A hugely disappointing season ended in all-too appropriate fashion for the Mets on Sunday in Atlanta, as their offensive ineptitude dogged them all way out the door to the off-season in a 5-0 shutout loss to the division-winning Braves.
Not that the game really mattered, of course. Long since eliminated from postseason contention, the Mets were already assured of a second-straight losing season and the fourth in their last five.
Still, the shutout, which featured three hits, all singles, was one last reminder of what went wrong for these Mets – if not why.
After all, this was a team that spent a total of 114 days in first place but in retrospect was always walking a tightrope, winning many a game with late-inning magic in the first half that said as much about their inability to score runs consistently as it did about their grit.
And so, in the end, perhaps the simplest way to explain the 2021 Mets is to say they weren’t who we thought they were.
*Of the other major off-season acquisitions, Carlos Carrasco pitched to a 6.04 ERA when he finally recovered from a torn hamstring injury and James McCann played more like a backup catcher than a starter worth a four-year, $40 million contract.
That made for a lot of offensive futility, as the Mets all season ranked at or near the bottom of the majors in scoring and finished 27th, averaging 3.93 runs per game.
As such you could see trouble coming, especially when the best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom, went down with an elbow injury and didn’t make a start in the second half of the season.
But a 29-45 second-half record? Nobody saw that coming.
However, the schedule got tougher, especially that 13-game stretch against the Dodgers and Giants, and it turned out the Mets’ flaws were exposed against better competition, particularly their level of pitching.
The starting rotation pitched to a 4.93 ERA after deGrom’s last start on July 7, which ranked 20th in the majors during that period. And the bullpen gave up far too many big home runs as the Mets were trying to stay in contention in August and September.
At the root of the collapse, though, was the lack of ever-present lack of offense. It was such an issue early that the Mets fired hitting coach Chili Davis on May 6, but that proved to have little effect.
No one seemed more befuddled by the lack of offense than manager Luis Rojas, who repeatedly questioned the hitters’ approach, specifically saying they didn’t look ready to hit the fastball in big situations with runners in scoring position.
Rojas made the same point so often that it seemed fair to wonder if he thought the Mets’ hitters were being overloaded with information to the point where they were looking for certain pitches in certain counts that left them vulnerable against hittable fastballs.
In any case, the mystery of the missing offense tops the list of problems the Mets need to address going into 2022.
Expectations throughout the organization are that it will be an off-season of big changes, likely beginning with Rojas. Sandy Alderson had already offered a fairly strong indication toward that outcome, noting the need to make such a decision even before he and owner Steve Cohen hire a new head of baseball operations, and Rojas’ somber tone after Sunday’s game left the impression he wasn’t optimistic about returning.
From there so much will depend on who does get hired to take over on the baseball side of the organization. As SNY’s Andy Martino has reported, the Mets want a big-name executive, a Billy Beane or a Theo Epstein, but whoever gets the job will need to get creative in finding ways to improve the roster from top to bottom via trades and free agency signings, as the organization’s top prospects figure to be at least another year away from helping at the big league level.
Meanwhile, the Mets need pitching help, depending what they do with their free agents-to-be, Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard, as well as lefty Aaron Loup, who turned out to be the best reliever on the team.
But mostly they need to figure out how to fix the offense. They could decide that the problems were an aberration, but it’s worth remembering that many of the same core players didn’t hit much with runners in scoring position in 2020 either. So while the Mets have no choice but to hope a second year in New York will cure what ailed Lindor, it would be a huge gamble to rely on a bunch of bounce-back seasons from the likes of Dominic Smith, Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis, and Michael Conforto.
With that in mind it’s important the Mets pursue difference-makers in the free agent market, notably Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, or Starling Marte.
As for Javier Baez, re-signing him is an enticing idea, as he brings much-needed athleticism in addition to power from a middle infielder, but how much he’s worth could depend largely on whether his improvements in plate discipline the last six weeks of the season were something that will stick in the long run.
In any case, there is plenty of time for all of that this winter. For now the end of a rather exasperating season probably comes as a relief to most Mets’ fans. At least the waiting for this team to hit is finally over.
Source: Yahoo Sports