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Lack of bullpen depth biting Mets down stretch

The Mets can’t keep relying exclusively on their top options to preserve leads.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets’ bullpen is far from a weakness. In fact, its 3.25 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 9.54 K/9 all rank fifth in baseball entering Wednesday night.

Games have gone resoundingly well when a starter directly hands a lead to Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia. The latter has registered an MLB-high 39 saves, but the former’s 1.88 ERA makes him the club’s most valuable late-inning arm.

Yet those guys can’t pitch every inning. They have each already logged 52.2 frames, and many of the 21 relievers who have pitched more previously worked in the rotation. Neither Reed nor Familia, however, leads the team in innings pitched.

That honor belongs to Hansel Robles, who has become Terry Collins’s trusted middle reliever after getting ignored last October. The 25-year-old righty has worked 54.2 innings, mostly to positive results. Not on Tuesday night, when he squandered a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Every pitcher has a bad outing or two. Unfortunately for Robles, he suffered a pair during a seven-day window, netting identical lines of three hits, two walks, and three runs allowed over 0.2 innings yesterday and last Wednesday. Despite a strong 10.27 K/9, he now holds a 3.31 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 37.5 hard-hit percentage. It’s important not to overreact to recent results, but they provided a reminder of his low floor.

This comes with the territory for a young, hard-throwing reliever with a 4.14 BB/9 rate and heavy fly ball tendencies. Robles is still one of the Mets’ most valuable arms before Reed and Familia, but Collins is now depending too much on the same guy he shunned for older options last year.

A big part of that: The team hasn’t added any bullpen help this summer. Last year the Mets acquired Reed and Tyler Clippard. This summer, nothing has materialized from rumors of Sandy Alderson adding depth (though to be fair, Reed was acquired in August, so there’s still time for the Mets to add a reliever).

They were never going to make a big splash, and they can’t anymore with all trade candidates needing to first clear waivers. They don’t need an Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller anyway. A Jim Johnson or Brandon Kintzler could at least offer Collins some flexibility so he doesn’t wear out Robles, Reed, and Familia.

After riding the hot hand too often, Jim Henderson flamed out. Antonio Bastardo did not deliver a strong return on investment before getting pawned to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jon Niese. If Robles’s struggles prove to be more than a bad week, Erik Goeddel’s growing role will expand even more.

Whether through a waiver trade, free agency, or an in-house promotion—Triple-A closer Paul Sewald has 22 strikeouts, two walks, and one run allowed in his last 10 outings—the Mets can use another arm or two before rosters expand in September.

Having elite options at the end of the bullpen is great, but they can’t afford to blow a few games due to a lack of choices (or Collins simply choosing the same ones) during the middle innings.