Friday, June 08, 2007

Bullpen Strikes Out

All three games played out in similar fashion for the Mets. It exposed a potential Met weakness, the bullpen, and then the Phillies made sure to reinforce the weakness repeatedly, leading to a 3-game sweep at Shea. Even the previously untouchable Billy Wagner saw his 31 consecutive save streak broken.

The recipe was simple, yet disconcerting. Great starting pitching shutting the Phillies down for six or seven innings, a decimated lineup struggling to scratch out two or three runs, then the bullpen handing the game away in the late innings. With a season-high four-game losing streak, and both Atlanta and Philadelphia now in the division race, the Mets are showing chinks in the armor.

Before anyone jumps off the Williamsburg Bridge, the entire Mets outfield is mash unit. The replacements are even injured. Carlos Beltran returned this week, though still slowed by the knee injury, Shawn Green and Moises Alou, both hitting well earlier in the season, remain out, and Endy Chavez popped a hamstring on Wednesday night. When the Mets starting lineup has the likes of David Newhan, Carlos Gomez, Ben Johnson, and a rotating door at 2B, I would not worry if they struggle to score for a few days. Worry when Beltran, Alou, and Green are at full strength.

Beneath the losses and problems is exceptional starting pitching. El Duque continues to wiggle out of trouble and put zeroes on the board, John Maine has bounced back from a few bad outings, Glavine remains solid, and Perez and Sosa lead the early Comeback Player voting. Good starting pitching day in and day out wins out in the long run.

The bullpen, on the other hand, is cause for concern. Willie does not have a reliable setup formula yet, with Heilman failing in the eighth, Schoenweis sporting an ERA close to 6, and the formerly unhittable combo of Joe Smith and Pedro Feliciano coming back to earth. Someone needs to step up and take over the eighth inning role, and quick.

Whether Aaron Heilman wants to be a starter or not, he is in the bullpen and better start pitching up to his ability. Those claiming his desire to start is the cause of his poor bullpen performance are crazy. I doubt that Heilman is thinking about starting when he takes the mound late in the game. Another theory I heard advanced this week by SNY’s Ron Darling, that Heilman may still be haunted after serving up the game winning homer in the NLCS last season, makes a little more sense.

The baseball season is a long and winding road. With the second best record in the league, and a 3 ½ game division lead over another injury riddled team, even with half the starting lineup injured, and slow starts by two of their star hitters, the Mets are fine. And if the bullpen continues to fail, Omar will address it.


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