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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Nightly Quest for Precious Outs

The basics of Tuesday night’s game all look good in the recapping.

The Mets scored seven runs, powered by homers from Brandon Nimmo and Francisco Lindor, All-Stars in our hearts even if they aren’t accorded that status next week. Nimmo’s homer was a summer-night special, an apparent fly ball that got high up into the humid air and just kept going until there was nowhere for it to go that didn’t involve souvenirs; Lindor’s was a laser beam over the fence in right center, one AB after he just missed a prodigious blast into the upper reaches of the Coca-Cola Corner. Harrison Bader chipped in three hits as the Mets treated Jake Irvin and his suddenly ordinary curveball rudely. On the pitching side, Jose Quintana stymied the Nats for seven sparkling innings … or OK, six sparkling innings and one that was a struggle but turned out fine. Even more impressive was that it was Quintana’s second straight start against Washington, continuing an extended run that’s seen him quietly go from another exasperating nibbler to rotation stalwart. Edwin Diaz needed four pitches to lock down the save.

So why the air of dread? It’s because of what happened between Quintana’s departure and Diaz’s arrival. The eighth inning was handed over to Adam Ottavino, who gave up a double and then a homer, recorded a flyout and then was excused further duty after hitting a batter. Dedniel Nunez cleaned up Ottavino’s mess, but the ninth inning was basically a carbon copy of the eighth, only with Reed Garrett on the mound: double, homer, strikeout, groundout, walk. That walk was what got Diaz summoned on a night the Mets had led 6-0 and it seemed unlikely that their closer would have to throw a pitch in anger.

Except it didn’t seem that unlikely, now did it? The bullpen has imploded, and it isn’t one thing so much as it’s everything. There are guys pushed up the ladder higher than they’ve ever been because other guys are out for the year. There are young players who aren’t ready. There are veterans struggling to find the right formula. There are guys whose pitches have lost their crispness because, well, their arms are falling off. And then there’s Diaz himself, a cracked vessel from which multiple dramas are leaking.

Nunez is the pitcher to be trusted right now, but that’s setting ourselves up for disappointment: He’s never done this before and is being sorely worked. For where that can lead, look at Garrett, who was so dependable before excess mileage took a bite out of his splitter. Perhaps Phil Maton can help: He was just acquired from the Rays and has seen success under the playoff lights in his days as an Astro. On the other hand he walks too many guys, a bullpen quality the Mets aren’t exactly lacking.

Perhaps Maton is the answer. Perhaps Ottavino can figure something out. Perhaps Nunez keeps it up. Perhaps a more judicious workload helps Garrett and Jake Diekman find their way. Perhaps Jose Butto steps up into a more essential role. Perhaps Adrian Houser‘s up-and-down season is headed for another up. Perhaps Diaz exorcises his demons. Perhaps Eric Orze shakes off his star-crossed debut and winds up with a non-infinite ERA. Perhaps Matt Gage is the answer, even though none of us could pick him out of a police lineup.

Perhaps perhaps perhaps. So much spaghetti, so much wall. What we know right now is the Mets face a nightly quest for precious outs. On Tuesday night they needed six, and getting them was hair-raising. Some nights they need nine, or 12, or 13 or 14. Sometimes their quest ends happily, as it did Tuesday night. Sometimes it doesn’t. Whatever the outcome, it’s a source of constant peril.

We need a hero. But those can be hard to find, and even harder to keep.

13 comments to The Nightly Quest for Precious Outs

  • Eric

    The streaky Mets are the epitome of a .500 team with strengths and weaknesses that balance out.

    It’s easy to forget now that the bullpen was the team’s relative strength early on. Like you said, many of those early contributors are now injured, gone, or overworked. Who knows how long Nunez can be counted on until he goes the way of Garrett and the league figures him out or he’s exhausted. Houser: June ERA 1.08, July ERA 10.80. Diaz is still more his 2019 than 2022 version, minus a few MPH on his fastball.

    I’m not as upset about the Orze move as most Mets fans. With his 75-pitch count, Scott wasn’t going more than 1 more out in his start. He was pulled with 2 outs, no one on. A bullpen ought to be able to record the 3rd out before giving up 5 runs in the inning. If the collapse hadn’t happened in the 6th inning, I can’t say with confidence that the same sequence of relievers would have done better working with 1 less out starting in the seventh inning.

    As far as looking for relievers, the Mets DFA’ed Lucchesi to make room for Maton. If the Mets have so much starting pitching depth in the organization that they can afford to waste a veteran back-up like Lucchesi to take a flyer on Maton, it seems to me that more of the Mets depth starters should be pressed into service as relievers like Butto, who deserves to be a starter as much as Scott. They don’t even have to be pitching well right now as starters in AA or AAA. Good relievers are often subpar starters whose stuff plays up out of the bullpen.

  • eric1973

    Jason, the way you turn your phrases is incomparable, and if that’s good, then you’re that.

    Maton should fit right in with this crew, he of the lifetime ERA over 4.

    A third out by Scott is worth 20 pitches from this bullpen, reason enough to keep him in to get that out.

    So let’s get this straight:
    Alonso may be traded because this bullpen sucks. Otherwise, we would be right up there.

    If home plate was 45 feet away, Garrett’s and Diaz’ pitches would have all been strikes.

  • Curt Emanuel

    What I find impressive is we are perfectly mediocre – you couldn’t get more average than the Mets right now. A .500 record and a zero run differential; no plus, no minus. Sometimes you can tell when the universe comes into alignment.

  • Wheaties54321

    The Mets are not mediocre. With Alvarez back in the everyday mix, they’ve transformed into a team dedicated to excellence, shedding the old culture of accepting mediocrity and getting punked (though McNeil and Alonso IMO still have to prove they belong in this new era). The team meeting sparked this change, uniting a group of talented players into a cohesive, determined unit.

    Let’s assess each function:

    Lineup: With Lindor and Nimmo at the top and Alvarez’s presence combined with Vientos’ power from the 6 or 7 spot, the lineup is one of the deepest in baseball.

    Starting Pitching: While not elite, it’s reliable with acceptable depth – a valuable strength in today’s MLB. Plus, Senga’s likely return is promising.

    Defense: This has become a strength, led by the up-the-middle group of Bader, Lindor, Torrens/Alvarez, and Candelita/McNeil.

    Bullpen: Despite being a glaring weakness and a source of genuine frustration, I’m confident the FO recognizes the team’s improvements in other areas and will address the bullpen issues by the trade deadline.

    • Eric

      .500 is a “perfectly mediocre” record, but there are different ways to be a .500 team. As you point out, the Mets have distinct strengths and weaknesses. Repress their strengths, and their weaknesses make the Mets look like a bottom-dweller. Repress their weaknesses, and their strengths make the Mets look like a contender. They’ve done both with long streaks that have alternated making the Mets look like one of the bottom and top teams in baseball, and summed up to a mediocre record. But they’re not a mediocre team. The Mets are a streaky team, one that could go on a post-season Cinderella run…if they can get themselves there.

  • Michael in CT

    Is Alonso too preoccupied with his pending free agency and trying to prove he deserves a mammoth contract? He would have been better off just signing a nice contract with the Mets, which he says he wants to stay with, and get back to hitting bombs. But then he wouldn’t have hired Boras.

    • Wheaties54321

      I don’t have any doubt contract pressure is impacting Alonso’s performance.

      • Seth

        Oh darn. I would have preferred having a team of professional baseball players that don’t let a few million get in the way of high performance. Oh well, you can’t have everything I guess.

  • Ben Z

    There’s a LOLMets tweet going around pointing out that the Mets are the only team that hasn’t shut out an opponent yet this year. I thought with Quintana’s performance they might finally get their shutout, but of course it was not to be. And Twitter/X also informs me that the Mets now have a 93-game streak without a shutout, tied for second place in team history with May 26-Sept. 8, 2004. But there’s still a long way to go to break the franchise record of 118 games, going back to May 24-Sept. 30, 1982. And yet this team seems so much better than the ones in ’82 and ’04… well, except for that pesky bullpen.

    • Seth

      They probably, overall, have a worse pitching staff this year than anyone can remember. This is the first year my admittedly faulty memory can recall going in without at least 1 “ace” in the starting rotation. With Senga being unavailable this was a patchwork rotation from the start. Then there’s the “bullpen” (and I use the term loosely)… so I’m not surprised there have been no shutouts.

  • Orange and blue through and through

    Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil are performing like players who want their mail delivered to other cities.

  • LeClerc

    At this point, Alonso has market value.

    McNeil plays excellent infield defense – but his hitting skills have apparently deserted him.

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