Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
With the Replace-Mets pitching in big time to help the team close to within a game of a Wildcard berth, there are suddenly whispers of praise for the manager. “How could anyone hope to win with the injuries the Mets have had?” “He’s kept them battling (oops, forgive the Art Howe-ism)”.
Sorry to burst your bubble, folks, but if they win it’s despite their manager and not because of him. Take Monday’s game, for example, when he needed to play a left handed outfielder in centerfield against the Reds. If he wanted a hot hitter, he had Kelly Johnson available to play LF with Conforto in CF. No, went back to the familiar well with Alejandro De Aza, who at this stage of his Mets career should be relegated to pinch running and late inning defensive replacement. De Aza did exactly what De Aza has been doing all year, went 0-3 with a strikeout to keep his batting average sub-Mendoza. What exactly is to be gained at this point in the season by trotting him out there in a starting role? Last night he did provide an insurance run with a pinch hit, but that was an appropriate use of his diminishing talent. Why would a manager start him when other options on his bench have the potential to do so much more? Now with others available like Brandon Nimmo, can we end this De Aza torture once and for all?:
Did anyone pay attention to the Washington Nationals and what Dusty Baker chose to do? He had a veteran in Ben Revere who is a career .286 hitter. This year he battled some injuries, but after he came back he was not performing at an acceptable level, so the manager chose to put in a rookie in Trea Turner who had been hitting .302 in AAA. Lo and behold he’s flourished given the opportunity and is hitting a robust .343 in 200 ABs. It may not be sustainable, but Baker didn’t bench a rookie to play someone simply due to his status as a veteran. He put the best players on the field who he thought could help him win.
Then there’s the beleaguered bullpen. It’s a good thing the roster expanded when it did because it finally gave a chance to rest to some of the guys who are called to warm up (if not pitch) on a nightly basis. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint. When you treat every game like the 9th inning of the 7th game of the World Series then you’re going to burn out your players. We’ve seen that time and time again from this manager.
Now, in addition to the already available reinforcements the team will have the luxury of seeing PCL batting champion TJ Rivera, 1 point off the pace runner up Brandon Nimmo, and .325 hitting Gavin Cecchini. It would seem that you could play Flores at 1B, open up 2B to one of Rivera or Cecchini and still keep Reyes in the lineup at 3B, but heaven forbid you bench James Loney who has hit under .220 for more than a month. You have one guy hitting .260 with 6 HRs and 27 RBIs. Then you have another who is hitting .269 with 15 HRs and 47 RBIs over the same number of ABs. One of these things is not like the other…Use Loney as the late inning defensive replacement. Good managers would do that.
What I’m afraid we’ll see instead is a diet of Loney, De Aza and others whose long term value to the team is nil. It’s critically important the team get a good look at Rivera, Cecchini and to a much lesser extent Matt Reynolds and Ty Kelly. It will then help them make an intelligent decision about what to do regarding 2B for 2017. With two infielders already gone due to back surgeries, they may not want to gamble on Neil Walker being a good long term investment. Wouldn’t it make sense to see as much of these alternatives as possible with the assumption they could at least do what a James Loney or Kelly Johnson could do offensively? Ditto Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto.
On the pitching side of the ledger I am glad to see guys like Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Rafael Montero get a shot outside of the pitching hell of Las Vegas. They may not be long term solutions but they could work themselves into bullpen roles or valuable trade chips. Then again, given the fragile state of the starting rotation – Syndegaard, De Grom, Matz, Harvey and Wheeler all down and out for parts of the season, the only fully healthy one – Bartolo Colon – may not even be here next year.
Someone recently posed the question to me if someone else was at the helm instead of Terry Collins, where would the team be? I ventured to say 5 games better…not that they’d necessarily be atop the division, but they would be in charge of their own destiny instead of fighting from behind.