The Pirates are a ball club that has been hovering around .500 for the last month just like the Mets. They have a rotation filled with gritty pitchers who are not household names, but they manage to get the job done. They scratch and claw for every run just like the Mets.
The only difference is that the Pirates play fundamental baseball way better than this Mets team.
Mets fans are excited right now and they definitely have a right to be. They’ve won 9 of their last 14 without the heart of their batting order. The Mets say David Wright and Ike Davis will be back after the All-Star break but who knows. The Mets organization has a knack for misdiagnosing injuries so you really can’t trust any timetable they give the fans.
That is why it is so important that this team start playing sound fundamental baseball.
This series against the Pirates, although encouraging in the win-loss column, has really exposed how fundamentally challenged this team is. Daniel Murphy’s miscue on Saturday night turned a tough, yet playable, ground ball to third into two runs that cost them the game.
But I’m not going to get all over Murphy for not fielding the ball cleanly like some Mets fans. He has been shuffled around the infield all season and has never really gotten comfortable at any position, so I’m not surprised by his blunder.
I will get all over him for allowing two runs to score after the miscue. You cannot allow two runs to score on that play no matter what. It is completely unacceptable. These are the fundamental blunders that this Mets team cannot afford to make.
Fast forward to today’s win at PNC Park. The Mets are in the middle of a pitching duel in a game that looked like it was going to be decided by one run. With runners at first and third and one out, Jason Bay hits a shallow fly ball to center field. Andrew McCutchen makes the catch and Daniel Murphy tags from third base and scores the go ahead run.
Great, right? Not quite.
The inning is over because Angel Pagan failed to touch second base when he was going back to first after the catch. On the replay, it actually looks like he intentionally skips over the bag, almost as if he didn’t know that you must touch second base on your way back to first if you pass the bag. More fundamental miscues for a team that cannot afford those types of mistakes.
Luckily, the run counted and Pagan's base running blunder didn’t cost them the game.
The base running mistakes continued later on. With runners on second and third and the Mets up 2-0, Carlos Beltran ripped a single to right field. Matt Diaz was playing shallow and made a strong throw to the plate in an attempt to gun down Justin Turner who was trying to score from second. Turner made a great slide and avoided Dusty Brown’s tag, giving the Mets a 4-0 lead.
All good, right? Not really.
As Keith Hernandez wisely pointed out, Beltran almost cost the Mets that fourth run by not attempting to advance to second base. Beltran’s attempt would have triggered Lyle Overbay to cut off Diaz’s throw and ultimately force Beltran into a run down. Turner would have then scored easily instead of having to make a tremendous slide.
At the end of the day, Turner beat the throw and the run scored but you can’t imagine that will happen every time. In fact, a fundamentally sound baseball team never expects that to happen. A fundamentally sound baseball team doesn’t leave plays like that to chance.
Given the injuries to their key players, the margin for error on this club is very thin. They cannot give the opposing club extra outs.
Ultimately, the players are to blame for these types of mistakes but a lot of the blame has to fall on Terry Collins. When introduced to the New York media, the new manager emphasized that this team would “play the game the right way.”
I wish I had a transcript from the press conference so I could give a count on how many times he said it.
As of June 11, Collins has failed to deliver on that promise. He’s delivered on his promise that this team would always play hard and never give up. This much is true. However, this team has not played the game the right way this season.
From today’s base running mistakes to the disastrous seventh inning in Capuano’s last start against the Pirates, the Mets have had an extremely low baseball IQ this season. It will be up to Collins to change that and live up to his off-season promise.
If he can get this team to “play the game the right way,” who knows, there might be meaningful games at Citi Field in September after all.
And maybe a Manager of the Year award to go with them.