Melting down

I understand the whole debate about chemistry in a clubhouse, and if it truly impacts the bottom line of a team’s performance. I understand that any major league player should perform well under any circumstance, regardless of emotional stimuli. However, I don’t think you can deny the positive impact that having a good clubhouse can provide. I’d like to think that this team’s situational hitting is directly correlated to the fact that they have a good group of guys that put team first. So with that said, how worried are you that this team, because of its seemingly emotional reliance, can keep its confidence up when the bullpen collapses in such fashion? How much effect do you think it actually has on guys like Justin Turner (who’s had limited opportunities but has put together a few key AB’s this season, including providing tonight’s go ahead runs in the 9th) and his psyche to see the bullpen collapse multiple times in one series? Basically, can bullpen collapses actually create a feeling of “this is all for naught?”

– Brian, via email.

OK, where to start.

Having a decent group of dudes in the clubhouse certainly can’t hurt a team, but why do we know that these current Mets are a better group of guys than previous incarnations? I suspect it has to do, mostly, with one thing: They’re winning more than they’re losing, and the opposite has been true the past few years. Every team at every level has more fun when it’s winning ballgames, and so naturally we look at them and say, “man, they really like each other; they’re pulling for each other; they’re winning games for each other.”

And we probably feel like we know Turner in particular more than most recent Mets because he’s generally available to fans, via Twitter and the press, and does seem like a good guy. But Marlon Anderson also seemed like a really good guy. Jeff Francoeur, by most accounts, is pretty much the best guy.

Which is to say that fundamentally I disagree: I do not think the team’s strong situational hitting to date is directly correlated with its positive clubhouse atmosphere. I think it’s more likely a combination of some good luck, a bench that’s probably better constructed than most initially thought, and some poor hitting in other situations earlier in games that amplifies the team’s success in certain clutch spots. Remember that earlier in this same season, many decried the team’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position. But it was the same group of good guys. What changed?

But all that said, I don’t think a couple of bullpen meltdowns — even those as miserable as yesterday’s debacle — could break a Major Leaguer’s spirit like that because I don’t think that type of capricious, defeatist attitude breeds Major League baseball players. Look at Turner, for example: The guy spent five seasons in the Minors before he finally got a full-time shot last year. In 2010, he torched the ball at Triple-A while the Mets started Luis Castillo, Alex Cora, Joaquin Arias and Luis Hernandez at second base. If he’s so subject to external factors as to allow a bad bullpen to break him, I suspect he’d have long since packed it up by now.

And the same goes, to some extent, for pretty much everyone on the team. No one makes it to the Majors without failing a lot and having the guys around him fail a lot. And if you can’t handle that, I imagine you don’t last very long.

As for that bullpen: It’s not good. It seems like the club’s relief arms are being victimized by a mix of bad control, bad luck and overuse. Last night’s culprits — Ramon Ramirez, Frank Francisco and Manny Acosta — have been the worst of them, and though all three have been hit hard at times and are doing themselves no favors with unintentional passes, they’ve all suffered batting averages on balls in play way higher than their career norms. There’s a pretty good deal of evidence suggesting that Ramirez and Francisco are capable Major League relievers, and it’s still only May 13. If they’re healthy, I’d bet on them turning it around.

The Mets lead the Majors in relief appearances, partly due to the ineffectiveness of their relievers. I propose this phenomenon be called the Jerry Manuel Quandary: Bad relief pitching causes overuse and overuse causes bad relief pitching. That doesn’t really explain the bad outings yesterday, though, and the two most-used pitchers in the Mets’ bullpen — Jon Rauch and Tim Byrdak — have been among the best.

Regardless, it doesn’t seem like it could hurt the team at this point to shake things up with a fresher arm from the Minors. Since there’s no easy fix on the Mets’ 40-man roster, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious move, but there are some viable candidates at Buffalo: Lefty Garrett Olson (who has been starting in Triple-A) and young righty Elvin Ramirez among them.

One reliever to keep an eye on — though it’s certainly not time for him yet — is Double-A righty Armando Rodriguez. Rodriguez was in big-league camp this spring on the Mets’ 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft protection, but was passed through waivers at the start of the season. In his first 23 innings as a full-time reliever in the Minors, the massive Rodriguez has a 0.78 ERA with a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

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