It's been a horrific season for the New York Mets.
After losing to the Phillies on Saturday night, the Mets dropped to a record of 57-66, nine games under .500 and 14.5 games behind division leading Philadelphia. Having only 14 more wins than the perennial cellar dweller Washington Nationals is a far cry from being picked by many, including Sports Illustrated, to win it all in 2009.
Anyone who expected in April that the season would be pretty much be over by mid-August is either a Phillies fan, a genius, or both (is that even possible?).
Such a disappointing season by a team with the second highest payroll in the Majors would almost definitely lead to the firing of a manager, general manager, or both. However, since no team could be expected to win after losing David Wright, John Maine, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, JJ Putz, and Oliver Perez to significant injuries, it looks like both GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel will be back in 2010. In other words, for much of 2009, the Mets would try to compete without their lead-off hitter, the entire heart of their batting order, their eighth-inning set-up guy, and their number two and three starters, a feat even the power house Yankees would be hard press to accomplish.
So the Mets misfortune could mean another chance for Jerry Manuel.
It's hard to tell if Manuel is the man to lead this team. He took over an under-performing club in 2008, after the team decided to lay down on then manager Willie Randolph. Almost as soon as Manuel took over, the team turned it around, vaulting themselves from .500 ball club to playoff contender. Ultimately, however, Manuel would only lead the Mets to the same fate Randolph did a year earlier, as the Mets would be eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the season by the Florida Marlins.
This season, while Manuel has been able to put his stamp on the club from day one, there have been few games where he has been able to have his entire team on the field, while he has made his share of questionable decisions, refused to play Ryan Church everyday, and his team has shown a lack of defense and hustle at times (the same things that plagued his teams in Chicago), it's hard to blame Manuel for this team's failures in 2009. You can't win without players, and Manuel simply hasn't had the players.
Despite having a line-up full of minor league players and big league reserves, Manuel can prove he is the man for the job in the final six weeks of this dismal season. It's simple really, all he needs to do is convince his team to keep playing hard.
Think about it. Phil Garner did it when he took over the Astros in 2004, turning a .500 team into a team that would go to the NLCS. Freddie Gonzalez has done it the past two seasons, taking a Marlin team with nothing to play for and getting them to play harder than the Mets teams they were knocking out of playoff contention. Even this season, Jim Riggleman has gotten the Nationals to play their hearts out despite being almost 30 games out. There is no reason Jerry Manuel can't do the same.
The results probably won't come in wins and losses. The Mets will probably finish below .500, and probably remain in fourth place for the rest of this season, especially if their star players don't return (and with nothing to play for, they shouldn't risk it).
Still if this team hasn't tuned Manuel out, it will show in the field. Can Manuel get this team to play smart and not beat themselves? Can Manuel get this team to play their best defense possible, because a team with such limited talent can not afford errors? Can Manuel get this team to run out every single grounder, slide hard on every play, and hustle on both offense and defense, even though it may mean nothing in the final score of the game or the final season standings? If the answer is yes, then Manuel may still be the man for the job. If the answer is no, then it's obvious the team has tuned him out, and the 2010 Mets will need to have a different leader in place.
Maybe it is difficult to watch the Mets these days. With technically no meaningful games left to play, even with six weeks left in the season, it's understandable if Mets fan begin to tune out. However, watching the games may be the only way to tell if Jerry Manuel still has this teams ear. If he does, he deserves another shot with this team in 2010.
Hopefully this article doesn't make Richard Marsh root against the Mets the rest of the season.