May 21

May 21.10: Chat Room, Game #43 vs. Yankees: Mets come limping home.

Both the Mets and Yankees limp into this weekend’s series at Citi Field, but as usual there are more issues in Queens than the Bronx.

“I always look forward to these series,’’ Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. “You find out where you are as a team, and how you perform in that type of environment.’’

Doesn’t he know by now?

The Mets, despite winning last night at Washington, are reeling, almost in a free fall, and could very well be there after back-to-back series against the Yankees and Phillies.

The last-place Mets are coming off a 2-6 road trip in which they lost, by injury or performance, three-fifths of their rotation. Jon Niese, the most consistent of the three, went on the disabled list and could be joined there by John Maine, who was yanked after five pitches last night. Oliver Perez was exiled to the bullpen.

Journeyman knuckleballer R.A. Dickey replaced Perez and performed well, and long reliever Hisanori Takahashi will start tonight in place of Niese against the Yankees.
Takahashi’s move to the rotation, even temporarily, further strains the bullpen. Fernando Nieve and Pedro Feliciano, so effective in April, have been hit lately.

Further complicating matters has been an unproductive offense, which is relying on a journeyman catcher Rod Barajas and rookie first baseman Ike Davis because of the season-long power drought of Jason Bay and David Wright’s assault on the strikeout record.

Bay, although he’s been making contact lately, in on pace for four homers, while Wright is on pace for 223 strikeouts. Jeff Francoeur and Jose Reyes also aren’t hitting.

As bad as things have been, one can logically assume if Wright and Reyes, the cornerstones to the franchise, were hitting according to expectations, the Mets would be over .500 and there wouldn’t be so many rumblings about Manuel’s job security.

Despite COO Jeff Wilpon’s impromptu meeting in Atlanta in which he said he wasn’t about to fire Manuel or GM Omar Minaya, the whispers persist and are even louder after last night’s Manuel-Maine dugout blowout.

“When the owner comes down, you know something is going on,’’ said Francoeur. “But at the same time, you have to be professional. At times it can be tough, all the speculation, but I try to just play. That’s the easiest way to deal with it.’’

Manuel didn’t do much to get Wright and Francoeur on his side when he rested both this week. Both expressed displeasure at sitting, but neither criticized Manuel.

Also, neither offered much verbal support.

Before he was sacked, Willie Randolph had more verbal support from his players than Manuel has received, but the players are still hustling. That is a saving grace, but will it be enough if the Mets are pasted by the Yankees and Phillies?

Here’s tonight’s Mets’ line-up behind Takahashi:

Jose Reyes, SS
Alex Cora, 2B
Jason Bay, LF
Ike Davis, 1B
David Wright, 3B
Angel Pagan, CF
Rod Barajas, C
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Hisanori Takahashi, LP

NOTE: Luis Castillo was scratched from the line-up with a bruised left heel. … After throwing five innings in relief last night, Raul Valdes is not expected to be available for the Yankees series. … With Takahashi starting, R.A. Dickey will be the long man.

PREVIOUS POST: Feel free to comment on the Maine vs. Manuel thread.

May 20

May 20.10: Chat Room, Game #42 at Nationals: Wright needs to get going.

The numbers currently for David Wright are so bad they are almost incomprehensible. Wright is back in the lineup tonight at Washington after being forced to sit out to clear his head.

“I’d rather play, but it’s (Jerry Manuel’s) decision,’’ said Wright, who his mired in a 3-for-25 slump over his last seven games. Dominating that stretch are 12 strikeouts.

Wright has struck out in each of his last 15 games, and has a major league high 55 this season.

The Mets need Wright to snap out of his funk quickly before they dig themselves too deep a hole they can’t escape. The Mets have lost seven of their last eight games and open up a six-game homestand with three games each with the Yankees and Phillies.

The hitting has been dreadful during that stretch, personified by Wright’s troubles.

“We need him back to where he can be,’’ Manuel said. “You’re talking about a guy that’s a .309 career hitter.’’

As bad as Wright has been, there are numbers that suggest a glimmer of hope, such as 28 walks, a .382 on-base percentage and a .504 slugging percentage with eight homers. Wright chooses to look at these numbers as a positive thought.

“All it takes is one swing or one at-bat where something clicks, you feel good, and hopefully you go on a hot streak,’’ Wright said.

Wright will bat fifth, behind rookie Ike Davis in the order.

“I think we’re going to try to leave Davis there for a while. I think he’s ready to handle that,’’ Manuel said of Davis, who in 28 game since his call-up is batting .272 with four homers and 11 RBI.

Here’s tonight’s lineup behind John Maine.

Jose Reyes, SS
Alex Cora, 2B
Jason Bay, LF
Ike Davis, 1B
David Wright, 3B
Angel Pagan, CF
Rod Barajas, C
Jeff Francoeur, RF
John Maine, RP

After a stretch of three strong starts in which he went 1-1 with a 2.50 ERA, Maine was hit hard by Florida Saturday, giving up six runs on seven hits in five innings.

NOTE: At class until nine. See you then.

May 19

May 19.10: What’s wrong with Wright?/Adding tonight’s lineup.

Pedro Martinez once told me one of his greatest weapons as a pitcher is the fear he instilled in the batter’s mind about being hit.

“If the batter is afraid of being hit, then I can pitch him any way I want,’’ Martinez said.

That’s the way it seems these days for David Wright even though he will never admit it. That’s all right, because what the mouth won’t say body language does, and there have been numerous times when Wright bails out.

We see him more turning away from the inside fastball rather than turning on it and ripping it to left. Once a pitcher knows he has the inside half of the plate, there’s no reason to go to the outside.

The Matt Cain beaning last season has had a residual effect of Wright, and it mostly is mental, which leads to bad physical habits.

I’ve seen Wright pull off pitches he used to hammer, and I see him get too anxious when he does get a ball on the outside half and middle. His swing is long with a noticeable uppercut.

Statistically, Wright has made enough contact to be on a pace to hit 32 homers and drive in 105 runs. He’s also on pace to strike out 223 times and hit for a .262, some 43 points below his career average.

Those aren’t the results Wright is seeking.

“If you don’t see the results a lot, you start pressing a little bit,’’ Wright said last night after his three strikeout game in Atlanta. “It’s tough when somebody is out there playing as poorly as I am right now, costing us both offensively and defensively.’’

Wright was having an off-year in 2009 even before the beaning, which some of it being written off as adjusting to the new stadium and him being on an island in the line-up. There was no Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado or Jose Reyes for much of this year. There’s no Beltran this year, Jason Bay has done nothing to protect Wright and Reyes hasn’t been on his game. The situations are very similar, as are the results.

Wright called baseball a “humbling” game and right now the man is humbled.

It all boils down to this, that regardless of the psychological and statistical theories, if Wright is the player the Mets and he believes himself to be, things have to dramatically change. These reasons, or excuses, for him not hitting must be pushed aside.

It could start with something small, like hitting a sacrifice fly instead of striking out.

Here’s tonight’s line-up”

Jose Reyes, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
Jason Bay, LF
Ike Davis, 1B
Angel Pagan, CF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Fernando Tatis, 3B
Henry Blanco, C
RA Dickey, RP

May 18

May 18.10: Chat Room, Game #40 at Braves: Can they score for Johan?

Say what you will about the Mets’ current problems, but at least the team doesn’t quit. That sounds so cliché, but it is true. We’ve seen sloppy play, we’ve seen physical and mental breakdowns, but we haven’t seen a lack of hustle.

No Met has dogged it like the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez did the other day in Florida. Jason Bay isn’t hitting for power but he busts it every time out of the box. The same can be said for most Mets, and that’s a reflection on the manager.

A manager still has his team when it plays hard for him, and that’s something working for Jerry Manuel.

The Mets snapped their five-game losing streak last night behind Mike Pelfrey and will attempt to win for just the third time in nine games tonight behind Johan Santana against the Braves. Pelfrey gave the Mets 7 2/3 strong innings to become the first starter to win in 16 games.

“Pitching is the key,’’ Manuel said. “If we continue to get this kind of pitching, it at least gives us a chance.’’

Pelfrey pitched big when it counted, limiting the Braves to 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. He had to, because he didn’t get much help, something Santana is familiar with when the comes to facing the Braves.

Santana (3-2, 3.88 ERA this year) is 1-4 with a 2.05 ERA in seven starts against the Braves. He has received two or fewer runs in each of those starts.

Here’s the line-up behind Santana that needs to improve on those numbers:

Jose Reyes, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
Chris Carter, LF
David Wright, 3B
Ike Davis, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Angel Pagan, CF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Johan Santana, LP

NOTE: I’ve got class tonight and won’t be back until nine.

May 18

May 18.10: Tonight’s line-up at Braves

Here’s tonight’s Mets’ lineup in Atlanta:

Jose Reyes, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
Chris Carter, LF
David Wright, 3B
Ike Davis, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Angel Pagan, CF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Johan Santana, LP

NOTES: Jason Bay gets the night off. Chris Carter is hot so the Mets are riding him. … David Wright is on pace to whiff 212 times. … Jeff Francoeur is still fighting to get out of his slump which started with the 20-game at St. Louis.