As the New York Mets left the field following a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Miami Marlins on Monday evening, the story of the game quickly became about missed opportunities with runners on base and two blown leads (in the ninth and 15th) that would have turned a heart-wrenching defeat into a satisfying victory.
If you sat through the 15-inning, five-and-a-half-hour contest in South Beach, an interesting stat popped up during the first half of the game. Matt Harvey, the young, dynamic Met ace, was allowed to throw 121 pitches in less than six innings. That number represented the fourth highest total in baseball this season.
While the talk in New York is about the five-game losing streak, marathon loss and dismal outlook on this season, don't forget the big picture: Led by Harvey's arm, the Mets are expecting to compete as early as 2014.
Interestingly enough, their manager, Terry Collins, doesn't have a contract past this season.
As you can imagine, the Mets are now in an awkward position. While Collins seems like the type of baseball lifer that wouldn't harm any young player in the name of winning a few baseball games, he's also fighting for survival and the right to manage this roster as an influx of talent is set to hit Queens over the next 24 months.
Through less than a full month of the 2013 season, Collins has acted very much like a man fighting for his job rather than a caretaker of a roster that's not set up to win now.
From lineup decisions to abusing arms in the bullpen to a clear lack of communication with the front office to allowing Harvey to extend himself on a night where he was laboring, Collins' tactics look harried and short-sighted.
Let's start with Harvey.
Simply put, there's no reason for a 24-year-old arm to thrown 121 pitches this early in the season. The only explanation? A manager, sensing his offense was struggling and not wanting to hand a lead to an untrustworthy bullpen for 12-15 outs. In short, Collins put an April victory over the Miami Marlins over common sense when handling a young pitcher.
What makes the logic even more puzzling is a decision from Sunday. With Jon Niese pitching in his 100th career start against the Philadelphia Phillies, Collins removed him in the seventh inning, citing the 117-pitch mark he had reached.
This despite the fact that Ryan Howard, whom Niese has owned throughout his career, was sitting on the bench ready to pounce as a pinch-hitter against a right-handed reliever.
If you're worried about Collins' handling of young pitching due to inconsistency or instinct to win and survive, the recent command and control issues of Zack Wheeler in Triple-A will be music to your ears.
Of course, just weeks ago, Collins, in the midst of injuries and poor performances in the back end of his rotation, told WFAN that the team might have to consider bringing up Wheeler "pretty soon" to join the staff.
The quote from Collins completely ignored the organization's desire to keep Wheeler in Triple-A long enough to avoid arbitration and free agency a year early. Despite his issues in the Pacific Coast League, Collins knows that Wheeler is a better bet to get hitters out than Jeremy Hefner. Don't pretend that the manager slipped on a public stage when stating his desire for more talent on the roster.
Starters aside, Collins has been saddled with a poor bullpen from the day he arrived in Queens. Yet, his handling of some of the arms provided to him by upper management has been negligent.
Earlier this month, left-handed reliever Josh Edgin was sent down to Double-A after posting a 9.64 earned run average in 11 appearances. The ERA is far less egregious than the fact that Edgin was asked to throw in 11 of 21 team games. At one point, he was on pace for 96 appearances for the season.
While the best managers (see Joe Torre and Tanyon Sturtze) can struggle with pitch counts and managing the bullpen effectively and efficiently, consistency isn't too much to ask for from a manager, especially one that sees the big picture.
Thus far, Collins has backtracked on both of his strongest convictions with his everyday order.
With Ike Davis off to another slow April start and Lucas Duda reaching base at a prolific rate, it made a good deal of sense to shift Duda up in the order and drop Ike lower. Allowing Duda's bat to find more plate appearances and RBI opportunities figured to increase New York's run scoring chances. Dropping Davis' slumping stick could alleviate the pressure to break out of the slump.
Despite the logic, Collins claimed he wouldn't, citing his reluctance to put pressure on Duda to perform differently. Within days, the move was made.
On a similar note, Collins showed reluctance to move Daniel Murphy and David Wright down in the order to more traditional run producing spots, third and fourth respectively, but flip-flopped on that idea as well. On Friday evening, there was Murphy and Wright, hitting third and fourth, with Ruben Tejada bumped up to the two-hole.
Aside from the faulty logic of giving your hottest hitters less plate appearances per game, the move was another sign from a manager lacking in consistency because of the pressure to break losing streaks, build long winning streaks and do enough early in 2013 to have the fans and media demand a contract extension.
Unfortunately for Collins, early season returns probably won't change his ultimate fate. If the front office thought he was the right man to lead the franchise back to October, an extension would likely have been offered.
It wasn't, leaving Collins to take it upon himself to force their hand this season.
With that comes danger to the long-term vision of Sandy Alderson and the Met brass.
Josh Edgin's left arm may be a meaningless victim in the grand scheme of things, but Matt Harvey's right arm can't be. Inconsistency in the message and lineup may not bother an established star like David Wright, but can impact the psyche of a young hitter like Lucas Duda.
Terry Collins' future shouldn't be the story in New York, but his early season moves are making it harder and harder to ignore.
Has Terry Collins done a good job as manager of the Mets?
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