Suddenly, a singular game represents an entire New York Mets season. Just don’t you dare blame manager Mickey Callaway.
A Jacob deGrom-Max Scherzer pitching duel traveled down a near familiar path on Tuesday night. Other than a four-spot in the fourth, the two-time NL Cy Young award-winner pitched stellar ball. DeGrom, the defending Cy Young man, relented four runs in seven innings himself. (Two in the eighth pushed deGrom’s final stat line towards the below-average nature.)
The point, however, is simple: the New York Mets were riding high. For once, deGrom received run support. A Trea Turner miscue in the ninth led to four more runs. After a Jeff McNeil two-run knock and a Pete Alonso two-run shot, the 10-4 lead felt glorious.
— ESNY (@EliteSportsNY) September 4, 2019
Then … disaster struck. The unthinkable happened. The story of the 2019 Mets unfolded before our very eyes.
The Washington Nationals put up a seven-spot in the ninth inning, chopping down a 10-4 lead while creating an 11-10 walk-off victory (courtesy of a Kurt Suzuki three-run walk-off home run).
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 4, 2019
Of course, with every season-defining and disastrous loss comes finger-pointing. And, of course, the manager is always the man receiving the brunt of the criticism. While Mickey Callaway can be criticized from now until Sunday via some of the moves he’s made at the big-league level, this one’s off-limits.
You’d be a fool to claim this loss is on Callaway.
Seth Lugo came on in relief of deGrom in the eighth inning and set the Nats down quite simply. He only threw 10 pitches. It’s one of the reasons Mets fans went bananas over Callaway taking his best relief pitcher out of the game to start the ninth.
But the very same reason fans wanted Callaway to leave Lugo in the game (poor bullpen) is the very same reason Callaway needed to remove him (poor bullpen).
Due to the thin and porous nature of the pen, removing Lugo in a six-run contest entering the ninth inning is as automatic as it gets. Under no circumstance does a club deserve to win a game if its pen (and eventually, its closer) can’t lock down a six-run lead in the ninth after such a raucous top of the inning.
Lugo, 29, is the chosen one, at least for this version of a big-league pen. On a team filled with shaky arms and bloated ERAs, Lugo’s 3.00 ERA and sparkling 0.955 WHIP is the best aspect of the Mets group that usually hangs out opposite the outfield wall.
This is on Brodie, not Mickey. Pulling Lugo with a 6-run lead is as automatic as it gets. The very same reason #Mets fans want to leave him in (bad bullpen) is the very same reason he needs to be pulled (bad bullpen) for the next day.
It's on Brodie for a terrible, thin pen.
— ESNY (@EliteSportsNY) September 4, 2019
Of course, he’s also a strange pitcher, a starter at heart who can’t pitch every day. The very day Lugo’s pitch count climbs a considerable degree is the day he’s ready to take a couple of games off.
Lugo last pitched on Aug. 31 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Prior to that, the 29th, the 23rd, 21st, 17th and 14th. The last time he appeared in consecutive days came against the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates back on July 25 and 26. On the 25th, he threw just 12 pitches, allowing him to get back at it the following day (in which he threw eight in another solid effort).
The same path was taken on July 13 and 14 when Lugo’s 10-pitch outing against the Miami Marlins allowed him to go back out the following day (five pitches).
Interestingly, his five-run outing against the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 14 came four days after his previous outing, one in which he threw 32 pitches. Callaway’s clear message of ensuring Lugo’s pitch count doesn’t climb is evident.
From March 28 through April 29, Lugo tossed 333 total pitches and 17.2 innings. He relented a total of eight runs, totaling a 4.19 ERA.
In May, he surrendered just one earned run while throwing 129 total pitches (0.90 ERA). In June, he gave up seven runs over 233 pitches (5.16 ERA). In July, he didn’t give up a single run while throwing 176 pitches (0.00 ERA). In August, he relented six earned runs over 201 pitches (4.46 ERA).
Whenever Lugo touches 200 total pitches in a month, his performance greatly suffers. There is no magic wand to be waved concerning Lugo’s performance against high usage. Limiting those pitches is not only critical, but it may also just be the most important aspect of the Mets shaky pen.
How can Callaway blow a chance to use his best pitcher during such a massive series? How can any clear-headed manager throw out his best relief pitcher in a six-run game when limiting his usage is so critical?
He can’t. He made the correct decision, despite the result. If the Mets can’t lock down a six-run lead without Seth Lugo, they don’t deserve a victory. It’s just that simple.
Pin this season-defining, brutal loss on general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, not Mickey Callaway. It’s the lack of personnel on the back-end that did them in on Tuesday night, not the skipper.
This answer as to who’s to blame for this one is painfully obvious after digging into Seth Lugo’s usage numbers.