September 21, 2023

Mets still can’t put it all together in the final series loss

New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) takes a throw to knock out Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes (13) at second base during the third inning at PNC Park.

The Mets have practically become the definition of a losing team, a team that plays just well enough to lose because they hit well on days when the pitching fails and vice versa, and/or they make untimely mistakes, both physical and mental.

As a result, they lost eight games out of nine to fall to 31-35, and if you thought they would respond to Buck Showalter‘s team meeting after Friday night’s debacle in Pittsburgh, well, any good feeling from Saturday’s victory over the Pirates quickly faded as the Mets failed to show up with the bats on Sunday.

They mainly lost 2-1 because they couldn’t take much Mitchell Kellerand while the righthander is the Pirates’ best starter, he was also mired in a slump, having given up 15 runs in his previous three starts.

You can argue that this was a game that the Mets really felt the absence of Peter Alonsowho is on the IL after taking that throw to the wrist during the Braves’ series in Atlanta, but that can’t be an excuse for only getting three hits.

And of course, this was a day when the bullpen shone and kept the team in the game with 3.1 scoreless innings. The exact opposite of the great sweep in Atlanta, where the Mets scored a lot of points, but the bullpen blew three nights in a row.

Hence the just-enough-to-lose vibe that surrounds these Mets.

They’ve got plenty of time to prove they’re better than that, starting with the Subway Series against the Yankees at Citi Field starting Tuesday, but right now it’s hard to believe this is a championship contender.

So that’s the big picture, and it’s not pretty.

But what about the smaller details?

I don’t believe Showalter is the problem with this Mets, but it’s certainly fair to question some of the decisions he’s made this season, from lineup decisions to in-game strategy, much of which lately revolves around Daniel Vogelbach and rookie Mark Vincentos.

On Sunday, he decided to squeeze Luis Guillorme for Vientos at the start of the eighth inning, and there was clearly a case for the left-for-right move, especially as the right-handed reliever Dauri Moreta has a slider against which the league was hitting .122 when the day started.

“He has one of the best sliders in the league,” was how Showalter put it to reporters in Pittsburgh. “(Guillorme) was a much better matchup on paper.”

Okay, but left-handers didn’t hit significantly better against Moreta than right-handers, .152 vs. .141 this season.

And then there’s the rest of the equation: the Mets had a run on a day they didn’t bat, and Vientos is on the team for his home-run prowess, while Guillorme is a singles hitter who doesn’t get much has beaten on this whole season.

In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to understand why Vientos is on the team at all if he doesn’t get regular at bats. I’ve been told by a few scouts that Vientos, with his long swing, is unlikely to succeed if he only plays occasionally, especially with so little top-level experience.

“He’s the kind of hitter who has to get into a rhythm if he wants to pitch for the big league at this point in his career,” said a scout. “If they’re not going to play him (regularly), he should be back in Syracuse.”

Vientos’ .167 batting average in 45 at bats, including one extra base – a memorable home run – and 13 strikeouts, seems to support that view.

How many Billy Eppler involved in day-to-day drafting decisions, whether the GM agrees with how little Vientos has been used isn’t clear, but the rookie has been with the Mets for almost a month, so apparently this is the way it will be.

For a long time that meant playing Vogelbach instead, pitting him against right-handed pitching, but he collapsed so badly that Showalter stopped using him after the first two games in Atlanta. Since then, Vogelbach has sat four games in a row.

And when Showalter needed a lefthanded batter for Vientos on Sunday, he turned to Guillorme, which raises the question why Vogelbach is also still in the team.

Obviously, he hasn’t struck out for power this season, which is why his presence in the lineup caused the Mets fans to go crazy on a daily basis, but he does have power.

So if he won’t be used in that spot on Sunday, one run down in the eighth inning, there must be a better way for the Mets to use his roster spot.

Scouts, on the other hand, keep saying that Ronnie Maurice needs more time in the minors to work on field recognition lest major league pitchers give him a bad chase, but they also say he has the tools to eventually become a hitter.

Plus, he apparently didn’t look comfortable at second base and he’s just starting to get work in left field, so it wouldn’t be ideal timing to get him into the major leagues. But if Vientos continues to get occasional playing time and Vogelbach won’t even be used as a pinch-hitter in an obvious situation, the Mets will have to try something else.

It’s not why they lost eight of the nine games. But at a time when they’re stuck in a big funk, every little flaw is magnified.

And while it wasn’t an absolute mistake to pinch Vientos in the eighth inning, it certainly became a mistake when Guillorme didn’t just make an out — he was called out for a pitch-timer violation.

That’s how it goes for Showalter and the Mets this season.

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