Punchless lineup sets Mets up for KO

Lucas Duda looks on from the dugout in Lucas Duda looks on from the dugout in the ninth inning. (April 11, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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David Lennon David Lennon has been a staff writer for

David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City ...

Only in Metsville is the manager asked about his team being cursed before the sixth game of the season. After a 4-1 start, mind you.

But that's life in Flushing, where no good deed goes unpunished, where every lucky bounce is followed by a fastball to the face. Yesterday's matchup between Johan Santana and Stephen Strasburg made for a dream matinee at Citi Field -- a nice bow on the top of the Mets' 50th anniversary present to their fans -- but all anyone could think about was David Wright's right pinkie.

There's a very good reason for that. Without Wright, the Mets' lineup looks dreadful, and they flat-lined against Strasburg in a second straight loss to the Nationals. The score was 4-0, but felt like 14-0. The only positive from the afternoon is that Santana stretched himself to 99 pitches, albeit over five-plus innings, and proved himself resilient enough to bounce back from his Opening Day start.

The same can't be said for Terry Collins, who took out some of his simmering frustration on plate umpire Larry Vanover in the seventh inning. With Ramon Ramirez warming up, Collins used the break in the action to get in Vanover's face over -- of all things -- a called third strike to Jason Bay.

Finally, the fans had a reason to cheer. Collins was ejected, and then received a standing ovation from the fans behind the dugout as he disappeared down the steps. But afterward, he felt guilty. The Mets' pitching staff issued 10 walks, and he's getting on Vanover for calling a strike. "I got a lot of guts to go out there and argue balls and strikes when we're not throwing it over the plate," Collins said.

Forgive the manager if he's got a lot on his mind as the Mets prepare to visit the Phillies this weekend at Citizens Bank Park.

Collins twice suggested that Wright should be ready to return for tomorrow's series opener, but he's been wrong before. Back in spring training, after Wright was forced to sit with what was described as a sore rib cage, Collins said he would play two days later. It wound up being three weeks.

This lineup, as currently constructed, can't sustain Wright's prolonged absence. The only righthanded threat, and we're using that term loosely here, is Bay and he's 3-for-19 with eight strikeouts after whiffing twice more Wednesday. Ike Davis snapped an 0-for-18 opening skid with his sixth-inning single to avoid tying Todd Pratt for the dubious record of hitless streak for a Mets position player to start a season.

It was one of only three hits by the Mets as they slipped to .167 (9-for-54) with runners in scoring position. Wright, remember, was batting .583 (7-for-12) with a .647 on-base percentage, a home run and four RBIs before he injured his finger diving back to first base. The Mets can't come close to replacing that. Not now, anyway.

Scoring is part of the problem. There are others. Collins suggested before the game he would consider moving Daniel Murphy to third if Wright had to miss significant time. That's a shift in philosophy and also an indication Murphy's defense could be a growing concern.

Bringing up the rear is the bullpen. After a strong start, the Mets' relievers were nicked for two runs in 32/3 innings in Tuesday's loss and gave up three runs -- along with seven walks -- in four innings Wednesday.

The key to an effective bullpen, regardless of the personnel, is judicious use. But the Mets blew through five relievers Wednesday. In six games, the bullpen has logged 21 innings. It's a trend, like a few others, that can't continue if the Mets are to salvage any momentum from their 4-0 sprint to begin the season.

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