As with the rest of the team, the Mets pitching staff has been hit by injuries to some of its key moundsmen. Two of the projected starting five (Oliver Perez and John Maine) and one of their key bullpen acquisitions (J.J. Putz) are currently on the disabled list. Despite all this, the Mets have remained near the top of the standings in the National League East, only two games behind the first place Philadelphia Phillies. The remaining pitchers have shouldered some of the load, contributing key victories in much-needed moments (Thank you, Fernando Nieve and Livan Hernandez). So I ask you, which pitcher do you think is leading the Mets in losses? Would you believe it if I said it was Johan Santana?
Santana suffered his team-leading fifth loss of the season today against the Tampa Bay Rays, losing to fellow ace “Big Game” James Shields by the final score of 3-1. Any doubts about his health were quelled by his performance, as he held the Rays to two runs on three hits and three walks before rain cut his outing short after 7 1/3 innings. Tampa Bay did not collect its first hit until Jason Bartlett lined a double to left with one out in the fifth inning. Again, a solid performance could not be rewarded with a win, as the Mets failed to capitalize on Santana’s return to form after the worst outing of his career Sunday against the Yankees. The Mets could only muster four hits and did not draw a walk against Shields, former Met Dan Wheeler and J.P. Howell. What can the Mets possibly do to help Santana get the wins he deserves?
No, Johan. You don’t have to resort to higher powers to get the team to hit for you. They should just be able to do it on their own. However, that appears to be easier said than done. Including today’s game, ‘Han the Man has made 14 starts. In those 14 starts, the Mets have scored only 45 runs, an average of 3.2 runs per start. That includes the May 16 game against the Giants in which the Mets scored nine runs. Throwing that obvious fluke of a game out (the hitters must have forgotten who was on the mound for them that day), the Mets have scored 36 runs in Santana’s other 13 starts, an average of 2.8 runs per start. Meanwhile, in the 52 games not started by Johan Santana, the Mets have plated 259 runs. That averages out to just about five runs per game! By contrast, last year the Mets scored 161 runs in Johan’s 34 starts (4.7 runs per game). The added run support in 2008 led to a 16-7 record that could have been 23-7 had the Mets’ relievers not blown seven of his leads.
Johan Santana has been a fine pitcher for the Mets this season, but he has not been perfect. His debacle last Sunday against the Yankees proves that. However, if the team does not hit while he is on the mound, Johan is forced to be as close to perfect as possible in order for the Mets to have a chance to win the game. When Johan can’t be his usual ace self, a 15-love blowout become a possibility. No pitcher should have to go out to the mound knowing that he might be in trouble if he gives up one run.
Barring any postponements due to weather, Johan’s next start will be Thursday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals. He will be opposed by the Cards’ ace, former Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter. If the Mets forget to put on their hitting shoes, Johan may be forced to do it all by himself again. The preacher has spoken. Has the congregation been listening?