- The Mets’ reluctance to place ailing players on the disabled list has left New York short-handed as it has fallen into a hole that could quickly become too deep to dig out of.
It took all of 21 games for the Mets to go back to being … well, the Mets. But Thursday’s loss to the Braves—New York’s sixth in a row and 10th out of its last 11, dropping the team to 8–13—wasn’t just a mark on the wrong side of the ledger. It was the culmination of a brutal week of injuries, nonsense and the kind of general dysfunction that has marked the franchise more or less nonstop for the last two decades.
Start with the injuries, the same thing that sunk the Mets’ hopes last year. Already shorthanded to start the year—the team is down starters Steven Matz and Seth Lugo as well as third baseman David Wright—New York was hit with a wave of ailments ahead of its first series against NL East rivals Washington last Friday. Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, Travis d’Arnaud, Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes were all laid up with one problem or another, but despite knowing they would be without all five for at least the series opener and likely all weekend, the Mets opted to put only Duda (hyperextended left elbow) and Flores (infection) on the disabled list. The result: a short bench for all three games, in which d’Arnaud (wrist) was limited to pinch-hitting duties and Cespedes (hamstring) didn’t appear once. (Cabrera pinch-hit in the first game and returned to start the final two.)
If these kind of roster shenanigans feel familiar, they should; much has been made of the Mets’ seeming refusal to put injured players on the DL and instead play with short rosters—or force the walking wounded to take the field. Last year, the team kept playing Cespedes through a quad injury, Cabrera through a knee injury, and centerfielder Juan Lagares through a thumb injury that required surgery, while Matz pitched with bone spurs in his elbow for nearly two months. That strategy was likely borne out of the desire to avoid losing a player to the DL for injuries that could hopefully clear up in a few days, and while it’s a frustrating plan, it is one nonetheless.
But the advent of the 10-day DL was theoretically supposed to make it easier for teams to put players on the shelf without worrying about being gone for a minimum of two weeks. That’s how it’s worked for the other 29 teams, who have made liberal use of the DL to make sure minor injuries don’t turn into major ones. Not the Mets, who have put themselves into situations like having only one functional bench player last Friday (backup catcher Kevin Plawecki) and being forced to pinch-hit starting pitcher Zack Wheeler in the seventh inning of that same game. (Wheeler doubled, because sometimes the universe rewards you for being stupid.)
All of that came to a head this week against the Braves. Finally back in the lineup, Cespedes lasted all of six at-bats across two games before re-injuring his hamstring on a double in the early going of Thursday’s series finale. After limping into second base and being helped off the field, Cespedes is a lock now to end up on the DL, likely for an extended period of time—and that comes a day after he looked to hurt his leg in batting practice.
On the pitching side, meanwhile, things are no better. A rainout on Tuesday initially led the Mets to skip fifth starter Robert Gsellman, who was to start that night. Yet the team abruptly changed course on Wednesday, announcing that Gsellman would take his turn in place of ace Noah Syndergaard, who would be pushed back a day; New York blamed the confusion on a mistaken press release. The Mets then watched Gsellman get slammed for six runs—five in the first—by the Braves in four-plus innings, including four walks. After the game, manager Terry Collins admitted he was concerned about Gsellman’s velocity; the righty was sitting at just 89 mph on the night.
Thursday brought worse tidings, with the team announcing ahead of its matinee that Syndergaard would not, in fact, be pitching at all; the righty had come down with what the team termed “biceps discomfort.” “I couldn’t really lift my arm above my shoulder,” said Syndergaard in a sentence that likely makes most Mets fans feel dizzy. With Syndergaard down, the Mets were forced to push Matt Harvey up a day—a move that resulted in the righthander getting pummeled for six runs and five walks in 4 1/3 innings while struggling to break 93 mph and striking out just one. After the game, Harvey blamed his poor outing on the fact that he had thrown the day before in preparation for his scheduled Friday start and hadn’t learned about having to pitch until three hours before game time despite the fact that the Mets had known that Syndergaard was a question mark for Thursday and would need Harvey if he couldn’t go.
So, if you’re keeping track at home: The Mets refused to put their All-Star outfielder and most important offensive piece on the DL despite the fact that they would have lost him for a mere seven days with backdating and will now likely be without him for far longer. Their ace has a nebulous arm injury. They were forced to push their No. 2 starter, who has already had two major arm surgeries in his short career, up a day and apparently forgot to tell him that was a possibility. Their fifth starter’s velocity is down. And that’s all on top of the fact that the Mets have lost 10 of their last 11, falling to last place in the division and 7 ½ games behind the red-hot Nationals—who, perfectly enough, are New York’s next opponent.
All of this would be bad enough if the Mets weren’t also a mess beyond the injuries. The rotation has been thinned out and has no depth thanks to Lugo’s injury and Rafael Montero’s descent into uselessness. Jose Reyes isn’t hitting at all at third base, where the team has no other choice thanks to Wright’s chronic back issues. The bullpen has been severely overworked, with Jerry Blevins, Fernando Salas and Hansel Robles all among the league leaders in games pitched in relief.
During the halcyon days of the 2015 postseason run, Mets fans probably hoped that the days of stupidity and struggle were behind them—that all the poisonous squabbles and mismanagement of the Omar Minaya regime were over. But while at least this front office isn’t splashed all over the back pages of the New York tabloids, it has to be disheartening to see the team utterly unable to manage injuries in a way that helps keep a functioning team on the field. And the hole the Mets have already dug themselves into (and that the Nationals are rapidly filling with dirt) isn’t going to get any smaller unless they change that.