Sep 29

Manuel reflects on a season lost

It was interesting to hear Jerry Manuel evaluate his performance last night on SNY, admitting he pushed the envelope in bringing back Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, and the experiment with Reyes at third.

MANUEL: The dreams of success have faded.

Much of the self-evaluation had been written by posters at the time, but it must be remembered Manuel is working off different information and conditions that we were.

Quite simply, Manuel knew there was pressure on him to win this year, and that only made it easier to be tempted, especially when the player says he’s ready.

Manuel didn’t get into it, but there was inconsistency in how he made out his lineup, set up his bullpen and bench. Lest we not forget, it was Manuel’s insistence to stay with Jenrry Mejeia, who has been shut down with a shoulder injury.

I also didn’t like how Manuel handled Jeff Francoeur and John Maine, but there are always be dust ups in the player-manager relationship.

Last night Manuel was candid, forthright and honest. There was very little excuse making, other than to say the collapse of the offense played a major factor into the season’s outcome. And. I don’t look at that as an excuse as much as a statement of fact.

If this had been Manuel’s first season with the Mets, you could make an argument for another chance, but he presided over the September collapse in 2008 and last year’s disaster. There were extenuating circumstances after both that warranted a second chance, the bottom line is that through a myriad of reasons, the Mets have taken a step back since 2006, and in this market, with this stadium and the expectations, somebody will have to pay the price for failure.

Keeping Manuel with roughly the same payroll as this season is to tell the fanbase “our hope is that we stay healthy and improve,’’ which is something they’ve been saying since Carlos Beltran took that third strike from Adam Wainwright.

Keeping Manuel would be saying this year was acceptable.

Sep 28

Tonight’s lineup vs. Brewers

Here’s tonight’s lineup:

Jose Reyes, SS

Jesus Feliciano, RF

Carlos Beltran, CF

David Wright, 3B

Ike Davis, 1B

Nick Evans, LF

Josh Thole, C

Ruben Tejada, 2B

Mike Pelfrey, RP

Just a note: There are five players starting tonight who were not on the Opening Day roster.

Sep 28

Reflections of Willie

With the Milwaukee Brewers in town, and Jerry Manuel presumably in his last week as Mets manager, it is not surprising the attention being placed on Willie Randolph and the inevitable comparisons to his successor.

RANDOLPH: Looking back.

I covered Randolph in 2006 until 2008 when he was unceremoniously fired, and found him to be knowledgeable but sometimes too thin skinned. I won’t use the word paranoid because I’m not a psychiatrist and believe that’s too harsh and unfair an assessment.

I attributed Randolph’s demeanor to it being his first job and his inability to let go of being passed by for other opportunities.

And, to be fair, Randolph had reason to be cautious as the Mets presented him with several untenable obstacles. Willie spoke highly of Omar Minaya the other day, but part of that was being a gentleman. Fact is, there was an uneasy tension between Randolph and the front office caused in large part by the constant undermining presence of Tony Bernazard, who literally was a management spy and who fed information to players that caused a gap in the clubhouse.

Minaya was at fault for letting that situation develop and not pulling in the reigns on Bernazard. Eventually, Bernazard did himself in and his reputation has kept him from landing another baseball job.

That Carlos Delgado sabotaged Randolph’s relationship with the Latin players, and it was allowed to happen by the front office, was distasteful and really despicable. Delgado’s presence undoubtedly hampered Randolph’s relationship with Jose Reyes to name one. It was information fed by Bernazard to Delgado that damaged whatever relationship the player could have with his manager.

The Mets came within one hit of reaching the World Series in 2006, then collapsed in 2007. The collapse that summer was historic, but traceable to the front office not addressing the needs of starting pitching and not bringing back the bullpen that was a strength of the 2006 team. The collapse would have happened sooner, and perhaps not been as dramatic, if not for the strong start that spring.

The bullpen was again a problem in 2008, but the Mets hung around until the final weekend. There was another collapse that year, but not as dramatic. The team hung around long enough for the interim tag to be removed from Manuel.

The Mets have addressed needs piecemeal, from Johan Santana to Francisco Rodriguez to Jason Bay, but never gave Randolph a full deck after 2006. The feeling was that they came close and to take the next step with essentially the same team. Hoping for improvement is not the same as adding the proper pieces to improve.

Gradually, by sticking with Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez too long, by not rebuilding the bullpen after Duaner Sanchez’s injury described in his EMR (electronic medical record) as a  fractured coracoid bone in the shoulder, by misjudging the progress made by Oliver Perez and John Maine after 2007, by hamstringing the bench with the likes of Julio Franco, poor contracts given Perez, Franco and Moises Alou, and numerous injuries, the window has slammed shut on the Mets and it doesn?t matter who is manager.

Had Randolph stayed, he couldn’t navigate through this mess, and Manuel has proven to be less capable. Let’s face it, today’s Mets are a house of cards. Their record will be better this year, but in some respects the team overachieved because of RA Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi, and Mike Pelfrey’s step forward.

With the payroll as it is, the injury to Santana and questions in the pitching staff, and the health issues of Carlos Beltran and Bay, this team could go south again next year.

Randolph deserves another chance to manage in the major leagues, but bringing him back isn’t the best idea. Been there, done that. Just like with Bobby Valentine.

Randolph has his faults as does Manuel, but the fact is this front office will be going on its fifth manager in ten years next season, a sure sign that the instability that comes from up top.

Sep 24

Expect more of the same ….

Unless the Mets discover a sense of pride and their offense this weekend, it is conceivable the Philadelphia Phillies will celebrate winning the NL East in front of their eyes. In 2007 and 2008 the Mets collapsed and were eliminated on the final day of the season. Last year was lost from June on.

This year, from their dugout, the Mets can watch their rivals celebrate success, something they haven’t been able to do since 2006.

And, even if the Phillies don’t bring back slugging outfielder Jayson Werth, the Phillies should remain far superior to the Mets.

They are better at starting pitching and in their bullpen, dwarf the Mets in power, and when it is all on the line, they aren’t afraid to make the big deal. Last year they brought in Cliff Lee; this year it was Roy Oswalt. And, of course, let’s not forget Roy Halladay while the Mets let the pitching market dwindle.

Both teams have had their share of injuries, but the Phillies acted through trade and a deeper minor league system to tread water when Ryan Howard and Chase Utley went down. The Mets forced the issue with Carlos Beltran last year which could conceivably cost them his services for the first half of this season. They also pushed the envelope with Jose Reyes when they should have disabled him around the All-Star break.

The Phillies have more pitching, more power, a front office willing and capable of making the big deal, and an overflowing ballpark that has them printing money to patch whatever holes.

This could be the third straight season the Phillies reach the World Series; the Mets have done it four times in their history.

The Phillies seem to do whatever it takes to improve. The Braves got better this year. The Marlins can’t be dismissed. The Mets? Well, they have $130 million earmarked to bring back the same group of dysfunctional players next year.

The Mets players might not think of that this weekend when then watch the Phillies celebrate. Maybe the Wilpons and management will.

Sep 22

It’s over, finally.

The inevitable became official last night when the Florida Marlins eliminated the Mets from playoff contention for the third time in four years. The Marlins might have administered the killing blow, but last night, as in the other two years, the Mets killed themselves.

Last night was a microcosm of this season in many ways, beginning with an offense that squandered numerous opportunities to eventually waste a strong starting performance, this time from Mike Pelfrey. The Mets’ inability t0 produce, much less in the clutch, has been a critical weakness all summer.

We’ve been over this before, but most of the starting position players will return next season so the Mets don’t figure to add a big bat. They need to hope for healthy players and improvement. Hoping makes for a very bad plan.

For his part, Pelfrey continues to pitch well enough to win most games, but last night was betrayed by his defense and later the bullpen.

After Pedro Feliciano retired the first two batters in the eighth, Jerry Manuel went to Elmer Dessens, who gave up four straight hits, including a mammoth three-run homer to Gaby Sanchez. Why Feliciano wasn’t allowed to continue is beyond me. He’s certainly more reliable than Dessens.

Another poor bullpen decision, but there have been so many I’ve lost track.

It’s easy to blame injuries, and for the Mets they could wonder what might have been had they not lost significant time from Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, Jose Reyes and Johan Santana. Still, the Mets’ losses weren’t as severe as those of the Phillies, but they managed to overcome and have won 21 of their last 25, the kind of hot streak Manuel kept waiting for, but never came.

Championship caliber teams must find a way to overcome from injuries and the Mets did not. There were simply too many times this season when they beat themselves, whether it be an error in the field, giving away an at-bat, or throwing a lazy pitch.

You are what your record says you are, and for the Mets they are a losing team for the second straight season, and out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

On an interesting note, Manuel responded to Joe Torre’s comments about being curious about the Mets’ job, and Torre responded by apologizing to Manuel and saying he was closing the door on managing the Mets. Torre should have danced around the question better and apologized for violating an unwritten protocol.

Still, people change their minds so I wouldn’t write off the Mets and Torre talking after the season. It’s not as if Torre backing off now will save Manuel’s job. The Mets have not been shy in the past for going after media outlets for stories they didn’t like, or weren’t correct. The Mets have not told one media outlet to back off on Manuel, nor have they made any comment about his returning.

They have left Manuel alone to twist in the wind because they know he’s not returning. They are studying their options. Speaking of which, they appear to have lost out on Kevin Towers, who appears to be headed for Arizona. He would have been intriguing.

So, it is officially over, but we’ve known for awhile now that it wasn’t going to happen for the Mets. For me, I thought the series just prior to the break when they lost to Atlanta was a determining moment. From there, came the disastrous West Coast slide that coincided with the return of Carlos Beltran.

From there, the rest of the season was a formality.