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?

Jul 18

Matz One Of Four Mets’ Questions Tonight

One of the key questions facing the Mets in the second half is left-hander Steven Matz’s painful bone spur in his elbow, which surfaced after his June 24 start in Atlanta.

Matz gave up six runs in 4.1 innings that day and the Mets said there was something wrong with his elbow. The Mets foolishly did not rest him and said it was a pain tolerance issue.

MATZ: Hoping the rest helps. (AP)

MATZ: Hoping the rest helps. (AP)

So far, the Mets are winning their gamble of pushing Matz, and he’s survived his last three starts. Matz’s last two have been strong, as he went seven innings in each and gave up a combined five runs, yet lost tboth.

Matz last pitched, July 10, against Washington, so hopefully the All-Star break will give him some relief Monday night against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. To ease the stress on his arm, Matz has backed off throwing his slider.

To ease the stress on his arm, Matz has backed off throwing his slider. His ability to throw his breaking pitches will be a big factor tonight and every start in the second half.

In addition to Matz, these are the other questions facing the Mets tonight:

Yoenis Cespedes: Despite a strained right quad, Cespedes played Sunday in Philadelphia. He came out of the game all right, but the day after is always key. If he needs to go on the disabled list, they can no longer backdate it eight days and that time would be lost.

Michael Conforto: When Conforto was sent down, manager Terry Collins said he would play when he returned, but where? Cespedes wants to play left because it would provide less strain on his right quad. That’s where he should have been playing in the first place, with Conforto learning to play all the outfield positions.

Wilmer Flores: He needs to play, but finding him the right position hasn’t been easy. Instead of the path of least resistance and subbing him throughout the infield, Collins does not have a plan. Left-hander Jon Lester starts tonight for the Cubs, so it would make sense to sub him at first and give James Loney a break.

Jul 18

What’s The Plan For Flores?

Like many of you, I have pet peeves with manager Terry Collins. Today’s is his inability to follow through with his proclamations. Ranging from protecting his pitchers with innings limits, to his batting order, to resting injured players, to how he doles out playing time, what Collins says can’t be truly believed.

FLORES: What will they do with him. (AP)

FLORES: What will they do with him. (AP)

Such as Wilmer Flores’ playing time.

When Jose Reyes was signed, Collins said he would share time with Flores. At the time, I wrote Flores should be used as a super sub, not only giving Reyes a rest, but for Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker and James Loney.

Since Reyes rejoined the Mets, July 5, Flores has just 17 at-bats in seven games. Flores had been playing, and was hot, since replacing David Wright. He was sizzling leading up to Reyes’ return.

On July 3, he went 6-for-6 with two homers against the Cubs. Three days later, he homered twice against the Marlins. He’s had only two hits since. He did not play Sunday and Collins hasn’t indicated when he’ll play.

When it comes to Collins, there are no concrete plans. There wasn’t for limiting Matt Harvey’s innings last season. There doesn’t appear to be one with the outfield since it was learned Michael Conforto is coming up from Triple-A Las Vegas.

And, there doesn’t seem to be one with Flores’ playing time.

Perhaps he could play tonight against lefthander Jon Lester in Chicago, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t. The next lefthander scheduled against the Mets is Adam Conley, Friday, in Miami.

Who knows what Collins’ plans are, or what GM Sandy Alderson dictates them to be.

Perhaps they are planning to deal Flores again. This time, I hope it wasn’t the circus it was last year.

Jul 11

Top Ten First-Half Positives For Mets

As tempting as it might be to want to throw the first half of the Mets’ season into the dumpster because injuries and Daniel Murphy are forcing them in that direction, not everything has been a negative.

Since I’ve always been a beacon of positive thoughts when it comes to the Mets, I thought I’d open the break with the ten things that went right in the first half.

CESPEDES: First half Mets' MVP. (AP)

CESPEDES: First half Mets’ MVP. (AP)

1. It could be worse: That’s probably the biggest positive. They trail the Nationals by six games, but Washington also had its bumps to keep the Mets within spitting distance. From June 18-25, while the Nationals lost seven straight, the Mets won four of seven.

2. Replacing Murphy: Despite Murphy’s gaudy numbers, especially against the Mets, let’s not forget the power Neil Walker provided at second base with nine homers and 19 in April. Walker can leave after the season, but has been a reliable and productive bat.

3. Plugging the shortstop hole: Perhaps the Mets’ most important offseason acquisition has been the signing of Asdrubal Cabrera to a two-year, $18.5-million contract. Nobody expected 12 homers and 29 RBI in the first half.

4. Resiliency: One of the Mets’ most important characteristics last season was their ability to adjust on the fly, especially with all their injuries. There have been no shortage of injuries this year, but the Mets plugged with Rene Rivera (for Travis d’Arnaud), James Loney (for Lucas Duda) and Wilmer Flores (for David Wright). The Mets also inserted Logan Verrett into their rotation and added Jose Reyes and Kelly Johnson, both of whom have already paid dividends.

5. A strong closer: Jeurys Familia has been spotty at times, but converted all 31 of his save opportunities. Addison Reed has also been a reliable bridge to Familia.

6. Bringing back Cespedes: Where would the Mets be without Yoenis Cespedes? Perhaps in a double-digit hole behind the Nationals. Cespedes has 21 of the Mets’ 122 homers, but pulled out of the All-Star Game with a strained right quad. Cespedes has had several brain cramps, but the Mets are contenders because of him.

7. Jacob deGrom finding it: It was a rough start for deGrom, which included ten straight winless starts. However, he’s back in a groove, which is imperative considering the loss of Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard’s health status entering the second half. Of course, Syndergaard’s All-Star first half was a positive.

8. Bartolo Colon never losing it: The 43-year-old Colon was named as a replacement to the NL All-Star team, and it is well deserved. The plan was to move him to the bullpen when Zack Wheeler is promoted. However, that won’t be until mid-August.

9. Promising young outfielders: Michael Conforto dazzled us in April, but sputtered and was sent to the minors. However, instead of sulking he appears to have regained his stroke. When Conforto was optioned Brandon Nimmo was promoted and excited us with his enthusiasm. Manager Terry Collins doesn’t see them together in the second-half outfield, but they will be paired soon enough.

10. Battling the Central Division: Last season the Mets were swept by both the Pirates and Cubs, but this season they are 3-3 against Pittsburgh and 4-0 so far against the Cubs. And, for good measure, they won two of three in Cleveland.