Jul 10

Three Mets’ Storylines: Loss Defines First Half

If ever a game was a microcosm of the Mets’ disappointing first half, it was Sunday’s loss to the Nationals.

The Mets were six games behind the Nationals when they were gut-punched after being swept in a three-game series in Washington two weeks ago that left them six games behind.

MATZ: Lone bright spot. (AP)

MATZ: Lone bright spot. (AP)

But, manager  Terry Collins said the homestand leading into the break, four games each against the Cubs and Nationals, and three with Miami, had the potential to turn the momentum and give them a chance to enter the second half with a good feeling.

That looked possible after a stunning four-game sweep of the Cubs and winning two of three against Marlins. But, after losing three of four to the Nationals, including 3-2 today, they are again six back.

“We’re still in the race,” was how Collins described the disappointing end of the first half to reporters. “We were in this situation one year ago. Things looked bleak, but we ended up in the World Series.”

The three key storylines taken today’s game are the Nationals’ continued dominance of the Mets; New York’s continued inability to produce offensively; and, Steven Matz again pitching well after his elbow flare-up.

WASHINGTON’S DOMINANCE: The Mets are a disappointing 4-9 against the Nationals this year, scoring a composite 16 runs in those nine losses. That’s emblematic of a myriad of deficiencies, notably of their all-or-nothing offense.

Assuming the Mets get it together and see another World Series, they will pretty much have to run the table in their remaining six games with Washington.

Washington’s first-half dominance over the Mets is definitely Daniel Murphy-related. He hit a two-run homer Sunday and has seven homers and 21 RBI so far against the Mets. He hit three homers and drove in ten runs over the weekend.

THE OFFENSE: When asked what the Mets had to most improve on in the second half, Collins simply said: “situational hitting.”

Previously, Collins insisted on saying his team was built on power, but history is full of power-laden teams that don’t win. Then again, GM Sandy Alderson – a disciple of the new-wave numbers – constructed this team.

The Mets got two homers from Jose Reyes today – that’s not why they signed him – and are second in the National League (to Washington) with 120 homers. However, far more telling is their .213 average with RISP with 180 strikeouts. They have won only five games when they don’t homer; are 11-34 with they score three runs or less; and, have been shutout eight times.

Complicating matters are they don’t have David Wright for the rest of the season; have been without Lucas Duda since May 21 with no idea of when he’ll be back; and, are without Yoenis Cespedes indefinitely.

MATZ SETTLES DOWN: Since the issue about his bone spur, Matz, who doesn’t have a win since May 25, has given the Mets seven innings in back-to-back starts and before that worked into the sixth against the Cubs.

That’s encouraging news, especially after losing Matt Harvey for the season and Noah Syndergaard’s mysterious “arm fatigue.’’

I believe in babying pitchers’ arms when there is an injury. That’s what the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg, and something the Mets do not believe.

With Matz, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop because it always does with the Mets.

Jul 09

Three Mets’ Storylines: Murphy Deserves This

Daniel Murphy is just piling it on the Mets now. The one-time Met turned Mets tormenter with Washington stuck it to his former team again Saturday night.

Murphy drove in four runs on three hits – including a homer; missing a second by a few feet – in a 6-1 Nationals’ rout that opened their lead over the Mets to a comfy five games in the NL East. Murphy is a big part of that lead. Had he stayed with the Mets and produced the same numbers, you can make an argument the standings could be flipped.

MURPHY: Easy to root for. (AP)

MURPHY: Easy to root for. (AP)

Ask GM Sandy Alderson why they are not.“It’s always nice to beat a divisional opponent,” said Murphy as he suppressed a smile when asked if he took any pleasure in beating the team that shunned in the free-agent market.

“It’s always nice to beat a divisional opponent,” said Murphy as he suppressed a smile when asked if he took any pleasure in beating the team that shunned in the free-agent market.

Murphy is batting .437 with six homers and 19 RBI against the Mets. Overall, he’s hitting .349 with 16 homers and 64 RBI and if the season ended today, and it’s getting close to that feeling with the Mets, he would be a MVP frontrunner.

And, I couldn’t be happier for him. As a sportswriter, I root for good stories and Murphy is a good story. He was a great story last October, and before that was always an interesting story for the Mets.

For some reason only Alderson and the Wilpons know – but haven’t been forthcoming about – the Mets didn’t want him back, only giving him a $15.8-million token qualifying offer.

Maybe his politically-incorrect statements was the decider. Definitely, he didn’t fit Alderson’s Sabremetrics profile, which I always felt was overrated. His defense was never top drawer, but the first-place Nationals don’t seem to have a problem with his glove.

Murphy was a homegrown Met who always busted his hump for the team. He had some brain cramps, but there was never a problem with his heart.

I always liked Murphy when he played with the Mets and wanted him back, although I never believed Alderson would pull that trigger. The kicker is Murphy, after working with Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, showed the power stroke last year in the second half in the playoffs he’s flashing now.

One of the things I always liked about Murphy is he’s not a chest-thumper. When asked if he’s having fun, especially in the park where he blossomed last year in the playoffs, Murphy said: “We’re playing well. [Being called a] post-season hero is humbling, but there were 25 guys over there last year.”

Last year seems like a long time ago, and with each Murphy at-bat it’s getting further away. I don’t know if the Mets can regroup and challenge Washington after the break, but I am happy to see him thriving.

Murphy deserves to be a headliner, and could be one through 2018 with the Nationals, while the player they replaced him with – Neil Walker – could walk after this season.

Murphy was the main storyline Saturday. The two others were the Mets’ continued inability to hit with RISP and how Antonio Bastardo adds nothing to the bullpen.

METS WITH RISP: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a significant issue all season. They were 0-5 with RISP and stranded seven runners. If there was a turning point in the game it came in the first when the Mets had runners on second and third with no outs and came away with only one run.

Max Scherzer, who no-hit the Mets last year and has 29 strikeouts in three starts against them this season, struck out Asdrubal Cabrera and Brandon Nimmo to get out of the inning.

“It’s an age-old story,” Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters. “When you have a pitcher like [Scherzer] on the ropes early, you’d better get him.”

All season Collins said the Mets are built on power, which is not the optimum way to construct a team. Of all the telling stats about the Mets, perhaps the most significant is they have won only five games in which they did not hit a homer.

BASTARDO BOMBS OUT: Bastardo is not why they lost tonight, but continued to be a weak link in the bullpen.

Murphy took him deep tonight and also on Thursday. He has a 4.91 ERA and as simply not produced as the situational lefty.

The Mets enter the break with no shortage of needs, and a lefty in the bullpen is one of them.

 

Jul 08

Three Mets’ Storylines: More Injuries

What was that line in Bull Durham? “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And, sometimes it rains.” However, on this night for the Mets, it didn’t rain long or hard enough.

The Mets lost 3-1 Friday to the Washington Nationals, but that was just the game. On a day the Mets lost Matt Harvey to season-ending shoulder surgery they lost a lot more during the game.

SYNDERGAARD: When will we see him again? (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: When will we see him again? (AP)

I covered Harvey earlier today, so the top three Mets storylines tonight are: 1) Noah Syndergaard leaving with an arm injury, 2) Yoenis Cespedes leaving with a strained quad muscle, and 3) Jose Reyes’ reluctance to run.

SYNDERGAARD LEAVES WITH ARM INJURY: Syndergaard, who has been bothered by a bone spur in his elbow, and whom manager Terry Collins would pitch in the All-Star Game, left in the fifth inning with what the Mets called “arm fatigue.”

Collins told reporters: “He just said his arm went dead. It got tired on him. … “He tells me there’s nothing wrong. He’s just tired.”

Collins said Syndergaard will not pitch in the All-Star Game. He also said “as of now,’’ there’s no correlation between this and the bone spur.

His velocity was down and he winced with his last pitch. Doesn’t a wince denote pain? If he couldn’t feel anything in his arm, that’s not a dead arm.

“I didn’t have anything on pitches,” Syndergaard told reporters. “I knew something wasn’t right.”

Twice already this season Syndergaard complained of discomfort in his pitching elbow and underwent a MRI. He said he didn’t think a third MRI is necessary.

Wanna bet?

CESPEDES HAS QUAD INJURY: The Mets’ All-Star outfielder left after three innings with a strained right quad while chasing Daniel Murphy’s double.

Cespedes leaped to catch the carom off the wall and landed awkwardly. What the good folks at SNY didn’t say was he didn’t play the ball properly and was too close to the wall.

Collins said he might have to do without him for a couple of games, which should also put him out of the All-Star Game.

“`I’m running out of things to say and we’re running out of bodies,” said Collins, who indicated the Mets will play shorthanded for the rest of the series.

REYES DOESN’T RUN: The Mets had runners on the corners with no outs, with Reyes on first. Or, should I say, anchored on first?

He didn’t try to steal to get the tying run into scoring position. He didn’t run to stay out of the inning-ending double play.

SNY’s analysis ranged from the wet turf, to being rusty to not being confident, yet, to run. None are good explanations.

Reyes is here for his speed and provide a spark. If he’s rusty, what’s the point? The day before he was activated Collins said Reyes wasn’t ready, and several days prior to that the player said he didn’t want to come back until he was 100 percent.

Evidently he is not, despite the homer Thursday. Evidently, if the manager and player said Reyes wasn’t ready, then did management force this move just to sell a few tickets against the Marlins?

 

Jul 08

Mets’ July 8 Lineup Against Nationals

The red-hot Mets will go for their eighth victory in nine games on this “very important” homestand when Noah Syndergaard goes against Stephen Strasburg tonight at Citi Field, with the star shining brightest likely to be named the starter in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

Here’s tonight’s batting order against Strasburg:

Jose Reyes – 3B: Career .287 hitter (168-586) vs. Nationals. … Has three hits, two doubles and a homer since returning to Mets.

Curtis Granderson – RF: Career .272 hitter (53-195) against Washington. … Should have more than 27 RBI for his 15 homers. Perhaps that will improve with him batting second.

Yoenis Cespedes – CF: Career 329 hitter (25-76) vs. Nationals. … Batting a sizzling .419 (13-31) with three homers on the homestand.

Neil Walker – 2B: Lifetime .291 hitter (46-158) against Washington. … Has 15 homers; had 16 last season.

James Loney -1B: Lifetime .323 hitter (40-124) against Nationals. … Batting .290 (9-31) during homestand and .281 (9-31) with ten RBI with RISP.

Asdrubal Cabrera – SS: Batting .304 (7-23) with two homers on homestand. … Career .274 hitter against Nationals.

Brandon Nimmo – LF: Batting .286 (6-21) with one homer on homestand. … Already has one homer and four RBI with RISP.

Rene Rivera – C: Is lifetime .324 hitter (11-34) against Nationals.

Syndergaard – RHP: Pitching with bone spurs in his elbow. … Is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts vs. Nationals this year, and 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in five career starts.

COMMENTS: Thoroughly annoyed with how Wilmer Flores is being jerked around. Players as hot as Flores deserve to be rewarded by staying in the lineup. I can appreciate playing Reyes, but what harm would it be resting Cabrera for a night? Walker’s and Loney’s numbers vs. Nats merit them starting tonight. … I can’t figure out what manager Terry Collins is thinking about. … On the other hand, it is good to see him stick to the plan of pairing Rivera with Syndergaard. … Also pleased to see Nimmo in the lineup.

Jul 08

Harvey Made Right Call On Surgery

Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey unquestionably made the right decision to undergo surgery for treatment of the thorasic outlet syndrome in his pitching shoulder. It was the best option for his pitching and financial future, and to the Mets for the remainder of this season and beyond.

Dr. Robert Thompson is expected to perform the procedure next week in St. Louis. The surgery, which would entail removing one of his ribs, is designed to relieve pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the space between the neck and shoulder. The increased pressure caused numbness in his arm and fingers.

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

Harvey’s options were surgery or a nerve-blocking injection, the latter being a temporary solution with surgery eventually required.

Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, whose comments last year on the pitcher’s innings limit created a stir, strongly advocated the surgery to ESPN: “The doctors clearly recommended that he have this done, mainly so that he can be ready for ’17.’

“The rehab on this is six months. Now, if there was a small window of a season, you might be able to take a shot. It’s actually Botox, which relaxes the muscles. That’s not a long-term solution. `The only way this is going to be treated appropriately –  and obviously, we don’t want to do anything to affect next year – is to get this surgically taken care of.”

That’s the understandable driving force behind the decision. This was chosen to set up Harvey for his turn at free agency. Had he chosen the injection and gotten through the season, that would be great. But, if it only lasted a few months and he had the surgery later this year, or in the offseason, or next year, all or most of 2017, could be lost. That would leave Harvey with one year to make an impression on his future suitors when he hits the free agent market after the 2018 season.

And, nobody knows how he’ll pitch coming off surgery. If you’re Harvey – not to mention the Mets or any team that would go after him – you want two years to make an impression. That’s why Harvey’s decision is a no-brainer. But, how does losing Harvey help the Mets the rest of this year?

Knowing the Mets won’t have him in the second half enables GM Sandy Alderson to freely pursue another arm before the July 31 trade deadline, even if it jacks up the asking price. That’s preferable to waiting through at least two Harvey starts before hitting the market late, which would increase the price even more.

This also allows manager Terry Collins to determine his rotation now and eliminates the inevitable questioning and excuse making after each of his starts. And, who would want to see Harvey go down for surgery in a September pennant-race game or the playoffs?

Harvey hasn’t pitched well, going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts, and this ailment is an obvious explanation. Harvey frequently complained about not having his mechanics, but not having feelings in his arm and fingers could explain a change in mechanics.

However, left unanswered is why Harvey hadn’t complained about a lack of feeling before his disastrous start on Monday. Boras’ answer to that question explains both the good, and bad, about Harvey.

His bulldog approach on the mound, for example, his eight innings in Game 5 of the World Series, is to be applauded. It’s the spirit that defines an ace. That’s the good.

But, here’s the bad, as delivered by Boras.

“He’s felt this way since spring training, but he wanted to gut it out, try to do it, until finally, he’s going, ‘Look, I’m just feeling like I don’t feel the baseball the same.’ Once we heard that, I was like, ‘Maybe we have a TOS situation,’ and got him over to Dr. Thompson.”

Sounds plausible, but it underscores the increasingly, maddening, “I’ll do what I feel like” aspect that has defined Harvey’s short career. It also raises the inevitable question of what could have happened had this been discovered a month or two earlier.

If he had surgery in May or June perhaps he could have come back in late August, or September, or even the playoffs.

We’ll never know.