Diaz's 1st-season struggles with Mets continue

September 7th, 2019

The Mets thought they were getting one of the great closers in baseball when they got Edwin Diaz from the Mariners along with Robinson Cano. Not only a great closer, but a great young closer. He has, of course, not been anything close to that in his first season in New York. Mets fans of a certain age will remember. He has been the second coming of Armando Benitez instead.

In the most important moment Benitez ever had with the Mets, in the 9th inning of Game 1 against the Yankees in the Subway Series of 2000, all Paul O’Neill did was work Benitez for a walk over a rather epic at-bat that lasted ten pitches. The way things have gone for Diaz this season, when it seems as if he has given up one huge home run after another around trying to strike out the world, if it had been him against O’Neill that night in 2000 the ball would have ended up leaving old Yankee Stadium and busting a window somewhere in the Bronx.

On Friday night at Citi Field in a game the Mets needed because they need them all now, Diaz came into the game after the Mets had gone ahead of the Phillies in the bottom of the 8th. What happened after that seemed as inevitable as the tide to Mets fans: J.T. Realmuto hit a 2-run homer and the game was tied before Pete Alonso walked with the bases loaded a few minutes later.

Again: Diaz did not have to be the brilliant closer he was on the other side of the country. He did not need to chase 60 saves. If he had even produced a solid season so far, the Mets would not be chasing the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot in the National League. The Cubs would likely be chasing them.

Diaz has not been the only blown-save guy with the Mets. They’ve had other problems in the late innings, particularly from Jeurys Familia. Familia is the Mets closer, by the way, who gave up the 3-run, 9th-inning homer to Conor Gillaspie in the Wild Card game of 2016, the last time the Mets were in the playoffs. It was 0-0 going into the 9th. Then it was 3-0 for Madison Bumgarner and the Giants. It felt like the worst loss the Mets have had until the other night in Washington, when the Nationals scored seven in the bottom of the 9th off the Mets bullpen, the last three coming when Diaz gave up a walk-off, 3-run jack to Kurt Suzuki.

Going into Saturday’s game against the Phillies, Diaz had given up 14 home runs, the most for any relief pitcher in baseball with 20 saves, one more than Josh Hader. You know what Mets fans have to be wondering at this point? What their season might look like if their team had signed Zack Britton when he was a free agent last winter instead of the Yankees bringing him back.

Diaz has blown seven saves so far this season. The Mets have managed to be 3-4 in those games.

There were three other games this season in which he lost after coming into the game in the 9th inning with the score tied: The Mets lost to the Reds on April 29. Lost to the Reds on May 1. Lost to the Phillies on July 5. So the overall record for games he’s entered with his team tied or ahead is 3-7.

Again: Diaz hasn’t been the only issue in the bullpen, or with the 2019 Mets. But imagine what the record looks like, or the Wild Card standings look like, if he had somehow been able to keep the ball in the park when he wasn’t averaging more than 15 strikeouts per nine innings.

I asked Buck Showalter on Saturday what he saw from Diaz last season. This is what he said:

“Filthy. Real late life and late slider with finish. Fearless throwing slider anytime, any count. He was doing it on [the] West Coast, in Seattle. You never know how someone’s gonna react when he gets slapped. He’s got a different face this year.”

Diaz has become the face of these late-inning calamities for the Mets, against which a team has no defense the way NHL teams have no defense when their goalies can’t keep the puck out of the net in big moments. The Mets were on the verge of making it two in a row the other night against the Nats. No team in baseball had blown a six-run lead in the 9th inning. But then there were runners on base and crossing the plate. And here came Diaz.

He is still only 25 years old. When he is striking somebody out again, he still seems to have the filthy stuff Buck talks about. But on what has been such a hot team since the All-Star break, Diaz has been what they call a cooler in Vegas. He’s under the Mets control for next season. After this week, their fans wonder what the good news is.