The disappointment keeps coming for Mets fans as the team once again found a way to suck everyone back into a disappointing season by taking two of three from the New York Yankees over the weekend.
Just three games back of the final National League Wild Card spot, the Mets had a golden opportunity to make one last playoff push to salvage a season that has fallen woefully short of the postseason expectations that were placed upon them this spring.
Instead, they’ve lost a series against one of the teams they were trailing in the Wild Card race in the St. Louis Cardinals — and the team didn’t seem all too interested in giving them a run for their money, either.
That’s not questioning the integrity or heart of the players. This is more of an indictment of the decision-making that appears to be coming from the dugout in manager Luis Rojas.
The second-year skipper’s latest series of blunders came on Tuesday night at Citi Field, opting to take out Marcus Stroman after six innings and 89 pitches and the Mets holding onto a 3-2 lead.
Stroman has been the club’s ace since Jacob deGrom’s arm issues sidelined him in July and in a must-win game, it didn’t seem like an extraordinarily difficult decision to let him go out for at least one more inning. The bullpen has been inconsistent throughout the second half of the season and waiting until the eighth to bring out your go-to arms would have only helped the Mets’ chances of closing out St. Louis.
But Rojas lifted Stroman and used arguably his best reliever all season, Aaron Loup, in the seventh. He mowed down St. Louis in order, needing just seven pitches to do so.
Surely, that was grounds to extend Loup for another inning in, again, a must-win game. Yet Rojas turned to the struggling Jeurys Familia, who had allowed three runs in his previous two appearances, and it backfired.
Familia gave up two runs to put the Mets in a hole before Javier Baez forced extra innings with his ninth home run since joining the team at the trade deadline.
Stroman had his manager’s back, regardless, mentioning the fact that he didn’t pitch a single inning last year before a heavy workload this season before going into Rojas’ decision.
“I’m just saying you never know how the game is going to play out at all,” Stroman said. “You can’t say ‘Oh if he would have stayed in they would have won the game.’ [Loup] came in and was dominant, [Familia’s] been dominant all year, it just didn’t play out in our favor.
“You can’t nitpick like that. I could have gone out in the seventh and given up three homers, you know what I mean? So, I truly don’t believe that you can nitpick in that scenario at all.”
Everything Rojas continued to touch turned sour, however, as the extra work he put on his bullpen by lifting Stroman surmounted in a rookie, Jake Reed, allowing three runs in the 11th to relegate the Mets to a 7-6 loss. It was topped off by the decision to pinch-hit Albert Almora and his .115 batting average this year instead of Luis Guillorme.
Rojas sighted the matchup against a left-handed pitcher, but the lefty Guillorme owns a .276 average against southpaws compared to Almora’s .143 mark.
Granted, that all could have been avoided if Rojas pushed his reliable arms just a bit more, which doesn’t seem like an unreasonable thing to do given the circumstances the Mets find themselves in. Instead, he is playing the long game when his team doesn’t have any time left.
“I can’t ask any more from the guys. Right now, it would be unfair,” Rojas said. “I can’t put them in a situation where it would compromise anything else, their stuff, their health. You might run a guy out there and he might not be the same pitcher you’re asking the guy to be, as well. There’s just a lot of things that go into it.
“Ideally, the manager wants to pitch everyone every day, but there are some other things that come into play when you talk. It’s the player’s feel, the pitching coach’s feel, my feel.”
Rojas seemingly does not have the feel for urgency, though, as the Mets’ season and his job most certainly seem to be on the line.