The biggest problem with the Mets is not Jerry Manuel or the struggling offense. It's the starting pitching. When the Mets were winning eight in a row, the starters allowed only nine earned runs, Johan Santana was back, Mike Pelfrey looked like an All-Star, and there was optimism about the rest of the rotation, even Ollie.
Since then, Santana gave up 10 runs against Philly, Pelfrey has a 6.88 ERA in three May starts, John Maine threw the first twelve pitches out of the strike zone Saturday night, Jon Niese is hurt after his third straight poor start, giving him a May ERA of 8.76 and Perez has pitched himself out of the rotation.
The Post's Mike Vaccaro thinks it's time to fire Manuel, and it's hard to argue against that. But even if Bobby Valentine somehow rides to the rescue, this team won't get any better without a big change in the rotation. And it's not coming from Buffalo.
Dan Warthen looked like a good pitching coach during the winning streak, but now his staff is back to allowing too many walks and looking confused and frustrated. If Manuel goes, Warthen must go with him. And the teamwide batting slump means Howard Johnson must go as well. And Razor Shines, who should have been let go last year.
The two areas that Manuel has most mismanaged are the cleanup spot and the bullpen. Last year, Manuel batted over-the-hill Gary Sheffield fourth even before the wave of injuries made it a reasonable choice. This year, Manuel has been so obsessed with breaking up the righties that he has used Mike Jacobs, Frank Catalanotto and now Chris Carter in that role. But not Ike Davis.
Davis is either ready to play a big role on the Mets or he's not. You can't bat him sixth as part of the heart of the order but think he's not ready to hit cleanup.
Although Jose Reyes batting third didn't work out, I actually applaud Manuel for at least trying it out. He knew Reyes wasn't happy about it but thought that it would help the team. It was an arguable strategy, but one that was thought out and could at least be debated.
But trying out everyone who bats from the left side but not the one good lefty you've got makes no sense. If you're not going to use Davis, then stop worrying about breaking up the righties.
Sure, in a perfect world you don't want to have a bunch of righties in a row, especially when they all strike out a lot. But does Manuel really think that the opposing manager is going to change his strategy because he doesn't want to have Jacobs face a righty? Maybe that's because that's how Manuel thinks, which leads us to his biggest flaw, bullpen overuse.
Earlier today, ESPN's Buster Olney listed the most overworked bullpens. Finally, a place where the Mets are number one, with 139 2/3 innings. As Olney points out, the Mets pen has been great, with a 2.84 ERA, but he notes that Fernando Nieve is already starting to be affected by his extreme overuse.
Manuel is using Nieve and Pedro Feliciano as if he does not expect to be around later in the season when they are both burned out or worse.
Perhaps the worst thing Manuel has done as manager was during the 20-inning game, when he had Francisco Rodriguez warm up over and over again in extra innings. Frankie went on to finish April strong with an 0.84 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings, but his May ERA is 3.38 and he only has five strikeouts in eight innings. If something turns out to be wrong with Frankie, Manuel's extra-inning screwup will likely have something to do with it.
Probable replacement Bob Melvin doesn't sound like an exciting choice, especially compared to Valentine. But Manuel didn't seen exciting back in 2008, and he did spark the team for a few months.
So maybe the season isn't going down the drain quite yet. But it sure feels that way.