After cranking out 10 consecutive wins and winning 15 of 19 games, the Mets entered the final series of July with sole possession of first place in the NL East.
After dropping two of three to the Marlins and getting swept in Houston, the Mets return home from their terrible road trip to find themselves in third place, three games behind the Phillies.
A team that had been inconsistent during the first half was finally able to consistently win some games for the better part of a month. What went wrong?
The bullpen, which had been strong during the winning streak, struggled mightily on this 1-5 road trip.
In the first game of the series with Florida, the Mets were ahead 3-2 going into the bottom of the eighth inning. Joe Smith and Scott Schoeneweis combined to allow five runs in the eighth, and the Mets lost 7-3.
The bullpen also played a large part in the first two losses against Houston. Aaron Heilman surrendered a grand slam in the eighth inning of a tie game on Friday.
In what seems to be a recurring theme, the bullpen ruined yet another quality start from Johan Santana on Sunday.
The Mets entered the eighth inning with a 4-1 lead but couldn't hold it, as Billy Wagner allowed two runs in the ninth for his seventh blown save of the season. Pedro Feliciano allowed the game-winning sacrifice fly the next inning after he and Heilman combined to load the bases.
During the six-game road trip, the bullpen took three losses while blowing two saves. The 'pen had a 7.58 ERA and a 1.84 WHIP. That is simply unacceptable.
The bullpen has been inconsistent this year. At times it has been horrible. Yet, other times, it has been brilliant.
During the 10-game win streak, the bullpen picked up six wins while recording four saves. They also posted a 2.97 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. During the streak, the bullpen went a span of 24.1 innings in which they didn't allow a single run. That's quite the contrast to the recent road trip.
Somehow, the men in the 'pen need to regain their confidence. Down the stretch, they need to be the same guys they were during the win streak. If they keep pitching the way they did during this road trip, I can guarantee the Mets will be watching from their couches come October.
After this disastrous road trip, many Mets fans are crying out that Omar Minaya should have traded for a bullpen arm.
Brian Fuentes has been lights out of late (zero runs allowed since June 30), but with the Rockies seemingly still in the race, Minaya would have had to pay a pretty penny to acquire the southpaw, something he obviously was unwilling to do. Plus, who knows if Fuentes could handle the spotlight of New York?
I think Minaya did the right thing. The Mets have the guys they need right now to have a solid bullpen, if they can just get their act together.
The bullpen was a strong point on the 2006 Mets team that went to the NLCS. Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez, and Pedro Feliciano (current Mets relievers) all played a significant role on that team.
In my opinion, Heilman is the biggest key to the team's success. This year has been a roller coaster for him so far. After struggling for the first two months, he allowed just one run while posting a 0.64 ERA in June. He has fallen apart lately, surrendering seven runs in 6.1 innings (9.95 ERA) in his last four outings, dating back to July 26.
Heilman is traditionally an excellent second half performer, and the Mets need him to be their go-to guy in the eighth inning of close games.
For the past three years, Heilman has been outstanding in August and September, compiling a 1.51 ERA. He needs to regain his confidence from his recent struggles and get back to his usual late season form. Jerry Manuel giving him a defined eighth inning, set-up role would help.
The Mets have quite a few guys down in the 'pen with some talent: Heilman, Sanchez, Feliciano, Joe Smith, and recent call-ups Carlos Muniz and Eddie Kunz. Jerry Manuel needs to figure out which of these guys he can rely on down the stretch, for they will be the key to the Mets' success or failure come September.
I have just learned that after an MRI this morning, closer Billy Wagner was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Ruddy Lugo was called up from Triple-A New Orleans to take a spot in the bullpen.
According to Mets.com, Aaron Heilman will see most of the save opportunities at this point. Perhaps this vote of confidence will push Heilman to perform like he has in the past few years as previously mentioned in this article.
I would like to see the recent call-up Eddie Kunz, who is the heir apparent to Wagner's closer job, get a few save opportunities to see what he can do. The 6'5" 22-year-old Kunz recorded 27 saves and 2.79 ERA for Double-A Binghamton this season.