It is often said in baseball that positive team chemistry will produce a winning team. The idea of course being that when everyone gets along, it is likely that a positive mindset will spread throughout the clubhouse and thus produce more wins. After all, as the great Yogi Berra once quipped, "Half of baseball is 90% mental."
However, I take issue with this notion of chemistry. While it is certainly possible that positive team chemistry produces more team victories, I think it is even more plausible to say the reverse: that wins produce good team chemistry. In other words, with the exception of the 1977 New York Yankees, have you ever heard of a winning team that didn't get along? Or a losing team that was always smiles in the dugout? I didn't think so.
So when I read articles about how the driving force behind a dreadful second half for the 2010 New York Mets is a lack of team chemistry, I dissent. It is simply that they are playing bad baseball. Do people forget that this is the same team that was in first place at the end of June? That was the team that papers credited as a winning ball club because they were being led with such positive leadership by veterans Jeff Francoeur, Henry Blanco, and Alex Cora. Granted, the Mets have cut Alex Cora since, but I highly doubt that his release has caused enough of a controversy in the clubhouse to make the team play the way they have been playing as of late.
The real problem lies with manager Jerry Manuel. I have never loved Jerry Manuel. I have always thought that he makes questionable decisions throughout the game, but then again, so do most managers, and that is why it is such a tough job. Having said that, I am almost convinced Manuel has a clause in his contract that gives him one hundred dollars every time he has a player bunts No matter the inning, the score, or the number of outs, it seems like Manuel is always playing for one run. Don't get me wrong: I am all for sacrificing an out to move runners into scoring position when the game is on the line, but not when the best hitter on the team is at bat! When a guy like Angel Pagan, without question the Mets' most consistent and best hitter all season long, is bunting Jose Reyes over to third base, I just want to turn off my television. Forget the score, the inning, and the pitcher. Forget about the fact that Jose Reyes could score from second base on virtually any base hit to the outfield. Jerry Manuel is actually saying in that situation that he would rather a worse hitter up to bat with one more out just so the lead runner, one of the fastest in the Major Leagues, will be on third base instead of second base. I think this is truly an awful strategy and one that must be addressed immediately.
Defense has been another major factor in the Mets' quick decline in the second half of the season. The infielders are having trouble fielding groundballs cleanly, and the outfielders are having issues taking the correct routes on fly balls and line drives. When you add in the fact that the bullpen has been having some trouble with its command lately and thus walking more batters, it is easy to understand why so many teams have been able to have such big innings against the Mets, and why they have been fading so quickly from the pennant race.
Over the past couple months, the Mets have been more or less playing with two outs since they bunt more often than any other team I have ever seen. They have also been giving the opposition four outs to play with considering the fact that their defense has been so sloppy. This style of baseball makes it very, very difficult to win games.
I think most Met fans are conceding the pennant race and are already looking toward 2011. While mathematically, and historically, it is still possible for the Mets to make a comeback, it does not look likely. But even though the thought of playing October baseball in 2010 is almost a dream to Met fans, there are a lot of positives to take away this season. The starting pitching has been superb as of late. Barring something drastic happening, I think most Met fans already envision their 2011 rotation of including Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, and Jenrry Mejia. There are a solid group of young players including Ike Davis, Josh Thole, and Ruben Tejada who will hopefully have even more productive years next season with the Major League experience they have gained over the past several months. And hopefully gaining back a healthy Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran for an entire season will have its benefits as well. And while many questions still remain for the Mets as they look ahead to the future, I have no doubt that they will as hard as they always have and produce a winning team.