Three Strikes: Jay Bruce’s struggles continue; is there a wild-card darkhorse?
- The Mets’ trade for Jay Bruce hasn’t worked out, and his struggles hit a low point Tuesday. Meanwhile, the O’s are clinging to an AL wild-card spot, while a couple dark-horse candidates may be emerging in the NL.
As the regular season starts to take its final turn toward the finish, here are three things that stood out from Tuesday’s action.
N.Y. State of Pine
A year after acquiring Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers at the trade deadline—a move that pushed them to the World Series—the Mets rolled the dice again this August by dealing for outfielder Jay Bruce. The hope was that Bruce, a steady hitter over his nine-year career, would rescue a severely underperforming offense that boasted Jose Reyes, a mid-season signing, as its second-best weapon.
Well, Tuesday night accented what we already knew: The trade has been a failure.
Locked in a tight wild-card race where every run counts, manager Terry Collins elected not to send Bruce to the plate with a runner on second in a 5–3 game in the eighth against the Braves. Instead, he pinch-hit Eric Campbell, a 29-year-old with no major-league plate appearances since May 30, who delivered an RBI single to bring the Mets within one. It was a shocking decision, but the Mets were out of options. They had given Bruce, hitless in his last 10 at-bats, two days off to clear his head, and he still couldn’t find his way on base in three trips to the plate.
"It's one of the worst things you can do as a manager is to pinch-hit for a star,” Collins told reporters afterward. “But my job is to try to win the game.”
For a team that chose to be buyers at the trade deadline and geared up for a postseason run, the Mets look like a disaster. Over the weekend, they lost starter Jacob deGrom for the remainder of the season. On Monday, Noah Syndergaard flopped in a 7–3 loss to the lowly Braves. On Tuesday, the Mets fell for a second straight night to Atlanta and had to pinch hit for a player they expected great production from.
If things don’t turn around, the Mets could find themselves streaming the postseason from home with a hot cup of disappointment.
All Tied on the Western Front
With the Mets losing, the Cardinals winning at Coors Field and the Giants sneaking by the Dodgers, 2–0, all three teams now sit even atop the National League wild card standings at 80–71. Given the current rut all three teams are in, it’s anyone’s guess who will separate themselves by the time the season is over, though New York has to be the underdog.
Consider this possibility, though: None of them grab a spot. Yes, you heard right.
Miami has won three in a row, most recently on Tuesday, when Jose Fernandez stacked up 12 strikeouts over eight scoreless innings and Giancarlo Stanton hit a moonshot to give the club to a second straight victory over the Nationals, 1–0. The Marlins are playing much better baseball than the Mets, Giants and Cardinals and have rebounded from a brutal 1–10 stretch that spanned from late August into early September to win eight of their next 12.
Then there’s the Pirates, whose offense has been the second-best in baseball over the past two weeks, scoring 79 runs, and slashing .283/.382/.449. Jung Ho Kang is up to his old tricks on offense; Sean Rodriguez just won a Player of the Week award; and Pittsburgh is getting solid pitching from ... Ivan Nova?
The possibility that either Pittsburgh and/or Miami erase four-plus game deficits to make an improbable run to the postseason is growing likelier by the day. Both teams making it? Highly doubtful, but it could happen.
The Orioles are sweating
The cream is rapidly rising to the top in the American League East. Boston exhibited its offensive dominance on Tuesday, touching up a recently-effective Kevin Gausman for five runs en route to a second straight 5–2 win on Tuesday, pushing the Orioles a season-high five games back in the division. On top of that, Toronto took a one-game lead over the Orioles in the wild card with a commanding 10–2 win over the Mariners that featured a 39-minute, eight-run top of the fourth inning.
It seems as if the Orioles and their bats just can’t keep up with the firepower being displayed by the Red Sox and Blue Jays and will now have to fend off the Tigers, Astros and Mariners, who are right behind them. The next two games against Boston will likely seal Baltimore’s fate in the division, and next week’s road series with the Blue Jays should clear up the muddled wild-card picture. The Orioles have a big couple weeks ahead of them, and they haven’t exactly inspired confidence with their play over the past seven days.