As Major League Baseball moves into its All-Star Break, it's time to reflect on the Mets and what they need to do to improve the team in the second half. Whereas many people have been clamoring for another starting pitcher before the trading deadline on July 31, I don't think that's the answer. In fact, I think the team just needs to improve some things internally, things that have nothing or very little to do with starting pitching.
The Mets enter the All-Star Break trailing the Braves by four games in the National League East. Upon doing some research, I noticed the following things that have contributed to the gap between the two rivals in the division.
The Mets are 19-28 in games decided by two runs or less (10-15 in one-run games; 9-13 in two-run games). At the same time, the Braves are 22-20 in those games (14-12 in one-run games; 8-8 in two-run games).
The Mets have held their opponent to one run or less 22 times this season. They're 22-0 in those games, meaning that they're 26-40 when they give up two runs or more. Meanwhile, the Braves are 13-1 when they give up one run or less but they're 39-35 when they allow two runs or more.
The Mets have won three games in walk-off fashion, while painfully losing ten games in the opponents' final at-bat. The Braves have been quite successful in games that end in a walk-off, winning eight games in a walk-off, while losing only four.
The Mets have come from behind to win 11 games this season, while blowing the lead in 18 of their losses. On the other hand, the Braves have registered 25 comeback wins this season, while only losing 16 games in which they had the lead.
Many teams can expect to have a winning record in games where they give up anywhere from 2 to 5 runs in a game. The Mets are 21-21 in those such games. What about the Braves? You guessed it. The Braves are 36-21 when they allow anywhere from 2 to 5 runs in a game.
Francisco Rodriguez has pitched in 42 games this year. In 33 of those appearances, he pitched exactly one inning. In 13 of those 33 appearances, he faced a minimum of five batters. That means he has allowed a minimum of two baserunners in almost 40% of his one-inning outings. What about those nine appearances in which he did not pitch exactly one inning? He's far worse in those outings. In six of those nine appearances (67%), he allowed two baserunners or more. That includes last week's debacle against the Nationals where he faced seven batters and only retired one of them.
K-Rod has faced the minimum in only 14 of his 42 appearances. As a result, he has thrown fewer than 10 pitches in only four of those 42 appearances (including today's eight-pitch save against the Braves), while throwing at least 20 pitches in 16 of those games.
So how can the Mets improve their team in the second half of the season? Looking at the information above, it's pretty simple.
The Mets have to be able to pull out the close games. There have been too many times this year when a starting pitcher's best efforts have been wasted because the offense remained dormant. At the same time, on days when the bullpen has been needed to keep games close, they have failed too many times, especially on the road (hence the unusually high number of walk-off losses). Scoring early and often will allow starting pitchers to pitch without having extra pressure attached to every pitch and will allow Jerry Manuel to use his bullpen sparingly, not having to overuse certain relievers.
Whenever the opposing team scores first, the Mets must respond quickly before the game gets out of hand. How many times have we seen the Mets fall behind by four or five runs, only to mount a late-inning comeback that eventually falls short (yet another reason for their less-than-stellar record in games decided by two runs or less)? If the Mets would start coming back as soon as they fall behind, they'd have more innings in which to mount their comeback, instead of having to do it in one big swoop. By starting rallies earlier in games, there is a better chance that these rallies come against a less effective middle reliever instead of the more effective set-up men, lefty specialists and closers.
Although Francisco Rodriguez pitched well today, more often than not, he has spiked the sales of Rolaids to levels not seen since Davey Johnson had them with every meal. Closers have to be able to pitch one-two-three innings. They are supposed to be the firemen of the squad, not the arsonists. Too many times this season, K-Rod has put the tying and go-ahead runs on base and of course, more often than we'd like, those runners have come around to score. Frankie will need to stop trying to throw his pitches through the catcher's mitt and start concentrating more on making pitches where they need to be pitched. At the same time, Jerry Manuel cannot be afraid to have another reliever warming up in the bullpen whenever Frankie puts men on base. Forget about damaging Frankie's ego by showing a lack of trust in his ability to pitch through the inning. What about damaging the Mets' chances for a victory by leaving him in the game on days when he doesn't have his "A" game?
Fixing these problems that have plagued the Mets throughout the first half of the season will go a long way towards determining where they finish in the division. A trade for a starting pitcher will not improve the Mets' ability to score runs in bunches, will not do anything to limit the number of walk-off losses and will not bring K-Rod's pitch count down. If they get a new starting pitcher, I will not complain. However, if they keep committing the same mistakes that led to so many unnecessary losses in the first half, don't expect to see October baseball in Flushing for a fourth consecutive season.