Aug 26

Three Mets’ Storylines: Lovin’ Colon Again

Once again Bartolo Colon gave us another night for us to cherish all he gives us. The 43-year-old Colon backed seven strong innings with his offensive prowess, getting two hits and scoring a couple of runs to help the Mets roll the Phillies Friday night.

COLON: Does it again. (AP)

    COLON: Does it again. (AP)

As he usually does, Colon picked up the Mets when they needed him most. He’s 6-1 starting after a loss. But after Jon Niese left after getting just one out this week in St. Louis, and Steven Matz on the DL and the Mets about to push back or skip Jacob deGrom for his next start Monday, the Mets needed Colon to preserve the bullpen.

“The bullpen needed a blow,”  manager Terry Collins said.

The season started for the Mets with the storyline of those young arms and Colon until Zack Wheeler could come off the disabled list. Then Colon, as he did last year, would enter the bullpen. As it has turned out, Colon is the ace of this staff. With the 9-4 victory, Colon won his team-high 12th game and 230th of his career to lead active pitchers. It was also his 20th win in his four years with the Mets.

Not bad for somebody the Mets signed in the winter of 2013 as a stopgap when Matt Harvey was injured. His next start is Wednesday against Miami.

Colon was the Mets’ top storyline on the night, followed by their mashing and the continued struggles of Jay Bruce.

MORE FLEXING: For the tenth time this season – and the second time in their history to start a game – the Mets went back-to-back. This time Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera connected off Adam Morgan.

The homer was Reyes’ 415th as a Met to tie him for fourth on the franchise list with Mike Piazza.

Wilmer Flores broke the game, 6-1, with a grand slam in the fifth. Cabrera hit his second homer – a two-run drive – that made it 9-1 in the sixth.

With right-handers scheduled to start the next two games for the Phillies, there’s no reason to believe Collins will deviate and start him. Flores has 14 homers and 44 RBI this season.

But, Flores will never learn to get comfortable against right-handed pitching until he faces more of it. The numbers indicate Flores has more at-bats against right-handers, but that stands to reason as there are far more right-handed pitchers.

STILL LIKE BRUCE TRADE: Bruce – dropped to sixth in the order – continued his horrid play, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.

In 22 games since coming over to the Mets from Cincinnati, Bruce is 13-for-81 (.160) with two homers and six RBI.

Even so, I still like the trade for several reasons, the first being the Mets are trying to reach the playoffs, and at the time of the deal Yoenis Cespedes was gimpy and Curtis Granderson in a terrible slump (he still is).

Also part of their reasoning was to be a safety net if Cespedes opts out. Cespedes said this week he wants to stay with the Mets but isn’t sure.

Although he’s not hitting now, he has 34 games remaining to catch fire. Nobody knows what will happen next year, but as long as the Mets are in it, Bruce can eventually help them. He’s too good a hitter (27 homers and 86 RBI) not to.

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Aug 19

Not Buying Cespedes Can Do It Alone

Yoenis Cespedes returns to the Mets tonight, but I’m not buying for a second his presence will make everything all right for the Mets. If he hits the way he’s supposed to, and starts doing it immediately and continues for the remainder of the season, he should make the Mets better.

But, he’s not enough to carry them to the finish line. The news Steven Matz is scratched from Saturday’s start because of a sore shoulder is just the latest. Neil Walker has tightness in his lower back. Plus, we don’t know just how stable Cespedes’ strained right quad and Asdrubal Cabrera‘s knee will be coming off the DL.

CESPEDES: Need more than him.  (Getty)

CESPEDES: Need more than him. (Getty)

The Mets don’t hit with RISP and Curtis Granderson doesn’t hit period. Jay Bruce hasn’t hit since coming over from Cincinnati. The Mets said Michael Conforto won’t be brought up until Sept. 1 when the rosters are expanded, which makes no sense.

Noah Syndergaard hasn’t pitched well in the past six weeks. The bullpen has been erratic. Nobody can say how long Matz will be down.

The Mets are out of the NL East race and four games behind in the wild-card. They lost a crushing game Thursday night and this 10-game stretch against Arizona (they lost two of three); San Francisco (they blew a four-run lead and lost Thursday in the first of four against the Giants); and go to St. Louis to play three with the Cardinals.

Unquestionably, this is the Mets’ most important stretch of the season, and frankly, the return of Cespedes – even if he gets hot – isn’t enough.

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Aug 14

Mets Lineup, Aug. 14, Against Padres

Greetings. The Mets will field their 93rd different lineup today against San Diego at Citi Field. In what says it all about the 2016 Mets, only two players, second baseman Neil Walker and lefty Steven Matz, were either in the Opening Day lineup or roster.

Here’s the batting order and the projection of where they’ll be in 2017:

Jose Reyes – SS: Has contract for 2017, but where he’ll play is to be determined.

Ty Kelly – LF: Likely in the minor leagues.

Walker – 2B: Can leave after this year. Mets interested in bringing him back.

Jay Bruce – RF: Acquired from Cincinnati at deadline. Team has player option.

Wilmer Flores – 1B: Opened season on bench. Same role projected.

T.J. Rivera – 3B: Opened season in minors. Could make team as reserve.

Alejandro De Aza – CF: Opened season on bench. Could be out of the organization.

Rene Rivera – C: Acquired in trade. Could be out of the organization.

Matz – LHP: In Opening Day rotation. Expected to have surgery in offseason on elbow.

Aug 07

Three Mets’ Storylines: Will Walker Be Around In 2017 To Save Them?

Just when it looked as if things couldn’t get bleaker for the Mets, Neil Walker rescued them Sunday afternoon with a two-run, ninth-inning homer.

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

It wasn’t the first time Walker picked up the Mets by the scruff of the neck and made me wonder if Walker will be around to save them in 2017. He’s free to leave after this season and there’s been no word on what the Mets’ plans are – or Walker’s.

The Mets were lucky to get him from Pittsburgh after Daniel Murphy left last winter. Ben Zobrist was their first replacement choice, but they were never going to afford him. GM Sandy Alderson let Murphy walk for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which Dilson Herrera as their fall back. Well, Herrera now is in Cincinnati’s farm system.

If they let Walker go as they did Murphy, they will be forced to find a second baseman. Will they go outside? Will it be Wilmer Flores, whom they never want to give a fair chance? Will it be Jose Reyes? Will they bring back Kelly Johnson or try Matt Reynolds?

Whoever they choose, it’s unlikely he’ll match Walker’s production, which will become even more important should Yoenis Cespedes leave and David Wright doesn’t recover. What Walker did Sunday is to remind us how important he has been to the Mets and fragility of their offense.

As has been the case with the Mets a lot lately, the game boiled down to the late innings. Manager Terry Collins pulled Jacob deGrom with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead in the seventh, but Jerry Blevins couldn’t keep Detroit from tying the game and the Mets were in danger of being swept and falling further behind in the wild-card race.

However, the Tigers ran themselves out of the eighth inning to set up Walker’s 19th homer, a drive well into the right-field seats that carried the Mets to a 3-1 victory.

After a sizzling April, Walker went into a dismal slump, but regained his stroke after the All-Star break and took a .489 stretch (22-for-45) into the game. With Cespedes basically a non-entity since early July, Walker kept the Mets afloat; he has three homers and nine RBI over his last dozen games.

Walker approached his at-bat against Francisco Rodriguez wanting to get a fastball early and stay away from the closer’s put-away changeup.

“You hope he leaves something up in the zone and that’s what I got,” Walker said. “With most closers you want to get to them early [in the count] because they have a devastating out pitch.”

Considering the Mets’ overall lack of prowess hitting with RISP and their injuries, one shudders to think where they would be without Walker. For one thing, it’s doubtful they would be three games over .500.

Walker has been crucial to the Mets’ hanging around, and as dismal as they have played, they are one good week from getting a foothold in the wild card race. They are currently nine games behind Washington in the NL East, so that boat is pulling out of the harbor. Still, the wild card is possible, as they trail the second slot by 1.5 games.

Walker’s homer was the headline of the day for the Mets, followed by deGrom’s start and my favorite Ernie Harwell story.

DE GROM START WASTED: The only real concern the Mets have with deGrom is not being able to score runs for him. Sunday marked the 11th time in his short career in which he gave up one or fewer runs and the Mets didn’t give him more than one run.

DeGrom had a 1-0 lead entering the seventh, but the Tigers loaded the bases on Justin Upton’s single, a walk to James McCann and Andrew Romine’s squibber that died near the third base line. Enter Blevins, who was greeted by Ian Kinsler’s weak chopper past the mound to tie the game and ensure deGrom’s seventh no-decision.

Collins said he thought deGrom was losing it after the walk when asked why he didn’t let him finish. For his part, deGrom said, “it was probably the right call,” to pull him.

As for Kinsler’s hit, deGrom said: “You’re trying to get weak contact there or a strikeout. It was a little too weak. It’s all part of the game.”

Fortunately for the Mets, on this day it wasn’t the definitive part of the game.

MY FAVORITE HARWELL STORY:  This series in Detroit reminds me of the late Tigers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, will always be one of my favorite people I’ve met in sports.

I always heard about his kindness, but experienced it first hand by his selfless gesture toward me in the Tigers’ clubhouse years ago. I was just starting out covering the Indians at the time when I ventured into the Tigers’ clubhouse to get a Kirk Gibson quote.

I waited patiently until the circle around Gibson was breaking up when I approached him. He looked at me and gruffly said, “I’m done for the day,’’ then turned his back. I was more than a little miffed when a TV guy stuck his mike in Gibson’s face. What could I do, show Gibson my resume and clips portfolio?

“What the hell?” I thought. Harwell saw this and walked up to me and said, “Don’t worry about it. That happens all the time.”

I always remembered that and remained grateful for Harwell’s compassion and kindness. He didn’t know me and didn’t have to do that, but that was Ernie.

When I was covering the Yankees I always made it a point to visit with him whenever I was in Detroit.

He was the best. The very best.

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Aug 02

Three Mets’ Storylines: Welcome Jay Bruce

The reception was cordial and polite – reserved actually, as if the crowd was guarded about their expectations – when Jay Bruce went to the plate for the first time Tuesday night in a Mets uniform. You might even say it was business as usual, because after all, the trade that brought him to New York from Cincinnati has been brewing for a long time.

“I feel like I’ve been getting traded to the Mets for over a year now,” Bruce told reporters in his introductory press conference prior to Tuesday’s 7-1 victory over the Yankees. “You never know what’s going to happen until it actually happens. Last year there was some crazy stuff during the deadline. I try not to jump to conclusions or assume anything. So I waited until I got the call.

“And when it happened, I was very, very excited.”

DE AZA: Home run swing. (AP)

DE AZA: Home run swing. (AP)

Bruce joins the Mets as the NL leader in RBI with 80 built on a .360 average with RISP. Conversely, the Mets are last in the majors with a .205 average with RISP. Bruce had an uneventful 0-for-4 as he flied out to left in the first; grounded out to first in the fourth; and struck out looking in the sixth and seventh.

It might have been jitters, but no worries on the night. The trade was the right move and the Mets will be beneficiaries soon enough.

“I know he was nervous, even though he’s an established star in the big leagues and is trying to fit in,” manager Terry Collins said.

As expected, Bruce’s first game was the primary storyline. Here are the other two.

DE AZA SHOULD GET SHOT IN CENTER: When the Mets signed Alejandro De Aza – prior to signing Yoenis Cespedes – they did so with the intent of platooning him with Juan Lagares. But, with Lagares on the DL – where Cespedes should be – why are the Mets still in a funk about who can play center field?

After a slow start and was on the brink of being released, De Aza started getting more playing time and since July is batting .342, including a two-run homer Tuesday night.

“I just want to keep working and help the team win,” De Aza said. “I’ve been working hard in the cages to shorten up my swing.”

THE MYSTERIOUS MIND OF COLLINS: Jacob deGrom was superb, but what I will take out of this game most – outside of Bruce’s debut – was Collins’ decision to pinch-hit Cespedes for De Aza in the seventh.

The Mets were up by five at the time, so why bat for the player who homered and is your best defensive center fielder? Cespedes’ RBI infield single was a moot point and foolish risk.

“I just wanted to get him an at-bat,” said Collins, as if Cespedes would forget how to hit before starting as the DH Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.

“I felt a little discomfort running down the line,” Cespedes said. “But once I got back in the dugout it felt better.”

No, Cespedes didn’t get hurt, but what if he reinjured his strained quad? Why take that chance with the game seemingly out of reach?

Sometimes, Collins makes me scratch my head and wonder. Other times he makes my want to throw a shoe at the TV.

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