(Long Island, NY) A seven game lead with 17 to go seemed to be quite a cushion, even for a team that had not been playing its best baseball. The Phillies and Braves were still looking up at the Mets and it appeared, at the time, that the best either chasing club could hope for would be the Wild Card. But due to the ineffectiveness of the Mets’ bullpen, the Phillies find themselves only 1 and 1/2 games back in the division. Stop the bleeding.
What is even more troubling is that in their past two series, the Mets have had trouble with the second division clubs in the East. After being swept for the second consecutive time by Philadelphia, the Mets went to D.C. and dropped two out of three to the Nationals. They then went to Florida and lost a heartbreaker on Thursday night before hanging on for a 9-6 win on Friday.
“We’ve been giving away some stuff, so we’ll take advantage of some help every once in a while,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said to reporters following the much-needed victory, which had a rain delay of nearly two and a half hours in the sixth inning.
If the unthinkable happens, many fingers will be pointing at Randolph, one of which will be team owner Fred Wilpon. “I’m disappointed with the way the team is performing overall, and that’s everyone, top to bottom,” Wilpon told SI.com earlier in the week. “I’m disappointed in Omar (Minaya, GM), Willie, the players…that’s everyone. We shouldn’t be in this position. But we are. We’ve got to fight our way out and pull this out.”
By including Minaya in his statement, Wilpon has not absolved the man who single-handedly made the Mets into contenders basically overnight. But he is also not overlooking the fact that this past offseason was not one of Minaya’s best. He signed relievers Guillermo Mota and Scott Schoenweis to multi-year deals and they have been busts since the start. The only in-season move made on the coaching staff was Minaya fired hitting coach Rick Down and brought Rickey Henderson on board. It has not helped and possibly the team has even regressed in the second half.
Critics have blamed Randolph’s laid-back demeanor as being one of the problems in this skid, but that is the school he is from. Joe Torre is perhaps the most unemotional manager of all time and he has done quite well for himself. Being on Torre’s staff for so many years, Randolph is playing it the same way and cannot be chided for that.
Randolph may be quiet and somewhat aloof, but he does not allow his players to escape his wrath when necessary. Jose Reyes failed to hustle and was sat down as a result. “When he has something to say, he’s going to say something to me,” Reyes said to reporters. “You appreciate it.”
What the manager needs to do now is to make sure that his team is not playing tight. When you’re anticipating something bad happening, it usually follows. After finishing the weekend in Miami, the Mets come home for the remaining seven games versus Washington, St. Louis (makeup game) and Florida. The Phillies also finish up their road schedule with two at D.C., and then return to Citizen’s Bank Ballpark for two three-game series’ versus Atlanta and Washington.
As far as the Wild Card race in the National League goes, the Padres are currently leading Philadelphia by 1 1/2 games. Colorado (3 1/2) and Atlanta (5 1/2) are still close enough to make it interesting in the last week of the regular season.
The Mets still have a little wiggle room, but need to get themselves righted if they want to have the opportunity to set up their starting rotation for the playoffs. It seemed like they would have that luxury
heading into the last two weeks, but that has changed. Their veteran starters must take the ball and get deep into the game to alleviate the pressure on a tired and shaky relief corps.
For the time being, the rest of the division is still looking up at the Mets. How long that lasts is up to them.