Jul 16

Dozen Questions Facing Mets In Second Half

The New York Mets vowed to be competitive this season, and when the second half begins tomorrow in St. Louis they still have a chance to play for October.

Seriously, it could happen depending how the following dozen questions are answered:

HARVEY: A lot expected of him. (AP)

HARVEY: A lot expected of him. (AP)

1. Question: Will they get off to a hot start in the second half?

Answer: The Mets open the second half at St. Louis and Washington, and at home to Los Angeles. The combined record of those three teams is 155-111 (.583). They are five games over .500, and by August they could be making strides in either direction. How fast they get out of the gate will have Alderson thinking whether the Mets are in the hunt or are done for the year.

2. Question: Will GM Sandy Alderson do anything to bring in a veteran bat?

Answer: If Alderson believes the Mets are in it, what will he do? Alderson has repeatedly said the trade market is slim. We know the Mets won’t get Todd Frazier or Troy Tulowitzki. They simply don’t want to part with their young pitching; and in the case of Tulowitzki, they don’t want to take on salary; and with Frazier, they don’t want a rental. The Mets will probably, if they do anything at all, attempt to bolster their bench. Kirk Nieuwenhuis is on that bench, and who doesn’t believe Alderson isn’t thinking his three-homer game in the first-half finale has him thinking the Mets’ offensive problems could be over. Trust me, they are not.

3. Question: If Alderson gets frisky, who will get traded?

Answer: We know it won’t be Noah Syndergaard, whom teams covet. We also know Alderson wanted to deal Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon over the winter. We also know Daniel Murphy likely won’t be back next year, so in Alderson’s ideal world he’d want to get something for Murphy. However, with David Wright’s return iffy at best, the Mets need him to play third base. Niese and Bartolo could conceivably be traded, but not if the Mets are a contender.

4. Question: Who gets hurt?

Answer: It is anybody’s guess, and considering the Mets have already had over a dozen players this season on the disabled list and there’s no telling who might be next. Steven Matz will be out until probably September, and nobody knows when David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud will be activated from the disabled list.

5. Question: Will Matt Harvey pitch like an ace?

Answer: He hasn’t so far with an 8-6 first-half record. Attempts have been made to monitor his innings, but at this rate he’ll finish with over 200, which would make October dicey if they are lucky to get so far.

6. Question: What will become of the six-man rotation?

Answer: The Mets aren’t saying yet, which is par for the course considering they didn’t have a plan entering the season. Should the opt for the six-man rotation, the sixth starter will be either Logan Verrett or Dillon Gee.

7. Question: Will the young stud pitchers keep it up?

Answer: Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard have been brilliant. Last year’s Rookie of the Year, deGrom, is an All-Star and Syndergaard is pitching as if he could be this year’s Rookie of Year.

8. Question: Will Lucas Duda awaken?

Answer: Two homers heading into the break were positive signs. However, he’s hit 12 overall and on pace for 22 homers and 69 RBI, which won’t get it done.

9. Question: Will Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson come close to expectations?

Answer: So far they haven’t with a combined 20 homers and 58 RBI. Either would be fortunate to have those numbers at the end of the year.

10. Question: Will Juan Lagares come close to playing up to his contract?

Answer: He’s hitting .256 with three homers and 25 RBI, and a paltry .284 on-base percentage. He has 60 strikeouts and only ten walks. He hasn’t been red hot in the field, either, with balls getting hit over his head that weren’t before, and not being able to throw consistently. So far, the first season of his four-year deal hasn’t been good.

11. Question: Will Wilmer Flores show enough at second base so that it will become his position?

Answer: The Mets didn’t want to go this route, but since they are in contention had no choice. He made some progress at shortstop, but not enough.

12. Question: Going under the assumption they won’t add a shortstop, how well will Ruben Tejada play?

Answer: He’s done all right defensively, but his offense remains weak with a .237 average and .316 on-base percentage. On a poor offensive team, he could be the weakest link.

Jul 12

Nieuwenhuis Powers Mets Into Break On High Note

The Mets couldn’t have asked for a better April, and couldn’t have had a better stretch heading into the All-Star break. After losing their first two games of the month to the Cubs, with their sweep of the Diamondbacks completed today the Mets cruised into the break by winning three straight series.

Who saw that coming?

NIEUWENHUIS: Who would have guessed this? (AP)

NIEUWENHUIS: Who would have guessed this? (AP)

They did it with stellar starting pitching, and believe it or not, another barrage of power. Today, it was Kirk Nieuwenhuis hitting three homers. In the first two games of the series Lucas Duda found his homer stroke.

The Mets enter the break in second place, two games behind Washington and five games over .500. I would have signed on for that in a heartbeat coming out of spring training, and I’m sure most of you would have done so also.

There are two schools of thought about the Mets’ situation heading into the second half:

1) The Mets are where they are for the most part without David Wright, little offensive production overall and an erratic first-half from Matt Harvey. Given that, the Mets are right there and should go for it by making a bold trade.

2) Since they are close, they should keep the status quo and hope for Wright and Travis d’Arnaud to come back.

Can you guess which option GM Sandy Alderson is most apt to take?

Alderson is taking a “wait and see,’’ tact regarding trades, saying the market hasn’t yet defined itself. Entering the break, there are 12 teams that are seven games or less out of first place. Subsequently, there are 12 teams – plus the six division leaders – who believe they are in contention, and that includes the Mets.

The Mets are close, but not in the money if the playoffs started coming out of the break.

By extension, these teams are considered buyers at the deadline. But, are they really? With more and more teams trying to hold out for more – and teams such the Mets who are prone to want to fleece the opposition – there could be limited activity at the end of the month.

I’m expecting the Mets not to do anything substantial at the deadline, but that would be a mistake. The Mets are close despite a myriad of injuries, but also because Washington has been crippled and not played well.

Injuries are always a wild card and we don’t know what to expect next season. Will Washington be healthy? What key Met could be injured? Will the Braves be better? We don’t know. We do know the Mets are this close in large part because they won 11 straight games in April. They can’t count on that again.

I think Alderson should go for it, because we never know what will happen in the future.


Jul 10

Mets Mess With Matz; Lefty Out At Least Three Weeks

In what some might describe as “typical Mets,’’ in their handling of injuries, the tightness in Steven Matz’s shoulder went from nothing serious, to a partially torn lat tear that would sideline him for up to three weeks, and today, according to GM Sandy Alderson, an indefinite period.

That doesn’t necessarily translate into “see you in spring training,’’ but then again it might.

MATZ: Out at least three weeks. (AP)

MATZ: Out at least three weeks. (AP)

Matz, who won his first two career starts, will be re-examined in three weeks. He will resume throwing if the lat muscle has healed, but if not will continue to rest. That’s where the indefinite period comes in.

Alderson had no explanation as to why Matz was not held out from last Sunday’s start in Los Angeles other than to say all pitchers have some degree of stiffness. That’s not a good answer, especially in light of previous Mets’ injuries.

The Mets dragged their feet before learning of Matt Harvey’s elbow injury, and considering Matz already had Tommy John surgery, not getting an MRI after his first start was a mistake. Alderson’s reasoning why Matz didn’t get the exam doesn’t wash.

“It was assessed by himself [Matz, who to my knowledge isn’t a doctor] as well as based on the information by the doctors as a mild issue at that time,” Alderson said. “If we got an MRI on every pitcher who ever had any sort of mild pain, we’d probably be getting them on a daily or somewhat frequent basis.”

Perhaps, then again Harvey’s issue might have been caught sooner. The same for Matz.

If Matz is one of the Mets’ pitching jewels, you take care of him. As with what happened with Harvey, it leaves a foul taste.

Three weeks puts us at the trade deadline, which means there is no way Jon Niese will be moved now. The same can pretty much be said for Bartolo Colon. Dillon Gee? Well, he’s always available.

Alderson did an about-face when the topic of trading from their pitching depth was raised. To be sure, Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matz were never going anywhere. However, it had always been known Niese, Colon and Gee – currently in the minor leagues – could be had.

“There’s some speculation we were looking to trade pitching, and therefore this loss makes that less likely,’’ Alderson said. “I don’t think it was ever likely we were going to trade out of that six-man group. … I don’t think that will change our level of aggressiveness. We’re two games over and still in the hunt. … Two weeks ago we didn’t have Steven. It won’t make us less aggressive.’’

The cynic in me says it can’t make the Mets any less aggressive because they aren’t doing anything now. In all fairness, we don’t know everybody Alderson is talking to, but since he won’t deal pitching, and the Mets have little in the minor leagues to offer and are reluctant to take on salary, it’s not hard to surmise there will be no fireworks at the trade deadline.

Jul 08

Mets Mishandle Mejia Return

After having a night to sleep on it, there’s a lot not to like about Jenrry Mejia’s return to the Mets from an 80-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs.

MEJIA: Not a good move. (AP)

MEJIA: Not a good move. (AP)

Unfortunately, Mejia, GM Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins, when pulling their collective heads from the sand, spoke as if testifying before Congress.

Mejia channeling his best Mark McGwire, told reporters in San Francisco: “I can honestly say I have no idea how a banned substance ended up in my system. … That was in the past. It is what it is. I did what I did. Now I come here to move forward and do the best I can on the field.’’

At least he didn’t pull a Sammy Sosa and claim he didn’t speak English.

Memo to Mejia: Before you face the future, you must first confront your past.

Alderson, as he usually does, responded as if he believed everybody – including the Mets’ fan base – were idiots.

“He made a mistake,’’ Alderson said. “He admitted that. He’s paid a penalty. Whether I think he needs to express some public contrition or not? I know that privately, he’s done so. I’ve talked to him, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s over.’’

“Over? Did somebody say it was over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?’’

It’s never over for a drug user. There are always lingering questions.

“It doesn’t matter,’’ Collins said when asked if Mejia was contrite. “It happened. The guy’s back. I’m not going to live three months ago.’’

As for as contrition goes, Mejia at least owes it to his teammates to acknowledge his actions. In that regard, he talked to a few of his buddies, but that was it.

Good job, Terry. Good job, Sandy. Good message you’re sending there.

Look, I know Mejia is no McGwire, no Barry Bonds, no Roger Clemens. Not even a Rafael “I have never used steroids’’ Palmeiro. He’s none of those players in stature, but I don’t believe him when he said he has no idea how the drugs got into his system.

Oh well, he’s back. Ready to lead the Mets to the playoffs. Except, in the off chance they get there, he’s not eligible.

“He’s here to give us another option at the end of the bullpen and hopefully get some big outs,’’ Collins said.

The guy who was getting those big outs was Logan Verrett, but gets shipped out to make room for Mejia. He’s the one sent to Vegas.

What a good message that is to the players. “Do your job, but when the guy is done with his suspension for cheating, you’re going to the minor leagues.’’

That just stinks.

The Mets claim they are about winning now, so the guy who pays the price for Mejia is Verrett, who was pitching lights out.

For the record, Verrett had given up only one run in his last six appearances spanning 12.1 innings going back through June. That included a three-inning save Sunday in Los Angeles.

Verrett goes because he has options remaining, which is the path of least resistance. Meanwhile, Alex Torres’ ERA has an 8.10 ERA in his three July appearances. Torres was brought here to get left-handed hitters out, but they are stroking him for a .271 batting average, .417 on-base percentage and .833 OPS.

Does anybody else see the disconnect here?

Yes, Verrett, because of options remaining was the easy choice. But, that doesn’t make it the best choice.

Jul 06

Collins Lays Down Law With Harvey

The other day I suggested the Mets’ Matt Harvey “just shut up and pitch.” Evidently, manager Terry Collins has similar thoughts, but was less colorful than me. Anyway, the bottom line is Collins and GM Sandy Alderson want to do the right thing with Harvey and the other starters to protect their arms.

Of course, had Alderson developed a definitive plan coming out of spring training this wouldn’t be the issue it has become. And for the record, Princess Harvey made it the hot button topic. Quite frankly, it amazes me how many people don’t understand the six-man is designed to protect Harvey and the other young pitchers, all of whom are on innings counts.

If the Mets hope to play meaningful games in September, they’ll need those pitchers. Seriously, wouldn’t Harvey rather the Mets limit him now or in September? Logic would dictate that be the case, but why can’t Harvey understand that?

When Harvey blamed his rustiness on the six-man rotation – and undercut Collins in the process – the manager told the pitcher to “get over it.”

“I know he’s frustrated by it, and he and I have talked about it,” Collins told reporters, in yet another effort to placate Harvey. “But you’ve got to come up and be creative between starts. I certainly understand it. I certainly do understand it. He’s a tremendous competitor and he wants to be out there as much as he can on a regular basis.

“I guess the easiest way for me to say it is, ‘Matt, we’ll go back to a five-man, but I hope you enjoy watching the rest of the season sitting on the bench in September when we need you.’ So we’ve got to make the adjustment.”

That’s what the Diva doesn’t understand. The Mets are in the six-man rotation to protect Harvey, All-Star selection Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, not to mention Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon. Then again, when you’re thinking only of yourself and not the big picture, that’s what happens.

I’m glad Collins had his say with Harvey, and more than that, brought his comments to the forefront. It’s about time.