It started on April 13, 2017 – a win in Miami against the Marlins.
The Mets’ bullpen turned in 10 1/3 scoreless innings after a disastrous Robert Gsellman start. The Mets scored a run in the top of the 16th thanks to a home run by Travis d’Arnaud and the team seemed on its way.
With a 7-3 start, undefeated on the road and a seemingly solid bullpen, the Mets were primed for huge things in 2017.
However, what appeared to be a bright moment turned out to be a curse in disguise. Eight pitchers appeared in that game, which would prove to be a recurring theme for the Mets in the weeks that followed.
The bullpen, that had turned in such a great performance despite missing its closer Jeurys Familia due to suspension, began to falter.
The Mets dropped the last three games of that series with relief pitchers taking the loss in all three contests, and the downward trend of the bullpen began.
All told, the bullpen has pitched to a 4.54 ERA and has suffered 12 losses in the team’s first 53 games, which accounts for 40% of the team’s total losses of 30.
Appearances by key members of that bullpen have become alarming and staggering.
Jerry Blevins has been summoned in 29 of the Mets’ first 53 games, Addison Reed and Fernando Salas have seen action in 28 games and Josh Edgin has gotten the phone call from the dugout 26 times. Even Robles and Smoker, who have both done stints in the minor leagues, have managed to be summoned 21 times and 17 times, respectively.
The large amount of appearances has resulted in a predictable effect – rising ERAs and piles of losses.
Mets fans have clamored that Sandy Alderson messed this bullpen up in the offseason as he “didn’t add any arms.”
But in the moment, it seemed that it would be okay, with a piece maybe having to be added mid-season to round it out for the stretch run.
It was supposed to get one of the best closers in baseball in Familia back after 15 games, it had Addison Reed who was one of baseball’s best setup men, Jerry Blevins, the up and down but largely effective Hansel Robles. There was also supposed to be a slew of young options that were supposed to include the loser of the fifth starter competition between Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.
What followed was a two-fold problem: injuries and babying of the starting rotation and Terry Collins managing every game like its game seven of the World Series.
The cautiousness in handling the rotation is understandable. Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler are coming off major surgeries. There is an unwillingness, with good reason, to rush Lugo or Matz back from injury an Robert Gsellman has just been flat out bad.
However, Collins continues to compound the issue.
When the Mets have a big lead, he goes to the triumvirate of Blevins, Reed and Salas. When it is a small lead he goes to Blevins, Reed and Salas, and when it is a small deficit he calls for the same three arm again.
Instead of saving these relievers for when it matters most, Collins is inclined to use Blevins with a huge lead, but summons newly-acquired, downtrodden Neil Ramirez in the heat of things and suffers the repercussions.
When Salas lost effectiveness, he proceeded to burn out Robles who now finds himself in Triple-A Las Vegas after his predictable flame-out.
When the same cast of characters is summoned every night, they give up runs and you are forced to use secondary options later in games, and with the game on the line.
Mets fans have watched the Marlins, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Pirates all walk-off to victories against secondary relievers this season.
Luckily, Terry Collins has found another arm to abuse; the suddenly effective Paul Sewald. Sewald, who showed some promise in Spring Training, has filled a major void in the past few weeks in Collins’ pen.
The reliever has already been asked to work multiple innings on one night, and then a high-leverage situation the very next day.
The increased work load appears to have gotten the better of Sewald as he was tagged for 5 earned runs in 1/3 of an inning to open the series against the Pirates.
Sometimes, you have to lose a battle to win a war. That doesn’t mean throwing games, it means sometimes, you can’t go to the same well every night.