Jul 18

Three Mets’ Storylines: Matz Struggles

What, you expected the Mets to run the table against the Cubs?

After winning four straight in the NLCS and four in a series at Citi Field prior to the break, the Cubs were due and Steven Matz wasn’t good enough to prevent Monday’s 5-1 loss at Wrigley Field.

MATZ: Didn't have it. (Getty)

MATZ: Didn’t have it. (Getty)

Matz threw 102 pitches in five innings, of which 26 were foul balls. That says he wasn’t able to put away hitters. Part of it is bone-spur related, and that will continue to be the case until he has surgery.

Matz said he didn’t feel any pain and wouldn’t use that as an excuse.

“I don’t think I had my best command,” Matz said, especially of his breaking pitches. With that, you have to wonder how much of it is the elbow.  Matz was done in on a three-run homer to Anthony Rizzo when he hung a change-up over the middle of the plate.

“I don’t think it was a bad pitch [selection],” Matz said of the pitch to Rizzo. “It was poor execution.”

When Matz was missing, it wasn’t outside where he wanted, but over the plate.

“You have to make them chase a little bit,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “I didn’t think he had his Grade A stuff. Hopefully, he’ll good after this.”

Collins wouldn’t say if Matz was hurting, but acknowledged he didn’t have it Monday.

“There are going to be times when he pitches through discomfort,” Collins said. “Other times he’s going to feel good.”

Matz’s performance reflected the uncertainty of what the Mets can expect from him in the second half. In his previous two starts, Matz worked seven innings in each and gave up a combined five runs.

Matz has hammered in his first start this year, reeled off seven straight victories, and has now lost five straight.

There’s been a lot of speculation as to what the Mets might do at the trade deadline. Bullpen? Yeah, that’s needed. Another bat, preferably one who can hit with runners in scoring position? Definitely.

However, with Matt Harvey gone for the year – he had surgery Monday – and the heads-or-tails prognosis of Matz and Tuesday’s starter Noah Syndergaard, adding another arm to the rotation could be their biggest need.

With the loss, coupled with Miami’s victory in Philadelphia, the Mets fell 6.5 games behind Washington in the NL East and trail Los Angeles and the Marlins for the wild-card.

Monday’s other two story lines are:

THE OUTFIELD DILEMMA: As expected, Yoenis Cespedes played left field, which means he came out of Sunday’s game with no problems. That’s the good news.

Cespedes was hitless in three at-bats against Jon Lester, but nobody could time him. Cespedes threw out a runner out at the plate and almost nailed another at second base.

Prior to the game Collins anticipated playing Cespedes in center Tuesday with Michael Conforto in left. However, after the game Collins said he didn’t think Cespedes moved well.

Conforto appeared as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and delivered an opposite-field single.

That was a terrific sign because prior to the game he admitted being pull-happy in May and June when his average nose-dived.

Collins said he wants to use Cespedes in left to save his legs. He also said Conforto could get time in center, where he’s never played.

I wrote in spring training how I wanted to see Conforto get some time in center, but that never happened. Instead, they might do it during a pennant race, even though Curtis Granderson has played over 1,000 games in center.

Then again, at 35, Granderson’s legs aren’t what they used to be.

FLORES PLAYS: Against the left-hander Lester, Wilmer Flores was in the lineup against James Loney, which I speculated earlier today. Flores singled and homered.

It was Flores’ ninth homer of the year and sixth in July to lead the National League. Yet, manager Terry Collins still doesn’t have a sense of urgency to get his bat in his offensively starved lineup.

I’ll say this again; Flores needs to play even if he’s not the sexy choice of GM Sandy Alderson. In for Loney one game; in for Neil Walker the next; then Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes.

That way, they all play and all get a game off a week.

Why is that so hard to understand?

Jul 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Don’t Forget Cespedes As MVP Candidate

As impressive as the Mets’ four-game sweep was of the Cubs, a case can be made it was validated by what they did Monday afternoon with their firecracker comeback victory over the Miami Marlins. You can even argue two of the Mets’ most important victories this season came during this home stand.

There was Thursday’s rally from three runs down – call it the Brandon Nimmo Game – in a 4-3 victory over the Cubs. Today, they overcame another poor performance from Matt Harvey to come from six runs behind to win their fifth straight game, 8-6, to pull within four games of Washington.

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

On Thursday they put the brakes on what was turning into a severe skid; today they pressed down on the accelerator in their playoff push.

There were three significant storylines from the game, with two – Harvey and the bullpen – intertwined. The third was Yoenis Cespedes‘ clutch hitting.

CESPEDES: I keep hearing about potential NL MVP candidates, among them Daniel Murphy and Kris Bryant.

But, Cespedes can’t be ignored. He has five of his 20 homers and 28 RBI coming with RISP. His 20 homers – fourth in the NL – suggest he’s in scoring position as soon as he leaves the on-deck circle. In his last 12 home games, Cespedes is batting .419 with four doubles and four homers, including that monster drive to jumpstart Thursday’s win.

Cespedes had no chance of being the NL MVP last year because of his limited time in the league. But this year, he’d be my choice, with his game-winning, two-run double in the eighth just another sample of what he’s been doing all year.

HARVEY: Gone are the feel-good thoughts Harvey might have turned around his season after making three strong starts. Harvey encored those three starts with four bad ones in which he gave up a combined 13 runs on 30 hits and five walks with only 15 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. For the second straight game Harvey worked just 3.2 innings. (In fairness, his outing was cut short in the Washington start by rain, but even so he wasn’t pitching well.)

Harvey hasn’t come away with a victory since, May 30, some seven starts ago.

On the bright side, he hasn’t given up a homer since his May 24 loss at Washington when he gave up three. However, of his 17 starts he’s only gone seven innings twice.

For someone who considers himself an ace, this is unacceptable. For those of you who still believe him to be an ace, kindly think again if his 4-10 record and 4.86 ERA haven’t convinced you. That’s not to say he can’t be an ace in the future, but not now.

The Mets will need Harvey because of looming physical questions of Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard.

BULLPEN: The pen has been maligned, but today it stepped up with 5.1 scoreless innings.

The Mets didn’t have Addison Reed, but were picked up by Erik Goeddel, Logan Verrett, Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins and Jeurys Familia. Kudos for Verrett and Robles for working out of trouble, and again for Familia, who always seems to be on the ropes only to escape with his 29th straight victory.

A point that requires no debate: Championship teams need a strong bullpen.

Jun 06

Figuring A Busy And Critical Offseason For Mets

Whatever happens with David Wright this summer, we know the Mets must make a decision on his future and formulate a plan for 2017 should something sideline him for a third straight year.

Wright won’t be their only decision and GM Sandy Alderson figures to be busy:

CESPEDES: Can see him opting out. (AP)

CESPEDES: Can see him opting out. (AP)

CATCHER: Rene Rivera is their best defensive option, but neither he nor Kevin Plawecki has produced with the bat. For that matter, neither has Travis d’Arnaud. That is when he’s able to play.

FIRST BASE: If the Mets decide first base is Wright’s eventual landing spot, what becomes of Lucas Duda? He’s still at least a month away from coming off the disabled list with a stress fracture in his lower back and assuming he returns nobody knows what they’ll get from him. He’s arbitration eligible so the Mets might not make an offer as it is doubtful they’ll want him as a backup.

SECOND BASE: Base on how he’s performed, it should be a no-brainer to bring back Neil Walker. But, will they look at him the way they did Daniel Murphy? How much are they willing to pay and for how long? The extra year is always an obstacle. If Walker hits 30 homers, don’t count on the Mets matching his price and he could make a killing this winter.

THIRD BASE: There is nobody among us who doesn’t want to see Wright return to his All-Star form. His on-base percentage and homers were reasonable when he was playing, but his strikeouts and RBI were telling negative stats and he wasn’t good defensively. We shall see if Wilmer Flores is the answer, but it has only been three games. If he fizzles this position must be addressed.

If Fores does well, that will increase the pressure to do something with Wright, who is clearly having problems fielding the position. They can’t trade him, but they could move him to a different position. Or, and this is delicate, they could talk about buying him out.

Everything has to be on the table with him.

OUTFIELD: Despite his slump, I’m not worried about Michael Conforto, but is left his best position? Their ideal defensive outfield has Yoenis Cespedes in left and Juan Lagares in center, so could Conforto play right? If not this year, then perhaps they could test him there in the Arizona Fall League or send him to play winter ball. Curtis Granderson isn’t having a good year and is under contract for one more season.

Considering how he’s playing, Cespedes is sure to opt out after this year to test the market. Why wouldn’t he? If Cespedes bolted that would solve the problem of moving Conforto and they might extend Granderson if he finishes strong.

Frankly, I was surprised to see what the Mets gave Cespedes, but the opt-out clause could make that chump change. Do you see the Mets re-working his contract to give him extra years and money that could surpass $100 million? Not me.

There are a lot of dominos in the outfield.

BULLPEN: Their least agita-inducing reliever is Addison Reed. They might need to make a decision on either him or Jeurys Familia as the closer. Either way, is there really a reliable arm in that bullpen? It was superb in April, but there have been visible cracks since. I’m not yet willing to make the comparison of Familia to Armando Benitez, but my confidence level is being tested.

I would have loved a 7-8-9 bullpen like the Yankees, but the Mets don’t have the reliable arms, largely because they can’t depend on Hansel Robles.

ROTATION: I know many of you won’t like this, but after Sunday’s game in Miami – and if he really has turned the corner – perhaps they should seriously consider trading Matt Harvey this winter. His salary is reasonable and if healthy he should bring something back in a trade. I still think he will walk after the 2018 season and leave the Mets with only a draft pick.

Trading Harvey, coupled with the monetary savings if Cespedes left, could fill several voids.

If they went long-term on a pitcher, I would go after Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz ahead of Harvey. I believe they’ll cost less in the long run and won’t create as many headaches. Can they keep all three? Who knows, but if they signed them it would be for less than if they waited for their free-agent years. Pay more now to avoid arbitration and use the savings to plug holes.

Health is always a risk in signing a pitcher long-term, but if they continue to pitch to expectations, there is no question they will cost a lot more when they become free agents. Pay more now to avoid arbitration and use the savings to plug holes.

As much as people like to say, Bartolo Colon can’t pitch forever. What happens with him is largely contingent on Zack Wheeler, and there’s no guarantee what they get from him when he returns – if he returns – after the All-Star break. The longer Wheeler stays down, the less chance they have to move Colon at the deadline.

If you realistically scanned their 25-man roster, you can make a case for only Asdrubal Cabrera, Conforto, Granderson, Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz and Familia returning for 2017. Who can’t see them low-balling Walker, Cespedes, Reed or Duda?

There were high hopes for the Mets entering the season and they will make the playoffs if they began today. However, injuries are starting to cripple them and their depth is thin. They have little to trade in their minor league system outside of Wheeler – whose health raised a red flag for prospective buyers – and with the combination of health, salary and poor production, they have nothing to trade from the major league roster.

It’s a beautiful day today and I don’t want to rain on your picnic, but even with their young core of arms, the Mets’ window of winning could be rapidly closing. If you thought Alderson did magic last year at the trade deadline, he’ll have to do even more this July.

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Dec 18

Mets Still Have Voids To Fill

We are a week from Christmas and two months away from the start of spring training and the Mets still have two significant concerns to address:

CENTER FIELD: The Mets need a platoon with Juan Lagares, preferably a left-handed bat the equal of Yoenis Cespedes. That’s going to be tough. Making their quest even more difficult is the growing speculation they are going to do this on the cheap.

There does not seem to be sentiment to let Lagares open the season in a full time capacity, similar to what they did with Wilmer Flores.

Dexter Fowler and Denard Span are the names most frequently mentioned, however, they are lower tier options.

While neither are top drawer, they are at the point in their careers where they want the chance to play full time and won’t be anxious to enter into a platoon situation.

By the time the Mets get around talking with them, the market may be depleted, elevating them to the top of what is left – consequently probably making them too expensive to sign.

BULLPEN: Signing Bartolo Colon improves the bullpen, but you must remember that probably doesn’t happen until Zack Wheeler returns in July. Until then, things are thin. Jenrry Mejia was tendered for 2016. They are also bringing back Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins, and Tyler Clippard remains a possibility.

So, for now we really can’t say the Mets are significantly better than they were at the end of the season. And, please don’t underestimate how important this area is to the Mets. There is no return trip to the World Series, and maybe not even the playoffs without a better bullpen.

Sep 28

Mets Need To Go For Home Field

The cynic in me thinks Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon set off Bryce Harper by saying, “you can find your ring in New York.” Maybe he’ll find it this weekend in Citi Field where the Nationals finish playing out the string against the Mets.

COLLINS: A lot to sort out. (AP)

COLLINS: A lot to sort out. (AP)

With the NL East in their back pocket, the Mets insist they still have something to play off, namely, home field advantage against the Dodgers in the NLDS.

Manager Terry Collins said the Mets won’?t coast the final week.

“I think you’ve got to get the edge back that we had,” Collins said. “We’re going to play to win as many games as we can, to try to get home-field advantage in the first round.

“I think it’?s very, very important to have that. It’?s something we should shoot for. And I think when you’?re still playing for something, it prepares you better.”?

Winning on the road had been difficult for the Mets in recent seasons, including earlier this year. However, the Mets have gone 20-3 since splitting a two-game series in Baltimore, Aug. 18-19. That stretch includes a three-game sweep in Washington, and four-game sweep over the weekend in Cincinnati. Where the Mets have had problems was at home where they are 6-12, since Aug. 14, when the lost the first game of a three-game sweep to potential playoff opponent, Pittsburgh.

Even so, it’s always better to play at home. It’?s Game 5 against Clayton Kershaw. Where do you want that game played?

Home field is only one of several issues Collins wants to settle this week:

ROTATION: As of now, the order appears to be Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey in the pivotal Game 3, and Steven Matz. This decision also involves how many innings Harvey would pitch. Presumably, after Saturday, that’s no longer an issue.

BULLPEN: Jon Niese volunteered to be a left-handed specialist, but that doesn’?t resolve all the bullpen issues, including whether he can do the job. The list includes Tyler Clippards back; Bartolo Colon‘s role; the effectiveness of Sean Gilmartin; and the bridge to Jeurys Familia.

MIDDLE INFIELD: Presumably, Collins won’t tinker with taking Daniel Murphy out of the lineup. That leaves who will play shortstop: Wilmer Flores or Ruben Tejada?

THE OFFENSE: After fluttering for much of the first half, the Mets received an offensive jolt with the acquisitions of Yoenis Cespedes, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, and the promotion of Michael Conforto. While much of the firepower was against sub-.500 teams, the Dodgers have two of the game’s best pitchers in Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

It won’t be as easy.