Mickey Callaway’s Eighth Inning
Look, it was bound to happen. The revamped and praised bullpen was finally going to have a meltdown. Mickey Callaway was going to have a game leaving fans scratching their heads a bit leading up to him getting criticized. The fact it came against the Nationals was tough. The fact it was a blown 6-1 lead was tougher. The combination of the two left a really sour taste in your mouth despite the Mets 12-3 start.
In that eighth inning, the Mets would use five pitchers who allowed six runs on five hits, three walks, and a hit batter. Two of those walks were bases loaded walks. With the exception of Jacob deGrom, each and every pitcher who appeared that inning has some explaining to do.
Naturally, when you have a complete bullpen meltdown like that, much like we saw cause the 2008 Mets collapse, there are going to be some questions about how Callaway handled the inning. Let’s take a look.
Questionable Decision No. 1 – Lifting deGrom
At the time Callaway lifted deGrom, the Mets had a 6-1 lead in the top of the eighth. A Michael Taylor strikeout was book-ended by a pair of singles by Moises Sierra and Trea Turner. At that point, deGrom had thrown 103 pitches, and he was about to go to the Nationals lineup a fourth time.
Before moving on, some key stats should be considered. In his career, batters hit .277/.300/.447 when facing deGrom for a fourth time. However, that stat should be mitigated by the batter Howie Kendrick.
For his career, Kendrick is hitting .087 with no walks or extra base hits against deGrom. Last night, Kendrick was 0-3 with three strikeouts against deGrom.
By removing deGrom, Callaway opened himself up to second guessing. That second guessing grew louder when Seth Lugo, who had been excellent this year, walked Kendrick on four straight pitches.
Question Decision No. 2 – Using Lugo for One Batter
As noted above, with Harper on deck and Blevins warming, whoever you brought into the game to face Kendrick was only going to be in for one batter, so why Lugo?
There is a time to experiment with your bullpen guys to give them a different taste of different moments, but a game against the Nationals just isn’t that moment. Not when there was something brewing that caused you to go out there and bring in a reliever to nip a potential rally in the bud.
Since you are bringing Blevins into the game to face Harper anyway, you could have used him to pitch to Kendrick. After all, Kendrick is just 1-8 off Blevins. Even if Kendrick hits an unlikely homer, you are still up 6-4 at that point, and you have Blevins to face Harper.
Instead, Lugo was put in an unfamiliar situation, and he struggled. That doesn’t excuse Lugo’s performance in the least. He should have gone out there and recorded the out, or at least forced Kendrick to put the ball in play. Really, this at-bat was a seminal moment as this is where the rally really began to build momentum and begin to spiral out of control.
Questionable Decision No. 3 – Using Ramos
Iseemed odd Callaway would go to AJ Ramos over getting Jeurys Familia into the game at that spot. Heading into this season, Callaway spoke about getting his best relievers into the biggest spots of the game regardless of whether there was a save situation or not. That’s not what happened.
Instead of using Familia to nip the rally in the bud and let Ramos start a clean ninth, Callaway took a page out of Terry Collins book and saved his closer. He also used Ramos, who has allowed 24.5% of inherited runners to score in his career. Now, to be fair, Callaway may have wanted to shy away from Familia who has had a fairly high workload this season. Still, you have to wonder why Ramos there.
Out of anyone in the Mets bullpen, Ramos has the highest walk rate with a scary 4.9 BB/9 for his career. That included his walking six batters in the 6.1 innings he had pitched entering last night’s game. Bringing Ramos into this game into a powder keg of a situation could potentially light a fuse and blow the game.
It started out well with Ramos over powering Ryan Zimmerman to get the second out, and the Nationals sent up Matt Reynolds to the plate. Right here was why the Mets should have never lost this game. It’s also why using a walk prone Ramos is dangerous.
Reynolds, who is a career .224/.294/.393 hitter with an 8.1% walk rate, walked on four straight pitches to make it 6-4.
Questionable Decision No. 4 – Double Switching Flores into the Game
When Callaway brought Familia into the game, he obviously had the intention of using him for the four out save. With the pitcher’s spot due up second in the bottom of the inning, Callaway understandably double switched him into the game.
What is interesting is Juan Lagares had made the last out of the bottom of the seventh. By the book, you swap him out. Being smarter than that, Callaway didn’t do that instead opting to keep his best fielder in the game in a crucial spot. Instead, he went back and pulled Adrian Gonzalez.
Now, Gonzalez isn’t the four Gold Glove Gonzalez anymore. In 92.1 innings this season, he has a -1 DRS and 0.1 UZR. It’s a small sample size, but it is in line with what he’s been the past few seasons. His dimished skill and range were prevalent when Harper had hit an RBI single earlier that inning between him and Asdrubal Cabrera. That was more on Cabrera’s range, but it did speak to the limited range on the right side of the Mets infield.
Now, Flores arguably has more range than Gonzalez with a 0.2 UZR at first this year and a 2.3 UZR over the past three seasons. However, he’s not yet good enough to consider using him for defense late in games at any position. In fact, he also has a -1 DRS at first this year but in just 45.2 innings. Flores’ poor defense and relative inexperience MIGHT have been at play when Wilmer Difo hit a single by him. Whether Gonzalez gets to that or not, we’ll never know.
Another important point here is with Flores being double switched into the game, you do not get to deploy him against a left-handed pitcher. Instead, you have to use him against a right-handed one. Flores has improved against right-handed pitching, but not to the point where he’s your first option over Yoenis Cespedes or Jay Bruce.
As an aside, what would have been so wrong if Familia batted? If he immediately gets out of the inning, you have a two run lead. Let him go up there and take his strikeout, and you have your optimal defense for the eighth and ninth innings. Instead, you weakened your infield defense with a power sinker pitcher, and you didn’t try to get a platoon advantage with Flores coming off the bench.
Questionable Decision No. 5 – No Gsellman At All
Arguably, Robert Gsellman has either been the Mets best or second best reliever this season. In a pressure filled spot, you would think you would’ve found a spot for him, especially at a time when you were looking to get a ground ball double play to get out of the inning. Instead, Callaway decided to go with Ramos and an obviously fatigued Familia.
When you have a complete meltdown like the Mets had, there is little a manager can do but pray. Really, Callaway is getting second guessed because the Mets lost a game where they had a five run lead with one out in the eighth inning. You should never lose those games.
Lugo can’t walk Kendrick on four pitches. Blevins has to get Harper out in that situation. Ramos can’t walk and hit batters. Familia needs to dig just a little deeper and not hit a batter or walk in the go-ahead run.
Also, someone needed to make a play. Two balls where hit between the first and second baseman. Cabrera couldn’t make a play on either. Certainly, you could argue an infielder with even average range gets to the Harper single. Cabrera would then exacerbate his inability to make a play in the field by getting bizarrely aggressive on the base paths getting thrown out at third with one out in the ninth inning. That was inexcusable.
Really, this game was your typical Callaway game. When it comes to his bullpen, he’s going to be a little more aggressive than most in what is typically his attempt to put his players in the best position to succeed. In his first 15 games, it seems he’d rather put players in a position to succeed than leave them out there and let them make a play.
Until last night, that made Callaway look like a genius. Last night? Well, it made him look like a meddling over-manager. Ultimately, that’s the way it goes with not just managing, but managing in New York.
Whatever the case, after that brutal loss, we are really going to find out something about both Callaway and this Mets team. Do they get off the mat and show the Nationals they’re the better team? Do they come out shell-shocked and lose this game?
Right now, we don’t know, but we are soon going to find out just how special both this team and this manager is and can be.