Forget about the honeymoon being over. Mickey Callaway is one bad bullpen decision away from Mets fans suggesting they visit a relationship counselor together.
So this is when Callaway declares himself, right? It’s going to have to be, with the Mets in their current funk partly by the new manager’s own doing. And after all the celebrating how he represented an upgrade over his predecessor? Now we’ll see whether the rookie skipper Callaway can take a punch as well as Terry Collins did in a Mets uniform.
On Friday night, the Mets will visit the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park with the hopes of ending their 7-16 plummet after their 11-1 start, a deep dive that hit a new low Wednesday when the Mets batted out of order in the first inning, short-circuiting a first-inning rally and culminating in a 10-inning, 2-1 loss to Matt Harvey’s terrible Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Callaway owned the embarrassing snafu. He wore a pained expression as he answered a barrage of reporters’ questions about it. He took a metaphorical punch, for sure.
Which is the Mets’ way, right? We’re talking about a franchise with the best winning percentage on Opening Day and an overall losing record. In the Sandy Alderson era, this marks the fourth straight season in which the Mets leapt out to an encouraging beginning, only to slip on a banana peel:
1) In 2015, the Mets won 13 of their first 16 games and eventually sunk to 36-37 before reviving to win the National League pennant.
2) In 2016, the Mets went 20-11 out of the gate and fell to 60-62 before reviving to win the NL wild card.
3) In 2017, the Mets began their schedule 7-3 and stumbled off a cliff that left them at 70-92 … and with Callaway as their new manager.
If you want to blame Collins for last year’s dumpster fire, have at it. I contend that he didn’t lose the clubhouse as much as he “lost” the good players, as in, “He couldn’t find them, because they were on the disabled list.” It made sense to move on from Collins, as he was the manager equivalent of a burner phone that far outlasted its expected battery life, yet at a juncture like this, you remember how he hung in there during those ’15 and ’16 valleys, maintaining a positive exterior until reinforcements arrived in the form of ’15 trades and ’16 activations from the disabled list.
Callaway should be capable of following suit. He spent five years in Cleveland sitting next to future Hall of Famer Terry Francona. Since taking over the Mets, he has displayed a strong interest in leadership, a high level of intelligence and, until Wednesday, impressive attentiveness. Nevertheless, we won’t know for sure until we know. Until the Mets snap out of this and hang in this surprisingly crowded NL East race.
The Mets are on pace to finish 83-79, which is in the neighborhood of where oddsmakers placed them before the season. Callaway’s club hasn’t underperformed by that standard, nor by run differential, as the Mets have been outscored by a 162-148 margin.
With the Phillies and Braves surprisingly contending, however, that 83-79 record, let alone something better to put them more in the playoff race, wouldn’t happen organically just by playing out the slate. Nor would it be easy to achieve without a third reliable starting pitcher behind Saturday night’s starter Noah Syndergaard and ace Jacob deGrom, who is supposed to return from the disabled list Friday. Therein lays the primary, ongoing challenge for Callaway and his pitching coach, Dave Eiland.
In this relationship, honeymoon status can be regained with a rebound all the way to October. Baby steps, though. Callaway will make sure he gets the lineup correct Friday night. Then it’ll be time to show off that resilience, which he’ll need if he’s going to wind up any good at this gig.
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