Nov 04

How Mets Compare To Cubs

After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally won their World Series. The curses are over, so perhaps they can do the right thing and invite Steve Bartman to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day 2017.

It would be a classy gesture, akin to the Red Sox making up with Bill Buckner – who, by the way – felt the curses of both the Red Sox and Cubs.

REED: A priority. (AP)

                    REED: A priority. (AP)

I doubt it would happen, but I always root for the good story. Meanwhile, our Mets have a title drought of our own – 30 long years.

The Cubs won 103 games this summer and the Mets won 87, but is 16 games the real separation between the two teams? The Mets can’t go back to their four-game sweep of the Cubs in last year’s NLCS or a sweep of them this summer at Citi Field.

The Cubs roared past the Mets, and here’s a position-by-position comparison between the franchises:

FRONT OFFICE: Theo Epstein had a plan when he took over in 2012, and it was only four years before he lead a parade in Chicago. Like was said of the Yankees’ Brian Cashman over the years, he better win that payroll. ($171 million and license to spend).

Meanwhile, Mets GM Sandy Alderson’s mission statement when he was hired in 2010 was to get rid of burdensome contracts – Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Francisco Rodriguez to name a few – and cut payroll, which he did.

The Mets’ payroll was $126 million in Alderson’s first year and jumped to $142 million in 2011 because of existing obligations, but from 2012- 2014 had sub-$100 million payrolls.

It subsequently jumped to $135 million this year for Opening Day.

Unlike Epstein, Alderson does not have free reign to spend because the Mets are still recovering from the Ponzi scandal.

EDGE: Chicago.

MANAGER: Joe Maddon is regarded as one of the game’s best minds, but in all fairness with his moves in Games 6 and 7, it would be accurate to say the Cubs won in spite of him and not because of him.

He abused reliever Aroldis Chapman in the last three games. It was absurd he sent Chapman out for the ninth with a huge lead in Game 6. I was stunned he sent him out for the ninth, but it also showed extreme confidence in Chapman but also underscored an overall lack of faith he had in the rest of the bullpen. That’s something Terry Collins would never have done.

I thought he pulled Kyle Hendricks way too soon, something we’ve seen of Collins frequently.

The bunt call with Javier Baez was foolish. There were other moments, but those stood out the most.

But Maddon caught some breaks. The last two games in Cleveland allowed him to use Kyle Schwarber as the DH. Think about that Cubs fans when you rail against American League baseball.

The Cubs also caught a huge break with the rain delay that gave them a much-needed timeout. It also took steam from the Indians.

Since Collins replaced Jerry Manuel, he was initially hamstrung with a limited payroll and Alderson’s domineering hand of calling the shots.

Collins’ in-game managing can be head scratching, especially the use of his bullpen and bench. He has shown questionable loyalties to his players, notably Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores and Yoenis Cespedes.

He has been let down numerous times, but his players hustle for him.

EDGE: Chicago.

ROTATION: Jake Arrieta won 22 games in 2015 to win the NL Cy Young Award. Either Jon Lester or Hendricks could win it this year. They have one more season with John Lackey and Jason Hammel is the fifth starter.

Most of the pre-season pitching accolades went to the Mets’ young core of Harvey, Jake deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz. Throw in Zack Wheeler and four of the five are coming off surgery. Bartolo Colon is a free agent, but the Mets want him back.

However, that’s no guarantee he’ll be back. Nothing is assured, including Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman picking up where they left off. They gave the Mets a brief, but an impressive window.

The bottom line is the Mets’ rotation can be terrific, but with the surgeries and relative inexperience, they enter spring training with a myriad of questions.

EDGE: Chicago.

BULLPEN

With Chapman on the free-agent market and Maddon’s obvious lack of faith in his bullpen, the Cubs have serious questions.

Mike Montgomery is 27 and worked a lot in the postseason. They also had Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards and Justin Grimm on the postseason roster. They are under 30, had decent seasons, but Maddon had little faith in them in Games 6 of 7. We’ll never know what Maddon would have done if Game 7 went longer.

The Mets have serious bullpen issues with Jeurys Familia facing at least a 30-game suspension and Addison Reed entering free agency. Honestly, they are in a world of hurt in their bullpen.

If you assume Chapman is gone, the same assumption can be made of Reed, left-hander Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas. They already decided against Jim Henderson. Josh Edgin had a short rebound season from surgery. Hansel Robles is coming off a hot-and-cold season, as did Logan Verrett.

Erik Goeddel and Sean Gilmartin also made appearances, as did Rafael Montero.

EDGE: Even.

CATCHING: Ironically, Maddon’s lack of faith in his bullpen prompted going to Jon Lester, and with him, his personal catcher David Ross. Ross homered to help win Game 7 and retire in style.

The Cubs still list Schwarber as a catcher, but after knee surgery, that won’t happen. Willson Contreras had a good year and enters spring training No. 1.

Travis d’Arnaud was hurt each of the last two seasons and still needs to prove he can hit. Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera are back-ups. The Mets need a serious upgrade here.

EDGE: Chicago.

FIRST BASE: It’s Anthony Rizzo (.292/32 HR/109 RBI) for the Cubs against the Mets’ perpetually injured Lucas Duda, and possibly James Loney.

The Mets are also toying with the idea of experimenting with Conforto and David Wright at first. It is a reach.

EDGE: Chicago.

SECOND BASE: When Schwarber was injured, Ben Zobrist played more in left field, and that gave Javier Baez more time at second base.

The versatility of MVP candidate Kris Bryant, who can play the infield and outfield corners, enabled Maddon to keep Zobrist fresh at second.

The Mets were surprised by Neil Walker’s power, but he’s a free-agent coming off back surgery. The most they’ll extend is probably a one-year qualifying. They still have Flores, who they repeatedly showed a lack of faith, and the up-and-coming T.J. Rivera. Kelly Johnson, who filed for free agency. Will they trade for him for a third straight season?

EDGE: Chicago.

SHORTSTOP

The Cubs’ Addison Russell is one of the game’s rising stars, while Asdrubal Cabrera was arguably the Mets’ MVP.

However, Cabrera showed breakdown signs several times last summer. They have him for another year and Collins needs to do a better job of resting him.

EDGE: Chicago.

THIRD BASE

If not Rizzo, Bryant (.292/39/102) could be the NL MVP. He’s 24, terrific in the clutch and can play four positions.

The Mets don’t know if Wright will be back, and if he does, where he’ll play and how much are issues. If he doesn’t, they’ll go with Jose Reyes and Flores.

EDGE: Chicago.

LEFT FIELD

The Cubs have the combination of Zobrist – whom the Mets’ coveted after the 2015 season – and Schwarber. The World Series MVP, Zobrist is also one of baseball’s good guys as he signed autographs outside his Chicago home.

How many remember that Albert Belle chased down trick-or-treaters in his truck?

Zobrist is versatile, has power and hits in the clutch. Small wonder the Mets and Nationals both wanted him. Schwarber, meanwhile, thanks to the DH rule was a factor with awesome power.

The assumption is Cespedes will be gone, leaving left field to Conforto. Curtis Granderson could also get time in left with Jay Bruce brought back to play right field.

EDGE: Chicago.

CENTER FIELD: Dexter Fowler had a terrific season, but is a free agent. He said the Cubs are on his list, but as I did in left field with the Mets and Cespedes, I will assume he’ll be gone.

If the Cubs don’t bring back Fowler, and since there’s no way of knowing who’ll the Cubs will fish for, their internal option is 22-year-old Albert Almora Jr.

Ideally, the Mets wanted Cespedes in center, but he balked. Juan Lagares was injured for a good part of the season, but returned to play well.

Granderson will also get center field time in his last season with the Mets because of Bruce’s presence in right field.

EDGE: Mets.

RIGHT FIELD: The Cubs didn’t get $180 million worth from Jason Heyward. He has a tremendous glove, but his bat went into hibernation this summer.

Bruce struggled after coming over from Cincinnati, but picked it up at the end. Even so, it was a good pick-up, and he’s more economically feasible than either Cespedes or Heyward.

When Bruce isn’t playing, they can turn to Granderson.

EDGE: Mets.

 

Oct 28

I Want Bartman To Throw Out First Pitch Tonight

Despite the years 1908 and 1945, can you really call the Chicago Cubs the “underdogs’’ or sentimental favorites in this World Series?

I don’t think so because the Cubs entered the season as heavy favorites to win it all this year. Their off-season shopping of Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and John Lackey, not to mention their in-season acquisitions of Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery, meant they were built to win.

BARTMAN: Cubs need to do right thing. (FOX)

BARTMAN: Cubs need to do right thing. (FOX)

In some ways, how this team was put together was reminiscent of the Yankees and Theo Epstein’s Red Sox. They played by the economic rules of the game, so I don’t have any problem with how they were constructed. When you consider the youth of their team and management’s willingness to spend, they should be good for a long time.

But, that hardly makes them the underdog. Cleveland’s budget, style of play and lack of fielding a winner since 1948 makes them more a sentimental favorite.

All season we’ve been bombarded with Chicago’s history, about curses and bad luck, but that’s not why they haven’t won.

They haven’t won because of how this team was put together. For decades, Cubs ownership and management – much like the Red Sox did – sold the experience of their quaint, historic stadiums over fielding a winning team.

Cubs’ fans, like Red Sox fans prior to 2004, relished the role of lovable, hard-luck losers.

Nowhere was that more emphasized than in 2003 when Steve Bartman did most any fan would have done when Luis Castillo’s foul pop came down on him. He reached for the ball.

We’ll never know if Moises Alou would have caught the ball. But, the bottom line is the Cubs couldn’t put away the Marlins in the eighth inning. Mark Prior went on to walk Castillo. Alex Gonzalez botched a potential double-play grounder and the inning unfolded and before it was over the Marlins had scored eight runs.

I’ll give you the Bartman play being bad luck, but championship teams have to overcome adversity and the Cubs did not. As the game slipped away from the Cubs, Bartman was showered with debris and threats. The Cubs public relations department had to sneak Bartman out of Wrigley Field for his own safety.

In case anybody forgot, the Cubs blew a 5-3 lead in Game 7. Bartman was in hiding at the time, so how could be be blamed for that one?

The Cubs, who once held a 3-1 games advantage, would be denied again. Bartman was vilified, made out to be the personification of 95 years of bad luck, much the way Boston fans vilified Bill Buckner for his Game 6 error in the 1986 World Series.

When a team loses in horrific fashion, there’s a lot of blame to go around. For Alou and Cubs manager Dusty Baker pin it all on Bartman was inexcusable.

For the past 13 years, Bartman kept a low profile. He did not benefit financially in any way despite the offers. He hasn’t sold his story to the press. Hell, he didn’t even come away with the ball.

Speaking through a friend, Bartman apologized profusely and said he wanted nothing more than his childhood team to win a World Series.

How Cubs’ fans – most whom would have reached for that foul ball themselves – treated Bartman through the years has been reprehensible.

Eventually, the Red Sox and their fans kissed and made up with Buckner. The Cubs could go back to being sentimental favorites once again if they invited Bartman to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before tonight’s Game 3 at Wrigley Field.

It would be a magnanimous and classy gesture. I don’t know if they’ll extend the invitation, and I don’t know if Bartman would accept, but it would put a very human face on this World Series.

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Aug 22

How Mets Stack Up With All-Time Pennant Race Comebacks

History tells us it can be done, that as difficult as it seems, the Mets can climb out of what appears to an abyss of a hole and reach the playoffs. A lot must happen, but the Mets took a positive step over the weekend in fighting back to split their four games with the Giants.

The Giants are ahead for a potential wild card, as are the Dodgers, Marlins, Pirates and Cardinals. They begin a three-game series Tuesday in St. Louis, so after losing two of three to the Cardinals at Citi Field in late July they need to do at least the same to stay in contention.

SEAVER: Key In 1969 Pennant Race. (AP)

SEAVER: Key In 1969 Pennant Race. (AP)

The Mets trail Washington by 11.5 games, so that won’t happen even if they sweep the remaining six games with the Nationals. They are 4.5 games behind St. Louis for the second wild card, and three behind Miami (six games left) and 1.5 behind Pittsburgh (no games left).

Climbing back into the race will be harder without Steven Matz, who went on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder. In addition, Neil Walker will be placed on paternity leave and miss the St. Louis series. Replacing them on the 25-man roster are infielder T.J. Rivera and pitcher Robert Gsellman.

It will be difficult considering this team isn’t hitting, although getting back Yoenis Cespedes – who hit three homers over the weekend – should help.

Seven weeks remain, so picking up a game a week should be the objective. It can be done.

The following are ten of the greatest comebacks, including the greatest deficit these teams overcame and where they were in the standings on Aug. 22.

It should be noted none of these comebacks occurred in the wild-card era, and the team that came back to win only won the World Series five times.

Here’s who made history:

1969 New York Mets

Synopsis: On Aug. 13, the soon-to-be Amazin’ Mets trailed Chicago by 10 games in the NL East, and although it had been a fun season until then, nobody had any expectations of would happen. The Mets, anchored by superior pitching, went on a 38-11 run and won the NL East by eight games. Aug. 22 standings: Six games behind Chicago. How they finished: Went 100-62; swept Atlanta in the NLCS, and beat Baltimore, four-games-to-one in the World Series.

1978 New York Yankees

Synopsis: The Yankees were going nowhere, trailing Boston by 14 games as of July 20. The Yankees won 52 of their 73 games to force a one-game playoff at Fenway Park known as the Bucky Dent Game. Aug. 22 standings: They sliced the deficit to 7.5 games. How they finished: Went 100-63, beat Kansas City in the ALCS, and the Dodgers in the World Series.

1995 Seattle Mariners

Synopsis: People tend to forget this race. With Ken Griffey out for much of the second half, Edgar Martinez carried the Mariners. One August 2, Seattle was two games under .500 and trailed the Angels by 13 games. The Mariners caught fire and finished 35-10 while the Angels simultaneously collapsed and went 22-33. Aug. 22 standings: Trailed by 11.5 games. How they finished: The Mariners finished 79-66 (they didn’t play the normal 162 games because the season was shortened because of the 1994 strike). The Mariners won a one-game playoff with the Angels, beat the Yankees in the ALDS, but lost to Cleveland in six games in the ALCS.

1935 Chicago Cubs

Synopsis: Long before they were cursed, the Cubs were a National League power. On July 5, they trailed the Giants by 10.5 games, but won 62 of their last 84 – including a stretch of 21 straight in September – to win the race going away. Aug. 22 standings: Three games behind the Giants. How they finished: Went 100-54, but lost the World Series to Detroit.

1993 Atlanta Braves

Synopsis: The Braves trailed San Francisco by 10 games on July 23, but turned it around going 49-16 in their final 65 games to win the NL West by one game. Aug. 22 standings: Trailed Giants by 7.5 games. How they finished: A NL best 104-58, but lost the NLCS in six games to Philadelphia.

1964 St. Louis Cardinals

Synopsis: This race is remembered for the dramatic collapse of the Phillies, who held an 11-game lead on the Cardinals as late as Aug. 24. St. Louis, lead by Bob Gibson and Ken Boyer, went 28-11 down the stretch. Aug. 22 standings: The Cardinals were in fourth place, 10 games behind the Phillies, and also behind the Reds and Giants. How they finished: Went 93-69 and beat the Yankees in the World Series.

1914 Boston Braves

Synopsis: On July 6 the Braves were in last place, but would go 68-19 to pass the field and won the National League by 10 games. Aug. 22 standings: Their comeback was almost done by then, trailing the Giants by a mere half-game. How they finished: Went 94-59, then beat the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.

1930 St. Louis Cardinals

Synopsis: The Cardinals are on the comeback list three times, this being the first time. They were 12 games out on Aug. 8 and only one game over .500. The Cardinals went 39-10 down the stretch to beat out the Cubs by two games. Aug. 22 standings: Trailed by eight games. How they finished: Went 92-62 only to lose the World Series in six games to the Philadelphia Athletics.

1942 St. Louis Cardinals

Synopsis: The Cardinals trailed by 10 games as late as Aug. 4, but went 44-9 down the stretch to overtake Brooklyn. Aug. 22 standings: Trailed Brooklyn by 7.5 games. How they finished: Went 106-48, then beat the Yankees in a five-game World Series.

1951 New York Giants

Synopsis: What, you thought I forgot about this one? I saved the most historic for last. On Aug. 11, the Giants trailed the Dodgers by 13 games. However, the Giants went 38-7 down the stretch and tied the Dodgers to force a three-game playoff series. Aug. 22 standings: Trailed by eight games. How they finished: At 96-58. Giants won a three-game playoff with the Dodgers, with New York winning the deciding third game on Bobby Thomson’s historic homer off Ralph Branca. The Giants would lose the World Series in six games to the Yankees.

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Jul 20

Three Mets’ Storylines: Just A Mess

The buzz after Tuesday night’s escape was it was the type of game the Mets could parlay into a run that would enable them to make another run at the playoffs.

Instead, with a patchwork lineup, the Mets’ sizzle turned to fizzle in one of their worst games of the season.

FLORES: Needs to play. (Getty)

FLORES: Needs to play. (Getty)

Bartolo Colon didn’t have it from the outset and the Mets’ offense was a rumor in Wednesday afternoon’s 6-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

The Mets are now 11-37 when scoring three runs or less, and their impotent offense goes into Miami, where they have always had a hard time.

“They are all big now,” Collins told reporters. “We have to go in there and win two. No doubt it will be a big weekend for us.”

Perhaps it is their biggest of the season.

Wednesday’s other storylines were:

MAKESHIFT LINEUP: With the off-day Thursday, Collins decided to rest Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker and Yoenis Cespedes, which would give them two days off in a row.

Collins said they were tired, which is odd considering the All-Star break was last week and Cespedes has played in just three games since July 8. However, if he used Wilmer Flores on a rotation basis to rest his infield, and Cespedes was on the DL as he should be, there might be a different edge to the offense.

Flores hit another home run today and is batting .412 with seven home runs and 13 RBI in 11 games since July 3. However, he has started only two of the last six games.

Collins said Flores would start Friday against Marlins lefty Adam Conley, but he should be playing more. Much more.

Kelly Johnson started Wednesday and went 4-for-4. He usually produces when given the chance and should be in there Friday.

Last year, Collins said if players were hitting they would play. Both Flores and Johnson should play Friday.

GRANDERSON’S BRAIN CRAMP: One of the few Mets remotely hitting is Curtis Granderson, but his inexplicable brain meltdown in the first seemed to set the tone for the game.

Granderson attempted to bunt his way on but fouled off the pitch. It’s not a bad thought because he had the element of surprise, but gave that away with two more bunt attempts, including with two strikes that he fouled off.

What was he thinking?

 

Jul 03

A Master Plan For Flores

FLORES: A plan for him. (AP)

FLORES: A plan for him. (AP)

As they were with Daniel Murphy, the Mets never seem pleased with Wilmer Flores, who carved a place in club lore last July when he was brought to tears on the field after thinking he had been traded to Milwaukee.

A couple of days later, he hit a walk-off homer to beat the Nationals to jumpstart the Mets’ pennant push. Perhaps the Mets’ 2016 pennant push began with this weekend’s four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field, capped off by today’s 14-3 rout in which Flores tied a franchise record – Edgardo Alfonzo – with six hits, including two homers.

Yeah, six-for-six. Riding a 0-for-14 slide entering the game, there was a school of thought Flores might get sent down when Jose Reyes is brought up.

“Players aren’t naive,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “They read the papers. They know what’s going on. I don’t think there’s any question he hasn’t heard Reyes is coming.”

What’s going on is Flores is on the cusp of losing his job as the Mets, in search of an offensive spark, reached into their past. And, outside of a wild few days last summer, the Mets’ past didn’t include Flores.

A starter for much of last season in the second half at shortstop, Flores started this year on the bench following the winter acquisitions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Theoretically, Flores was to serve as the back-up at third for David Wright and first for Lucas Duda.

Flores assumed the starter’s role at third when Wright went down, but now the Mets seemed poised to replace him with a player who has never played third. Reyes is coming, make no mistake, but what should be done with Flores?

Under no circumstances should they option him to Triple-A to make room for Reyes, an idea Keith Hernandez floated on SNY. First of all, there are no assurances Reyes will take to third. They should also not relegate him full time to the bench.

“It’s experience and reps. you have to get him out there,” Collins said to give the impression Flores’ best position is batter. “You have to get him 500 at-bats. In order to have an idea of what a player is capable of doing you have to play him.”

There’s the rub. One of the things I find annoying about Collins is how he uses his bench. All too often he’ll ride his starters while the role players collect rust, which seemed to be the case with Flores before Wright was hurt. There never seemed to be a regular resting format for Wright. There was no third-to-first rotation with Flores to start the season as he sat in ten games and only had 28 at-bats in April.

Flores was on a 0-for-14 skid before Sunday’s once-in-a-lifetime game.

“I thought I was swinging the bat well, I just wasn’t lucky,” was how Flores described his mini-slump, and of his turnaround, added, “I was looking to be aggressive.”

Whatever the Mets had in mind for Flores, he’s always been the good soldier. Genuinely hurt last year when he thought he had been traded, he seemed annoyed when the Reyes issue was raised Sunday.

“It’s not my choice,” Flores curtly said. “I’m here to play.”

But where?

Like a six-year-old child who ignores his favorite toy when presented with a new one, I fear Collins might bury Flores on the bench.

Collins has proven he doesn’t always follow through with a plan. From batting Juan Lagares leadoff last season to starting the year with Curtis Granderson hitting first; to an innings limit for Matt Harvey; to juggling his lineup; to how to handle Michael Conforto, Collins is quick to abandon a plan.

I get it, Reyes will play third base, but Flores must be used. He should start at least four games a week to keep his bat sharp. One game at third, one at shortstop, one at second and one at first. Have him be a super sub on a regular rotation. If the Mets make a run, Collins can’t afford to drive Cabrera and Walker into the ground, and James Loney needs a breather at first.

Flores is hitting and the Mets must keep it that way.