After being appointed the New York Mets Community Leader here on Bleacher Report, I decided to put together a Roundtable article. I enlisted the efforts of fellow Mets fans and Bleacher Creatures David Marine and Matt Strachman, and they kindly cooperated with me in the making of this article.
In this roller coaster of a season for the New York Mets, the bullpen has been the most obvious weakness. After shutting down opponents to the tune of a 2.97 ERA (including a 24.1 inning scoreless streak) during New York's 10-game win streak in July, the bullpen has sunken into a miserable slump.
The turning point was the six-game road trip to Florida and Houston, in which the Mets went 1-5. During that trip, the bullpen took three losses and posted a 7.58 ERA. Shortly thereafter, closer Billy Wagner went on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, making matters worse.
Therefore, the topic of this roundtable article is the tattered bullpen.
1. With Billy Wagner on the disabled list, whom do you think should close games?
David Marine: Johan Santana. Seriously. If Santana starts the game, I want him to close it unless he's getting absolutely destroyed or has a pitch count closing on 175. For everyone else, there's not a single arm in the bullpen that I WANT to see close a game.
Jerry Manuel's "carousel" approach of a different closer every game appears to be an option. I would have liked to see Eddie Kunz be given more opportunities to show what he's got, but with the acquisition of Luis Ayala from Washington, that's no longer an option. [Ed. Note: Kunz was optioned to AAA New Orleans when Ayala was acquired.]
Matt Strachman: Personally, I can do with or without the great Billy Wagner. He will blow the occasional save, blow every non-save situation, and don't think about asking him to pitch more than one inning. Unfortunately, he is a much better closer than anyone else in the Mets' bullpen.
Until Wagner returns, I really hope Jerry Manuel uses a committee of closers. I'd love to see Feliciano, Schoeneweis, Heilman, and Eddie Kunz get chances to save games.
Patrick Murray: When Wagner went on the DL and Kunz was called up, I thought he should have been given the opportunity to close games. The kid seems to have the "bulldog" mentality to close and he did save 27 games in AA.
However, Jerry Manuel was very careful with Kunz, using him in non-pressure situations. I think Manuel should have seen what he had in Kunz, but that ship has sailed for now.
As unpopular as he is with Mets fans, I would like to see Aaron Heilman to continue to get the majority of save opportunities. At times he has been an elite reliever; for example, he had a 0.64 ERA in June of this year.
In the last three Septembers combined, Heilman has compiled a 1.13 ERA. If he can throw strikes and keep his pitches down, he can get the job done.
2. With the recent struggles in the bullpen, who do you put the most blame on? A specific pitcher? Jerry Manuel? Omar Minaya? The 'pen as a whole?
David Marine: To me, Omar's head is on the chopping block with this bullpen debacle. Over the last two seasons, this bullpen has blown a number of games for us, and what has been done about it? Absolutely nothing.
These are the same arms that killed us last season, and the majority of them are the same arms that hurt us back in 2006.
The only thing Omar did was go get Matt Wise, which we all know was as good as a fist full of pennies. Omar is gone after this year if he doesn't do something by September and the bullpen comes back to ruin the Mets' pennant chances.
Matt Strachman: It is hard to blame anyone but the actual pitchers, but I think you also have to point a finger at Omar Minaya. He knew that the bullpen was struggling, and he dipped into the farm system to try and solve the problem instead of making a trade. He should have showcased Heilman more often and attempted to push him and Scottie (Schoeneweis) in my opinion.
Patrick Murray: I think the blame goes on the entire bullpen, as well as Omar Minaya. It seems like the struggles are contagious and not one guy in the 'pen could keep his head above the water when the others were going down.
The bullpen was a weakness after last season, and Omar barely did anything to correct it. He got Matt Wise, Ruddy Lugo, and Brian Stokes. Wise and Lugo haven't done anything for the big-league club, but we'll see what Stokes is capable of in the coming weeks after his recent call-up.
Omar will need to overhaul the bullpen in the offseason, and for now, the Mets will have to make due with what they have and "trust in their guys," as Omar likes to say.
3. What do you feel the Mets need to do right now to fix this bullpen situation?
David Marine: The BLOWpen needs to be blown up. Seriously, get rid of as many of these guys as possible and start over. Now, that's not likely to happen between now and the end of September, but that's the only thing that is going to solve the problem. A bandage job will only last for so long.
I'd bring up Jon Niese and give him some spot starts, but use him as a long-relief guy. I'd keep Brian Stokes in the 'pen, since he's shown the ability to throw heat consistently. But those options will not fix the situation for good. Maybe it'll hold long enough to get us to October.
Matt Strachman: Jerry Manuel has limited options at this point. Assuming he doesn't move Maine to the bullpen, I would like to see Eddie Kunz pitch more innings and have Joe Smith rest before he falls off the face of the earth like last season.
Patrick Murray: Hopefully the addition of Luis Ayala will help; at least he's a different face that Manuel can bring out from the 'pen. I'd like to see more of Brian Stokes in a middle-relief role. He throws mid-90s heat, has a good breaking ball, and could rack up some strikeouts, if he can stay away from the long ball.
I'd also like to see Jon Niese get called up when the rosters expand in September, and I think Manuel should use him in middle relief. Niese is 4-1 with a 3.66 ERA in five starts since being called up to AAA New Orleans at the end of July. I think he could be very effective out of the 'pen, and he has the advantage that no major-league hitters have seen him yet.
4. Jerry Manuel mentioned in a press conference after the terrible loss to Pittsburgh at Shea that he would consider using a starter in the bullpen. Is this a good idea? Do you think Manuel said this to motivate the relievers or is this a possibility?
David Marine: I love the way Jerry handles the media. He totally threw that comment out there so that every reporter and blogger (myself included) would just salivate at the controversy and intrigue this could stir up.
If the Mets are lucky enough to make the playoffs, it might not be a bad idea to take a starter and put him in the bullpen, much like the Mets did with Sid Fernandez in certain situations in 1986. But at this point, I don't think it's a worthwhile move. We need our starters to be focused on giving us seven-plus strong innings.
Matt Strachman: No, it is not a good idea, but I don't think Manuel is seriously thinking about doing it. The next game after Manuel made those comments, Feliciano earned the save and mentioned he wasn't happy with Manuel's "idea." Well, he got the save, didn't he? I love Jerry, and his no-nonsense managing style gets results.
Patrick Murray: I think Manuel said this mainly to light a fire under the relievers. I think it would be a bad idea to move someone out of the rotation. The bullpen has to figure out its problems, and they can be helped by having the starters go deep into games as much as possible.
The Mets need the five guys they have starting now to make every start. They can't afford to rely on guys like Nelson Figueroa or Brian Stokes in the starting rotation down the stretch (these two could be helpful in the bullpen, however).
5. Where will the Mets finish at the end of the season? Who will be the hottest hitter down the stretch? Who will be the most effective pitcher down the stretch?
David Marine: I want to believe that the Mets will win the NL East, but the realist in me says they'll fall just short in a painful way the last week in September. The hottest hitter will be Dan Murphy. I just have a feeling that this kid will go on a tear the rest of they way. David Wright will be a close second.
The most effective pitcher will be the most effective pitcher to date, Johan Santana. This guy would be in the running for Cy Young if it weren't for the BLOWpen. He's a second-half pitcher, and he's already shown us he's worth every penny.
Teams will hate having to play us in a first-round playoff series with him on the mound. It's the first time since Doc Gooden we've had anyone even close to his talent.
Matt Strachman: I see the Mets winning the division, simply because Wright always has a great second half, and Reyes won't fall apart this season. Castillo and Church might also make an impact when they return from the DL.
I think that Wright will have the hottest bat, but to make things interesting, I'll go with a mixture of Ramon Castro and Carlos Beltran. As crazy as he is, Oliver Perez is easily my favorite player in baseball, and I really think he will continue winning game after game. If you ask Ollie, he will tell you he is one of the best pitchers in the game, and I have to agree.
Patrick Murray: The NL East race will come down to the final weekend, and I think this year, the Mets will pull it off and win the division. The hottest hitter will be Carlos Beltran. I expect Beltran to heat up and carry the Mets offense through September. The return of Ryan Church will certainly help by giving Beltran some extra protection.
Johan Santana will, undoubtedly, be the most effective pitcher down the stretch, not only on the Mets, but in the entire MLB. Santana has seven quality starts in his last seven outings and is 3-0 with a 1.49 ERA in August.
He also traditionally dominates in September. From 2004-2006, with the Twins, Santana went 10-2, with a 1.29 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 111.1 innings pitched in September.