Oct 18

Refined Syndergaard Aims To Give Mets Commanding NLCS Lead

Several month ago, when it didn’t feel like snow and the Mets had not morphed into the team three games from the World Series, Noah Syndergaard debuted against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. They lost, but the game was circled as one that would come back to bite them in the rear.

imagesIt did not and Syndergaard developed into what we expected: A stud pitcher with star potential.

Since then, the Mets got back Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright, brought up Michael Conforto, and added Yoenis Cespedes to their stagnant lineup. In those few months, Syndergaard also added refined mechanics to his 100 mph. fastball.

“My mechanics are completely different,” said Syndergaard, who is now able to throw his secondary pitches for strikes behind in the count. “`I think my mentality out there is a lot different. I’ve been able to go out there with a lot more confidence in myself and getting myself out of certain situations by using necessarily uncomfortable pitches that I might have used at a different time.”

When Syndergaard came up in early May to replace the injured Dillon Gee, it was thought he might eventually end up in the bullpen. He eventually did in Game 5 of the NLDS, and it seemingly put manager Terry Collins in the corner as to his Game 2 NLCS starter when he warmed up four times.

“The first couple times he only threw 16, 18 pitches before the inning was over,” Collins said. “But he said, `I feel great. I’m not stiff. I’m not sore.’ And I said, `Well, then you’ve got [Sunday].’ ”

With the Mets to start Jacob deGrom in Game 3 at Wrigley Field, this is as close to a must-win game for the Cubs as can be.

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Oct 18

Mets Lineup, Game 2 NLCS

The Mets can take a commanding 2-0 lead over the Cubs in the NLCS with a victory tonight at what will be a cold Citi Field. Here’s the lineup they’ll put out against Chicago’s Jake Arietta:

Curtis Granderson, RF

David Wright, 3B

Daniel Murphy, 2B

Yoenis Cespedes, CF

Lucas Duda, 1B

Travis d’Arnaud, C

Michael Conforto, LF

Wilmer Flores, SS

Noah Syndergaard, RHP

ON DECK:  Syndergaard can give Mets commanding edge

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Oct 15

Where’s Lucas Duda And Offense?

Jacob deGrom is the best the Mets have to offer in Game 5, but it doesn’t matter what he does, if the hitters don’t produce they won’t win. It’s a simple as that in handicapping tonight’s NLDS game in Los Angeles.

No hitting and say hello to winter.

DUDA: Paging Lucas Duda? (AP)(

DUDA: Paging Lucas Duda? (AP)(

One hitter manager Terry Collins needs to wake up is first baseman Lucas Duda, who is 2-for-15 with nine strikeouts in the NLDS. Duda has always been prone to long stretches of sizzling and being cold. But, he’s been so frigid lately Collins and his coaching staff briefly thought of sitting him tonight, with Daniel Murphy playing first and Kelly Johnson going to second.

In the end, Collins went with the player expected to be a Met for years.

“Kelly hasn’t played. Not that it wouldn’t work, but Lucas has been the guy,’’ Collins said. “And you never know when he breaks out. As we’ve seen, if he breaks out, he carries you. So we’re hoping tonight’s the night.’’

When he’s going good, Duda takes the ball to the opposite field, but Collins said he’s pull-happy, and against Zack Greinke, who can pound the strikezone low-and-away to left-handed hitters, that means weak groundballs and pop-ups. It also means strikeouts.

“We’ve just got to get Lucas to relax a little bit – just, hey, look, put the ball in play,’’ Collins said. “When he gets it going, he’s dangerous to all parts of the ballpark. So when you see him struggling like he is right now – and, again, this is only from what I’m seeing – it looks like he’s trying to pull a little too much.’’

It’s not as if Greinke, a Cy Young Award candidate at 19-3, can’t be beaten, but the odds are against it. Lefties are hitting .194 against him; righties at .182.

The Mets’ hottest hitter in this series is Curtis Granderson at .429 with five RBI, three on one swing, but he’s .192 lifetime against Greinke. Yoenis Cespedes has two homers in the series; one in a loss and another in a blowout win. However, he’s .200 lifetime against Greinke.

In addition to Duda, the Mets need something from David Wright, who is .333 (3-for-9) lifetime against Greinke, but .083 with five strikeouts in the NLDS.

If the Mets are to play the Cubs, they not only need deGrom to pitch big, but their hitters to play better.

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Oct 14

Mets Face Daunting, Not Insurmountable Task

They wouldn’t be the Mets if it were easy, now would they? Seriously, how many of you thought the Mets would put away the Dodgers to avoid a Game 5 Jacob deGrom against Zack Greinke showdown?

When the Dodgers gave Clayton Kershaw three runs in the third inning Tuesday night, I pretty much thought it was over. I mean, that game was over, not the NLDS. Not by a long shot.

DeGROM: Wouldn't want any other Mets starter tomorrow. (GETTY)

DeGROM: Wouldn’t want any other Mets starter tomorrow. (GETTY)

As I wrote at the start of this series, I believe the Mets can win this, the next round, and the World Series. I still do, very much so. I’m not ready to let go of the summer and get off this ride, and neither should you.

This is not the time to stew over lost opportunities. Whether or not the Dodgers would have won Game 2 without Chase Utley’s slide isn’t the issue. Frankly, I don’t think Ruben Tejada would have gotten the runner at first anyway, but that’s a moot point.

It’s only fitting this series go down to a final game, and with it, probably a final at-bat. Maybe even extra innings.

The Mets can win because they have deGrom on full rest. This All-Star should win a Cy Young Award before he’s through. The only question is whether he’ll win one before Noah Syndergaard or Matt Harvey. On that note, the Mets should also have Syndergaard available coming out of the bullpen. He’ll be on normal rest.

Although manager Terry Collins said he will not use Harvey, don’t bet against it. Thursday would normally be his between-starts throw day and if Collins needs an out he shouldn’t hesitate. The objective is to win tomorrow and worry about the NLCS later.

Honestly, I have more faith in him, and Bartolo Colon for that matter coming out of the bullpen than I do Tyler Clippard or Hansel Robles or Erik Goeddel.

The only unavailable pitcher should be Steven Matz.

There are no doubts in my mind deGrom can tune out the Game 5 pressures and pitch big. My concerns are the bullpen and dormant bats, both of which have been erratic all summer.

The offense is producing nothing now. Yoenis Cespedes has gone deep, but he’s not attacking Dodger pitching the way he did National League arms in August. Also, David Wright and Lucas Duda are a combined 3-for-27 with 14 strikeouts. That represents a lot of empty at-bats and stranded runners. A few more hits and they could be preparing for the Cubs today.

Certainly a Game 5 against Greinke in Los Angeles is a monster task. But, we can’t think of lost opportunities or not getting the home advantage. That’s over and fruitless. Worrying about that is as pointless as fretting about the high school girlfriend who broke up with you or what happened against the Marlins in May.

If promised the above scenario on Opening Day you would have taken it gladly, no questions asked, and not wanting to string up Utley.

Now, don’t worry, just enjoy history. It has been a terrific series and promises to be so again tomorrow.

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Oct 13

Even In Defeat, Matz Showed He’s Ready For The Big Stage

Steven Matz pitched well enough to win most games, but most games he’s not facing Clayton Kershaw, the game’s best pitcher. One of the things I like most about Mets manager Terry Collins is the confidence he displays in his players. His decision to stick with Matz as his Game 4 starter – despite only six career starts – against Kershaw screamed he had the ultimate confidence.

MATZ: Good, just not Kershaw good. (Getty)

MATZ: Good, just not Kershaw good. (Getty)

The knee-jerk reaction is to say Matz spit the bit in tonight’s 3-1 loss to the Dodgers to send the NLDS back to Los Angeles for the deciding Game 5. Tell me, if I told you Matz would have given up three runs tonight, you would have grabbed it in a second.

“He pitched very good,” Collins said. “He was outstanding. If we get to the next round we have all the confidence in the world in him.”

That’s an awfully big “if.” It’s one thing to beat Kershaw at home. It’s another for them to encore that by beating Zack Greinke on the road. That will be a daunting task.

Collins could have gone with staff ace Jacob deGrom – he said that was on the table had the Mets lost Game 3 – but as it turned out, Matz was a good choice. Remember, this was his seventh Major League start and it was on a national stage. Next year, the Mets are counting on him for at least 30 starts.

Think of the pressure on Matz. He was pitching on national television with a chance to send the Mets to the next round. That’s a lot of pressure on the 24-year-old lefty, especially considering he hadn’t pitched since Sept. 24, that he was coming off an injury, and was trying to match Kershaw pitch for pitch.

It was one bad inning that did in Matz. Adrian Gonzalez drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a bloop single to center, then two more on Justin Turner’s two-run double. That’s two bad pitches he’d like to have back.

“To sum it up, a couple of mistakes hurt me,” Matz said. “I thought I threw the ball good. I just had a bad inning, but against a guy like Kershaw you have to put up zeroes.”

Sure there were nerves, regardless of his pre-game vow to “take the emotions out of it.” Collins had to sense Matz wasn’t snowing him when he looked him in the eye and was told he was ready.

And, even in defeat, Matz showed the baseball world he was ready for this moment.