At Citi Field, it's getting late early. The phrase made famous by former New York Mets manager Yogi Berra wasn't supposed to be reserved for the 2014 version of the team, but it's an appropriate moniker after a season-opening sweep at the hands of the division-rival Washington Nationals.
Over the course of 162 games, three losses or a losing homestand normally isn't enough to derail a season, change organizational goals or cause a fan revolt. Yet, after an offseason of increased expectations in the face of tepid spending, the first series of the season can't be considered anything but a nightmare for manager Terry Collins.
With three games already in the loss column, the Mets must go 90-69 from this moment on to reach a seemingly unattainable goal of 90 victories. That edict—set during the early portion of spring training—was defended by general manager Sandy Alderson prior to Opening Day, per Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger.
"So the 90 wins is about a challenge," Alderson said. "I stand by the notion that we need to get better. In doing so we need to set concrete goals for ourselves so that we have specific conversations for ourselves about how we get there."
In the absence of victories, a slew of bad luck, poor performance and strange publicity has cast a shadow over a team already without its most important pitcher—Matt Harvey—for the entire 2014 season. With one series in the books, it's hard to find anything positive emanating from Queens, New York.
Through three games, the standings and statistics aren't pretty.
Washington came into Citi Field, took all three games and outscored the Mets by a 12-run margin (22-10). New York's bats—despite the addition of Curtis Granderson and expected emergence from catcher Travis d'Arnaud—racked up 39 strikeouts in the series. Through the first two games, Nationals pitching set a modern baseball record by fanning 31 Mets hitters.
Complicating the matters: Chris Young, a legitimate power bat and intriguing buy-low free-agent addition, was placed on the disabled list with a right quadriceps strain, per Adam Rubin of ESPN New York.
If that wasn't enough of an offensive setback, starting second baseman Daniel Murphy missed the first two games of the season due to paternity leave. Ironically, the public sentiment in favor of Murphy's right to be with his family for the birth and subsequent days—critiqued by some in the New York media—was a lone and odd bright spot of this week, per Adam Rubin of ESPN New York.
On the mound, New York's biggest—literally and figuratively—offseason pitching investment, Bartolo Colon, was far from impressive (6 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 2 HR) in his inaugural Citi Field appearance. After posting a 2.65 ERA for the Athletics last season, Colon has to resemble that pitcher and play a role in the present and future for this team.
If spring training ended with the Mets bullpen as a question mark, the regular season began with an unflattering answer: It might be worse than expected.
Bobby Parnell, a breakout closing star of 2013 (2.16 ERA, 22 saves), tore a ligament in his elbow and could be out for the entire season, per Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. Although the 29-year-old closer will attempt rest and rehab, surgery could be possible in the near future.
Of course, relief pitchers get hurt on a consistent basis. As long as a core of hard-throwing, malleable and high-upside arms are there to serve as depth, the team can usually get through injury concerns and setbacks. Unfortunately for this Mets team, that kind of luxury doesn't seem to be present.
From Scott Rice (54.00 ERA in 2014) to Carlos Torres to Kyle Farnsworth, there's little in the Mets bullpen to suggest the team can survive over the next few months, let alone thrive. For now, the revival of 36-year-old Jose Valverde as a closer will suffice as hope for a downtrodden fanbase.
Inside the Mets clubhouse, you'll likely hear common stock phrases like "it's early" or "there are 159 games left," but worry will creep in—and leak out—sooner than later. If this franchise had any recent history of winning, perhaps the past and muscle memory could be used to calm the nerves of fans and observers.
For a team that hasn't posted a winning season since 2008, that's far from a reality.
Yes, it's early. That disclaimer is necessary when using words like "nightmare" so quickly in the Major League Baseball season. But it doesn't excuse the play at Citi Field, make 90-win edicts any easier to achieve, generate talent from a bullpen devoid of high-upside arms or expedite Matt Harvey's rehab from Tommy John surgery.
In some cities, a three-game losing streak to the start season would be met with patience and long-term viewpoints. In New York, it's a nightmare with the potential to turn into a truly disappointing season before Memorial Day arrives.