Apr 29

Has Mets’ Freefall Begun Early This Year?

Rocky might be sugar coating what is going on with the Mets these days. Do you remember the beginning of the month when the Mets were off to a semi-good start and the Yankees – beset by injuries – stumbled out of the gate and the talk was could they actually finish with a better record?

Not happening. We are looking at a fifth straight losing season, and please, don’t delude yourselves into thinking the Mets will suddenly go on a spending spree this winter. Now that the Mets have substantially reduced their payroll and after this year will be finally rid of the contractual anchors of Johan Santana and Jason Bay, do you honestly believe they’ll be writing a lot of checks this winter?

HARVEY: Bright spot. (AP)

HARVEY: Bright spot. (AP)

Next year could be more of the same.

After being swept over the weekend by Philadelphia, going 3-6 on their recent homestand and losers of nine of their last 12 games overall, all appearances have the Mets are packing it in before the All-Star break this season. I’m not saying the effort isn’t there, just the talent.

The weekend proved the Mets don’t need Arctic conditions to play their worst. Without Matt Harvey to protect them against the Phillies, the Mets had breakdowns with their rotation, bullpen, defense and hitting this weekend. It was as complete a sweep as can be.

* The Mets are 5-0 when Harvey starts and 5-13 when he doesn’t. He goes tonight at Miami against fellow phenom Jose Fernandez.

* The last two winters GM Sandy Alderson made rebuilding the bullpen the priority. However, this year’s nightmarish edition is the major league’s worst with an ERA nearing 5.50. It doesn’t even matter how close Frank Francisco is to returning as he proved he’s not the answer, either. Typical Mets. Their best reliever is closer Bobby Parnell and they can’t even get to him.

* Terry Collins said at the beginning of the season he wanted to use set line-ups. Twenty-three games later he has used 20 different batting orders/line-ups. That’s not even close to being stable.

* The outfield remains fluid, with something different each day. Jordany Valdespin provides a spark and then sits. Does anybody really think Juan Lagares is the answer? Collin Cowgill won the starting center field job coming out of spring training, but was sitting by the fourth game of the season and only has 47 at-bats.

* Ike Davis continues to flounder and look overmatched at the plate with half as many hits (13) as strikeouts (26). He’s on pace to strike out 183 times. He’s also on track to hit 28 homers, but drive in only 56 runs. Need I say he’s hitting less than .200?

With the way the Mets are playing, there’s no guarantee they’ll get better with three games in Miami. About the only encouraging thing you can come up with concerning this series is even if the Mets are swept, they can’t fall into the cellar behind the Marlins.

Ah, good times.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

ON DECK: David Price vs. Tom Hallion

Apr 24

Mets Bail Out Harvey On Valdespin’s Slam

Matt Harvey’s anointment to superstar status must wait another start or two, if not another year or so. Harvey struggled Wednesday night, but was saved from his first loss of the season on David Wright’s two-out RBI single in the ninth. The Mets went on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-3, in 10 innings on Jordany Valdespin’s grand slam off Josh Wall. It was the Mets’ sixth walk-off grand slam in franchise history and first since Kevin McReynolds in 1991 (from Elias).

VALDESPIN: Knows it is gone. (AP)

VALDESPIN: Knows it is gone. (AP)

ON THE MOUND: Harvey wasn’t sharp as he gave up three runs on four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in six innings. It was a quality start by definition, but Harvey would say it was not. … The Dodgers broke through in the first on back-to-back singles by Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp’s groundout. … After the Mets tied it in the fifth on Ruben Tejada’s single, the Dodgers regained the lead on Kemp’s two-run homer in the sixth on a play that required instant replay.

AT THE PLATE: The Mets won it in the 10th against Wall on John Buck’s leadoff single, a walk to Ike Davis and Marlon Byrd’s sacrifice. Then, after an intentional walk to Lucas Duda, Valdespin went deep. “He seems to relish these moments,’’ manager Terry Collins said of Valdespin. … Mike Baxter doubled in the ninth off Brandon League, took third on Tejada’s sacrifice and scored on Wright’s single to right-center. … Harvey doubled and scored on Tejada’s single in the fifth, but the threat died when Davis struck out with runners on first and second. … Justin Turner, batting for Harvey in the sixth, hit a sacrifice fly. … The Mets stranded nine runners and went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

METS MATTERS: Collins is concerned with lefty reliever Josh Edgin, who has a 10.80 ERA in 10 appearances and could be optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas when Shaun Marcum is activated from the disabled list Saturday. … Jon Niese, who took a hard comebacker off his right ankle Tuesday, still hopes to start Sunday against Philadelphia even if he skips his bullpen Thursday. Niese said he might do a light session Friday. … Valdespin’s slam was the Mets’ third of the season (Collin Cowgill and Buck had the others). … The Mets improved to 1-1 in extra-innings.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17. At the end of spring training Collins expressed a desire to keep a set lineup. Last night he wrote his 17th different batting order in 19 games. So much for continuity.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The way Baxter took second, at that moment I knew we’d win the game,’’ Harvey said of Baxter hustling for a double in the ninth and scoring the tying run.

ALL-STAR GAME: Major League Baseball announced the start of All-Star voting early Wednesday. By game time there were already scoreboard promos to vote for Buck and other Mets. … FanFest will be July 12-16 at the Jacob Javits Center.

ON DECK: Dodgers lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu (2-1, 4.01) vs. Jeremy Hefner (0-2, 7.07) tomorrow afternoon in the series finale. The Phillies come in Friday to start a weekend series.

Apr 22

Collins Won’t Bat Duda Cleanup

lucas duda

After last night’s invigorating 2-0 shutout victory over the Nationals. Terry Collins said  he would not move Lucas Duda from the No. 6 slot to the cleanup spot in the batting order.

Despite Ike Davis’ Feats of Strength (I thought Festivus was in December) on Friday night when he and Duda each slugged a pair of home runs, the first baseman has gone 0-for-8 with four more strikeouts since, and continues to kill the team batting cleanup and posting a .167/.214/.323 slash in 60 at-bats. To put that into perspective, Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill and Jon Niese all have better slugging percentages. Get the picture? He’s even worse against lefthanded pitching which begs the question, when will the Mets realize he’s just a platoon player at best?

Back to Duda, remember all through spring and even just last week I spoke about what a huge role confidence is playing in the left fielder’s metamorphosis?

Here is what I wrote on Saturday:

Duda has been a revelation so far even though it’s still early. Knowing that Duda is so sensitive and shies away from any interview requests, I believe that he’s too tough on himself. He lacks the confidence that a big guy like himself should have. Once he starts to taste a little of that confidence, it takes a hold of him and his play improves dramatically.

We got to see him and spoke to Wally Backman about him last season after he was demoted. Duda was isolated from his teammates and would sit and sulk before and after games. He took the demotion hard and for a guy who had little confidence in himself to begin with, the fact that the team lost confidence him too sent him reeling.

However something happened this winter. When he hurt himself lifting furniture, it led to him reporting to St. Lucie a month early to work exclusively with Dave Hudgens. 30 days of exclusive one-on-one training and confidence boosting. When camp officially broke, Duda was transformed and bursting with confidence again. Duda was doing interviews, laughing, and having fun. He has reinvented himself and I credit the Mets hitting coach for what we are seeing so far.

Here is what Terry Collins had to say about Duda after the game:

“This game is all about confidence,” Collins said. “Lucas Duda is feeling pretty good. I don’t want to change that. One thing I don’t want to do right now is put him in a situation where he thinks he’s got to do more than he’s doing at this particular moment.

Collins gets it. Yes, Duda is leading the league with a .475 on-base percentage. And yes, his .659 slugging percentage is second only to John Buck. And yes, his 1.135 OPS leads the Mets. If it were anyone else, but Duda I’d say put him in the cleanup spot. But it is Duda, and we should leave well enough alone – at least for the time being. Let him keep building up that confidence, and let’s check back at the end of May.

Apr 06

Mets Wrap: Niese, Bullpen Sharp In Win Over Miami

Opening Day was impressive, but today might have been the Mets’ most complete victory in this young season. Jon Niese gave the Mets their fifth straight strong start, the offense came from behind twice and the often-criticized bullpen shut the door on the Miami Marlins in a 7-3 victory in a sparsely crowded Citi Field.

NIESE: Another quality start. (AP)

      NIESE: Another quality start. (AP)

That answers the question: If the Mets win in an empty ballpark does it still count?

It does, and the Mets, after losing two straight, are now back over .500, and will try to win their second straight series tomorrow.

ON THE MOUND: Niese gave up two runs in six innings for his second quality start. He wasn’t as sharp as in the opener as he gave up eight hits and two walks. He threw 100 pitches again, but did not give the Mets the length he wanted. … The bullpen gave up one run in three innings (credited to Scott Atchison). … Bobby Parnell earned the Mets’ first save of the season.

AT THE PLATE:  John Buck drove in four runs on a double and two sacrifice flies. … David Wright and Ike Davis broke out of slumps, getting three and two hits, respectively. … Daniel Murphy tripled in what proved to be the game-winning run in the seventh. … Collin Cowgill, who did not start, hit his second homer of the season. That should return him to the lineup tomorrow.

IN THE FIELD: Ruben Tejada committed his fourth error in five games (he should have five). … Mike Baxter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis started in right and center, respectively. … Tejada made a sparkling play on a deflected ball to end the game.

ON DECK: The Mets conclude this series with the Marlins Sunday, with RHP Jose Fernandez going against LHP Aaron Laffey, at 1:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN.

Apr 05

Why It Went Wrong For Lastings Milledge

I will remember it as if I saw it yesterday for the first time.

A sheet of notebook paper, with the words, “Know your place, rook … signed, your teammates,’’ was taped over Lastings Milledge’s locker in the Mets’ clubhouse in old RFK Stadium. This, in the late summer in 2006.

MILLEDGE: Once he burned bright.

MILLEDGE: Once he burned bright.

The Mets were en route to the playoffs and a veteran laden team was rubbed the wrong way by Milledge’s brashness and arrogance. Then-manager Willie Randolph – who reprimanded Milledge several times that summer – ripped down the sign, but knew he hadn’t ripped away the problem.

The Mets labeled it a misunderstanding, and Randolph called Milledge “a good kid,’’ but this clearly was not a misunderstanding with a teammate. It was the accumulation of several incidents that rankled several teammates.

Milledge burst upon the Mets, hitting over .300, was dazzling on the bases and showed a strong arm. He was going to be the next “fill in the blank.’’ Willie Mays? Roberto Clemente?

However, things quickly cooled after his first career homer, when on his way to the outfield he high-fived fans down the right field line in Shea Stadium. Randolph sensed how the Giants seethed in their dugout, especially since he saw some of his own players do the same.

Randolph reprimanded Milledge on the unwritten laws in baseball, but it didn’t take. There were ground balls he didn’t run out and times he didn’t hustle in the outfield. He was flash with the jewelry swinging wildly on the field, but in the clubhouse he often sat buried in his locker wearing headphones or playing a video game.

He came off as sullen and angry and clearly couldn’t be bothered by getting to know his teammates. Or, a baseball legend for that matter. During spring training then-GM Omar Minaya brought Milledge to the Nationals dugout to meet Frank Robinson, but Milledge was came off as being in-different.

Finally, he arrived in the clubhouse in Philadelphia an hour before a day game. Although it was early, the veterans made it in on time. David Wright had enough when Milledge strolled in with sunglasses and an iPod as if he owned the place and told him this wasn’t acceptable.

Wright wouldn’t belabor the issue Opening Day, only managing to say “seniority is big in this game,’’ which is the politically-correct translation for Milledge hadn’t earned his stripes.

Milledge popped into my consciousness today when I learned it was his 28th birthday, an age when he should be in the prime of his career. Instead, Milledge is one of hundreds of baseball prospects given the label of “can’t miss, but eventually did.’’

Seven years ago – the career lifetime of a select few – the Mets had three prized outfield prospects in Milledge, Carlos Gomez and Francisco Martinez. One by one they arrived, fizzled to the point of exasperation and were traded. Not one of them hustled like journeyman outfielder Collin Cowgill.

After turning down several proposals for Manny Ramirez, the Mets eventually traded Milledge to Washington as part of a trade that brought Ryan Church – he of the concussion fiasco – and catcher Brian Schneider. Milledge had his coffee to go with Washington, then Pittsburgh and finally the White Sox before heading to Japan. Milledge had his head-scratching moments in each place, but basically stopped hitting.

At 28, Milledge is still young. It’s about discipline in Japan and if Milledge comes back with a changed attitude perhaps he’ll get another chance. It’s a long way to Japan, and perhaps an even longer route back to the major leagues.

ON DECK: The 73 Series continues with “Ya Gotta Believe” slogan