Sweep at hands of Yankees puts spotlight on weaknesses of frustrated Mets

Tim Byrdak does fine Sunday, but the Mets bullpen has been a problem most of the season. (US Presswire)

NEW YORK -- The Yankees are up, the Mets are down. While we've seen this act many times before -- the Mets have lost six of seven games while the Yankees have done just the opposite -- the team from Queens is taking it hard this time.

Following the Yankees' 5-4 come-from-behind victory that completed the Subway Series sweep, the Mets were quite upset about the situation.

"Angry," was the one-word answer Mets manager Terry Collins provided to describe the temperature of the team afterward.

And indeed, they were.
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Jon Rauch -- the Mets' beleaguered reliever who surrendered Russell Martin's second home run of the game, a walk-off shot in the ninth inning -- gave clipped responses to just about every question. Here are some examples: "Obviously, I wasn't looking to throw it where I threw it ... I've been pretty horse---- this year ... It pisses me off I'm not doing my job ... What do you think? ... Were you guys watching the game?"

The Mets, who lived the game, maybe their most unfortunate in a surprisingly positive overall start to their year, were angry they failed to secure a victory for starting pitcher Jon Niese, who was brilliant and led 3-0 into the seventh inning.

They were angry to fail to make the plays (star third baseman David Wright made a throwing error that preceded Russ Martin's first home run, and fill-in shortstop Omar Quintanilla let a Jeter bleeder dribble under his glove and into the outfield to start the Yankees' two-run eighth inning rally).

And though Mets people weren't about to say this, they couldn't have been too thrilled to see the Yankees, the team with the near-$200 million payroll, catch the breaks. Martin's first home run smacked off the front of the top of the right-field wall before bounding over the fence. Alex Rodriguez's fisted pop fly barely cleared a drawn-in infield and landed near the right-field line to drive in a go-ahead run in the eighth inning.

A-Rod passed Eddie Murray on the all-time RBI list with that freak jam shot. The Mets could only despair over it.

The Yankees were understandably pleased about where they are now. "We've been playing well for quite some time now," Jeter said, confidently.

Meanwhile, the Mets continue the horror stretch of their schedule, with consecutive games against four more winning teams -- the Rays, Reds, Orioles and Yankees again -- before finally getting a well-earned late-June respite against the downtrodden, better-luck-next-year Cubs.

But beyond the standings, the streaks and the stats, were some Subway subplots. Such as ...

1. Ike Davis is stuck in the majors.

Ike Davis' continuing standing as a Met has confounded many a Mets watcher as he has hovered somewhere around the .160 mark for weeks. But it was explained thusly to me:
  • A. The Mets are hoping for him to recapture what he showed in 2010 and early 2011.
  • B. They have no good alternatives. (Letter B might be the key one here.)
Jason Bay's activation, though, would seem to provide a chance to rethink that position. Sure, Bay has begun 0 for 11 since coming off the disabled list, but the Mets look pretty crowded in the outfield and could move Lucas Duda to first base.

Davis didn't start against veteran lefthander Andy Pettitte on Sunday but hit a game-tying double when he entered the game, lifting his average to .167 and providing hope. "I hope Ike Davis is getting going. It looks like he is," the ever-optimistic Collins said.

Sounds like they might keep hoping. For a few more days, anyway.

2. Johan Santana got shelled. Now what?

There was no way Collins could remove Johan Santana during his brilliant, historic no-hitter. Probably no manager could have done it. But now we are into the aftermath, and Santana allowed a career-worst four home runs here Friday, inviting some second guessing. Collins gave Santana an extra two days rest, which wasn't a bad idea. Though Collins took the hits for Santana's off game, saying Santana was "rusty," maybe in reality he should have played it even more conservatively. "I was thinking he'd skip Santana's turn," one rival NL executive said. Santana has no regrets. And more important, he says he has no ill effects, either (not that he would ever admit it if he did.) "It's been a long, long road for me. I'm good," Santana told CBSSports.com Sunday. "I'm still working. That's never done." Meanwhile, the glow of the incredible game lingers. Santana summarizes the Big Apple reaction in one word: "Amazing."

3. "The Yankees can't hit."

Well, that's the way one Yankees person put it. That person was meaning only that they can't hit in the clutch.

In what might be the strangest stat in New York baseball this year, the Yankees are batting .221 with runners in scoring position but a full 51 points higher when no runners are on base. Stranger still, Eduardo Nunez, hitting .625 with RISP before he was sent to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, and backup catcher Chris Stewart, have been the best of the Yankees in those situations (almost the only really good ones, in fact), while Robinson Cano, one of the best hitters in the game, has been about the worst. Cano is at .145 with runners in scoring position.

4. The Mets can't hit.

Well lately, they can't anyway. "We're concerned," said Collins, the anti-Girardi in that Collins will concede his concerns. "We're not swinging the bats the way we can."

Collins mentioned that it is the young guys who can do better, though the reality is they are mostly young guys. Daniel Murphy took a 3-for-30 slide into the game, for instance, and like Ike was 1 for 1. That's still 4 for 31, which is a slump, even by Ike's standards.

5. The Yankees can pitch.

The Yankees starters continue to pump out quality start after quality start and now tote an ERA below 2 over their past 10 games, with veteran pitching coach Larry Rothschild doing his usual excellent job. (Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen is, too.) The Yankees' starters are doing so well -- and that includes slow-starting Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes -- that there's a question now whether the Yankees will make their usual July inquiries into the starting pitching market. At this point, actually an outfielder might be of more use. Brett Gardner's string of setbacks means that the Yankees might need a left fielder instead (Carlos Quentin?).

6. The Mets need some help in the pen.

Rauch was probably overstating his troubles at a low moment. Putting aside his unsightly six defeats, he and closer Frank Francisco have done about as well as expected manning the back end. However, the other haven't even done that well. Bobby Parnell, who has been undermined by six errors while he's in there, was in for the Quintanilla misplay but also allowed four hits to the four hitters he faced. Manny Acosta retired hardly anyone before being dispatched, and rookie Elvin Ramirez has looked a bit nervous since coming up, allowing seven walks and pitching to a 13.50 ERA in his first four innings.

Overall, the Mets' pen ERA is 5.46, 30th best of 30 teams in baseball. Even worse, that's a full run worse than the 29th-best team.

The Mets' pen looks like it could use an overhaul. Of course, they already had one in the winter, when the main components were acquired, including Francisco and Rauch.
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