By Mike Steffanos
Game 19: Cubs 8 - Mets 1
It would be redundant to enumerate the offensive shortcomings from yesterday afternoon's poor performance against the Cubs. In their 19 games played do far this season the Mets have scored 88 runs for an average of 4.6 per game. Not too bad, but if you take away the first 3 games against the Marlins, they have scored 64 runs in 16 games, dropping the average to 4 runs a game. Other than the opening series and a game here or there, the runs just haven't been coming easy.
Nelson Figueroa wasn't great yesterday, but he battled through 5 innings and kept the Mets in the game. You'd like to think that when your fifth starter goes 5 innings and allows 3 runs, you have a chance to win that game. The way the Mets have been scoring runs in the early going, though, a 3-run deficit looks like a mighty big hill to climb.
Let's look past this disappointing game to the long term implications of what we've seen so far. The return of Moises Alou, perhaps by this weekend, should improve the Mets lineup to a point. The problems of this offense, however, run much deeper than what one fragile 41-year-old can solve.
Some of the problems are fixable. Carlos Beltran is a streaky hitter who is due a hot streak. Although he has slowed down some the last two days, Jose Reyes looks more confident and ready to contribute.
Some problems may prove unfixable given the current composition of the roster. With firm belief that Beltran will get it together, I can't say the same for the other Carlos. I can see Delgado hitting better than he is right now, but with his SLG % only 42 points higher than Luis Castillo's, he can pick it up quite a bit and still not justify a spot in this lineup.
Actually, my biggest fear with Delgado is not that he will continue to suck quite as bad as he's done so far, but that he will show just enough positive to put off the Mets coming up with an alternative. Without a return to the form of two years ago, a Mets offense with Carlos Delgado in the middle of it is far from elite.
While I like the Mets pitching staff better this season than last, they are not an elite staff, either. I could easily see this season progressing in the way that 2007 did -- no long winning streaks, no huge losing streaks, with the end result of a club that is the very definition of a .500 team. Given the highest payroll in the NL, that could earn Omar Minaya a pink slip.
Minaya is taking a lot of criticism now, some of it certainly justified, some not. On one hand, I can't really fault Omar for the Delgado trade from 2 years ago, which gave the Mets an elite offense for the 2006 season. I don't think it was reasonable to expect Delgado's skills to degrade as quickly as they have seem to over the past 2 seasons.
On the other hand, signing Luis Castillo to a 4-year deal was a bad move. Even if Castillo rounds back into form he is still a limited player whose best years are far behind him. On a team that struggles for power, the slap-hitting Castillo was really bad signing. I'd be curious to know who, if anyone, was really bidding for Castillo's services hard enough to warrant the Mets handing him a 4-year contract. I suspect that Omar was bidding against himself.
Castillo seems to be a number eight hitter now. Two years ago Jose Valentin provided 18 HR and 62 RBI in less than 400 AB, primarily batting eighth. When you look for what has changed in the Mets offense from 2 years ago, that is as significant as Delgado's decline.
Maybe Delgado will rediscover enough of his old stroke to kick the Mets offense up a notch. Perhaps Moises Alou will avoid the serious injuries the rest of the way and provide the dependable mid-order bat he gave the Mets in limited duty last year. Mets fans would be ecstatic to see that play out.
If, on the other hand, things continue as they are right now, some tough and decisive actions may be required for this team to compete. It will be interesting to see if Minaya and his front office are up to that task.