Jun 10

Perfect Day For Mets And Matz

Pitching and power were to be the formula to carry the Mets this season, and today felt like it was supposed to be.

Today’s 6-1, 8-1 sweep was fueled by pitching; strong efforts from Robert Gsellman and Steven Matz, that were backed by Mets power, a grand slam from Yoenis Cespedes and a three-run homer from Jay Bruce in the nightcap.

MATZ: Gives Mets seven strong. (AP)

MATZ: Gives Mets seven strong. (AP)

“This is what we thought we were going to get with the guys we thought we were going to have,” manager Terry Collins said.

The last time the Mets swept a doubleheader was June 18, 2013, when they showcased fire-ballers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, their arms of the future. However, the circumstances then differed greatly from today’s mauling today.

Four years ago, the Mets were a team on the rise; a team to be carried with their young pitching. Today, the Mets are a team fighting to keep open their window of opportunity.

Cespedes came off the disabled list, said he didn’t feel 100 percent, then hit a grand slam in the opener. However, today’s real storyline was Matz’s return in the nightcap after ten months on the disabled list.

Matz gave up one run on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts in seven innings. He accomplished that with just 98 pitches. Conversely, in his start Friday, Harvey threw over 100 pitches in five innings.

“His command of his stuff,” Collins said matter-of-factly about the key to Matz’s success.  “He’s around the plate. This is the kind of outing we were hoping we’d see.’’

Matz said he had nerves, but said he always gets them. He said he had to step back and collect himself.

“It feels good to get back out there and compete,” Matz said. “I was able to locate my fastball away. My command was there and I felt really locked in.”

In the opener, Gsellman threw 6.2 scoreless innings while giving up three hits. There has been some talk after this stretch of 18 games in 17 that Gsellman might go to the bullpen, but today’s outing might give pause to that thinking.

While we’re at it, we should give pause to the thinking things will be all right now that Cespedes is back.

“I feel good, but I don’t know that I can run at 100 percent at this point,” Cespedes told reporters prior to the game.

So, why did GM Sandy Alderson activate him? Cespedes didn’t play in the nightcap and may not play Sunday, but could return Monday against the Cubs.

Alderson risked Cespedes for what he got today, the game-icing slam. But, if he can’t run, won’t he cost the Mets in the long run? His failure to advance from second to third on a fly ball could have cost the Mets.

It didn’t, and Collins matter-of-factly said the Mets would protect him, but it the player himself said he’s not 100 percent, then it could be only a matter of time before Cespedes pulls his hamstring again.

As for Matz’s return, he looked sharp and threw free and easy.  There never seemed a question that the Mets took their time to protect Matz.

I can’t imagine them starting Matz if he said his elbow was barking, so, why would they start Cespedes if he says he can’t run 100 percent?

 

Jun 01

Mets Wrap: Flores Needs To Play

I’m tired of Terry Collins saying Wilmer Flores has worked hard to stay ready, and whenever he gets an opportunity he produces for the Mets.

FLORES: Needs to play. (AP)

FLORES: Needs to play. (AP)

If so, then why isn’t he playing every day?

Several times I laid out a format where he could play at least four games a week – playing one game at each infield position – which Collins has no interest in trying. If not this, then at least start him over Jose Reyes, whose time with the Mets should be nearing an end after their 2-1 loss today to the Brewers.

Flores homered leading off the eighth today, after a blistering May in which he hit .379, third best in the Major Leagues. He started 14 games for the month and had nine multi-hit games.

“I’m seeing the pitches and getting good swings,” Flores said.

Conversely, Reyes has only eight multi-hit games all season. He’s currently on a 0-for-15 slide, and is hitting .193 with a .266 on-base percentage.

It’s clear Reyes isn’t giving the Mets anything, while Flores has provided some punch whenever he gets a chance.

With the Mets six games under .500 and fading, what do they have to lose?

WHEELER START WASTED: Zack Wheeler gave up 10 hits with two walks in 6.1 innings, throwing 102 pitches. However, three double-plays (4-5-6) gave him the opportunity to pitch into the seventh.

“He really did pitch good,” Collins said. “He got out of some jams. He’s back. He’s fine as we continue on.”

I love how Wheeler works out of trouble, but I’m not wild about his high pitch counts, especially since he’s on an innings count.

“All I can ask is for me being healthy,” Wheeler told reporters of his expectations.

His innings limit has been reported at 110, and he’s currently at 55.2.

EXTRA INNINGS: The loss dropped the Mets ten games behind the Nationals. … Fernando Salas did a solid job in relief of Jerry Blevins with five strikeouts in two innings. … Collins was ejected for arguing an interference call of when a ball boy got in the way of Flores’ attempt to catch a foul ball. Initially, the call was ruled an out, but was overturned (correctly so).

UP NEXT: The Pirates are in Friday for the start of a three-game series. Matt Harvey, Robert Gsellman and Tyler Pill will start for the Mets.

Harvey is coming off a 7-2 victory in Pittsburgh, May 28, in which he gave up one run in six innings with only two walks in a 102-pitch effort.

In 46 career starts at Citi Field, Harvey is 16-13 with a 2.73 ERA. He is 1-1 with a 4.30 ERA in four career starts against the Pirates.

Apr 12

Wheeler, Conforto Give Mets Glimpse Of Future

Sometime next season or the year after, Zack Wheeler and Michael Conforto will combine to lift the Mets. They did for awhile Wednesday night in Philadelphia until Hansel Robles sprayed graffiti on their near masterpiece.

i-5Wheeler, backed in large part by Conforto’s homer and Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run single, cruised into the sixth with a five-run lead. It looked as if manager Terry Collins would let him pitch out of trouble, but pulled him with two outs and the bases loaded in favor of Robles.

Collins feared the Phillies would break through and spoil Wheeler’s night and he’d suffer an emotional setback. Instead, Maikel Franco turned around Robles’ first pitch for a monster grand slam that changed the complexion of the game, but the Mets held on to win 5-4 to complete the sweep.

In winning his first game since coming off Tommy John surgery in 2014, Wheeler gave up three runs on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. He threw the target 85 pitches, but the key was working ahead in the count with his secondary pitches. Miami hurt Wheeler in his first start – of a cold damp day – when he fell behind in the count and waited on his fastball.

Wheeler coasted into the sixth but the Phillies worked him hard to load the bases.

“I was very happy with the way he pitched tonight,” Collins told reporters of Wheeler’s start. “He threw the ball as well as he could but he ran out of gas all of a sudden.”

Pitchers usually won’t admit to getting tired, but Wheeler was stand-up. He knows the score.

“I was a little tired at the end,” Wheeler said. “It’s all about building myself up. …I had better command. That’s what I needed from my first start. It felt good to bounce back after that rough outing. I was nice to go out there and do well.  It’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Conversely, it hasn’t appeared the Mets were all that interested in building up Conforto’s at-bats. They had a huge lead, but Conforto sat until the end. Conforto was a surprise start over Curtis Granderson and responded with two hits and a walk and scored three runs.

One of those hits was an opposite-field homer to give the Mets an early 2-0 lead.

Conventional wisdom has Conforto going to the minors when Juan Lagares is activated from the disabled list. He needs at-bats, but Collins would not commit to starting him Thursday in Miami.

Conforto hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time but responded with what little he has.

“I’m getting good pitches to hit and getting deep into the count,” said Conforto, who continues to refuse to get drawn into the debate on his immediate future.

Another positive note to the day was the report Matt Harvey, who strained his left hamstring Tuesday night, would be able to make his next start Sunday in Miami.

While Wheeler and Conforto were the headliners, Robles served as a reminder of one of the Mets’ biggest weaknesses, which is the bridge to the back end of the bullpen.

Oct 03

Leaving Loney Off Wild-Card Roster Would Be Mistake

There’s no doubt Mets GM Sandy Alderson is a smart guy, but there are times he thinks too damn much. Reportedly he’s doing that now by considering leaving James Loney off the wild-card playoff roster in favor of Lucas Duda.

Never mind the fairness element, that without Loney replacing Duda for 99 games, the Mets are already scattering for their off-season homes.

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off roster. (SNY)

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off. (SNY)

Clearly, Alderson, who is Sabremetrics junkie infatuated with the home run, is hoping Duda might run into a pitch against the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner Wednesday night. It could happen, but I’m betting after not playing most of the season with a back injury he will be handcuffed by Bumgarner’s nasty slider.

As lefty hitters, neither Loney (2-for-13, .154 BA/.214 OB) nor Duda (0-for-1) have a distinguished history against Bumgarner. For that matter, neither does Eric Campbell (1-for-5).

When you look at the splits, look at their career numbers against all left-handed pitchers. In 572 career at-bats against lefties, Duda is hitting .224 with 17 homers, a .659 OPS and a 200-50 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Conversely, in 1,264 at-bats, Loney is hitting .251 with 20 homers, a .646 OPS and a 222-83 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Actually, if it came down to career numbers against Bumgarner, what about Kelly Johnson (7-for-20 lifetime)?

I’m not blaming manager Terry Collins should the Mets go with Duda because he’s not pulling the strings. This is Alderson’s baby. Both pay lip service to a give-and-take working relationship, but Alderson runs the show.

The Bumgarner-Noah Syndergaard match-up suggests the possibility of a low-scoring game. Alderson is gambling Duda will connect for a bomb, but the odds suggest Loney is more apt to continue an inning.

And, with runs figuring to be at a premium, Loney is the superior defensive player. He has a better glove, more range, and a better arm. Should I remind you of his throw to the plate in Game 5 of last year’s World Series? Didn’t think so.

One of the main storylines in this game will be Syndergaard’s ability to hold potential base stealers, who ran on him at will this year.

As a right-handed first baseman, it is harder for Duda to hold runners as his tag will be at the runner’s calf instead of his arm. Meanwhile, with a good move, Loney’s tag will be on the runner’s hand. If nothing else it could shorten a lead by a step.

Look, Duda might hit three homers. He could also make two errors and strike out three times. Who knows? But, for one game, with this pitching match-up, the right way to go is Loney over Duda.

If they want to take Duda over Campbell for a pinch-hit swing late in the game, fine. But, seriously, if Campbell pinch-hits, the Mets would likely be behind, and who would he bat for?

Alderson is smart, but he’s thinking too much on this one and it could bite him in the butt.

Please follow me on Twitter

Sep 02

Murphy Decision Will Haunt Mets For Years

It’s ironic even beyond Metsian standards to have Neil Walker announce his decision to have season-ending back surgery the day before Daniel Murphy comes to town with his first-place Washington Nationals.

I like Walker. A lot of us do. However, he’s a hired gun who could be on the road again after he heals. But, who doesn’t love Murphy – and cringes whenever he comes to the plate against his former team?

MURPHY: Got last laugh. (AP)

              MURPHY: Got last laugh. (AP)

Regardless of what GM Sandy Alderson said last winter, the Mets could have afforded both Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes, but for whatever reason didn’t want to come up with the coin to pay the homegrown player. Surely, the Mets could have matched the $37.5-million over three years the Nationals gave Murphy.

Whether it was his comments about having a homosexual teammate – Murphy said he could embrace him as a teammate but not the lifestyle – or that he wasn’t a great defensive player, or whatever other reason, he didn’t fit into Alderson’s “mold.”

Yes, Murphy had flaws defensively. Yes, he had mental cramps on the bases and in the field. But, then again, isn’t that a big part of Cespedes’ resume?

One thing you can say about Murphy over Cespedes is the former always hustles and plays hard. Murphy’s attention was never split between baseball and the golf course.

Of course, Cespedes has the greater athletic skills, but if he doesn’t always use them, what’s the use? Cespedes has the physical make-up of being a superstar, and as he proved last year the potential to carry a team.

Then again, something clicked between Murphy and hitting coach Kevin Long, and didn’t he carry them in the playoffs? And, it isn’t a fluke because hasn’t Murphy carried the Nationals this year to the point where he’s a serious MVP candidate.

The Mets searched for years to find a position for Murphy, who is a natural third baseman. They tried left field. They tried first base before settling on second base. Murphy has his head scratching moments at second, but worked to harness his talent. He made his fair share of head turning plays as well.

Conversely, Cespedes said he’d play center field – it was reportedly a key in signing him – but now it is left field or bust. Murphy did whatever he could to fit in and do whatever the Mets needed. It seems Cespedes can’t be bothered at times.

Infatuated with what Cespedes might become, Alderson opted to let Murphy go – they made a token qualifying offer they knew he couldn’t accept – and offered the mercurial outfielder $75 million over three years. That’s double what Murphy will get from the Nationals.

Because Alderson deals with Sabremetrics and prototypes he doesn’t see or acknowledge the rawness of what Murphy provides. Had Sabremetrics and Alderson been around in another era, would he have overlooked Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Brooks Robinson, Jerry Koosman and Mike Piazza?

Hell, he may have even bypassed Babe Ruth.

Now, with one month left in this season, it is clear Alderson made the wrong decision on Murphy, and not solely because Walker will have season-ending back surgery and may never play for the Mets again.

The Mets got a good year from Cespedes, but not exceptional because of his quad injury, made worse by them delaying a month to put him on the disabled list. By the way, he’s still not 100 percent.

Alderson doesn’t get a pass because of David Wright. After last season there should have been some reasonable expectation Wright could be injured again. So, with the Nationals set with Murphy for the next two years, the Mets will be searching for a second baseman and possibly a third baseman.

What about Wilmer Flores, you ask?

Flores is the Plain Jane you don’t want to take to the prom; he’s not the flashy platinum blonde homecoming queen Alderson lusts after for a player. I feel the Mets will underappreciate and eventually ditch Flores the way they did Murphy.

And, Cespedes?

Well, they gave him the option to opt out after this year. Instead of spending to plug the holes in their rotation, the bullpen, first, second and third, and in the outfield, the Mets will instead throw even more money to keep Cespedes.

In doing so, they will be stunting the development of Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo. They also have the decision on what to do with Jay Bruce and possibly Curtis Granderson.

And, no matter how much money they are willing to give Cespedes, there’s a good chance he’ll leave anyway and they’ll lose out on making deals to improve, elsewhere.

But, Murphy will be settled in with Washington.

Letting Murphy go was the lead domino in a series of moves that could haunt the Mets to the point where even all that great young pitching – with has three studs lost for the year – can’t carry the load.

Nice job.

Please follow me on Twitter