Mets’ manager Terry Collins didn’t strike out 10 times on Sunday. Nor did he manage just two hits or get clobbered for six runs in just 4⅔ innings. However, it’s becoming more and more common to read about Collins’s in-game managerial strategy and less about the players on the field after the Mets’ skipper decided to sit three regulars in Sunday’s 9–0 blanking to the Giants.
Since taking over as manager after the 2010 season, Collins hasn’t exactly enjoyed the benefit of filling out a lineup capable of producing consistent runs. Maybe that’s why the mainstream media has largely gone easy on him during his first three years in Queens, refraining from questioning his sometimes odd decisions during games. GM Sandy Alderson did his manager no favors by saying he expected the Mets to win 90 games in 2014, but fair or not, the spotlight has grown infinitely brighter on Collins and his club.
As the Mets’ talented youngsters begin to filter into Citi Field and inspire hope and excitement, the pressure continues to mount. The media, once content to simply give Collins the benefit of the doubt, are slowly but surely sharpening their questions. Anthony McCarron of the Daily News was the latest to join the party, wondering why the Mets’ manager decided to sit three regulars yesterday, including his two best hitters in 2014.
They were two-hit—yes, again—by the Giants, this time by lefty Madison Bumgarner, who struck out 10 and was never in real trouble. Searching for answers on such a flat afternoon, it’s easy to focus on the Mets’ lineup—neither Daniel Murphy nor Lucas Duda, the club’s two best offensive players this year, was in it. Should they have been, especially with the Mets’ offense fizzling so badly?
The third regular who sat was Travis d’Arnaud, and as a catcher who caught the night before, his absence is understandable. However, for a team that left Citi Field Sunday afternoon having been shut out for the second time on the homestand and the tenth time in 2014, sitting two of your hottest hitters in a lineup averaging 2.8 runs per game since the All-Star break is a questionable decision, at best.
You can point to Giants’ left-hander Madison Bumgarner and his history of dominance against left-handed batters (.217 batting average against). You can even cite Duda’s .167 batting average against left-handed pitchers in 2014 (never mind the fact that Murphy is smacking lefties around to a .308 batting average this season), but the simple fact is this: Collins continues to insist his club is in contention, so why would he choose to sit three regulars during a matchup against an opponent the Mets are chasing?
Collins, of course, had a ready-made excuse, telling Adam Rubin of ESPN New York:
"Some of these guys are just different. This guy [Bumgarner] throws across his body, and he's hard to pick up. If you're going to give a left-hander a day off, this is going to be the guy."
Yesterday’s puzzling lineup is just the latest in a growing number of questionable decisions Collins has made in 2014. Over the last few months, he has endured scrutiny for his use of Juan Lagares, Jeurys Familia, Ruben Tejada, and Wilmer Flores. Compounding his choices are his odd comments to the press. For example, after saying in early July that he needed to be careful with Familia’s usage following a 45-pitch effort on July 4, he used the right-hander three times in six games to close out the first half—games the Mets won, 8–3, 7–1, and 9–1.
Collins is becoming increasingly short and thin-skinned when pressed on decisions like these. After being clearly agitated last week when asked about his usage of Flores, he was at it again on Sunday morning during his pregame press conference, saying:
"I wanted to give Wilmer some playing time so you guys [the media] would stay calm."
That retort echoes a similar comment he made to the media after Familia was used in the aforementioned blowouts. The pressure on the Mets to win will only get hotter as the club moves forward in their rebuilding stage. Questionable maneuvers and sarcastic comments to the media from the manager won’t do him or the club any favors.
Collins should know this. He should also know that the time for noticeable improvement is at hand and his honeymoon as Mets’ manager can come to a very quick end.