Oct 09

Mets A Team To Embrace Destiny

Can the Mets beat Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, two of the best pitchers in the National League in the first two games of the Division Series?

Hell yes. They can do it because they are throwing Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, who are also two of the best pitchers in the National League. They also have Matt Harvey going in Game 3.

DeGROM: It begins with him tonight.  (Getty)

DeGROM: It begins with him tonight. (Getty)

The Dodgers have been in the playoffs in recent years and made early exits, and they’ve done it with Kershaw. There’s nothing new about them that suggests this year will be any different.

The Mets on the other hand have been on a roller coaster ride this season to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006. I’ve written it several times this summer – when I’m not tweaking Harvey (yeah, yeah, I know I get on him a bit) – that this can be a team of destiny.

Think about how many significant players who’ve been out at times because of injuries: David Wright, Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, Zack Wheeler, Josh Edgin, Jerry Blevins, Michael Cuddyer and Bobby Parnell.

All important players they couldn’t afford to lose, yet here we are, hours away from Game 1 of the NLDS.

How many playoff teams entered the season without a commitment to a shortstop? I can only think of one, and that’s the Mets. Yet, here we are. Wilmer Flores took to the position, was almost traded, and then captured our hearts with his tears.

The Mets lost their closer Jenrry Mejia to suspension, yet Jeurys Familia stepped in to tie a club record in saves. He could be the team’s MVP. That stuff doesn’t usually happen.

The Mets don’t have a traditional lefty specialist, yet they are finding a way.

This is a team that didn’t have a leadoff hitter, yet Curtis Granderson stepped in and produced to the point where he could be the Mets’ MVP, if not Familia. Championship teams always have that one player who expands his role, that for the Mets, that’s Granderson.

They lose Wright for nearly five months, yet in his first at-bat off the DL he hits a homer. You don’t call that storybook?

To get to the playoffs this year, the Mets needed to play even with the Nationals. I don’t want to hear that the Mets backed in because the Nationals choked. The Mets kicked the stuffing out of them to the point where the likely NL MVP, Bryce Harper, said he wants to win.

When the Mets were floundering in July, there was an infusion of new blood when Michael Conforto was called up, and the trades for Yoenis Cespedes, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe and Tyler Clippard.

There’s something special about this group that through the injuries and changing roles of players that it has persevered.

Special teams find a way to get it done despite the obstacles and that’s what this team has done.

So, to answer the first question, yes the Mets can beat Kershaw and Greinke. And, for that matter, they can beat anybody else, too.


Oct 07

Mets’ Three Keys To Beating Kershaw

The Mets won their season series against the Dodgers primarily because of pitching. So, let’s assume starters Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey pitch lights out, what then will be the three keys to beating the Dodgers?

MURPHY: Needs to stay in lineup.  (AP)

MURPHY: Needs to stay in lineup. (AP)

First, they have to split in Los Angeles. There’s no way they’ll win the series if they lose the first two games, against Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. So, how do they beat two Cy Young Award candidates, beginning with Kershaw Friday night?

Since Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is a disciple to pitch counts, the Mets must work the count. If leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson squeezes out a nine-pitch at-bat to lead off the game but strikes out, that’s still productive.

If nothing else, if the Mets lose Game 1 but force Kershaw to throw 120 pitches, that puts a strain on him for Game 5.

Secondly, the Mets can’t reinvent the wheel. All year, manager Terry Collins played Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda against left-handers. There’s no reason for him to deviate now.

Finally, assuming deGrom turns the game over to the bullpen in good shape, it must hold the lead or at least keep the game close. For the most part, Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard did the job, but the question of how to pitch to left-handed hitter Adrian Gonzalez remains an issue.

There you go, one, two, three. Simple as that,


I’d like to thank my friend Joe DeCaro for posting the feature on Justin Turner.

Oct 06

Colon Should Get Start Over Matz

Why do the Mets continually try to re-invent the wheel? GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins will wait until after Thursday’s instructional league start by Steven Matz to make a decision on whether the rookie lefthander will start Game 4 of the NLDS against the Dodgers.

COLON: Should get NLDS start. (AP)

COLON: Should get NLDS start. (AP)

The 4-0 Matz has made six major league starts, but hasn’t pitched since Sept. 24 because of a stiff back that required an injection over the weekend. At 24 and with a bright future, I understand the long-term attraction in Matz.

Meanwhile, Bartolo Colon, whom the Mets paid $20 million the last two seasons, and has won 29 games and pitched 397 innings in that span. Colon, who during his 18-year career – which he says will continue – has won 218 games. Matz can only hope to win that many games or pitch as long.

What Colon did 10 years ago is irrelevant, but unlike corporate America, let’s not devalue the variable known as experience. I like Matz’s fastball and his future, but the Mets still win the NL East without him. They don’t win without Colon.

This is too much thinking on Alderson’s part. Colon has been there, done that, and regardless of his losing record outside the division, he has earned the right to pitch in the postseason.

Instead, he’ll be shuffled off to the bullpen.

Meanwhile, if Matz can’t go, Alderson – and I say Alderson because Collins doesn’t have the power to make these calls – is toying with starting Jacob deGrom, the Game 1 starter, on short rest. Doing so would handicap deGrom in the NLCS if the Mets are fortunate enough to advance.

It has been a long, but fun season, and the Mets are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. However, they are there in large part because of Colon and not Matz.

Colon in the rotation is the right thing to do.

Oct 22

The Differences Between The Giants And Mets

I hope Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins took notes in Game 1, because the Giants have the blueprint the Mets should be following. So, in comparing the wild-card Giants to the Mets, there’s more than just a 3,000-mile difference:

Solid starting pitching: Madison Bumgarner was lights out, pitching quickly, and with command and composure. This is what the Mets expect from Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. The rap on Mets pitchers is an inability to put away a hitter and keep damage to a minimum. This especially applies to Jon Niese.

BUMGARNER: It always begins with pitching. (Getty)

BUMGARNER: It always begins with pitching. (Getty)

The game’s turning point came in the third inning when the Royals put runners on second and third with no out, but Bumgarner kept it together and got out of the inning with no damage. Bumgarner also helped himself by starting a double play to get out of the second.

I’m not saying Mets pitchers haven’t done the same, but not consistently.

Bumgarner threw 21 first-pitch strikes to the 26 hitters he faced for an incredible 81 percent efficiency. For all the new wave stats, first pitch strikes percentages are missing. In particular, this is something Wheeler – originally in the Giants’ organization – must refine his game.

Who is to say the Giants didn’t know this when they traded him to the Mets for Carlos Beltran?

Relief pitching: The bullpen has long been part of the Giants’ success, with the pitchers and how manager Bruce Bochy manages them. There’s nobody better.

Alderson has tried to build a pen since he came here, and this season is the closest he’s come. Now, it is up to Collins to slot in Bobby Parnell, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia in the right roles.

Aggressive base running/productive at-bats: The Royals’ speed drew considerable pre-Series attention, but the tone for the game was set in the first inning when the Giants executed what I consider one of the most exciting plays in baseball.

Gregor Blanco singled and tagged up and advanced on Joe Panik’s fly ball, making it a productive out. The dimensions at Citi Field are such that this is something the Mets should be more aware of doing.

So, instead of fooling around with the dimensions and moving in the fences, the Mets would be better off tailoring their offense with speed, aggressive base running and timely hitting to complement their young pitching.

In Game 1, the Giants were 5-for-12 with RISP, a situation in which the Mets are weak. Timely hitting begins with being patient and working the count. Last night, of the 43 hitters the Giants sent to the plate, 20 took a first-pitch ball or put the ball in play.

Management expertise: Bochy is the best manager in baseball. This is the fourth time he’s taken a team to the World Series, and win-or-lose, he’s worthy of the Hall of Fame.

He gives his players defined roles and they buy in. I can’t imagine Bochy fooling around by juggling Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada at shortstop, or with the myriad of left fielders.

It is Alderson’s responsibility to bring in the right players. The Giants bettered themselves with Jake Peavy and Hunter Pence; in recent years the Mets brought in Curtis Granderson and Frank Francisco.

Big difference.

Bochy once left Barry Zito off a playoff roster and put Tim Lincecum in the bullpen. There were no waves. Conversely, Matt Harvey, although it was determined he wouldn’t pitch this season, complained about where he would rehab and that he wanted to pitch this summer.

Neither Alderson nor Collins forcefully laid down the law with Harvey, and prior to that Jordany Valdespin. The Mets have had through the years a line of headaches such as Francisco Rodriguez and Ike Davis (complaining about going to the minor leagues and refusing to adjust his hitting approach).

I can’t imagine the Giants putting up with a non-productive player for as long as the Mets did with Davis.

The Mets also didn’t give Angel Pagan a legitimate chance in center field. He’s hurt now, but on a four-year contract with the Giants.

Sabean has been the Giants’ general manager since 1997. Conversely, Alderson is the fourth general manager have had in that span.

Of course, Sabean has been given ownership’s blessing to build the team as he sees fit. Alderson doesn’t have that leeway.

The Mets won 79 games this season, while San Francisco won 88. Nine more wins over six months doesn’t seem like much.

Let’s see if the Mets can close that gap.

Oct 24

Game 1 Of World Series Overcomes Bad Call, But Raises Issues

Maybe Jon Lester cheated in Game 1; maybe he did not. It makes for an interesting fodder and falls in line as to what is reviewable and what is not regarding expanded instant replay beginning next season.

Overturning a call by replay such as Dana DeMuth’s horrible one last night is not allowable within the current structure, and the Cardinals would have a legitimate beef had the umpires convened to watch the replay on a monitor.

Getting it right. (Getty)

Getting it right. (Getty)

However, one umpire – in this case, five – overturning a bad call is permitted and the umpires absolutely handled it properly in agreeing with Boston manager John Farrell for DeMuth to get a second opinion. Umpires should be applauded for seeking help. They shouldn’t think they are being shown up, but that the crew is working in concert.

Raised from last night’s first inning is the method of a manager challenging a call. Currently, the challenges are limited, but that’s not an efficient or fair format.

Whether a central monitoring system established in New York similar to how the NHL’s format is in Toronto, or have a fifth umpire in the press box who can buzz down to the crew chief seems preferable than the manager challenging from the dugout.

For one thing, an executive monitoring upstairs has an immediate picture of the play and can contact the crew chief. The manager, in this case Farrell, instantly knew it was a bad decision and bolted from the dugout as if he had a jetpack.

All plays won’t be that way and it is easy to envision a manager challenging based on his player’s reaction to the call. Players aren’t always right, they often go by emotion, and challenges could be wasted early. Presumably, this could be offset with a direct link to the dugout from the press box, similar to how a NFL coach is buzzed to throw the challenge flag.

Having an immediate set of fifth eyes would likely take less time and improve the flow of the game. Major League Baseball is always moaning about game length and this method is better. Presumably, under the new system everything but balls and strikes would be under review, which is the way to go.

Today’s umpiring is flawed, but I don’t know if it is any worse than what we had 10, 20 years ago. However, the technology is so much better and points out things missed in earlier decades. That should lead to a system that in the interest of fairness, the camera/review format should be the same for a Tuesday night June game in Milwaukee as it is in the World Series. Granted, there are more cameras for the Series, but having a designated number of cameras in specific locations can alleviate this.

More cameras and establishing a better review system costs money, but I don’t want to hear it. This is a multi-billion a year industry. There’s plenty of money to invest in getting it right.

What would have been fascinating was to mike the umpires the way FOX did Joe West in the ALCS. To hear that conversation between the five umpires in Game 1 would have been priceless television.

Fortunately, they got the call right, which is the ultimate objective. I can only imagine DeMuth assumed Pete Kozma made the transfer and was only watching his feet. That leads to a fair criticism about umpiring and assuming the outcome of a play. DeMuth was in position and looking at the call; he just didn’t make the proper decision.

If the intent is to get the play right, then why is there such thing as a neighborhood play, which surfaced earlier in the playoffs? If it is allowed in the interest of player safety, then modify the sliding rules. We also see too many instances of a runner called out simply because a throw beat him to the bag. These calls frequently show an umpire out of position.

But, and this is most important: Baseball is more black-and-white than other sports. Either a player is safe or he is out; it is either a strike or it is not.

That purity should be emphasized in spring training as it is in the World Series. I’m tired of hearing the phrase, “you just don’t make that call in the World Series,’’ just as I was Sunday when I heard “you don’t make that call in overtime on a 56-yard field goal attempt.”

Why the hell not? Out or safe; fair or foul. Just get it right. If it is a rule, then apply it equally regardless of situation.

That should also include balls and strikes, as the idea of each umpire having his own interpretation of the rules is ridiculous. This isn’t figure skating in the Olympics when the Russian judge screws the American skater with prejudice. The rulebook lists a definition of what is a strike. Just get it right.

Luckily, regardless of how the play was ruled, Mike Napoli doubled in enough runs to where it wouldn’t matter to the helpless Cardinals. The Cardinals played a terrible game, and fortunately for all involved, DeMuth’s call added drama but did not decide the outcome.

As for whether Lester used a substance on the ball or not won’t be known. Under expanded replay we could only hope the observer in the press box would have the authority to order the crew chief to examine a pitcher’s glove if he sees something on the monitor. Presumably, the umpires will have their eyes on Lester when he pitches next in St. Louis.

The fans have the right to believe what they see on the field is legitimate, which is why MLB has such stiff penalties on gambling and performance-enhancing-drugs. There should be a similarity when it comes to on-the-field cheating. Doctoring the ball isn’t gamesmanship, it is cheating and the penalty should be severe.