Are the New York Mets imploding or are they just mired in a funk? Never fear, High & Inside is here to sort through the rubble. Is it as bad as they say?
Offense: Entering last night, the Mets were hitting .253, the fourth-worst average in the National League. Most of the blame has been pinned on first baseman Carlos Delgado and centerfielder Carlos Beltran, and rightfully so: Entering last night, Delgado was hitting .215 and Beltran had only four homers. Losing rightfielder Ryan Church (.302, nine homers and 32 RBIs) to a concussion hurts. But there isn't a team that wouldn't sell its soul for the third baseman-shortstop combo of David Wright and Jose Reyes. The verdict: It's not as bad as it looks.
Pitching: It's almost laughable that some pundits are saying the Mets weren't as good as some preseason prognostications claimed. With two 15-game winners returning, a healthy Pedro Martinez, and the prize acquisition of Johan Santana, the rotation appeared set. And the bullpen, headed by Billy Wagner, was deemed more than adequate. OK, Santana hasn't been lights-out, Martinez got hurt (again), and reliever Aaron Heilman has been horrid. But with a middle-of-the-pack 4.06 ERA entering last night, pitching is not the problem. The verdict: Martinez's return - scheduled for Tuesday - could right the vessel.
Defense: The Mets' .982 fielding percentage was near the bottom of the league, but the bigger problem may be that Wright and Reyes had accounted for almost half the team's errors through Monday - 16 of 34. The verdict: Even the Phillies field better.
Managing: The hottest topic is Willie Randolph's status. He got a meager vote of confidence after a meeting with management on Monday. The verdict: If the Mets are, say, 30-37 by Father's Day, Randolph is gone. Possible replacements include the other Manuel, Jerry; Joey Cora; and, yes, Jim Fregosi.
The days of great baseball nicknames have long passed. Once a job requisite for sportswriters, the purveyors of the profession no longer have the imagination or inclination to name the game's greats. Most often, today's nicknames are given by teammates or, in Lance Berkman's case, the players themselves. The Houston Astros first baseman was sick of the "Fat Elvis" tag, so two years ago he suggested "Big Puma," with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Berkman (.385, 16 homers, 46 RBIs entering last night) certainly isn't as graceful, but the guy deserves a nickname.
High & Inside liked the ironic nickname idea so much, it conjured up a few for select Phillies. Ryan Howard: The Big Contact. Chase Utley: The Big Smile. Brett Myers: The Big Brain. And Jimmy Rollins: The Small Ego.
Outfielder Jay Bruce, the Cincinnati Reds' top prospect, was called up. . . . Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson came off the disabled list. He had been out with a strained left calf. . . . The Milwaukee Brewers finalized a deal with righthander Julian Tavarez.