How restless Terry Collins made his peace with the 2013 Mets
Saturday was one of the uglier days in the tenure of Terry Collins, now in his third and quite possibly final season as manager of the New York Mets.
Each of his first two years, Collins has been fortified by an unexpectedly strong start. The Mets were 46-45 at the All Star Break in 2011, 46-40 at the break in 2012. The second half each season was an unmitigated disaster, but Collins had, at least, a period of overachievement to point to during otherwise glum late-season postgame news conferences. Collins got credit for managing with what he had, and he deserved it.
This year, he's working with a team that is, on paper, less talented than each of its two predecessors. Collins knows it, too, and he's known it since spring training. The result has been a mad scientist's mixing of lineups and platoons and rotations. It isn't much of a stretch to say he's tried everything. It hasn't worked, not even against a schedule largely made up of the lesser lights of the league. The Mets are 14-20 after Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
What Collins really needs is for the Mets to spend more money on players, and this ownership group, whose own financial problems are well documented, isn't going to do that anytime soon.
Asked about top prospect Zack Wheeler's status on Friday night, after a horrific performance by starter Shaun Marcum, Collins said: "I can’t worry about people that aren’t here. You know, I’d like to have [Albert] Pujols, too, but I don’t have him."
So when Collins reflected on the Mets' 11-2 loss Saturday afternoon, after a terrible start by Opening Day starter Jon Niese, an offense that produced 12 runs over its previous five games, and a starting staff with an E.R.A. well over five without its ace Matt Harvey, he seemed resigned to letting his team go out and win or lose on its talent, not through some manic fix.
"We're gonna do some things tomorrow," Collins said, still in uniform, in response to my question about whether 14-19 was about where he expected to be. "You know what? We've got some run producers on this team? They're gonna start hitting where they belong to hit. You work hard, trying to put the best lineup out there, to put them in the right spots, and I'm sitting there, looking at it today, and," he paused, looking for the right way to say it.
"My guys are great, my players are tremendous, they're great guys, but I'm a little tired, I'm sitting there today thinking, it's enough thinking, trying to overmanage this. Let the players play. So I'm gonna turn 'em loose tomorrow, and let them go play, and hit in the spots they should hit in."
That apparently meant Ike Davis, off to a difficult start for a second year in a row, in the cleanup spot despite entering the game with an O.P.S.+ of 68. David Wright, the Met who is producing offensively, hit third. Lucas Duda, who off to strong offensive start, hit fifth.
Thanks to Matt Harvey, who battled subpar command (for him, anyway) to turn in a seven-inning, two-run performance, the Mets stayed in the game on Sunday, despite producing only two runs and four hits into the eighth inning.
Daniel Murphy, the number-two hitter, led off with a double, and took third on a wild pitch. Wright was walked, somewhat intentionally. That brought Davis to the plate. But Davis missed a hittable fastball for strike one, fouled off strike two, and weakly waved at a curve for strike three. Then Duda lined a ball down the first base line that looked like a double for sure, before it hit first base and caromed up to second baseman Jordy Mercer, who threw Duda out.
A sacrifice fly from Davis, the cleanup hitter, would have tied the game. And a team with even average hitting would have given Harvey, a pitcher with a 1.98 E.R.A. over his past four starts and four no-decisions to show for it, a chance to earn the victory.
Afterwards, Davis took responsibility, which isn't new. Davis is a hard worker, and has never shied away from discussing his shortcomings with reporters.
Davis, "noticeably morose" in the words of MLB.com's Anthony DiComo, said: "It's my job. I don't like doing horrible at my job."
"I have to produce more," Davis said, "or I won't play at this level."
For another team, sure. But Davis hit like this for another month longer last season, sporting a .161 batting average on June 7 last season, before rallying. On another team, a capable hitter who can manage first base, the easiest defensive position to fill, while Davis found his stroke at Triple-A wouldn't be hard to find.
But the Mets' only realistic alternative to Davis, Lucas Duda, is going through the motions of playing left field. Davis' backup, Justin Turner, is not really a viable hitter at second base or third base, let alone first base. The Triple-A first baseman, Josh Satin, is not a real prospect. And the same is true of Double-A first basemen Richard Lucas and Allan Dykstra.
So Collins will continue to turn 'em loose. Because, as he realizes, there's nothing else to do now.
"We're getting hit now with a two-headed monster: we're not hitting and we're not pitching," Collins said after Sunday's game. "Certainly we've got to get it going, and there's no secret formula how to do it."