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.

Apr 22

Mets List: Mets-Braves Magic Moments

Unlike the Yankees, who always had the Red Sox as a historical sparring partner, the Mets haven’t had what you’d consider a for-the-ages rival. In their infant years, they had the Dodgers and Giants for obvious reasons, then in 1969, they developed a brief rivalry with the Chicago Cubs. Later, it was the Pirates, then the Cardinals, and eventually the Braves.

I have always wanted to run a weekly Mets List feature and plan to do so on Friday.

NO STRANGER GAME

NO STRANGER GAME

With the Mets in Atlanta today for the start of a three-game series, I have come up with five of the most memorable Mets-Braves moments. If you have others, please share.

Post Sept. 11 homer: On Sept. 21, in the first professional sporting event in New York following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the Braves were in town. Emotions ran high, but boiled over when Mike Piazza hit a go-ahead homer off Steve Karsay.

The Mets trailed by a run entering the eighth when Piazza delivered.

The 1969 NLCS: The Mets’ reward for overtaking the Cubs was to face the powerful Braves in the first year of divisional play.

The Braves were loaded with the likes of Hank Aaron, Rico Carty and Orlando Cepeda, but the Mets swept the series, winning 9-5 and 11-6 (at Atlanta) and 7-4 (at Shea Stadium).

Tom Seaver, Ron Taylor and Nolan Ryan were the winning pitchers. From there, the Mets continued to stun the sports universe by beating Baltimore in the World Series.

The Grand Slam single: The Mets trailed in the 1999 NLCS 3-to-1 in games and 3-2 entering the bottom of the 15th inning. The Mets tied it, 3-3, when Todd Pratt drew a bases-loaded walk.

Robin Ventura followed with what appeared to be a grand slam, but was only credited with a single when the Mets stormed the field to congratulate Ventura. In the process, Mets’ runners passed each other on the bases necessitating the call. VIDEO

The Mets would lose Game 6, 10-9, when Kenny Rogers issued a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth.

The Subway Series against the Yankees would have to wait another year.

Late night fireworks: On July 4 and 5, 1985, the Mets had one of those games. The Mets tied it, 8-8, in the top of the ninth on Lenny Dykstra’s RBI single off closer Bruce Sutter.

The teams slogged around for several innings before Howard Johnson’s two-run homer off Terry Forster in the 13th inning. However, Atlanta tied it, 10-10, on Terry Harper’s two-run homer off Tom Gorman. The Mets regained the lead in the 18th on Dykstra’s sacrifice fly off reliever Rick Camp, but the Braves tied it again on Camp’s homer off Gorman.

The Mets seemingly blew open the game with five runs off Camp in the 19th, but pesky Atlanta pulled within 16-13 off Ron Darling.

The game ended shortly before 4 a.m., but the Braves went ahead with their fireworks night. That prompted many calls to police claiming their neighborhood was under attack.

Double-header treat: In a night that might have symbolized the passing of the torch was near, Mets started prize pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler combined for a double-header sweep on June 18 in Atlanta.

Harvey, who would pitch in the All-Star Game that year but eventually wind up on the disabled list and need surgery, won the first game, 4-3. Wheeler, who grew up near Atlanta, won the second game. 6-1.

Rarely had the Mets won in Atlanta, but sweeping a double-header was unfathomable.

ON DECK: Matt Harvey Tinkers With Mechanics

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