That wasn't a baseball game in Washington Saturday night between 7 and 9. That was a disco nap. That was what you do when you have big plans later in the evening. I hope the Mets were feeling refreshed for whatever Georgetown cocktail party or embassy reception they were saving their strength for.
The Mets did not lobby vigorously for a win in our nation's capital. They didn't do anything vigorously except sleepwalk, and that they did with their customary élan, particularly when two of them passed each other in the night on the basepaths. I'd like to think that little mishap was just a bad dream, but it was Met reality per usual. When you think back over the first third of this season and the way Mets have regularly fallen down in the outfield, stepped gingerly around third base and not slid into home, the only surprising part of Luis Castillo going this-a-way and Emil Brown going that-a-way in their “morning, Sam…morning Ralph” homage is that something like it hadn't happened sooner…and perhaps that Daniel Murphy wasn't involved.
Emil Brown just took a bus out of town; I'm not particularly sorry he won't stick around. I must not be a very observant baseball fan, having completely missed this guy's entire major league career — I apparently saw Takashi Kashiwada hit him with a pitch in 1997 — but what have I missed exactly? How did it come to a point where the Mets were starting Emil Brown in right and batting him second? More to the point, what was Emil Brown doing here? No offense to a man with 742 more big-league at-bats than I'll ever have, but where is the depth in this organization? Injuries are a bummer, no doubt, and they're a reasonable alibi to a reasonable extent. What's distressing here, however, is not that a journeyman works his way into the lineup for a night. It's that Emil Brown and the other Quadruple-A non-stars the Mets keep parading into a ballpark near you indicate what a Potemkin village the Mets are when it comes to game-ready personnel.
When Carlos Beltran lashed out at his team's miserable effort in Pittsburgh (confined to his hotel room with the stomach flu, he saw how awful they can be to watch on television — welcome to our world, Carlos), it was of course a most refreshing reaction to hear from a Met, a breed not noted for its mirror-facing candor. Yet I might ask Beltran to present compelling evidence for his assertion that the Mets as presently comprised are prohibitively better than the Pirates or anybody they plan to play in the near future. He and David and Johan and Frankie are what separate the Mets at the moment from the riffraff and hoi polloi of the National League. Behind them are a few fellows (Parnell, Feliciano, Santos) who have generally exceeded expectations, a few others who have done a decent job more than they haven't (like John Maine when not flu-bugged or dead-armed) and otherwise a bunch of question marks and ellipses, none of which complete sentences comfortably.
What to do? I don't know…
Thanks to Mets MVP Brad Lidge and a recent schedule as soft as my cat Hozzie's fur, the Mets maintain the veneer of being in the thick of things. They're three games out of first and one behind St. Louis for the Wild Card. There are two-thirds of the season remaining, which is never bad news unless — their sudden powerhouse ways notwithstanding — you're the Nationals. I don't think anyone would dispute that with the missing Mets making their absences felt so heavily now we'll need reinforcements to prevent the next four months from devolving into a bleak and Putzless future. I wonder where the hell they'll come from. I turn on the 'FAN and hear names like Matt Holliday and Adrian Gonzalez as well as the occasional authentic No. 2 starter. We get some combination thereof, we'll be rolling.
Fantastic. How do we go to there? What on earth do we have to trade that will earn us these fabulous upgrades? Sure you can give up on Fernando Martinez or Jon Niese, the two names that always arise in these scenarios. But do you really want to dismiss what little promising youth you have in-house on the chance that one big bat will conk this somnambulant outfit out of its chronic slumber? Wouldn't it have been easier to have signed Orlando Hudson or Raul Ibañez when all it would have taken was Mets money and roster rejiggering?
This, I believe, is where the whole post-Yadier Molina mindset kicks in again. This is where the team that's built to Win Now gets us in trouble. Forget Yadier and Called Strike Three and all those happy memories. This team was supposed to make up for that in 2007: same basic bunch as '06, Alou in for Floyd, bullpen reassorted, the semi-inevitable absence of Pedro Martinez finessed. They almost did it, too. Even with the lackadaisical meanderings they wandered off on two years ago this week (from which they've never completely found their way back), they were unstoppably en route to the playoffs where they could have Won Then and made the eventual rebuilding process — the one the Mets avoid acknowledging as necessary — less painful. They almost did win with Wagner, Delgado, Lo Duca, El Duque, Gl@v!ne, Alou and the reconstituted Martinez. They very nearly validated Omar Minaya's lunge toward the finish line philosophy.
But they didn't. And here in 2009, we continue to pay for it. We have a team that chronically depended on a bunch of very old players who didn't get it done, and now there's little to rely on in their wake.
You lose Jose Reyes, even a somewhat diminished Jose Reyes, and it's not going to be easy to replace him. You lose Carlos Delgado after anticipating (perhaps overly wishfully) that he was the 38 HR, 115 RBI, 159 GP man of the previous year, and it's not going to be easy to replace him. You lose whatever you thought you were going to get out of Oliver Perez, and it's not going to be easy to replace him. But geez, it shouldn't all be this difficult. There shouldn't be such a paucity of contingency talent here. Maybe for the Pirates or the Nationals, but not for a team that has framed its product as way above average. Slack is not being picked up for the most part. Except at third and in center, not a single position on the field is being manned consistently competently. There are a few good games here, a few big hits there and maybe there'll be more. That's a lot of maybe on which to rely, even from three games out of the division lead and one off the Wild Card pace, even with 108 games to go.
It's one thing to lose, even lose big, to a seemingly much worse club on any given evening. It happens. But the Mets flat-out napped for two hours against the hands-down worst team in baseball Saturday night. The Mets appear dead asleep far more than they seem wide awake. The 2009 Mets who are ostensibly healthy have, whatever the composition of their Disabled List, played some of the most sickly ball I've ever seen a Mets team play. Having witnessed some downright enfeebled Mets teams in my time, that thought sends one scurrying for one's surgical mask so one won't accidentally breathe in whatever's afflicting them.
To borrow from a Keith Hernandez knock on the Nats that seems just as apropos to the Mets this sunny Sunday morning, that'll get your fanbase fired up.