Don't look now, but the much-maligned Mets bullpen seems to be on the cusp of a breakthrough.
After having the most blown saves in the first half of the season (21) and heading into the All-Star Break with the third-worst bullpen ERA in the league (5.63), the Mets' bullpen since the break has been a different story.
The unit has the fifth-best ERA in the league since then, and hasn't had any blown saves. It's a change that manager Mickey Callaway credits to the team's refined focus on being aggressive.
"I think we've been getting ahead a little bit more," Callaway said. "That's one of the things that was really tough for us when we were struggling, just getting ahead and controlling the counts. I think we've done a better job with that, limiting the free passes."
Getting ahead has proven effective for the top arms in the Mets' bullpen. Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo and Luis Avilan haven't allowed a run since the All-Star Break, and Justin Wilson and Jeurys Familia have combined for only three. For the first time since early April, the Mets' relief corps is fully healthy, and the results have lived up to preseason expectations.
The aggressive approach has also helped the relievers pick each other up when inheriting runners. After posting a 69 percent strand rate in the first half of the season (the fifth-worst in the league), the 'pen has combined to strand 88 percent of inherited runners in the second half, which is the second-best in the league.
"Guys that are coming in behind guys that may have struggled that night are picking those guys up," Callaway said. "So, they're coming in and getting that first guy out if the guy has struggled before him, and that tends to help out a little bit."
The Mets also fired pitching coach Dave Eiland just before the All-Star Break, replacing him and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez with Phil Regan and Ricky Bones, while also adding Jeremy Accardo to the mix as a pitching strategist. Some of the strategy has naturally changed, but Callaway also said that the coach-player communication has improved.
"We've put a plan together for each one of them," Callaway said. "So we have those methods in place every day. The information that they're getting is being delivered in a little bit of a different way, but other than that, we always knew that they would get going and heading in the right direction."
"Phil Regan and Ricky Bones have pretty much been all about throwing the first pitch for a strike, which will help you a lot," Avilan said. "They've been talking a lot about that, and we've been doing better."
Over their last eight games, 75 percent of the team's relief innings have been scoreless. However unexpected it may be, the Mets' bullpen is keeping the team in games.
"I think that our pitching is one of our strengths, and we rely a lot on run prevention," Callaway said. "I think that if we get somewhere, it's going to be because of our pitching, and in the second half we've thrown the ball really well and we have a winning record since then.
"We've got to continue to pitch."