5 Takeaways from New York Mets' Early-Season Struggles
Despite splurging this offseason for the first time in years, the New York Mets are off to a slow start to the 2014 season.
The most notable offseason acquisitions include outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, as well as ageless starter Bartolo Colon.
However, the Mets continue to struggle for consistency on offense and defense. Their record, which reached .500 on Tuesday night for the first time all season, only bolsters this point.
Here are the 5 biggest takeaways from the Mets' early-season struggles.
5. The Home Struggles Continue
A good and realistic recipe for success involves having a winning record at home while maintaining a near .500 record on the road.
Unfortunately, no one told the first half of this recipe to the Mets.
Last season, the 88-loss Mets were a respectable 41-40 on the road, which was the best away record in the division. At home, though, they were an embarrassing 33-48. Only the 111-loss Houston Astros, 96-loss Chicago Cubs and 96-loss Minnesota Twins had worse home records.
By contrast, just 10 teams had winning records away from home last year.
In 2014, the Mets have picked up right where they left off. They are 2-4 at home and 5-3 on the road.
At .500, the Mets are on pace for exactly 81 wins so far. However, if they plan to reach general manager Sandy Alderson's lofty goal of 90 wins this year, they must learn to elevate their game at Citi Field.
4. Solid Rotation, Horrible Bullpen
Every year, it seems the Mets rotation has plenty of promise on paper, while the bullpen has talent but the potential for disaster.
This year, it is the same story.
Even with the loss of ace Matt Harvey, the Mets have an abundance of capable starting pitchers. All five starters—Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia—have plus stuff on their good days. If the rotation produces consistent results, this team could stay in a lot more games this year.
On the other hand, the bullpen is once again a big question mark and could blow a number of games. Mets relievers currently hold the seven-worst ERA in the majors at 4.89.
With the recent loss of Bobby Parnell, who has developed into one of New York's most dependable relievers, the bullpen's struggles may worsen.
The farm system, which also has an abundance of quality starters and a shortage of quality relievers, could experiment with moving a talented prospect into the major league bullpen. For example, one name that is commonly being thrown around is Rafael Montero.
However, he cannot be an entire bullpen. And depending on a player who has yet to throw a pitch in the majors seems like an illogical plan.
The bullpen must step up soon and alleviate pressure on the rotation to carry the load.
3. Injuries Are Already Piling Up
Not surprisingly, injuries have already become a theme for the 2014 season.
Aside from Harvey's well-publicized Tommy John surgery, as well as Jeremy Hefner's not-so-well-publicized Tommy John surgery that will likely keep him out all year, the list of injuries to Mets players already is staggering.
David Wright played through flu-like symptoms through much of this season. Jonathon Niese dealt with elbow discomfort but ironically has come back even stronger. Bobby Parnell recently chose to get Tommy John surgery so as not to impact his 2015 availability. Chris Young will return soon from the disabled list after a quad injury.
Juan Lagares, who essentially earned a full-time job after Young's injury, strained his hamstring and is now on the DL. Curtis Granderson, one inning before Lagares' injury, left a game due to bruises to his left forearm, rib cage and knee. Ruben Tejada, who has a history of leg injuries, suffered a left hamstring injury in spring training, which fortunately does not appear to be affecting him anymore.
Most recently, Jenrry Mejia left his start after five innings due to a severe blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand.
Considering one of his best pitches is his natural cutter, which relies on strong pressure from that exact finger, the blister is cause for worry.
The Mets have a long history of unlucky injuries, as well as a seemingly incompetent training staff at times. Weeks into the season, the injuries are already adding up.
2. Don’t Forget About Juan Lagares
Juan Lagares, who is on the DL after a strained hamstring, has been sensational so far.
In just over one season, he has gone from an afterthought to one of the most promising players on the Mets. This year, assuming his injury has no lingering effects, he has the potential for a breakout season.
His defensive capabilities are no secret. He has range and anticipation beyond his years, as well as the confidence and swagger of a veteran. Offensively, though, he struggled last year, with a .242/.281/.352 slash line in 392 at-bats.
This year, thanks in large part to an incredible work ethic, Lagares is showing signs of a strong offensive game, too.
In 13 games, he has an impressive .314/.345/.471 line with eight runs and seven RBI. His nine-game hitting streak before the injury is a testament to his newfound consistency at the plate.
Hamstring injuries are capable of sapping a player’s production if they hang around. But considering the Mets have been so disappointing on offense this year, they will likely not rush Lagares back from the DL until he is fully healthy.
With this in mind, keep an eye on him once he returns, as he could become a crucial piece of this young team.
1. Still No Lineup Protection for David Wright
Perhaps the most pressing issue that faced the Mets in the offseason was the lack of protection in the lineup for David Wright, the team’s All-Star third baseman.
Despite the team adding power hitters like Granderson and Young, once again the cleanup hitter is producing at an embarrassingly low rate.
In 2013, Mets' cleanup hitters ranked 21st with a combined .751 OPS. They also were just eight RBI away from ranking dead last in the statistic last year, accumulating just 80 RBI from the No. 4 spot.
One year later, though, not much has changed.
The Mets rank close to the bottom in almost every offensive category, with cleanup hitters batting just .148/.270/.278 so far. That .548 OPS ranks 27th in the majors. With 17 strikeouts, the No. 4 hitters are also just three whiffs away from leading the majors.
While the poor production is worrisome enough, an equally important issue is that Wright is not getting the protection he needs.
Without a threat at the cleanup spot, pitchers can afford to pitch around Wright, who is far and away the strongest hitter in the lineup. In turn, this means the Mets are unable to maximize his offensive production.
A perfect example of this dynamic is the most recent World Baseball Classic.
Surrounded by star players (who, to be fair, cannot realistically all be on the same MLB team together), Wright was unstoppable. Although he only played four games, he hit an incredible .438/.526/.750 and even led the tournament with 10 RBI.
If the Mets have any chance of competing this year, they must force opposing pitchers to pitch to their best hitter.