Apr 30

Revisiting Top 20 Mets’ Questions

Entering the season I suggested  20 questions the Mets would need to answer in the positive for them to return to the World Series. From performance to health to various intangibles, every team faces important questions and they don’t disappear just because it played in the World Series the year before.

At the time, I wrote I would periodically revisit those questions to measure how the Mets are progressing.

Here’s how they are doing:

Q: Will they have a World Series hangover or let down?

A: There were a few red flags and a 2-5 start, but they closed the month with a power surge, clubbing 31 homers in their last 14 games. Last April they won 11 straight. They closed the month winning eight straight and 13 of 15. There’s no appearance of any hangover and it looks as if we’ll have our Mets-Nationals pennant race.

WALKER: Mets' player for April. (AP)

WALKER: Mets’ player for April. (AP)

Q: How will manager Terry Collins respond to being a favorite?

A: So far, so good. I wasn’t crazy about him calling the eighth game of the season “must win.” And, I didn’t like him playing David Wright for the whole game Friday with the explanation he wanted him to face the Giants’ lefty relievers in preparation for facing Madison Bumgarner Sunday. What, Wright has never faced a lefty before? But, I do like him moving Michael Conforto to the No. 3 hole, which was the catalyst for the offensive surge. I also liked how he let Hansel Robles face Freddie Freeman when he could have played the lefty-righty percentages. Best of all, I liked how he admitted the Mets might have made a mistake in not giving his starters enough work during spring training. Overall, he’s done a solid job worthy of his extension.

Q: What’s going on with Matt Harvey?

A: After a 7.50 spring training ERA and 0-3 start, there were understandably questions about Harvey. A lot is always demanded from Harvey, and after making it through last season without any problems following Tommy John surgery, the expectations are even higher. He’s pitched better in his last two starts, both wins. No reason for concern right now.

Q: Will Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Syndergaard has been incredible consistently throwing in the high 90s. His secondary pitches have also been dominant. DeGrom missed time with a strained lat muscle and tending to his family because of complications following the birth of his son. Both child and lat are doing fine. He didn’t have a smooth start Saturday against the Giants, but as usually the case with him, he finds a way to pitch through trouble.

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: I would say an awful lot. He was hammered in his first start, but won his last three. Matz has been terrific, but like deGrom and Harvey, he’s throwing too many pitches for the innings he works. That eventually could catch up to the bullpen.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: Nothing has changed, the plan remains for him to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is brought up, which should be around July 1. He would then move to the bullpen.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: So far, it has been like leather. Familia recently has worked his way out of a tough stretch. He’s converted all seven of his save opportunities with a 2.45 ERA.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: This might have been the Mets’ most important pre-season issue, but the bullpen has been solid in all phases. Addison Reed has been a very capable set-up reliever and Antonio Bastardo has pitched well despite a poor spring training. Jim Henderson and Logan Verrett have been more than pleasant surprises. Robles is getting more chances to shine and he’s delivering.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud, are you there?

A: Nope. Once again, he’s on the disabled list, this time with a strained rotator cuff. The Mets still don’t know what he can produce over 500 at-bats and might not find out this year, either. He wasn’t hitting or throwing well at the time of the injury.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: When Conforto was moved to the No. 3 hole, Yoenis Cespedes went to clean-up and Duda was dropped to fifth. He’s hitting .240 with four homers and 14 RBI, and again has proven streaky. Four homers a month will give him 24 for the year, which is short of his expectations. Also short of what the Mets want from him.

Q: Will Neil Walker make people forget Daniel Murphy?

A: Walker has been the Mets’ Player of the Month for April with nine homers, tying him with Dave Kingman (1976), Carlos Delgado (2006) and John Buck (2013) for the club record. Sure, Murphy was a terrific month, but Walker has been better than advertised. The question now is: How hard will the Mets try to bring him back?

Q: Is Asdrubal Cabrera an upgrade over Wilmer Flores at shortstop?

A: Cabrera has done it both in the field and at the plate. There’s no uneasiness when a grounder is hit to him.

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: Still nobody knows. It takes him two hours to get ready for a game and his back is always a question. Which is why it was foolish to let him play nine innings in a blowout game Friday night. Why push the envelope? Wright has two homers and only five RBI hitting mostly in the second spot in the order. He’s only hitting .143 (3-for-21) with RISP. It’s not about hitting for power, it is about hitting a single when you need it.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: That’s the chance the Mets took when they gave Cespedes an out clause after one season in his three-year deal. If it does happen that way, it has been a fun ride. Cespedes still has his lapses in the field, but he’s locked in at the plate with seven homers and 23 RBI for the month. However, he is on pace to strike out over 200 times.

Q: A breakout year for Conforto?

A: it is sure looking that way. Conforto lit the offense on fire since moving to the No. 3 hole. He closed the month reaching base in 17 straight games and tying a club record with doubles in six straight. He has four homers in his last 14 games. Everything he hits seems to be hard and on a line. Plus, he’s making the plays in the field. He’s not a star in the making. He already is a star.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Curtis Granderson?

A: After a slow start Granderson is on a roll. He’s scored 15 runs in his last 13 games and has a .350 on-base percentage. He also has four homers. Granderson still strikes out a lot and isn’t trying to steal anymore.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: Kevin Plawecki is now a starter with d’Arnaud’s injury. Collins needs to find a way to get Alejandro De Aza and Flores more at-bats. Eventually, the Mets will need them. Rene Rivera is now the backup catcher.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: That’s always the wild card. Right now it is d’Arnaud. Cespedes missed several games with a bruised right leg, then hit a pinch-hit three-run homer to tie a game this week against Cincinnati. Harvey entered the season a question because of a bladder infection. He’s fine now. DeGrom’s lat was a scare, but he’s also fine. Wright, of course, is always a concern.

Q: What’s going with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals sprinted out of the gate and opened up a five-game lead on April 16 that is now down to a half-game. MVP Bryce Harper is playing as if he wants to win it again. Their pitching has also been strong and Murphy is playing well.

Q: Can the Mets get off to another fast start?

A: An 11-game winning streak keyed a 15-8 April record last year and gave them a buffer to overcome injuries and a drastic hitting slump. The Mets had another strong April this year at 15-7, which they needed to keep pace with Washington. The Nationals come to town for a three-game series, May 17-19, and the Mets are in Washington, May 23-25.

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Apr 30

Mets Wrap: Conforto Stars Again

Just cut in out SNY. We all know Michael Conforto is on fire, and Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are superstars and have been for several years. So, after another big outing from Conforto – three hits and three RBI – in the 77th game of his career on Saturday, SNY compared him to Trout and Harper at a similar stage of his career.

CONFORTO: Comparisons already being made. (AP)

CONFORTO: Comparisons already being made. (AP)

Why, 77 games isn’t even half of season. Also ridiculous was The Post comparing him to Barry Bonds in a headline.

Can we just let him play?

Manager Terry Collins was asked after the Mets’ 6-5 victory over San Francisco whether Conforto was a surprise to opposing pitchers or was just good?

“If he’d just ben called up, I’d say [they] don’t know him,” Collins told reporters. “But, he’s played in the World Series. They know him. `He’s going to be a really good hitter. Some guys are outstanding players, I don’t care what level you put them at, they adjust. He’s adjusted. He’s going to be a force.”

He’s already there. I’m not saying he’s Trout or Harper, but when the Nationals come to town in a little over two weeks, there will be a lot of Harper-Conforto talk. Maybe SNY was getting a head start.

Conforto ended April on a tear by reaching base for the 17th straight game and hitting a double in his sixth consecutive game. He also hit his fourth homer and finished the month hitting .365 with four homers and a .442 on-base percentage.

“`It’s been a lot of fun,” Conforto said earlier this week. “I just have to keep an even keel to things and not ride the roller coaster.”

That means letting him continue to grow and resist the temptation of making comparisons.

METS GAME WRAP

Game: #22 Record: 15-7  Streak: W 8

SUMMARY: Jacob deGrom pitched through a rocky start, and backed by homers from Michael Conforto and Wilmer Flores, he hung in to win his third game. DeGrom had a 4-0 lead entering the third, but Flores’ throwing error led to three unearned runs.

KEY MOMENT: After pulverizing the Giants for 13 runs, including a club-record 12 in the third inning, the Mets immediately jumped on Matt Cain with two runs in the first. They scored two more in the second to give deGrom the cushion needed to hold on.

THUMBS UP: Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera turned a nifty 4-6-3 double play in the ninth. … Flores homered. … Three hits and three RBI by Conforto and two more RBI from Neil Walker. … Jerry Blevins relieved Hansel Robles and retired Gregor Blanco to end the eighth with the tying run in scoring position. … Lucas Duda came off the bag to save Flores from another error in the ninth. … Jeurys Familia saved his eighth game. … Curtis Granderson robbed Brandon Crawford with a run-saving catch in the eighth.

THUMBS DOWN: Cain hit Rene Rivera and Cabrera with pitches in the second. … Flores’ error. … DeGrom walked four. … Mets pitchers walked seven overall. … The bullpen gave up two runs.

EXTRA INNINGS: David Wright had the game off. Who didn’t think of Wright being beaned by Cain in 2009 when the Giants’ pitcher plunked Rivera?

QUOTEBOOK: “It’s impressive what he’s doing. He played in big games for us last year and he’s picked up this year.’’ – DeGrom on watching Conforto.

BY THE NUMBERS: 33: Homers hit by the Mets in April to tie a club record.

NEXT FOR METS: The finale Sunday pits Madison Bumgarner (2-2, 3.64) starts against Noah Syndergaard (2-0, 1.69).

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Apr 29

Mets Wrap: Historic Third Inning Carries Matz

We can debate the merits of hitting home runs – which manager Terry Collins labels is his team – or if is better to string together hits and walks.

CESPEDES: Connects for slam. (AP)

CESPEDES: Connects for slam. (AP)

The Mets kept the line moving in the third, scoring eight runs before Yoenis Cespedes capped their 12-run third inning, the largest in franchise history, with a grand slam in a 13-1 rout of the San Francisco Giants.

While both attacks have their upside, what has also been essential to the Mets’ April success has been the consistency of their batting order. In previous seasons rarely did the Mets go back-to-back in consecutive games with the same order.

It wouldn’t be unusual for them to have six different lineups in a week. Not this year. So far, in 21 games the Mets started the following:

No. 1: Curtis Granderson, 20 games.

No. 2: David Wright, 17 games.

No. 3: Michael Conforto: 13 games.

No. 4: Lucas Duda: 11 games.

No. 5: Neil Walker: 13 games.

No. 6: Conforto and Walker: 7 games each.

No. 7: Asdrubal Cabrera: 13 games.

No. 8: Travis d’Arnaud: 8 games.

No. 9: Pitcher: 21 games.

“A lot of good things are happening right now,” Collins told reporters. “I like our lineup.”

Cespedes has been the No. 3 hitter eight times, but that changed after Conforto was moved to the third spot. Cespedes has also been the cleanup seven times. As the season progresses, Cespedes will get the lion’s share of starts hitting cleanup, with Duda batting more in the fifth spot and Walker hitting sixth.

“He’s a great player,” Collins said of Cespedes. “He takes the pressure off everybody.”

When an offense juggles its lineup on a regular basis there’s little chance to develop consistency. However, so far this April you can see where Collins has benefitted with a steady batting order.

Such things are conducive to hitting tears and winning streaks, such as the Mets are on now.

METS GAME WRAP

 Game: #21 Record: 14-7 Streak: W 7

 SUMMARY: Steven Matz pitched out of early trouble, which seemed like a big deal at the time, but it was dwarfed by the Mets’ 12-run third inning, the largest in the 55-year history of the franchise.

KEY MOMENT: The Giants had chances in the first and third to do damage against Matz, who pitched out of it and coasted for six scoreless innings.

 THUMBS UP: Cespedes drove in six runs in the third with a two-run single and grand slam. … Two more hits by Conforto. … Also two hits by Cespedes, Walker and Cabrera. … More solid relief pitching. … They were 9-for-16 with runners in scoring position.

THUMBS DOWN: Why was David Wright still in the game with the Mets having a 13-1 lead in the seventh? Why did he play all nine innings on a cold and damp night? He should have been taken out after the third. Collins said he didn’t consider pulling Wright, saying he wanted to get him at-bats against Giants’ lefty relievers Steven Okert and Javier Lopez in preparation to facing Madison Bumgarner Sunday. … Even so, Wilmer Flores needed to play somewhere. … Mets pitchers walked six. … As long as the Mets count pitches, it will be an issue: Matz has to do better than throwing 110 pitches in six innings.

EXTRA INNINGS: Cespedes has at least one extra-base hit in nine straight games. … Matz is 7-1 lifetime in his short career. … Friday’s game was the first of 17 straight without an off day. … The Mets have hit 31 homers in April. The club record is 33 in 2006. … Conforto has reached base in 16 straight games. … The bullpen has given up three runs in the last seven games.

QUOTEBOOK: “We were not missing the mistake pitches and were having fun out there. When we’re having fun, it’s easy.’’ – Conforto on the Mets’ historic third inning.

BY THE NUMBERS: 45: Duration of the Mets’ 12-run third inning in minutes. Fifteen Mets went to the plate.

NEXT FOR METS: The second game of this series is Saturday afternoon, with the Giants’ Matt Cain (0-2, 6.43) going against Jacob deGrom (2-0, 1.54). On Sunday, Bumgarner (2-2, 3.64) starts against Noah Syndergaard (2-0, 1.69).

 

Apr 29

April 29, Mets Lineup Against Giants

The Mets will attempt to extend their winning streak to seven tonight against the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field.

Here’s the lineup behind Steven Matz:

Mets

Curtis Granderson, RF

David Wright, 3B

Michael Conforto, LF

Yoenis Cespedes, CF

Lucas Duda, 1B

Neil Walker, 2B

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS

Kevin Plawecki, C

Matz, LP

COMMENTS: Isn’t it great the Mets are pretty much playing with the same lineup every game? Sure beats the juggling Terry Collins had to do in recent years because of injuries and players underperforming.

 

 

 

Apr 28

Optimistic About Harvey

I am the first to admit I have had reservations about Matt Harvey and his future with the Mets.

I still believe they would be smart to explore the trade market because if healthy, he’ll bolt for the Bucks in the Bronx when he becomes a free-agent after the 2019 season. That is based on the innings fiasco and agent Scott Boras’ reputation. The driving force is money.

HARVEY: Still hopeful for him. (AP)

HARVEY: Still hopeful for him. (AP)

There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s the way of the baseball world.

I believe the Mets gambled wrongly with Harvey and their pitchers in spring training by limiting their innings. Their heart might have been in the right place, but the mistake they made was pitchers need work to get sharp.

Harvey was hammered in his first three starts; Jacob deGrom hurt his lat muscle in his first start; and Steven Matz was also hit hard in his first start. The exception was Noah Syndergaard, And, Bartolo Colon is, well, there are no words to describe him.

Harvey’s pitch counts have been high, but he was better in his last two starts – including last night’s game against the Reds – and his ability to work out of trouble was a positive sign. Since Harvey’s early troubles was a sign of rust more than injury, I don’t have any reason to think he still can’t have a big year.