“Put the ball in play and see what happens,” said Terry Collins in a May 21 interview with Mike Francesa on WFAN. The New York Mets offense is that desperate these days.
The Mets must be praying on errors by the opposition, because weak ground balls and lazy fly balls do not lead to hits. Ike Davis is struggling so mightily that fans and teammates are encouraged if he draws a walk or even hits the ball hard. Collins alters the lineup nearly everyday in search of a winning combination that often fails to score over three runs.
Collins has inserted Rick Ankiel second into the lineup even though he struck out on the Houston Astros so much the team released him. He has batted Daniel Murphy at leadoff on multiple occasions for the first time in four years, and been forced to demote the struggling Ruben Tejada to the eighth spot. Too many hitters carelessly strike out on failed check swings, emphasizing their uncertainty and tentative approaches at the plate. They exude a lack of confidence and opposing starters are like sharks that smell blood in the water.
Tejada and Davis need to be consistent in order for the Mets to contend. General Manager Sandy Alderson once perceived them as the core of the team’s future, especially Davis, but now his shopping cart will be even heavier in the offseason. Even if Davis snaps out of his rut and has a monster game, Alderson must question his dependability in the long term. He continues to look foolish against lefties and is not having success against righties either, even against pitchers on subpar teams with high ERAs. His typically reliable defense has suffered over the past week as well and lost the Mets games. He is worthless if he cannot field ground balls or get on base.
“We got to run these young guys out there,” said Collins to Francesa. The Mets need to develop players that have potential with the team. Although Ankiel has been driving in runs, he is counterproductive to future development. The hot glove outfielder Juan Lagares is being deprived of valuable experience in center field. The Mets are essentially out of contention already, so experience already takes precedence over winning a few more games in a season already torpedoing in a downward spiral.
The vibe in CitiField is a late-September game with the exception of when Matt Harvey takes the mound. But even he is human and is bound to fall down to Earth. “Now he have fallen on our faces,” said Collins.
They have fallen off the deep end, are grasping onto a cliff with their pinkies and hanging by a thread. The slumbering offense only wakes up sporadically. Everyone in the lineup, even David Wright, glances at the ground in dejection and seems reluctant to take an at-bat. The captain has tough waters to tread but is folding under the pressure of a crippled offense around him. He is batting a .228/0/8 RBI at home.
Even when they scored four runs against the Cincinatti Reds on May 22 it was mostly an uphill battle, with the exception of the brief 1-0 lead the Mets held in the first and second innings. The Mets lost 7-4 in part due to a mental defensive lapse by Davis in the ninth inning.
Collins is running out of excuses for his downtrodden team. He attributes starter Jon Niese’s struggles to the cold temperatures he endured when pitching in Minnesota and Colorado in mid-April. If Niese’s ERA does not drop down below four by June, Collins would still be decrying those frigid temperatures. Dillon Gee no longer seems like a fit for the back of any Major League rotation and Jeremy Hefner is only serviceable every five starts. Marcum can pitch well early in a game but cannot go the distance anymore; his career may be over.
Despite more payroll flexibility next season, 2014 does not seem like the breakthrough year for the Mets. If the young core of Duda, Davis and Tejada continues to crumble, the Mets have to start from scratch. Alderson needs at least two quality starters, a first baseman, an entire outfielder and bullpen. Even Santa Claus could not fulfill a wish list this long.