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Mudville: December 4, 2023 2:49 pm PDT

Over the Rainbow

BY KEVIN KERNAN

E is for Elimination. You can’t spell Mets without an E.

You can’t spell “Selfie” without an E. The Mets are the perfect team for this “selfie” generation. You can’t spell “entitled” without an E, either. The Mets are the epitome of an entitled organization.

You have to work for success. Tommy Pham was right.

The denial within the organization and with their fans remains off the charts.

“Tommy Pham has been on seven teams – he’s the problem,” they say.

The Mets and their fans should welcome Pham’s honest appraisal in which he called out the team with these words: “Out of all the teams I played on, this is the least hardest working group of position players I’ve ever played with.”

That is an indictment. Players love to proclaim they put in the work, but is it really baseball work?

The immediate reaction of most fans after this was noted in The Athletic was multiple shots at Pham; basically saying he’s been with those many teams over his 10-year career – but those first five years were played with the Cardinals, an organization that used to do things right.

Pham was always an interesting interview because he had no filter, and I felt he was giving me an honest answer no matter the question I asked. He plays with an edge and he’s even playing with an edge in his fantasy leagues, as we all know.

And that is the big problem here. The Mets don’t play with an edge.

“It just seems to be a very divisive team,” one top evaluator who has followed the Mets all season told BallNine on Saturday. “It wasn’t a team. And they pressed some of the kids into action before they were ready. The guys they call up don’t know how to play because they’re not teaching as much as they should.”

The Phillies and Braves play with an edge. That is the big difference between the teams.

While the Mets were falling apart in June, Pham was hitting .349. He recognized the Mets’ problems. The Mets would do well to fix those problems that he pointed out. I remember about six weeks ago talking to someone who still has close ties to the Mets, and that person told me that there was a serious lack of leadership in the clubhouse. That person was right.

Anyone who has been reading BallNine and The Story knows I have been calling out the Mets and their upper management leadership, specifically Billy Eppler, for the team’s lackluster, selfish, undisciplined, excuse-making, error prone, out of position play.

When you look at the Mets you immediately ask: “Who are they? What’s their plan?” They have some individual stars, but none of it meshed.

Tommy Pham #28 of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the dugout before the game against the New York Mets at Citi Field on September 13, 2023 in Queens. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

That’s how lost baseball has become, and the Mets are a perfect example of a team that is not a team. The players don’t fit together. They aren’t alone in that department but when the overall cost of a team is $445 million, and they flunk out, you better take some money and spend it on real instructors at the minor league level – and I am not talking about the managers in the minors, their job is difficult enough as it is; but you must have a small army of top instructors.

In spring training Buck Showalter already made it clear to me he was really worried about the young Mets players’ ability to play major league defense. Turns out he was right.

Showalter has always been a stickler for doing the little things right, so this has to fall on the players and upper management; and what I mean by that is that there is a culture of complacency on the Mets. Managers simply don’t have the power they once did in many organizations.

The Mets as a whole thought because of their 101-win season last year, this year would be another comfortable ride to the playoffs – even with the loss of Edwin Diaz.

There also is too much made by upper management of load management that keeps the players from team work.

The harsh truth is that teams don’t work enough on baseball things.

What I think is happening is players now often don’t see the difference between real work, work that makes you a better team, and work that makes you look good. It has to be more than going to the weight room and spending time in the cage.

You can’t spell Error without an E, either; and on Friday night, in the loss that fittingly eliminated the Mets from postseason play, a crucial error was made at second base (although of course it was not scored an error in today’s MLB).

What baseball has lost is team work. I don’t mean teamwork, that’s a problem, too; I mean “team work” and this I believe is in direct correlation with teams not spending time together on the field in pre-game drills or in spring training on team drills. This is not just in the majors. In the minors a culture of individualism has taken over. It’s not just selfish play, it’s what I call “selfie” play. It’s not reality just throwing the ball as hard as you can or getting an exit velo that excites the Nerds, as you parade around in shorts and a t-shirt in early afternoon “work” before the game.

Reality is learning to play baseball together.

The disappearance of infield/outfield is felt everywhere these days. Teams just don’t do the fundamentals well and they have no synergy of working together, and that is a result of upper management emphasizing the wrong things.

Exit velo, spin rate, hitting 100 on the gun, all individual numbers, you can go on and on.

What about the pure baseball approach of putting together a crisp infield workout or outfielders making strong, on-line throws home? Or pitchers backing up the proper base and getting the correct depth? Or first basemen being in the right position for cutoffs, not sinking too deep. That’s gone. And, again, it shows itself in all the little things done wrong in every single game.

You can’t spell Error without an E, either; and on Friday night, in the loss that fittingly eliminated the Mets from postseason play, a crucial error was made at second base (although of course it was not scored an error in today’s MLB).

Young second baseman Ronny Mauricio had no clue how to receive Francisco’s Lindor’s backhand flip at the bag and the ball dribbled away as Bryce Harper slid safely into second. On the play Mauricio must act like a first baseman, set his feet, and reach out to get the ball. It’s a simple baseball play. He did none of that, as he has been bounced all around the diamond this year.

Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies slides to second base past Ronny Mauricio #10 of the New York Mets during the sixth inning at Citizens Bank Park on September 22, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

It’s bad enough in the Nerd World of MLB 2023 that anybody can play anywhere, but they don’t even attempt to teach the nuances of different positions. “Go get ‘em, kid.”’

Noted a scout who watched the game and has kept tabs on the Mets’ minor leagues, “Mauricio was still trying to turn the double play because he has no clue. That’s because all year long Jeff McNeil was playing second, Brett Baty was playing third, and they had Mauricio playing left field and shortstop – and both third and second were afterthoughts in AAA.”

Indeed, Mauricio was bouncing all over the field at Syracuse, playing 26 games in left, 27 at shortstop, 56 at second, and two at third base. That is tough on a young player who’s not used to bouncing all over the field.

Two batters after that busted play, J.T. Realmuto made the Mets pay with a three-run, two-out home run, putting the Phillies on top 3-2 in a game they would go on to win 5-4. Make that play at second base and Realmuto does not come up that inning.

Mauricio did score a hustle run in the Mets 7-5 loss to the Phillies on Saturday.

It’s all about the Little Things.

Instead the Mets reveled in acting like they’d won back-to-back World Championships heading into the season even though they have not won a World Series since 1986.

And as we all know, their owner Steve Cohen famously said he would be disappointed if his team did not win the World Series in three to five years after he took over. Well, this was Year Three and it appears next year is a rebuilding year with the Mets pointing to 2025-26 to get this right.

Just to show the Phillies the Mets are the Mets, in the seventh inning Friday night, the Mets gift-wrapped another run when catcher Omar Narvaez made an astoundingly terrible throw that was supposed to be in the direction of second base on a steal by Johan Rojas, allowing Rojas to go to third. The throw wound up in right-center. I am noticing a trend of throws from the catcher being fired far to the second base side of second – and when the catchers miss, it’s a big miss. The Nerds must be telling catchers that with the new rules where anybody can steal a base, to aim their throws to the second base side to get the tag down on the backside of a sliding base-stealer.

Johan Rojas #18 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after hitting a single during the sixth inning against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on September 21, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Later in the game young catcher Francisco Alvarez, who pinch hit for Narvaez and struck out, made a similar throw – but this one didn’t sail into the outfield and the head-first sliding runner was tagged on his backside before his fingers reached the bag.

Another part of the Mets’ massive problems this year, according to scouts, is that they are rushing players through the system. They are not giving them enough time to develop. And with their bullpen woes created by the WBC injury to Edwin Diaz and Billy Eppler not building a strong bullpen, scouts point to young pitchers like Grant Hartwig.

Just two years ago Hartwig was pitching in rookie ball, and he has only 97 minor league innings under his belt; yet the Mets forced him into big games this year in the majors.

“He wasn’t ready,” one scout flatly said.

Hartwig owns a 5.06 ERA and over 32 innings in the majors, he has allowed 32 hits and 14 walks and he’s hit five batters.

This is just a small example but a point that needs to be made. As I said earlier, all these Little Things add up. The Mets are a living, breathing example of what is wrong with the game in 2023. They are a bunch of individual acts, not a seamless performance of engaged teamwork understanding that winning the game is the object of the day.

This is a crossroads for baseball. Watch the Phillies play and you can see the energy and love they have for one another on the field. They make plenty of mistakes and that bullpen needs to shape up, but the Phillies do something the Mets don’t do: every night they leave it all out on the field.

I understand how difficult it is for Mets fans to accept that reality so I’m sure they will disagree, but step back and see the reality of where the Mets are as an organization.

Grant Hartwig #93 of the New York Mets pitches during the sixth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on September 21, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Mets fans live in a constant state of “over the rainbow.”

There’s always a solution over the rainbow.

The problem was the cheapness of the Wilpons. Uncle Steve will save the day. Three years in, the answer is no. It’s just as bad, if not worse. There were no meaningful September games this year.

Now the new over the rainbow answer is David Stearns. He’ll fix everything Billy Eppler screwed up. Let’s see what kind of organization Stearns builds in the much tougher NL East. Those Brewers teams were fine, but I know that some good baseball people paved the pitching way for Stearns.

Here is another small point (and I like the player), but how in the world in this day and age where stolen bases are there for the taking, how can the Mets have a leadoff hitter in Brandon Nimmo who has stolen only three bases – the same number of stolen bases he had last year when stolen bases were really stolen bases? Realmuto, the catcher, owns 15 stolen bases. Ronald Acuna Jr. has 68 stolen bases for the Braves after stealing 27 last year. The Phillies have seven players in double figures in stolen bases. Bryson Stott and Trea Turner lead the way with 29 each. The Mets have three players in double figures with Francisco Lindor topping the list at 30.

Lindor is hitting only .251 but has 27 home runs. Let’s not forget that in April he batted .218, May he hit .227, and in June, when it all fell apart for the Mets, he batted .230. Lindor was selling out for power those three months and it hurt the Mets. “In the first half he was embarrassing,” one scout said.

Pete Alonso owns 45 home runs, but is batting .218, 53 points lower than last season; and batting average matters. Only six teams have a lower batting average than the Mets’ .240 (same as the Brewers by the way).

A lot must change if there is to be a real rainbow after the storm of 2023.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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