Closers are like kickers and goalies. When they stink, they can drag down an entire team, no matter how well everyone else performs. Which brings me to Frank Francisco, the Mets hot-headed, strike-zone challenged closer with the almost impossible 8.56 ERA.
This is the post I did not want to write –certainly not this soon – but I knew I’d eventually get around to it. Were it not for Francisco, the Mets would be 21-13 and riding an eight-game winning streak — including sweeps over the Phillies and Marlins. Instead, they limp out of Miami at 19-15, having lost two our of three thanks to blown saves by Francisco on Friday and again today. In both games, the Mets got solid starting pitching and staged spirited late inning comebacks to take the lead. But Francisco single handedly crapped on the mound and spoiled what should have momentum building victories. And to add insult to injury, he imploded on the mound today and was tossed, leaving the equally atrociuos Manny Acosta to turn a mess into a monstrosity. Giancarlo Stanton’s walk-off grand slam was one of those moments that I call “the inevitability of the inevitable,” when you can just sense that the Mets’ bullpen is about to ruin your day. I’ve developed a sixth sense for such occurances, having witnessed a plethora of them over the past 15 years or so.
Mets closers having been driving fans nuts for decades, from Jesse Orosco to John Franco to Armando Benitez to Braden Looper to Billy Wagner to K-Rod to Jason Isringhausen to Bobby Parnell (the last three in 2011 alone!). But by Mother’s Day 2012, Francisco is proving to be the very worst of the lot. And I’m not the least bit surprised.
When the Mets signed Francisco in the off-season for a guaranteed $12 over two seasons — a king’s ransom for a cash-strapped team that spent practically nothing to fortify the rest of the team — I cringed. I knew this guy was mediocre at best. If all-stars like Wagner and K-Rod proved shaky, what could we expect from Francisco? Except for the season opening series against the Braves when he went three-for-three in save opportunities, he has been putrid. Even when he’ll nailing down a save, he walks a tightrope, not unlike his predecessors. But at least K-Rod and Wagner and Benitez and Franco would post long stretches of dominance before exposing us to short but horrifying stretches of nail-biting, hair-pulling disasters.
Francisco has disappointed almost every time out and it’s only mid-May. Terry Collins’ team has proven to be quite scrappy and resilient thus far and perhaps they’ll bounce back against the Brewers this week. But it won’t be with the help of Francisco. They need to build big enough leads or start handing the ball to someone else in the ninth (Rausch?) for awhile. The Mets can’t worry about what they’re paying Francisco to justify entrusting him with every save opportunity. A demotion — albeit it temporary — may do him some good. Ozzie Guillen removed the closer’s stripes from Heath Bell for a stretch — and Bell is getting paid a lot more than Francisco — because he could not find the plate. And judging from his outing today, he’s still trying to figure things out. If he can’t, I’m sure Ozzie will gladly call his number as the game’s highest paid set-up man.
The Mets bullpen has been their Achilles heal for the past five years and it remains as such. They’ve proven, with a young and deeper than expected roster of talent, that they won’t be a pushover this season, even in the deep NL East (give the Phillies time; they’ll heat up eventually). But the spector of Frank Francisco looms large, ready to rain on the Mets parade, even on a beautiful, picture perfect Mother’s Day.