The Nats head to New York to face the faded and no-account New York Chokes after being swept in three games in Philadelphia. The latest instance of Nats futility was a 4-2 sigh at the hands of Phuzzie lefty Cole Hamels, who appears to have returned to his 2008 end-of-season form. Hamels, pitching like he meant it, had a perfect game through five. Up and down all season, Hamels attributed his good outing to the heat of the pennant race: “I think it’s being able to go out there, knowing what’s at stake,” he said following his outing. “I think anytime September rolls around, and fortunately enough, I’ve been here when we’ve had to win every game. You still have to go out there.” Hamels was aided in his victory by the continued no-show of Washington lumber: Guzman, Zimmerman and Willingham were a combined 2 for twelve against the lefty (Dunn, the only Anacostia bopper who’s actually hitting was given the night off), bringing the middle-of-the-order Nats to a stunning 2 for 27 over the last two games. If there was any good news from the last game of the sweep it was that Ross Detwiler looked passably competent: pitching five innings of four hit ball — for his sixth loss without a win.
The New York Stinks host the Nationals today on the heels of a five game losing streak, which included a just-yesterday three game sweep at the hands of the Chops, and a record of 1-9 over their last ten games. The good news for Mets fans is that they won’t have to suffer through a September collapse this year: they did that all the way back in June. The Mets are in terrible shape. Unlike the Nats, they don’t seem to have a firebrand prospect (Ian Desmond) wowy-zowing the crowd, or a potential game-changing hatchling (Stephen Strasburg) waiting to flap his wings, or a tested and still-young lumberjack (Adam Dunn) that can put the horsehide in the cheap seats. Even the most tried and truly tested Chokes’ fanatics are desperate. We here at CFG say that advisedly because the last time we talked about the Chokes at any great length there were riots in New York. We had to put on our kevlar. We had to call in airstrikes. Even so, we’ll give it another try: so what should the Mets do.
Over at The Real Dirty Mets Blog, Rusty has been going on about shaking up the dugout — a “bold move” that would change the tectonics of Citi Field and give the Moribunds some hope. His recommendation? Bring in Orel Hershiser. Not a bad idea. Hershiser has been in the running for a number of managerial posts (Rusty points out) and he was “a thinking man’s pitcher.” Hershiser might, in fact, be the spark the Mets need to shake up the on-field operations. What I mean to say is this: Jerry Manuel has lost faith in his players, and they’ve returned the favor. Manuel has made a hash of the season (injuries or no injuries) and he’s flapped his mouth on so many things so often that it’s hard to figure out what he really thinks. Worse yet, he doesn’t know how to handle the kids.
In truth, the great collapsable Mets don’t have many young stars that could form the nucleus of a future pennant winner, but even if they did Jerry wouldn’t know what to do with them. I’ll give you three examples. There was a lot riding on Mets Daniel “can’t miss” Murphy this year. The Chokes needed a big bat from one of their youngsters and Murphy was picked to supply it. Unfortunately, after 27 games the Mets’ brain trust (Manuel concurring) decided that Danny boy couldn’t play left (they called him “a disaster”), so they switched him and his leather rag to first, in the apparent belief that playing first is easier. As recently as early August, the Mets were trumpeting what a fantastic move the switch had been. But the shine has worn off and when Murphy made two errors on Wednesday, you could hear the groans all the way to Secaucus. Then too, Murphy’s ”big bat” has disappeared: going AWOL at just about the same time that the genius’s in the Mets front office decided that DM would look great at first.
The same kind of thing happened to Bobby Parnell, who began his career as a whiz-bang reliever, giving so much hope to Mets’ faithful that they were charting the World Series parade route down Broadway. The Mets finally had the one thing that might have saved them from the Tsunami of their 2007 season: a home grown reliever who enjoyed his job and did it well. So what did the Mets do? They spent a boatload of money on a couple of free agent relievers and took Bobby out of the bullpen and made him a starter: in the belief that anyone who’s a good reliever will be an even better starter. So, how’s that worked out? Since arriving on the mound, Parnell’s ERA is 5.60 and Jerry and Company keep talking about how he’s “a work in progress.” Most recently, the Chokes announced that “the experiment” was over and that Parnell was back behind the fence in center. It was the right decision. No doubt about it. But, as usual, the also-rans did it in exactly the wrong way: they treated it like a demotion. Mets fans blame Parnell for his failure as a starter. Jerry Manuel blames Parnell for his failure as a starter. The GM blames Parnell for his failure as a starter. Now they’ve set him up to fail as a reliever. Guess what: it’s not his fault.
Then there’s Mike Pelfry. The way the Mets have handled Pelfrey tells us all we need to know about the problems with the team. Pelfrey is the one guy (he’s 25) who has the kind of stuff and tenacity the Mets need. He throws hard and shrugs off losses with an I’ll-get-em-next-time attitude. Along with his better-than-average stuff, he’s a gamer who’s only going to get better. Strangely, that’s not good enough for Jerry and Company, who lost faith in Pelfrey in early September after a rocky outing against the . . . Rockies. And things haven’t been quite the same since. This is classic Mets stuff: one or two bad outings and Manuel starts looks like he’s about the weep, the front office issues reassurances to the fans that next year’ll be different and Fred Wilpon passes out radiation sickness tablets. It’s almost as if they’re signaling to Pelfrey that unless he pitches like Johan Santana he’s just no damn good.
But all is not lost. There’s hope in Metsland. Jose Reyes (once the best shortstop in the game) will return in 2010. As will Carlos Beltran. Eric, over a The Real Dirty Mets Blog, thinks that, because of the injuries to Reyes and Beltran in 2009, the Mets won’t trade them, but will try to win with them next year. They’re good, very good — and they’re the core. They’ll give it one more shot. But Eric adds: “I believe that next year will be the last for the core unless they win.” Will they? There’s a reason why you never hear the phrase “good team, bad shortstop,” and it’s because the heart of any winner is the guy up the middle with the soft hands. Reyes has that, and the bat to go with it. If he’s anything like he was just three years ago, the Mets will instantly improve. Add Beltran, a still-in-his-prime long ball hitter and game changer and the Mets (with Johan and Maine and a healthy bullpen) are (arguably) a better-than-.500 team and good enough to challenge for the wild card. But here’s the thing: even with all of that, the Mets need a change in culture and they need it desperately. They might want to start in the dugout.