As we enter Mid-May, the Mets find themselves in third place, 3 games behind the first place Phillies. Depending on who you ask, their 18-17 record can be viewed as an improvement from last year’s team or a disappointment because they have not been able to play well on the road.
Including last night’s game, the Mets have played ten consecutive games decided by two runs or less. Their record in those games is 4-6. One could argue that had the pitching been better in those games, the Mets could easily have gone 6-4 or 7-3 in that ten game stretch. However, the Mets pitching staff has for the most part overachieved, especially in the bullpen. Their six main relievers (Pedro Feliciano, Jenrry Mejia, Fernando Nieve, Francisco Rodriguez, Hisanori Takahashi and Raul Valdes) have combined to post an 8-7 record, with a 2.56 ERA.
It’s the lack of clutch hitting that has prevented the Mets from making a more significant move in the NL East. The bullpen cannot be expected to be perfect all the time, but in this recent stretch of tight games, they’ve had to be as close to perfect as possible. Had the hitters performed up to their expectations in RBI situations, the Mets might not be playing so many tight games, thus saving the bullpen from tiring themselves out before the All-Star Break.
Here are some quick facts about how the Mets hitters have underachieved this year:
Washington Nationals’ outfielder Roger Bernadina hit two home runs against the Mets on Wednesday. That means the light-hitting Bernadina hit more home runs in one game than Jason Bay has hit all year. Please note that prior to Wednesday, Bernadina had never homered in the major leagues and had hit a mere 49 HR over nine minor league seasons.
A third place hitter is usually the team’s most complete hitter. He is counted on to produce a high batting average, as well as extra-base hit power. Jose Reyes has been the Mets’ #3 hitter for the past 19 games. In those games, Reyes has only hit .218 and has a .295 slugging percentage. He has also driven in a mere six runs since becoming the #3 hitter. By contrast, since Angel Pagan took over the leadoff spot on April 23, he has hit .280 and holds a .440 slugging percentage. In those 18 games, Pagan has driven in nine runs, or three more than the #3 hitter.
Jason Bay and David Wright have combined to strike out 86 times over the team’s first 35 games. Since Reyes moved into the #3 hole, Bay and Wright have been the Mets’ #4 and #5 hitters. The 3, 4, 5 hitters are usually the heart of a team’s batting order. However, with Reyes not reaching base and Bay and Wright striking out at alarming rates, what should be the loudest part of the batting order more often than not goes out with a whimper. Meanwhile, the Mets’ #6 hitter, Ike Davis, has a .292 batting average and a .402 on-base percentage. Their #8 hitter, Rod Barajas, is leading the team in slugging with a .560 percentage.
Jerry Manuel has run out the same lineup almost every day since Reyes became the #3 hitter. But when the middle of the order isn’t reaching base, the leadoff hitter is driving in runs at a better pace than the third place hitter, the #6 hitter is the most consistent threat in the lineup and the #8 hitter is the top slugger, some shaking up has to be done in the lineup.
For one thing, Jose Reyes has to return to the leadoff spot. He is still stealing bases out of the three-hole, but that has been more counter-productive than it should be. When Reyes steals bases as the #3 hitter, it allows the opposing pitcher to pitch around Bay and Wright, knowing that there is an open base somewhere. That means fewer pitches near the middle of the plate and as a result, leads to Bay and Wright striking out more when they swing at bad pitches. If Reyes is inserted in the leadoff spot, he can steal bases at will, knowing that Luis Castillo will probably not strike out behind him (Castillo has only struck out five times in 118 plate appearances).
Jason Bay and David Wright need to be separated in the batting order, preferably by a lefty. That’s where Ike Davis comes in. His lefty bat and propensity to reach base will give headaches to opposing managers, especially in late-inning situations.
Barajas has to be moved up in the batting order. If the top power hitter on the team is hitting eighth, it won’t be long before opposing pitchers pitch around him or intentionally walk him to get to the pitcher. Back in the 90s, opposing managers used to walk Rey Ordonez to get to the pitcher. Do you think they won’t do the same to Rod Barajas if he continues to hit eighth? This would drop Jeff Francoeur to the eighth spot in the order. Until he gets out of his month-long funk (12-for-87 with no multi-hit games since the 20-inning game, .188 OBP, .207 slugging percentage), he must be dropped into the #8 spot in the batting order. Separating the righty-hitting Barajas and Francoeur would be the switch-hitting Angel Pagan.
Therefore, my proposed lineup would look like this:
- 1. Jose Reyes
- 2. Luis Castillo
- 3. David Wright
- 4. Ike Davis
- 5. Jason Bay
- 6. Rod Barajas
- 7. Angel Pagan
- 8. Jeff Francoeur
- 9. Pitcher
As the lineup currently stands, the Mets have three switch-hitters in the top three spots in the order. The next five batters are all right-handed except for Ike Davis. With my proposed lineup, the switch-hitters would be more spread out and the lefties and righties would be split up, giving opposing managers more late-inning headaches.
Also, the way the lineup is set up now, the bottom of the order is quite slow, with Davis, Francoeur and Barajas clogging up the basepaths in the 6, 7 and 8 spots. With my lineup, the Mets would not have slow runners batting consecutively. Reyes, Castillo and Wright are all capable of 20+ stolen bases at the top of the order. Instead of batting consecutively, Davis, Francoeur and Barajas would hit fourth, sixth and eighth, respectively, with Jason Bay (13 SB last year) and Angel Pagan (14 SB last year) splitting up the slow-footed trio.
Some of you might say that Ike Davis is too raw to be a cleanup hitter. That may be true, but does the streaky Jason Bay belong there in the current powerless slump he’s in? What about David Wright, with his strikeout-a-minute pace? Neither of them is playing like a true cleanup hitter. Right now, Ike Davis would make a better cleanup hitter than both of them and probably belongs in the fourth spot in the batting order.
Right now, Jerry Manuel appears set with his lineup of Pagan, Castillo, Reyes, Bay, Wright, Davis, Francoeur and Barajas. However, if they continue to disappoint in the clutch, something’s going to have to change. The bullpen can’t continue to be as good as it’s been this season. They’re already showing signs of cracking, with the two walk-off homers given up in Cincinnati and last night’s walk-off win on the wild pitch by Fernando Nieve, who was in his second inning of work. It was also his 22nd appearance in the Mets’ first 35 games, putting him on pace to appear in over 100 games. (The major league record for appearances by a pitcher is 106 by Mike Marshall in 1974.) What happens when they all come back to earth?
Things could get ugly in a hurry if the team doesn’t begin to hit. The pitching will not be able to keep them above .500 much longer if they don’t start hitting. A change in the lineup must be made before the Mets fall further behind in the standings. I’ve suggested the lineup I feel would be the most successful. What lineup do you think would be the best fit for the Mets?