After reaching the lofty heights of a 10-6 record last weekend in Philadelphia, the Mets have gotten an early start on this year's collapse. They've now lost four of their last five, outscored 32-18. Their means of defeat have ranged from inadequate starting pitching to inept offense to incompetent relief.
The bats have seemingly all gone cold at once. Except for Carlos Delgado, who was cold to begin with. Over the last five games, Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran hit a combined .167/.286/.283. There is plenty of uncertainty in the Mets lineup on its best day. With Delgado acting out his worst case scenario on a daily basis and Raul Casanova making Met fans long for Brian Schneider's fearsome bat, the team really can't afford a slump from the guys who actually can hit. On the bright side, Luis Castillo hit five singles in the last two days, bringing him all the way up to .273/.360/.288 for the year.
Pitching was supposed to be the team's strong point and while, on the whole, the pitchers have been good, they haven't been nearly the dominant force needed to make up for the offense's inconsistency. After Thursday night's ten-run effort, they've allowed 89 on the year or 4.24 per game. It would be easy to blame Willie Randolph's bullpen management for this, or even the relievers themselves, but the starters are not without fault.
Mets starters have posted a 3.59 ERA so far this year, but they've averaged less than six innings per start, leading Willie to utilize at least three or four relievers almost every night. A Met starter has recorded more than eighteen outs eight times. A starter other than Johan Santana has done so just three times. Not once has a starter recorded more than twenty-one outs. With the Mets in the middle of a stretch of sixteen games without a day off, the bullpen hasn't had much chance to catch its breath.
A few relievers are off to very good starts. Joe Smith has pitched 10.1 innings, allowed just seven hits and three walks and struck out eight. The returning Duaner Sanchez has pitched five good innings, allowing just two hits and one walk with three strikeouts. And Billy Wagner has been dominant, having allowed no hits and just two walks in eight innings with eight strikeouts. Unfortunately, almost everyone else has struggled.
Scott Schoeneweis has been decent facing mostly lefties, allowing four hits and one walk in 5.1 innings, though he's only struck out one and did allow a home run to Chase Utley. Pedro Feliciano has disappointed, allowing seven hits and six walks in 5.1 innings, though he has struck out eight. But the biggest problem has been Aaron Heilman and Jorge Sosa, who lead the pen in apperances and innings pitched. In 27.2 innings, they've allowed 16 walks and 33 hits including an absurd eight home runs. Sosa's uselessness is not a total shock, but Heilman's complete implosion is a serious blow to the pen. Willie believes that Heilman is a top setup man, although after Thursday's performance, his faith may be shaken a bit. Heilman entered a tie game in the sixth with runners on second and third and two outs. The batters he faced went: walk, grand slam, single, single, strikeout. If Willie stops using Heilman in keys spots for a while, Sanchez and Smith may be able to pick up some of the slack, as may Feliciano if he can relocate the strike zone. But if the Mets keep playing close games in which their starters leave after or during the sixth inning, we'll probably continue to see Heilman on the mound with the game on the line.
With all that on their minds, the Mets (11-10) return home this weekend to host the Braves (11-11). Mike Pelfrey (2-0, 3.18, 9:6 K:BB), John Maine (1-2, 3.57, 16:14) and Nelson Figueroa (1-1, 4.05, 16:10) will take on Jair Jurrjens (2-2, 3.20, 21:9), Tim Hudson (3-1, 2.93, 16:5) and John Smoltz (3-1, 0.78, 31:6), respectively. This weekend will also see the return of someone who has not been seen at Shea Stadium in many months and who may be just what this team needs to turn its luck around. Yes, if you look out to left field on Saturday, you may see the familiar face of...me, up in the mezzanine level. Also possibly Moises Alou on the field.