Sep 08

Questions The Mets Might Have Already Answered

Let’s begin the Mets’ salvage operation for September by seeing how they answered the most significant questions facing them as they entered spring training.

Q: Can the Mets finish with a winning record?

A: Mathematically, it’s possible as Sunday’s victory in Cincinnati has them seven games under with 19 to play. They are six games behind in the wild-card standings, but need to leapfrog five teams. They have head-to-head match-ups with Washington, Atlanta and Miami, but even so, the odds are against them. They were 14 games under last year and won’t be the 90-win team GM Sandy Alderson thought possible this spring. Bet, he regrets that comment. Even so, improvement is possible. Hey, you take what you can get.

Q: Who’s on first?

A:  Probably more than anything, Alderson’s high point this season is how quickly he disposed of Ike Davis. Honestly, I thought this might get played out as it was the past two years, but Alderson pulled the trigger quickly on a trade. Davis struggled both with injuries and at the plate out of the gate, and Lucas Duda has done more than just out-play him. Duda has developed into a legitimate slugger who could merit a better contract. As the Mets brace for legitimacy in 2015, they’ll have one less question because of Duda’s development.

Q: Who’ll play shortstop?

A: The Mets teased us with talks of signing Stephen Drew or trading for Nick Franklin. April began with shortstop as a black hole with Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores competing for the job, and the Mets having little confidence in either.

I envisioned Tejada winning the job by default because I didn’t think Alderson would gamble on Drew or Franklin, or ever have the stones to go with Flores.

Surprise: Flores has been getting the lion’s share of the playing time and September is for him to put a stranglehold on the job. Flores always had the better bat and he’s not embarrassed himself in the field.

This could be one less question for the winter.

Q: Who’ll be the leadoff hitter?

A: There was no clear-cut favorite, although manager Terry Collins had lukewarm preference for Eric Young. However, this has been a miserable season for Young, who doesn’t have a good on-base percentage. Several players were used to lead off, including the departed Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. The job now appears to be sliding to Juan Lagares, who stole two bases Sunday. Lagares can steal a base, but there’s more to leading off than stealing bases. Working the count and a high on-base percentage are paramount, and those are two categories are something he’ll need to work on this month. Lagares’ development also assures Eric Young won’t be back.

Q: How will the rotation shake out with Matt Harvey gone?

A: The biggest issues were whether Zack Wheeler would progress and if Jon Niese would take it to the next level. Wheeler has pitched well following a slow start. He won his tenth game Sunday, but was hampered by the persistent problem of running up his pitch count, throwing 99 in six innings. He’s worked into the sixth or longer in all but one start – have to like that – but his 99 Sunday was the fewest he’s thrown. As for Niese, the Mets expected far better than 8-10. The Mets could very well be tiring of Niese’s inconsistency and this could finally be the time when they opt to trade him. Could happen.

Q: Who replaces Bobby Parnell in the closer role?

A: The Mets finally decided on a role for Jenrry Mejia, and it is closer. Mejia still has those moments when he tends to overthrow and lose command. He labored Sunday with 25 pitches, but came away with his 24th save compared to three blown saves.

Let’s face it, 2014 was supposed to be a transition season for the Mets, who made no secret they were waiting for Harvey’s return and a step toward competitiveness.

For the most part, the Mets addressed their issues in the positive. Even so, in the cases of Lagares, Flores, Mejia and Wheeler, there’s a difference between optimism and definitive answers. Looking ahead to 2015, they need to see more of those four in September before deciding their offseason plans.

There’s not enough time remaining for some guys – such as David Wright, Curtis Granderson and Travis d’Arnaud – to finish with statistically impressive numbers. Even so, there’s time enough to enter the offseason with positive vibes.

The flip side are the nagging questions:

Where is Wright in his career? Has his career peaked and is he on the downhill slide? Did his shoulder injury hurt him more than the Mets let on?

As for Granderson, we knew there would be a power slide leaving the Bronx, but will he ever be a significant power threat again?

The Mets haven’t gotten the production they hoped from d’Arnaud, but the defensive part of his game is getting better and the pitchers are comfortable with him.

As for pitching, nobody can say for certain how Harvey and Wheeler will develop. Niese remains an enigma. The bullpen has been good in spots, but is always a work in progress. Is this as good as it will get for Mejia? What can we expect from Parnell next season?

There will be no playoffs this season, but .500 can be had with a 13-6 finish. With 13 of their remaining games at home, and nine against teams with losing records, stranger things have happened for a franchise that likes to call itself, “Amazin.’’

Let’s not think about 2015 just yet.

COMING UP THIS WEEK:  Mets we might not see in 2015 … Numbers and milestones that could happen … Looking at second base … Are the Mets in better shape than the Yankees?

Mar 14

Mets Today: Wheeler Starts; Vegas Bound

There’s a lot to like about Zack Wheeler, who really wants the ball Opening Day for the Mets. Manager Terry Collins said if Jonathon Niese isn’t physically ready, he would decide between Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee.

Colon is the most experienced, but with no goodwill stock in the organization. Gee is deserving based on 199 innings last year, but ambivalent to the prospect. Meanwhile, Wheeler wants that game, which are points in his favor.

WHEELER: Starts tonight. (AP)

WHEELER: Starts tonight. (AP)

Also to like about Wheeler is his perfectionist nature. Despite three scoreless innings Sunday against Atlanta, Wheeler wasn’t pleased with his changeup, which will be his focus tonight against Miami.

Wheeler said at times he opens up his shoulders too early.

“Every time you get out there on the mound, it’s been a little problem for me,’’ Wheeler said. “There’s a little too much adrenaline, I guess.’’

Too much adrenaline is an argument against starting Wheeler Opening Day.

In addition:

* A group of Mets will travel to Las Vegas for split-squad games Saturday and Sunday against the Chicago Cubs. Among those expected to go are David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Travis d’Arnaud, Bobby Parnell and starters Colon and Jenrry Mejia.

* Ike Davis (calves) and Lucas Duda (left hamstring) will continue to take batting practice and field grounders at first base. It is hoped they will play in DH roles this weekend. Neither has done any running.

* No word when Wilmer Flores will get another chance to play shortstop, but with two split-squad games this weekend there could be an opportunity.

 

Mar 12

Mets Today: John Lannan Starts; Returns Of Duda And Murphy Possible

Fifth-starter candidate John Lannan will start today against St. Louis in Port St. Lucie.

Lannan, signed to compete for the fifth-starter role, is also being considered for a spot in the bullpen in the wake of lefty Josh Edgin being sent to the minor league camp.

Whatever happens this spring, Lannan said he’s not ready to give up starting, and at 29, has plenty of time remaining.

“I don’t think anything right now. I’m just going to take it as it is,’’ Lannan said of his role. “I think that I’m not done as a starter. I think the last few years I’ve kind of run into, I don’t want to say back luck, but some unfortunate circumstances – in 2012 getting sent to Triple-A and last year with the injury [surgery on left leg] I had.

“I don’t think I’m done [starting], but I’m looking forward to the possibility of pitching in the big leagues. Whatever capacity that is, I’m just looking forward to it.’’

In addition today:

* Daniel Murphy practiced outside Tuesday, so he might be able to play.

* Lucas Duda could return to the lineup today or tomorrow. He’s been bothered by a tight left hamstring, but has been hitting in the cage.

* Bartolo Colon and Jenrry Mejia are scheduled to start the two games in Las Vegas, Saturday and Sunday, respectively against the Chicago Cubs. Also expected on the travel squad are David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares, Travis d’Arnaud and Bobby Parnell.

ON DECK:  The need for a second lefty in the bullpen.

Mar 07

Mets Wrap: Tie Cardinals; Wright And Murphy Play

The New York Mets and St. Louis played to a 5-5 tie today in Port St. Lucie. Wilmer Flores and Eric Campbell singled in runs in the ninth inning to tie the game.

Fifth-starter candidate Daisuke Matsuzaka, in his second appearance of the spring, gave up two runs on six hits in two innings. Another fifth-starter John Lannan candidate, gave up two runs on three hits in two innings.

Rookie Rafael Montero also worked two innings and gave up on run.

In addition:

* David Wright and Daniel Murphy played in their first exhibition games of the spring. Murphy went 1-for-2 while Wright was hitless in three at-bats.

* Anthony Recker and Andrew Brown homered for the Mets.

* Manager Terry Collins said Flores would get a start at shortstop early next week.

* Bartolo Colon and Bobby Parnell pitched in an intrasquad game Thursday and are scheduled to pitch Monday against Miami in Port St. Lucie.

Mar 07

Mets Today: Wright, Murphy Playing; Davis, Duda Still Sitting

David Wright and Daniel Murphy are scheduled to return to the New York Mets’ lineup this afternoon against St. Louis at Port St. Lucie.

Both experienced strained oblique muscles in previous spring training camps and manager Terry Collins took the approach of easing them into the exhibition schedule.

They each played in an intrasquad game Thursday, with Wright homering against Bartolo Colon.

In addition:

* Neither Ike Davis (both calves) nor Lucas Duda (tight left hamstring) will not play.

* Closer Bobby Parnell, who threw off the mound Thursday, will not be available.

* The instant replay testing will be used.