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This Week in Schadenfreude: John Maine’s Arm is Coming Unattached

Welcome to This Week in Schadenfreude, where we discuss why, no matter how bad things might seem for the Phillies, someone else in the division always has it worse.

This has not been a good week for schadenfreude. The Phils have suddenly decided that scoring runs is for wusses, dropping four in a row, including two to the hated Mets. Those Mets, at 24-23, are now prairie dogging .500, making the NL East the only division in baseball with five winning teams. Good for them. As much as I wish those wins hadn’t come at Philadelphia’s expense, the ‘Mazin’ Mets deserve credit for their strong play of late.

But all is not sunshine and puppies in Queens. You never want to see a player experience career-threatening injury, so this week we have a little less eye-poking and a little more sobriety.

Back in the day, John Maine was to the 2006 Mets as J.A. Happ was to the 2009 Phillies—a young kinda-prospect without any mind-bending stuff who had the ability to get batters out reliably. At 25, he pitched well in 15 starts for the Mets team that went to Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. The next year, he posted 8.48 K/9 and a 3.91 ERA in a 15-win campaign. In all, it looked like Maine was going to be a solid mid-rotation starter for many years, sort of an evolutionary Kevin Millwood.

Well, things are different now. Maine spent time on the DL and was not particularly effective in 2009, and this year, matters have been even worse. He left his last start after one batter, whom he walked on five pitches. Jerry Manuel scratched Maine from his next start and the righty is now on the DL with rotator cuff tendinitis.

The unpronounceable David Golebiewski wrote in depth at FanGraphs about two weeks ago about how the 29-year-old righty has drifted back toward mediocrity these past two seasons, possibly due to injury.

Maine’s performance just creams catastrophic shoulder injury. The first time I saw one of those live, I was 10 years old, watching Alex Fernandez fall apart in the 1997 NLCS. His velocity was down, his off-speed stuff wasn’t moving, and he had no control. Fernandez threw 57 pitches in 2 2/3 innings, got yanked by Jim Leyland, and didn’t pitch again until 1999.

Well, Maine is much the same this year. In walking Nyjer Morgan to start his May 20 start, Maine’s fastball topped out around 84, down 5 MPH from his season average, which, in turn, is down about 3 MPH From last year. His walk rate went from 3.53 BB/9 in 2007 to 4.20 BB/9 last year to an alarming 5.67 BB/9 this year. He’s only getting 45.5% of his pitches into the strike zone in 2010, down from 52.8% last year. With no control and no velocity, it’s pretty obvious Maine is hurt—seriously, I fear. With a starting rotation of Johan Santana and four other guys, the Mets can ill afford to lose Maine.

This might not be a reason to point and laugh. But it’s certainly a reason to be glad you’re not a Mets fan.

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