- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

One Step Forward, Too Many Steps Back

The catcher was a spy [1], but with apologies to Moe Berg, it was the leftfielder who wore the most cunning of disguises for nearly forty games. Turns out Daniel Murphy was a first baseman. He's been found out — praise the lord and pass the ammunition.

Now if we can solve the mystery of the incredible disappearing offense — featuring the shortstop who suddenly vanished midgame — the world may be safe for Metropolitans. But I wouldn't count on that happening for a while.

Yes, Murphy's masquerade, as beguiling as any incognito guise perpetrated on gullible Mets fans since Robbie Alomar impersonated a future Hall of Fame second baseman, has reached a merciful ending with the hint of a happy beginning. The kid from hunger from left field played first base professionally Wednesday night in Los Angeles. He wasn't Keith Hernandez. He wasn't even David Segui. But he wasn't Dave Kingman, and that's promising.

The Mets shouldn't be promising anything else right now, because they appear woefully incapable of delivering anything besides a mildly encouraging position switch. They can't deliver a big hit, they can't deliver a key run, they can't deliver a victory, certainly not over a quality team on the road. That wasn't a good formula for Dodger Stadium. It's not likely to work wonders in Fenway Park.

OK, so they've lost four in a row [2]. OK, so they were swept three by L.A. OK, so they wasted one of their best non-Johan starts of the year. Not OK at all, actually, but it's not the losing that's been the Mets' bad moon rising every late night this week (and doesn't it feel as if the Mets were the third New York team to move to California?). It's the spectacular lack of fight they've put up in these four losses, and I don't necessarily mean the lack of grit, edge, “gredge” or any of the yada-yada many of us, myself included, have bandied about. They just look incapable right now of playing a full, well-rounded game of baseball. I don't know if they've done it more than a few times this year, even during the 11-of-13 good times.

Maybe it was my fever over the weekend, but I didn't think they looked that imposing while they were running wild on the Giants. They were getting on and they were delightfully aggressive and San Francisco was suitably rattled, but those weren't excellent all-around games. They were slugfests won by the Mets. They didn't look that good beating the Braves in that walkoff-walk win last week; it took a lucky call to push them over the top. They looked kind of disheveled against the Pirates, but the Pirates give you lots of wiggle room. It was wonderful beating the Phillies, but I didn't get the sense we were putting it to them. I got the sense the Phillies weren't so hot.

Hey, I'll take 95 instances of the Mets being partially awesome if they can half-ass their way to a playoff spot, but this team is frightening in both its inability to rev on all cylinders and its ability to zitz out on too many of them at once. Until proven otherwise, its talent is concentrated into a small clutch of players, one of whom is available only every five days — note we scored generously for Johan one time and took it out by inflicting penuriousness on Pelfrey, Redding, Maine and now Hernandez — and one who is rarely used when not protecting a lead. There are almost no leads now because the only two healthy talented regulars are being helped by almost no one. Every trip around the order in the Dodger series was an exercise in breath-holding and finger-crossing. C'mon Carlos! C'mon David! They came on. Nobody joined them.

Any team can have four fallow games. What's troubling is what lies ahead, and I don't mean just the Red Sox. Jose Reyes limping into the dugout in the third and then stomping frustratedly through it en route, probably, to the DL was a more harrowing sight than any five flies hit to erstwhile leftfielder Murphy. No team can lose its starting shortstop for any significant period of time and thrive, not unless you've got young Cal Ripken waiting to take over for Mark Belanger or something. The Mets don't seem to have that. They have Ramon Martinez. I've had a soft spot for Ramon based on his burst of big hits the last week of last September. That spot has now hardened and dried

Martinez — his nickname here was going to be “Bring 'Em Home Ramon” if he had tied it in the ninth — didn't lose the game. Putz and his cortisone shot didn't lose the game. Murphy's Tatisian production with runners on didn't lose the game (though when Wright moved Castillo and Beltran to third and second with a long fly to right with nobody out in the eighth, I groaned because I just knew that was our scoring opportunity right there). They all lost the game. Not Liván and his RDA of seven one-run innings. Not Beltran and Wright, of course. But the fightless Mets, the pulseless Mets, the directionless Mets, the depthless Mets, the Mets sans Reyes, Delgado, Cora and whoever else they don't got…they lost and it was pretty apparent they were going to lose. While not as flat-out embarrassing as a passel of their earlier losses, it was just as definitive.

A quarter of the season is now complete. The Mets are one game out of first with three-quarters of a season to go. That's the good news. Beltran, Wright, Rodriguez and Santana are the great news. Murphy playing one fine game at first is a swell development. Except for one bad pitch by John Maine to Casey Blake, the same could be said for Johan's backup singers of late. We all love Bobby Parnell and Brian Stokes, and Pedro Feliciano will have a job striking out Ryan Howard as long as he wants one.

But based on what we've seen, when those we count as assets veer to a bad week, I don't know who or what is going to pick them up. We're seeing a lineup not sustain the loss of its cleanup hitter. Now it will likely be without its leadoff hitter. Should the bullpen show a little more give, should the starters go not quite as long, should, god forbid, Daniel Murphy not be Vic Power…boy are we in trouble. David and Carlos have done almost nothing wrong for a week. They're due to not get the big hit, the big walk or even the big fly ball. Is anybody going to pick them up?

It's forty games in. Do you know where your Mets are?

I do: Barely over .500. It didn't take long to suss them out there either.

Rooting for a team that never seems to score enough? That's not new. That's Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon [3], Barnes & Noble [4] or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook [5].