The Mets' bullpen is struggling and wearing down and it isn't even the middle of April. The starting rotation isn't doing much better, with Chris Young already pushing a start back because of pain in his shoulder and ace Mike Pelfrey averaging less than four innings in his three starts. Meanwhile the offense keeps sputtering at inopportune times, scoring only 13 of their 54 runs this season in the seventh inning or later.
The last thing the Mets need is a manager who sits back and watches it all unfold.
But so far that's what Collins has done. Twice it has cost them.
The latest, most egregious instance of laissez faire managing came when Jon Niese was panting as he closed in on his pitch count and Collins had him face Troy Tulowitzki Wednesday night. The same Tulowitzki who practically beat the Mets single-handedly on Monday night with a homer and a defensive gem and had already stroked a single and a double for the Rockies.
This time there was a way to avoid him, though. The Rockies, trailing 3-1, had runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth. The play is to walk the MVP candidate and pitch to Jose Lopez with the bases loaded. Instead Collins sat on his four fingers and Niese went after Tulowitzki. The shortstop planted his second pitch over the wall in the rightfield corner for a three-run homer and a 4-3 lead and the Rockies went on to win, 5-4, their second straight in the four-game series that wraps with Thursday's doubleheader.
With a team like the Mets -- a team without a player like Tulowitzki who can change the outcome by himself -- the players need all the help they can get from the bench. Collins has yet to provide it.
It's almost as if after an 11-year absence from a big league manager's chair he's forgotten that he's allowed to make strategic in-game moves.
He had a chance to do it on Sunday, but he left Lucas Duda in rightfield with better defensive options on the bench only to have a misplayed line drive sail over his head. Collins stuck with Duda during the game, but afterward the organization didn't. He was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo before he came out of the postgame shower.
That lack of a maneuver was more subtle, lost in a game that imploded as the bullpen and bats failed. Last night's inactivity was pretty clear cut and wound up deciding a game in which the offense was decent and -- get this! -- the bullpen was solid.
"At that particular point in the game it's pretty easy to start walking guys, setting up big innings," Collins said, defending his inactivity and putting the onus on his pitcher. It was part of his "Now's the time" speech of getting one more hit, making one more pitch.
Tulowitzki came up again in the seventh with a runner on and one out. Jonathan Herrera gave the Mets a second chance when he stole second and third, giving them an empty base to avoid Tulowitzki if they wanted to. They didn't this time either, but Taylor Buchholz struck him out. Maybe that's some sort of vindication.
But in the ninth, with the score 5-4, a runner on second and two outs, the Mets finally walked Tulowitzki intentionally. Lopez came up and D.J. Carrasco got him to hit a grounder to short for a fielder's choice to end the inning.
As the 2011 season goes on, there will be games in which Collins will have to take control with fundamentally-sound decisions. The Mets can't afford to waste decent efforts only to have them bungled from the bench.
There will be too many nights when they'll do their own bungling on the field.