BY JOE RINI
For a team that has teetered at various points this season only to defy expectations and rebound again, the Mets find themselves at their latest crossroads in the 2012 baseball season. Three losses in Atlanta to open the second half of the season, followed by a disappointing loss to the Nationals in Washington on Tuesday night left the Mets in the middle of a five game losing streak, their longest of the season
Starting pitching, which has been the foundation of the team this year, faltered against the Braves as Chris Young left after three innings in a 7-5 loss in the opener on Friday while R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana were marginally better on Saturday and Sunday in going five innings each and allowing five runs and six runs, respectively. This three game lapse followed an impressive stretch where the Mets starting pitchers had gone at least six innings in 20 out of 22 games.
Of greater concern has been the performance of the bullpen, which is without its closer Frank Francisco. In Saturday’s 8-7 loss, the Mets offense came from behind twice, but the Braves rallied for three runs in the eight inning by singling three times with two outs against Bobby Parnell.
Similarly, in the 5-4 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday, the bullpen was unable to protect leads in the ninth and tenth innings as the Nationals rallied to win. The game featured Jonathan Niese’s seven innings of one run ball and Jordany Valdespin’s dramatic pinch hit three run home run which had given the Mets a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth inning.
With closer Frank Francisco on the disabled list and having suffered a setback in his recovery from an oblique injury, general manager Sandy Alderson declared finding bullpen help by the July 31 trade deadline to be “the number one priority” although not at the expense of the team’s long term plans. A promising note in the bullpen has been the debut of 25-year old lefty Josh Edgin, who struck out six batters in 2 1/3 innings in two appearances against the Braves.
With Dillon Gee on the disabled list, there was speculation that the Mets would call up pitching prospect Matt Harvey from Triple- A Buffalo, especially after Harvey held Toledo hitless until the sixth inning in his latest start on Monday. However, the Mets declined to call up Harvey and announced on Tuesday that 41-year old Miguel Batista would start against the Dodgers at Citi Field on Saturday.
As Alderson stated about Harvey, “We want to make sure that when he starts his Major League career, it’s an auspicious start… His development … needs to be independent of what we’re doing at the Major League level.” Alderson indicated that Harvey would eventually be called up this season. Perhaps it would seem at the moment that the 6 foot 4 inch Matt Harvey’s status with the Mets is similar to that of Harvey, in the current Broadway revival of the same name– an unseen, but definite presence.
The Mets enter play on Wednesday in third place at 46-44, seven games behind the division leading Nationals, and 3 1⁄2 games behind the Braves for the second wildcard spot. The Mets return to Citi Field on Friday for a six-game homestand against the Dodgers and the Nationals.