On paper, I’m perfectly happy with a match-up between the Mets’ Oliver Perez and Florida’s Byung-Hung Kim. That’s assuming, however, the former’s control problems don’t resurface and and two Fish runs aren’t tallied on bases-loaded HBP’s. The Marlins lead, 4-1, in the last of the 3rd at Shea, and while the New York Sun’s Tim Marchman wrote this morning, “it’s still early to talk about firings, though, no matter how dark things seem” please note it’s been several hours since the newspaper was published.

I don’t believe that bad performance is generally contagious in baseball. It’s far too much of an individual sport, and unlike, say, basketball, it’s usually not even clear how the contagion would spread. In this case, though, it’s obvious that something has gone horribly wrong with all these pitchers at one time.

There are three likely causes here. The first is that the Mets’ bullpen just isn’t all that good. Wagner and Heilman are elite pitchers, but the rest of the Mets’ pen simply consists of marginally skilled relievers. The choices made by manager Willie Randolph ” sending the execrable Mota in to face the heart of the Phillies’ lineup, for instance, or letting Florida’s Miguel Cabrera hit against soft-tossing lefties ” haven’t helped at all, but he does have to send someone to the mound. The real culprit may just be lack of talent.

The second explanation is that when everyone is collapsing, it has tangible effects. Mets’ relievers have simply looked nervous on the hill lately ” and who can blame them? When there’s a fresh goat every night, no one wants to wear the horns, and when you start thinking about failure, you’re more likely to fail. Heilman has been throwing harder than usual lately, and locating the ball far less well. That’s exactly the kind of muscling up that every pitcher knows isn’t a good idea, and he hasn’t been alone in doing it.

This brings us to the third explanation. Pitching coach Rick Peterson has received hardly any blame at all for this collapse, but he really should. Pitcher performance is ultimately his responsibility, in bad times as in good, and the Mets haven’t gotten the job done. More to the point, when pitchers are trying to blow the ball by hitters despite knowing that’s counterproductive, a coach whose forte is supposedly the mental aspect of the sport needs to come in for special blame. Peterson has been generally excellent since coming to New York, but if the Mets miss the playoffs, he’ll be the member of the team’s management most deserving of being fired.

(UPDATE : Marlins 4, Mets 3. Carlos Beltran hit a 2-run HR off Kim, a pitcher well experienced in lending a sense of hope to New Yorkers during their low moments).

Assuming their club isn’t swept this weekend, the following PDF might be of some passing interest to Mets fans.

If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a sports columist for a major tabloid but thought a lack of wit, insight or any sort of unique point of view might stand in your way, buck up — it didn’t stop Mike Vaccaro.

Finally, Metsradamus has obtained an early preview of the Mets 2007 season highlights DVD.