Monday was one of the better days to be a Mets fan of late.
Monday was also an off-day.
It’s always bad when it gets to this point. It’s worse when this point arrives not in the second half of August, that cruel period that has a way of revealing your maybe-sorta-kinda-.500 club as a 72-win team, but in early June.
Yet that’s where we are, with plenty of season left to play.
It’s a shame, too. Jeremy Hefner was terrific tonight, and I like Hefner — he’s a hard worker and a smart pitcher and the kind of guy that’s easy to root for. Nothing that happened out there was his fault.
I like Bobby Parnell, too. He’s evolved into a solid closer, having entered the evening with just two blown saves, neither of which were his fault. He seems to have gotten over the hyperventilating, MUSTTHROUGHBALLEVENHARDERANDSTRAIGHTER mentality that made him so frustrating as a younger pitcher. More significantly, he’s learned a fiendish knuckle-curve from Jason Isringhausen. One imagines he also learned a few things about the volatile, frustrating life of a late-innings reliever. The story interests me, because it’s an example of something statistics can’t capture: Parnell pretty clearly learned something from his apprenticeship with Izzy (and I mean something beyond the Will to Win or some other lazy sportswriter’s Just So Story), something that’s valuable but defies measurability.
This time, though, what happened out there was definitely Parnell’s fault. He was terrible, and got beaten so quickly and efficiently that you’d have thought his name was Mariano Rivera. If you’ve been a baseball fan for any amount of time, you witness such games and learn your own guy-on-the-couch version of the closer mentality: It happens, there often isn’t any reason for it, so forget about it.
This dose of philosophy doesn’t make games like that suck any less, of course.
Since the word “suck” was trotted out, let’s talk about the larger sense in which Parnell’s failings weren’t his fault: The Mets’ offensive was substantially aided by the Nationals’ ineptitude, and still produced only two runs, leaving their pitchers with zero margin for error. This team has a good hitter who can’t do it alone, a couple of OK hitters who run hot and cold, some bad hitters who should be in the minors or bettering their duck-hunting skills, and various other misfit toys that should not be amassing hundreds of at bats a year.
The Mets are a terrible offensive club. That puts them in a guaranteed hole most nights, forcing their not-bad starters to tiptoe across the high wire and hope their shaky defensive avoids numerous land mines and their so-so bullpen doesn’t implode. Most of the time this difficult-to-execute plan goes less than perfectly, with results that are predictable and depressing. It’s an excellent blueprint for losing games by the bushelful, and that’s what the Mets are doing.
And it’s what they’ll continue to do unless something significant changes. That something has nothing to do with Zack Wheeler, who could fulfill his potential and join his rotation-mates by dropping 3-2 and 2-1 decisions. Do the Mets have the stomach to make those changes? Do the Wilpons have the money to make them matter? Ask me again in another five losses. Or 10. Or 20.