David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The only thing worse than having Jeremy Hefner and Aaron Laffey in the same rotation, as the Mets currently do, is being forced to use both in the same game, as they did to disastrous effect in Saturday's 7-6 loss to the Nationals at Citi Field.
The sad part, from the Mets' perspective, is letting winnable games evaporate into the April air, whether it's under the snowy skies at Coors Field or back home in somewhat comfier conditions. Hefner and Laffey are supposed to be stopgap options, at best. But with Zack Wheeler coming off another lousy outing Friday night for Triple-A Las Vegas and a murky timetable for the fragile Shaun Marcum, there's no help on the immediate horizon.
So the Mets are going to keep losing games like Saturday, when Hefner served up two more home runs -- that's seven in 14 innings -- and Laffey spit back a 5-3 lead. How quickly, you ask? In the fifth inning, with two outs and none on, Laffey walked Jayson Werth, gave up a double to Bryce Harper and then teed up a 1-and-2 pitch that Adam LaRoche walloped into the seats.
Asked later about that metaphorical punch to the gut, Terry Collins probably had a lot more to say than he chose to offer.
"You just got to come back tomorrow," Collins said, "and keep trying to grind out."
The Mets can do all the grinding they want, but it's not going to make up for the fact that other than Matt Harvey, and to some extent Jonathon Niese, no lead will be safe with the current makeup of this staff. Subtract Harvey from the rotation, and the starters' ERA jumps from 3.96 to 5.56. With anyone but Harvey on the mound Friday night, is there any doubt those four runs against Stephen Strasburg would have been wasted?
Look what happened Saturday. The Mets pestered Gio Gonzalez for five runs in the fourth inning -- essentially finishing his afternoon -- and then came away empty. That's a hollow feeling for the players who took pride in denting Strasburg and Gonzalez on consecutive days. It's too early to say there is resentment blossoming. But if the Mets continue to do a good job offensively, and the pitchers keep throwing it away, more signs of frustration will show.
"You get five off Gio, we got to win that game," David Wright said. "The name of the game is to get momentum on your side. We've got to find a way to put up zeroes and we weren't able to do that.
"Guys are trying to find their niche, I guess, and understand their roles. We'll get better."
That's the Mets' captain talking, and even though it doesn't qualify as full-blown finger-pointing, he didn't disguise his feelings very well. Through 16 games, the Mets have scored 97 runs -- the most in the National League -- and their .789 OPS ranks second. John Buck's run-scoring double put him at 21 RBIs for the season, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda are off to solid starts, and Wright is rolling as well coming off his new $138-million deal.
Collins lobbed a few excuses for the non-Harvey portion of his pitching staff -- bad weather, snow postponements, etc. -- but deep down, there's no way he was buying that.
"Well, we've got to step it up a little bit," the manager said. "We just haven't been able to get our guys in situations where they're feeling comfortable. Hopefully with the weather getting a little better now, we can do that."
What the Mets need is Wheeler, but even Collins now must concede he's not close to ready. Not when he's walking six in 41/3 innings, as he did Friday. "That's a red flag,'' Collins said.
If the Mets don't find some answers on the pitching front, they'll soon be waving a white one. Even earlier than many expected.