Upcoming series with lowly Miami Marlins could be critical for Mets and their skipper
The Mets are about to spend a weekend with the Marlins, and for their manager, Mickey Callaway, this could be the most treacherous trip to Miami since Michael Corleone decided to drop in on Hyman Roth.
They are in the midst of what is supposed to be the soft underbelly of their schedule, a 16-game stretch against the last-place Marlins, the Nationals and the Detroit Tigers, teams with a cumulative record of 46-80.
Five games in -- and six days removed from a hastily-called meeting with Callaway, GM Brodie Van Wagenen and owner Jeff Wilpon -- the Mets are three up, two down and their 7-6 loss to Washington on Thursday afternoon left their overall record at 20-22.
There are plenty of reasons for this -- the underperformance of Robinson Cano, Todd Frazier, Brandon Nimmo and Keon Broxton, who came up, and failed, at the key moment of Thursday’s game; the unreliability of their starting staff, and now, the injury bug, which bit hard in this loss -- but history tells us that if anyone is going to take the fall, there can only be one fall guy.
And this manager, in particular, seems especially vulnerable considering he was not hired, but inherited, by Van Wagenen, a former agent who is trying very hard to put his stamp on this team as its GM.
To be sure, Callaway has made his mistakes, with bullpen usage and in-game personnel decisions and lineup choices -- for instance, if Broxton, who had six hits in 10 career at-bats against Patrick Corbin, didn’t get to start Wednesday night with Corbin pitching, when exactly does he get to start?
But with today’s generation of GMs, who seem to want to buy the groceries, cook the meal and eat it too, it’s impossible to know precisely what a manager does anymore, or what he is allowed to do. And there is reason to believe Callaway isn’t allowed to do all that much without prior approval of the GM, or higher.
Despite a stirring ninth-inning comeback attempt by the Mets, Thursday’s loss did not do much to brighten Callaway’s future. He didn’t do anything to lose this game. His players, and fate, took care of most of that.
Zack Wheeler, who in his previous eight starts had pitched well against everyone but the Nationals, gave up four first-inning runs and the crusher, a two-run shot by Gerardo Parra, in the fifth.
Broxton, predictably, struck out with the bases loaded in the ninth to end the game, but aside from Cano, who busted out of a slump with three hits, and Michael Conforto, who tied the game temporarily with a three-run bomb in the third, no one in the Mets lineup did much of anything.
For five solid innings, the Mets were held scoreless by the Nationals bullpen, which is the worst in the National League. After Conforto’s home run, four Nats relievers set down the next 11 Mets hitters.
And it certainly was not the manager’s fault that Jeff McNeil, the most consistent hitter in his lineup, left the game with an undiagnosed abdominal injury in the third, and potentially even more devastatingly, that Conforto was knocked out of the game, literally, after colliding with Cano’s shoulder as the two converged on a pop fly in the seventh. Conforto was diagnosed with a concussion, which could mean anywhere from a week to the rest of the season. Ask Ryan Church, Jacoby Ellsbury or Clint Frazier.
If you want to point a finger at Callaway, maybe you could knock his decision to pull Daniel Zamora with two out in the seventh in favor of Robert Gsellman, one of the more effective arms in his pen, who had not pitched in eight days. Gsellman allowed what proved to be the winning run on a bloop single by Kurt Suzuki.
But this a business that operates on results, not process. It doesn’t really matter how the Mets lost on Thursday, only that they did lose, and lost a series to a team they should have no trouble beating.
And while there is still a chance to mop up on the remaining 11 games of this stretch before they head into the maw of the red-hot Dodgers, against whom they have four games in L.A. starting May 27, the current state of this team does not offer much in the way of optimism.
Conforto is headed to the IL and if McNeil has an oblique injury, he will be joining him. Jed Lowrie, who hasn’t played yet this season, had a setback this week and won’t been seen for weeks, at least. Steven Matz is still on the IL and while the Mets are holding out hope he can return this weekend against the Marlins, they have yet to commit. Jason Vargas and Justin Wilson are out, too, and there’s a guy on the roster named Cespedes who no one even talks about anymore.
And there aren’t any hot prospects on the farm waiting to race to the rescue. Big-leagues castoffs like Carlos Gomez and Rajai Davis are down there, and there are a couple of kid pitchers they are high on, Anthony Kay and Stepen Villines, who have a total of five innings of Triple A experience between them. All by Villines.
Beyond that, the circus of Tim Tebow looms. It raises the specter of a particularly grim summer in Flushing.
“I was proud of the guys for battling back,’’ Callaway said after the loss. “We had some things happen to us today but the guys never quit. It shows that we’re never going to give up.’’
That sounded an awful lot like the nightly concession speeches delivered by Art Howe, the doomed manager of an earlier Mets team.
Odds are all will be right with the world when the Mets return from Miami; after all, they have won all five of their games against the Fish this season.
But it’s the 15-22 record Callaway’s Mets have against the rest of the league that is dragging them down. A bad weekend in South Florida might not end their season, but it could sink their manager for good.