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Mets’ Weaknesses Exposed in Game 2 Loss

Addison Reed (Photo by Lori Shepler/UPI)

Addison Reed (Photo by Lori Shepler/UPI)


Lost in the furor of the Chase Utley “slide” that broke Ruben Tejada’s leg in the Mets’ 5-2 Game 2 NLDS defeat to the Dodgers was the furthering of a problem that had plagued the Mets throughout their division-winning regular season: Getting through the seventh inning with a lead intact.

The Mets have been searching for two elements to stabilize their bullpen all season: A pitcher they can depend on to hold a lead or maintain a tie in the seventh inning, and a left-hander who can get dangerous left-handed hitters (or even not so dangerous ones) out in high-leverage spots late in a game.

Just such a situation arose in the seventh inning. With the Mets leading, 2-1, and runners at the corners with one out and Howie Kendrick coming up, Mets manager Terry Collins summoned Bartolo Colon to pitch to Kendrick because the veteran second baseman was 2-for-22 in his career against Colon. Kendrick’s grounder up the middle touched off the firestorm fielder’s choice play involving Utley, Tejada and Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy that will be discussed for generations.

But this discussion is about what Collins did with his pitching staff next. The next two batters were both lefties, rookie Corey Seager and veteran RBI man Adrian Gonzalez. This is exactly the scenario which cries out for the kind of lefty specialist the Mets have lacked in their bullpen all season. They didn’t put left-handed long man Sean Gilmartin on the post-season roster. Gilmartin turned in a very credible regular season, but didn’t show any special proclivity for retiring lefty hitters.

But lefthander Jon Niese was shifted from the rotation to the bullpen for the post-season ostensibly to address just such situations.

Instead, Collins summoned right-hander Addison Reed to face the two lefties. Reed had washed out in stints as the closer for both the White Sox and Diamondbacks, but began his Mets career in August with 15 scoreless innings. Left-handed batters had a .253 average against Reed this season. Certainly not bad, but was it good enough to bypass Niese? Seager (who’s only been in the major leagues five weeks) had never faced Reed before. Gonzalez was 0 for 1 with a walk in two career plate appearances against Reed. So there was nothing historically to compel Collins to opt for (or against) Reed in this spot.

Reed got Seager to pop out to shallow left field. But Collins should have had Niese ready to face the established and very dangerous middle-of-the-lineup slugger Gonzalez. Instead, he stuck with Reed, who laid an 0-2 fastball over the heart of the plate for Gonzalez to rifle down the right field line for a series-changing two-run double.

To rub salt in the wound, after ex-Met Justin Turner followed with an RBI double, then Collins brought in Niese to face left-handed hitter Andre Ethier, whom Don Mattingly pinch-hit for with Justin Ruggiano (who struck out).

Was Collins really saving Niese for Ethier instead of Gonzalez? Did Collins get distracted in the pandemonium that ensued when Utley broke Tejada’s leg? Well, it seems the media assembled in Dodger Stadium Saturday night got distracted, because, with all the questions about Utley’s intent, Tejada’s injury, the initial umpiring decision and the result of the video review, nobody seemed too interested in questioning Collins over managerial tactics.

But the decision to let Reed, instead of a lefty, face Adrian Gonzalez is the one that could cost the Mets the series.

It is true, Niese himself has not distinguished himself against left-handed batters this season. In fact, they batted .305 against him. But that was in his role as a starting pitcher, when the bulk of the lefty batters he was facing were the very best a team had to offer–the ones who would not sit in a platoon arrangement against a left-handed starter. Moreover, Niese would be taking an entirely different approach to his role as a one- or two-batter LOOGY relief man.

If Collins does not have faith in Niese to face a team’s best left-handed batter in a critical spot late in a playoff game, then someone else should be assuming the role.

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