Monday was not a good day for the New York Mets.
First, top prospect Noah Syndergaard landed on the DL with a flexor strain in his pitching elbow and could be the latest pitching phenom (unles Yordano Ventura beats him to it) to face Tommy John surgery. He’s headed to New York to be examined more closely.
Then, another quality start wasted by a scuffling offense and one of the worst bullpens in the league. Jacob deGrom didn’t allow a run over 6.2 innings and left with a 2-0 lead. With the underperforming pen already gased, Jose Valverde came in to attempt a four-out save. Predictably, this happened:
Valverde wasn’t allowed to finish the 9th, and was ultimately charged with 4 runs on 4 hits and a walk. His ERA ballooned to 5.66. The Mets released Valverde immediately following the game.
Valverde wasn’t the only person to lose his job following the Memorial Day debacle — New York also fired hitting coach Dave Hudgens, who was in his fourth season with the team. The Mets were only able to score 2 runs off Pittsburgh starter Brandon Cumpton — only one run was earned — and have only scored a total of 31 runs in their past 12 games.
Lamar Johnson, the Mets’ minor league hitting coordinator, will take over as
scapegoat hitting coach. The 63-year-old Johnson has previously held the same post for the Brewers, Royals and Mariners.
After going 15-11 to start the year, the Mets have been freefalling in May. Monday’s loss dropped them to 7-17 on the month, and in the National League, only San Diego has a lower team OPS this year than the Mets’ .662. It’s easy to point fingers after a month like that, and in New York, heads tend to roll during those months.
It doesn’t matter that nothing will likely change when it comes to hitting instruction — Sandy Alderson said as much after Monday’s game — but expectations rose after that first month, and someone needed to take the fall when the Mets regressed to the mean.
It’s not Hudgens’ fault that an established veteran like Curtis Granderson is off to a slow start, or that the Juan Lagares controversy happened, or that Ike Davis was traded away instead of Lucas Duda, or that Eric Young is occupying a corner outfield spot. But since Alderson isn’t going anywhere and Terry Collins isn’t going to be fired yet, someone else had to go down. When the losses start piling up while the offense grounds into five double plays in a single game or can’t seem to score runs with the bases loaded, though, eyes start to shift towards the hitting coach. Had New York been scoring more runs while still losing, the blame for May would have fallen somewhere else.
Realistically, the Mets were not going to compete in the National League East this year. Not with Matt Harvey missing the year recovering from Tommy John, leaving Jon Niese as the staff ace. Not with Bobby Parnell also going under the knife just before Opening Day, leaving an already shaky bullpen in shambles.
This was never an offense that was going to be good this year, either, and it probably wasn’t even going to be league-average. With that many low-OBP guys in the regular lineup, they were going to have trouble scoring runs or maintaining a high OPS regardless of who was carrying the title of hitting coach. The offense — ranked 22nd in runs, 25th in batting average and 21st in OBP — was performing as most objective analysts expected.
The better-than-expected first month raised expectations, though. And in a lot of ways, it was the worst thing that could have happened to them. Instead of quietly hovering around .500 all year, they got off to the same exact 15-11 start as the Yankees, and drew attention to themselves with the whole “REAL New Yorkers root for the Mets” PR blunder.
Now Mets fans are back to an annual tradition: wondering just how low they’ll go before hitting rock bottom. They’ve already fallen to last place in the East, and are fearing they’ve lost another young star to Tommy John. What could be next? A Terry Collins blowup at the media? Somehow failing to sign their first round pick? For the Mets, there isn’t much out of the realm of possibility.