Mar 27

Seven Things For The Mets To Make The Playoffs

Can the Mets reach the playoffs? It would take at least 86 victories, which is 16 more than last season, and that’s a reach. I don’t think it will happen, but stranger things have happened with the Mets. If it does happen, the  Mets need the following seven things fall into place:

DE GROM: One of the few answers. (AP)

           DE GROM: One of the few answers. (AP)

No injuries: They are due for a healthy season, beginning with their rotation. They already had a few this spring, and Steven Matz and Matt Harvey are coming off surgery. They have to be incredibly lucky from here on out.

As far as their position players are concerned, they need Michael Conforto (shoulder) and Yoenis Cespedes (shoulder and hamstrings) to return and have monster seasons. Conforto will miss the first month, so that’s at least 100 at-bats they’ll miss.

Who will fill that void?

Rotation lives up to the hype: Zack Wheeler will open the season in the minors and Jason Vargas on the disabled list. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom will have to win at least 17 games each, and Harvey has to win at least 15.

Relievers must fill their roles: Manager Mickey Callaway hinted at a closer-by-committee format, but Jeurys Familia will get the first chance to close.

Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo will combine for the Andrew Miller role (once the latter is replaced in the rotation by either Vargas or Wheeler). That’s something new with Callaway and it is a gamble that must work.

The older guys’ encore: Specifically, that would be Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Reyes and Jay Bruce. Frazier and Bruce must have big seasons, defined as at least 20 homers and 80 RBI.

The young guys can’t be intimidated: Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares will get at-bats in April with Conforto injured. Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith – when he comes up – are offensive liabilities. That has to change.

Win the East: When the Mets reached the World Series in 2015, they did so in large part by Washington getting off to a miserable start and the Mets beating up on the Nationals and Braves. That has to happen again.

Sandy Alderson must not blink at the deadline: In 2015, when the Carlos Gomez trade fell through he immediately went after Cespedes. If the Mets are close at the end of July, Alderson can’t be afraid to pull the trigger.

Sep 30

Gsellman, Bruce Carry Mets One Step Closer

Usually, a playoff team has a player or two not on their radar coming out of spring, that end up carrying them down the stretch. The Mets have had more than a handful this year, but clinched a tie for the wild-card spot because of the hefty contributions of Robert Gsellman and Jay Bruce.

Gsellman, along with Seth Lugo, carried the Mets’ rotation following injuries to Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom; Bruce, whom they coveted last year but wound up with Yoenis Cespedes, instead, is finally hitting to expectations.

GSELLMAN: Superb again. (AP)

GSELLMAN: Superb again. (AP)

Gsellman gave up one run in six innings and Bruce drove in three runs with his fourth homer in six games to give the Mets a 5-1 victory in chilly Philly Friday night.

However, it has been more than one game – for both.

Gsellman is 2-1 with a 1.13 ERA in his last four starts with a 25-6 strikeouts-walks ratio. He is 4-2 overall, and combined with Lugo, have won nine games.

“We’ve asked a lot of out young pitchers,” Collins said. “But, nobody was thrust in a pennant race like these guys have. They’ve done a great job of controlling their emotions. They’ve been very impressive.”

The Mets wanted Bruce last summer, but the Reds were seeking too much. After the Carlos GomezWilmer Flores/Zack Wheeler fell through, the Mets had Cespedes fall into their laps.

With Cespedes hurting for almost all of July, the Mets again needed to import a bat.

“We knew when we got him if he could start swinging the bat he would change our lineup,” Collins said. “Hopefully, he can stay hot.”

Bruce fell into deep slump shortly after the trade and was benched for several games. A pinch-hit homer got him back into the lineup, and he’s scorched ever since. Bruce is riding a six-game hitting streak, going 10-for-20 with four homers and eight RBI in that span.

“It wasn’t at a great time,” Bruce said of his slump. “But, I’m on the upswing now. I’m swinging at pitches I can hit and not missing them. … I’ve always had confidence in myself and I have confidence in this team. I want to help this team get to a World Series and win it.”

They can take another step in that direction with a victory Saturday behind Bartolo Colon.

Apr 03

Repeating Will Be Harder

Wilmer Flores wasn’t halfway back to the Mets’ dugout after striking out to end the bottom of the 12th inning and last year’s World Series when we already asking the question: Can the Mets return to the Series?

Getting to the World Series is one thing, but getting back there is different, and much harder. Much harder for the simple reason everybody is gunning for you.

SYNDERGAARD: Game two starter. (Getty)

SYNDERGAARD: Game two starter. (Getty)

“The first thing I talked about in spring training is the difference between being the hunter and the hunted,” David Wright told reporters. “We have a bullseye on us now.”

That they do. The Washington Nationals want to wrestle the NL East back from them and the Chicago Cubs – everybody’s sexy pick to get to the World Series – want to avenge being swept in the NLCS.

Last year at this time, the Mets entered the season without having a winning record since 2008. The hope was their young pitching keyed by Matt Harvey‘s return following Tommy John surgery, and Jacob deGrom coming off a Cy Young season, could carry them. And, don’t forget, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz hadn’t even made their major league debuts.

The Mets entered 2015 with questions at catcher, shortstop, Wright’s health at third, left field and in the bullpen.

The Mets got off to a blistering start, but lost Wright in April with a strained hamstring that turned into spinal stenosis and almost four months on the disabled list. The pitching kept the Mets afloat when the hitting collapsed.

The Mets kicked away their early lead, then turned their season around when Michael Conforto was brought up and the team traded for Yoenis Cespedes with a couple of days after a trade for Carlos Gomez fell through which created the enduring image of the season, that being Flores crying at shortstop after hearing he had been traded to Milwaukee.

The season began with .500 as the goal, but the Mets pulled away from Washington, outlasted the Dodgers in five games – winning the deciding game on the road – and sweeping the Cubs to reach their first World Series since 2000 and the fifth in franchise history.

However, Jeurys Familia blew three save opportunities in the World Series and the bats fell quiet and the Royals won in five games.

“Falling short can be a motivator,” deGrom said.

Daniel Murphy left, but the Mets appear to have upgraded their up-the-middle defense with the acquisitions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Cespedes was brought back and they’ll have Conforto for a full year. They’ll also expect to have Syndergaard and Matz for a full season.

The health of Wright and Travis d’Arnaud are significant issues as is the make-up of the bullpen.

But, we’re not talking about .500 as a primary goal, but winning a World Series.

“Mets fans are hungry,” Wright said. “We’re hungry.”

Please follow me on Twitter.

Dec 09

Niese Traded To Pirates For Walker

Just as the Mets quickly rebounded by getting Yoenis Cespedes when the Carlos Gomez trade fell through, they did it again as they have traded for Pirates second baseman Neil Walker the day after losing Ben Zobrist to the Cubs.

WALKER: Newest Met. (Getty)

WALKER: Newest Met. (Getty)

All it cost is Jon Niese, who wasn’t in their plans in the first place. I wrote last night I wasn’t all that broken up about Zobrist falling through because he was too pricey and there were other options. Zobrist’s 162-game averages are .265 with 17 homers and 77 RBI, while Walker hit .269 with 16 homers and 71 RBI last year. The difference is one hot weekend.

Niese was to make $9 million this year, which is the projected arbitration award for Walker.

Walker doesn’t play the outfield corners like Zobrist, but like him is a switch-hitter and is four years younger. However, with Zobrist they would have him locked up for four years. Walker could only turn out to be a rental as he’ll be a free agent after this season. That could mean the Mets could be going through this again next winter if Dilson Herrara doesn’t show them anything this year.

As for Niese, 29, he was being phased out because of the Mets’ young core of arms. Niese was projected to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler comes off the disabled list, but are now expected to go with Rafael Montero. The trade of Niese could also spur the Mets to re-sign Bartolo Colon.

 

Nov 05

Extending My Apologies To Sandy Alderson

In my coverage of the Mets, from my days as a newspaper reporter to this blog, I have been a proponent for being stand-up. I have applauded David Wright, Daniel Murphy, ,manager Terry Collins and others for accepting responsibility when things go wrong.

ALDERSON: You have reason to smile. (AP)

ALDERSON: You have reason to smile. (AP)

And, I have been critical of Matt Harvey for not always doing the same.

Given that, I must hold myself to the same standards and admit I was wrong on GM Sandy Alderson on several issues this year. Among them:

* Not having a concrete plan for Harvey as to his innings limit, or at least, not being open with it.

* For his reluctance to promote outfield prospect Michael Conforto from the minor leagues when the team was in a woeful hitting slump.

* For seemingly dragging his feet on bringing in a bat at the trade deadline. And, when the Carlos Gomez trade with Milwaukee fell through, Alderson deserves considerable credit for despite the rapidly approaching deadline, kicking the tires on Jay Bruce from Cincinnati before landing Yoenis Cespedes.

The bottom line: No Cespedes, no playoffs.

Alderson told us to be patient and rewarded us.

When the Harvey news broke, Alderson went with the flow and worked with the appropriate parties to make sure it wasn’t a lingering problem. And, well Conforto made the most with his opportunity and in addition to gaining valuable experience, helped the Mets to the World Series.

He’s expected to be a starter next season and the Mets are far ahead because they already have a book on him. In both cases, Alderson did what he was supposed to do, which was act in a manner that made the Mets better. Nobody can ask for more.

There’s no rest for him as he’ll be attending the general managers meetings next week. Next year has already begun and with it a myriad of issues, from rebuilding a bullpen, and making hard decisions on Cespedes, Murphy, the middle infield and ascertaining where things are with Wright’s back.

I’ll voice my opinion as I always do, but for now, Alderson deserves to savor this season without my two cents.

So, cheers to you Mr. Alderson for making me, and countless Mets fans, eat our words. Your instincts about this team were correct and I was wrong. You had one hell of a year.

Congratulations.