Was K-Rod’s whiff of A-Rod last night the pitch that saved Jerry Manuel’s job — at least for another week or so? Probably. The first we saw to call for Manuel’s firing in print was Mike Vaccaro in the Post last Monday.
Last Friday, Filip Bondy said as much in the Daily News (“Jerry Needs Subway Stop”).
Since K-Rod and perhaps luck — an out-at-first-base call on Brett Gardner in the ninth inning that looks safe every time we slo-mo it — have given Manuel a reprieve, let’s take quick stock of Manuel’s Mets through the first quarter of the season.
The team is 22-23, five full games behind its archrival, the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies, and dead last in the NL East. That five games behind is worse than it sounds: if the Mets were in second place, it would be bad enough, but to have four other clubs between them and the top spot (and, horrors, one of them the Washington Nationals) does not bode well for the Mets’ chances of making the playoffs, let alone overtaking the Phillies.
So let’s not talk National League pennant this year — or at least not just yet. Let’s focus instead on what should be regarded as an astonishing fact: the Mets are 22-23, just one game under .500. You ought to know why that is astonishing, but if you don’t, allow me a quick review.
First, David Wright, who is supposed to be their best player, is hitting just .261. It’s true he has eight home runs, but this time last year he was hitting about 100 points higher, though with just two or three home runs. Is Wright ever going to put average and power together and become a superstar?
A more serious question is what happened to Jason Bay’s power. Bay, who hit 36 home runs with Boston last season, is hitting a soft .307 with just three home runs. (Though Jerry Manuel is certainly appreciative of the two he hit against the Yankees last night.) And more serious still is Jose Reyes, only two seasons ago regarded as perhaps the greatest potential superstar in Mets history and now washed up? Post-Subway Series, he’s hitting just .223 without a single home run.
Forget all other injuries and misfortunes the Mets have endured, and consider this: if Wright and Reyes were both hitting, say, .275 and Bay had, say seven or eight home runs, it’s likely that the Mets would now be 25-20, and the team’s situation would seem far from desperate.
Toss in one other important factor: Carlos Beltran, perhaps the league’s best all-around player, is still out of the lineup. How significant has Beltran’s absence been? Two-thirds of the Mets’ losses this season have been by one or two runs. Look at it from another perspective: the Mets have played 42 games this year and have lost 10 of them by a single run. How many of those games do you figure Beltran might have made a difference in?
If you think at least three more wins, then you’d have to rate Jerry Manuel’s performance this year as at least good. It was around this time two years ago that the Willie Randolph witch hunt started. Randolph probably didn’t deserve to go, but it would be a much bigger mistake to dump Manuel now when, by any stretch of common sense, he’s been about the only thing standing between the Mets and total collapse.
One game under .500 in a strong division without Beltran and with Reyes, Wright, and Bay absurdly underperforming? Has Manuel been doing it with mirrors? So far he’s closer to meriting a Manager of the Year award than a firing.