Mets Game 25: loss to Marlins
It’s time to invite Mo Vaughn and Eddie Kranepool back to Shea to compete with Carlos Delgado in a 30-yard dash to see who is the slowest first baseman in Mets history.
You wouldn’t mind the fact that Carlos carries a piano on his back around the bases, but does he have to stop and play it, as well?
OK, it’s not fair to blame the game on Delgado’s lack of speed. His getting thrown out at home to kill a 4th-inning rally was only a symptom of the Mets’ most glaring problem lately: lack of offense.
What on paper is the National League’s most powerful offense is losing to the scissors in the baseball version of ro-sham-bo. The 2007 Mets looked more like the 1977 Mets against the second-worst pitching staff in the NL — the Nationals — over the past weekend. In a grand stroke of luck, the Shea-men had the chance to change their luck against the WORST pitching team in the NL, the Marlins. You would think the Mets hitters would have been licking their chops looking at who would be on the mound against them: Scott Olsen (6.24 ERA), Ricky Nolasco (0-3, 19.72 ERA vs. Mets in 2006), and Anibal Sanchez (averaging 5 innings per start). On Monday afternoon, one would think the Mets would make quick work of of Olsen and Nolasco, and maybe be challenged against Sanchez. A sweep seemed likely.
Well here we are two games later and the Mets offense is a fuming, stinking pile, and a sweep sure does seem likely — but with the Mets as the dirt. There’s really no other way to describe it. They’re not moving runners, not drawing walks, not building rallies, not getting clutch hits, and running the bases poorly. It seems like every time they get a runner into scoring position, it’s when there are two outs or the pitcher coming to the plate — or they hit into a double play to squash the rally.
Too bad, because Mike Pelfrey finally seemed to make a breakthrough. I for one am not sure that Pelfrey should be at the big league level right now, but with El Duque down the Mets don’t have much choice but to forcefeed the big righty. After a shaky first inning, Pelfrey settled down and pitched 5 1/3 excellent frames before yielding the game to Joe Smith. It wasn’t a dominating performance, but it was encouraging in that he didn’t panic, found his composure, and stayed focused on the task at hand (hopefully Chan Ho Park was taking notes). I still don’t think he has enough weapons to compete as a starting pitcher, but he did show the courage and gumption necessary to succeed at this level — and heart can take you a long way in this game.
Pelfrey left the game with one out and runners on first and second, but Mighty Joe did his usual thing — 7 pitches, four for strikes, resulting in a strikeout (victim: Hanley Ramirez), a ground ball, no harm done. When is this guy going to break?
Aaron Heilman, on the other hand, was not nearly as effective. He gave up two hits in the 8th, including a two-run homer. He continues to push the ball — his body is way ahead of his arm and he has a frighteningly low elbow at release — and the result is that his pitches are flat, up, and without downward movement. If it’s a simple mechanical issue, OK, but I have great fear that it is a symptom of a physical problem.
The Mets (lack of) Offense
Carlos Delgado took advantage of the shift and poked two soft liners through the left side hole vacated by the third baseman. However, when it takes four hits and a blind catcher to score Delgado from first, the singles don’t help very much.
On a positive note, David Wright finally broke out, blasting his first homerun of the season and adding a double in going 3-for-4. Willie Randolph had him in the #2 slot, which may have been partly to get him more fastballs and to force him to focus on going the other way. Whatever the reason, it worked, though if he’s going to start hitting it makes good sense to switch him back to #5 and get Paulie back in the second spot.
LoDuca, by the way, went 2-for-4 and was extremely angry with himself for popping up in his two hitless at-bats. He also seems to be out of his slump.
Shawn Green had one hit, extending his streak to nine games. His single came in the fourth, the result of an excellent at-bat where he worked the count to 3-2, fouled off a pitch, then drove a tough pitcher’s pitch into the hole between short and third.
A few moments after Green’s single — which put Delgado on second with two outs — LoDuca followed with a line drive to center. Delgado rounded third and then inexplicably turned around to watch the throw coming in from centerfielder Alfredo Amezaga. The throw was up the line, and had Delgado not slowed down by turning around, he likely would have passed catcher Miguel Olivo before the ball was caught. As it was, Olivo caught the ball about 15 feet up the line from home plate as Delgado was two steps away. Delgado might have had an opportunity to barrel Olivo, but again, because of turning around, didn’t have enough of a head of steam to make any kind of impact. Instead, he tried to dance around the tag, failed miserably, and ended the inning. Again, with the offense struggling, you can’t completely blame third-base coach Sandy Alomar for being aggressive in sending Delgado — many times you force the defense to make a mistake. But the Marlins, again, executed well, and Delgado didn’t add any difficulty.
Jose Reyes was a disappointing 1-for-5, striking out three times. The Marlins pitchers offered a steady feed of overhand curveballs to get him to swing and miss. Reyes also was thrown out attempting to steal home on a strikeout by Carlos Delgado and steal attempt of second by David Wright. The throw went through to second base, but Hanley Ramirez received the ball in front of the bag and quickly zipped a return throw to Miguel Olivo to nab Reyes. With the Mets struggling offensively, it wasn’t a bad idea, because a lot could go wrong defensively. You have to tip your cap to Olivo and Ramirez for perfect execution.
Pelfrey had a lot of trouble spotting his off-speed pitches again, and threw too many balls, but started to get some sink on the fastball as the innings wore on. A big, big issue is with runners on base — he simply does not keep them close. His move to first is only adequate, and has no secondary (or “good”) moves to mix in. Additionally, he doesn’t mix up the timing of his delivery from the stretch; for example, pausing a few extra beats before starting. Further, his high leg kick and long arm arc make him very slow to the plate. (A slide step might be something to incorporate on occasion, if he’s not going to shorten his knee lift.) Add all these factors up, and smart opposing teams will run at will. In effect this eliminates Pelfrey’s greatest strength: the ability to get ground balls that turn into double plays. Holding runners seems like a small thing, but it can mean a lot to a pitcher’s effectiveness, and Pelfrey sorely needs to improve in this area.
The Mets began to mount a rally with two outs in the ninth and a hard rain falling, but it was too little, too late. Had it still been a 3-2 game, it might have been a different story, but Josh Willingham’s 2-run homer in the 8th gave inexperienced closer Henry Owens plenty of room for error and the ability to remain relaxed.
The Mets face the Marlins at 1:10 PM on Wednesday and hope to avoid a sweep at home. Oliver Perez faces Anibal Sanchez. This early in the season, it’s difficult to say there’s such a thing as a “must win”, and it’s no time to panic. However, the Mets are already making a habit of losing series (it took three months before they lost one in 2006), and don’t want to start getting swept — especially at home.