The more things change for the Mets, the more they stay the same. After a complete overhaul of their front office, the hiring of a new manager and coaching staff, a rebuilt bullpen, two new additions to the starting rotation, and an Opening Day lineup that carried over only one player from the 2010 opener, the Mets continue to struggle.
Making sure things stayed familiar, on Saturday an old foe applied the damage to their dreams: Chipper Jones. Jones had 44 home runs and a .973 OPS in 215 career games versus the Mets coming into the game. He went 3-for-6 with two walks, two runs, and two RBIs, including his 45th career homer against the Mets, as the Braves took both games of Saturday's doubleheader.
It was only the latest development in a storyline that gets worse every day for the Flushing faithful. After losing seven straight games including two consecutive doubleheaders, the New York Mets have sunk to 4-11 overall. Do Mets fans have reason to be optimistic? Consider this: that 4-11 record is only one game ahead of the pace of the 1962 Mets, who began their year 3-12 en route to a 40-120 season. Losing two doubleheaders in a week was also historic. It has only happened five times since 2000 -- although the Mets did it once before, in June 2003.
To add injury to insult, Jason Bay lingers in Port St. Lucie with a ribcage strain, and their most effective starting pitcher -- Chris Young -- has been placed on the DL with biceps tendonitis after only two starts. Opening Day starter Mike Pelfrey, the pitcher who is supposed to be their de facto ace, has completed only 16 innings in four starts, and sports a whopping 2.34 WHIP and 9.72 ERA. The bullpen has been similarly ineffective, with three blown saves, a 1.70 WHIP and 4.79 ERA through 47 innings.
Now the bad news: Pitching may be the Mets' strength.
Offensively, the Mets have scored 63 runs, which isn't awful -- it's good enough for sixth in the NL. But their .237 average and .661 OPS with runners in scoring position suggests they could have scored many more, and that they just aren't getting the big hits when they have the opposition on the ropes. Mets hitters managed only two hits in seven innings on Saturday against Jair Jurrjens, then struck out five times against the Braves bullpen. Their lone baserunner came with two outs in the ninth, when Jose Reyes struck out on a wild pitch and reached first base safely as the ball trickled away from catcher David Ross.
On defense, Mets outfielders have lost balls both in the sun and the lights, and haven't yet figured out the quirky confines of Citi Field. Second baseman Brad Emaus misplayed an easy double-play ball during a key moment in Thursday's loss against the Rockies, and has looked tentative -- which more or less describes the Mets defense in general. The catchers have allowed 16 stolen bases and have credit for only one caught stealing, which came on Saturday afternoon when the Braves' Nate McLouth beat the throw by a few feet, but was tagged out when his foot slipped off the base.
Perhaps most disappointing has been the Mets inability to execute "the little things" -- especially annoying since new manager Terry Collins made fundamentals a focus from the day he came on board. Failed sacrifice-bunt attempts, mysterious pitch selections, and bone-headed baserunning has marked the club's ineptitude. The players look nervous and confused, except when they try to do too much -- such as when Daniel Murphy channeled Marv Throneberry and inexplicably attempted to steal third base in the sixth inning of their most recent loss, with none out and down by three. Murphy was thrown out by 15 feet, killing the Mets' only potential of a rally in the ballgame. Collins subsequently described it as "an error of enthusiasm." Casey Stengel, manager of the original edition of the Mets back in 1962, might have a more scathing description of what's happening with the Mets right now by asking again, "Can't anybody here play this game?"
Despite his club's recent woes, Collins remains upbeat. Immediately after getting swept in the Atlanta doubleheader, he said, "We're gonna go get 'em tomorrow and then we're gonna go home and win six straight and this will all be forgotten."
Though Collins remains positive, his words fall on increasingly deaf ears among Mets fans. After all, when the Mets began the season 4-7, Collins' response was, "We're one pitch away, and we're one swing away, from being 9-2, and we're not. But the next 11, we need to be 9-2."
Collins is correct in the broad strokes: If the Mets rip off a six- or seven-game winning streak, this 4-11 start is likely to be forgotten. But that's a big "if," particularly when a team is struggling to pitch, hit, field, and run. What's more concerning is that if the Mets don't turn things around dramatically, and right away, the season likely will get even worse before it gets better. Why? Because if you put any stock into strength of schedule analysis, the Mets are currently in their easiest month, with two of their toughest two coming in May and June. In July, they play 13 games against 2010 playoff teams.
The best chance for optimism is the hope that maybe the Mets will play up to their competition as the schedule gets tougher. But if the first fifteen games are any indication, it's going to be a long, long, long season for Mets fans.
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