Oct 13

Even In Defeat, Matz Showed He’s Ready For The Big Stage

Steven Matz pitched well enough to win most games, but most games he’s not facing Clayton Kershaw, the game’s best pitcher. One of the things I like most about Mets manager Terry Collins is the confidence he displays in his players. His decision to stick with Matz as his Game 4 starter – despite only six career starts – against Kershaw screamed he had the ultimate confidence.

MATZ: Good, just not Kershaw good. (Getty)

MATZ: Good, just not Kershaw good. (Getty)

The knee-jerk reaction is to say Matz spit the bit in tonight’s 3-1 loss to the Dodgers to send the NLDS back to Los Angeles for the deciding Game 5. Tell me, if I told you Matz would have given up three runs tonight, you would have grabbed it in a second.

“He pitched very good,” Collins said. “He was outstanding. If we get to the next round we have all the confidence in the world in him.”

That’s an awfully big “if.” It’s one thing to beat Kershaw at home. It’s another for them to encore that by beating Zack Greinke on the road. That will be a daunting task.

Collins could have gone with staff ace Jacob deGrom – he said that was on the table had the Mets lost Game 3 – but as it turned out, Matz was a good choice. Remember, this was his seventh Major League start and it was on a national stage. Next year, the Mets are counting on him for at least 30 starts.

Think of the pressure on Matz. He was pitching on national television with a chance to send the Mets to the next round. That’s a lot of pressure on the 24-year-old lefty, especially considering he hadn’t pitched since Sept. 24, that he was coming off an injury, and was trying to match Kershaw pitch for pitch.

It was one bad inning that did in Matz. Adrian Gonzalez drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a bloop single to center, then two more on Justin Turner’s two-run double. That’s two bad pitches he’d like to have back.

“To sum it up, a couple of mistakes hurt me,” Matz said. “I thought I threw the ball good. I just had a bad inning, but against a guy like Kershaw you have to put up zeroes.”

Sure there were nerves, regardless of his pre-game vow to “take the emotions out of it.” Collins had to sense Matz wasn’t snowing him when he looked him in the eye and was told he was ready.

And, even in defeat, Matz showed the baseball world he was ready for this moment.

Oct 09

DeGrom Brilliant In Win Over Dodgers; Gives Us Glimpse Into Future

This one didn’t disappoint. The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw against the Mets’ Jacob deGrom was to be special. It was going to create an October memory, but it turned into something we’ll  never forget.

The Mets’ indisputable ace threw over 120 pitches – who would have thought it? – over seven scoreless innings in a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS. Kershaw and Zack Greinke were to slice through the upstart Mets, but they didn’t buckle.

DeGrom was beyond special, and it wasn’t just because he struck out 13. The Dodgers had numerous opportunities, but deGrom refused to cave. As aces do, he didn’t just close the door on the Dodgers, he slammed the door on them.

Daniel Murphy, whom the Mets aren’t expected to bring back next year, homered in the fourth, and David Wright broke the game open with a two-run single to chase Kershaw in the seventh.

Game 1 gave us an glimpse into the Mets’ future.

The Mets can only hope deGrom, Saturday’s starter Noah Syndergaard and Monday’s starter Matt Harvey, will be here in five years. Wright will be at the end of his contract, and Murphy – whom the Mets are expected to lowball as they did Jose Reyes – will be gone.

You had to feel good for both of them. The Mets have alternately tried to trade and find a position for Murphy for years. The Mets made a big splash at the trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean they’ll spend this winter. If they have any hope of bringing back Yoenis Cespedes, it will cost them Murphy.

As for Wright, he has been waiting for another postseason since 2006, when the Mets lost the NLCS to St. Louis. Even through the disappointment of watching Carlos Beltran take that called third strike, Wright admitted he thought the Mets would be a postseason fixture.

Instead, they became an annual disappointment, and Wright had been beset with injuries. He missed over four months this summer with back issues, and the thought of whether he’d ever play again had to creep into his mind.

His two-run single turned out to be the difference.

Michael Cuddyer, signed last winter to provide a veteran presence, misplayed two fly balls to left into doubles, but deGrom picked him up. Cuddyer’s role is expected to be reduced next year to coming off the bench, as Michael Conforto will be the every day left fielder.

But, that’s next year, and next year can wait. These Mets are about taking care of business, and that’s what they did Friday night.


Oct 07

Mets’ Three Keys To Beating Kershaw

The Mets won their season series against the Dodgers primarily because of pitching. So, let’s assume starters Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey pitch lights out, what then will be the three keys to beating the Dodgers?

MURPHY: Needs to stay in lineup.  (AP)

MURPHY: Needs to stay in lineup. (AP)

First, they have to split in Los Angeles. There’s no way they’ll win the series if they lose the first two games, against Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. So, how do they beat two Cy Young Award candidates, beginning with Kershaw Friday night?

Since Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is a disciple to pitch counts, the Mets must work the count. If leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson squeezes out a nine-pitch at-bat to lead off the game but strikes out, that’s still productive.

If nothing else, if the Mets lose Game 1 but force Kershaw to throw 120 pitches, that puts a strain on him for Game 5.

Secondly, the Mets can’t reinvent the wheel. All year, manager Terry Collins played Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda against left-handers. There’s no reason for him to deviate now.

Finally, assuming deGrom turns the game over to the bullpen in good shape, it must hold the lead or at least keep the game close. For the most part, Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard did the job, but the question of how to pitch to left-handed hitter Adrian Gonzalez remains an issue.

There you go, one, two, three. Simple as that,


I’d like to thank my friend Joe DeCaro for posting the feature on Justin Turner.

Oct 01

Lefty Reliever Remains Concern For Mets

It is imperative the Mets get Jon Niese in a couple of games in this weekend, preferably in back-to-back outings, as the lefty bullpen specialist remains an issue. However, a poor weather forecast might prevent that from happening.

Although volunteering to go into the bullpen was admirable, Niese was not effective in two outings in Philadelphia against left-handed hitters (he gave up four hits against five hitters).

GILMARTIN: Effective today. (Getty)

GILMARTIN: Effective today. (Getty)

Overall this season lefty batters are hitting .297 against him with a .335 on-base percentage. Those aren’t numbers conducive to being a lefty specialist.

If you’re wondering about swapping Niese for Bartolo Colon in the rotation (assuming Steven Matz is left off for the NLDS), his numbers against lefties are a .290 average with a .309 on-base percentage, so that’s not practical.

A mitigating factor towards making this decision is the ability of each to get loose quickly. Niese knew when he would enter the game and given ample time to get ready.

However, neither he nor Colon could have that advantage in the playoffs. As of now, Colon seems slated for the rotation with Matz sidelined with a stiff lower back. The Mets want to get Matz work this weekend, but the weather might prevent that from happening. As a last resort, the Mets could send him to Port St. Lucie.

With Niese not working out, it might be tempting for manager Terry Collins to consider Tyler Clippard in that role as lefty batters are hitting just .138 against him. However, if Collins uses him in that role, what would it mean to the overall set-up of the bullpen regarding the set-up role?

They could explore Clippard against lefties and use Addison Reed in the set-up role, but changing roles on the fly is always tricky. Even so, the Mets must have separate concerns with Clippard, who has given up eight runs in his last ten appearances (ten innings).

Speaking of changing roles, there’s Sean Gilmartin. He’ll likely make the playoff roster if Matz can’t go. He was effective today, giving up two runs in five innings. This year, lefties are hitting .272 against him, but he hasn’t been showcased as a specialist.

A intriguing possibility is Hansel Robles, who has given up 13 hits in 78 plate appearances to lefty hitters (.167 average with a .214 on-base percentage). Dario Alvarez is getting a look-see, but his window (six appearances, including today) is too small.

This concern is primarily based on a potential late-inning match-up against Adrian Gonzalez (28 homers and 88 RBI). Of course, they could go the route the Angels took against the Giants’ Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series and just intentionally walk him.

Nov 29

Initial Look At Hot Stove Season

There’s been some interesting moves this offseason, but so far Toronto and Boston have made the most noise.

I’m thinking the Mets signing Michael Cuddyer, Oakland picking up Ike Davis, Cleveland getting Shaun Marcum and Arizona signing Nick Evans won’t exactly register on the baseball Richter Scale.

SANDOVAL: Big signing by Sox. (AP)

SANDOVAL: Big signing by Sox. (AP)

However, earlier this week, Boston signed free agents Hanley Ramirez – who will move to the outfield – and third baseman Pablo Sandoval. And, today the Blue Jays acquired All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson from Oakland in what is a typical move for them – trading a star to avoid paying him the big bucks.

Donaldson elevates the Blue Jays in the AL East, as Sandoval does for the Red Sox. With the Boston and San Francisco offers comparable, just why would Sandoval leave?

What hasn’t been mentioned – and Sandoval didn’t say in his Fenway press conference – was the Giants’ plans for All-Star catcher Buster Posey. Unquestionably their best player, the Giants figure to preserve Posey by moving him from behind the plate.

But, where?

He really can’t play left field, and Brandon Belt isn’t moving off first. That leaves third base, and in a couple of years Sandoval may not have a position. So, it’s a no-brainer for Sandoval to look elsewhere, and resting as a DH and peppering line drives off that wall, he could become a .300 hitter, something he hasn’t been since 2011.

Ramirez, at 31, could be considered a gamble. For one thing, he has a recent injury history and for not exactly busting it while with the Marlins. Ramirez, once an All-Star shortstop, didn’t take to third base after the Marlins signed Jose Reyes and will play left field in Boston in the shadow of the Green Monster, which is not an easy thing to do.

The Red Sox, who were burned by the Carl Crawford signing and acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez, were rescued when they dumped them on the Dodgers. They responded by winning the World Series in 2013, but are back to their free-spending ways.

We will see if they are as successful this time. However, they don’t have Cuddyer.