(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
So who is to blame for the New York Mets three-game sweep at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field the past three days? With the exception of Sunday afternoon where the Mets banged out four hits in a 8-1 loss, the hitting was not an issue.
The exception though was a lack of timely hitting in the two extra inning losses, Friday and Saturday evenings. Don’t blame the starting pitching, and until an unexpected Sunday afternoon 40-minute rain delay,Matt Harvey allowed a lone run in 6.0 innings, the 16th home run of the season hit by Pedro Alvarez in the second inning.
And you can blame the defense for allowing the Pirates to break it open on Sunday in the seventh inning. Harvey did not return after the rain delay after throwing 103 pitches. Or you can blame Bobby Parnell out of the pen who contributed to the Pirates four run inning that turned a 1-1 game into a 5- 1 Pittsburgh lead, even though two of his four runs were earned.
That dreadful inning which had enthusiastic Mets fans once again booing their first place team, can also be blamed on a Travis d’arnaud passed ball that gave the Pirates a two run lead. Before that, a for sure double-play ball wasn’t, because the comebacker to Parnell and his throw to shortstop Ruben Tejada went into center field that left runners at the corners and no outs.
Tejada said about the game changer, “I was late to the bag.” Later enough and sure enough to make Parnell look more at fault. The fans were more displeased with Parnell than with Tejada, but certainly that inning paved the way for more questions also about the Mets bullpen doing the job down the stretch.
This was a Pirates team still in the hunt for a NL central divisional crown, though the St Louis Cardinals appear to be the elite team. Either way, Pittsburgh looks to be headed to their third straight postseason and the Mets, if indeed they win the NL east could have the Pirates as an eventual October opponent.
Pittsburgh got this advantage and will feel more confident if it is the Mets in October. They took all six games from New York this season and no matter what type of strong starting pitching the Mets throw, the Pirates have to feel they have a better bullpen by virtue of the three game sweep.
Parnell is vulnerable, as is the Mets’ pen with the possible exception of the closer Jeurys Familia who did not have the opportunity to close it out in the three game sweep. Instead, manager Terry Collins had to go the route with his pen in a 14-inning loss Saturday night and in a Friday evening 10-inning loss.
Familia was not available Sunday. Neither was Hansel Robles, the righthander who tossed three scoreless innings in the Saturday night loss. Carlos Torres has not been used as much as of late, and the toll of throwing a record number of innings last season may be evident.
And, despite the Mets’ pen allowing 4-runs in the last 19.0 innings before Sunday, sixth in the majors with an overall 2.95 era, there should be minor complaints. But there should be some displeasure with Parnell who got the loss Friday night and gave up singles to all three batters he faced in the 10th inning,
To be fair about it, Parnell is being used in situations that would have gone to Jenrry Mejia who has since been banned for a season because of ignorance and a second violation of steroid abuse. Amd Parnell is one of those many pitchers who could still be adjusting with his return from Tommy John Surgery,
However, the Mets, in control of their own destiny with 44 games to play, can’t afford to surrender a possible win in the late innings, or extra innings and not with Parnell and a 5.59 ERA. In ten games since his return on July 22nd, Parnell has a 14.44 era and that does not speak well for a team that sitll holds a 4-½ game lead over the slumping Washington Nationals.
More so, had the Nationals done their part and not been at the hands of a three-game sweep in San Francisco, the Mets would be barely clinging to their lead. On the other hand, had Parnell and perhaps that defense on Sunday done things differently, the Mets could have widened the gap and go into their off day Monday with at least a six game advantage on top of the division.
So again you hear the obvious, “This is baseball.” But down the stretch the game has to be played right in order to get the rewards of getting a spot in the postseason.
Collins said he told his team, “If any of you guys sitting in this room would have told me on May 15 with 44 games left in the season we would have a 4-½ game lead, I’d take it.”
And to get around the bullpen issue and miscues of a series that could have went the other way, Collins would say his guys are tired and as bad as the outcome of these three games was, he said, “I’ll take it,” and again that is attributed to this first place lead.
As for Parnell and the struggles, Collins said, “We turn a double play, we’re out of the inning. That does bother me a little bit. And I’m a little concerned about Bobby. One of the things we’ve seen is this roller coaster that these guys come out of surgery have.”
Collins added that one day last week, Parnell was throwing at 97. “This week wasn’t as good.” Parnell was not available to talk as the Mets prepared to embark on a 10-game road trip to Baltimore, Colorado and Philadelphia, and there are two off days this week on Monday and Thursday. So there will be plenty of time for that bullpen to get some needed rest.
However the implosion of Bobby Parnell, and the defensive miscues at this time of year are not the route to go. Sunday, and at times in these past three games Collins’ team resembled the Mets that could do nothing right before taking over first place from the Nationals.
“We have to go out and play the game,” said Michael Cuddyer who also said the Pirates got their end of the bargain with good starting pitching in the three games. Their bullpen that excels in extra inning games shut down the Mets Sunday after starter Matt Locke went 5.1 innings.
But as Cuddyer said, “When you are in a playoff race you are grinding it everyday.” Except this is no time for Parnell and the bullpen to implode because the Nationals are expected sooner or later to become the team that was expected.
“We played very good baseball until the seventh inning of today, so we’ll move on,” said Collins. And beginning Tuesday night down in Baltimore it will be time to move on and it begins with the bullpen that became an issue the past few days for the Mets.