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?

 

Dec 28

Top Six Mets’ Storylines For 2016

The season didn’t turn out the way for the Mets the way many hoped. Too many injuries and too few hits with runners in scoring position will do that to a team. There were numerous storylines from this summer, but I’ve narrowed it down to five. I’m sure you have others, but these are mine:

SYNDERGAARD: Pitched big in WC Game. (FOX)

SYNDERGAARD: Pitched big in WC Game. (FOX)

Mets lose wild-card heartbreaker: San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner and the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard were brilliant in one of the most well-pitched games in Wild-Card history. Syndergaard threw seven scoreless and Bumgarner went nine in the Giants’ 3-0 victory won by Conor Gillaspie three-run homer in the ninth.

The loss prevented a playoff rematch between the Mets and Cubs, and of course, kept them from returning to the World Series.

Injuries derail rotation: The highly-anticipated return of Zack Wheeler to the rotation in July and switch of Bartolo Colon to the bullpen never materialized. One by one they went down until three more went down with surgery: Matt Harvey (shoulder), Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz (elbows).

Syndergaard was also hindered with an elbow spur. Injuries always produce opportunities, and this time Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman took advantage.

Piazza enters Hall of Fame: Catcher Mike Piazza was clearly the summer’s feel-good moment with his induction into the Hall of Fame. While there have been many players with links to the Mets that are in Cooperstown, Piazza and Tom Seaver are the only ones who went in as Mets.

Wright’s back limits him to 38 games: For the second straight summer, David Wright’s injured back scuttled his season that put his career in jeopardy.

Wright is progressing on schedule, but we’ll not know about him until spring training.

Cespedes and Walker power offense: Bringing back Yoenis Cespedes and signing Neil Walker were the Mets’ two biggest off-season moves last winter, and together they combined for over 50 homers.

The Mets will bring both back for next year (Cespedes is signed for four years), which just about completes their off-season shopping.

Mets trade for Bruce: With injuries sapping the Mets’ offense – including those to Cespedes and Walker – GM Sandy Alderson pulled the trigger and traded for Reds outfielder Jay Bruce.

Bruce struggled for most of the second half, but finished with a strong ten-day to close the season. Alderson made a big thing of having Bruce as insurance if they couldn’t bring back Cespedes, and if they could they would deal him.

Well, they signed Cespedes to a four-year, $110-million package, then turned around to find no interest in Bruce and might not be able to deal him until spring training, if at all.

Nov 30

Trading Bruce Next For Mets

The agreement with Yoenis Cespedes triggered the Mets’ willingness – perhaps eagerness – to deal Jay Bruce.

The three-time All-Star is 29 and will be making $13 million this year, all easily digestible numbers. Word is Toronto, which figures to lose both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, is interested. Reportedly, Bruce nearly landed in Toronto last year, but the deal fell through.

BRUCE: Toronto bound? (AP)

BRUCE: Toronto bound? (AP)

Several media outlets report the Mets and Blue Jays have spoken, giving legs to the possibility of a trade.

What’s not known is what the Mets are asking for Bruce. Do they want major-league ready talent or prospects? Mets GM Sandy Alderson has a reputation for being a tough negotiator in trade talks, and you’ll recall when the Mets traded R.A. Dickey to Toronto for Noah Syndergaard.

The Blue Jays have to be wary of dealing with Alderson. How can they not be?

What could derail a trade is if the Blue Jays signed Dexter Fowler, who played for the Cubs last season. It is not known if the Blue Jays have any interest in Curtis Granderson, whom the Mets are also reportedly willing to deal.

There’s a lot of stuff flying around this time of year, but the most ridiculous thing I’ve read has the Mets trading Travis d’Arnaud (presumably in a package including Bruce) back to Toronto for catcher Russell Martin.

While Martin would be interesting for a team needing that one catching piece, would the Mets really be interesting in taking on the 33-year-old catcher’s contract that pays $20 million for the next three years? Even if they shed Bruce’s salary, the Mets would choke on Russell’s contract.

Nov 09

Nationals Have Interest In Cespedes

The posturing has begun in the pursuit of Yoenis Cespedes, and in what should come as no surprise, it involves the Washington Nationals, otherwise known as the Mets’ arch-enemy.

The 95-win Nationals in 2016 made a run at Cespedes prior to last season, but he backed out because he didn’t like the deferred money. (This should tell you something about Cespedes. He’s not looking to set himself up for the future, which a deferred contract provide, but wants the big nut right away.)

CESPEDES: Favors big payment. (AP)

CESPEDES: Favors big payment. (AP)

It suggests there’s little wiggle room between Cespedes and the Mets. If Cespedes retired right now he should be able to live more than comfortably on the $27.5 million the Mets gave him last year. Did he squander it on all those cars he drove to spring training last season? I might be wrong, but this does suggest Cespedes could be careless with his money.

Even so, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo could make another run at Cespedes, who would play left, with Jayson Werth moving to right and Bryce Harper playing center field.

The Nationals are currently in the midst of negotiating their local television deal with MASN. Rizzo said talks with the network are sluggish, but added if he really wants a player ownership isn’t likely to block him, say, the way the Wilpons would put the brakes on GM Sandy Alderson.

“We’ve always been given the resources here by ownership to field the best team we can put on the field,” Rizzo told The Washington Post. “We’re looking to improve the club any way we can. If it makes sense for use, he improves any team he plays on.”

Not only that, but signing Cespedes also weakens the Mets.

A middle part of the order featuring Werth, Harper, Cespedes and Daniel Murphy would be frightening, arguably putting Washington’s offense on a par with the Cubs.

The Nationals could make room for Cespedes financially (their 2016 payroll was $145 million) if they don’t bring back catcher Wilson Ramos and closer Mark Melancon, both of whom could fill two holes for the Mets.

The keys for Cespedes landing in Washington would be a quick resolution to the MASN negotiations and for the 31-year-old outfielder to bend a little when it comes to a deferred contract. It worked out for Bobby Bonilla, whose deferred deal with the Mets pays him $1.19 million annually until 2035 when he will be 72 years old.

That’s a damn good IRA, and this is even before Bonilla touches his MLB pension or starts drawing Social Security.

It’s a wonder more players don’t opt to do this. For the Mets, this is something they might entice David Wright to do if they ever want to buy him out.

However, Cespedes’ refusal to take deferred money could raise red flags for the Mets. GM Sandy Alderson can interpret that as a negotiating tool he no longer has and force him to offer more than he’d like for the life of the contract. That weakens the Mets’ bargaining position.

It’s too soon to project where Cespedes lands, but Washington isn’t a bad place to start.

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Oct 25

Not On Cubs’ Bandwagon; I Want Indians To Win

While most of the free world wants the Cubs to win the World Series, my feeling is I hope they keep waiting. Maybe not for another 100 years or so, but at least until the Indians win this year.

The essence of the Cubs’ story of frustration is the angst doesn’t seem to end. What will happen if it does? You can make the case Cubs’ fans are identified by all those years of losing. Sometimes their season was over by May. Other times they lost in excruciating fashion. Mets’ fans cheered the collapse in 1969.

Chief Wahoo hasn't smiled since 1948.

Chief Wahoo hasn’t smiled since 1948.

The Steve Bartman game was simply cruel, but after learning of the viciousness of Cubs fans, my sympathy for them faded quickly. ESPN did a wonderful documentary of that incident, that included somebody from their public relations department smuggling him out of Wrigley Field in disguise. For you into trivia: Future Met Moises Alou had a play on the ball hit by another future Met, Luis Castillo.

My heart in this World Series goes to another frustrated franchise – the Indians. They were the team of my youth – Chief Wahoo and all – and their failures weren’t gut wrenching but quite simply they were victims of bad baseball.

When I was 10, I didn’t know anything about political correctness. I only cared about Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Larry Brown and Sonny Siebert. A half-century later, I still wish I didn’t know about political correctness. As if we don’t have other things to be interested in, The New York Times sprawled the tired issue of team nicknames across its sports pages today. Leave it to The Times to take a political stance on the day of the World Series.

My first Indians’ memory was watching them in April of 1965 on a black-and-white Motorola with the rabbit ears placed just right so I could see them beat the Angels on a Leon Wagner homer. “Daddy Wags” they called him. He always had a chaw of chewing tobacco in his cheek. Another thing not politically correct.

My mother saw how thrilled I was and told my dad, “Jim, you need to take John to a game.” He did later that summer, taking me to cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which was originally built to host an Olympics than never came.

It was July 19, when Lee Stange beat the Orioles, 5-0, and Chuck Hinton homered. Years later, when I was covering the Orioles, I got a photocopy of the box score and gave it to my father.

One of my overriding memories was sitting next to my dad in the middle of a long row. Back then the vendors didn’t throw their food, but simply passed it down the aisle and the money was sent back the same way. When my dad handed me the hot dog I had no idea I was supposed to pass it along, so I started eating it.

Look, I was nine years old at the time. How was I supposed to know?

And, how was I supposed to know the Indians would always lose? They won their first ten games to start the 1966 season, then went to Baltimore and lost a doubleheader, 8-2, 8-3. I listened to both games on the radio – the Indians weren’t on local TV often – and I started crying after the second game.

In an effort to console me, my father said, “you know, some boy your age in Baltimore is very happy.’’

That didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense all these years later.

They played a lot of doubleheaders back then, including twi-nighters that started at 5 and usually ended at 11.

On July 25, 1967, they played two in Chicago. I listened to both games and kept score at the kitchen table. The Indians lost the first game, 3-1, when future Met J.C. Martin hit a two-run homer off McDowell, scoring another future Met, Tommie Agee, ahead of him.

I wasn’t happy but decided to stick it out for the second game – all 16 innings.

I thought my patience was going to be rewarded with Duke Sims’ RBI double in the top of the inning. When Ken Berry hit a two-run homer to win, 6-5, in the bottom of the inning off Steve Bailey, whom I completely forgot about until now, I threw my pencil across the room to the background sound of fireworks going off at Comiskey Park.

If I gave it any thought, I wouldn’t have cared about some kid in Chicago being happy. And, sometime next week, I will be very happy if some kid in Chicago cries into his deep-dish pizza.

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