 13 runs, but John Maine nearly pitched the first no-hitter in club history and struck out 14 while doing it. To compound the feistiness that has been missing for the better part of a month, the Mets finally stood up for themselves on the field when it appeared as though the other team was trying to push them around.
I can’t count how many times over the past ten years the Mets have been thrown at, shouted at, challenged, threatened, hit, whatever and done nothing to retaliate. From Mike Piazza not charging the mound to get at the projectile throwing Roger Clemens, to the repeated incidents in which the Mets have had ample opportunities to show that they’re not simply going to accept another team taking liberties, the Mets have been one of the more passive teams in baseball. Today, after Lastings Milledge posed while watching his second homer of the game sail over the wall, and a Jose Reyes double, Marlins pitcher Harvey Garcia was clearly throwing at Luis Castillo with two consecutive pitches. The Mets, taking exception for once, came out of their dugout and bullpen and a brief milling session ensued; when Garcia was removed, catcher Miguel Olivo charged Jose Reyes standing on third base and a more spirited session ensued with third base coach Sandy Alomar, Sr. on the receiving end of the only punch thrown. Marlon Anderson and Oliver Perez had to be restrained and it took about 15 minutes to restore order. This was a refreshing change from the Mets impassiveness when such an incident occurred and it not only got the team fired up, but electrified the crowd as well.
None of the Mets opponents seem all that bothered by standing around and posing as they hit homers, or engaging in florid on-field celebrations during this horrible Mets run; if the Marlins didn’t like what Milledge did, then screw them. Tell them to get him out next time. The Mets seemed to take all their frustrations of the past several weeks out on the Marlins and received a bonus when the Nationals beat the Phillies to allow the Mets to tie the Phillies for first place. They’re fired up now; hopefully they’ll keep some of that emotion in the bank and repeat the process tomorrow so that there will either be a game Monday, or preparations for a trip back to the post-season. It’s about time.
If the Mets do go on and blow their division lead, all of these rumors about Willie Randolph’s job being in jeopardy are ridiculous. Unless the team is willing to go ahead and hire a strategically strong manager who lacks in people skills like Bobby Valentine, Larry Bowa or Buck Showalter, who precisely are they going to bring in? Mike Scioscia’s not available, Tony LaRussa probably won’t want to come to New York and if they’re considering Dusty Baker, they may as well just keep Randolph. And I certainly don’t want Joe Girardi. Everyone’s had a hand in this, not just the manager.
The Mets, over the past three weeks haven’t been able to beat the Phillies or the Nationals; they barely got through the Marlins last weekend and couldn’t beat them tonight facing a pitcher who bounced to three different organizations and was released by one, only to be re-signed by the second. Even when they look like they’re mounting rallies or relying on their bats to hammer their way to winning a game, they do something self-destructive like Endy Chavez inexplicably trying to steal third with one out and Carlos Delgado at the plate on Tuesday night. Delgado was sufficiently distracted that he struck out, Chavez was lucky that the third baseman was out of position or he would have been the last out.
Their pitching has been horrendous; their bench unproductive; their catalyst in Jose Reyes has been playing like he’s lost in space since the mid-season arrival of Rickey Henderson as first base coach. Every time a rally looks like it’s being mounted, someone grounds into a double play. Their situational hitting is awful. They don’t advance runners, nor do they drive runners in from third with less than two outs. Tonight, Carlos Beltran batting with runners on first and third and one out in the seventh inning was a prime example of this. You simply must get that runner in from third. If he has to choke up on the bat like he were Jack Perconte, he has to do it to bring the team to within two runs with two plus innings left.
Their fielding has been terrible. Never mind the embarrassing displays against the Phillies and Nationals early last week, tonight David Wright didn’t realize that all he had to do to complete a double play after throwing home was to tag the base. Oliver Perez lost his release point and concentration so that he hit three batters in one inning!
They look awful. Errors happen, but there’s no excuse for repeated mental errors or continued stupid plays like inappropriate stolen base attempts. Do they have a "hold" sign for their baserunners, and if so, do they use it? They don’t hit according to the count; they bunt for base hits way too much without much success. They play players, such as Carlos Gomez, who are clearly not ready for the big leagues. They use journeyman pitchers like Guillermo Mota and Jorge Sosa expecting them to suddenly become consistent and reliable contributors. Their late inning relievers have slumped at precisely the wrong time and Billy Wagner’s back spasms cost the Mets a victory last Thursday in Florida. They’ve combined bad luck with awful on-field play and mental ineptitude. Everyone seems to be looking for answers and waiting for someone to come through with a season-saving hit. Things have snowballed into what the season has become.
If the Mets don’t come back to tie or win the division (and given how badly they’ve played, there’s no reason to believe that they’re going to be able to right the ship at this point), there is enough blame to go around for everyone from the top of the organization on down. If Omar Minaya is in a position to fire one of Willie Randolph’s coaches, then he should be in a position to make sure that the players aren’t continually running themselves out of innings as they have consistently done all year long. If he’s running things, he should realize that players like Gomez should be used as a pinch runner and be sitting on the bench as a big league learning experience, rather than in the lineup in a game the team has to win.
Randolph has done some arguable things in strategy, but nothing so egregious that he should shoulder the blame for this disaster. His pitchers didn’t perform; his defense failed him. One thing he is responsible for is the baserunning debacles and Reyes’s mental and physical mistakes. The Mets acquired Jeff Conine for the stretch run and he barely got his posterior off the bench. The continually used a non-entity like David Newhan in pinch hitting situations when it was clear that he was completely overmatched. Joe Smith has been looking exhausted since July, yet on his return to the big leagues, he found himself being utilized in huge situations.
Unless the Nationals do the Mets a huge favor and win one of the next two games over the Phillies and the Mets can find a way to somehow stop this avalanche, they’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and see where their flaws are. Right now, whether they manage to get into the playoffs or not, they’re going to need a catcher next season; they need a starting pitcher who will provide 220+ innings, and they need to beef up the bullpen. Whether they can do that from within remains to be seen. Perhaps someone like Mike Pelfrey can provide innings in the pen (if they don’t trade him). Regardless, this is a disaster of their own making. They’ve been mediocre since early July. The Phillies had their 4-11 start; the Mets are having their 4-11 (so far) finish. If they don’t right the ship, they had better look into the mirror at who’s to blame, because there’s plenty of it to go around.
With the looks of devastation on the faces of the Mets, along with their impotent batting performance against the likes of Joel Piniero, one would think that they were eliminated from playoff contention instead of tied for first place. This is an important fact that people seem to be forgetting: THE METS ARE STILL IN FIRST PLACE!
Whether or not anyone still realizes it or cares, they still have three games to get themselves together and take care of their business by beating up on the last place Marlins. You’d never know this by the way the entire dugout looked like they simply had given up. I would expect this from a veteran team that had collapsed in July or August, but it’s late September and the Mets, the media and the fans are forgetting about that important fact: THEY"RE STILL IN FIRST PLACE!
At this point, the team looks like they’re waiting for the next bad thing to happen. They’re making teams that are playing out the string like the Nationals and the Cardinals appear as though they’re the ones who are fighting for their playoff lives. Now though, they can get their heads together. They’re not going to have to listen to the endless stories of how no team has blown such a big lead so late because it’s already been blown; no longer are they looking over their shoulders at the Phillies, they’re standing right next to them; no longer are they being rewarded for inconsistent play by teams behind them that were more inconsistent. They’re all even now. The Phillies are playing the Nationals and the Mets are playing the Marlins. If the Mets get their heads together, there’s still a chance for them to avoid being referred to in the same sentence as the 1964 Phillies, the 1951 Dodgers and the 1978 Red Sox. They’re a veteran team and it’s time for them to act like it rather than continually feeling sorry for themselves and acting like they’ve already been eliminated.
With the world of the Mets seemingly collapsing all around them, there is a poorly disguised sense of panic surrounding the team. With everything that is going wrong, it’s time to take a step back and realize that they’re still in first place in the division and tied for the lead in the Wild Card. As badly as they’ve played, as desperate as they seem to blow their lead, they are still in first place. Regardless of what happens tonight, they will be in first place tomorrow morning. Granted, if they lose and the Phillies win, they’ll be tied, but they’ll be in first place with three games to go.
It’s impossible to believe that this string of devastatingly bad bullpen performances and blown leads will continue. Their luck has to change soon. Last night with rookie Philip Humber starting his first big league game, I think they knew that they were going to need their bullpen to perform from around the sixth inning on; it just happened that they needed them a bit earlier than that.
Humber’s performance was what should have been expected from a young pitcher in his situation. His command was off and to be honest, his stuff didn’t look all that great. He has a high-eighties fastball, a slow curve and a change up. I’m wondering if Tommy John surgery robbed him of something or if he looked like this when the Mets made him their first pick in the 2004 draft. He kind of reminded me of former Milwaukee Brewer and Met Jeff D’Amico. On first glance, his future is uncertain.
Manager Willie Randolph is in a difficult situation in that he doesn’t know who he can use out of the bullpen anymore. Every time he brings in a reliever, be it Guillermo Mota, Jorge Sosa, Pedro Feliciano, Joe Smith, they’re getting tattooed all over the park. I’m not one to nitpick strategy in such a situation, but if he ended up using Orlando Hernandez out of the pen later in the game, wouldn’t El Duque have been a better option than Smith when Humber was removed? At least Hernandez is a veteran whose stuff doesn’t appear to be shot due to exhaustion as Smith’s does; and at least Hernandez might have been able to hold onto the lead and pitch three or so innings to get the game to Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner.
Another strategic question I have for Randolph and the Mets is what this obsession is with Carlos Gomez. I said earlier in the season that Gomez is a great talent who is simply not ready for the big leagues. He has no patience at the plate whatsoever and is a liability in the lineup. Unless there was some mystery ailment with Lastings Milledge last night, I’m not sure why Gomez was in the lineup instead of Milledge.
This is not the time to panic. A one game lead in the division with four to play is still a good position to be in. The Phillies have finally shown the heart and fortitude that had been so sorely lacking in each of the past four seasons when they had a chance to make the playoffs and failed. That being said, their bullpen is severely overworked and their overall pitching, which was the main reason why they fell so far behind the Mets in the first place, simply cannot continue to pitch as well as they have recently.
As rough as I’ve been in my analysis of Red Sox manager Terry Francona, one thing that can never be taken away from him is how he kept his team from panicking when they fell three games behind the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. With their entire world falling apart around them, they were still able to focus on one game at a time, one play at a time, etc. and maintain their composure to get back into the series. Randolph hasn’t shown any desperation publicly, but he must be feeling the strain. Now is not the time to begin to do desperate things in an attempt to turn things around all at once. Everyone is dumping on the Mets and looking for a quick fix; because of that, it’s the perfect time for the manager to do the exact opposite and pat everyone on the back, telling them that they’re still in a playoff position, regardless of the September swoon.
Philip Humber was only pitching last night because the Mets are giving Pedro Martinez extra time between starts. The intention was to have him rested for the playoffs; now he has to essentially pitch a playoff-quality game tonight to keep things from spiraling completely out of control. This is what they’re paying him for and they need him to come through. They’re still playing struggling teams like the Cardinals and the Marlins. Despite all of the doom and gloom surrounding them, they’re still in a good position to get things straightened out.