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.

Jun 30

Mets Get Resilient Effort When They Need It Most

They wouldn’t be the Mets if things were easy. Last year they reached the World Series because of their young arms, a hot month from Yoenis Cespedes, but perhaps most of all, with their resiliency. They overcame injuries and dreadful two-month team hitting slump to find themselves standing at the end.

With those arms, reaching the playoffs this year would be a formality. It sure looked that way with a sizzling April. However, they’ve played sub-.500 baseball the past two months, and after being swept out of Washington, not many gave much for their chances this weekend against the hot Cubs, especially with Steven Matz starting with a painful bone spur in his valuable left elbow.

NIMMO: Scores game-winner. (AP)

NIMMO: Scores game-winner. (AP)

I thought Matz shouldn’t have started, and despite working into the sixth, I’m not yielding on that sentiment. We’ll see how he feels Friday and the days beyond. I really hope I am wrong. The Mets gambled and won when they pushed the envelope with Matz, who overcame a two-run first to throw 104 painful pitches in a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Cubs.

The Mets had to win, because at the same time Matz was ducking a John Lackey fastball to his head, Cespedes was reaching the third deck at Citi Field, and Brandon Nimmo was thrilling us with a timely hit and baserunning, the Nationals were bludgeoning the Reds.

After losing three straight to the Nationals – and five of seven overall – the Mets entered this series realistically needing to win at least three of four games to stay within binocular distance in the NL East. Make that telescopic distance if the Cubs swept the Mets and Nationals did the same to Cincinnati.

Come Friday morning, Panic City is still a couple of exits away.

“I don’t know yet,” manager Terry Collins told reporters as to the magnitude of the victory. “It sure came at the right time. It was a real impressive win.”

It was impressive because outside of Cespedes Home Run Derby type of blast, the Mets did the basic, dirty things they did last year and what they must do in the second half.

It began with Matz, who fell behind 2-0 in the first on a Kris Bryant homer, but gutted his way into the sixth.

“I felt good,” Matz said about his much-talked-about elbow. “I was able to pitch without any issues. I was able to keep us close. I’m happy with how things turned out. I’d say it’s a little relief.”

Down 3-0, the Mets started their comeback – something they did with frequency in 2015 – with Cespedes’ 466-foot drive into the upper deck in the sixth.

“It was a 2-0 pitch,” Cespedes said. “The plan was to swing, and swing hard.”

It woke up Citi Field like a hard slap to the face.

The Mets finally got to Lackey with Travis d’Arnaud‘s one-out single in the seventh that brought in Joel Peralta. Alejandro De Aza, vilified in Washington, pinch-hit for reliever Erik Goeddel and walked. Nimmo, whose exuberance has been a lift, singled home a run after an intense nine-pitch at-bat.

“I was trying to keep things simple,” Nimmo said. “I wanted to be short and get the ball on the barrel.”

The Mets have often been criticized for not being aggressive on the bases, but Nimmo drew a wild throw from Cubs second baseman Javier Baez off Neil Walker‘s chopper and scored when the ball got by the third baseman Bryant.

Of course, there couldn’t be a 1-2-3 ninth. That would be too easy.

The Cubs put runners at second and third with no outs against Jeurys Familia. An intentional walk loaded the bases, but Bryant and Willson Contreras couldn’t resist Familia’s sinker and struck out. With a little discipline, the Cubs would’ve had two bases-loaded walks. Baez then popped out to end the game and for one night at least, we got a reminder of the resiliency this team can still muster.

Jun 28

Mets Messing With Matz

I recently read something pretty funny about Mets pitcher Steven Matz. Actually, not so much funny as it was maddening. Matz, scratched from Wednesday’s start in Washington because of pain in his elbow caused by a bone spur, will now go Thursday against the Cubs.

That’s not the funny part. The punchline is the Mets say they have been assured by team doctors Matz can’t hurt himself any further, at least not to his elbow. How can that be? Are these some kind of special doctors who can see into the future?

MATZ: Doctors can't guarantee anything.  (Getty)

MATZ: Doctors can’t guarantee anything. (Getty)

There are no guarantees in life, especially when it comes to health and medicine. No doctor can project the future with an injury like this. Perhaps the weekend warrior or country club tennis player, can get by being treated with anti-inflammatories, rest or a cortisone injection.

However, Matz is a baseball pitcher, and what he does requires an incredible amount of tension and torque on the elbow.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s definition, a bone spur is when bony projections develop on the surface of the bone. They can cause swelling, pain and depending what rubs against it, tearing of tissue or tendons or ligaments. Reports are Matz’s MRI showed the spurs aren’t in an area where they can imminently rub against a ligament. But, who is to say that can’t change with a violent twist of the elbow?

GM Sandy Alderson described Matz’s condition as a matter of pain tolerance, which is comforting if you’re not named Steven Matz.

“At this point, it’s a function of whether he can tolerate the discomfort while continuing to pitch,” Alderson told reporters. “What we will do is monitor that level of discomfort.”

However, history is full of examples of pitchers who overcompensate for one injury by creating another. Pain in one’s elbow can cause a pitcher to subtly alter his mechanics to where it might impact his shoulder or elsewhere in the elbow.

No doctor can guarantee Matz won’t change his mechanics. Perhaps, the change is so slight nobody will notice, and Matz might not feel anything. At first.

Maybe Matz can give us a John Wayne and pitch through this initially, but it could prohibit him from effectively throwing his breaking balls or prevent him from dialing up his fastball.

There have already been reports Matz might require surgery this winter, so this is far from being nothing. And, considering the Mets’ history in handling injuries, from the Alderson administration to Omar MInaya’s to Steve Phillips, I’m not buying this “it can’t get worse,” theory. There have been too many cases of things going wrong.

Matz won’t pitch Wednesday, but pushing him back one day hardly will make much of a difference. Matz’s career has already been sidetracked by Tommy John surgery, so it’s beyond me why he’d even fool around with this.