Provided that you are both a Mets fan and someone who does not live in a primitive, technology-free hunter-gather society, your next 24 hours will be filled with rumination about the struggles of your favorite baseball team. The Mets were swept in a doubleheader today, which capped off being swept in a four game series at home, and after beginning the season 3-1, they have now lost eight of their last nine games. The past four games saw the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki put on the kind of show that sometimes ends in a perjury trial, hitting a home run every game, throwing out runners from seemingly everywhere, and, worst of all, doing it all in fairly Jeter-esque fashion. Meanwhile, the Mets played sloppy defense — Brad Emaus put on a masterful juggling exhibition at second — couldn’t get the big hit to put the Rockies away, made comebacks that fell just short, and lost three of the games by a single run. All in all, it was about as excruciating as a baseball series in early April can be.
So these next 24 hours will inevitably feature an examination of every facet of the team in every form of media. (For example: what you’re reading right now.) Which means that, at some point, everyone on the Mets who could be blamed, will be blamed. There will be people indicting the sloppy play on defense. Some will point to a supposedly unclutch offense. Some will claim that team is visibly playing tight. Some will blame the manager, as that’s what managers are for. And this is not even to mention various other potential causes, such as sorcery, witchcraft, technology, sabermetrics, numbers, letters, the Ivy League, and Michael Lewis. This isn’t necessarily unfair: When a team has lost eight of its last nine games, there are probably a lot of things that could improve.
But it doesn’t take that close of an inspection to see what’s going wrong in this early season. A team can’t win if its starting pitchers are terrible. And guess what — through the Mets’ first 13 games, their starting pitchers have been terrible:
- Mike Pelfrey — 10.80 ERA, 0 quality starts
- Jon Niese — 6.88 ERA, 1 quality start
- R.A. Dickey — 4.15 ERA, 1 quality start
- Chris Capuano — 8.76 ERA, 0 quality starts
- Chris Young — 1.46 ERA, 1 quality start
The starting rotation has combined for a 6.20 ERA. They are averaging 5.1 innings per start. And they have made three quality starts in thirteen games. Chris Young has been the only good starter, and Dickey the only other mildly acceptable starter. The other three have found the fifth and sixth innings to be some sort of impenetrable barrier to be crossed only by an intrepid reliever.
The result is an overtaxed bullpen that leads the league in innings pitched — and thus is already running with eight relievers, which in turn is handicapping the bench — and offense that is constantly forced to climb out of holes, only to watch any lead it builds immediately slip away. It has not been entirely the pitcher’s fault, as the fielding has been clownish. But a lot of it has been the pitcher’s fault. They’ve walked a batter every other inning. It’s difficult for any team to win when it’s giving up 6 runs every game, and blaming anything else seems almost silly in comparison.
The good news — if you want to look at it as good news — is that there’s no way this staff can be that bad, because no one’s pitching staff is ever this bad over the long run. The main culprits are better pitchers than they’ve shown thus far. Mike Pelfrey has had stretches like this before, which he always fights through; he’s not going to have a four digit ERA all season long. Jon Niese sometimes looks dominant and sometimes like a sophomore pitcher, because he is a sophomore pitcher still learning. Chris Capuano has been victimized by home runs and poor defense, but he’s also been striking out batters and his arm hasn’t fallen off yet. They all have to get better, if only because it’s hard to imagine them pitching any worse.
But the normal-sized starters have been a problem so far. And regardless of whatever else is said over the next 24 hours, they have been the Mets’ largest problem. The consistently poor starting pitching has made every game close, such that the Mets spent most of the past week with little margin for error. This in turn magnified all the errors they did make, be it the sloppy play, the bullpen implosions, and the leaving of runners in scoring position. Those things always hurt, but they hurt far more when the pitching is terrible. Ultimately, it all starts with the starters.
At the very least, there is another game tomorrow, and barring some sort of unexpected trade, Troy Tulowitzki will be nowhere in sight. We are safe now. He can’t hurt us anymore. And if that’s not a comforting thought, I don’t know what is.