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



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.


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.