Jul 10

Three Mets’ Storylines: Loss Defines First Half

If ever a game was a microcosm of the Mets’ disappointing first half, it was Sunday’s loss to the Nationals.

The Mets were six games behind the Nationals when they were gut-punched after being swept in a three-game series in Washington two weeks ago that left them six games behind.

MATZ: Lone bright spot. (AP)

MATZ: Lone bright spot. (AP)

But, manager  Terry Collins said the homestand leading into the break, four games each against the Cubs and Nationals, and three with Miami, had the potential to turn the momentum and give them a chance to enter the second half with a good feeling.

That looked possible after a stunning four-game sweep of the Cubs and winning two of three against Marlins. But, after losing three of four to the Nationals, including 3-2 today, they are again six back.

“We’re still in the race,” was how Collins described the disappointing end of the first half to reporters. “We were in this situation one year ago. Things looked bleak, but we ended up in the World Series.”

The three key storylines taken today’s game are the Nationals’ continued dominance of the Mets; New York’s continued inability to produce offensively; and, Steven Matz again pitching well after his elbow flare-up.

WASHINGTON’S DOMINANCE: The Mets are a disappointing 4-9 against the Nationals this year, scoring a composite 16 runs in those nine losses. That’s emblematic of a myriad of deficiencies, notably of their all-or-nothing offense.

Assuming the Mets get it together and see another World Series, they will pretty much have to run the table in their remaining six games with Washington.

Washington’s first-half dominance over the Mets is definitely Daniel Murphy-related. He hit a two-run homer Sunday and has seven homers and 21 RBI so far against the Mets. He hit three homers and drove in ten runs over the weekend.

THE OFFENSE: When asked what the Mets had to most improve on in the second half, Collins simply said: “situational hitting.”

Previously, Collins insisted on saying his team was built on power, but history is full of power-laden teams that don’t win. Then again, GM Sandy Alderson – a disciple of the new-wave numbers – constructed this team.

The Mets got two homers from Jose Reyes today – that’s not why they signed him – and are second in the National League (to Washington) with 120 homers. However, far more telling is their .213 average with RISP with 180 strikeouts. They have won only five games when they don’t homer; are 11-34 with they score three runs or less; and, have been shutout eight times.

Complicating matters are they don’t have David Wright for the rest of the season; have been without Lucas Duda since May 21 with no idea of when he’ll be back; and, are without Yoenis Cespedes indefinitely.

MATZ SETTLES DOWN: Since the issue about his bone spur, Matz, who doesn’t have a win since May 25, has given the Mets seven innings in back-to-back starts and before that worked into the sixth against the Cubs.

That’s encouraging news, especially after losing Matt Harvey for the season and Noah Syndergaard’s mysterious “arm fatigue.’’

I believe in babying pitchers’ arms when there is an injury. That’s what the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg, and something the Mets do not believe.

With Matz, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop because it always does with the Mets.

Jul 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Don’t Forget Cespedes As MVP Candidate

As impressive as the Mets’ four-game sweep was of the Cubs, a case can be made it was validated by what they did Monday afternoon with their firecracker comeback victory over the Miami Marlins. You can even argue two of the Mets’ most important victories this season came during this home stand.

There was Thursday’s rally from three runs down – call it the Brandon Nimmo Game – in a 4-3 victory over the Cubs. Today, they overcame another poor performance from Matt Harvey to come from six runs behind to win their fifth straight game, 8-6, to pull within four games of Washington.

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

On Thursday they put the brakes on what was turning into a severe skid; today they pressed down on the accelerator in their playoff push.

There were three significant storylines from the game, with two – Harvey and the bullpen – intertwined. The third was Yoenis Cespedes‘ clutch hitting.

CESPEDES: I keep hearing about potential NL MVP candidates, among them Daniel Murphy and Kris Bryant.

But, Cespedes can’t be ignored. He has five of his 20 homers and 28 RBI coming with RISP. His 20 homers – fourth in the NL – suggest he’s in scoring position as soon as he leaves the on-deck circle. In his last 12 home games, Cespedes is batting .419 with four doubles and four homers, including that monster drive to jumpstart Thursday’s win.

Cespedes had no chance of being the NL MVP last year because of his limited time in the league. But this year, he’d be my choice, with his game-winning, two-run double in the eighth just another sample of what he’s been doing all year.

HARVEY: Gone are the feel-good thoughts Harvey might have turned around his season after making three strong starts. Harvey encored those three starts with four bad ones in which he gave up a combined 13 runs on 30 hits and five walks with only 15 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. For the second straight game Harvey worked just 3.2 innings. (In fairness, his outing was cut short in the Washington start by rain, but even so he wasn’t pitching well.)

Harvey hasn’t come away with a victory since, May 30, some seven starts ago.

On the bright side, he hasn’t given up a homer since his May 24 loss at Washington when he gave up three. However, of his 17 starts he’s only gone seven innings twice.

For someone who considers himself an ace, this is unacceptable. For those of you who still believe him to be an ace, kindly think again if his 4-10 record and 4.86 ERA haven’t convinced you. That’s not to say he can’t be an ace in the future, but not now.

The Mets will need Harvey because of looming physical questions of Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard.

BULLPEN: The pen has been maligned, but today it stepped up with 5.1 scoreless innings.

The Mets didn’t have Addison Reed, but were picked up by Erik Goeddel, Logan Verrett, Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins and Jeurys Familia. Kudos for Verrett and Robles for working out of trouble, and again for Familia, who always seems to be on the ropes only to escape with his 29th straight victory.

A point that requires no debate: Championship teams need a strong bullpen.

Jul 02

Mets Wrap: Have They Survived A June Swoon?

Did the Mets keep alive their season with victories over the Cubs the last two days? The Brandon Nimmo game Thursday was what they desperately needed. The home run barrage Friday was an April flashback.

Both games featured Nimmo’s youthful exuberance, and an argument can be made he gave the Mets an emotional jumpstart.

SYNDERGAARD: Sunday's starter has sore elbow. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Sunday’s starter has sore elbow. (AP)

Despite their June Swoon, which included getting swept in Washington, the Mets are six games behind the Nationals, and 1.5 games behind the Dodgers for the second wild card. It means the essence of their season remains, which is getting into October.

June was a duplicate of May, with a dismal hitting slump and myriad of injuries culminating in a 12-15 record.

JUNE MVP

For the second straight month, it has to go to the only player to show up big offensively, which would be Yoenis Cespedes, who hit .315 with nine homers, 27 RBI and .374 on-base percentage. Cespedes had several brain cramp moments and played with a sore wrist. Oh yeah, one of those homers reached the upper deck at Citi Field. When he crossed the plate he said, “Wow,’’ which was the best way to describe the blast that brought back memories of Tommie Agee’s upper deck drive at Shea Stadium.

PITCHER OF THE MONTH

Noah Syndergaard won three games, but I’m leaning toward closer Jeurys Familia, who saved ten games with a 0.69 ERA. In 13 games he gave up one run on seven hits with 14 strikeouts. He also gave up seven hits and walked six making every appearance an adventure.

KEY GAME OF THE MONTH

There was the June 8, 6-5 extra-innings victory in Pittsburgh that avoided a four-game series sweep. However, I’m going with Thursday night’s 4-3 stunner over the Cubs featuring Nimmo’s game-tying hit and hustle on the bases to score the winning run. Had they lost it would have meant a five-game losing streak.

KEY MOVE OF THE MONTH

I’m going with bringing up Nimmo and sending down Michael Conforto. I’m hoping we’ll see Conforto back in July, but not at the cost of sending down Nimmo, who, if he keeps this up has to stay up. It could make for an interesting decision.

RED FLAG ENDURED

After losing David Wright for the remainder of the season, Wilmer Flores filled the breach hitting .289 with two homers and 12 RBI. The Mets are gambling Jose Reyes will further resolve their third base issue.

KEY ISSUE RESOLVED

The Mets traded for James Loney to replace Lucas Duda at the end of May. While Loney has more than capably done the job defensively, his offense has been surprising with a .294 average, three homers, ten RBI and .345 on-base percentage for the month. Loney had 30 hits and only three hitless games for June.

HEALTH ISSUES

Syndergaard and Steven Matz are dealing with bone spurs in their elbow. … Wright will be gone for the rest of the season following surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. … Duda is still at least three weeks away. … Travis d’Arnaud came off the disabled list (shoulder) and his throwing has improved. … Cespedes had several nagging issues, Curtis Granderson has a strained calf and Conforto played with a bum wrist. … Juan Lagares is expected to be activated from the DL for Saturday’s game. … Reliever Jim Henderson is out indefinitely with a strained elbow.

SIX QUESTIONS RAISED

How will they play for the rest of the month, which includes two games against the Cubs, three with Miami and four against the Nationals?

Will the Mets make a deal at the deadline?

How long will they be without Duda and what is the severity of Granderson’s injury?

Since elbow injuries are always serious, will Matz and Syndergaard stay in the rotation?

How long will the ride last with Loney and Nimmo?

After three strong starts, Matt Harvey seems to have regressed. Who is the real Harvey?

BY THE NUMBERS

3: Runs scored by the Mets for Jacob deGrom in five June starts. He was 0-3 with two no-decisions for the month.

16: Games in which the Mets scored three runs or less. Overall, they are 11-30 when they score three runs or less.

.214: Neil Walker’s average for June.

5: Victories by a starting pitcher for the month.

8: One-run games.

11: Roster moves for the month.

4: Times shut out.

LOOKING AT JULY’S SCHEDULE

So far, the Mets are 2-3 during the 14-game stretch to the All-Star break. The rest of the Cubs series (2 games), and series against the Marlins (3) and Nationals (4) could determine whether they make a move at the deadline and stay in the race.

The Mets will come out of the All-Star break with nine on the road, three each at Philadelphia, the Cubs and Marlins.

The Mets close out the month with three games at home with St. Louis and four against Colorado.

Unquestionably, July could define their season.

Jun 30

Mets Get Resilient Effort When They Need It Most

They wouldn’t be the Mets if things were easy. Last year they reached the World Series because of their young arms, a hot month from Yoenis Cespedes, but perhaps most of all, with their resiliency. They overcame injuries and dreadful two-month team hitting slump to find themselves standing at the end.

With those arms, reaching the playoffs this year would be a formality. It sure looked that way with a sizzling April. However, they’ve played sub-.500 baseball the past two months, and after being swept out of Washington, not many gave much for their chances this weekend against the hot Cubs, especially with Steven Matz starting with a painful bone spur in his valuable left elbow.

NIMMO: Scores game-winner. (AP)

NIMMO: Scores game-winner. (AP)

I thought Matz shouldn’t have started, and despite working into the sixth, I’m not yielding on that sentiment. We’ll see how he feels Friday and the days beyond. I really hope I am wrong. The Mets gambled and won when they pushed the envelope with Matz, who overcame a two-run first to throw 104 painful pitches in a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Cubs.

The Mets had to win, because at the same time Matz was ducking a John Lackey fastball to his head, Cespedes was reaching the third deck at Citi Field, and Brandon Nimmo was thrilling us with a timely hit and baserunning, the Nationals were bludgeoning the Reds.

After losing three straight to the Nationals – and five of seven overall – the Mets entered this series realistically needing to win at least three of four games to stay within binocular distance in the NL East. Make that telescopic distance if the Cubs swept the Mets and Nationals did the same to Cincinnati.

Come Friday morning, Panic City is still a couple of exits away.

“I don’t know yet,” manager Terry Collins told reporters as to the magnitude of the victory. “It sure came at the right time. It was a real impressive win.”

It was impressive because outside of Cespedes Home Run Derby type of blast, the Mets did the basic, dirty things they did last year and what they must do in the second half.

It began with Matz, who fell behind 2-0 in the first on a Kris Bryant homer, but gutted his way into the sixth.

“I felt good,” Matz said about his much-talked-about elbow. “I was able to pitch without any issues. I was able to keep us close. I’m happy with how things turned out. I’d say it’s a little relief.”

Down 3-0, the Mets started their comeback – something they did with frequency in 2015 – with Cespedes’ 466-foot drive into the upper deck in the sixth.

“It was a 2-0 pitch,” Cespedes said. “The plan was to swing, and swing hard.”

It woke up Citi Field like a hard slap to the face.

The Mets finally got to Lackey with Travis d’Arnaud‘s one-out single in the seventh that brought in Joel Peralta. Alejandro De Aza, vilified in Washington, pinch-hit for reliever Erik Goeddel and walked. Nimmo, whose exuberance has been a lift, singled home a run after an intense nine-pitch at-bat.

“I was trying to keep things simple,” Nimmo said. “I wanted to be short and get the ball on the barrel.”

The Mets have often been criticized for not being aggressive on the bases, but Nimmo drew a wild throw from Cubs second baseman Javier Baez off Neil Walker‘s chopper and scored when the ball got by the third baseman Bryant.

Of course, there couldn’t be a 1-2-3 ninth. That would be too easy.

The Cubs put runners at second and third with no outs against Jeurys Familia. An intentional walk loaded the bases, but Bryant and Willson Contreras couldn’t resist Familia’s sinker and struck out. With a little discipline, the Cubs would’ve had two bases-loaded walks. Baez then popped out to end the game and for one night at least, we got a reminder of the resiliency this team can still muster.

Jun 27

Mets Must Give Us Reason To Care

Sometimes listening to Terry Collins makes me want to scream. I know I’ve written that before, but Collins keeps making “I want to throw my shoe at the TV” type of comments. The Mets’ manager said several things over the weekend in preparation for tonight’s game in Washington that were simply puzzling. He means well, but it becoming clearer with each press briefing he can’t think on his feet.

First, after Jacob deGrom‘s start – his tenth straight without a win – Collins said he was looking forward to coming out of the break so he could set up his rotation. Well, what about setting things up now for the next two weeks, which includes seven games in two series against the Nationals. three with the Marlins and four against the Cubs?

COLLINS: Facing toughest stretch of season. (AP)

COLLINS: Facing toughest stretch of season. (AP)

I would begin by skipping Noah Syndergaard tonight in Washington because of his second complaint of soreness in his right elbow. Would I sacrifice a game in Washington to preserve Syndergaard for the second half? Damn straight I would.

After Monday’s butt whiping, the Mets are now four games behind the Nationals – who won’t have Stephen Strasburg for either series – because Washington’s seven-game losing streak kept them in the race. If the Nationals had any killer instinct they could be up by eight games or more with a chance to put away the Mets. Who knows, maybe they were waiting for the Mets to come to town to do it.

Collins told reporters Sunday in Atlanta in preparation for the Nationals series: “The worst-case scenario is: Go to the break no worse than we are sitting right now. Right after the Nats we’ve got the Cubs – arguably the best team in baseball right now. We’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to get the `A’ game going and maintain it. Right after them you’ve got the Marlins, who are playing very, very well right now. And then back come the Nationals again. I think the next 14 days are very, very important to us.”

Good for Collins; he can read a schedule. But, with |these games so important, why send the message of mediocrity? We watched the Mets pull things together and get to the World Series last year. Now their manager is talking about treading water until the break. At least that’s the perception.

Standing pat in the standings for the next two weeks and at the trade deadline aren’t acceptable for a World Series team. I don’t want Collins to panic, but a sense of urgency would be nice. The disadvantage of getting to the World Series is the expectation to go every year. That’s pressure, but also why they play.

We’ll watch Syndergaard tonight with crossed fingers and the hope we won’t get Antonio Bastardo. I don’t trust the bullpen now, with even Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia giving me pause. The offense is beyond awful. No homers, no wins. Manufacturing runs and playing fundamental baseball seem beyond their comprehension. There were more than a few times in June when they didn’t hustle.

As far as their `A’ game, we haven’t seen it since the end of April. Nothing has been reported as to what Collins has said to his team behind closed doors. Evidently he hasn’t read the riot act or we would have heard about it. Somebody always talks.

Yes, there are injuries, but championship caliber teams overcome them. Otherwise, they are just excuses. There were holes in the batting order even before David Wright and Lucas Duda were hurt and Michael Conforto was sent down. Hopefully, there will be more stability when Jose Reyes is activated and Curtis Granderson can hit lower in the order. But, whether Granderson bats first, second, third or fourth, will it really matter if he doesn’t hit?

The remaining two weeks could determine whether Citi Field experiences October. You and I both know the Mets won’t run the table from until the All-Star break, but I want more than 7-7, for which Collins – at least publicly – seems willing to settle.

I want a sense of urgency. I want hustle and heaven forbid, their hitters to manufacture runs. I know Collins cares, but dammit, show some fire. Kick your players in the ass, because they need it. And, that includes Yoenis Cespedes. If your “star” can get away dogging it, it’s a license for everybody else to drop it down a gear.

Playing .500 for the next two weeks or the rest of the summer isn’t acceptable. It’s like going to school hoping for a `C’ grade. It’s average, which is the worst of the best or best of the worst. Being average gives us little reason to care.

Damn, I want to care about this team again.