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WHAT HAPPENED, A BIG PITCHING PROBLEM:
After showing real signs of life, the Mets have now dropped five of their last seven — 8-15 if you extend the window to the month of May. From a pitching perspective, Saturday and Sunday were much different ballgames. Zack Wheeler did not pitch anywhere near as bad as Jason Vargas, surrendering one less run in twice the innings. Sure, he labored through those six innings, but he provided a solid start for considering what his role on the team is.
It’d be nice to have the fourth or fifth man in your rotation hold opponents to just a couple of runs, but that isn’t realistic to expect at this point. Following Saturday, and with a doubleheader looming on Monday, all the Mets needed Wheeler to do was work deep into the game. Of course the outcomes matter, but six innings of four-run ball should be enough to at least keep the Mets in the game. Considering how well this offense can perform, it should be more than enough. Alas, while Sunday might’ve differed from Saturday, one similar theme rang true: the Mets have a bullpen problem to address.
It feels like ages, but just last Tuesday a Derek Dietrich two-run home run ended a 14-inning scoreless streak the Mets bullpen amassed over four games. It might not have been some mammoth streak, but it was impressive. However, when you consider their victims — the Arizona Diamondbacks and (for one game) the Miami Marlins — it becomes much less impressive. They dominated the Arizona Diamondbacks, but who hasn’t? The Dbacks have spent May in a near freefall. As for the Marlins, well, they are what they are. That, of course, is still a team that took two of three from the Mets.
So here we sit, one week later, with the bullpen going in quite the opposite direction. The Mets left Milwaukee with three losses and a tote-bag for the bullpen full of a ton of runs. Make no mistake, the struggles of AJ Ramos and Jerry Blevins aren’t new concepts to the 2018 season. The problem is that their struggles become amplified when, say, you don’t trust Robert Gsellman to pitch to lefties. With Blevins being the go-to (and only) LOOGY on the roster, you are forced to use a struggling pitcher in one of the higher-leveraged spots in the game. And when Paul Sewald is seated at the ‘does not look quite as sharp’ table with Gsellman, the result is what you saw on Sunday.
It’s always easier to play the ‘what if’ game when you know the outcome, but it certainly would’ve been tempting for me to bring in Jeurys Familia to follow either Gsellman or Blevins. Maybe having Familia, who has not pitched since May 23, finish the seventh and work the eighth inning would have been enough to stave off the Brewers. Maybe Familia follows the route Paul Sewald took. Who knows.
Don’t get me wrong, the loss does not fall on Jerry Blevins’ shoulders. What it comes down to is that the Mets currently do not have the depth to sustain struggles by Gsellman or Sewald. Of course, that is less of an individual pitcher problem than it is one of roster creation and early-season injuries. Familia has pitched well, and Seth Lugo has been phenomenal, but that is about where the current good feelings end. Gsellman had looked great, but should he or Sewald stay in any prolonged funk, one has to wonder where the help comes from. Hansel Robles is close to returning from his DL-stint, but he has struggled to start the year. Anthony Swarzak’s return from the DL will be a huge boost and, considering his success against lefties, he could be a candidate to take some of the pressure off Blevins. That is essentially the extent of the in-house help you could get, as many of the down-the-road men on the 40-man haven’t looked great.
In a much less macabre tone, the Mets have a large bullpen issue looming. While I think Gsellman and Sewald will work out of their funk, it feels like the Mets are walking a very thin line (per usual). For a team ravaged by injuries last season, especially in the rotation, that is not the best signal you want to be sending out in late May. The risk that comes with a middling bullpen forcing Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to work deeper into games, even on days when they don’t have their best stuff, is not insignificant. One way to help would be for Zack Wheeler to do what he did on Sunday, and for Steven Matz to consistently work into the sixth inning. Getting anything remotely serviceable out of Jason Vargas would be huge, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
WHAT HAPPENED, YESTERDAY:
The Mets had one of their larger weaknesses exposed, finishing a forgettable series against the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers. The Mets also hit baseballs, and did so very well. A Brandon Nimmo-less lineup still produced seven runs, but this shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. With Todd Frazier and Yoenis Cespedes nearing rehab assignments, the Mets have even more help on the way. They could certainly use it.
WHAT HAPPENS, TODAY:
Well, today will certainly be interesting. Barring any rainout, the Mets will play two against the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves. They will begin the day 25-24, just four games back of the division lead. Jacob deGrom will take the ball in game one, while I will get the call to start game two. It is exciting to finally get the call, as I’ve struggled mightily at the D3-level to prepare for this moment.
Photo credit: Benny Sieu – USA Today Sports