Jun 26

DeGrom Doesn’t Erase Issues Surrounding Mets

As great as Jacob deGrom was for the Mets Thursday, one lone start is not enough to create the perception of them as a playoff team. DeGrom’s eight scoreless innings enabled the Mets to beat Milwaukee, 2-0, at Miller Park, but did nothing to diminish the growing number of questions swirling around his team.

DE GROM: Brilliant Thursday. (AP)

DE GROM: Brilliant Thursday. (AP)

The Mets were 36-30 when their road trip began, and their record is now 37-37. In the end, all the Mets’ 11-game winning streak in April did was prevent the bottom from totally falling out. The Mets scored 11 runs during their 1-7 trip. They were shut out twice and scored more than two runs once. Five of those seven losses were by two or fewer runs.

It tells you two things that the Mets are 19-18 in games decided by two or fewer runs: 1) they are competitive team, which is what the front office promised, and 2) they are still too flawed to reach the next level.

Playoff caliber teams win close games and the Mets simply aren’t winning enough. But, if you had been told before the season that the Mets would be sitting in second place at .500 at the end of June you would have signed up for it in a heartbeat.

However, their improbable 11-game winning streak ratcheted the expectations of the Mets. What was once competing for a wild card spot changed to winning the division and going deep into the playoffs. It’s not that way any more.

However, this trip illustrates flaws the Mets haven’t been able to overcome:

* The Mets can’t win on the road, evidenced by an 11-26 record away from Citi Field. DeGrom can’t win them all, so there’s no sign this will change.

* The Mets can’t score. They have a minus-18 runs differential. In contrast, the Nationals have a plus-28 runs differential and scored 58 more runs. Like the Mets, the Nationals had early-season injuries, but they’ve been able to overcome them. They are 3.5 games ahead of the Mets and if that lead increases by much in the next 15 games prior to the All-Star break, they won’t be caught.

* The infield defense is atrocious. The best alignment has Wilmer Flores at third base or second, with Ruben Tejada at shortstop. There have been reports the Mets could be moving toward that thinking, but nothing official.

* We keep hearing rumblings Steven Matz will be promoted, and with that again the possibility of a six-man rotation. However, Matz does nothing to improve their offense, and the resulting demotion of Jon Niese only diminishes is already minimal trade value.

* The Mets have been hamstrung by injuries, with Travis d’Arnaud going back on the disabled list and David Wright not having any timetable for his return.

Finally, there is growing speculation manager Terry Collins’ job security is tenuous, which unfortunately is the way of the world. Collins unquestionably has flaws, but the real fault for the Mets’ slide since they were 15-5 has to be directed at ownership, which won’t spend, and GM Sandy Alderson, which hasn’t proven he can make the big trade.

There is a sense of urgency from the Mets’ fan base to do something, to do anything, but the Wilpons and Alderson don’t seem to be listening.

Jun 25

Collins Must Manage From His Gut Even If Alderson Doesn’t Like It

All the goodwill the Mets fostered during their 11-game winning streak is gone, vanished like a possible Jacob deGrom victory because of a faulty bullpen and no hitting. It faded along with the Mets’ eight-game lead over the Nationals, which is now a 3.5-game deficit.

Sure, the Mets could regroup but what are their chances, but what are the odds?

COLLINS: Where's that smile now? (Mets)

COLLINS: Where’s that smile now? (Mets)

The way I see it, manager Terry Collins is on his own; a life raft in rough waters. Ownership did nothing over the winter to bring in the offensive talent needed, and he’s received no help from GM Sandy Alderson, whose contribution was Michael Cuddyer.

Collins, because of his contract situation, is a lame duck and managing for his job. Because Alderson – the game’s smartest general manager – ripped him in a book, it is clear he doesn’t have any support.

That says it in spades, as if Alderson’s failure to build a quality bullpen and procure the needed hitting to sustain the young starting pitching wasn’t enough.

It is clear the Mets aren’t playing with fire anymore, and part of that is because Collins isn’t showing any himself. It appears he’s been beaten down and frustrated by a front office and ownership that isn’t supportive.

Collins is a long-time baseball man. He knows the right thing to do. He has no control over injuries, but does have over the talent he sends out every night. He also has control in the dugout after the first pitch. Collins must be aggressive and manage the Mets like this is his last chance, because he’s gone after this year. Deep down he has to know that.

I want to see him go out kicking and not meekly collecting a paycheck. Here’s what he needs to do to give the Mets their best chance of winning:

Goodbye pitch counts: Since it is clear there was no plan to begin with, let’s cut the crap. Matt Harvey has twice been pulled late with a 1-0 lead and went on to lose. That’s happened to deGrom once. Give those horses the extra inning.

Curtis Granderson: He’s finally showing some pop, so drop him in the order. Third, fourth, fifth, I don’t care. He’s being wasted hitting leadoff. I advocated this after seeing the Opening Day lineup. It worked for a while, but is failing now.

The answer? I don’t know. I wanted Juan Lagares, but his on-base percentage is dreadful. There is no real solution, but since he’s in the line-up I’m inclined to go with Ruben Tejada, who has decent speed, but I confess is too streaky.

Speaking of Granderson, the best outfield alignment is him in left field and Cuddyer in right. Why that wasn’t done in the first place is ridiculous.

The infield: Eventually we would get to this, but the best solution defensively is to move Wilmer Flores to third base and Tejada to shortstop. The Mets don’t want to because they are afraid of how Flores might react mentally.

If Flores’ ego is that fragile to where he couldn’t handle a switch then maybe he’s not tough enough to play in the major leagues. When Daniel Murphy returns move him to third and Flores to second.

What about David Wright, you ask? The Mets are foolish if they even think he’ll be back anytime soon, and if he does if he’ll play to any resemblance of his former self. It is more and more looking as if the issue of what to do with Wright will be addressed next spring – with another manager.

These are some of the things Collins can do with the 25 players he currently has on his roster. Since he’s not getting any help, he has to go down showing the same fight he wants from his team.

And, if Alderson doesn’t like it, then tell the game’s smartest general manager to fire him, because what the hell, it will happen soon enough.

Jun 17

Gee Deserves Better … Hopefully He’ll Get It Elsewhere

Unfortunately, the relationship between Dillon Gee and the Mets represents the norm in the player-team relationship.

The Mets have acquiesced to just about everything Harvey wants, and the decision to scrap the six-man rotation – designed to preserve his arm – is eventually what cost Gee his job.

GEE: Hopefully he'll land somewhere. (AP)

GEE: Hopefully he’ll land somewhere. (AP)

The Mets first sent Gee to the bullpen, then subsequently designated him for assignment, which is the first step to outright departure, either by trade or minor league assignment.

If the Mets are unable to work out a trade, they will surely stick him back to Triple-A Las Vegas where he will be at their disposal should somebody get injured or Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz – when they eventually bring him up – spit the bit.

To be sure, Gee has not pitched well this season, in part because of a groin injury, but for the most part he has been more than a serviceable starter for the Mets. What was it … over 50 straight starts of at least five innings?

Hopefully other teams were paying attention, for example, Toronto, which is in need of pitching. The Mets could have traded Gee if they wanted, but GM Sandy Alderson was more determine to hold up the other team and nothing was done.

Hopefully, Alderson learned from this winter and realizes there’s limited interest in Gee. Perhaps he’ll then take what he can get and let Gee go to an organization that can really appreciate him.

Gee deserves it.

Jun 13

Mets Can’t Count On Wright’s Return

When Mets GM Sandy Alderson said he would consider trading for strictly a third baseman, he might as well have said he’s not expecting David Wright to return any time soon, or at all this year. That is how they should handle it.

The Mets said Wright would stay in California for the next several weeks. If his rehab progresses, then it won’t be until after the All-Star break before he’ll even see minor league games. If you figure at least three weeks of games, then we’re talking into August before he’s activated.

FREESE: Available. (AP)

FREESE: Available. (AP)

By that time the trade deadline will have passed. And, of course, we have no idea of how he’ll play when he comes back, or if there will be a setback.

Alderson told Newsday he has to be open to trading for a third baseman.

“Would we consider a third baseman who can’t do anything else?’’ Alderson said. “Under the circumstances, yeah, we probably would. But we’re not just looking for any third baseman. It has to be something we think is an improvement that doesn’t cost us significantly.’’

Translation: They don’t want to pay.

The current flavor of the month is Milwaukee’s Aramis Ramirez, which is a bad idea on several levels. The 36-year-old Ramirez, who indicated he will retire after the season, is hitting only .211 with seven homers and 19 RBI. For that, Ramirez is being paid $14 million.

The Mets don’t want to trade a significant prospect and assume that much salary. So, unless the Brewers get bowled over by an offer, they are likely to wait this out until the end of July, figuring somebody might bite.

Milwaukee probably won’t eat a significant portion of Ramirez’s salary unless they get a decent prospect. The better the prospect, the more of Ramirez’s contract they’ll assume.

The third baseman I’m most intrigued with is the Angels’ David Freese, who will be a free agent this winter. The 32-year-old Freese is making $6.4 million, so in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a lot of money.

What the Angels want in return is uncertain, but he’s the guy I would want, and if it turns out Wright won’t come back, or is moved to the outfield next year, Freese could hang around for a few years. The problem, as it always is with the Mets, is how much they are willing to pay in terms of players and salary.

It seems they want to pay prospective free agents as if they are college students on an internship, meaning they don’t want to pay.

 

May 21

Is Panic In The Mets’ DNA?

Sometimes, Mets manager Terry Collins sounds like a man who is trying to convince himself of something he’s not sure of, when he said, or vowed, his team would not panic.

As somebody who has been in on hundreds of such press briefings, I know why the topic of panic was raised. Believe me, it’s not because it’s New York and the media is prying. The question would be the same in Pittsburgh or Cleveland or even laid back San Diego. When you lose seven of ten games and nine games in the standings to your main division rival, nerves get frayed, no matter how loudly or vociferously, Collins denies it.

COLLINS: Looks concerned and should be. (AP)

COLLINS: Looks concerned and should be. (AP)

“There’s a lot – a lot – of baseball left,’’ Collins said last night. “There’s no sense of urgency here. We have things we have to continue to try to do. We have to continue to try to watch the workload of some guys. We need to continue to try to get healthy. But there’s no panic here, believe me. Not in the clubhouse. Not anyplace else.”

This is what Collins believes and I don’t doubt he thinks that way. He would be a fool to admit otherwise. That’s why I don’t get why some in my profession would even pose the question. They already know the answer.

I raised the issue yesterday the Mets are at a critical point to their season, and I did so because I’ve seen them fold before. Do you remember September of 2007 when they lost a seven-game lead to the Phillies with 17 games remaining?

Of course you do.

It has been in the Mets’ DNA to go into long, dry spells. That’s where they are now. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors. Reporters ask questions to find out.

The Mets’ primary issue now is a stagnant offense that has scored three or fewer runs in 16 of their past 22 games. Not surprisingly, they are 10-15 since their 11-game winning streak.

GM Sandy Alderson already said not to expect help from the outside, that the plan is to wait for David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud to return from the disabled list. There are other options, such as juggling the lineup, but that smacks of panic unless the move is justifiable, which it would be when Wright and d’Arnaud to come back.

The Mets don’t have a good bench, so benching somebody isn’t a great option. Plus, the guy they always look to sit is Wilmer Flores, who is their best home run hitter. Just who in their minor league system is an answer?

The Mets’ best option, as distasteful as this sounds because that’s been Alderson’s mantra, is to wait this out. Slumps happen in a 162-game schedule and that’s what’s going on with the Mets.

Getting out of a slump takes time, and I don’t know how patient the Mets will be. Unfortunately, neither does Collins.

However, when the story of this season is written, this period will be the watershed moment.