Commentary

Spring forward? No, Mets fall back

Amazin's winless in last nine games. It doesn't mean much, but it isn't irrelevant.

Updated: March 18, 2012, 8:16 PM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- New York Mets manager Terry Collins noted the Detroit Tigers' spring-training record was not very good in 1984, the year they raced to a 26-4 start to the regular season and ultimately won the World Series.

And how exactly did the St. Louis Cardinals fare in the Grapefruit League last exhibition season, or the San Francisco Giants in the Cactus League in 2010, en route to championships?

[+] EnlargeTerry Collins
Brad Barr/US PresswireDon't expect Terry Collins to panic over the Mets' less-than-stellar spring record.

Not sure?

Well, probably because it mostly doesn't matter.

Except when it does a little.

Right-hander Mike Pelfrey was torched for eight runs in 2 2/3 innings and the Mets lost to the Houston Astros, 9-5 on Sunday afternoon. The Mets are now winless in their past nine Grapefruit League games, and are 3-11-1 during the exhibition season. That's the worst record in either the Grapefruit or Cactus leagues.

It is easy, and to a degree justifiable, to dismiss the futility:

• Consider only two players to start at Osceola County Stadium on Sunday against the Astros also figure to be in the Opening Day starting lineup on April 5 -- Lucas Duda in right field and Josh Thole behind the plate.

• Third baseman David Wright has not played a Grapefruit League game yet as he mends from an abdominal muscle tear.

• Shortstop Ruben Tejada and second baseman Daniel Murphy have played a grand total of six innings together in exhibition play, mostly because Tejada has been slowed by a groin injury. Tejada should be back in the lineup Tuesday night against the Washington Nationals, for the first time since March 11.

Yet the woeful results are concerning on a couple of levels.

It is no secret that the Mets desperately need excitement and attendance revenue in order for Fred Wilpon and family to sustain ownership. No one was going to predict a World Series based on winning a Grapefruit League title, but fan despair about a team can certainly intensify with a lousy spring-training showing.

The negativity already is going to be heightened. Trustee Irving Picard presents his case to a jury this week in U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan in the $386 million lawsuit -- related to Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme -- against Mets owners.

And it's not like irrelevant players are entirely contributing to the futility.

The day before Pelfrey's meltdown, the Mets took a 2-0 lead into the eighth inning in Port St. Lucie against the Atlanta Braves. And it was the combination of Chuck James and Ramon Ramirez -- a viable replacement for Tim Byrdak as lefty specialist and the reliever acquired from the Giants to bolster the bullpen -- who combined to cough up three runs and the lead en route to another loss.

A day earlier, in a 9-0 whitewashing by the Tigers on Friday, Murphy had a ball roll through his legs at second base.

The Mets collectively have five spring-training homers after getting two long balls Sunday.

"If we would have the guys in there that I expect to be in there, it might be a concern," Collins nonetheless said about the recent results.

Collins went on to predict things should be better come Tuesday, after a team off-day, with Tejada expected back in the lineup, and with Scott Hairston (oblique), D.J. Carrasco (ankle) and Pedro Beato (shoulder) mending. Wright (abdominal muscle) hit off a tee and underhand tosses Sunday.

"We certainly are coming off of the day off with some positives," Collins said. "David, I'm sure, will start doing some on-the-field stuff. Ruben is going to play Tuesday night. Scottie Hairston is feeling much, much better. D.J. Carrasco is getting healthy. Hopefully Beato can start to throw.

"So, all of a sudden, a lot of the pieces are starting to fall into place. And we've got two weeks to get them ready, which seems like it's a crunch. But, fortunately, with minor league camp going on, we can get some work done.

"It's always good to win. That's why you play," Collins continued. "That's why they keep score. It's always good to win. But when you leave the game and you see somebody has had four good at-bats and maybe is 0-for-4, you've got to take it as, 'Hey, look, he's on the ball. He's taking good swings.' That's important. That is the most important thing.

"I've seen too many teams that have had great springs and done nothing during the season because they play all of their players in spring training and they beat everybody. Or maybe someone's six-year free agents are better than somebody else's six-year free agents that are invited to camp. So a lot of games are lost in spring training in the last three innings when there's guys playing that may make your team, may be a piece of it, but right now coming out of camp probably aren't.

"I don't get too caught up in the score. I really get caught up in execution."

Again, the record is nothing to despair. But it is not entirely irrelevant, either.

As for the point about the '84 Tigers, they actually went 11-17 in Grapefruit League play -- not exactly brutal. They also were a legitimate contender, unlike the Mets. And they acquired closer Willie Hernandez late in spring training. He went on to produce career bests with 32 saves and a 1.92 ERA.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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