Two thousand and nine was supposed to be different for the Mets. The team moved into the state of the art Citi Field stadium and reloaded their bullpen with power arms Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz. New York’s offense was once again expected to be one of the best in the National League, with Jose Reyes setting the table and David Wright and Carlos Delgado providing pop in the middle of the order. The new year and new pitchers were supposed to help the Mets forget about the epic collapses of the previous two seasons, but almost half way through the season it hasn’t been the case. Heading into a crucial weekend series with the Philadelphia Phillies, New York has lost 10 of 16 and find themselves struggling to keep their record around .500 (39-39). It’s probably too early to call this a do-or-die series, but if the Mets don’t start putting some wins together soon they could find themselves buried in the NL East before the trade deadline even passes. How then did New York, a team with so much talent and hype at the beginning of the season, end up sputtering into the All-Star break looking like an also-ran?
Well, to be fair to the Mets, they have been decimated by injury up to this point in the season, probably more than any other team in baseball. A quick look at their DL reveals a laundry list of All-Stars and impact players: Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, John Maine, JJ Putz and Oliver Perez are all missing in action at a juncture in the year where New York can ill afford to be playing at anything but full strength. To put it into perspective, the Mets are missing 40% of their starting rotation and their number one, four and five hitters; something that any team would struggle to cope with, let alone a team under the spotlight of the New York media. Reyes is expected to return shortly after the All-Star break, but will likely take a while to adjust (as a player who relies on his speed coming back from a leg injury), and the news isn’t nearly as good for Delgado (out since May 16th) and Maine (scratched for his last rehab start).
Another reason for the Mets slow start has been the team’s offensive struggles. Gary Sheffield leads the team with a paltry 10 HRs, and the Mets are 10th in the league with a slugging percentage of only .400. David Wright is second in the league in hitting at .338, but after hitting 33 HRs last season is only on pace for 10 this year. The loss of Delgado clearly takes away some punch from the middle of the order and expecting Fernando Tatis to replace his production is unrealistic. The catching platoon of Omir Santos (.262 BA) and Brian Schneider (.239) have been underwhelming at best and outfield prodigy Fernando Martinez has struggled against major league pitching (.178 in 90 ABs). While any team would have a difficult time adjusting to the loss of players like Reyes and Delgado, the utter lack of depth for the Mets at the big league level and in the minors has been exposed, and GM Omar Minaya should be on the hot seat for his frivolous spending on aging stars and his lack of attention payed to the team’s farm system.
Outside of star closer Francisco Rodriguez (21 saves, 1.59 ERA), the Mets bullpen has also been a disaster. JJ Putz was expected to shut down opponents in the 8th inning, but struggled with command and decreased velocity before landing on the DL with bone spurs. Set-up man Sean Green and Bobby Parnell have been equally as disappointing, with both posting ERAs north of 5.00. K-Rod has certainly earned his contract so far, but the Mets’ woes in the 7th and 8th innings have done little to erase the bad memories of seasons past. A great closer does little for a team if he never has leads to protect, and the Mets will almost certainly be looking for another bullpen arm to help bridge the gap to Rodriguez before the end of the month.
Thankfully for the Mets none of the other teams in the NL East have run away with the division, and if they are able to get back to full strength soon, still have a shot at making the postseason. New York is miraculously only a game out of first place and could find themselves on top with a strong showing against the Phillies this weekend. However, no matter what they do before the All-Star break, the Mets are still a flawed contender and won’t be a threat in the postseason if they don’t address their pressing needs for starting pitching, offensive pop and quality middle relievers. Even though the calendar has turned to 2009, the Mets still have to prove that they aren’t the same team from the past two seasons and so far they haven’t. It seems like it could be another long offseason for New York, as the underachieving Mets’ once again find ways to come up small in the biggest situations.
Update: True to form, the Mets got swept by the Phillies this weekend. Could be a long summer in Queens…
Filed under: Baseball, NL East | Tagged: Alex Rodriguez, carlos delgado, citi field, david wright, fernando martinez, fernando tatis, Francisco Rodriquez, Gary Sheffield, jerry manuel, JJ Putz, Johan Santana, John Maine, jose reyes, mets, New York Mets, NL East, oliver perez, omar minaya, philadelphia phillies |