Before each game at Citi Field, a fresh uniform is hung in the lockers of Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado. For more than a month, however, that has served as a ceremonial gesture, a cruel reminder that those jerseys are no more useful to Reyes and Delgado these days than the two injured stars are to the Mets.
The absence of Reyes, who's out with a torn right hamstring and has an uncertain return date, and Delgado, out until at least August with a torn labrum and a bone spur in his right hip, further accentuates the top-heavy nature of the Mets lineup, a problem for the past several seasons. Though fronted by Reyes, Delgado, Carlos Beltran and David Wright, who have combined for six top 10 MVP finishes since 2006, the lineup has been noticeably lacking in reliable complementary hitters further down.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel optimistically cites his years as a Montreal Expos coach in the 1990s, when "we had to play a lot of young players at the major league level and develop them." That group, though, included such rising stars as Moises Alou, Larry Walker and Pedro Martinez. Manuel's current regular lineup includes too many low-ceiling youngsters such as Daniel Murphy and Omir Santos.
Delgado last played on May 10, and Reyes 10 days later. With both of them out, the Mets have averaged .6 runs less per game, and Wright and Beltran have been forced to play through their own maladies. Beltran will soon have an MRI on his aching right knee. Asked if he would have taken a few days off had the team been healthier, Beltran says, "Yes, sir. I'm just trying to stay in the lineup because I have the necessity of being in there."
Indeed, New York is having to rely on Wright and Beltran as never before. At week's end Wright led the NL with a .349 batting average and Beltran was fourth at .336. But while those two had combined for a .343/.430/.515 batting line, the other Mets were at just .259/.335/.376.
Manuel used 46 different lineups in the Mets' first 66 games. General manager Omar Minaya says he is exploring outside options to fill the voids, but he may be limited by a depleted farm system. The A's Matt Holliday, for example, would look good in leftfield, but outside of the ability to take on salary, Minaya has little to offer in a deal for him. Besides, cautions Minaya, "you have to be careful thinking immediate moves are going to change where you are in the standings. I feel fortunate we're [still] in the mix."
That's a sentiment echoed throughout the team. Through Sunday the Mets had dropped just one game in the NL East since Reyes joined Delgado on the shelf. "It's not ideal, but it's not a matter of being frustrated," says Wright. "We have to win with what we have."
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HELP WANTED The Mets have gotten too little from role players such as Luis Castillo (lower left) and Ryan Church (19) and leaned too heavily on stars such as Francisco Rodriguez.
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