In the Mets’ 7-6 seesaw win over the Phillies Monday night, there were a lot of leads gained and lost by the Amazins—no thanks to Noah Syndergaard, who was handed two leads in his six innings and blew both. In the top of the 6th, a Brandon Nimmo home run gave the Mets a 6-5 lead and, at that point, Syndergaard’s night was done and it was time to hand the ball off to the Mets bullpen.
That’s not a phrase that strikes confidence in the minds of the fans.
Overall, the pitching has not been doing well. The Mets’ rotation is 24th in the majors with a 5.40 ERA and the bullpen is 26th overall with a 6.00 ERA. Opposing teams are hitting .296 against the ‘pen with 33 walks and 48 runs scored. Luckily, the Mets’ offense is ranked second overall and is top-five in RBI, hits, doubles and OBP, so winning has been more frequent than losing.
But is it sustainable? With manager Mickey Callaway’s bullpen management logic, it doesn’t seem so.
Seth Lugo gave the Mets two great innings to sustain the 6-5 lead going into the 8th. Naturally, Callaway went with his setup man, Jeurys Familia, whose picture is in the dictionary next to “anxiety attack.” There is nothing wrong with trusting that your setup guy will get the job done, but in classic Familia fashion, he gave up a leadoff single and walked three. Somehow, when he exited with bases loaded and two outs, he still hadn’t surrendered the lead, thanks in part to some spectacular defense by Jeff McNeil at the hot corner.
You could argue that he should have been taken out long before he walked three batters. You could argue that Callaway shouldn’t be faulted for trusting the guy his GM brought back for another three years. Both are valid arguments. But when he took out Familia, he brought in Rob Gsellman, who is having a mediocre start with a 3.48 ERA, two walks, 14 hits and seven runs in 10.1 IP. He promptly walked in a run and tied the game at six.
Why did Callaway not bring in his lockdown closer, Edwin Diaz, who hasn’t blown a game all season, for a four-out save?
“I think we’ve said this before,” Callaway said postgame (https://nypost.com/2019/04/16/the-mickey-callaway-decision-truly-worth-a-second-guess/). “He’s not going to get four outs.”
When he was pressed further, Callaway said he intends to stick to the formula—Familia is the setup man, Diaz is the closer and no, he will not get more than three outs or pitch in a tie game on the road until “we get to the playoffs” (https://twitter.com/timbhealey/status/1118000133176791040).
It’s clear that Callaway does not intend on straying from this strategy. Not using your closer in a tie game on the road is a very Buck Showalter-2016 Wild Card game-esque move that is very quickly falling out of style in today’s analytics-driven world. Diaz, traditionally, has not been used to get four outs in his career, but his career is only in its fourth year. It wouldn’t be hard to mold him into a guy who is capable of four-out saves. This is not to say he always should be getting four outs, but he should be capable of doing so against the division favorites.
Monday night’s game was a bad situation to handle. It was a cold, windy night and it takes a little bit extra to make sure the right guys are warm and ready to pitch. But at this point, most baseball fans have rejected the notion that games in April don’t matter as much as games in September, especially with the Mets’ schedule being so frontloaded with division games.
Every win counts, no matter what month you’re playing in. So why not treat it that way?
Callaway’s rigid mindset is the very thing that may end up keeping the Mets from making the postseason. Of course you don’t want anyone but your closer closing out games, but if it’s a tight game and you need to get out of a jam, why not put him in for the four-out save? It’s hardly an unheard-of strategy. If Familia just doesn’t have it, why keep him in until the team’s lead is on the brink of collapse? For the sake of preserving roles over the need to actually win the game?
If the Mets never took the lead in the top of the 11th, Callaway would have brought in Drew Gagnon (5.25 ERA) to face Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto. Diaz mowed down all three batters with just his fastball.
Oh Mickey, you’re so not fine.