It’s not just that the Mets lost to the Florida Marlins Sunday, 4-2, to finish out of the playoffs—it’s how they lost.
There was little question that New York’s bullpen would provide an obstacle for the team’s stellar starting pitching and offense to overcome. But in the final three games of the season, while the starters and relievers held to form, the offensive production that made the Mets a playoff threat simply disappeared.
In the final weekend of the season, New York lost two of three games to the Florida Marlins. The starting pitching, a strength for much of the season, ranged from good to spectacular. Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and most notably Johan Santana combined for 20 1/3 innings of 2.21 ERA pitching, despite the latter two starters going on three days rest.
The bullpen, as it has been for the second half of the season, was Charlie Brown bad, posting a 6.75 ERA over the three games. It is no surprise that the only contest the Mets won was Saturday, when the bullpen did not participate, thanks to Santana’s complete game. In fact, the bullpen allowed as many runs over the three games as the starters did—but in 6 2/3 innings, rather than the 20 1/3 the starters pitched.
But an offense that scored more than five runs per game in the season’s second half scored just five times all weekend long. The Mets, in the games they needed to destroy 2007’s hangover, hit just .189 for the weekend. Those claiming that it was simply a failure to hit with runners in scoring position are missing the point. In the final three games, the Mets didn’t hit. Period.
And, of course, that is the inherent danger in constructing a team with such a ludicrously awful bullpen. The Mets posted a 6.80 ERA out of the pen in the final 17 games. Still, with decent production, the team would have found its way into the playoffs.
This is obvious when the Mets’ overall performance under Jerry Manuel–who according to published reports will soon receive a richly-deserved contract extension–is evaluated. The Mets record was 55-38 once Manuel replaced Willie Randolph. Over a full season, that is a 101-win pace. Such a season would have placed New York nine games ahead of the Phillies for divisional supremacy—indeed, New York would have had the best record in baseball.</p.
So the recipe wasn’t an impossible one—it just came apart at the worst possible time. And just how untenable a situation Jerry Manuel found himself in when either starting pitching or offense failed to mitigate the bullpen was on full display Sunday.
Oliver Perez provided five superb innings on short rest, but faltered a bit in the sixth, allowing three hits and the game’s first run. With two on and one out, Manuel elected to replace Perez with Joe Smith. The reliever walked in an inherited runner, but otherwise acquitted himself nicely. Still, the Mets needed to pinch-hit for Smith to try and get back in the game—and they did.
<pNow Manuel had nine outs left to get, and no pitcher who could be counted on against both lefties and righties to help him get them. He turned to Brian Stokes, who hasn’t retired lefties all season. Still, Stokes battled through, only allowing a hit to a righty and even striking out lefty John Baker. But with lefty power hitter Mike Jacobs set to start off the eighth, Stokes was not a viable option. Instead, Manuel sent Scott Schoeneweis into the game to face Jacobs. Florida countered with righty Wes Helms, and Schoeneweis had to pitch to a righty. One longball later, it was 3-2.
Manuel could have stuck with Stokes, or even brought in Luis Ayala, another righty, to face Jacobs. (Once he made a pitching change, the new pitcher had to face at least one hitter.) Ayala, of course, was brought in to face a righty—and allowed a home run as well to make the score 4-2. It didn’t matter, really. As long as a manager had options from both sides of the plate—and with September callups, every manager does—Manuel had no way of countering his way through that minefield.
Make no mistake about it—the bullpen, not the offense, and certainly not the manager, is what cost the Mets another shot at the postseason. Had the bullpen been merely adequate for 159 games, failures by the offense wouldn’t have been magnified over the final three.
But for a team so desperate to eradicate the stigma of 2007’s collapse, the offensive failures couldn’t have come at a worse time.