By Ernie Palladino
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There are bad breaks, and then there are bad breaks.
Some just make it harder to win. Others destroy teams.
Zack Wheeler’s impending season-long absence will hurt the Mets, for sure. He was being counted on as the No. 2 starter, and that torn right elbow ligament takes all the potential of that and puts it aside for this year — and probably part of next.
It won’t destroy all of Terry Collins’ plans for a successful 2015, though. Dillon Gee, or possibly Rafael Montero, can step right in and do a representative job. Maybe not as good as Wheeler, but close enough.
Now, imagine if David Wright goes down.
There’s the fatal break. Of all the position players in the Mets’ lineup, Collins can’t afford to lose him. Even the hint of some misfortune befalling the captain should have Collins lighting candles in church by day and conjuring spells by night in hopes of keeping Wright healthy, happy and productive.
Wright is the offensive key. Without him, the run-producing operation falls apart. And without runs, it really doesn’t matter who Collins runs out to the mound.
So far Wright has looked good, the nagging pain from the bruised shoulder that battered his stats and ended his 2014 in early September gone. The travails of 2014 left the 32-year-old third baseman with a .269 BA — the second-lowest batting average of his career — a career-low eight homers and a scant 63 RBIs. His .698 OPS fell nearly 200 points below his career .888. But his .294 BA thus far — with a homer, a double and four RBIs in 17 at-bats — at least offers hope for the season.
Wright, in the No. 3 hole, has some theoretical protection now in Michael Cuddyer, a 35-year-old gamble coming off hamstring problems that limited him to 49 games. They have moved Citi Field’s right-center field fences in for him to help his power numbers. If the lineup gets a bit more help — Lucas Duda proving that last year’s 30-homer total will become the rule rather than the exception, Curtis Granderson striking out less and Travis d’Arnaud progressing as a hitter — the Mets might just climb over that elusive .500 plateau.
An injured, absent Wright, however, would create a void in physical and emotional leadership, with nobody to step in behind him. Eric Campbell tried last year, but his 11 starts at third didn’t convince anyone that he’s anything more than an emergency backup. Aside from versatility that allows him to plug in at either corner and, most recently, at catcher, the last thing anyone wants to see is Campbell as a regular entity at third.
Wilmer Flores could play there, but that would entail moving him from shortstop and inserting the ever-dicey Ruben Tejada in Flores’ spot.
Neither will add the kind of offensive potential a healthy Wright should. Neither can stabilize a lineup.
Wright was the picture of health Saturday as he blasted a three-run homer over the batter’s eye in a 13-4 win over the Nationals.
He knows his worth.
“The good thing about coming into the spring, at least in my mind, is I haven’t had any questions about my health,” Wright said. “A lot of people put in a lot of work to help me get healthy this offseason, so it’s nice to come out full-go with no limitations, no restrictions.
“It feels good to go out there and be normal as far as routine and not having to worry about baseball stuff on top of finishing up rehab, or being held up because of my shoulder.”
Collins has to hope that the situation remains that way all season.
Losing Wheeler hurts, but the Mets stand well-equipped to compensate for him.
If Wright gets hurt again, that’s another story.