MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets

Game recap April 18: The opponent changes, the blueprint stays the same


Having lost the last three games of their four game set in Miami, the Mets returned home to start a three game series against the Phillies with Zack Wheeler on the mound. Wheeler has been flashing his potential in an up-and-down start to the season, suffering from some bad luck with a 7.45 ERA despite a 3.21 FIP. Opposing Wheeler was right hander Zach Eflin, a 23 -year-old making his 2017 major league debut after 63.1 bad innings in 2016. Perhaps most excitingly for Met fans, Michael Conforto got another start in center field and batting leadoff, a role many (including myself) hope becomes his permanently.

Game Recap

Things got off to a fast start for both teams. Odubel Herrera launched a home run to right field off a Wheeler curveball in the top half. The Mets responded quickly against Eflin however; Conforto worked a leadoff walk and came around to score on an RBI single from Jay Bruce. Yoenis Cespedes would score during the next at bat to give the Mets a 2-1 lead.

Wheeler settled down very nicely after the Herrera home run, holding the Phillies off the board for the next four innings. He wasn’t terribly efficient, throwing 99 pitches (26 of which came in his challenging first inning) in five innings of work, but struck out seven while walking two and surrendering four hits. The outing lowered his ERA to a still unsightly 5.52, but his final four innings were probably the best he’s looked since returning to the mound this season.

The Mets offense, meanwhile, was absolutely silent. They managed only four hits in the game, and had only one hit after the fourth inning. Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera continued to struggle, both going 0-for-4, and while Jose Reyes managed a hit, he didn’t look any more comfortable at the plate. Conforto went 0-for-4 as well with a pair of strikeouts. Nevertheless, the Met bullpen was strong, making the 2-1 lead hold up until the eighth inning.

Fernando Salas, having relieved Josh Smoker with two outs in the seventh (more on that later), fought through an outing where he clearly didn’t have his best stuff or his best command. With a runner on first and two outs, he induced a mile-high pop up from Freddy Galvis, seemingly ending the threat and setting up Addison Reed for the save. Instead, Jose Reyes dropped the ball (at least he used two hands, unlike Luis Castillo against the Yankees all those years ago) and the Phillies tied the game one batter later.

With the Met offense still failing to do anything of note, the game went to extra innings, and that meant it was time for Rafael Montero to enter the game. Predictably, that went poorly, as Montero faced five batters and gave up hard hit balls to all of them, four of those going for hits. All four of those runners would score, including two against Sean Gilmartin. Montero’s ERA has now ballooned over nine and it’s clear that he has no place in a major league bullpen right now.

Down 6-2 in the bottom of the tenth, the Mets managed a two out walk but nothing else, as Cespedes weekly squibbed a Joaquin Benoit fastball to second to end the game.The fourth straight loss drops the Mets to 7-7, with the bullpen being taxed even further with another five innings of work. In a fun bit of trivia, this was the first time since 2010 that five straight Met games have been won in the winning team’s final turn at bat.

Thoughts from the Game

Terry Collins continues to be an absolutely incompetent bullpen tactician, constantly over managing and being blatantly oblivious as to when someone just doesn’t have it. Smoker, looking very solid in the sixth and seventh innings, was removed from the game for Fernando Salas with two outs after allowing a two-out hit. Salas has appeared in nine of the first 14 games now, and the excessive use has been evident in his last two outings. To be fair, Salas is not responsible for blowing the lead (that falls to Reyes, who dropped a pop up with two outs), but Collins needs to reign in his excessive use of his favorite relievers. He won’t of course, but that won’t stop us from hoping.

On Jose Reyes, he simply does not belong in the starting lineup right now. Wilmer Flores certainly has his warts, but Reyes is playing about as poorly as is possible. Furthermore, it’s not as if he’s been hitting into hard luck – Reyes’ bottom half is entirely unengaged, and he’s late on fastballs and flailing at anything with spin.

“He has earned the right to try to fight his way out of it,” Collins said after the game, before mentioning that he was going to ride the third baseman for 125-130 at-bats before he throws in the towel.

The free agent market was admittedly a bit thin at the hot corner this offseason, but going into the year with Reyes as the starting third baseman continues to look like a big mistake. At the very least, Terry could stop batting Reyes ahead of Travis d’Arnaud, who is rocking a cool .946 OPS but continues to languish in the eighth spot in the order.

Other Met News

Steven Matz (strained flexor tendon) and Seth Lugo (partially torn UCL) both are set to begin throwing programs in Port St. Lucie. The Mets starting rotation has been excellent to start the season with a 3.27 FIP that ranks third in the majors, but the depth options are currently thin. It’ll be interesting to see how the Mets handle Matz if he can keep himself on the field – the only Met starter that possibly deserves to be bumped from the rotation at the moment is Robert Gsellman, but he should get a longer leash to make good on the promise he showed last season. Perhaps piggybacking Matz and Wheeler would allow the Mets to keep both healthy and contributing to the major league team while giving the bullpen potentially a night off each cycle through. More realistically, the Mets could adopt a six-man rotation if all the starters can stay on the field (knock on wood).

More immediately, Jeurys Familia is set to return to the major league team on Thursday. He’ll provide a welcome boost to a bullpen that has been stressed by multiple extra inning games early in the season as well as covering for the short starts of Robert Gsellman and Zack Wheeler. Team brass have indicated that Familia may not immediately retake the closer role, but reinforcement in any inning would be welcome at this point.

Photo credit: Andy Marlin – USA Today Sports

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