If the Carlos Beltran injury feels like a tipping point for this year's Mets, there's a good reason. Losing one of the best all-around players in the game always hurts, but when you're already playing without your All-Star shortstop, your power-hitting first baseman, your No. 4 starting pitcher and your eighth-inning setup man, it's a backbreaker.
The Mets may be able to weather this, but the overwhelming likelihood is that they won't -- that this is one too many injury straws on the 2009 camel's back -- and that the best thing Mets fans will be able to say about this year is that at least they didn't blow a September lead again because they never had one.
Overly pessimistic, you say? Maybe. But this is a staggering run of injuries. And because of it, Mets fans are going to have to alter their expectations for the 2009 season in a number of very specific ways:
David Wright's home run power may not return after all. Wright is still likely to hit over .300, and he may steal close to 50 bases. But why on earth would an opposing pitcher give him anything good to hit at this point? Sure, Gary Sheffield has managed to look a little scary lately, but nobody expects that to last, and, without him, Wright is the only real threat in the Mets' lineup at this point. Considering that and his home ballpark, Wright is unlikely to reach the 30-homer mark for the third year in a row. And without Reyes and Beltran around him in the lineup, he's also unlikely to clear the 100-RBI mark for the fifth year in a row.
Fernando Martinez can't be used in a major trade.
As of now, the rookie is pretty close to being the Mets' starting center fielder. At worst, he's become their top outfield option in the event of an injury, and with Sheffield and Ryan Church at the corner spots, can anybody doubt that more outfield injuries are coming? Martinez can go one of two ways right now. He can play well, in which case the Mets would want to keep him and use him in a lineup that needs all kinds of help. Or he could play poorly, in which case the Mets probably couldn't get as much as they should get in a trade for him even if they decided they wanted to do one. Martinez is the organization's top trade chip right now if they want to get an impact hitter or pitcher, but circumstances may be rendering him untouchable.
They need a pitcher right now more than they need a hitter. Yes, last week I wrote that they needed Adam Dunn, and I still think he'd be the perfect solution for what ails their offense. But now, with so many offensive pieces on the shelf, it might be smarter for Omar Minaya to go out and get a mid-rotation starting pitcher like Jarrod Washburn or Jason Marquis. With major questions still swirling around John Maine, Mike Pelfrey and of course ol' Ollie Perez, solidifying the rotation would make a lot of sense. They're not going to score tons of runs in home games anyway, even if their lineup suddenly and magically restores itself to full strength. Maybe getting another pitcher would help them win more games 1-0 and 2-1. Assuming you believe they can still contend in 2009 despite all that's happened.
Nobody's job is in jeopardy -- Minaya and Jerry Manuel are locks to return in 2010. Not that there's anything wrong with the job Manuel has done since taking over as manager a year ago, but for those Mets fans who grumble about him anyway, get used to him. Even if everything fell apart from this point on, how could you justify firing a manager to whom all of this has happened? The man hasn't been able to put his team on the field, and he's still sitting a 1 1/2 games out of first place. All he can do right now is exceed expectations. And managers who do that don't get fired. They get awards and extensions.
Minaya's in the same position. If he manages to make a couple of moves that save the season, he'll be hailed as a genius for thinking on his feet. But if whatever he does fails to save the season, he'll get a pass, because everybody will justifiably say that there was nothing he could do given the circumstances.
No, the Mets aren't out of it yet. But this pile of injuries is starting to teeter and threatening to come crashing down. When a season gets to that point, it's time to adjust expectations. At this point, Mets fans, the best you can hope for is to be pleasantly surprised.