Aug 17

Has Syndergaard Turned The Corner?

UPDATED: Adding quotes by Syndergaard and Collins.

For awhile last night it appeared Noah Syndergaard turned the corner and all would be right with the Mets again. However, as has been his pattern, he ran into the wall otherwise known as the sixth inning and was haunted by familiar ghosts.

I won’t go into the bone spur issue because when you live in a 98 mph., neighborhood, your arm has to be sound. Stolen bases are a problem – the Diamondbacks had four more Tuesday night and nine in his two starts against them – but one he should eventually solve with his experience.

SYNDERGAARD: Good and bad signs. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Good and bad signs. (AP)

The main issue with Syndergaard has been his pitch-count efficiency and inability to put away a hitter or shut down an inning. It’s why he doesn’t give the Mets the number of innings he should considering the number of pitches he throws.

Of his 23 starts, he has gone at least seven innings only nine times. Only twice did he venture into the eighth inning. Twice.

Last night he cruised through five innings and was good as advertised but unraveled in the sixth. Yes, he was hamstrung by T.J. Rivera‘s defense, but when you’re supposed to be an ace, you must find a way to get out of the inning. The Mets survived the inning, but not Syndergaard.

This is not what you’d expect from somebody deemed an ace, much less a Super Hero.

Roughly one of four pitches he throws is fouled off, meaning he’s not putting away hitters. He averages over a strikeout an inning, but only four times has he reached double-digits in strikeouts, the last being June 15 against Pittsburgh.

Double-digit strikeout games signify going deep into games. Syndergaard went deep with a two-run homer in the fifth but was done an inning later. He expects more of himself.

From how he overpowered the Diamondbacks early in the game, his final line of four runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings was a disappointment despite going to 10-7 in the Mets’ 7-5 victory. Also discouraging was he threw 106 pitches.

Syndergaard took a six-run lead into the sixth. He should have coasted the way he did against Pittsburgh and the Cubs on July 3, his last win before last night. He went into the eighth in those games.

Jake Lamb reached on Rivera’s error and moved to second on a wild pitch. Syndergaard struck out Yasmany Tomas, but gave up a single to Wellington Castillo and two-run triple to Mitch Haniger. A second error by Rivera let in another run. After an infield single, Syndergaard left in favor of Jerry Blevins and the last image of him was throwing his glove in anger in the dugout.

Sure, blame the inning on Rivera, but it’s up to the pitcher to overcome disaster and put away the next hitter, something Syndergaard didn’t do. With his mounting pitch count manager Terry Collins didn’t have the confidence to let him finish the inning.

When Syndergaard cruised early in the game, he challenged hitters inside, his command was sharp and his curveball had bite. All encouraging signs.

“In the middle innings I thought he threw the ball great,” Collins said. “When he commanded his fastball in the right spots they weren’t able to do much against him.”

But, he couldn’t sustain. Whenever he loses it quickly, it raises the question about the bone spur. The Mets believe – and Syndergaard concurs – this is a pain tolerance issue. The spur is something that should be dealt with by surgery in the offseason as it will be with Steven Matz.

“My arm felt great,” Syndergaard said. “I was fluid in my delivery. I felt it was a step in the right direction.;;

There are games, like those against the Pirates and Cubs – and for five innings last night – where he dominates and pitches to the ace-like levels of Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver. But, he’s not there yet on a consistent basis.

The elbow spur bothers me, and I’m sure it bothers Syndergaard more than he lets on. Of his last seven starts he reached the sixth three times before being pulled. Is it the spur or did hitters catch up to him?

Before last night, Syndergaard had four losses and two no-decisions in his previous six starts. In looking for an explanation for what’s happening one thing surfaces.

This is Syndergaard’s first full season and there are growing pains. His fastball averages 98 and his changeup averages 89, but there’s more to pitching than throwing hard. Just because he throws lightning and is built like a linebacker doesn’t mean he’s automatically Don Drysdale.

Syndergaard is ahead of most with his experience level, but not where he envisions himself. He needs more polish. He must learn to take something off his pitches; to reach back for the 100 mph., heater when he needs it, not with every pitch.

The bone spur is an issue, but one surgery should resolve. The real problem with Syndergaard is the expectations are exceedingly high from the Mets, his teammates, the media, and the fans. Everybody expects more of him – including the pitcher himself – than he is capable of giving.

Too many expect him to be the second Seaver instead of letting him develop into the first Syndergaard. He is still growing. He’s not the force he expects of himself to be.

Not yet, anyway.

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Aug 15

Mets Start Crucial Trip

Several times this season Mets manager Terry Collins said his team faced an important stretch. They start another one Monday night in Arizona.

They have three games with the Diamondbacks, who swept them last week at Citi Field; four with the NL West-leading Giants, and three in St. Louis. The Giants and Cardinals are direct competition for the wild card. {The Giants become a wild card threat if they are overtaken by the Dodgers.}

COLON: Goes tonight. (AP)

COLON: Goes tonight. (AP)

You hate to project numbers, but I’m thinking they need to go at least 7-4. A 6-5 t only puts them two games over .500, and that won’t cut it.

Bartolo Colon goes tonight, followed by Noah Syndergaard and Jon Niese. Of the three, right now I have the most confidence in Colon, who is coming off back-to-back strong starts against the Diamondbacks (a no-decision in a Mets’ loss) and a win over the Yankees. He gave up one run in each game.

However, before that he gave up a combined 11 runs in starts against Colorado and the Cubs.

So, is Colon due to get hit tonight?

As for Syndergaard, the Diamondbacks ran wild against him last week in a loss. He’s lost four straight decisions and five of six. Once 8-2 with Cy Young whispers, he’s now 9-7.

And Niese, well he’s done little since coming back from Pittsburgh.

ON DECK:  Have The Mets Turned It Around?

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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 19

Three Mets’ Storylines: Syndergaard Answers Questions

SYNDERGAARD: Answers questions. (Getty)

SYNDERGAARD: Answers questions. (Getty)

Unquestionably, the most important storyline from Tuesday’s Mets’ game was Noah Syndergaard came out of it physically unscathed.

In his previous start 11 days ago, Syndergaard left his last game against Washington with the abstract diagnosis of “arm fatigue.” Of course, his early departure came on the heels of a bone spur in his elbow. And, the spur came after two exams of that elbow this season.

And, the spur came after two exams of that elbow this season.

The Mets’ 2-1 victory, while important, it wasn’t as significant as Syndergaard’s health, which was tested with 105 pitches.

“The arm fatigue is obviously gone,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “He had to really work hard [to get out of trouble]. I thought it was a good outing for him.”

The Cubs had runners on second and third in the first two innings, in which he wriggled out of; scored an unearned run in the third; and had two on in the fourth.

The Cubs could have blown the game open if they could run the bases and hit with runners in scoring position, a problem evidently not exclusive to the Mets.

Of course, we’ll know more about Syndergaard tomorrow, but currently, all signs are positive.

The other key storylines are:

FAMILIA, UNBELIEVABLY, STAYS PERFECT: Jeurys Familia’s consecutive saves streak was over. How could it not have been when the Cubs loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth?

Familia walked the first two hitters, then Jose Reyes misplayed Javier Baez’s bunt attempt by not letting the ball foul.

With the bases loaded, pinch-hitter Matt Szczur grounded to first and James Loney made a perfect throw to the plate for the force.

Kris Bryant followed with a grounder to third that Reyes converted into a 5-4-3 game-ending double play.

“He’s a fighter,” catcher Rene Rivera said of Familia’s ability to escape. “He had the focus to come back and throw strikes and get the ground ball.”

Familia has converted 49 straight save opportunities dating back to last season, and 33 in a row this year.

RIVERA HAS HUGE GAME: Rivera, who doesn’t play nearly enough, had three hits, including driving in the game-winning run with a single to right in the ninth inning.

Rivera also made a snazzy tag at the plate to nail Jake Arrieta, with the out coming on an instant-replay reversal.

He also made a throwing error that allowed the Cubs’ run to score, but it can’t all be perfect, although on this night the ending sure was.

 

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?