It's a measure of how far we've fallen (with farther to go) that I switched off the TV feeling that the Mets had eked out something akin to a moral victory by only allowing the Phillies to beat them by two runs. Nelson Figueroa bit and scratched and came out of things only vaguely mussed, Ken Takahashi conducted himself well and our Triple-A lineup was gallant in tilting at a few windmills before its predictable unhorsing.
Now that it's over, though, it's just another loss on the march to 90 and beyond. And I find myself shaking my head over the season as a whole yet again. This time it's not the injuries, or the incompetence, or the off-field embarrassments, though there have been plenty of all three. Rather, it's that the Mets will go into the offseason having learned almost nothing about key players for 2010, and burdened with worries about players they thought they didn't need to worry about.
A baseball plague year generally at least teaches you things, but the Mets haven't even gotten that. Fernando Nieve looked briefly intriguing and then was lost for the year. Fernando Martinez looked overmatched, but a season-ending injury left us unable to find out more about him. Jon Niese arrived for a dozen-start audition and promptly departed for the 60-day DL. The only player left who might be profitably scrutinized for 2010 is Nick Evans, but he isn't playing for some reason Jerry Manuel hasn't seen fit to share with the world. (Are there really still things to learn about Fernando Tatis?)
Daniel Murphy has shown conclusively that he can't field well enough to play left. One cringes at imagining him playing second, for fear of conjuring the petulant, stone-gloved specter of Gregg Jefferies. He looks adequate at first, but there are serious questions about whether he can hit enough to play there. If the Mets acquire a bona fide slugger to play left, they could conceivably survive with Murphy's bat at first. (Or, better yet, platoon Murphy and Evans.) But will they do that?
Angel Pagan has shown he can hit, but too many of his starts leave you wondering if he can think. Here, the dilemma is the inverse of Murphy's — the Mets might be OK with Pagan in left if they get a big bopper to play first, but will they do that?
Jeff Francoeur can get on base by swinging a bat at a baseball, and if you could bottle his attitude you'd gladly dispense it to your entire team. But he seems congenitally incapable of understanding the importance of getting on base in other ways, and his defensive reputation seems mostly based on a howitzer arm. The '09 Mets have a lot of players like Francoeur — gritty, likeable guys whom you suspect will never play baseball well enough to be effective everyday players.
Meanwhile, every single guy the Mets had stopped worrying about has given them reason to worry again.
David Wright's power has vanished, his defense has eroded, his strikeouts have soared, and he routinely turns in terrible at-bats. Is he concealing a nagging injury, or has his career taken an ominous downturn?
Fairly or not, Jose Reyes will play 2010 nagged by questions about his durability and his mental toughness.
Carlos Beltran will play with all eyes on the condition of his knee — and on whether the Mets doctors can be trusted to take care of that knee.
John Maine will enter 2010 having seen two consecutive seasons derailed by shoulder woes.
Mike Pelfrey may not be having nearly as bad a year as we all think (I found this Howard Megdal analysis fascinating), but he seems to think he's had a pretty awful one. And who says he'll have a good defense behind him next year?
For Oliver Perez to return to being a giant, expensive question mark would be miraculous progress.
And while we all want to bask in the radiance of JHN every fifth day, he did just have elbow surgery.
Where we had certainty, we now have uncertainty. Where we had uncertainty, we now have more uncertainty. Turning the calendar to 2010 will erase the Mets' immediate, day-to-day problems. But the larger problem? It's not going away any time soon.
Here's something certain: Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets is a fine and loyal baseball companion. Find out from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or pick it up at a fine area bookstore. The discussion continues on Facebook.
Come on down to Two Boots Tavern on the Lower East Side for our final AMAZIN' TUESDAY of the season — September 15 at 7:00 PM. Greg will be joined by co-host Jon Springer of Mets By The Numbers as we welcome special guests The Bad Guys Won author Jeff Pearlman and Metstradamus mastermind John Coppinger. And if THAT'S not enough, there will be great pizza, cold beer (the first of which is free if you bring Two Boots owner Phil Hartman a Mets baseball card) and more Met bonhomie than you thought could possibly be scraped together at the end of a year like this. The Mets-Braves game will be on, too, but don't let that detract from the experience. Seriously, we've had three of these events and every one of them has been a blast, so come on down and have a great Mets time with us.