By Ernie Palladino
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Before their 6-2 win over the Brewers Tuesday, the Mets were predictably easing on down the road to irrelevancy, a locale they have visited far too often in recent years.
There was little outrage in New York about this. It’s just another year, another season that started with empty expectations and metamorphosed into an outright train wreck. Even the recent victory can be regarded as a momentary cup of coffee in a roadside diner on this rocky route.
It’s nothing new in these parts. Mets have become the heel against which the loose shoe rubs. At first, it hurts as the ill-fitting loafer raises a blister. But after a while, the skin grows calloused and the pain ceases.
Only numbness exists along with a patch of ugly derma.
These are the 29-35 Mets, losers of six straight before the Brewers came to town. Ugly, artless.
Their ace, Matt Harvey, remains out of action after Tommy John surgery. Travis d’Arnaud, the hot-prospect catcher they received from Toronto in exchange for R.A. Dickey, has been exiled to balmy, Triple-A Las Vegas after two months-and-change of offensive futility.
Not that anyone should blame this partially on Harvey or, in totality, on d’Arnaud. All Harvey did was get hurt. And d’Arnaud’s problems were simply part and parcel of the Mets’ anemic offense whose cumulative .235 BA before Tuesday’s game ranked 28th in the majors.
For a while, it seemed the Dillon Gees, Jon Nieses, and Zack Wheelers of the world would keep this team afloat, or at least within spitting distance of respectability. But as this season has worn on, it has become apparent that even this pitching-rich franchise cannot stand on that alone. Not when prized free agent pickups Curtis Granderson and Chris Young were at .221 and .205 respectively, with 12 homers between them. Not when the team’s 238 RBIs represented the league’s 21st-worst run production. Not when David Wright’s average sat at .279, with just four homers and 32 RBIs. That RBI total leads the team, but it ranked only 50th overall.
Regardless of Taylor Teagarden’s grand slam that broke the Brewers game open in the sixth, opposing pitchers held no fear whatsoever of putting runners on base. A .228 BA with runners in scoring position scared no one.
Upper management tossed the hitting coach, but that move didn’t produce the magic bullet to rocket Terry Collins’ squad up the standings. Collins could be next, or not.
The problem doesn’t lie with the skipper, anyway. It lies with the general manager and owner. Fred Wilpon, it turns out, gave Sandy Alderson even less of a budget than last year. In and of itself, that would not have been a fatal flaw if Alderson had spent the money wisely. But he gave Chris Young more than $7 million when he probably could have had Nelson Cruz for a few bucks more. He handed Granderson $13 million a year, and the only number the outfielder has put up that approaches that figure is 67 — as in strikeouts.
Alderson traded away Ike Davis in a move he had to make. But considering what survivor Lucas Duda has done, the first baseman could just as easily have exited. Make that decision today and it’s a coin flip.
The fact is, this is a poorly run franchise. Ownership doesn’t want to dip big into buying quality players. Alderson, once a respected baseball man, now looks like the residue-covered cartoon character whose gun has backfired.
Predictably, it has all caught up with the pitching, too. The early promise that Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, Gee, and Wheeler showed is gone. Niese and Gee are holding their own, but Colon has sunk to 5-5, 4.31, and Wheeler is struggling along at 2-6, 4.19. Don’t lay the blame on them alone. It is awfully hard pitching constantly with zero margin for error.
They hadn’t scored more than four runs in any of their six losses to the Cubs and Giants. They went 4-7 on the recently concluded road trip.
It probably won’t get much better because, let’s face it, this is just another year in the life of the Mets. Wins like Tuesday’s provide only momentary respites to the losing.
Irrelevancy, the bad neighborhood Alderson thought they’d finally escape, again lies just around the corner.
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