Oct 25

Mets’ Core Up The Middle Has Potential

Championship caliber teams traditionally are built strong up the middle: catcher, pitching, shortstop and second base and centerfield.

The Mets have a decent start in that area with Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate; their young pitching staff and Gold Glove finalist Juan Lagares in centerfield.

What we don’t know about is shortstop and second base, where Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy, respectively, are expected to open the season.

The Mets are saying shortstop is open between Flores and Ruben Tejada, but Flores has the definite edge. Tejada has not won the job despite several opportunities. He’s supposed to be a glove man, but hasn’t come close to living up to expectations. Offensively, he’s been below average and teams can no longer carry a weak-hitting shortstop.

Flores has the greater offensive potential, and was surprisingly effective in the field. The rap on him is he lacks range, but he can make up for that with better positioning.

Whether the Mets can live with Flores long term is unknown, but for now he’ll have to do.

Second base has potential with Dilson Herrera, who is fast and quick to give him range, but nobody knows about his long-term offensive potential because he’s had a limited window.

There have long been complaints about Murphy’s defense and range, but he’s getting better all the time. Will he be another Joe Panik? Who knows?

All the talk about trading Murphy for a power hitter is ridiculous unless he’s packaged along with a pitcher. By himself, Murphy won’t get it done.

The catching, rotation and Lagares are all promising, but nothing you can consider as givens. You have to like the potential, but we’ll know more about the future after this season.

Oct 24

New Hitting Coach Long Can Help This Suggested Outfield

Let’s operate under the assumption, which isn’t hard to do, the New York Mets won’t acquire the long-ball hitting left fielder they covet. Given that, the Mets’ outfield – from left to right – should be Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker.

Lagares is a finalist for the NL Gold Glove in center field, along with Billy Hamilton and Denard Span. The award is determined by 75 percent input from managers and coaches and 25 percent by statistics.

LAGARES: Needs to hit.

LAGARES: Needs to hit.

Lagares proved this season he can field the position and steal a base, but he’s far from polished offensively, evidenced by a low on-base percentage and propensity for striking out. If he’s going to compete for the leadoff spot those two areas must be improved.

I would move Granderson from right to left – there’s your homer hitting left fielder – because it’s easier to play than right. You want a polished defender in right, which is den Dekker.

This should the full time opportunity he didn’t get last season because the Mets wasted their time with Chris Young. Yeah, I know it’s piling on.

All three could benefit from new hitting coach Kevin Long’s tutelage.

Granderson thrived under Long with the Yankees, hitting over 40 homers and driving in over 100 runs in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately, he also struck out 169 and 195 times in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Maybe Granderson will benefit with the closer fences in Citi Field, but if Long can get him to cut his strikeouts and use the whole field, he could live up to that contract. Granderson’s on-base percentages and strikeout rates were much better playing in spacious Comerica Park, giving the impression he was seduced by the Yankee Stadium bandbox.

As for Lagares, his 87-to-20 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is something he must improve because in this era teams can’t afford to carry an offensive liability no matter how good he is in the field.

Den Dekker showed he’s worthy of the opportunity based on his production over a limited 152 at-bats with a .250 average and .345 on-base percentage.

This is potentially a good outfield defensively, but if they prove they can hit, the Mets will be greatly improved.

Oct 23

Why Mets Can’t Attract Quality Free Agents

The Mets’ inability to hire a hitting coach illustrates indecision, which is one of several reasons why marquee free agents won’t come here.

Among the others:

New York: The city can be daunting for someone who only experienced it in a hotel room and stadium. It is very expensive to live here, crowded and there’s the media crush.

The Yankees: Considering the above factors, if a player is willing to come, there’s no contest when the Yankees are also interested, as they will always pay more.

Money: The Mets’ track record under Sandy Alderson is to stay away from big money contracts, which is also why a trade for a guy like Troy Tulowitzki and subsequent contract extension will never happen.

Commitment to winning: The Mets’ reputation in the sport is they are not willing to go the extra mile to bring in good-to-great players because of the cost. That might also come to play down the road when it comes to dealing with Matt Harvey.

Youth: The Mets are rebuilding and many veterans not hanging on for a paycheck don’t want to be a part of that situation.

Continuity: Since their last World Series appearance in 2000, the Mets have had four general managers and five managers, which doesn’t promote commitment. For example, the Mets have manager Terry Collins to only a one-year extension.

Treatment of players: Players talk and often gripe. The issue over Carlos Beltran’s surgery, circumstances around Jose Reyes’ departure, and trade of R.A. Dickey all raised red flags about how the organization handles key issues. And, don’t think for a second the bickering between Harvey and management doesn’t raise questions.

Wilpon Situation: Players and agents aren’t stupid. They are aware of the Wilpon’s financial situation and how it impacts the team. They know there will be low-ball offers and salary dumps can come at any time.

Hiring a hitting coach should be a simple matter, especially when others have done the same with former Mets’ coaches.

 

When it comes to the Mets, for those on the outside looking in, perception is reality.

Oct 22

The Differences Between The Giants And Mets

I hope Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins took notes in Game 1, because the Giants have the blueprint the Mets should be following. So, in comparing the wild-card Giants to the Mets, there’s more than just a 3,000-mile difference:

Solid starting pitching: Madison Bumgarner was lights out, pitching quickly, and with command and composure. This is what the Mets expect from Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. The rap on Mets pitchers is an inability to put away a hitter and keep damage to a minimum. This especially applies to Jon Niese.

BUMGARNER: It always begins with pitching. (Getty)

BUMGARNER: It always begins with pitching. (Getty)

The game’s turning point came in the third inning when the Royals put runners on second and third with no out, but Bumgarner kept it together and got out of the inning with no damage. Bumgarner also helped himself by starting a double play to get out of the second.

I’m not saying Mets pitchers haven’t done the same, but not consistently.

Bumgarner threw 21 first-pitch strikes to the 26 hitters he faced for an incredible 81 percent efficiency. For all the new wave stats, first pitch strikes percentages are missing. In particular, this is something Wheeler – originally in the Giants’ organization – must refine his game.

Who is to say the Giants didn’t know this when they traded him to the Mets for Carlos Beltran?

Relief pitching: The bullpen has long been part of the Giants’ success, with the pitchers and how manager Bruce Bochy manages them. There’s nobody better.

Alderson has tried to build a pen since he came here, and this season is the closest he’s come. Now, it is up to Collins to slot in Bobby Parnell, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia in the right roles.

Aggressive base running/productive at-bats: The Royals’ speed drew considerable pre-Series attention, but the tone for the game was set in the first inning when the Giants executed what I consider one of the most exciting plays in baseball.

Gregor Blanco singled and tagged up and advanced on Joe Panik’s fly ball, making it a productive out. The dimensions at Citi Field are such that this is something the Mets should be more aware of doing.

So, instead of fooling around with the dimensions and moving in the fences, the Mets would be better off tailoring their offense with speed, aggressive base running and timely hitting to complement their young pitching.

In Game 1, the Giants were 5-for-12 with RISP, a situation in which the Mets are weak. Timely hitting begins with being patient and working the count. Last night, of the 43 hitters the Giants sent to the plate, 20 took a first-pitch ball or put the ball in play.

Management expertise: Bochy is the best manager in baseball. This is the fourth time he’s taken a team to the World Series, and win-or-lose, he’s worthy of the Hall of Fame.

He gives his players defined roles and they buy in. I can’t imagine Bochy fooling around by juggling Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada at shortstop, or with the myriad of left fielders.

It is Alderson’s responsibility to bring in the right players. The Giants bettered themselves with Jake Peavy and Hunter Pence; in recent years the Mets brought in Curtis Granderson and Frank Francisco.

Big difference.

Bochy once left Barry Zito off a playoff roster and put Tim Lincecum in the bullpen. There were no waves. Conversely, Matt Harvey, although it was determined he wouldn’t pitch this season, complained about where he would rehab and that he wanted to pitch this summer.

Neither Alderson nor Collins forcefully laid down the law with Harvey, and prior to that Jordany Valdespin. The Mets have had through the years a line of headaches such as Francisco Rodriguez and Ike Davis (complaining about going to the minor leagues and refusing to adjust his hitting approach).

I can’t imagine the Giants putting up with a non-productive player for as long as the Mets did with Davis.

The Mets also didn’t give Angel Pagan a legitimate chance in center field. He’s hurt now, but on a four-year contract with the Giants.

Sabean has been the Giants’ general manager since 1997. Conversely, Alderson is the fourth general manager have had in that span.

Of course, Sabean has been given ownership’s blessing to build the team as he sees fit. Alderson doesn’t have that leeway.

The Mets won 79 games this season, while San Francisco won 88. Nine more wins over six months doesn’t seem like much.

Let’s see if the Mets can close that gap.

Oct 21

This Series Could Be Special

For as long as I have loved baseball, first as a Little Leaguer with an active imagination, and then as a journalist covering the game I was not good enough to play on the major league level, the World Series always held a special place for me.

I remember bits and pieces of the 1969 Series, but confess I was shocked like most of the country. I admit to playing hooky from school to watch the 1970 Series, but maybe it served me right because I pulled for the Reds.

searchMy favorite Series was the 1975 Red Sox-Reds. Although disappointed in the outcome, it was compelling because of it went seven and Game Six was arguably the best game in history. There was Bernie Carbo’s game-tying homer; Carlton Fisk’s game-winner; and Dwight Evans’ game saving catch.

One of the great stories coming from that Series was Pete Rose telling Fisk something along the lines of, “this is a great game, isn’t it?’’

Next up was Twins-Braves with the classic Jack Morris-John Smoltz Game 7. If not the Fisk game, maybe this was history’s best.

I covered all the Yankees’ titles under Joe Torre, but the most dramatic of them was one they lost, in 2001, to Arizona. Go figure, perhaps the worst throw of Mariano Rivera’s career was after fielding that bunt in the ninth inning of Game 7.

A lot of historic homers were hit in that Series, but my favorite moments the fans chanting Paul O’Neill’s name; the bald eagle Challenger scattering the Yankees before the anthem; and George Bush throwing a ceremonial pitch perfect strike.

Each Series has its defining moment or story line, and I can only imagine what it will be this year.

Some match-ups are more compelling than others, but Giants-Royals – regardless of what ESPN says – will be a Series worthy of our attention. There was actually a Sports Center lead-in actually daring to ask if these teams “deserved,’’ to be there.

The fact is, baseball itself bears responsibility for the appearance of an “unworthy’’ match-up because it tampers with the integrity of its season with interleague play and the unbalanced schedule forcing teams to run different courses to the finish line.

However, these teams, based on being a wild-card entry, each played an additional game. They took on all comers – each having to beat the team with the best record in their league.

They also play the game the way it should be, with pitching, defense, timely hitting and solid bullpens. Both can also hit the long ball when needed, but neither survive by the homer, which is refreshing.

I believe this one has the capability of going seven, which defines “classic,’’ to me. Both teams have reason to believe they can be considered a team of destiny.

I can’t wait to find out which one.