10:00 am Jul. 23, 2012
After Saturday afternoon's loss to the Dodgers, an 8-5 defeat in the middle of a three-game sweep at home this weekend, Terry Collins walked crisply into the press conference room at Citi Field, in uniform, and sat down at the podium.
No one really knew exactly what to ask him, and he didn't really have much to say. Johan Santana, the hero of April, May and especially June, had been placed on the disabled list. R.A. Dickey, unlikely All-Star, had been pressed into relief duty, and gave up a two-run homer.
The Mets had failed to field a competent major league team yet again, thanks to the kind of injuries that any major league team faces. This was no failure of attitude or effort. Ultimately, Collins acknowledged that.
"Everybody's got injuries, everybody has problems," Collins explained to the assembled media. "We have to play over them. We're doing the best we can right now, and it's not good enough."
Collins has been around enough major league teams to understand that this is not a talented team in a slump, whose ills can be cured by screaming or turning over tables.
On Saturday, his center fielder, Andres Torres, had a .638 O.P.S. is playing because the team's other options faltered. His left fielder, Jason Bay, has a .645 O.P.S. and probably only still has a job because of the massive amount of money the Mets still owe on his four-year, $66 million contract. His starting catcher, Mike Nickeas, has a lower O.P.S., .484, than pitcher Jonathan Niese. And his starting pitcher, Miguel Batista, thrust into the rotation by a team with no real alternatives, lasted just three innings. Batista did not even pitch well enough to justify a roster spot on these Mets, getting designated for assignment the next day.
The frustrating part of this Mets season isn't that some well-executed plan went off the rails suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving the team without the wherewithal to solve them. The starting pitching depth, the backup catcher, the lack of solid outfield options were all clear enough this winter. The bullpen problems, from baseball's worst unit, have manifested themselves in glowing lights since the start of the season.
The frustrating part is that when so much went right for the Mets, from David Wright's renaissance, to R.A. Dickey's step forward and Niese's emergence, to even the recent play of Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis, even the rudiments of past budgets could have given general manager Sandy Alderson the means to turn this season's team into a legitimate contender.
Either Alderson didn't realize that it would be possible that a rotation including two members returning from major shoulder surgeries would be susceptible to injury, or, much more likely, he simply didn't have the financial means to back them up adequately.
The Braves, who now lead the Mets by five games for the final wild card spot, were without starter Tim Hudson for the first month. They lost their best starter, Brandon Beachy, to Tommy John Surgery in June. And Jair Jurrjens, who opened the season in the rotation, has struggled all season, even after a minor league demotion.
But the Braves, who are not a fabulously free-spending team, have weathered it by bringing in additional starters as often as possible, on reasonable contracts. One of those starters, Ben Sheets, shut out the Mets last Sunday.
The Mets have done nothing of the sort. Their Triple-A teams in recent years have been poor enough that Buffalo wants to find another major league team to affiliate with. And Matt Harvey, deemed not ready as recently as last week, will now be pressed into service this Thursday because the Mets truly don't have another option.
So maybe it is coincidental that in 2010, in 2011, in 2012, the New York Mets have had strong first halves only to collapse at roughly the same time. But it's a lot to expect a roster with no good back-up options to hold up through 162 games.
Sadly, these mid-season collapses are likely to be a fact of life for New York Mets for as long as Fred Wilpon and his partners remain both cash-strapped and in charge.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Oakland Athletics swept the New York Yankees at home for the first time since 1913, when the $100,000 infield reigned, the Athletics played in Philadelphia, and Connie Mack was a young manager. The four-game sweep allowed the Orioles to creep to within six games of the Yankees, who still have the best record in baseball.
Thanks to a 2-0 win over Philadelphia, the Red Bulls sit atop the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break.