By Mike Steffanos
Add Newark Star-Ledger columnist Dan Graziano to those calling for the head of Mets manager Willie Randolph. After making the point that the Mets are 71-71 since last June 1, Graziano accuses the Mets of not playing up to their talent level, and places the blame squarely on Randolph's shoulders:
Where Randolph comes up short is in his failure to recognize what kind of team he has and manage accordingly. Randolph is a decent man who cares deeply about his team and his job and believes strongly in himself. But he's also stubborn, and that's what has him in trouble.
Randolph came from the Yankees, where the championship teams of the late '70s and the late '90s were packed with hard-nosed winners. He believes he shouldn't need to motivate or fire up big-league players, because his teams never needed that.
In principle, he's right. He shouldn't need to remind major-league players that it's important to raise their games in big spots, or not to take games or at-bats off.
But unfortunately for Randolph, his players are soft. His players are the types who don't raise their games in big spots, who do take at-bats off. His players coast through long stretches of the season, assuming their talent will carry them through without any extra effort or emotion on their part. His players are not self-motivators, and they are a group that might respond well to being scared every now and then.
While I do believe that Randolph has himself to blame in many ways for the tenuous nature of his job security, I don't agree with Graziano that the Mets players are "soft". I think you could certainly have made that argument last season, but I don't see them coasting this season. If anything, they seem to be pressing a little too much at times on offense. "Scaring" the players doesn't seem a recipe for a turnaround.
A team always looks like they're flat when they're not hitting. Nothing is tougher to watch than inning after inning of little offensive action. Scaring, screaming and discipline don't usually make things better. Slumps are most often caused by players trying too hard and not letting the game come to them rather than through disinterest and a lack of toughness.
Carlos Delgado's woes (.216/.308/.362) have been beaten to death, but he has lots of company:
Jose Reyes has been hot and cold so far. He has scored only 18 runs in 32 games, which would translate out to 90 in a full season. That doesn't cut it.
David Wright is batting .262. Does anyone believe he's coasting?
Beltran is hitting .218. He only has 13 RBI on the season, which would translate to 65 for a full year. He only has 2 HR. That would work out to 12. Remember, this is our cleanup hitter.
C Brian Schneider has zero extra base hits in 65 AB. I repeat, zero. Even the light-hitting Luis Castillo has three doubles.
It's not just hitting. Oliver Perez, Aaron Heilman and Jorge Sosa are off to bad starts, and Pedro couldn't make it past 3 innings into the season before getting hurt.
I'm no homer. I repeatedly called the Mets on what I perceived as a lack of commitment to putting it all on the line last year. I honestly haven't seen that this season. They're just not playing well right now.
Willie is an easy target, because he continually gives the impression that he's just fiddling while Rome is burning, and somehow doesn't recognize that his team needs a kick in the ass. Actually, when you look at the offensive numbers they've probably done well to play close to .500 ball up to now.
You have to believe that Reyes, Wright and Beltran have some hot streaks coming. Delgado is showing some signs of being something more than an automatic out. Ramon Castro is coming back and should provide some punch against lefties.
Other than Ryan Church, I don't think there is a guy on this team -- pitcher or position player -- who got off to a hot start. I've already listed several who have struggled. Given that, I have to believe that there's probably some better baseball coming. Things have a way of evening out.
Perhaps Randolph's days as manager are numbered. If they continue to stumble along, I could see it happening. It's too easy, however, to make him the sole scapegoat for a somewhat slow start. You need to see where this team is once these players start performing closer to their potential. If they're still hovering around mediocre, then it will indeed and fairly be time for a change.