Jul 31

Mets Wrap: Limping Into The Dog Days

Just as the Mets closed June so too did they end July by winning at home in the month’s final game to snap a four-game losing streak.

WALKER: Is he back? (AP)

   WALKER: Is he back? (AP)

It’s an oversimplification to suggest the Mets kept their playoff aspirations alive with Sunday’s come-from-behind, 6-4, victory over the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field. Sure, they could go on to win ten in a row, even if their reported trade offer of Travis d’Arnaud and Brandon Nimmo – plus a third player – for Milwaukee’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy falls through.

In avoid being swept by the Rockies, the Mets salvaged Mike Piazza Weekend in time for their four-game stretch with the Yankees. What they couldn’t avoid was losing another player, this time it is shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera with a strained left patella tendon when he awkwardly twisted his knee rounding third.

“I’m very concerned about it,” manager Terry Collins told reporters.

With the trade deadline extended a day, the Mets have until 4 p.m., Monday to decide whether to go for it or pack it in for another year. There are compelling reasons in support of both positions. On the go side, at 54-50, they are in fourth place in the wild-card standings behind Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis, but only 2.5 games behind the Marlins for the final spot. On the nay side they trail NL East leader Washington by seven games, plus have a long list of injuries.

Plus, despite winning Sunday and Neil Walker suddenly hot again, the Mets’ offense has been in a three-month slide.

Who cares if the Mets are third in the NL in homer with 132, when in the 15-team league they are 11th in on-base percentage (.305), 13th in RBI (365), 14th in runs (375) and 15th in average (.238). And, if you’re into the new-age numbers, they are 11th in OPS (.714).

There’s still time for the Mets to make a run, even if they don’t make a splash at the deadline.

JULY MVP

James Loney has been a terrific replacement for Lucas Duda, whose return timetable is uncertain. His defense has been magnificent, and he’s been a presence at the plate, hitting .282 with six homers, 21 RBI and a .337 on-base percentage. And in July, when both Yoenis Cespedes and Walker struggled, Loney hit .291 with three homers and 11 RBI.

PITCHER OF THE MONTH

Addison Reed has arguably been one of GM Sandy Alderson’s best acquisitions. He leads the NL with 26 holds, including 10 for July along with a 0.00 ERA for the month. He struck out 16 in 12 innings, and gave up only four hits. Overall, he has a 1.81 ERA and 0.45 WHIP.

KEY GAME OF THE MONTH

There have been several significant games, and but I’m leaning toward Friday’s 6-1 loss to the Rockies in which the Mets had two on with nobody out and reliever Scott Oberg entered to get three outs on three pitches. I could have gone with any of Jeurys Familia‘s two blown saves, or even Sunday, but I chose this one because of Collins’ post-game message.

“We have a good team,” Collins said. “We’re going through a rough time right now. We’re not dead. We’re still in the hunt. We need to lighten it up and have some fun. … We have to stop worrying about some of the bad things and concentrate on some of the good things.”

KEY MOVE OF THE MONTH

When Walker was in the midst of a horrid slump, Collins opted to sit him down for a couple of games. The turnaround wasn’t immediate, but he is 12-for-22 so far on the home stand., including a three-run homer Sunday.

RED FLAG ENDURED

Both Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz have been pitching with bone spurs in their elbows. Both have had rising pitch counts, but so far they haven’t missed any time, although Syndergaard was scratched from the All-Star game.

Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen are experimenting by cutting their between-starts sessions and pre-game warmups. So far, so good.

KEY ISSUE RESOLVED

I don’t know what Alderson will do Monday, but to date, he’s done a good job of plugging holes with Loney, catcher Rene Rivera and Kelly Johnson. Jose Reyes was a temporary fix, but he’s on the disabled list.

HEALTH ISSUES

Look for Cabrera to go on the disabled list and replaced by Matt Reynolds. He’ll join Reyes and Juan Lagares, who went on the DL last week. … Yoenis Cespedes has a strained right quad. Frankly, I’d put him on the DL now and see what two weeks rest might do, rather than have him go at half-speed and risk losing him at the end of August or September. … Syndergaard and Matz are dealing with bone spurs and bear constant watching. … Matt Harvey is gone for the year and nobody knows when Zack Wheeler will return. … We see David Wright watching games from the bullpen. … The speculated return date for Duda keeps being pushed back, … Remember reliever Jim Henderson? Still no word when he’ll return.

SIX QUESTIONS RAISED

Will the Mets make a deal at the deadline?

How long will Cabrera and Reyes be out?

How long will Matz and Syndergaard hold up?

How long will the ride last with Loney?

After coming back, will Nimmo and Michael Conforto start hitting?

Is Bartolo Colon slowing down?

BY THE NUMBERS

2: Blown saves by Familia after converting 52 straight.

3: Players put on the DL (Reyes, Lagares and Harvey).

13: Games during the month in which they scored three runs or less.

8: Victories by a starting pitcher for the month.

LOOKING AT AUGUST’S SCHEDULE

It doesn’t get any easier for the first week with four against the Yankees, who are now without Alrodis Chapman and Andrew Miller, then three in Detroit. From there they have six games against Arizona and three with San Diego, then four at San Francisco and three at St. Louis. They close the month with three at home against Philadelphia and three with Miami.

 

 

Jul 29

Three Mets’ Storylines: Collins Says Team Needs To “Lighten Up”

This time, Mets fans booed – and loudly. Once again the Mets were horrid with RISP, when Scott Oberg entered with two on and nobody out in the eighth and got out of the inning on three pitches.

And, then in the top of the night, old nemesis Carlos Gonzalez, who had been rumored in previous years to be going to the Mets, crushed a three-run homer to ice it for the Colorado Rockies, 6-1, Friday night before yet another disappointed Citi Field crowd.

MATZ: Tough outing. (AP)

MATZ: Tough outing. (AP)

Speaking of old thorns, Mark Reynolds homered again for his tenth career homer against the Mets and seventh at Citi Field.

What Mets manager Terry Collins, to his credit, did not do, was boo his team. Collins can get testy but this time massaged the ego of his frustrated team.

“We have a good team,” Collins told reporters. “We’re going through a rough time right. We’re not dead. We’re still in the hunt. We need to lighten it up and have some fun.”

Collins addressed his team after the game, telling them, “we have to stop worrying about some of the bad things and concentrate on some of the good things.’’

The bad things are the Mets were 0-for-8 with RISP Friday and 5-for-50 on the homestand. They are .144 with RISP since the All-Star break.

However, Collins didn’t reinforce that, which was a good thing. I’ve been on Collins a lot lately, and don’t back off that criticism, but in all fairness what he did Friday was the right thing to do.

MATZ KEPT IT CLOSE: Giving up ten hits and one walk in six innings is by no means good, but somehow Steven Matz limited the damage to just two runs.

That should be good enough to win most games, and that’s what Collins told him.

“I told him he kept us in the game,” Collins said. “And, he should be happy about that.”

ROSTER MOVES: Prior to the game the Mets put outfielder Juan Lagares (thumb) on the disabled list and replaced by Brandon Nimmo.

Collins said after the game there’s a possibility Jose Reyes could go on the disabled list.

 

Jul 27

Three Mets’ Storylines: Loss A Gut Check

The Mets’ 2015 signature was resiliency; their ability to bounce back from adversity and seemingly crushing defeat.

It was around this time last season when Jeurys Familia blew his last save in a rain-soaked, thought-to-be devastating loss to San Diego. The night before Wilmer Flores endeared himself to Mets Nation when he shed tears out at shortstop after thinking he’d been traded.

What happened next will forever be a part of Mets’ lore. GM Sandy Alderson got Yoenis Cespedes in a trade, Flores homered to beat Washington and become an iconic presence, and the Mets sizzled into the World Series. In their champagne drenched clubhouses in Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field, to a man, the Mets trumpeted their ability to get off the mat as to what their team about.

CESPEDES: Can't do it all. (AP)

CESPEDES: Can’t do it all. (AP)

It’s time to show that quality again, following the season’s most disappointing and potentially devastating loss of the season, 5-4 to the St. Louis Cardinals, Wednesday night after Familia’s first blown save.

“This is really a tough one to take,” drained Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters. “When you come back on Adam Wainwright and have a chance to win the game, that’s a pretty big night. And then to have your closer, who just has been lights out, give up two, that’s a little tougher to take.”

Will it turn bitter and send them on an out-of-control slide or force that character to the surface?

Logan Verrett gave the Mets a chance to win, giving up three runs in seven innings. But, in the bottom half of the inning and a run already in to pull the Mets within a run, on the ninth-pitch of a heavyweight battle, Cespedes swung to create two unmistakable sounds.

There was the crack of the bat that punctuates a Cespedes home run and the explosion of emotion that engulfed Citi Field, which hadn’t been this loud since last October.

Cespedes wasn’t even back in the dugout when the inevitable thought was raised: Could this be the at-bat, the game, to propel the Mets?

With Familia riding a streak of 52 consecutive saves, it was a logical conclusion.

Addison Reed stuffed the Cardinals, 1-2-3 in the eighth, but it wasn’t long before Familia, who has given us jitters before, showed he didn’t have it.

Familia got the first hitter, but then walked Jedd Gyorko on four pitches. Gyorko homered swinging at first-pitch fastballs in both games of Tuesday’s doubleheader, so Familia was going to be careful. He was too careful with sliders away.

Then Yadier Molina, who has broken Mets’ hearts before, doubled over the head of center fielder Juan Lagares and pinch-runner Randal Grichuk scored standing up to tie the game.

“I think I left it a little bit in the middle, and he made a good swing,” the stand-up Familia told reporters of the pitch to Molina.

The Mets appeared off the hook with no less than a tie when Molina was caught going to third on Jeremy Hazelbaker’s bouncer back to the mound. However, Hazelbaker quickly stole second and scored on Kolten Wong’s pinch-hit double.

Citi Field was now as quiet as it was in the last inning of Game 5 of the World Series.

The Mets’ season ended that night. What will become of it after Wednesday night?

“We’re hoping,” Collins said on bouncing back. “This is something we haven’t had happen for a long time … Jeurys Familia with a blown save. We have to back tomorrow.”

It might be imperative.

The emotional turmoil was the first of three main storylines. The others were:

ESSENCE OF CESPEDES: Cespedes is clearly hobbling, but plays anyway for the chance at what happened in the seventh when he hit his first homer since July 5.

Cespedes’ importance to the Mets is further underscored in that they were 2-for-14 with RISP Wednesday, and just 4-for-33 in the series.

“We didn’t get past that,” Collins said the Mets’ primary issue this season. “We had a lot of opportunities to score some runs.”

If there was a bright spot to the offense – outside of Cespedes – it was a Neil Walker sighting.

Walker entered the game on a 2-for-39 slide, but reached base four times on three hits and a walk.

VERRETT START WASTED: Last season at Colorado, in replacing an injured Matt Harvey, Verrett might have come up with the most important start of the season for the Mets.

Verrett always says his job is to give his team a chance to win and he did that by giving up three runs in seven innings.

As the trade deadline approaches there’s concern by some the Mets might need another starter, but that won’t be the case if he keeps pitching the way he has in his last two starts.

Jul 18

Three Mets’ Storylines: Matz Struggles

What, you expected the Mets to run the table against the Cubs?

After winning four straight in the NLCS and four in a series at Citi Field prior to the break, the Cubs were due and Steven Matz wasn’t good enough to prevent Monday’s 5-1 loss at Wrigley Field.

MATZ: Didn't have it. (Getty)

MATZ: Didn’t have it. (Getty)

Matz threw 102 pitches in five innings, of which 26 were foul balls. That says he wasn’t able to put away hitters. Part of it is bone-spur related, and that will continue to be the case until he has surgery.

Matz said he didn’t feel any pain and wouldn’t use that as an excuse.

“I don’t think I had my best command,” Matz said, especially of his breaking pitches. With that, you have to wonder how much of it is the elbow.  Matz was done in on a three-run homer to Anthony Rizzo when he hung a change-up over the middle of the plate.

“I don’t think it was a bad pitch [selection],” Matz said of the pitch to Rizzo. “It was poor execution.”

When Matz was missing, it wasn’t outside where he wanted, but over the plate.

“You have to make them chase a little bit,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “I didn’t think he had his Grade A stuff. Hopefully, he’ll good after this.”

Collins wouldn’t say if Matz was hurting, but acknowledged he didn’t have it Monday.

“There are going to be times when he pitches through discomfort,” Collins said. “Other times he’s going to feel good.”

Matz’s performance reflected the uncertainty of what the Mets can expect from him in the second half. In his previous two starts, Matz worked seven innings in each and gave up a combined five runs.

Matz has hammered in his first start this year, reeled off seven straight victories, and has now lost five straight.

There’s been a lot of speculation as to what the Mets might do at the trade deadline. Bullpen? Yeah, that’s needed. Another bat, preferably one who can hit with runners in scoring position? Definitely.

However, with Matt Harvey gone for the year – he had surgery Monday – and the heads-or-tails prognosis of Matz and Tuesday’s starter Noah Syndergaard, adding another arm to the rotation could be their biggest need.

With the loss, coupled with Miami’s victory in Philadelphia, the Mets fell 6.5 games behind Washington in the NL East and trail Los Angeles and the Marlins for the wild-card.

Monday’s other two story lines are:

THE OUTFIELD DILEMMA: As expected, Yoenis Cespedes played left field, which means he came out of Sunday’s game with no problems. That’s the good news.

Cespedes was hitless in three at-bats against Jon Lester, but nobody could time him. Cespedes threw out a runner out at the plate and almost nailed another at second base.

Prior to the game Collins anticipated playing Cespedes in center Tuesday with Michael Conforto in left. However, after the game Collins said he didn’t think Cespedes moved well.

Conforto appeared as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and delivered an opposite-field single.

That was a terrific sign because prior to the game he admitted being pull-happy in May and June when his average nose-dived.

Collins said he wants to use Cespedes in left to save his legs. He also said Conforto could get time in center, where he’s never played.

I wrote in spring training how I wanted to see Conforto get some time in center, but that never happened. Instead, they might do it during a pennant race, even though Curtis Granderson has played over 1,000 games in center.

Then again, at 35, Granderson’s legs aren’t what they used to be.

FLORES PLAYS: Against the left-hander Lester, Wilmer Flores was in the lineup against James Loney, which I speculated earlier today. Flores singled and homered.

It was Flores’ ninth homer of the year and sixth in July to lead the National League. Yet, manager Terry Collins still doesn’t have a sense of urgency to get his bat in his offensively starved lineup.

I’ll say this again; Flores needs to play even if he’s not the sexy choice of GM Sandy Alderson. In for Loney one game; in for Neil Walker the next; then Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes.

That way, they all play and all get a game off a week.

Why is that so hard to understand?

Jul 13

Mets Must Overhaul Pitching Protocols

 

UPDATED

The only one of the Mets starters not currently waving a health red flag is the one whose roots are not in the organization – Bartolo Colon. To be fair, Colon had health issues earlier in his career and a PED history, but he’s clean now and save a ball hit off his thumb has been fine.

Colon, at 43, has been a source of stability on the mound since joining the Mets, but his greatest contribution might be the suggestion to Noah Syndergaard, whose 23-year-old arm suddenly lost its steam, to back off his between-starts throwing.

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets' pitching problems. (Getty)

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets’ pitching problems. (Getty)

When Syndergaard told Bob Klapisch, one the most knowledgeable baseball writers I know, his arm felt “like there are parachutes attached to it,”  there was the image of swimming against the current.

Syndergaard is pitching through a bone spur in his elbow. Syndergaard experienced a sudden five-mph., drop off his fastball in his last start against the Nationals, similar to turning an oscillating fan from high to medium. Every pitch was a change-up.

Matt Harvey, who at 27, is out for the season following shoulder surgery; the second time in four years the knife cut him out of the rotation. Jacob deGrom was given a chance to be on the National League All-Star team but told manager Terry Collins he was too tired. The word he used was “beat.”

He’s only 28.

Then there’s Steven Matz. He had Tommy John surgery before he was 25, and like Syndergaard is pitching with a painful bone spur.

Finally, there’s Zack Wheeler, who at 26, also experienced Tommy John surgery. He was supposed to come off the disabled list in late June and send Colon to the bullpen. Then it was July, then after the All-Star break. Now, it is mid-August.

I’m waiting for the announcement he will not pitch this year.

Realistically, nobody expected all these guys to blossom into 20-game winners at once. However, also realistically, nobody expected them all to break down all at once, which is closer to happening than one might think.

Is this a coincidence or something deeper?

I would love to see the Mets get back to the World Series. However, I would rather they not make the playoffs, even have a losing season, if it meant seeing each of these guys healthy. For that to happen, the Mets need a serious and comprehensive plan. And remember, wishing is not a plan.

The first step is to recognize how they’ve handled things in the past. The second step is to recognize it hasn’t worked.

I’ve been on the record and will not back off saying they mishandled Harvey from the outset of his arm problems in 2013. It should be noted Harvey back then, and today contributes to his own problems.

Syndergaard won’t pitch until the Mets are in Chicago next week. They’ll ease him back in the rotation, which is a wise decision. Not so wise is their inexplicable decision not to schedule a new MRI. The Mets are going on a previous set taken several weeks before the Washington meltdown.

Just stupid.

GM Sandy Alderson said of Syndergaard and Matz their bone spurs is a matter of pain tolerance. More than once they’ve said the pitchers – the keys to the Mets’ future – couldn’t risk further injury.

Wrong answer.

There are no guarantees when it comes to injuries. The only guarantee is if you continually do something wrong and it doesn’t work, it won’t get better.

The Mets have the possibility to have a great pitching staff, but that’s all it is now – potential. It will remain potential unless the Mets do a complete overhaul in how they handle their pitchers.

From throwing between starts, to pitch counts, to days off, to dealing with pain and discomfort, to a myriad of other things, there must be a complete change. There should be uniformity in policy and procedure from the rookie league to Citi Field.

I don’t know if these Mets will develop into a staff for the ages or fizzle out like the Oakland staff under Billy Martin. Both could happen.

Something is wrong and priority one for the Mets is to find out what it is and fix it.

I don’t care about what happens this year, it’s probably too late, anyway. I care about what happens in the years to come.