Mets bullpen will be a scary balancing act until Seth Lugo returns

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Danny Abriano
·4 min read
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Jeurys Familia Mets delivers pitch gray jersey in Philadelphia April 2021
Jeurys Familia Mets delivers pitch gray jersey in Philadelphia April 2021

The Mets have a funny way of making lopsided games feel a lot closer than they are in the late innings, and a lot of that is due to the angst their bullpen has been causing fans for over a decade.

This is not to say that the Mets' bullpen this season won't be solid -- it might even turn out to be a strength.

But for now, with bullpen anchor Seth Lugo on the road back from elbow surgery but out until perhaps late-April or early-May and with the team carrying a few relievers who can't be relied on, getting through the late innings is going to be a scary balancing act.

Opening Night against the Phillies felt like a bit of an aberration, but the way things evolved during Tuesday night's win was concerning.

Let's break it down...

Who can the Mets rely on?

Despite the feelings of many Mets fans who still have PTSD from 2019, Edwin Diaz is dominant and reliable.

And no matter how things unfolded on Monday night, Trevor May and Aaron Loup should also be largely reliable.

May worked in and out of trouble on Tuesday night in a scoreless frame but settled in once he stopped relying so much on his slider and began painting the black on the inner half of the plate with his high-octane fastball.

Miguel Castro is still more potential than reliable at this point, but the early returns this season have been largely good.

Castro allowed a few loud hits on Tuesday night but has been missing bats at a tremendous clip (his fastball has reached 101 mph and his secondary stuff is filthy) and he hasn't walked a batter in either outing this season.

The Jeurys Familia conundrum

The most eye-opening moment of Tuesday night's game came before the bottom of the eighth inning with the Mets up by four runs, when both May and Jeurys Familia were warming up side-by-side.

On the SNY broadcast, Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling wondered if it would be May coming in if the lead stayed at four and Familia if it ballooned to five runs or more.

And when the lead stayed at four, in came May. And that's a problem.

If the Mets can't trust Familia to protect a four-run lead, it's very hard to justify having him in the bullpen. But with other unreliable pitchers out there (more on that below), Familia likely wouldn't be the first, second, or even third reliever removed from the equation.

Protecting a six-run lead in the ninth inning, Familia was victimized by two almost impossibly soft hits and wound up allowing two runs. But the concern was over his control, which was close to non-existent. As Familia squeaked through the inning, Diaz stayed warm in the bullpen.

What about Dellin Betances and the rest of the bullpen?

While Familia is simply a concern, the presence of Dellin Betances is a blinking red light accompanied by an ear-splitting siren.

Unlike Familia, Betances doesn't have the stuff anymore to be relied on in the late innings. And it can be argued that his stuff is so diminished that he isn't a reliable reliever in any capacity at this point. Maybe that changes, but as of now he's largely unusable.

Betances' spot on the Opening Day roster wasn't guaranteed, and his situation will be one to keep an eye on as the Mets start getting bullpen reinforcements.

Aside from Betances, the Mets should be intrigued by how Jacob Barnes looked in spring training. And they will probably turn to Robert Gsellman for some multi-inning stints despite uneven results from him in recent seasons.

Help is on the way

Arguably more important than the return of Carlos Carrasco to the starting rotation is the return of Lugo to the bullpen.

While Lugo likely won't close most days, his presence will give the Mets a dominant force to use in the late innings -- often for more than one inning at a time. And Lugo will be a perfect option to close on days when Diaz is unavailable.

In addition to Lugo, the Mets are also hoping for the return of Drew Smith, who was dealing with shoulder soreness late in camp.

Beyond Lugo and Smith are options like Sam McWilliams (currently at the alternate site), who still needs to learn to harness his stuff but could provide a jolt at some point this season if he does.