Frank Francisco sinks the otherwise overachieving Mets in Miami
This weekend, the New York Mets were two blown saves from sweeping the Miami Marlins and pulling into a three-way tie for first place in the National League East's loss column.
A pair of meltdowns by Frank Francisco in the ninth innings of Friday night and Sunday afternoon left the Marlins celebrating a series win. The Mets relief corps was the one roster area on which they spent real money this off-season.
On Friday night, the Mets trailed the Marlins 3-1 entering the seventh inning. They climbed to within 3-2 thanks to a single from Ronny Cedeno, who reached base three times on Friday, and has a .448 on-base percentage for the year. His career OBP is .288. He then scored on a double from Mike Nickeas, who has four extra-base hits in 94 career major league plate appearances, and a career minor league slugging percentage of just .342.
An inning later, the Mets took the lead, 5-3. First, David Wright, who is hitting .400 so far this season, doubled. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, a solid prospect, doubled home Wright. He's at an OPS+ of 131 so far, which is probably more than the Mets have any right to expect from the rookie. Miami then walked Ike Davis intentionally, bringing up ... Cedeno. The pitcher, Edward Mujica, had walked 14 batters all of last year, and six batters the entire season before. Cedeno walked 30 times all season last year.
Naturally, Cedeno walked to load the bases. Mike Baxter followed with a two-run double to give the Mets a 5-3 lead. Baxter can be a fine bench bat, but he has an OPS+ of 179. To put that in perspective, Albert Pujols has a career OPS+ of 168.
Frank Francisco gave up the lead and the game.
The Mets followed a similar path to a lead on Sunday. Entering the ninth tied 2-2, the Mets got a leadoff double from Daniel Murphy, who is hitting just about as expected. But then Cedeno followed by walking again. One out later, Mike Baxter was walked intentionally--no wonder, with him hitting like vintage Pujols--to load the bases and set up a force at any base for Justin Turner. Turner has an OPS+ of 60 in 2012, 85 for his career. He laced a two-run double to give the Mets a 4-2 cushion.
Then Francisco came in, blew the lead, turned the ball over to Manny Acosta, who then gave up a game-winning grand slam to Giancarlo Stanton.
What has to be frustrating to General Manager Sandy Alderson is that acquiring a competent bullpen was done with the aim of locking in a floor for this team. Whatever the undermanned Mets could provide, a good bullpen would lock in those victories and limit the kind of dispiriting losses that would break a team's momentum. Instead, at precisely the time the rest of the Mets are playing so much better than anyone expected them to, the bullpen has faltered.
New York's relievers now have an E.R.A. up over 5. Francisco is at 8.56, Acosta is at 9.53.
Meanwhile, the Mets missed a chance to bank a couple of wins against a division opponent who should be in contention all year. This team has responded to adversity so far this year, rebounding from a series sweep in Houston, for instance. How they do against Milwaukee and Cincinnati this week in a four-game homestand could come down to whether the bullpen starts to play up to the level of the overachieving regular players, or the regulars play down to the awful bullpen.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Andy Pettitte lost on Sunday in his return to the Yankees. He pitched moderately well, but his teammates didn't give him much offensive support, scoring just two times on bases-loaded walks. Fans are running out of patience with Mark Teixeira.
The battle for the soul of North Jersey begins Monday night, when the Rangers play the Devils in Game 1 of the conference finals.
New York won yet again, this time in epic comeback fashion over Phiadelphia, to take over first place in the Eastern Conference. That they are doing this without Thierry Henry should be encouraging, but New York's history probably dictates that they'll collapse the moment they bring back M.L.S.'s best player from his hamstring injury in a few weeks.
There aren't many things that can get me to watch exhibition football. But this guy might be one of them.