By Joyce Mandelkern
I've been quiet for a long time in hopes of being able to write something truly positive. And there have been moments where I actually thought that was going to happen. There have been more times, however, when the exact opposite as occurred. Since I did not want to be one of "those whiny bloggers" that my colleague Dave Mills references in his wonderful posts, I have held off on posting. I can no longer hold my tongue, so with all due respect to Dave, here goes my whine.
I watch this team night after night play uninspired, sloppy baseball. They tread water. There are actually nights that I have been at Shea wondering if the team is actually going to get a hit against a pitcher that has below average stuff or is even making their first start in the bigs. And if we fall behind, I assume the game is over.
This is not to say that the Mets are not playing better baseball then they were a month or six weeks ago - they are. But is that good enough to win this division or go even deeper if we do win the division? I don't think so. This is a talented team that is not playing up to its capabilities (I sound like David Wright, don't I?). We have been hearing this and waiting for them to "flip the switch" and string together a bunch of wins since June. Yes, we have had many injuries that have severely impacted our lineup offensively and defensively. Injuries are part of the game and if you have made it to the major league level, even as a bench player, I think we can at least expect you to play inspired and fundamentally sound baseball. At this point in time, I'd rather see some of our "bench" players in there instead of our starters. At least they bring enthusiasm and exuberance. Luis Castillo seems to bring a sense of urgency, along with the enthusiasm and fundamentals that I haven't seen from some of the other starters in quite a while.
The only reason we have remained in first place through all of this is that there were actually other teams in the division playing worse than we were. We no longer have the best record in the "inferior" National League, so that crutch is also out the window now. Besides, I don't really care how other teams play, I care how we play, and we don't play like a dominant team - end of story. While we did play well against the Padres and the Dodgers, we didn't play well against the Pirates, Nationals, and the Marlins. These are the teams we are supposed to get "healthy" against and use to put a little separation between us and our division rivals. I can't even talk about the Braves without wanting to throw something against the wall. So we'll just skip it - you all know the drill by now anyway. If we can't beat the bad teams, how can we hope to beat the good ones?
Now here is the touchy subject - Willie. I think I would really like Willie as a person if I knew him. He strikes me as an extremely ethical, stand up guy. The problem is I'm not loving him as an in-game manager. I think he was brought up in the AL and hasn't made the adjustment to the NL way of playing, thinking and managing and its hurting the team. I just don't always understand his lineups, his substitutions (or lack thereof), his pinch hitting moves or situational decisions. I am beginning to question his motivational abilities as well. And the one thing that is really starting to tick me off, is his refusal to argue with an ump's call. Granted, I have a temper when it comes to these things, but I would just like Willie to make his presence known to the umps. What is wrong with letting them know he is watching them closely? He doesn't have to go berserk, but can he at least go out there? Show the players you have their backs. Maybe he needs to show a little fire, a little sense of urgency, and the team will pick up on it too. The manager does set the tone. If its no big deal to Willie, then its no big deal to the team.
The last thing that I just don't understand is why the Mets don't play better at Shea. The only reason I can come up with is pressure. Its great that they are a great road team, but can you imagine how terrific their record would be if they played well at home? So if it is the pressure, I implore all of you who go to Shea, PLEASE stop booing - its counterproductive!!! They have 23 games left at home. That is supposed to be an advantage. Lets not make it a detriment.
I'm not giving up on this team by any means. The one thing I keep saying to myself is that if the Cardinals could win the World Series last year, then we could certainly win it this year. How sad is it that I have to look to a team that played poorly all last year and didn't get hot until they backed in to the playoffs to give me hope? I still feel that we have the most talented team in the NL east, however, the best team doesn't always win, its the team that plays best. We have to start playing better baseball right now. Or there won't be an October.
Is anybody else as frustrated as I am? This team that I love so dearly, makes me want to bang my head against the wall or take each one of them by the shoulders and shake them and say "start playing good baseball before its too late!!" I don't know, maybe all they need is another trip to Carlos Beltran's barber shoppe.