By Mike Steffanos
Game 112: Mets 6 - Padres 5
Billy Wagner's season has featured huge ups and downs, and the ninth inning has been a nervous time for Mets fans. Now that Billy is on the shelf for two weeks it has become clear that there are actually even less dependable options than Wagner.
Which to me makes a point. While I think the Mets have a chance of making the playoffs and doing something, I don't think they're a player or two away from having a significantly better chance. To me, that makes all of the complaints about failing to make a trade moot.
Hopefully Wagner comes back in two weeks and survives to the end of the season. I somehow doubt, however, that we'll see a return of the dominant Wags from early in the year.
Meanwhile, the rest of the bullpen is a virtual crap shoot of guys who have run hot and ice cold at various times this season. The core of the bullpen -- Heilman, Sanchez, Feliciano, Smith and Schoeneweis -- have had some good moments, but they've also combined with Wagner to allow 30 HR, blow 18 saves and lose 15 games.
Sure, they could all get hot at the right time like St. Louis' 'pen did in 2006, but I'm not sure I'd bet the farm on that. I suspect the bullpen will continue to be an issue until 2008 draws to a close.
The starting pitching has had its own issues. John Maine is apparently doing much better, but there are some big problems ongoing with the staff.
Pedro shows flashes of effectiveness, but with 10 starts under his belt the 6.16 ERA and 11 HR allowed in 49.2 innings are alarming. He's allowing 10.9 hits and 3.6 walks per nine innings, and only averaging 5 innings per start. I'm not picking on him, but I'm honestly beginning to wonder if he's not in the absolute twilight of his career.
Ollie Perez had a great July, but came back to earth a little in his last outing against Houston. He's been fine, but you always have to worry about him suddenly losing it.
Johan Santana has been fine, but he's clearly not the sort of ace that can carry a team in the way that some had hoped.
Mike Pelfrey has gone from a possible demotion to leading the team in wins. He's been going deep into games, too. In July he lasted at least 7 innings in 5 of his 6 starts. He's up to 133 innings on the year now, though, and the Mets have concerns about pushing his innings total up too high.
The bottom line for me is that you have a bullpen that's quite shaky and starting pitching that's probably not dominating enough to compensate. It was all on display last night, along with an offense that managed only 6 hits on the game.
If all of the above sounds like complaints, it's not, but it's also the reason that you don't find me writing one of those "Omar betrayed us" piece that are becoming extremely popular. I just don't look at this club and think we're a player or two away.
Maybe in the bullpen if it was only Aaron Heilman that was struggling, but none of them are having a great season. Eddie Kunz looks like he might help, but I wouldn't call his stuff "dominating", so I wouldn't expect any Joba-like contributions.
Even offensively, Wright has really struggled at times, Beltran is having a year reminiscent of his first in New York, and both corner OFs are out. Brian Schneider is slugging a zesty .298 while Castro is dinged up yet again. Endy comes to play every day, but his .266/.309/.323 line isn't what you need for a corner OF who's closing in on 250 AB.
As I said earlier, this club might yet make a run, but I think they have about the same chance taking a shot with their kids as opposed to giving up talent for mediocre veterans. It's more interesting to watch, too.
Dan Murphy looks like an interesting player. For a club like the Mets who have had a checkered history with high draft picks over the years, coming up with a nugget like that in the thirteenth round of the 2006 draft is a nice pickup. Toby Hyde had a nice feature including an interview with Murphy in his Mets Minor League Report last October.
While lacking the one great pitch that most closers posses, Kunz looks like a solid arm who could help the Mets in middle relief and at least provide another backup option for the aging Wagner.
Nick Evans has had some good at bats and is looking like he might be able to contribute something.
Fernando Tatis has been great, although you still have to regard his success with a little skepticism. While there is some question as to whether he can keep it going after the league really gets a chance to find his weaknesses, if nothing else you are finding out whether he might be worth keeping around for the bench next season.
I guess I didn't talk much about the actual game, but it certainly featured a cornucopia of things that both give me cause for hope and trepidation over the last 50 games of the season. Maybe I'm in the minority, but mark me down as one who actually likes the hand we're playing down the stretch.