It’s perfectly understandable that everyone is getting anxious for the return of Yoenis Cespedes. The Mets have assured us that he’s not too far off — despite Sandy Alderson’s new policy of trying to be intentionally vague on medical timetables — and they’d like to start getting a decent return on their $110-million investment sooner rather than later.
But as crazy as this may sound, the teetering Mets, who were bombed Sunday by the Angels, 12-5, actually can afford to wait on Cespedes. What they desperately need is the reinstatement of two other prominent names on the disabled list: Steven Matz and Seth Lugo, each of whom is expected to make another rehab start this week.
Fortunately — and we’ll take the team’s word on this — they could be back for the beginning of June, according to the plan that’s currently mapped out. In the case of Matz, the Mets are open to promoting him after Tuesday’s rehab start for Triple-A Las Vegas, depending on how he performs and feels afterward.
Relying on Matz, who has been sidelined since spring training with a mysterious elbow malady, is tricky business, though. And Lugo is trying to pitch through a small UCL tear in his elbow, a delicate predicament that could go bad at any moment.
To think the Mets’ season could be riding on those two pitchers’ availability is not exactly comforting, but they can’t expect to stay in the playoff chase by doing what they’ve been doing for the first seven weeks. The bullpen also has been collapsing from the strain, and that can’t continue.
Nobody is expecting shutouts from Tommy Milone, but he basically flushed Sunday’s game in 13 pitches, the last resulting in C.J. Cron’s grand slam and a 5-0 deficit. Milone got four outs and served up seven earned runs, which pushed the Mets’ rotation ERA to 5.18, next-to-last in the majors (the Reds are at 5.93).
Even when the Mets did get respectable starts to win the first two games of this series, they came at a cost, with Jacob deGrom maybe needing an extra day because of a blister and Zack Wheeler flat-out asking for one.
Terry Collins didn’t want to commit to that plan just yet because, as he said, then it would be broadcast “at the top of the Empire State Building.” But the severity of the Mets’ pitching situation is hardly a secret.
After they clawed back Sunday to close within 9-5, Hansel Robles teed up a three-run homer to Andrelton Simmons.
And that was that. With Jeurys Familia potentially lost for the season because of surgery to fix a blood clot in his right shoulder, Robles has become even more important, and he has given up 12 runs in his last 2 2⁄3 innings. As a group, the Mets’ bullpen has a 5.08 ERA, which ranks 28th. And if the relief corps looks exhausted, there’s a reason for that: Their 167 appearances in 42 games leads the majors. “That’s the ebb and flow of a season,” said Jerry Blevins, whose 25 appearances are the most in baseball. “Usually it balances out.”
Blevins, for one, can’t keep on this pace. Despite not being used the past two days, he’s at a rate that would have him pitching in 100 games (the record is 106 in 1974, by the Dodgers’ Mike Marshall, who won the Cy Young that year). Not surprisingly, Blevins (1.80 ERA) is the only one Collins really trusts in his leaky pen; hence the workload.
It’s all interconnected, and the pitching numbers are adding up to big trouble. Even in Saturday night’s win, Neil Ramirez nearly detonated a 7-2 lead in the ninth, which forced replacement closer Addison Reed to throw 29 pitches on what should have been his night off. Sticking Robert Gsellman in the bullpen helped relieve some of that stress, but it appears he’ll need to make Wednesday’s start so deGrom and Wheeler can get a breather.
Despite Sunday’s blowout loss, the Mets’ offense — even minus Cespedes — has been more than sufficient. They’re averaging five runs, which ranks seventh overall, and their .911 OPS with runners in scoring position is the best in the majors.
Plainly put, the Mets’ pitching staff, expected to be their greatest strength, is a disaster. Can it be fixed? They are likely to get their answer in the next few weeks. They have to hope it isn’t too late.