Freefalling Mets long on pessimism, short on help from injured stars
Call it the Summer of Accountability.
Earlier in the season, Red Sox designated hitter
"I just think we stink right now, we're just not very good," Wright told reporters. "When you don't pitch, you don't hit, you don't play defense, you're not going to win very many games. We're not playing very good baseball."
That's the succinct way to summarize things. The Mets offense was, after all, in the midst of 23 consecutive scoreless innings, 30 innings without an extra-base hit, 31 innings without scoring more than one run and 48 innings without a home run. Mets starting pitchers have a 5.40 ERA through eight games in July. And the defense has had enough spectacular miscues to warrant a recent edition of
Wright admirably stood by his comments before Thursday's night game -- another in the line of hard losses, allowing 17 hits and falling 11-2 to the Dodgers -- saying that "accountability is a good thing," and adding, "I'm not going to come in here and shoot from the hip out of frustration. There's no denying that, when you go out there and you don't score, you don't pitch well and you don't play good defense, then you stink. That wasn't out of frustration, I was just reporting what I saw."
Speaking of reporting what one sees: After recently using
Tatis, for the record, grounded into his 11th double play of the season in that pinch-hit at bat.
And there's no help on the way. The farm system doesn't have any position players chomping at the bit for a promotion; what were the organization's best prospects (
True, there are no equal-value replacements for
With New York's power sapped by the injuries to Beltran and Delgado and, just as importantly, by the move to gigantic Citi Field, its home-run output has nearly been cut in half. In 2008, the Mets hit 1.1 homers per game; in '09 they've hit 0.6 per game, the last coming in Pittsburgh on July 2.
"At some point you've got to stop worrying about what [Citi Field] is going to do, and just go out and play," says Wright. "It's obviously playing big, so let's go out there and adapt."
With adaptation in mind, Manuel said the coaching staff is going to "hold ourselves accountable defensively" and said that while filling out lineup cards, he is going to gamble less often on starting too many offensive-minded players at the sake of his defense.
"With the way that we're built at this time," Manuel said, "it might be better that we go pitching, defense and then offense."
Across baseball, it has also been a summer of defense. Taking cues from the Rays, who went from last in defensive efficiency and last place in the standings in 2007 to first in both in 2008, teams like the Tigers, Rangers and Mariners all have improved in '09 by filling out lineup cards that emphasize better fielding.
The Mets, however, have regressed. Using
The Mets' home park weighs down their ratio of flyballs that go for home runs, a major-league low 6.4 percent, which is less than half the rate of their crosstown rivals, whose new stadium with its tight confines have helped the Yankees homer on 14 percent of their flyballs. New York ranks 21st in both fielding percentage (.982) and errors (56), numbers that are misleading considering how many mis-plays aren't considered chances by that metric. In the fourth inning last night, for instance, a
Based on the ultimate zone rating, which measures runs a defense saves or costs its team, New York has the third-worst defense in the National League, with a cumulative UZR of -22.2. Sheffield alone contributes a -6.2 rating to that total. The Mets are at least trying to work on their defense.
"You're going to make your errors," says second baseman
Thanks to their neverending string of injuries, the Mets have used the second-most position players in the majors (22), but that lack of continuity and familiarity is "not an excuse," says Cora.
From the Mets' large payroll (at $149 million, its fifth straight year north of $100 million) to recent late-season collapses (see 2007, 2008) to this year's foibles, this is a disgruntled fan base, tired of its team underperforming expectations. One group of 20-something friends from New York City, all diehard Mets fans who regularly write each other about the team, reported the tone of their email chain resulted in some curious sponsorships, thanks to Gmail's targeted ad-placement. Gmail, which uses keywords in emails to trigger related advertisements, came up with touts for discount tickets to New York area events, a link entitled "no more stinky garbage" and an ad for bags to pick up after your dog. Optimism is, um, lacking.
But what keeps the fans coming back to Citi Field -- besides Shake Shack and the other culinary delights, of course -- is that the team is still in contention and has the promise of an even better stretch run. Admittedly not the Mets' strong suit, making a late push to win the division is possible considering the tightly packed NL East. New York is four games under .500 and in fourth place but trails the division-leading Phillies by only 5.5 games. And then, of course, there is the hope of returns to the field by Beltran, Delgado and Reyes.
Still, though, there's a plenty of pessimism around this team. Speaking after the game, Manuel insisted that he had seen enough go well with the club that it could survive this swoon, only to have a slip of the tongue a moment later, starting a sentence with "we can salvage" this season, before catching himself and changing to "we can compete."
Salvage or compete, those are the Mets' options at the season's midpoint.