Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
When Steven Matz noticed Mickey Callaway striding towards him with two on and one out in the seventh inning on Tuesday night, the lefty shook his head and cursed. His reaction was a reasonable one: The last time Callaway removed Matz from a tight game, Seth Lugo blew a lead against the Braves.
This time, of course, proved to be different. Lefty Justin Wilson pounded his cutter in on switch hitter Francisco Lindor, who was batting right-handed, and Oscar Mercado -- another righty. He struck out both.
Wilson has lately proven to be a strong offseason signing by new GM Brodie Van Wagenen -- and a major part of the team's surprising bullpen resurgence. While still shaky in spots, the Mets' pen has progressed from terrifying to stable. Or at least stable-ish. However one chooses to describe it, the facts show tangible improvements since June.
The Mets' 7.53 bullpen ERA in June was by far the worst in baseball -- worse even than the Orioles, a team that should be illegal. It seemed beyond repair. But in August, the group's 4.59 ERA is 12th-best in baseball.
Wilson's return from the injured list is one reason for the improvement. Jeurys Familia's stabilization is another.
For most of this season, Familia's sinker and slider have stayed up. When this happens, opponents hit him hard; Familia needs to keep the ball down.
Recently on Baseball Night in New York, we broke down a change in Familia's mechanics. When he kicks his back leg all the way around his body and finishes his pitches with a flourish, Familia's pitches tend to sink. When that leg is stiff and does not wrap all the way around, the pitches are flat through the zone.
Familia's mechanics have been more consistent lately. Results -- and, one can presume, confidence -- have followed.
Righty Brad Brach was another nice addition. When the Mets signed Brach earlier this month, they discussed how he had been tipping his change-up before the Cubs released him. The tipping made Brach reluctant to throw the pitch, which has been an effective weapon for him during his career.
Believing that he is no longer tipping, Brach is again throwing the pitch. He hasn't been perfect with his new team, but does give Callaway another option with good stuff and experience getting high-leverage outs.
There are still reasons to wonder if the Mets' pen can remain stable. Although Edwin Diaz pitched a scoreless inning on Sunday in Kansas City and showed command of his slider, he still shouldn't be anywhere near a big spot. Diaz retains the power to single-handedly ruin games, if Callaway lets him.
The loss of Robert Gsellman to a likely season-ending lat injury will also hurt. Gsellman had some memorable failures this year, but was largely a reliable option for Callaway. He began August with three scoreless outings, then began to leave pitches up in the zone. Soon after, we learned of his injury.
Bullpens are so mercurial that a putrid June can become a decent August. That fluctuation leaves open the possibility that September will fall anywhere on that spectrum.
But the Mets have at least arrived at a point where their manager and starters no longer need to to close their eyes and pray when the relievers take over a game. In a pennant race where every inning matters, this is a crucial improvement.