The Mets realize it when they look up and take a glimpse at the standings. After 35 games, the Braves are quickly distancing themselves from the rest of the field in the NL East. The Mets just concluded another dismal series Sunday with a 13-6 loss to the Rockies at Citi Field and are already seven games back.
An ugly loss, as lowly Colorado took the three games series. A 17-18 record at this juncture tells you that a Mets team with the highest payroll in baseball is not playing to expectations. So enough of the “it’s early in the season” jargon.
Too early for panic? With 127 ballgames remaining, there is time to turn it around. Not expected was losing series to the Rockies, Nationals, and Tigers, that tier of disparity in the league with teams that have significantly lower payrolls.
Not expected was a Mets team losing their fourth straight series, 18th in runs per game, 14th in runs allowed. Not expected was a pitching rotation second in baseball in giving up the home run ball, 50 of them. Only the Oakland A’s, give up more.
A bullpen without their closer, Edwin Diaz. Manager Buck Showalter takes that walk to the mound, to go to a bullpen that is overworked because the starting rotation has been a huge disappointment so far. Starters rarely go six innings and that leads to problems with juggling the relievers.
Now is the time to begin the process and win ball games on the road this week with a seven games against the Reds and Nationals, two of those lower tier teams not expected to be a factor again in the postseason picture.
These are teams the Mets need to beat. They know that, so does manager Buck Showalter. And a fan base that booed their team out of Citi Field expects the same.
“You, don’t win the division in April or May,” said Francisco Lindor. “It counts. It contributes. But we lost the division the last two days,” he said about last year and the Braves winning their fifth straight NL East division title.
But this is not last year when the Mets had a winning first half, taking leads early in the first inning, closing the door. Then, the Braves and the rest of the division were looking up at them in the standings.
Sure, it’s early, then again when is it too late? With the wild card, the Mets see themselves two games behind, then again why discuss the Mets and the wildcard? They are expected to win the division and overtake the Braves or dethrone the NL champion Phillies, another team in an early May struggle.
“What I’m concerned with is Ws and Ls,” manager Buck Showalter said Sunday. “Nobody’s got to tell us how we’re doing. We see the scoreboard at the end of the day. That’s my barometer.”
The barometer has been low, Showalter is patient and there is definitely time to right the ship. GM Bill Eppler said based on previous performances, the roster he assembled will get better.
One can attribute a starting rotation decimated with injuries, the Max Scherzer inability to prevent the home run ball and suspension of using an alleged foreign substance, a sticky situation that led to more questions.
There are questions regarding player personnel, because this roster is not playing to expectations. It’s veteran team mixed with a few of the top Mets prospects. I questioned the signing of 40-year-old Justin Verlander, a hefty contract, though his long-awaited debut in Detroit last week and a loss was not attributed to his fastball.
Instead, the Mets offense has gone cold. Thirty infield hits, second most in the majors, will not produce runs. Neither will the walks, An offense without the production from Pete Alonso, Lindor, and Jeff McNeil has been dormant.
Second in the league in stolen base attempts, yes the expanded bases do help, Starling Marte, their lethal threat from last season has gone cold and Showalter sat him Sunday.
They need more production from Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar, who has lost his starting job and has been regulated to the bench. Need I say, Escobar is no longer a threat in the lineup.
And Daniel Vogelbach, though more consistent at the plate, can’t cost the Mets as he did Sunday with a inexcusable base running mistake denying the Mets a run.
He said, “Things are not going the way we want right now. The game’s challenging us. It’s not from a lack of effort or lack of want.”
The baseball observers. who know about this said to me last week, “Could be still adjusting to the pitch clock, a schedule of limited off days due to more interleague games.” Regardless, baseball players are creatures of habit. One thing about losing is always leaving room for excuses.
But the temperature in the Mets clubhouse is cold, a team trying to correct the issues and paying attention to righting the ship.
The positives, there aren’t many with exception of rookies Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty, two prospects adjusting day-by-day. They have become fan favorites and getting the cheers since that 7-3 west coast trip two weeks ago that has since seen the Mets go 3-11.
It has to improve. Eppler alluded to not rushing in calling up 21-year old prospect Ronny Mauricio or 22-year old Mark Vientos, both hitting on all cylinders at Triple -A Syracuse.
Prospects. possibly sitting on the bench, as baseball observers like Eppler said, will not prove to be to their benefit. Though at this point, Showalter and his team need a boost. Too soon to pull a trade or two in May, perhaps the deadline in late July will call for it.
For now, though, these are the New York Mets. Soon, the pitching rotation will come to fruition. The trio of Verlander, Scherzer, and Kodai Senga, needs more length. Carlos Carrasco should get a start again in Washington. And it’s a guess about Jose Quintana, another of the major off-season free agent pickups and recovering from a serious injury to his left rib.
They won’t win 101 games this year, that’s obvious. But the Mets are aware of what is ahead and that means winning ball games.
Below .500 is unacceptable, not with this team payroll of $350 million. Then again, way too early to say they are done and finished. More appropriately to say, the Mets need to right the ship and win more ball games.
They got the right manager to right this ship. Perhaps this is a low point of their long season, but right now those W’s have to begin tomorrow night in Cincinnati.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com/Ricgh Mancuso