St. Lucie's losing no longer laughing matter
A mid-May visit from the Phillie Phanatic coincided with a somewhat successful month for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.
Front: Lehigh Valley's new $50 million ballpark was the site of two of the Iron Pigs minor-league worst three April victories.
By Chuck King
For St. Lucie players, there was always Lehigh Valley.
As badly as the High-A Florida State League’s Mets started, the Triple-A International League’s Iron Pigs were worse. Lehigh Valley lost the first 11 games of its existence en route to a 2-20 start this season. Despite winning fives games in April – two more than the Iron Pigs - the Mets' record wasn’t the worst in baseball.
“It’s pretty bad when you are kind of joking around – at least we are not the last team in minor league baseball,” said first baseman Lucas Duda, whose Mets enter June at 12-43. “Now we are, and the joke is not as funny.”
The Iron Pigs and Mets dueled well into May to avoid baseball’s worst record. Lehigh Valley started winning. Save one glorious six-day span, the Mets didn’t.
“The first month was miserable,” Iron Pigs pitcher John Ennis said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. There were a lot of good players on this team, a lot of guys who have been on championship teams. There was no one you could blame in particular who wasn’t carrying their weight. It really was a team thing.”
Entering June, Lehigh Valley’s 18-39 record is not only better than St. Lucie’s, it’s also topped Lexington and Rome of the South Atlantic League. The Iron Pigs have moved within a couple of wins of tying Charlotte and Norfolk in their own league.
Even at the low points, Lehigh Valley players said they avoided comparing their record with those of other minor league teams.
“You just know it’s a fluke with how the season started out,” Iron Pigs pitcher Steve Kline said. “We’ve turned it around a bit. There are a bunch of older guys here and we’ve been having fun. We’re starting to catch up to some teams.”
The Mets haven’t been nearly as fortunate. They looked to be turning the season around when, on May 2, the Mets won their fifth in six games. However, a 12 game losing streak soon followed, leaving the St. Lucie challenging Miami’s 1990 mark of 15-54 for the worst single-half record since the league started playing halves in 1988.
“Early in the year we’d score some runs, but then our bullpen would have a tough time,” St. Lucie manager Tim Teufel said. “Now the pitching as a whole has been good. Now we need timely hitting.”
The Mets followed April’s five wins with a 7-22 May. In 13 of those losses St. Lucie scored two runs or fewer. Their 12 wins entering June are five fewer than any other affiliated club. Seven of the eight independent Atlantic League clubs, whose season started nearly a month later than St. Lucie’s, have at least 13 wins.
Teufel says the seven major league rehabbers, a group that’s included Orlando Hernandez, Moises Alou and most recently Pedro Martinez, hasn’t hurt team chemistry, but it’s hard to declare it’s helped much, either.
Even with the chaos surrounding the major league club, the New York front office is taking notice of St. Lucie’s plight. Teufel said that on a recent South Florida trip, New York General Manager Omar Minaya told St. Lucie players to concern themselves with their development and the wins will come.
“We have become more of a priority than at the beginning of the year as far as trying to turn it around,” said Teufel, whose Mets need to win four of their remaining 15 first half games to avoid Miami’s mark for futility. “They don’t want to see us have a miserable time.”
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