The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

NEW YORK -- It doesn't take much to push the panic button around Shea Stadium. <P> This past weekend's series sweep at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a scrappy young club that would need a miracle to compete in the NL Central, would certainly qualify as one of those occurrences.

It's not all gloom around Shea, but New York has dropped four out of their last five after a promising start. Thus, this certainly qualifies as their first official skid of the season.

"It's not going to get any easier for us," said Mike Piazza. "We have to get back to doing things right."

Even less encouraging was the team's lack of fight after the Pirates built up a 8-1 lead Sunday, battering starter Jae Seo and reliever Dan Wheeler in a five-run fifth. Manager Art Howe summed up the Mets' mood when he said, "We knew we were going to lose three games in a row at some point, and we'll probably do it again."

A quick look at what's going right and wrong around Shea:

The good…

  • It'll be interesting to see how Tyler Yates fares when he takes the mound tonight against the Expos. Yates held Montreal scoreless through six innings in a no-decision start on April 9, but was torched by the Braves in his first Shea start on Apr. 14, allowing six runs in just 2-1/3 innings.

    "I think with young pitchers you're going to get some of that," said Howe. "It's a new frontier for all of us, to see where we are and where he's going."

    Howe is also concerned by the fact that Yates has faced the Expos in three of his last four outings. Montreal beat up the righty on April 4 in Yates' final spring training start, scoring seven runs in 4.0 innings.

    "You don't really like that," Howe said. "You'd like to see him face different clubs."

  • The Mets got solid starting efforts from Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel in the Pittsburgh series, and Al Leiter – who takes the mound against Montreal in game two of the Expos series on Tuesday – still has yet to allow a run this season in two starts.

    Trachsel was a tough luck loser to the Bucs on Saturday, having his afternoon ruined by Jason Kendall's eighth-inning sacrifice fly, while Glavine took a one-hitter past the seventh inning Friday before Howe lifted him in a controversial move.

    Glavine has been helped – especially psychologically – by the presence of Mike Cameron, who made three fantastic plays in center field to help the effort on Friday. Kaz Matsui has also lived up to expectations at shortstop and has exhibited his good range and strong arm, although he's also displayed a tendency to rush some routine plays.

  • Shane Spencer is providing the Mets with some pop and a good glove as he fills in for Cliff Floyd and Karim Garcia, while Todd Zeile (.389, 3 RBI) has been more than anyone expected at the plate. He's given the Mets quality at-bats nearly every time up.

  • Grant Roberts has finally started to settle in and may be shaking off his early-season funk. Roberts was having trouble adjusting to the bullpen after preparing all spring to be the Mets' fifth starter, and even though he seemed to be trying Howe's patience, the manager continued to give him innings to work through his issues.

    The bad…

  • The Mets' left side of the infield really struggled over the weekend, and it became readily apparent that third basemen Ty Wigginton and Zeile just don't have enough range to knock down balls that should be kept on the dirt.

    Wigginton looks like he's become bulkier since last season, although it's hard to throw stones – he's hit safely in four of his last six games, scoring three runs with a double, two RBI and a walk.

  • Jason Phillips is hitting .179 and is beginning to give people a reason to demand that Vance Wilson – who became the last Mets position player to start a game when he got a nod on Saturday – see more playing time.

  • Eric Valent has cracked two home runs, but those are his only hits in a Mets uniform – he's hitting .143. In fairness, he's worked good counts at the plate and made a sliding catch in right field during the Atlanta series.

  • Oh, and how do you spell relief? Howe can't honestly turn a lead over to Mike Stanton (11.57 ERA), Roberts (17.36 ERA), Orber Moreno (8.44 ERA), David Weathers (4.91 ERA) or Dan Wheeler (4.82 ERA) without wondering if the game is about to go ‘poof.'

    Pittsburgh isn't a power-hitting team, and they were still able to dink their way to big innings (seven runs Friday, five on Sunday) by playing small-ball and piecing together station-to-station rallies.

    The only sure thing, surprisingly, has been closer Braden Looper (although in a bizarro world where Armando Benitez and Jose Mesa rank first and second, respectively, in the National League in saves, maybe we shouldn't be so stunned).

  • Finally, Mike Piazza has gone ice cold after a red-hot start. He still needs just one home run to tie Carlton Fisk's record for career homers by a catcher, but Fisk's presence at Shea is on hold indefinitely as Piazza is mired in a 4-for-19 skid on the homestand.

    "It hasn't really been on my mind," Piazza said. "I guess it's kind of symbolic of how nothing has been easy for me my whole career."

    Piazza could still be experiencing ill effects from his collision at first base with Montreal's Peter Bergeron during the recent series in Puerto Rico, although he insists he's feeling better.

    And the ugly…

  • When you've got the recent track record the Mets have, it's easy to wonder if a black cloud is endlessly hovering over Shea.

    The Yankees probably aren't fretting as they head to Chicago over their three losses this weekend to the Red Sox, but in Queens, Howe has already found it necessary to remind his troops that 2004 doesn't have to emulate 2003.

    "We don't want that kind of mindset," Howe said. "I'd already spoken to them about that at the end of spring training."

  • Jae Seo's velocity dropped significantly during his start on Sunday, as evidenced by the 83 MPH fastball that he short-armed to Pittsburgh's Craig Wilson. Howe said it "might be a stamina thing," which is troubling news considering Seo threw 188-1/3 innings last season.

    The Mets were willing to put up with a five-inning pitcher last spring when they anointed David Cone as the fifth starter, but they aren't likely to do the same with Seo – he's 26, not 40. Still, Seo will get at least two more turns around the rotation, with Scott Erickson still weeks away.

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