Mets: Lackluster or Lacking?

After the Mets lost two of three from the Diamondbacks, the team’s vocal leaders — Paul LoDuca and Billy Wagner — suggested that they needed to turn up the intensity.

Quoth Wagner:

“We can’t go out and play the type of baseball we’ve played the last three games. We can’t play this lackluster. We have to go out and meet their intensity and their passion – because they have something to gain here. And we have a chance to really push them back a lot.”

And per LoDuca:

“We just need to play with a little better energy. We played a little bit flat.”

Personally, I think their intensity has been low for most of the season — not just recently — but figured it had something to do with the ban on greenies.

Too often I’ve watched veteran leaders such as Carlos Delgado dog it on the way to first base, whether it was on an easy grounder or a long fly ball. Of course, Delgado at half-speed and Delgado at full-speed are nearly the same, so it’s hard to tell when he’s being lazy. But when someone like David Wright doesn’t run out a ground ball, or Damion Easley makes a slow effort toward a line drive, or Jose Reyes forgets how many outs there are, you wonder about the team’s overall focus.

Generally speaking, the Mets play the game the right way — all out, with hustle. Once in a while someone may look a little lackadaisacal, but it’s a 162-game season, and everyone is allowed a few brain farts here and there. Playing hard, or with more intensity, is not the problem right now.

Rather, the Mets’ major issue is how to score runs without four potent bats — Beltran, Alou, Green, and Valentin — in the lineup? They’re not flat right now, they’re undermanned. Much of the problem is that the Mets lineup tends to get away from an organized plan of team hitting, and falls into the Yankee-like lull of waiting for the big homerun.

When the Mets were winning early in the season, they did it with great pitching, spectacular defense, a patient approach at the plate, and executing fundamental situational hitting. As May came around, the batters — as a whole — seemed to be swinging earlier in counts, were not advancing runners with outs, and were often taking bigger swings than necessary in key situations. They got away with it, though, because the big bombs were being hit — why else would Damion Easley have remained in the lineup, if not for his temporary rash of homerun hitting?

Now that Easley’s power has cooled, and four sluggers are out of the lineup, the Mets need to go back to the fundamentals: take pitches, get deep in counts, hit the ball behind the runner, execute the hit-and-run, get bunts down, etc. Unfortunately, this type of situational hitting is next to impossible with over-aggressive batters such as Easley, Endy Chavez, Carlos Gomez, and Ben Johnson in the lineup. Add in some guys who rarely get a start — such as David Newhan and Ruben Gotay — and it’s understandable why the offense is not operating as a cohesive unit.

Don’t get me wrong — I like all of those players, and not pinning the blame on them. The point is that when the regular Mets lineup is in place, they have an organized approach; each player knows what they have to do in order for the team to win. Shawn Green, for example, is not going to try to belt a homerun when he knows all the team needs is a nice line drive dumped into leftfield. Jose Valentin will not try to jerk a pitch and end up hitting into a double play when he knows all is needed is a grounder to the right side. Carlos Beltran will let more pitches go by when he knows there is plenty of offensive firepower behind him to drive the runs home.

Credit Wagner and LoDuca for speaking up, and for not making any excuses due to injuries. At the same time, recognize the fact that the Mets’ problem is not a lack of effort, but rather, the result of a mish-mosh of players who are not used to playing together. The current roster is akin to a team that has undergone a major offseason facelift: new players are trying too hard to impress, teammates are trying to learn each others’ talents, and it will take some time to gell.

Of course, by the time the “B team” gells, the regulars should be back in the lineup. Until then, it could be a tough go as the replacements define their roles.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. sincekindergarten June 5, 2007 at 4:03 pm
    I think it’s both. Let’s face it, they haven’t been trotting out the guys who’d be there come October. But, at the same time, they didn’t seem to be playing with a lot of emotion–Ollie Perez excepted, as he pitches with overflowing emotion. I think that may be from the fact that they were playing the Diamondbacks, a team that really doesn’t factor in their divisional race. The fire is rekindled tonight, I think, by the appearance of “The Team To Beat!!” in the NL East.