1-0 loss to the Cubs on Tuesday was latest example of lack of offense
By Marty Noble
NEW YORK -- It was the first night of the rest of the Mets' season, and Daniel Murphy was stationed at third base, also known as his best position. Ruben Tejada was to Murphy's immediate left, finally deployed at shortstop on what we've been told is supposed to be a permanent basis. As permanent as anything is with the Mets of the six-man, five-man, six-man rotation.
Not only is shortstop Tejada's best position, it is the position he plays better than anyone else on the Mets' 25-man roster.
And at second base was the erstwhile shortstop, Wilmer Flores. He now plays a different -- but nonetheless critical -- defensive position where he is less likely to compromise the Mets' defense than he had in 68 of the team's first 77 games. Though Flores has played significantly fewer big league innings at second, he appears better suited to play there. His performance at second is likely to be better than Murphy's.
The club finally has a sense that double-play ground balls may result in double plays because of the Tejada-Flores tandem. We're not talking Omar Vizquel-Roberto Alomar or Rey Ordonez-Edgardo Alfonzo, but the Mets' most conspicuous deficiency -- compromised of defense where defense is the paramount consideration -- has been addressed. Given their active personnel, this alignment is the best the team can create.
Just one question: What took 'em so long? The middle-infield switch with Murphy installed at third could have happened weeks ago, on income tax day, the day Wright's assignment was to the disabled list and well before Murphy's quad betrayed him.
Patience is a virtue, but the Mets' inaction in this scenario seemed to fly in the face of their "We're ready to win" proclamations of the winter.
We were advised early Tuesday evening by the folks in charge of such matters that the rearrangement of the inner defense was to make the Mets a more formidable opponent. For one night, at least, the predicted improvement occurred in limited samplings. With Jon Niese -- the no-smoking section of the Mets' rotation -- pitching, the Mets performed well in the tops of innings against the Cubs. Murphy made a handsome play to his left in the sixth. He and Flores handled two ground balls each without incident. And a 6-4-3 double play was nicely executed in the eighth, the inning Bobby Parnell replaced Niese.
But truth be told, the Mets don't appear ready to win even now with Parnell and Murphy healthy and active, with the infield realigned and Curtis Granderson one 0-for removed from the team's one power binge thus far.
The Mets acknowledge additional improvement is pending, though the reinforcements are coming from within, from the same disabled list that has served as the mailing address for Wright, Murphy, Jerry Blevins, Vic Black, Bobby Parnell, Dilson Herrera and, of course, Travis d'Arnaud. But in his case, the assignment was to the dL.
Blevins' return is projected for someday in July, ditto for d'Arnaud's latest return. And Jenrry Mejia ought to be pitching the eighth by midweek next week.
What the Mets need, though, is for Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub, Keith Hernandez or one of the Carlos Brothers -- Beltran or Delgado -- to come off the DL. Or Willie Mays. The club's lack of a dynamic hitter is suffocating their prized young pitchers, to say nothing of their chance to play beyond their 162nd game.
The Mets' player development system has produced pitching that is the envy of many other clubs. And it has sent Wright, Murphy, Flores, Tejada, Lucas Duda, Juan Lagares and Kevin Plawecki to the home clubhouse at Citi Field. Trouts, Stantons and McCutchens are in severely short supply. Until the Mets develop -- or, better yet -- acquire a comparably dynamic bat, they won't reap the full benefit of the arms they have stockpiled.
Niese said Tuesday night that he has convenient amnesia about the lack of offense. He also said the 1-0 loss to the Cubs was "not the first, and I'm sure it won't be the last."
Niese's amnesia is not that profound. He's not that lucky.
"Turn the page," baseball's clear-your-mind credo, works best when the ensuing pages provide a brighter outlook. Otherwise genuine -- and unattainable -- forgetfulness becomes essential. After they finish their home series against the second-place Cubs, the Mets play 16 of their subsequent 19 games against first- or second-place teams, and 12 of the 19 on the road. Without enhanced offense -- and none seems to be in the offing -- they may reach the forget-about-it stage of their season before August.
Dominating starting pitching and improved defense are critical, but they affect only one side of the hyphen. Davey Johnson occasionally would compromise his defense and start his best offensive lineup because "You can't win nothing to one."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.