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Actually It Can Get Worse

The Mets, who started out some long-gone season 11-1, are back to being the same shambling disaster we’ve come to know all too well.

Sudden, unexpected injuries to key players? Check.

Nagging, thoroughly expected injuries to other key players? Check.

Nagging injuries to key players with no corresponding DL stint, ensuring those maladies become something worse? Check.

Playing time given to older players who don’t warrant it? Check.

Roster spots wasted on guys who should be on the golf course? Check.

The result is a team in freefall, bearing all the grim stigmata of having broken through “flawed” on a one-way trip to “hopeless.” They’re still above .500, I know, but then a guy who just fell out of a 50th-floor window is still above ground level.

Flawed teams have one weakness — an anemic offense, a leaky bullpen, fragile starting, erratic defense — and if you’re a fan you imagine scenarios in which they patch up that problem (unlikely but hey, you can dream) or do everything else right (which actually happens sometimes).

Hopeless teams, on the other hand, have multiple weaknesses, which take turns coming to the fore and sabotaging a club. Watching baseball becomes like playing a slower, more depressing version of “Clue” — will the murder turn on runners left on base in the fourth inning, bad defense in the seventh, or bad relief pitching in the 10th?

That’s the 2018 Mets. They can’t hit or field, they can’t keep their starters in the rotation, and their relievers are either DFA-level bad, having lousy seasons, or on the DL. Wednesday’s game went down the toilet when A.J. Ramos gave up a walkoff home run in the 10th, but hey, he was just Col. Mustard with the wrench in the billiard room. If it wasn’t him it would have been someone else, in some fashion, sooner or later. (Still, can we please lock Ramos and Hansel Robles [1] in a room and lose the key?)

Sigh.

The sigh is because the 2018 Mets are proving that the bad scenario above can, in fact, be worse. This next part won’t surprise anyone right now, but it’s important to record it for posterity, to be unearthed when the horrors of May 2018 have receded to some smudgy blur in memory.

Any team can be sabotaged by injuries, crap hitting, bad defense and crummy relief, but it takes a really remarkable team to make things worse by batting out of order.

The Mets did that Wednesday afternoon. Jim Riggleman [2] noticed and walked out to the home-plate umps, removing Asdrubal Cabrera [3] from second base, where he’d arrived after dumping a ground-rule double. That short-circuited a potential rally, if the term “rally” can be perverted by being connected to the 2018 Mets. (Bruce was out without seeing a pitch, with the putout credited to the Reds’ catcher, while Cabrera’s double never happened. It was nullified, which perhaps some kind person in MLB’s offices could do to this season.)

Oh, and the Mets lost [4] by the not-coincidental-seeming score of 2-1.

The screwup wasn’t unique in Mets’ lore. The ’77 team got caught batting out of order by the Padres on April 29, with Roy Staiger [5] phantom-retired by the catcher while Mike Vail [6]‘s walk got wiped away. (It’s kind of fun spotting the dirty deed on Retrosheet’s play by play [7].) The Mets have caught opponents batting out of order three times, so at least we’re ahead in something. They caught the Pirates in ’67, the Expos in ’95 and these very same Reds (or rather, utterly different Reds except for Joey Votto [8]) in ’08. (You can go down the rabbit hole here [9] if you wish.)

I remember the last one and chortling at the sheepish look on the face of Dusty Baker [10], a manager I’d come to loathe for his destruction of young arms and general air of smugness. I’d forgotten the truly Metsian detail [11], however, which was that I’d stopped chortling after realizing that Willie Randolph [12] had screwed up, noting the error by speaking up after David Ross [13] flied out. Ross, given a second chance, singled.

(Batting out of order makes everyone’s head hurt. I’ve re-read the 2008 post above and the rule [14], and it still took me half an hour to process that it was indeed the luckless Bruce who should have been called out on Wednesday, not Wilmer Flores [15]. )

Anyway, the ’67 and ’95 Mets were hot messes. The ’77 Mets and ’08 Mets were ticketed for collapses with sides of infamy. Doesn’t bode well, does it? Maybe this time around the villains will be all the Clue characters, with all the weapons, in each and every room.