Oct 07

Revisiting Mets’ Top 20 Questions

Every spring I pose 20 questions the Mets must answer to have a successful year and after the season I raise them again.

Here goes:

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

A: There were several times this season when the Mets were sluggish and flat. There were numerous injuries that set them back, but didn’t derail them. If they crippled by injuries, they wouldn’t have won 87 games and reached the wild-card game had they been totally derailed. There are several reasons why the Mets aren’t still alive, but an emotional hangover isn’t one of them.

DE GROM: One of many injuries. (AP)

     DE GROM: One of many injuries. (AP)

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

A: Let’s face it, there several things I don’t like about how Collins handles things, beginning with the injuries. A player will be down for a few days, then a week, then on to the disabled list. I didn’t like how he placated Yoenis Cespedes, and it went beyond the golf issue. There were more than a few in-game decisions that could have turned out better, but that’s with every manager. In the end, for the most part his players hustled for him and he kept the clubhouse.

Q: What’s going on with Harvey?

A: Not much. For the second time in three years, his season was cut short by surgery. And, as in 2013, Matt Harvey wasn’t totally forthcoming about his injury and the situation worsened. Harvey got off to a miserable start. He seemed to briefly stabilize, but then had another slide – this time leading him to the disabled list. It has reached the point where Harvey can’t be counted on. If the Mets decide to trade him, that’s fine by me, because I still think he’ll walk in a couple of years.

Q: Will DeGrom and Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Jacob deGrom looked great at times, but there was a long stretch of no support. Three rough starts in a row led to the disabled list. As for Noah Syndergaard, he pitched for much of the season with a bone spur in his elbow. He was superb in the wild-card game with seven scoreless innings. Will he require surgery? That’s to be determined, but if healthy will enter 2017 as the No. 1 starter.

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: A great start fizzled into a trip to the disabled list and eventually surgery. Matz’s short career has already been riddled with injuries. Surgery was on the elbow, but there is still the issue of the impingement of his shoulder. He’ll be a question until he proves otherwise in spring training.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: Colon was the staff leader with 15 victories and the rotation’s anchor when everybody but Syndergaard went down. Colon was worth every penny of the $7 million he earned, and should be brought back.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: Thick enough to lead the league with 51 saves. Familia gave up the game-winning homer in the wild-card game. He was totally stand-up after the game, which is the trait of all the great ones. The Mets have more pressing concerns than Familia’s psyche.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: Addison Reed led the league in holds and the bridge became stronger with the acquisition of Fernando Salas. A lot was expected of Hansel Robles, but his development stuttered at times. The Mets also expected much from Jim Henderson, but his season was sidetracked because he was misused early in the season. Jerry Blevins had a good season, but Josh Smoker and Josh Edgin remain questions as does Gabriel Ynoa. The Mets have plenty of names, but few givens.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud?

A: The Mets are still looking for him. Between his injuries and lack of production, the Mets enter the offseason with a huge concern at catcher. Rene Rivera was a positive addition, but the Mets can’t rely on him offensively.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: Well, he was injured again. Isn’t that consistency? Duda spent much of the season on the disabled list with a back injury. Duda was activated in September. It was good to see him, but not all his health concerns were answered. James Loney was a solid replacement, but I’m doubtful the Mets will bring him back. If not Duda, don’t be surprised to see Michael Conforto get reps in spring training.

Q: Will Walker make people forget Murphy?

A: Not a chance, especially how Daniel Murphy torched them all season. Neil Walker carried the Mets early before he was lost with a back injury. Walker has an option for 2017. Back surgery doesn’t help his bargaining position, but don’t be surprised if the Mets extend a qualifying offer.

Q: Is Cabrera an upgrade over Flores?

A: I’ve always been a Wilmer Flores supporter and don’t believe he’s gotten a fair shake. Even so, Asdrubal Cabrera exceeded all expectations and you can make an argument he’s the Mets’ MVP, and that includes over Cespedes.

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: For those who expected another injury it happened. This time, it was spinal stenosis that necessitated season-ending surgery. Wright wasn’t hitting when he went on the disabled list. Losing Wright enabled the Mets to bring back Jose Reyes. Wright should be ready by spring training, but there are no assurances as to how he’ll be. The Mets must protect themselves in case Wright can’t play, which means they’ll probably bring back Reyes.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: Only the most naïve don’t think Cespedes will opt out. I have no problems with that, but the Mets must be wary of bringing him back. For all the lip service Cespedes gives about wanting him to return to the Mets, his priority is getting the big bucks, which is more than the $50 million remaining on his deal over the next two seasons. Early reports have Cespedes seeking $100 million over five years. There’s no denying Cespedes can hit, but he’s high maintenance, injury prone and hustles when the mood strikes. Oh yeah. One more thing … if you play in New York and want over $100 million, then you talk after a playoff loss. I think the Mets baby this guy too much and the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Q: A breakout year for Conforto?

A: Nope. He sizzled in April, hurt his wrist and eventually rode the Vegas-New York shuttle. In April, Collins moved Conforto to third in the order, but then yanked him around. When he finally came back from Triple-A in September we barely saw him. With the Mets expected to pick up the option on Jay Bruce and another year with Curtis Granderson, there’s little room for Conforto if Cespedes comes back.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Granderson?

A: Nope. Granderson’s patience at the leadoff spot last year was key to the Mets getting to the World Series in 2015. However, Granderson’s 30-59 homer-RBI ratio was almost historically poor. The acquisition of Reyes enabled Collins to move Granderson behind Cespedes in the order. Granderson had a strong September and will be on the last season of his contract next year.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: One thing we learned about the season is the Mets had better depth than we expected. There was Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and T.J. Rivera from the system, plus Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman for the rotation. GM Sandy Alderson did a good job this year plugging holes with Reyes, Loney, Bruce and Rivera.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: Just about everybody. When a team loses three-fifths of its rotation, plus Wright, Walker, Duda, d’Arnaud and Flores from its offense, it will be in trouble. Considering all that happened, the Mets were fortunate to win 87 games and reach the playoffs. It was a rough year and the prognosis for the pitchers is uncertainty. Part of the Mets’ offseason analysis must be of its medical staff.

Q: What’s going on with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals, especially Murphy, owned the Mets this year and won the NL East going away. And, they did so with their own list of injuries, including Stephen Strasburg going on the DL twice. They’re playing Los Angeles in the NLDS and lost Game 1 at home.

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

A: They did, but it didn’t matter. The Mets were hot in April and hot in September. Between them, the Mets were a sub .500 team.

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Oct 06

Mets’ Playoff Ouster Has Us Thinking About April

After last year, there was one goal for the Mets and it was winning the World Series. Since it won’t happen, by definition, 2016 was a failure. However, the image of the Big Picture depends on angle in which it was viewed. Straight on it was a bust, but “Mets 2016” was a puzzle with many missing pieces.

If we take away one thing from this season is we discovered the Mets’ farm system isn’t as barren as once perceived and they have more depth than we thought.

COLLINS: Reason to be hopeful. (AP)

COLLINS: Reason to be hopeful. (AP)

All teams sustain injuries and the Mets were no exception. The Mets had more than most, beginning with losing Matt Harvey to surgery, then Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, and we never saw Zack Wheeler.

“The job our guys did to get to this point to be in this game is unbelievable,” manager Terry Collins said. “When you lose three-fifths, obviously, of one of the best rotations in the game – you lose two guys or three guys out of the middle of your lineup for a long period of time – to sit here where we are today, I’m tremendously proud.”

Under the rubble of their rotation were found some gems. Noah Syndergaard, even before seven magnificent innings Wednesday, continues to emerge as an ace. Syndergaard pitched hurt, and still throws too many innings, but he’s already one of the best.

Without those injuries Bartolo Colon wouldn’t have stayed in the rotation and led the staff with 15 victories. Also, we wouldn’t have found out about Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

The Mets have questions about the health of their starting pitchers, but unlike most teams they have the depth to get to sustain.

The bullpen was a significant issue entering the season, but Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia gave them perhaps the game’s best eighth-ninth inning combination, which could be even stronger if they retain Fernando Salas and Hansel Robles harnesses his emotions, the back end could be even better.

Injuries also ravaged the infield, where the Mets lost David Wright and Neil Walker for the season. They also were without Wilmer Flores and Lucas Duda for extended periods. The reports are encouraging about Wright’s return, but they must be cognizant about replacing him. In that regard, Flores will have surgery on his right wrist. Walker can be a free agent, but his back surgery will lower his asking price. That will be a tough decision.

The Mets will now be forced to make choices on bringing back Kelly Johnson, James Loney and catcher Rene Rivera. They also let us find out T.J. Rivera can play. Perhaps most importantly, they found out Jose Reyes still has the spark, if not the talent.

Injuries also factored in the outfield as they played lengthy segments without Juan Lagares and Yoenis Cespedes. They also survived long production droughts from Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce, Alejandro De Aza and Curtis Granderson.

However, Granderson and Bruce came on strong at the end and have reputations of production. They have another year with Granderson under contract and an option on Bruce, so there’s flexibility. If Cespedes opts out as he’s expected to do, the Mets have options with Conforto and Brandon Nimmo.

Collins said of his team: “They’re hurting, but there’s no reason to be. They were written off so many times this summer and they kept fighting back.”

The Mets didn’t win, but I can’t say it was a lost season. The Mets found out a lot about many players who weren’t on their radar in April.

In many ways, if their rotation recovers from the knife, the Mets could be in better position to win next year than they were this April. Many Octobers have left the Mets with the feeling of relief the season was finally over.

This year, October has us thinking about April.

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Oct 06

Bumgarner Wins Classic Duel

For the second straight season, the interlocking “NY’’ on the Mets’ caps stood for “next year.’’ After an improbable run to overcome lengthy offensive droughts and numerous injuries to reach the postseason, the Mets received a sterling performance from Noah Syndergaard.

BUMGARNER: A classic ace. (AP)

BUMGARNER: A classic ace. (AP)

However, it wasn’t enough to beat Madison Bumgarner, who again came up with a game for the ages in October, who spun a four-hitter to beat the Mets, 3-0, to send the San Francisco Giants to the NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Syndergaard throws heat all the time and showed he doesn’t just have ace potential, but that he’s already there. However, Bumgarner will go down as one of the game’s greatest playoff pitchers in history.

In three postseason win-or-go-home games, Bumgarner has thrown 23 scoreless innings. He has reached a level few could ever imagine.

In 2014, Bumgarner won Games 1 and 5 in the World Series, then came back after two days of rest to throw five scoreless innings in relief. When asked what he hoped his legacy would be, Bumgarner simply said: “A winner. That’s all anybody wants to be regarded as.”

Syndergaard outpitched Bumgarner in the early part of the game, but as his strikeouts mounted – he finished with ten – so did his pitch count. Syndergaard threw 108 in seven innings while Bumgarner threw 119 for the complete game.

“Bumgarner, he never gives in,” said Jose Reyes. “We had some chances and couldn’t do anything with them.”

Bumgarner vs. Syndergaard had baseball junkies salivating and weren’t disappointed. The Mets had their best going, but unfortunately, the Giants had one of the best of all time going for them.

The starters were the storyline of the night, with the others being Jeurys Familia and Yoenis Cespedes spitting the bit.

FAMILIA LOSES IN THE NINTH: Familia saved 51 games this season and the Mets weren’t in the playoffs without him.

Last year, Familia blew three save opportunities. Tonight wasn’t a save chance, but it hurt just the same.

The fall began with a double by Brandon Crawford. After Angel Pagan failed to get a bunt down, Joe Panik walked then Conor Gillaspie crushed a three-run homer to bring on winter.

“It was a sinker. That’s my best pitch,” said a stand-up Familia. “Every time I try to go out and do the best I can. I missed with the location. I have to move on.`I know these things are going to happen. It’s a game.”

CESPEDES SILENT: For all his talking about living for these moments, for the second straight postseason Cespedes came up empty.

As far as I’m concerned, Cespedes gave away his four at-bats by swinging from the heels at pitches out of his reach. Bumgarner toyed with him getting him to strike out twice and pop up.

Cespedes saw only 18 pitches.

True to form, Cespedes opted not to talk after the game.

Perhaps he had an early tee time.

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Oct 05

Mets-Giants Matchups; Loney Gets Start

Regardless of how Terry Collins explains it, the Mets’ manager made the right decision to start James Loney at first base in tonight’s wild-card game.

Collins said Loney is better defensively, but we already knew that to be a no-brainer. It is also a slam dunk that in what could be a classic pitcher’s duel – Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard – runs figure to come at a premium placing an emphasis on defense.

LONEY: Gets call. (AP)

LONEY: Gets call. (AP)

Collins also said Lucas Duda might not be physically ready, but why did the Mets go through the motions without knowing for sure?

Duda is a strikeout machine when he’s not on his game, and after missing most of the season, it was a reach hoping he’d catch lightning in a bottle. Loney doesn’t have great numbers against Bumgarner – 2-for-13 – but did play 100 games for the Mets and hit .265 with nine homers and 34 RBI. One of those homers was a deciding two-run blast Saturday to clinch home field for the wild-card.

Even so, Loney said he’s anxious to face Bumgarner.

“He’s been a great pitcher for many years now,” Loney told reporters. “[He] throws strikes and competes out there. A fierce competitor.”

Here’s the Mets’ lineup tonight and the likely Giant opposite number:

Jose Reyes, 3B: Returned to his roots and supplied the spark the Mets needed. … It could be a game-time decision for the Giants to start Eduardo Nunez (hamstring issues) or Conor Gillaspie.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: Depending on your perspective, he could be their MVP with solid defense and clutch hitting despite two bad knees. … Brandon Crawford should have been on the All-Star team. He hit .275 with 12 homers and 84 RBI, but has been prone to the strikeout (115) this year.

Yoenis Cespedes, LF: Is the center piece of the Mets’ offense despite finishing the season on a 3-for-24 slide. … The Giants go with a familiar face – former Met Angel Pagan – who has been a solid switch-hitter in his five years on the West Coast. Is a stolen base threat with 15.

Curtis Granderson, CF: Had a strong second half to finish with 30 homers, but his RBI total was shockingly low. Has played a solid center. … Former Washington National Denard Span is back to torment the Mets. Hit 11 homers and still plays a decent center.

Jay Bruce, RF: Did not provide the pop the Mets wanted, but might have salvaged his tenure here to the point of returning next year with homers in three of his last five games. … Hunter Pence is a guy the Mets should have gone after when he was in Philadelphia. Has played hurt most of the year, but hit .289 with 13 homers and 57 RBI.

T.J. Rivera, 2B: Minor league batting champion is still hitting as Wilmer Flores’ replacement. Hasn’t been rattled yet. … Joe Panik has also played hurt most of the year, but still drove in 62 runs. Is beyond solid defensively.

Loney, 1B: Good glove and a steady bat. One of GM Sandy Alderson’s midseason replacements that helped put the Mets here. … Brandon Belt led the Giants with 17 homers. Is patient at the plate and solid defensively.

Rene Rivera, C: Wasn’t on the Opening Day roster, but his calming presence helped Matt Harvey early and later Syndergaard, especially against the running game. … Buster Posey could be the game’s premier catcher. Calls a great game and is a clutch hitter.

Syndergaard, RHP: Has overpowering stuff and with injuries to Harvey and Jacob deGrom emerged as the ace. Can support himself at the plate, but a weakness is an inability to slow down the running game (48 stolen bases in 57 attempts). … If you believe in the law of averages, the Mets could be in good shape against Bumgarner, who is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA lifetime at Citi Field, and a 0.91 ERA in his last eight postseason appearances.

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Oct 04

Mets-Giants: Five Key Battles

There are games within the game – the key match-ups – that could determine the winner of Wednesday’s Mets-Giants, wild-card game. The winner goes on to play the Cubs in the NL Division Series. There were alternating times this season that both teams thought that might not be possible.

Because of its Game 7 winner-take-all format, there’s a fragile balance to the individual match-ups, with the slightest play or decision determining whether a team’s season ends or winter begins.

SYNDERGAARD: Mets' biggest key. (FOX)

SYNDERGAARD: Mets’ biggest key. (FOX)

Here are my five most intriguing match-ups:

BATTLE OF THE MANAGERS: While there have been reports the Mets’ Terry Collins could have been fired in August, the Giants’ Bruce Bochy could be a Hall of Famer. Based on winning three World Series titles, I would vote for him. Collins deserves kudos for keeping his team together during a string of adversities and controversies. Doing that should merit serious Manager of the Year consideration. It should be noted some of those controversies were self-induced.

In the end: When faced with a decision Bochy won’t waffle as Collins did in Game 5 of the World Series when he stuck with Matt Harvey.

BATTLE OF THE ACES: Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard is as intriguing as it gets. It is a dream for those loving a pitcher’s duel. While Syndergaard is in his first full season – really hard to believe – Bumgarner is an established postseason presence with the lowest road ERA 0.60 ERA (minimum of 25 innings) in playoff history. Bumgarner’s performance two years ago against Kansas City, when he won Games 1 and 5, then came back on two days to throw five innings in relief for the save in Game 7, is arguably one of the most impressive performances in postseason history.

The Mets like to boast of their young arms – and rightfully so – but Harvey, Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz had a long way to match Bumgarner.

In the end: Syndergaard has the stuff for greatness and he’s pitched hurt. It wouldn’t be surprising if he spins a shutout, as he’s that dominant. But, if you get on you can steal on him, rattle him and drive him from the game. In a big game, there are a handful of names you want: Sandy Koufax (4-3, 0-95 ERA), Cliff Lee (7-0, 1.27 ERA), Andy Pettitte (19-10, 3.83 ERA), Orel Hershiser (8-3, 2.59 ERA), John Smoltz (15-4, 2.67 ERA), Curt Schilling (11-2, 2.23 ERA) and Bumgarner (7-3, 2.14 ERA).

BATTLE OF OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHIES: All season, Collins sang the refrain the Mets were a team built on the home run. The Giants, meanwhile, are a better at stringing together innings and putting pressure on the pitcher. Statistics is baseball’s yardstick. We can get caught up in the new-age numbers, but there are only a few that give a clearer picture.

It’s all about runs.

Mets: 671 runs scored; 218 homers; 649 RBI. Giants: 715 runs scored; 130 homers; 675 RBI.

Batting averages count, too.

Mets: Hit .225 with RISP and .187 with two outs and RISP. Giants: Hit .250 with RISP and .220 with two outs and RISP.

Other important numbers.

Mets: On-base percentage of .316, with 517 walks and 1,302 strikeouts. Giants: On-base percentage of .329 with 572 walks and 1,107 strikeouts.

Summary: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a storyline all season, and they can’t afford to squander whatever opportunities they’ll get against Bumgarner. While the Mets do live on the homer and clearly have more power with three hitters – Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson hitting over 30 – the Giants outscored them by 44 runs. The Mets don’t prolong innings with walks let too many chances get away by striking out.

BATTLE OF THE STARS

When it comes to the stars, it’s Cespedes against Buster Posey and their contrasting styles of power vs. patience.

Cespedes hit .280 with 31 homers, but only 86 RBI. For all his homers there should be more run production, especially since he hit .278 with RISP. However, his production is offset by 108 strikeouts compared to only 51 walks. In the clutch, pitchers are able to get Cespedes to chase.

Cespedes is an imposing figure at the plate, but his MVP candidacy faded with mediocre numbers after the All-Star break of .246, ten homers and 34 RBI. One red flag entering the postseason was Cespedes’ numbers since Sept. 15, when every one of the Mets’ 15 games was crucial. In his span, Cespedes hit .220 (13-for-59) with one homer and seven RBI, with ten strikeouts and seven RBI.

Another was his non-presence in the Mets’ clubhouse celebration. I appreciate his disappointment in how he ended the season, but this was a team moment and reminiscent of a NFL wide receiver. Yoenis, meet Odell Beckham Jr.

When it comes to needing a homer, you want Cespedes, but what about Posey?

Posey’s.288 average only a handful of points higher than Cespedes, but with only 14 homers. However, he drove in 80 runs creating speculation how many RBI he could have had if matched Cespedes’ power?

He’s a gap hitter with 33 doubles (Cespedes had 25) and better in the clutch with a .311 average with runners on base and .287 with RISP. Posey hit only .221 after the seventh inning, but that’s when he hit five of his homers with 21 RBI.

After the All-Star break, Posey hit .282 with three homers and 38 to pump the brakes on the Giants’ second-half skid. Since Sept. 15, Posey hit .306 (19-for-62) with two homers and 16 RBI (averaged one a game for 16 games) with nine strikeouts and seven walks.

Summary: It depends on what you want. If it’s a homer, go with Cespedes, but Posey is more apt to drive in a run in other ways and keep an inning alive with 68 strikeouts and 64 walks. It comes to this: Who do you want at the plate in the ninth inning, with the game tied with a runner on third with less than two outs?

BATTLE OF THE BULLPENS

Of all the stats, perhaps the most important could leave the others useless, and that’s the Giants’ 29 blown saves, including nine in September. Santiago Casilla (31 saves) lost his closer role to Sergio Romo (four saves), but the Mets’ eighth-inning duo of Addison Reed (40 holds) and Jeurys Familia (51 saves) is the most reliable in the majors.

Summary: Both teams need to get through seven, but with different reasons.

The Giants need to string together enough runs and work Syndergaard’s pitch count to get into the middle of the Mets’ bullpen. If they do that, and Bumgarner gets through the seventh and into the eighth, they can win.

The Mets need to get to Bumgarner enough to a lead entering the eighth. If they do that, and Syndergaard takes the Mets to the Reed-Familia finish line – something he’s done 12 times in 30 starts and only twice in his last five, we could see Bartolo Colon Friday in Chicago.

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