In 2007, I was concerned that the Mets were not taking advantage of lesser teams when they had the chance, thus making September a "must-win" month. And what d'ya know? They lost the division on the last day of the season. It was more than just that one game. There were games in the course of the season they should have won and did not.
The bullpen was clearly falling apart in 2008, especially in critical games down the stretch, I said that this team would not go anywhere without a stronger bullpen. Omar Minaya in an interview recently (of course I can't find the link, so this is not verbatim) that bullpens don't win championships. They may not; however, I have seen them lose championships.
I said that while trading for Johan Santana was probably the smartest move ever made by Minaya, the loss of prospects, even if they didn't pan out, needed to be replaced. Moises Alou and his brittle body, for example, would not figure in. His salary and roster space really killed the team in 2008, and I swear had after-effects later on. His bat was needed but not exercising his option really hurt the team when they needed to go after a big bat. Instead of that, they should have gone after an Aaron Rowand or Jayson Werth-type of player. Who, by the way, were huge difference makers on the Phillies.
Sometimes a marquee player or pitcher is not the "gamer." Mets needed one of those.
I have gone on a tangent. My point is, the Mets are on a tear right now, and headed into Philly in first place. Sole possession, a half game over Philly. The team has swept two series against the hated Braves and the flailing Dodgers, and won SEVEN IN A ROW.
Life is good, right?
Of course it is. I am happy as a clam, regarding my life as a Mets fan, and I hope they continue the progress in Philly. They friggin better!
My concern is not for now, but for later though. And it's Jerry Manuel's overuse and misuse of the bullpen so far this year.
Right now, for whatever it's worth, the bullpen has been the apple of our eyes not an eyesore as it usually is for us Mets fans. They've been holding leads, they've been winning games and overall, just SAVING the starting pitching, as they are wont to do. This is unusual for us Mets fans. We are just not used to it!
I'm thinking...we should not get used to it. The way we are using certain relievers, unless they are eating their Wheaties sprinkled with HGH, their arms are going to fall off in no uncertain terms.
Until the starting pitching can give us 7-8 strong innings (I'm looking at YOU, Oliver Perez, and well, John Maine gets a reprieve for being damn fine in yesterday's game against the Dodgers), I'm worried about the longevity of the bullpen.
Ryota Igarashi is already on the DL, a fluke injury while fielding a ball. Hisanori Takahashi, in my eyes, should be starting which means either Oh Pea or John Maine would be converted to be long-men in the 'pen. You and I both know those scenarios will never happen. I guess the coming of Darren Oliver II is a good thing, no?
If Pedro Feliciano is "Perpetual Pedro", then call Fernando Nieve "Frequent Fernando" (this name was coined by GK&R the other night. It will have to do for now). Feliciano aint going anywhere, but Nieve has been overused in this short season already. He's been used in 14 games, slightly ahead of P.P. at 12 games. At this rate, Nieve is on track to be in 84 games. In 2009, P.P. appeared in 88 games, but bear in mind, he is established as a LOOGY already. Does Nieve even have an established "specialty" as a "specialty pitcher?" Does that make Nieve the "ROOGY?" I'm serious. I guess Manuel has established roles in the 'pen, but I'm not even sure the 'pen is aware of them (excepting Feliciano, who is who he is).
By the same token, Nieve's IP is not that high, averaging about an inning a game, which is still more taken over an entire season what P.P. did last year. At that track, even with 84 games, it will still be slightly lower than his max in 2006 of 96.1. According to Baseball-reference.com, the most games he's appeared in was 40 in 2006 for the Astros, and 11 of those were starts. Something to chew on.
Don't get me started on Jenrry Mejia. He should be starting in AAA. Boom. End of story. He is already being used in mop-up duty in blow out games (luckily, on the Mets end). On one hand, sure, he is learning the ropes. But what he needs to work on is STAMINA if the Mets are truly serious about him being an elite starter in the future.
The only bullpen arm I am not overly concerned with is K-Rod, however he's appeared in 10 games, only three saves to show for it. I think it was evident Mets fans were pissed off over his blatant misuse in the 20-inning debacle in St. Louis a few Saturdays ago, when he threw something 100 pitches in warming up. I'm sorry, is Manuel just NOT aware of restraints in using his bullpen arms? That is just common sense, is it not? I would hope so.
I hate to get alarmist, especially this early in the season. However, I do not think I am AS bad as some fan friends I have, who are basically ready to print World Series tickets now! I am enjoying the wins, I like how the offense seems to be clicking at this point, I am even enjoying the starting pitching which has been gangbusters. It is simply too soon to talk about playoffs, when in recent years, we couldn't even realistically talk about it in September.
As Mets fans can attest, the bullpen has always been a sore spot in previous years and they do seem to be clicking. Could this be the year they keep their shit together? Or will it just falter in the stretch from overuse this early in the season? I don't have a crystal ball but I can pull something out of my ass right now and tell you, I am concerned about that very thought later in the season.
Therefore, I am calling the bullpen a major X-factor in this series and down stretch this year. If we can stretch their use out and get more bang for our buck, then they will make the team.
Their overuse could break them. Not even the most powerful offense can help a flailing bullpen.
The Coop abides.