The Mets were in first place as they headed into their series with the Dodgers Tuesday night at Citi Field. There is no disputing that.
However, the team has sputtered and slumped its way through the last three weeks, going 9-8 in its last 17 games [yes, we are aware that included a road trip through Atlanta, Philly and the Bronx]. Yet, somehow, they still hold a three-game lead over Atlanta, which hosts the moribund Rockies [the team the Mets struggled to score against over the weekend] this week.
You can’t argue with the numbers and the numbers say the Mets are still atop the National League East. But if you’re going to look at the numbers, look at all of them and be realistic. If you check out any of the social media pages that host the Met fans, anyone who points out the obvious is shouted down and treated like Benedict Arnold. Traitor, get out! How dare you not remain loyal to your team? Imagine.
You can still be loyal to your team but you can’t ignore the obvious. Hoping the team wins and cheering isn’t going to get the team to a World Series. Better production will but where is that coming from, especially if Francisco Lindor remains in a slump or Pete Alonso goes back into one? Certainly not from the moves made by general manager Billy Eppler, who will shoulder much of the blame should this team not reach the World Series.
Daniel Vogelbach #32 of the New York Mets reacts after hitting a two-run home run during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 22, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
This team has flaws and several of them were not addressed adequately enough at the trade deadline. The offense has become stagnant and much of the bullpen hasn’t exactly inspired confidence of late.
Let’s begin with the three bats that were acquired at the trade deadline by general manager Billy Eppler – Daniel Vogelbach, Darin Ruf and Tyler Naquin, none of whom has distinguished himself all that much in the last three weeks.
Vogelbach is a big lovable guy for sure. He’s popular in the clubhouse, the media and fan base adore him and initially he was productive. It was enjoyable watching him run the bases when he first arrived in New York. But he is hitting .150 [6-for-40] in his last 15 games with 15 strikeouts heading into Tuesday. Vogelbach is no speed burner on a good day and recently he has been dealing with leg issues that have him all but walking to first base on grounders, which are automatic outs or double plays.
When the trade was made to bring him in from Pittsburgh, all general manager Billy Eppler, manager Buck Showalter and the media told us was that the left-handed Vogelbach “mashes” right-handers. Let’s address that fallacy. He has a .237 career batting average against righties in 979 at-bats. He’s averaging one homer every 17 at-bats while averaging a strikeout every 3.4 at-bats. That’s far from crushing.
Look at the entire picture, though, not just the parts you like, before booking the Canyon of Heroes for a ticker-tape parade.
Sure, he’s got a .362 on-base percentage against righties largely on the strength of 192 walks. However, the Mets did not need a super-sized version of Brandon Nimmo, especially if he’s going to clog up the bases and can’t play the field. They needed a big-time left-handed bat to add some run production. Vogelbach has driven in five runs over his last 15 games while leaving 20 runners on base. Included in that stretch was an 0-for-4, two-strikeout game against the Yankees on Aug. 23 in which he left five on base. He’s also 3-for-26 in his career against the Dodgers so this week should be interesting.
Vogelbach is a part-time player at best who owns a career batting average of .215. But wait, he was supposed to be part of a lefty-righty DH combo with Ruf, who has exactly 31 at-bats and is hitting .194 since the trade. A trade, by the way, in which the Mets surrendered four players.
Ruf’s career numbers against lefties are better than Vogelbach’s are against righties. He’s hitting .279 in 574 at-bats with 39 homers. However, he is hitless in his last 13 at-bats and has yet to hit a homer for New York. He has largely been relegated to a bench/pinch-hitting role. If that’s how he was going to be used, they should have just kept J.D. Davis.
Darin Ruf #28 of the New York Mets prepares for batting practice prior to the game between the New York Mets and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, August 23, 2022 in The Bronx, New York. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
The big two-headed DH that Eppler bragged about is hitting .235 with four homers and 21 RBIs with most of that production coming immediately after the deals. Surely, Eppler and company will point to that production and say it’s about average in terms of what other teams are getting from their designated hitters. It may be average but it stinks that mediocrity has become acceptable in this analytical world.
Perhaps they should take a look at adding Jesus Aguilar, who was just let go by Miami. He has power and though he doesn’t hit for average he hit .236 which is what you’re getting from the current two-headed DH. He can also play first base adequately enough if need be.
As for Naquin, he simply looks scared, lost and like he doesn’t want any part of being here. He was hitting .228 as a Met heading into Tuesday after hitting a .246 through the first part of the season with Cincinnati. He has 19 strikeouts in 57 at-bats with the Mets [once every three at-bats] with a .267 OBP. That includes a five-strikeout game against the Phils on Aug. 19.
While the combination of Davis and Dom Smith was abysmal, this trio isn’t a great deal better. An upgrade, sure, but that depends on what your definition of an upgrade is. Might it have been smarter to bring up a player like Mark Vientos? The former second-round pick  was hitting .286 with 23 homers and 71 RBIs at Triple-A Syracuse through Sunday.
The Mets brought up Brett Baty and after an explosive start he hasn’t done much. But after watching Eduardo Escobar struggle through much of the season at third base – he also lost his starting job to Luis Guillorme before Guillorme pulled a groin muscle – seeing the promise of a Baty is much more palatable even if he is struggling. The Braves bring up players, the Dodgers bring up players and they all contribute and in Atlanta’s case, get signed to long-term, team friendly contracts.
Tyler Naquin #25 of the New York Mets celebrates his sixth inning home run against the Atlanta Braves in the dugout with his teammates at Citi Field on August 04, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Which leads us to the point about the bullpen. Eppler did nothing to make the bullpen better at the deadline, pointing to saving his farm system as one of the reasons why he didn’t make a splashier trade. In fact, he may have made it worse with the acquisition of Mychal Givens, who has been nothing short of a disaster in his 12 appearances as a Met. He has a 9.58 ERA in 10 1/3 innings and the only reason it’s below 10 is because of a scoreless inning he pitched Sunday against the inept Rockies. Even then, he allowed two hits and issued a walk, needing a pickoff to help extricate him from yet another poor inning. Robin Givens would have been a better choice.
Eppler could have gotten Dave Robertson, who had a 1.69 ERA through 10 2/3 innings, from the Cubs. It would have been an infinitely better acquisition, one that would have helped out Edwin Diaz and taken some pressure off Adam Ottavino and Seth Lugo. However, he said the asking price was too high and that he was happy that he protected the club’s prospects.
Bear in mind the Phillies gave up what MLB Pipeline said was their 26th best prospect for Robertson. Yes, 26th. So, Eppler was trying to protect what, his 18th, 19, 20th-best prospects? Please. It’s more likely that the Cubs recognized that most of New York’s farm system average at best so they went with the middling swingman from the Phillies.
New York relief pitcher Mychal Givens (60) throws a pitch during the MLB game between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves on August 18th, 2022 at Truist Park in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
This club has issues. Is it a first-place club? Yes. Has it shown an ability to hang on and remain in first place? Yes. But what happens when they face Los Angeles or Atlanta or San Diego or St. Louis in the playoffs? The offense, right now, isn’t good enough or consistent enough to overcome the type of pitching it will face. They don’t bury teams when they have the chance. The Mets have left more runners in scoring position than ran in the New York City Marathon last year.
Look no further than this past weekend against Colorado. Sure, they won three of four. But they turned what should have been blowouts into nailbiters and that forced Diaz, Ottavino and Lugo into games that should have been laughers. If they get the five, six, seven-run lead that they could have had then Givens could have come in and worked out his issues with a big lead.
The Mets also continue to waste beautiful performances by Jacob deGrom and the one that Max Scherzer put forth on Sunday. What good will it do in the playoffs if Scherzer and or deGrom allow one run through seven or eight when the Mets don’t score any?
It’s going to be an interesting final month of the season. And the Mets enter that stretch in first place, that’s a fact. They have a fun, tight-knit group that has played a determined brand of baseball all year. Look at the entire picture, though, not just the parts you like, before booking the Canyon of Heroes for a ticker-tape parade.