The Mets are now ten games out of first place as they begin an 11 game home stand that leads into the All-Star break. The last road trip through Pittsburgh and Atlanta was a “gut-punch” to a team that was striving so hard to get over a trend of losing close games. The Mets lost six of seven, by a total of eleven runs, continuing their ineptness at situational hitting thus plummeting the team to 11 games under .500 for the first time this season.
While the offense has sputtered in driving in runs, the starting pitching has been inconsistent, specifically Zack Wheeler and Daisuke Matsusaka. The surprising success of the newly constructed bullpen has given this team a real chance to win many of these close games, so it’s difficult to summon up a remedy for the struggles in these games that seem so winnable. Now that the team is 10-20 in one-run games, it’s fair to ask the question: Is there anything Terry Collins can do to help?
It’s not fair to place blame of all the team’s failures on the manager; he’s only capable of doing so much from the clubhouse before and after games, to the managerial moves he imposes during them, but he should take some of the criticism. After all, when the 2012 Baltimore Orioles posted a 29-9 record in one-run games, while going 16-2 in extra-inning games, many people referenced skipper Buck Showalter’s knack for instilling the winning recipe and resolve in the team to persevere; not to mention pushing all the right buttons late in games. To be fair that O’s team had a superior lineup, and the bullpen at the end of games was a key factor because their starters were in fact inferior to today’s Mets rotation. A comparison to that team is really just a reference to show how a club’s season can be completely different by being able to win close games, something the Mets just don’t do.
So back to the question, what can Collins do differently to help this team win?
The biggest challenge for the manager is to find a method to alleviate the pressure and anxiety of those clutch at bats. The Mets have been able to mount multiple scoring threats in games by getting numerous men on base, only to squander those chances with unproductive at-bats. The same players who thrive on getting on base, for whatever reason, falter when it’s their turn to drive in a run. Take the series in June at Wrigley field, when the Mets were swept by the Cubs; the offense batted 4-30 with RISP with 31 LOB. Then there was the game last Sunday in Pittsburgh when the team managed only two runs while hitting 2-for-15 with RISP, while leaving 11 men on base. The team batted 11-for-24 in at-bats with no RISP. So the problem seems to a mental block, as opposed to dumb luck or great pitching. There’s only so much you can credit the other team before you acknowledge what has become a disturbing trend. The team needs to be more relaxed and focused in these game-turning situations, not passive, anxious, or stressed. Easier said than done, but Collins needs to get this team playing like a team that hates to lose, not afraid to lose.
Then there’s the lineup. Whether you subscribe to lineup construction methods or not, the main goal for Collins should be to find depth and maximum opportunities for his best hitters to drive in runs…again, easier said than done. Granderson in the leadoff spot could reap benefits providing Murphy continues to bat second. Finding Kirk Nieuwenhuis more at-bats should be another tactic providing he continues his balanced approach with a quick stroke; much different than the player seen last season who was lost at the plate. Collins probably needs to micromanage the lineup more late in games, which he has been doing lately. Since the bullpen has been terrific, leaving a starter in to hit with a men in scoring position should be nixed more, regardless of how well the starter has pitched. Collins should maximize every opportunity to score runs, whenever he can.
As crazy as this notion might have sounded before the season, finding a good spot for Bobby Abreu to hit late in a game, even if it’s at Juan Lagares, Ruben Tejada, or Travis d’Arnaud’s expense, could be productive too. Implementation of the hit-and-run with Daniel Murphy can also help due to his uncanny ability to hit tough pitches. The team is at the league bottom in SLG, so making it easier to run first to third on a hit obviously can assist in scoring more runs.
Finally, and this is nothing different, Collins should keep using his bullpen wisely. The past few seasons we’ve all witnessed his tendency to use three or four pitchers in an inning to get three outs due to his love for lefty/right splits. This year, fans have seen less of that, probably due to a higher quality of pitching, but nonetheless a more efficient and effective bullpen management.
It’s getting late quick in this season; maybe the Met’s still have some life left. Perhaps Collins can help if he pushes more of the right buttons.
Follow Sean Flattery on Twitter @SeanFlatts