Mickey Callaway spent his All-Star break relaxing with his two daughters in the Florida Keys. The Mets and their fans are hoping that their second-year manager — in between fishing, swimming with dolphins and lying on the beach — was able to put together a plan to jump-start the team for the second half of the season.
The Mets pick back up on Friday night, heading to a three-game series at the lowly Miami Marlins, with a 40-50 record, a 13.5-game gap behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves, and a lengthy list of problems ailing them.
The Mets’ management has sworn — sincerely or not — that they are still in a position to win, with Callaway pointing to the Washington Nationals’ surge to second place in the National League East as evidence that any team can turn it around.
“I feel like we can make a run at this thing,” Callaway said. “We can sneak into that wild-card, sneak back in this division.”
Problem is, while the Nationals entered the break on the back of a 10-2 stretch, the Mets have won just three of their last 13 games, and players were not as upbeat as Callaway.
“I would say not the way we want,” second baseman Robinson Cano said about the first half of the season.
“It was frustrating,” pitcher Zack Wheeler said.
Here’s a look at how things stand for the Mets entering the second half:
A failing bullpen
The addition of Edwin Diaz and the return of Jeurys Familia were supposed to turn the Mets’ bullpen into a strength. That has … not happened. Mets relievers currently have the second-highest E.R.A. among relief staffs in the National League, at 5.67, according to FanGraphs. They have saved 21 games.
“We all know one thing for sure: that you have to have a great bullpen to win,” Callaway said. “That’s what watching a bullpen on a daily basis tough if things aren’t going well.”
Diaz in particular has been a disaster. His E.R.A. has jumped to a career-worst 5.50 from a career-best 1.96 last season. The organization decided to exclusively play him in the ninth inning, but his inconsistency has cost the team: Diaz is 1-6 with four blown saves — matching his total from all of last year.
There was a bit of good news early this month: Justin Wilson, Luis Avilan and Familia all returned from the injured list July 2. All three are expected to help round out a bullpen that had been relying on replacements for most of June.
Manager on thin ice?
Callaway’s second year as a major-league manager hasn’t gone much better than his first. Last year’s team finished 77-85, and barring a major turnaround, it seems likely this will be his last season in Queens.
Whether he’ll survive until the end of the end of the season remains an open question. Rumors began circulating about his job security in the beginning of the season after a three-game sweep at the hands of the Marlins in mid-May. General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen gave Callaway some moderate backing at that time, saying he would remain as manager “for the foreseeable future.” But pressure intensified in June when Callaway got into a confrontation with a reporter in the clubhouse following a 5-3 loss to the Cubs. He was fined an undisclosed amount for that outburst.
Van Wagenen fired the pitching coach Dave Eiland and the bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez on June 20, and The New York Post reported that Van Wagenen got so upset during a recent meeting with the team’s coaching staff, including Callaway, that he threw a chair.
Who’s on the trade block?
The trade deadline is looming at the end of July, and while the bullpen is the most obvious area of need, Callaway said his team wouldn’t be seeking upgrades there.
“We have the talent, we have enough,” he said of his relief staff. “We just have to be better, that’s the bottom line.”
The bigger question is who could be sent away in a swap. Will the Mets be willing to trade away some of their prized starting pitchers to replenish a farm system that took a hit when Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, two of their top prospects, were traded in the off-season? Zack Wheeler (4.69 E.R.A.) and Noah Syndergaard (4.68) have both been underwhelming this season, and both have been mentioned in trade rumors.
The lineup’s silver linings
For all the problems facing the Mets at this point, one player has given the fan base a reason to cheer: Pete Alonso. The 24-year-old first baseman beat out his fellow rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays for the Home Run Derby title, taking home the $1 million prize on Monday. He followed that up with a two-run single in the National League’s 4-3 loss to the American League in the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
Alonso currently leads all rookies in 10 categories, including home runs (30), on-base percentage (.372) and slugging percentage (.634). He trails Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich by just one home run for the major league lead.
Alonso was joined at the All-Star Game by his teammate Jeff McNeil, owner of the best batting average in baseball: .349. McNeil has done so while filling in at right field, left field, second base and third base this season. Their All-Star contingent was rounded out by the ace Jacob deGrom, who hasn’t been as dominant as he was in winning the N.L. Cy Young Award last year but is still tied for second in the league with 138 strikeouts.
Even Cano, largely seen as a bad acquisition for much of the season, has shown good glimpses after two stints on the injured list this season: The 36-year-old has 11 hits in his last eight games.
Starting with the series in Miami, the Mets will have a stretch of nine games on the road before returning home. On that road trip, two games in Minnesota against the A.L. Central-leading Twins represent the toughest test on the trip.
“I think we need to get the ball rolling as soon as the break is over, to be quite honest with you,” Alonso said. “We just need to play really good ball.”