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The Mets were a feel-good story early on, weren’t they? Every next-man-up seemed to come through with an unexpected game-saving or game-winning feat, with one of those guys, by the name of Albert Almora Jr., even sacrificing his face by running smack into the wall like a latter-day Pete Reiser.
There was a smoke-and-mirrors aspect to it all and there was some magic in the air, certainly so when Jacob deGrom and the promise of history took the mound every sixth day … or 11th … or 16th … or, well you get the idea.
The fact is, the Mets were able to concoct a record good enough to take residency of first place for 90 consecutive days, beginning on May 8. But all things must pass. So, after dropping out of the lead Friday, then sliding to third place, they were 2 ¹/₂ games back entering Tuesday’s game at Citi Field against Washington. The game was suspended in the top of the second inning, after a 1:57 rain delay, with the Nationals on top, 3-1.
But even when riding high in May, June and the first half of July, nobody in management made the mistake of confusing this group with the 1986 Mets. That was even before the recent downturn, in which the club dropped four straight, seven of eight and nine of 11 largely because of offensive impotence. That’s life.
“Obviously there’s plenty of games left and we have a chance to still compete and win this division,” acting general manager Zack Scott said an hour or so before Carlos Carrasco’s first pitch Tuesday. “That said, we’ve played very mediocre baseball for most of the year.
“This recent stretch has been much worse than mediocre. We’d have taken mediocre at this point, but for this stretch it’s been unacceptably bad and we need to be better.”
Remember the Willie-or-Mickey-type debate a few years ago that revolved around who’d you rather have in right field: Aaron Judge or Michael Conforto? Well, no mas. Conforto, not that long ago the Mets organization’s shining jewel, has a .201/.331/.339 slash line on the cusp of free agency.
It’s kind of like Willie or Mickey has become Willie or Don Hahn?
It is not, of course, only Conforto whose numbers on the back of the baseball card seem counterfeit. Before going down to an oblique strain in mid-July, Francisco Lindor could have slid right into a starring role on the Netflix show “Imposters.”
One by one, the Mets have underachieved. One by one, the underachievers haven’t even been mediocre, and there’s that comparatively low bar again that too many players have been unable to surmount.
When the offense malfunctioned early, management fired hitting coach Chili Davis and his assistant, Tom Slater. But Scott does not hold their replacements, Hugh Quattlebaum and assistant Kevin Howard, responsible for the ongoing club-wide malaise. Maybe because they are this regime’s guys.
“The way I look at hitting coaches is that it’s about what they’re doing on a daily basis, how they’re working,” the acting GM said. “The team of hitting coaches has to be able to identify and evaluate what’s not working for a player and what makes a player tick and what puts him on track to be the best version of himself.
“That work has been going on, I’m satisfied with the level of work that’s been going on. It’s a no-stone-uncovered type of approach. That work is good and I’m satisfied with that. It’s definitely better than what I was seeing early on, when it was clear that we needed to make a change.”
That’s all well and good, but the change was made more than three months ago and the Mets are still not hitting.
“At some point, though,” Scott acknowledged, “you have to have results.”
Translation: It’s on the players.
Lindor is out, Javier Baez is out with some sort of lower back or hip thing, Conforto missed a fair amount of time with a hamstring problem, Jeff McNeil missed more than a month with a hamstring issue, Carrasco missed most of the year with a torn hamstring and Luis Guillorme is on the IL with a hamstring strain. MLB has been hit with a crushing wave of injuries this season, so it is unfair to suggest that Queens is the epicenter of an epidemic, but Scott absolved his medical staff — “the performance team” — of responsibility.
“Most of the time, I’ll be honest, it’s compliance issues,” the acting GM said. “It’s actually following the plan because these are all individuals and control their own bodies and sometimes they are not as compliant as they should be.”
Translation: It’s on the players.
The season is not entirely lost. Yes, the Mets have 13 straight against the Dodgers and Giants when this three-game series with the Nationals ends, but that will be followed by 14 straight against Washington and Miami.
“We’re not going to panic,” Scott said. “It’s baseball, and being in the game for a long time, there’s always a chance.”
Oh, to be mediocre again.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Larry Brooks