Mets Game 131: Loss to Phillies

Phillies 3 Mets 2

The Mets enjoyed less than 24 hours in third place. Now, they head into the weekend hell bent on staying out of the cellar.

Mets Game Notes

We’re getting back to games feeling like it’s 1976 again. In six of the last seven Mets games, five runs or less were scored in total, by both clubs. All these 3-2, 1-0, 2-1 games are making me wonder if the mound needs to be lowered. And these last two “pitchers’ duels” occurred in Citizens Bank Park, where balls are supposed to fly over the fence. Go figure.

Jonathon Niese pitched fairly OK — 3 runs on 9 hits and 1 walk in 6 innings is usually good enough to win. Unfortunately, on this particular day, he pitched just well enough to lose. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

Niese’s velocity was down again — he was throwing the fastball in the 88-90 range and relying more on the cutter in situations that called for the heater, because his arm angle was low and causing the fastball to be flat and up in the zone. His throwing arm remains behind the rest of his body, and it’s becoming more apparent with each subsequent start. Bottom line is that he looks exhausted, and he appears to be trying really hard just to push the ball to the plate. Further, although he only allowed three runs, it could’ve been worse had the Phillies gotten a break or two; Niese struggled through a few laborious innings. In the sixth, for example, the Phillies were set up to score at least two runs — but we’ll get to that shortly. And for the record, I completely disagree with the opinions of Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, both of whom felt Niese deserved to start the seventh inning after “getting out of” the sixth. I believe Niese was incredibly lucky to get out of that frame, and that belief, combined with his low arm angle and decreased velocity, had me agreeing with Terry Collins‘ decision to pull him from the game. Injuries occur when athletes are fatigued, and beyond that, Niese’s stat line belied his physical performance.

With Niese doing his damnedest to hold off the Phillies, the Mets could muster only a pair of runs, both on solo homers (Mike Baxter and Scott Hairston). Maybe it was because it was a day game after a night game, and the players were dragging while Kyle Kendrick was bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Or maybe it was because the Mets have subpar hitters in their lineup.

Speaking of subpar hitters, with each game it becomes more crystal clear that Josh Thole cannot be considered an everyday catcher, nor the lefthanded part of a platoon (since the LH hitter will get the most starts). He’s a third catcher who might be a decent pinch-hitter. Unfortunately, despite these low-scoring games, it’s not 1976 and therefore there’s no room on the roster for a Ron Hodges or a Larry Cox. Thole is behind the plate because he’s supposed to be providing an above-average OBP and a .270+ AVG that Mets management believes is enough to offset his defensive deficiencies (I disagree; I think he needs to hit more like Mike Piazza or at least Gene Tenace). If you need any bit of support for my opinion, please review Jimmy Rollins‘ popup in the sixth, which Niese dropped mainly because no one (i.e., the catcher Thole) took charge of the play. In that situation, there are three choices: 1) the catcher catches it; 2) the catcher calls for David Wright to catch it; or 3) the catcher calls for Niese to catch it. Regardless of the decision, it’s a decision that needs to be made and made with conviction. Thole has yet to show conviction in any way, shape, or form, either on the field or off. He simply does not have the right personality to be a backstop — and that’s not his fault, it’s the Mets’ fault for grossly misunderstanding the position and/or Thole.

While we’re on the subject of that popup, Rollins was removed from the ballgame by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel for not hustling on it, and then stupidly getting caught in a rundown moments later — a move Manuel has made before and one that I applaud, loudly. Ironically, it was Rollins’ hustle in the third inning that led to the Phillies’ first run.

I realize the Mets won the first two games and therefore this series, but they are a weak team. It’s hard to see the optimism of the future when Ike Davis and Lucas Duda aren’t hitting homeruns, or when Matt Harvey isn’t plowing through innings like Tom Seaver. Beyond those three youngsters flashing occasional brilliance, there isn’t too much to be excited about.

Next Mets Game

The Mets move on to Miami to play a weekend series against the Marlins. Game one on Friday night begins at 7:10 p.m. and pits R.A. Dickey and Nathan Eovaldi. Is it me or does it seem like Eovaldi has faced the Mets a dozen times this year?

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. Steven August 31, 2012 at 1:23 pm
    Joe. I agree with you on the Thole. Do you think it is just the concussion that has effected his hitting, and maybe he just needs a half season to recover, or is that possible. I agree that the defense seems like it is not solvable, and my take is that the dropped ball at Arizona during the home plate play, may have been very poignant to mets management
    • Joe Janish August 31, 2012 at 7:35 pm
      I have no idea if it is the concussion affecting Thole, but it’s a good point to consider.

      Personally I never believed Thole would be more than a .260 hitter with maybe a .320 OBP, so his current stats don’t surprise me — his offensive performance last year was more of a surprise to me. My feeling is that it’s a combination of opposing pitchers figuring out his weaknesses, Thole making unsuccessful adjustments to try and become something other than a Luis Castillo-style slap hitter, and Thole losing confidence.

  2. argonbunnies August 31, 2012 at 4:39 pm
    Thole’s bat looks slow to me. He used to be able to start late, take a quick little hack, and still shoot the ball somewhere near the LF line. Now he’s missing pitches entirely, or fouling back ones down the middle.

    Not sure if it’s a result of fatigue, injury, or just a plain ol’ slump. The first two don’t bode well for a catcher (who will always be worn out & banged up), and the last doesn’t bode well for a slap hitter (who’s supposed to be more slump-proof than a big swinger).

    Sad to see. Thole’s MLB career may be almost over.