The New York Mets had a fun run while it lasted, but they cannot ignore their prolonged slump and make a major acquisition at the trade deadline.
Everyone desperately wanted this team to test the storm of a 162-game season and prove its legitimacy as a playoff contender. The Mets are young, they are home grown and their payroll is microscopic compared to their cross-town rival.
They’re also simply not good enough to surge past September and pull off an incredible underdog tale. Their recent stretch has poked holes in their Cinderella story and exposed the team’s many flaws—too many to fix at the trade deadline without foolishly dismantling their future.
Consecutive sweeps by the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals dropped the Mets below .500 at 47-51. With a 1-11 record after the All-Star break, New York now sits 11.5 games behind Washington for the National League East lead and seven games away from a Wild Card spot.
Staying above .500 for more than three months was an amazing feat for a franchise with no expectations to finish outside of last place in their division. Their scrappy offense does not offer enough power, their starting rotation’s success wore out and their bullpen is abysmal.
Their offense has managed to score 443 runs, good for the 11th most in baseball, by getting on base at a .326 clip. Unfortunately, they don’t possess enough power bats to maintain that success. With only 86 home runs, the Mets rank slightly above the Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners at No. 22 in the MLB.
Outside of David Wright, who has carried the Mets with an MVP-caliber season, their offense lacks other assets. Although Ike Davis finally appears to have hit his stride with four home runs after the All-Star break, the rest of the lineup leaves a lot to be desired.
Lucas Duda, their second best hitter for most of the season, was demoted to Triple-A after a horrific July. Their outfield now consists of Jason Bay, Andres Torres, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jordany Valdespin and Scott Hairston. Good luck going anywhere with that.
How long could the Mets have reasonably expected to always produce the timely two-out hit and drop in a walk-off blooper at the perfectly opportune time? The first half resembled a cliché sports movie, but the finale will not offer a happy Hollywood ending.
Even if the Mets acquired one bat, they would still lack enough power to consistently tally runs. Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and Josh Thole gives the squad three singles hitters in their batting order, and they’re all too young and decent to justify replacing.
Also, another bat would fail to mask their ugly pitching staff. Dillon Gee’s injury left them with an empty spot in the rotation that the Mets have been unable to fill. Top prospect Matt Harvey will get the nod on Thursday, but nobody can reasonably expect an untested rookie to save their season.
Even if Harvey produces, the top of their rotation has spiraled out of control. In an unfathomable 11-game stretch from May to June, R.A. Dickey revitalized the Mets by pitching to a dazzling 1.31 ERA and 0.75 WHIP, but the 37-year-old could not continue to out-pitch every other MLB pitcher.
Dickey has faltered in July with a 6.49 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. Although still posting a 4.6 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, his once seemingly unhittable knuckleball is getting crushed. He should regain his touch enough to be a dependable starter, but his luck evened out after a wildly amazing start. Dickey will pitch well during the final two months, but not well enough to carry a squad to victory every fifth game.
Watching Johan Santana fall so far from good graces recently has been a distressing sight. The former Cy Young hurler surrendered 28 hits and 20 runs in his last three starts before landing on the disabled list with a sore right ankle.
Blame the 134-pitch no-hitter, but a 33-year-old recovering from shoulder surgery was bound to suffer some bumps along the road regardless. Considering how poorly Santana pitched, the team will be in no rush to bring him back.
So besides Dickey and Jon Niese, the Mets cannot trust any other starters. Come on, what are the chances Chris Young actually stays healthy for two more months?
Even during their good times, the Mets’ bullpen stunk. Their relief corps ranks last with a 5.11 ERA. No lead is safe in Queens, and no reliever can be trusted to retire three batters without surrendering one or six runs.
Huston Street would improve their bullpen, but Mets fans would still endure the torture of watching this poor group squander leads before Terry Collins could hand the ball to his new closer. This is not a weakness that one move can solve, unless the Mets can find someone to give them three new relievers. Since Street is a 28-year-old with a 0.91 ERA, he will cost a couple high-quality prospects that New York does not—and should not—want to lose.
The Mets experienced a similar situation in 2004. Despite lagging behind the top teams in the NL, they were not quite bad enough to throw in the towel. Anxious to play postseason baseball, the Mets decided to make some moves for the season’s final two months.
They traded Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano.
Mets fans know the rest, but let’s torture ourselves some more by reliving that debacle. Zambrano only started three games before landing on the disabled list, and he posted a mediocre 4.17 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in his only full season in New York the following year.
Before the trade could be remembered as the worst deal in the team’s history, Kazmir’s arm flamed out after four solid seasons—including a 239-strikeout campaign in 2007—and the lefty never regained his form.
Still, if the Mets did not trust Kazmir, they could have swapped him for an ace while his value skyrocketed as the club’s top prospect.
But hey, at least they also got Kris Benson right before the trade deadline. His 4.50 ERA shockingly did not catapult New York to a World Series appearance. They finished well short of a playoff spot at 71-91.
Not that either pitcher could have saved the Mets anyway. Immediately after executing those two deals, the Mets’ playoff hunt suffered a huge blow after the Atlanta Braves swept them.
Seven games away from a playoff spot, the Mets cannot repeat this mistake. General manager Sandy Alderson is too smart to crumble up his plans in order to chase a minuscule chance at a playoff spot.
While no dominant squads occupy the NL, the Nationals looked poised to take the division—even if they shut down Stephen Strasburg. The Giants still boast a strong rotation, the Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez and the Cardinals have fought through injuries to stay in the hunt. While the Braves’ rotation figured to pitch better, their offense has lifted them enough that a deadline-deal could launch them to serious contenders.
The Mets could have been a remarkable story. Watching Wright and a team of no-names accomplish the unthinkable after losing Jose Reyes to a divisional foe could have topped all other feel-good sports stories.
Sorry to rain on the parade, but it’s time to return to reality and realize that won’t happen. Accept the Mets for who they are—an overachieving team who can defy expectations simply by finishing at .500.
That ending would be fine, but it’s not worth gutting their system to fight for third or fourth place.
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