This year, the Mets, despite the current absence of their best hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, are actually doing just fine when it comes to scoring, ranking fourth in the majors entering Tuesday with a little more than five runs a game. But the pitching? Forget it.
It has gotten so bad for the Mets that on Tuesday afternoon, they announced the signing of the right-handed reliever Neil Ramirez, who pitched in nine games this season for the San Francisco Giants (who have one of the worst records in the major leagues) and had an 8.71 E.R.A.
Ramirez, 27, was in uniform for Tuesday night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. To make room for him on the roster, the Mets placed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera on the 10-day disabled list with a sprained left thumb and moved closer Jeurys Familia to the 60-day D.L. Familia is expected to miss three to four months after having blood-clot surgery.
The addition of Ramirez gives the Mets eight relievers, which would ordinarily be a lot — but not when the bullpen has been as overworked as the Mets’ has been.
And that is because their starting rotation has been so disappointing. Entering Tuesday’s games, it was averaging just 5.4 innings per start, a mark worse than those of all but four teams. The last time a Mets starter lasted seven innings in a game was April 28.
Noah Syndergaard, the team’s ostensible ace, is out until at least midsummer with a latissimus tear. Jacob deGrom is the team’s No. 2 starter, but even he has sputtered of late, and his 4.07 E.R.A. is hardly dazzling.
Matt Harvey has had issues off the field (a three-day suspension for not showing up for a game) and on it (a 5.63 E.R.A.). Robert Gsellman (7.07 E.R.A.) has suffered through growing pains and may end up skipped in the rotation this week. Two other starters — Steven Matz and Seth Lugo — sustained elbow injuries and have yet to pitch this season.
“It would be foolish for us to say that the starting pitching is going to have to go deeper,” Sandy Alderson, the Mets’ general manager, said over the weekend as he surveyed the damage and tried to avoid any false optimism. “It would be nice if it goes deeper. I don’t think we can count on that consistently over time.”
So for now, the Mets lead the major leagues in two other disheartening categories — total appearances by relievers (149 entering Tuesday) and most outings by relievers with no days of rest (49). The league averages in those categories were 118 and 22.
And of the 13 relievers in the majors with at least 20 outings this season going into Tuesday’s games, four of them — Jerry Blevins, Fernando Salas, Addison Reed and Hansel Robles — were Mets. A fifth Mets reliever, Josh Edgin, was close behind with 19.
The struggles of the Mets’ pitching staff have exasperated all involved. After a late-game bullpen collapse in Monday’s 7-3 loss to the Diamondbacks, which left the Mets with a 16-21 record, Manager Terry Collins lamented that “every move we make turns out to be the wrong one, no matter what it is.”
In spring training, the Mets were proud of the pitching depth they had amassed. Even though deGrom, Harvey, Matz and Zack Wheeler (who has pitched well) were returning from injuries and, in some cases, operations — and even though the group, over all, did not have a long track record of durability — the Mets had seven good rotation options.
That seemed like enough, even with the inevitable attrition among major league pitchers. But it turned out that seven was not nearly enough of a cushion. For now, the fifth starter is Tommy Milone, who had a 6.43 E.R.A. when he was recently picked up off the waiver wire. Not making things any easier, the Mets’ best prospects at Class AAA Las Vegas are position players, not pitchers. Which is why they signed Ramirez.
More enticing pitching help may be on the way late this month if Lugo and Matz avoid setbacks in their rehabilitation assignments. But even then, the Mets would be counting on pitchers with recent injury questions to pitch well instantly. That may not happen.
Should their play sink them further, the Mets, who began the season with strong playoff aspirations, may consider surrendering to reality, trading off one or more of their position players who are in the final year of their contracts and hoping for a lot better luck next year.
But that is not likely to happen anytime soon. After all, the Mets were 60-62 on Aug. 19 last season, and that was close enough to .500 to get them into the postseason once they made a big push in September.
The Mets will most likely hold on to that notion as they work toward a turnaround this season. But any reversal — and any chance at earning a playoff spot — will have to involve improved pitching, and fairly soon. Then again, their pitching cannot get much worse.