'Brutal' bullpen makes Mets a desirable playoff opponent
NEW YORK -- At least 25-30 scouts, almost all from contending National League teams, are here this week tailing the Cubs and Mets, and while their reports are kept secret, there's one thing almost all of them agree on: They want to see the Mets in the playoffs because they see them as a potential postseason pushover.
"I hope we play the Mets,'' one NL scout said, flat out.
"Their bullpen is bleeping brutal,'' said another.
"They have nothing but situational relievers,'' said another scout.
"[Jerry Manuel] is managing like it's spring training. Four to five innings for the starter, then an inning -- or a batter -- at a time,'' yet another said.
That scout wasn't blaming Manuel, as the Mets' manager really has no other choice but to mix and match like crazy. With closer Billy Wagner out, and expected set-up men Aaron Heilman and Duaner Sanchez currently a shell of their former selves, Manuel's options are very limited. "Jerry's done a great job,'' GM Omar Minaya said.
That's true, but the best thing the Mets have going for them in the wild-card race is that they're in competition with the Brewers, who authored their own collapse last year (although it wasn't quite as historic as the Mets') and were in free-fall this year when they changed managers, going from Ned Yost to Dale Sveum. The Brewers are still hurt by the absence of Ben Sheets, who's sidelined with a sore elbow ("I'm not holding my breath,'' one Brewers person said of Sheets' possible return), as well as their own demons, but still have two games to go with the Pirates, which is a gift from the gods at this time of year.
In addition to their bullpen problems (or perhaps because of them), the Mets, according to some of the scouts here this week, appear to be pressing. One scout said that one Met who seems to be most afflicted with this malady is David Wright. "He looks like he has the whole team on his shoulders,'' the scout said.
If Wright feels that way, it's no wonder. The bullpen situation is wearing on the rest of the clubhouse. Through injury and attrition, this may be the worst bullpen of any contender in years (and if they do reach the playoffs, Manuel won't be able to employ his one-pitcher-per-batter strategy because he won't have 12 relievers). The situation's so dicey that on Monday the first 10 questions directed at Manuel regarded injured pitcher John Maine, whose valiant bid at a return will result in two or three total innings. Meanwhile, Manuel said the Mets can't rule out the neophyte Bobby Parnell playing a major role because of the "uncertainty'' of the situation. The Mets manager also agreed that being at home is "crucial,'' as they "need that last at-bat,'' punctuating the remark with a hearty laugh.
Teams without strong bullpens usually don't make it to the postseason, and if they do, they don't go very far. Though one will have to make it, as Milwaukee's pen isn't much better. And Carlos Delgado retorted, "We might have to do it another way. We might have to score 20 runs.''
Minaya's deal makes more sense than Castillo's, anyway
Minaya's four-year extension is expected to be announced shortly after the season, and while the Mets GM certainly has made a case for more years by making the team into a perennial contender, the timing of the new deal could seem very odd if they blow their one-game wild-card lead. If it happens that way, that would be worse timing than Minaya's firing of Willie Randolph.
And while the midnight massacre of Randolph was over-criticized (the main point is, Minaya found the right replacement in Manuel) and Minaya's return was always a certainty considering his strong relationship with the club-owning Wilpons, Minaya's record of acquisitions has been mixed the last couple years.
The trade for Johan Santana looks like a major winner, and the trade of Lastings Milledge for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church looks like a winner, as well. Fernando Tatis was a surprise winner before he got hurt ("that hurts bad,'' Manuel noted). And the contributions of Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans represent two more winners. But how about those contracts of Orlando Hernandez, Moises Alou and especially Luis Castillo? That's a few dollars they'd like to have back. Minaya's new four-year deal will work out better than those contracts, I suspect.