ATLANTA – The honesty trickled out of Mickey Callaway, the result of an embarrassing 12-3 beatdown by the Braves that dropped the Mets a season-high 8.5 games back in the NL East.
Callaway is ever the optimist, often finding ways to make blowouts seem like one-run defeats, and never wavering in his belief in his team.
Until Monday night.
After his bullpen yet again poured kerosene on a game, turning a two-run deficit into an eventual nine-run loss, the manager was asked if he has enough pieces in his bullpen.
Callaway opted for honesty instead of the Mr. Positive approach.
“We’re going to keep running them out there until they do,” Callaway said. “Or we’re going to have to get some new ones.”
A team that entered the year expecting to have a deep and strong bullpen is now at a point where the manager is threatening jobs while adding that they “stunk” Monday.
Jeurys Familia allowed three runs while recording one out to continue his disastrous campaign, and Drew Gagnon allowed another four to turn this series opener into an excuse to breakout the famous line from Rocky IV: “Throw the Damn Towel!”
The Mets’ bullpen now owns a 5.48 ERA, the second-worst mark in the NL.
“We’re going to have to figure out a way to get it done,” Callaway said after a fourth loss in five games. “What we’re doing isn’t working so we’re going to have to change some stuff up like we always will when we’re not getting the results we want, and get back to the drawing board and figure these things out.”
A leaky bullpen can derail a season, and the Mets are creeping into the Nationals stratosphere with their pen. They don’t hold leads, they don’t keep games close, and it’s become clear that the manager is unsure of whom he can trust.
Edwin Diaz has not been the dominant closer the Mets gave up a stud prospect to acquire. Familia has been bad. Robert Gsellman has struggled since being overtaxed. Drew Gagnon has been exposed. Justin Wilson has been sidelined.
Seth Lugo has been the lone constant.
In this era in which bullpens are so vital, it’s hard to win with limited options.
“I’m a little concerned about the bullpen,” Callaway said. “We need some success and something to get us over the hump. That is something that is glaring on a daily basis.”
This isn’t to put the bullpen’s failures on Callaway.
He can only work with the pieces given to him by his general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen.
On paper, the Mets had a strong bullpen entering the season with Diaz, Familia, Wilson, Lugo and Gsellman, but they could have done more.
The Mets chose to add Jed Lowrie, who has yet to play, on a two-year, $20-million deal rather than add another reliever. They were never close to adding righty Craig Kimbrel before he signed with the Cubs.
Some of the team’s younger arms have also not impressed at this level.
Entering Monday, the Mets were tied for the MLB lead with 16 blown saves, and and owned the worst bullpen ERA this month.
“We’re not executing pitches. That simple,” Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland told Yahoo Sports before the game. “Some of that might be psychological, I’m not saying it is, but my gut feeling feels like it is. It’s ‘Oh God, we’re going out there, we haven’t been doing a good job,’ then you put more pressure on yourself to get it done and you can’t do it.”
Callaway said the Mets are going to have to “recalibrate” how they handle the relievers, but unless the pieces change, there isn’t an easy fix.
The simple option is to just ride Diaz and Lugo, but someone has to pitch the seventh inning. Perhaps it can be Wilson, who may return Thursday.
When Callaway tried Chris Flexen in a tied game Sunday against the Cardinals, Flexen promptly gave up the game-winning homer. Perhaps Brooks Pounders can get a chance, but he doesn’t have a track record at this level.
The Mets could perhaps look to Triple-A relievers Stephen Nogosek and Ryley Gilliam, but neither are on the 40-man roster.
Familia, who now owns a 7.81 ERA, can’t be trusted in high-leverage situations for the foreseeable future. His struggles have been the main reason for the bullpen’s woes since it’s thrown the rest of the unit out of sync.
If Familia were going right, the team could use Lugo as a multi-inning fireman. With Familia being demoted, Lugo has to be a one-inning setup man.
Callaway tried to get Familia going Monday by inserting him with the Mets trailing, 5-3, and he allowed a single and two walks while loading the bases.
All three ultimately scored before Gagnon then allowed four runs of his own, including three in the eighth on two homers.
Familia nows owns a 7.94 ERA in the first year of a three-year, $30-million deal.
“The stuff is there. It’s execution,” Eiland said of Familia. “He hung two sliders the other night. Just two pitches resulted in four. It’s going back, trusting in your stuff, staying within yourself and not putting too much pressure on yourself.”
Add in that Diaz owns a 5.06 ERA since May 1, and Callaway is basically trying to avoid stepping on a mine every time he makes a pitching change.
“You have to think outside the box, make sure that you’re doing everything on a daily basis which I feel we have work wise,” Callaway said. “Other than that, shake some things up.”
Shaking things up is not what the good teams in MLB do with their bullpens. They have set players with set roles.
The Mets, who are 34-38 despite telling people how good they can be, don’t have that. They have a bullpen that right now is preventing them from making a run.
And with the trade deadline about six weeks away, it could prove quite costly.
“Battling is not enough,” Callaway said. “You got to figure out to win games. You can battle all you want, but if you’re not winning games it’s not going to count for anything.”