2-9 Trip Leaves Mets on a Road to Nowhere

About two months ago, I wrote about the dichotomy that was the New York Mets as Major League Baseball’s winningest team at home while collecting the major’s fewest road victories.

Since that time, little has changed.

The Mets have remained pretty strong at Citi Field, while cooling off just a bit there, going 11-7 since May 27th, to maintain one of MLB’s better home records at 30-16.

The road however, has continued to be unkind to the Mets, as evidenced by a disastrous west coast trip during which the Mets limped home with just a pair of wins in eleven games.

Since that earlier article, the Mets have improved — but only slightly — away from home, going 14-19, putting them at a still dismal 20-33 on the road, overall.

More importantly, the Mets now find themselves in third place in the National League East, looking up at Philadelphia (2½ games ahead of New York) and Atlanta, which now leads the Mets by 7½ games; and, even fourth-place Florida is breathing down the Mets’ necks, sitting just a half-game back.

While the Mets’ pitching has continued to be as consistent as their good play at home, their offense this month has been as promising as their ability to post road wins. Neither can be relied upon.

Even including a six-game homestand prior to the all-star break, the Mets have won just 4 of their past 17 games, scoring more than three runs just four times (three times not counting a bad call in San Francisco) while getting shut out five times over that stretch.

Most of that damage was out west, where if not for a missed call in the ninth inning of what should have been a Met loss to the Giants, the Mets would have won just a single game during their crucial eleven-game swing that saw the Mets score under three runs in seven games.

Not even the return of Carlos Beltran from the disabled list to start that trip nor Jose Reyes’ “re-return” to the top of the batting order could spark the Mets’ silent bats as they wasted several fine pitching performances. The Mets ended the trip without a run over the past 16 innings in Los Angeles, failing to score after the sixth inning in Saturday’s 3-2, 13-inning loss to the Dodgers before getting blanked 1-0 on Sunday.

It was such a poor road trip that it raises several legitimate questions:

At just a game over .500 (50-49), could the Mets, whose season was fairly solid before the all-star break, but which suddenly appears to be on the brink, be sellers instead of buyers this week, as the July 31st trading deadline fast approaches?

Could and should hitting coach Howard Johnson’s job be in jeopardy? At this point, the former Met slugger who had some nice moments as a player, did after all, hit only .249 over his career, and with the Mets in a deep and prolonged team-wide slump, Johnson has failed to get the Mets’ free-swinging and light-hitting offense to change its approach at the plate, as the strikeouts continue to mount at an alarming rate while being offset by far too few walks.

If the Mets don’t start winning soon, how much long might manager Jerry Manuel stay at the helm of his sinking ship? It’s difficult to blame a manger when players can’t hit. Or, is it? It took Alex Cora -– not Manuel -– to lay into the Mets after a loss in Arizona last week after Cora saw his teammates taking on Manuel’s easy-going persona, literally laughing off another loss as if the losing hasn’t been affecting the team much. Fiery managers win, and guys like Manuel win. So, there’s no right or wrong in terms of style, but it’s become clear that Manuel’s style with this Mets team, isn’t working right now.

If the season doesn’t turn around, will the Wilpons consider moving on from the Omar Minaya regime? After falling short in the 2006 NLCS when they should have probably won the World Series that year, the successive September collapses to blow the NL East each of the next two years, and the injury-plagued and poor season both on the field and from a public relations standpoint last year (right, Adam Rubin?), should Minaya be given yet another reprieve if the Mets aren’t at least playing meaningful games during the file week of the season, let alone if the Mets miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season? Minaya has made plenty of good moves, but he’s also left too many holes in the roster, and the underachieving results –- despite having one of the highest annual payrolls in MLB –- speak for themselves.

And, finally, although there have been several different pieces in the past few years placed around the core that has remained, are that core, along with the accompanying compliments simply a mentally fragile team? We’ve seen the Mets produce over the past five seasons when the pressure hasn’t been great. But, when the pressure’s been on, we’ve seen the Mets play tighter than a drum and thus become their own biggest obstacle to achieving success. Game 7 against St. Louis in the 2006 NLCS, and letting the Phillies catch them twice the next two Septembers. Folding like a house of cards instead of at least trying to fight through their myriad of injuries last year. And, now this year, playing well at the friendly confines of Citi Field, yet playing poorly on the road, to the tune of just two series wins (against two last-place American League teams) in 17 road series.

And, let’s throw in one more while we’re at it… how do the Mets’ medical and training staffs remain employed? With all of the misdiagnosing and mishandling of injuries last year, Beltran and Reyes, among others, again missed significant time this year, and now John Maine is out for the season. The only groups who are wrong more often while still keeping their jobs are weather people and at least this year, several MLB umpires.

After a horrid western trip, the Mets will be happy to get back home, but it won’t get a lot easier, as they’ll host the first-place Cardinals on Tuesday. After Arizona then visits Flushing, it’s back on the road to Atlanta and Philadelphia for a couple of three-game sets.

Unless the Mets can bring their Citi Field game to places like that, they’ll continue to travel on a literal road to nowhere and raise a lot of questions as to where others in the organization might be headed.

Posted under All Star, Bats, Carlos Beltran, Dichotomy, Giants, Jose Reyes, Major League Baseball, Mlb, National League East, New York Mets, Ninth Inning, Philadelphia, Road Victories, San Francisco, Score, Seven Games, Swing, Three Times, Top Story, West Coast Trip, Winningest Team

This post was written by Jon Wagner on July 26, 2010