Nationals 4, Mets 0: Santana pitches nobly in a losing cause, as an ever-thinner Mets lineup struggles
It is easy to lose sight of just how long a baseball season is.
Less than a week ago, Johan Santana gave the Mets hope with a strong Opening Day start. But the Mets have made a habit of winning on Opening Day; the subsequent three wins, giving New York its best start since 2007, let Mets fans feel good about a team that has produced little more than heartache for years.
Then the Mets lost, dropping a Tuesday evening game against the Nationals thanks to a number of blown fielding chances, and announced that they lost third baseman David Wright for an unspecified amount of time.
According to the Mets, Wright is going to see another specialist tomorrow, with no timetable for his return. According to manager Terry Collins following Wednesday's game, a dispiriting 4-0 loss to the Nationals, he believes in his gut that Wright will play on Friday. Collins did acknowledge that he was not a doctor.
Still, in a season that probably will require Mets fans to take whatever opportunity for pleasure they can, seeing Johan Santana match up well against Washington ace Stephen Strasburg today was actually a bright spot.
Santana responded well to questions about how he'd be able to follow up on his initial performance, and how a cold, windy afternoon might affect him, with eight strikeouts over five innings, along with five hits and a run. Santana walked his third batter to begin the sixth inning, ending his day to an ovation from a Mets crowd that, to put it frankly, looked exactly nothing like the 34,614 announced.
"Unfortunately, we didn't win," a composed Santana told the group of reporters assembled at his locker following the game. "But as far as what I'm doing, I think I'm making progress."
The walk that ended his day was a foreshadowing of what the New York bullpen would provide. In four innings, the Mets relievers combined for seven walks, including two that forced in runs. It didn't matter much; the Mets weren't hitting the Washington bullpen.
It was a reminder that though New York expended what meager offseason budget it had on improving the bullpen, what they've got pales in comparison to what Washington has, even with Nats closer Drew Storen on the shelf.
Ike Davis did notch his first hit of the season, but the middle of the order simply isn't providing much pop. On the season, Davis is hitting .050, Lucas Duda .136, and Jason Bay .158.
"You know, the one thing I'd like to do is try and give him some runs out there, so he can relax a little bit," Collins said of Santana following the game in his press conference.
In the meantime, though, a lineup with no margin for error continues along without 25 percent of the position players it was counting on at the start of the season out of the lineup. (Opening Day center fielder Andrew Torres is on the disabled list.) And their replacements are Kirk Nieuwenhuis, a rookie who missed much of 2011 with a shoulder injury, and Ronny Cedeno, a natural second baseman who has a career OPS+ of 68. In other words, even when Davis and Duda start to hit, as one assumes they will, and Bay begins hitting better than .158, another likelihood, the Mets are always an injury or two away from a very thin lineup.
So get used to seeing Santana well in losing efforts. The team sent out Roger Craig, 1962's hard-luck loser in the team's inaugural 40-120 campaign, to throw out the first pitch. It was not just a way to honor the team's 50th anniversary; it seemed like an omen, too.