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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Sep 27

Matz Done For Year; What Took So Long?

It wasn’t too long ago the Mets boasted having the best young staff in the sport, one that would return them to the World Series. With the postseason a week away – with no assurances of them getting there – four of the five are done for the season because of surgery.

MATZ:  To have surgery. (AP)

   MATZ: To have surgery. (AP)

ESPN’s Adam Rubin reported today – later confirmed by several media outlets – Steven Matz will be shut down for the remainder of the season to undergo surgery almost immediately on a bone spur in his left elbow. Matz is also down with an impingement in his shoulder, but surgery is not planned for that injury.

What took Matz so long to elect to have surgery? The 25-year-old Matz has had the spur for much of the season, with GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins insisting it was a “pain tolerance issue” and he couldn’t risk further injury.

However, it hasn’t been addressed whether the shoulder impingement irritating the rotator cuff was caused by an altering of Matz’s mechanics caused by the pain in his elbow. It’s worth exploring, especially considering the Mets’ history of handling injuries.

Matz hasn’t pitched since mid-August. Surgery should have been performed then, and possibly on his shoulder, also, to give him the maximum time for recovery and rehab. The current timetable is a three-month recovery period, which means he won’t pick up a ball until January.

Will he really have enough time? Had this been done a month or two ago, there wouldn’t be any doubt.

I would have thought with Matt Harvey out for the year (to remove a rib and alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome) and Zack Wheeler (ulnar nerve in elbow) that to hedge their bets they would have encouraged Matz to have the surgery weeks ago – at least when the shoulder issue surfaced. Instead, the last six weeks have been squandered.

Making this even more disturbing is Jacob deGrom had surgery last week to repair the ulnar nerve in his elbow. Also, Noah Syndergaard has been bothered by an elbow bone spur issue for several months. The Mets are saying surgery isn’t planned for him, but wouldn’t they want to get it addressed sooner than later?

With the others easing their way back next spring, the last thing the Mets would want is surgery for Syndergaard.

Fortunately for the Mets, they remain in the race because of Bartolo Colon, who has been pitching with a foot injury (he left Monday’s game after 2.1 innings), and the Band-Aid of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

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Sep 24

Three Mets’ Storylines: No Moral Victories In Pennant Race

Terry Collins spoke glowingly of how proud he was of his team; how the Mets showed no quit. Down by ten early, the Mets battled back to put the tying runs on base in the ninth.

What would have been the greatest comeback in Mets’ history was within grasp when Lucas Duda came to the plate.

CECCHINI: Big night for rookie. (AP)

CECCHINI: Big night for rookie. (AP)

“I thought Duda would hit a home run there to win it,” the Mets’ manager said.

He didn’t, and when Travis d’Arnaud grounded back to the mound, an exhilarating comeback had fizzled and the Mets’ 10-8 loss to Philadelphia was complete and a chance to open up ground in the tight NL wild-card race was lost.

Collins’ bench gave the Mets – or, if you prefer, the Las Vegas 51s – a chance to win, but it couldn’t overcome the hole dug by spot starter Sean Gilmartin and reliever Rafael Montero.

Gilmartin started because Noah Syndergaard was out with a strep throat. The Mets have been living on borrowed time with their rotation for a couple of months now, and tonight it caught up with them.

There were a lot of good things that came out of the night, but in the end, during a taut pennant race, there is no such thing as moral victories.

Collins pulled his key starters – Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes – which was the right thing to do. It’s too easy to speculate things might have been different if they stayed in the game, but that’s just guessing.

The Mets have seven games remaining and stealing rest for them was the correct move. There was no pressure on the bench players and they thrived.

“Maybe that might give them some confidence if they are called on this week,” Collins said.

GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE: The Mets caught a glimpse of their future when high draft picks Michael Conforto, Gavin Cecchini and Brandon Nimmo all came to the plate in the fifth and sixth innings.

Grouped with T.J. Rivera and Ty Kelly, there’s a lot to look forward to.

FINAL WEEK PITCHING: Syndergaard threw a bullpen session Saturday, and will be slotted to start Tuesday. Bartolo Colon will start Monday in Miami against the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez.

Colon is in line to pitch the season finale in Philadelphia.

Fernandez is 2-0 against the Mets this season and 3-0 with a 1.34 ERA in eight career starts against the Mets. He’s an incredible 29-2 with a 1.49 ERA in 42 starts at home during his career.

Collins said if Steven Matz does pitch this season it will be out of the bullpen.

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Sep 18

Three Mets’ Storylines: Makeshift Starter Saves Day … Again

When the final chapter of the 2016 Mets is written, it will be about pitching. The central theme will be about those lost and those who stepped into the breach. With Jacob deGrom scratched from Sunday’s start with an elbow injury that will require season-ending surgery, Gabriel Ynoa became the latest to help keep the Mets in the center of the wild-card race.

YNOA: Makes key start. (AP)

YNOA: Makes key start. (AP)

Personally, I was disappointed manager Terry Collins didn’t give Ynoa one more batter, but it worked out for the best and the Mets went on to complete their sweep of the Minnesota Twins, 3-2, to move into the lead wild-card spot, one game ahead of San Francisco and two over the Cardinals.

Ynoa gave up four hits and struck out eight in 4.2 innings, and from there manager Terry Collins turned to his “plethora of pitchers,” to complete the sweep. Five Mets’ relievers limited the Twins to a pair of runs.

While Ynoa was done when the game was decided, his contribution was vital – and worthy of another start with deGrom for the year – he personified the overriding storyline of this season (even more than their average with RISP) of the success of their emergency starters.

With Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and deGrom lost for the year, Seth Lugo, Logan Verrett, Robert Gsellman, Ynoa and Rafael Montero – all of whom were not in the Opening Day rotation – have combined to give the Mets 25 starts (seven defined as quality) and 10 victories. Another pitcher who was supposed to be out of the rotation in early July – 43-year-old Bartolo Colon – has 14 victories in 30 starts (18 defined as quality).

That’s 24 victories in 55 starts (25 quality), which is the difference between having something to keep playing for this season and thinking about spring training.

“Hey look, somebody else has got to help,” Collins said. “When you are called upon and it’s your chance, make the most of it.”

This issue will undoubtedly be raised again in the Mets’ remaining 13 starts, as Colon is slated to get three more starts, while the Band-Aid of Lugo, Gsellman and Ynoa are anticipated getting seven more.

That was today’s main storyline with Neil Walker‘s future with the team and more injury updates the others.

WALKER WANTS TO RETURN: The Mets are where they are in the playoff hunt in large part because of Walker, who hit .282 with a career-high 23 homers and 55 RBI, before being lost for the season to undergo season-ending back surgery.

Prior to Walker’s injury, GM Sandy Alderson said he’d talk with Walker’s agent about an extension, something which obviously hasn’t happened. Walker’s leverage on the free-agent market was compromised by the surgery. That explained Walker’s interest in returning.

“This is a good fit,” Walker told reporters. “This looks good, but we don’t know what else is out there. We don’t know where teams might be coming from. The free-agent market this year is kind of weak, especially at the infield position, so you never know what good happen.”

INJURY UPDATES:  Evidently, the Mets didn’t learn from their recent experience with deGrom. Why else would Collins say today Matz could come back “with an opportunity to pitch,” at the end of the week?

Matz, who hasn’t pitched in a month because of a shoulder impingement and is coming off a 30-pitch bullpen session Saturday, could pitch Friday

When it comes to Mets’ injury news, I’ll believe it when I see it, which is why I have no faith in what Collins said.

Matz was 9-8 with a 3.40 ERA when he was sidelined. The long-term goal would be to have him a viable option to pitch in a possible postseason.

“We have no plans yet,” Collins said, almost backtracking. “Nothing’s written. Steven Matz’s name certainly will be in the mix,” Collins said. “But Steven, when he gets here, is going to be a guy with a limit in workload that he has. So to get him built up and get him where we want, I am not sure we have the starts available.”So, why

So, why float the idea in the first place?

Meanwhile, Wilmer Flores‘ sore right wrist has kept him out of the lineup since it was injured in a home-plate collision with Braves’ catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Collins took responsibility for the injury saying he should have run for Flores.

Lucas Duda started for the first time since May. He was activated from the DL Saturday after being on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his lower back. … Yoenis Cespedes left the game in the sixth inning after feeling ill. … Walker said he’s feeling better after having surgery on a herniated disk in his neck.

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Sep 16

Three Mets’ Storylines: Pushing It With DeGrom?

In announcing Jacob deGrom‘s return to the Mets’ rotation, manager Terry Collins said he’ll have a pitch count ceiling of 75 and the expectations are minimal. Again, it appears the Mets’ plan is built on hope, which smacks of pushing the envelope too far.

COLON: Terrific again. (AP)

COLON: Terrific again. (AP)

Collins said he’d like to get deGrom three starts prior to the playoffs, but what’s wrong with more rehab work and two starts?

“Our expectations right now are to kind of build him back up a little bit,” Collins said prior to the Mets’ 3-0 victory over Minnesota. “I think he will dictate a lot by how he feels. We certainly think he’s going to be fine, but we don’t have a crystal ball here to know what’s going to happen after he throws Sunday.”

Building him back up means he not there, yet.

I always fall on the side of caution when it comes to a pitcher’s injury because too often things backfire when he’s rushed back. The Mets have been lucky so far with Noah Syndergaard‘s elbow bone spur, but we still don’t know what will happen this winter.

We’ve seen the Mets get bit with Matt Harvey and Steven Matz. The Mets have too much to play for to just be hoping for the best with deGrom. Give him some more time. He’s worth the wait.

The Mets’ other storylines Friday were Bartolo Colon and back-to-back power.

COLON TERRIFIC AGAIN: With deGrom and Matz injured, Colon has helped carried the Mets, going 5-1 (14 earned runs in 57 innings) in nine starts since Aug. 1.

“With all that’s happened with our rotation, I don’t know where we’d be without him,” Collins said.

Colon was terrific, giving up three hits in seven scoreless innings, throwing an economical 94 pitches in the process as he improved to a team-high 14-7 while lowering his ERA to 3.14.

For the 43-year-old Colon, it is his 40th start that he’s given up one run or less since turning 40. Amazing. The victory was the 232nd of his career.

Colon could get three more starts this year, including the season finale.

POWER PLUS: Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera hit back-to-back solo homers in the fourth, the 11th time this year they’ve done so.

Collins said Reyes had hit for more power (seven homers) than what he anticipated. Tonight’s homer was Reyes’ fourth in 31 games since coming off the disabled list.

Cabrera has been on a tear in 26 games since coming off the disabled list with seven homers and 16 RBI. He was named the NL Player of the Week for Aug. 22-28.

The Mets have hit 199 homers, one shy of the franchise record established in 2006.

Of the Mets’ 579 runs, over 53 percent have been accounted for by home runs.

EXTRA INNINGS: Cabrera left the game in the ninth with a cramp in his right leg (not the one he had surgery on). … Yoenis Cespedes dropped a can-of-corn pop fly on a 100 percent hot dog play. When asked if he’d talk with Cespedes, Collins said, “these things speak for themselves.’’ … Addison Reed registered his 37th hold throwing nine pitches in a 1-2-3 eighth.

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