As the first half of the season wound down, the Mets spent a lot of their off-field hours answering questions about Cliff Lee and their desire to add another starting pitcher to their current mix. On the field, the team was doing its best to shift the discussion to other pitching issues.
The Mets went 3-4 against the Marlins and Nationals last week and three of those losses were laid at the feet of the bullpen. Pedro Feliciano was asked to do more than get just lefties out on two occasions with predictably bad results and Francisco Rodriguez, who worked in five of the last six games of the week, blew a save on Saturday in Washington. He almost blew Friday's game as well, which is either a case of his inability to avoid walking the high wire or a symptom of overuse as the Mets try to get their only truly reliable relief arm on the mound as often as possible.
"We’ve probably put ourselves in a situation where we need to look at the relief situation and maybe add somebody, or do something to bolster that," Manuel said. "What we actually need is a day off. Is it supposed to rain?"
There are no clouds in the forecast, so the Mets are going to need more than divine intervention to get through the last week before the All-Star break and, more importantly, the three months that follow it.
It's been easy to kill Manuel for the way he manages his bullpen this season, either because of the way he overworks certain guys or because of his willingness to throw logic to the wind when picking a pitcher for a task or simply because he's not a skilled manager in terms of in-game decisions, but a man can only work with what he has available.
Is Manuel supposed to sacrifice wins because K-Rod is working too much? We know he can't make him a more efficient pitcher, so what's Manuel supposed to do if K-Rod's margin for error gets even slimmer because he's called on so often or, heaven forbid, he gets hurt.
Is Manuel supposed to use Feliciano for one hitter when he's a pitcher short in the pen because the team is carrying three catchers? Or is he supposed to turn to a righty who has turned in weaker work than Feliciano and take his chances with that guy when a lefty comes up two batters later? These aren't easy calls for the best of managers which makes them insanely difficult for Manuel.
The Mets could rectify their roster imbalance by optioning Josh Thole and recalling a pitcher, but when you realize that said pitcher would either be Manny Acosta or Brian Bruney it is hard to see where that's going to make a helluva difference in the results. Takahashi isn't needed for another start before the break so he can offer some relief help over the weekend but the problem on day-to-day basis isn't going to be altered all that much without upgrading the talent available.
The Mets have gotten halfway through the season in position to make the playoffs even though plenty of things have gone wrong. They probably won't be that lucky for the remaining 80 games so they better be good. Bolstering the bullpen makes that much more likely, even if they can't find a way to bring Lee to Queens.