Thursday, July 23, 2015

Not So Amazing: A Promising Season Fritters Away

Now batting . . . John Mayberry, Mayberry, Mayberry.

Met fans are accustomed to frustration and despair.  We are all too familiar with badly flawed teams, uninspiring play, inexplicable trades, underachieving acquisitions, devastating injuries, late season collapses.  We've had a few wondrous moments but many dark years.

I've often told the story about going to Old Timers Day in 1979,  which commemorated the 10th Anniversary of The Miracle Mets, and after watching our beloved 1969 stalwarts play a couple of ceremonial innings, my friend and I left prior to the start of the "real" game. We simply couldn't bear the stark contrast with the then-current team, led by the likes of Willie Montanez, Richie Hebner and the detritus from the catastrophic Tom Seaver trade two years earlier. 

But this year is as frustrating as any I can remember.  You might ask why?  After six straight losing seasons, the Mets opened 2015 in exciting fashion, by going 15-5, including an 11-game winning streak.  It is the end of July, and despite the usual raft of devastating injuries and infuriating play, they are (barely) over .500 and only three games back of the first place Washington Nationals, who were expected to run away with the division. 

But the longer the Mets remain in the playoff hunt and the tighter the race becomes, the more resentful I get.  And I don't think this is just a case of the prototypical Met fan who can't enjoy the good times and is always looking for reasons to be pissed off.  It is precisely because they are so close while management fritters away the opportunity to put them over the top that is so crazy-making. 

The Mets have a young pitching staff for the ages.  John Smoltz, the great former Brave pitcher who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, joining his pitching mates, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, says that the Mets' rotation is "way better" and "more talented" than they were.

And it is these extraordinarily talented pitchers who are keeping the Mets afloat.  But a team built around pitching needs two things to win:  good defense and at least average offense -- and the Mets have neither. 

The Mets have the worst offense in the league.  They typically have two or three players in the starting lineup who are batting under .200.  Their core players are either hurt or badly underperforming.  The lack of depth is exemplified by the fact that their pitchers have a higher collective batting average than their bench. 

Before the season began, the Mets signed two players:  Michael Cuddyer, who by all accounts was too old and often injured, but happens to be David Wright's BFF, and John Mayberry, Jr. who, unfortunately, has never shown the ability to hit the ball anywhere near like his father did -- or probably still can.  They have both been unsurprisingly awful. 

It is outrageous that the Mets continue to keep putting on the field players who simply are not of major league quality. Case in point:  Kirk Nieuwenhuis was cut by the Mets earlier in the year and picked up by the Angels who after 10 games saw all they needed to and cut him too.  The Mets' big acquisition so far this year:  re-signing Nieuwenhuis. 

Want another example?  How about Ruben Tejada, who was supposed to be the replacement at shortstop for fan favorite, Jose Reyes when the Mets (in another brilliant move) let Reyes go (for nothing) four years ago?  Tejada was such an utter disappointment that the Mets demoted him and instead tried utility players like Omar Quintanilla and young Wilmer Flores, who is obviously better suited for another (any other) infield position.  The solution?  Tejada, the Prodigal Met, is back at short and batting second. 

It is painful to watch these remarkable young pitchers play their hearts out (and sometimes throw their arms out) only to lose games because of one bad pitch or a defensive miscue.  There is so little margin for error because their paltry offense rarely scores more than a run or two.  I heard a stat the other day that the Mets were something like 5 for their last 75 with runners in scoring position. Not really surprising when you look at their lineup.

The number of beautifully-pitched games the Mets have lost 1-0 or 2-1 or 3-2 that they could have won with a little timely hitting and a little better defense would be enough to put them well ahead in first place instead of scuffling for a playoff spot that seems more out reach every day. Meanwhile, management does nothing to improve the team.  Nothing, if you don't count the Nieuwenhuis acquisition.

Despite being in the nation's largest media market the Mets' payroll is among the bottom third for major league teams, lower than teams from far smaller markets such as Kansas City, Cincinnati and San Diego.  The owners won't admit it but they are obviously still mired in financial problems because of their entanglement with Bernie Madoff.  And so, they won't increase payroll to sign a big-time player.  And they won't think creatively to sign decent role players.

And so here we are.  After an absolutely devastating loss last night to the first place Nationals, the Mets badly needed to bounce back tonight against the Dodgers and their ace, Clayton Kershaw.  Batting cleanup for the Mets in this key game:  John Mayberry, Jr. and his .170 batting average.  Batting fifth, Eric Campbell and his .179 batting average (catcher Anthony Recker, also with a sub-.200 average was in the lineup as well).  Kershaw was close- to-unhittable, but half the Mets lineup couldn't hit anybody.  And, sure enough, in a 1-0 game in the 7th inning, in what would prove to be their only chance to score, the Mets put runners on first and second, and with two outs, their cleanup hitter stepped up to the plate.  But Mighty Mayberry struck out and then Campbell grounded out.

And there's your unhappy recap.


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