Lack of production hurts Mets vs. Cubs

Lack of production hurts Mets vs. Cubs

NEW YORK -- The Mets are in this together, they say. And on this baseball evening, their actions supported that assertion to a large degree. Their hitters barely hit, their starting pitching was inadequate, and the performance of their bullpen was something borrowed from the Age of Luis Ayala, circa September 2008.

Suffice it to say their loss to the Cubs on Wednesday night was a team effort.

Oliver Perez pitched poorly enough to deserve the loss that now is reflected in his 0-2 record; the Mets amassed all of two hits in the first seven innings against winning pitcher Carlos Silva and his immediate successor, Sean Marshall; and by the time three Mets relievers achieved the 12 outs required of them, they had allowed enough runs -- six -- to fix the final score at a most unflattering 9-3.

How nostalgic! The Mets added veteran reliever Al Reyes to their roster during the collapse of 2008 but never used him. Jerry Manuel might have been tempted in the ninth inning Wednesday when Hisanori Takahashi was in the process of walking three batters. Or maybe it was time for Ricardo Rincon.

The Mets' first loss in three games certainly had that feel, a sense that anyone summoned from the remodeled bullpen beyond right-center field was likely to pad the opponents' run total. New man Manny Acosta, added to the roster of relievers late in Spring Training, replaced Perez in the sixth and allowed three runs in the seventh. Raul Valdez was next. He achieved two outs but not before he walked a batter and allowed two hits. And then Takahashi was called. Manuel characterized his performance "uncharacteristic." It was that and less, Brandon Knight-esque.

All that put an end to the Mets' midweek, feel-good renaissance. After all, the Cubs had lost four games since their most recent victory and are more offensively challenged than the Mets. Not that it appeared that way in these nine innings; they produced 14 hits and accepted nine walks. A scorched ground ball that defied David Wright's efforts was scored an error.

This was the game the Mets feared when they were scuffling to put together a bullpen in the final days of March, the kind of game that prompted the revision of the rotation sequence. Not enough innings from the starter, not enough zeroes from those he preceded. This was the kind of game that cost the club a division championship two seasons ago.

Perez wasn't Bad Ollie. He bent considerably, but he didn't break. He allowed 11 baserunners in five innings, including seven in an 11-batter sequence in his final two innings. But the Cubs, 15th in runs among 16 National League teams before the game, managed merely three runs.

Perez's new and greater assortment of pitches served him well.

"If I don't have my fastball ... I didn't have good location on my fastball ... I have to throw them [offspeed pitches] more," he said. "They helped me."

Not enough, though more than the Mets' offense. If not for the home run Rod Barajas hit against Silva (2-0) in the second inning, Jason Bay's pulled single to left in the sixth -- Silva's final inning -- would have been the Mets' only hit against the Cubs' starter.

The middle of the Mets' order -- Wright, Bay, Jeff Francoeur and rookie Ike Davis -- again provided inadequate support. Wright drove in a run in the eighth when the Mets scored twice against Marshall. And Bay and Davis had isolated singles. But as a group, the four produced three singles in 12 at-bats, and two walks. And Wright was hit by a pitch (on the outside of his left hand) by Silva in the first.

Because of the group slump, Manuel is contemplating changes in the order, reassignments designed to improve the odds that Bay will see more fastballs, including putting fleet runners in front of him in the lineup. The manager said he has three potential batting orders on his desk, each with Jose Reyes in the third position. He has talked of batting Angel Pagan third. "I did with the Cubs, and I liked it," Pagan said.

Wright said, "If it's going to get us more runs, I'll sign up for it."

It would be easier on all involved and all affected if two of the four began hitting doubles.

The Mets barely exploited the Cubs' bullpen -- it began the evening with a 6.51 ERA -- after Silva's departure. But by the time a leadoff single by Reyes, a triple by Luis Castillo and Wright's single produced two runs in the eighth, the outcome seemed to be foregone conclusion.

Those who had paid to watch the Mets' 15th game numbered 25,684, the smallest crowd in Citi Field's 90-date history. The course of the game, the threat of rain that delayed the beginning of the game 26 minutes and the Mets' bullpen combined to send all but a few thousand home early.

Or perhaps they were searching for Carlos Muniz.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.