Apr 30

Revisiting Top 20 Mets’ Questions

Entering the season I suggested  20 questions the Mets would need to answer in the positive for them to return to the World Series. From performance to health to various intangibles, every team faces important questions and they don’t disappear just because it played in the World Series the year before.

At the time, I wrote I would periodically revisit those questions to measure how the Mets are progressing.

Here’s how they are doing:

Q: Will they have a World Series hangover or let down?

A: There were a few red flags and a 2-5 start, but they closed the month with a power surge, clubbing 31 homers in their last 14 games. Last April they won 11 straight. They closed the month winning eight straight and 13 of 15. There’s no appearance of any hangover and it looks as if we’ll have our Mets-Nationals pennant race.

WALKER: Mets' player for April. (AP)

WALKER: Mets’ player for April. (AP)

Q: How will manager Terry Collins respond to being a favorite?

A: So far, so good. I wasn’t crazy about him calling the eighth game of the season “must win.” And, I didn’t like him playing David Wright for the whole game Friday with the explanation he wanted him to face the Giants’ lefty relievers in preparation for facing Madison Bumgarner Sunday. What, Wright has never faced a lefty before? But, I do like him moving Michael Conforto to the No. 3 hole, which was the catalyst for the offensive surge. I also liked how he let Hansel Robles face Freddie Freeman when he could have played the lefty-righty percentages. Best of all, I liked how he admitted the Mets might have made a mistake in not giving his starters enough work during spring training. Overall, he’s done a solid job worthy of his extension.

Q: What’s going on with Matt Harvey?

A: After a 7.50 spring training ERA and 0-3 start, there were understandably questions about Harvey. A lot is always demanded from Harvey, and after making it through last season without any problems following Tommy John surgery, the expectations are even higher. He’s pitched better in his last two starts, both wins. No reason for concern right now.

Q: Will Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Syndergaard has been incredible consistently throwing in the high 90s. His secondary pitches have also been dominant. DeGrom missed time with a strained lat muscle and tending to his family because of complications following the birth of his son. Both child and lat are doing fine. He didn’t have a smooth start Saturday against the Giants, but as usually the case with him, he finds a way to pitch through trouble.

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: I would say an awful lot. He was hammered in his first start, but won his last three. Matz has been terrific, but like deGrom and Harvey, he’s throwing too many pitches for the innings he works. That eventually could catch up to the bullpen.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: Nothing has changed, the plan remains for him to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is brought up, which should be around July 1. He would then move to the bullpen.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: So far, it has been like leather. Familia recently has worked his way out of a tough stretch. He’s converted all seven of his save opportunities with a 2.45 ERA.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: This might have been the Mets’ most important pre-season issue, but the bullpen has been solid in all phases. Addison Reed has been a very capable set-up reliever and Antonio Bastardo has pitched well despite a poor spring training. Jim Henderson and Logan Verrett have been more than pleasant surprises. Robles is getting more chances to shine and he’s delivering.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud, are you there?

A: Nope. Once again, he’s on the disabled list, this time with a strained rotator cuff. The Mets still don’t know what he can produce over 500 at-bats and might not find out this year, either. He wasn’t hitting or throwing well at the time of the injury.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: When Conforto was moved to the No. 3 hole, Yoenis Cespedes went to clean-up and Duda was dropped to fifth. He’s hitting .240 with four homers and 14 RBI, and again has proven streaky. Four homers a month will give him 24 for the year, which is short of his expectations. Also short of what the Mets want from him.

Q: Will Neil Walker make people forget Daniel Murphy?

A: Walker has been the Mets’ Player of the Month for April with nine homers, tying him with Dave Kingman (1976), Carlos Delgado (2006) and John Buck (2013) for the club record. Sure, Murphy was a terrific month, but Walker has been better than advertised. The question now is: How hard will the Mets try to bring him back?

Q: Is Asdrubal Cabrera an upgrade over Wilmer Flores at shortstop?

A: Cabrera has done it both in the field and at the plate. There’s no uneasiness when a grounder is hit to him.

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: Still nobody knows. It takes him two hours to get ready for a game and his back is always a question. Which is why it was foolish to let him play nine innings in a blowout game Friday night. Why push the envelope? Wright has two homers and only five RBI hitting mostly in the second spot in the order. He’s only hitting .143 (3-for-21) with RISP. It’s not about hitting for power, it is about hitting a single when you need it.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: That’s the chance the Mets took when they gave Cespedes an out clause after one season in his three-year deal. If it does happen that way, it has been a fun ride. Cespedes still has his lapses in the field, but he’s locked in at the plate with seven homers and 23 RBI for the month. However, he is on pace to strike out over 200 times.

Q: A breakout year for Conforto?

A: it is sure looking that way. Conforto lit the offense on fire since moving to the No. 3 hole. He closed the month reaching base in 17 straight games and tying a club record with doubles in six straight. He has four homers in his last 14 games. Everything he hits seems to be hard and on a line. Plus, he’s making the plays in the field. He’s not a star in the making. He already is a star.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Curtis Granderson?

A: After a slow start Granderson is on a roll. He’s scored 15 runs in his last 13 games and has a .350 on-base percentage. He also has four homers. Granderson still strikes out a lot and isn’t trying to steal anymore.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: Kevin Plawecki is now a starter with d’Arnaud’s injury. Collins needs to find a way to get Alejandro De Aza and Flores more at-bats. Eventually, the Mets will need them. Rene Rivera is now the backup catcher.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: That’s always the wild card. Right now it is d’Arnaud. Cespedes missed several games with a bruised right leg, then hit a pinch-hit three-run homer to tie a game this week against Cincinnati. Harvey entered the season a question because of a bladder infection. He’s fine now. DeGrom’s lat was a scare, but he’s also fine. Wright, of course, is always a concern.

Q: What’s going with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals sprinted out of the gate and opened up a five-game lead on April 16 that is now down to a half-game. MVP Bryce Harper is playing as if he wants to win it again. Their pitching has also been strong and Murphy is playing well.

Q: Can the Mets get off to another fast start?

A: An 11-game winning streak keyed a 15-8 April record last year and gave them a buffer to overcome injuries and a drastic hitting slump. The Mets had another strong April this year at 15-7, which they needed to keep pace with Washington. The Nationals come to town for a three-game series, May 17-19, and the Mets are in Washington, May 23-25.

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Apr 27

Mets Must Understand Manufacturing Runs Still Important

Terry Collins likes to say the Mets are a “home run hitting team built on power.’’ It makes me uneasy when I hear that because history is full of teams built on power that didn’t win.

Sure, it’s great the Mets can come back with one swing as they did with Yoenis Cespedes Tuesday night. One pitch, one swing and BAM, the game was tied.

HARVEY: Goes tonight. (Getty)

HARVEY: Goes tonight. (Getty)

It was the first time this year the Mets came from behind to win.

Power is a great weapon in any team’s overall arsenal, but it is not the most important. History tells us most champions are built on pitching, defense and timely hitting.

People like to counter with the Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle Yankees. However, those teams also had solid pitching and balanced lineups.

It’s also been that way with baseball’s recent champions: Kansas City, San Francisco, St. Louis and Boston. The Red Sox had power, but they wouldn’t have won without pitching.

When the Mets moved into Citi Field, they promised to build their teams on pitching, speed and defense. So far, it has been their young pitching and power.

The Mets have little speed and their defense has been better than expected. This season they surged because of pitching and power, but remember they hammered the suspect rotations of Philadelphia, Atlanta and Cincinnati. They also spent three games each in the bandboxes in Cleveland, Philly and Atlanta.

How long will this surge continue?

Will it go away against the Giants this weekend? Or will it fade against the Dodgers, Nationals and White Sox in May? Hot pitching always trumps hitting.

Sorry stat geeks, it has been that way from the beginning and will remain that way. That’s was the foundation of the Mets’ championship teams in 1969 and 1986.

Why do you think the Mets relish talking about Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Wednesday night’s starter, Matt Harvey?

They do so because they realize pitching is more important. The Mets are third in the majors with 29 homers hit, but more importantly rank first in homers allowed, giving up just seven.

Collins likes to say his team doesn’t have a lot of speed and doesn’t bunt. It’s another way of saying the Mets are poor in situational hitting and can’t manufacture runs.

Power is not sustainable. It fades. The ability to manufacture runs over time is far more important.

Don’t think so? In the 19 games the Mets have played, they:

* Are 4-4 in one-run games.

* Have struck out 174 times, and average of 9.2 a game. That’s the equivalent of going three innings without putting the ball in play.

* They have stranded 140 runners, or an average of 7.4 a game. That’s a little less than a run an inning.

Sooner or later, their inability to manufacture runs and put the ball in play will catch up to them.

History says it will regardless of the new wave numbers.

 

Feb 07

Looking At Mets’ Early Schedule

Since the Super Bowl is considered a national holiday, I’ve always considered it the end of the winter holiday season, and consequently “baseball season” begins tomorrow. So, I figure this is a good time to fast-forward to the Mets’ April schedule.

I’ll bitch about this later, but the first game of the season shouldn’t be interleague. However, if it is going to be that way, then why not make the first series be against the World Series opponents? I mean, if MLB is hell bent on interleague play, then this should be a new Opening Day tradition. It won’t be because the schedule is released before the end of the World Series.

OK, there are two games against the Royals on the road, followed by three-game series at home against the Phillies and Marlins.

That’s followed by three games at Cleveland – the Indians have one of the best rotations in the sport – and three more against at Philly and Atlanta.

The Mets end April with three games with Cincinnati and two with the Giants, who also have one of the game’s best rotations.

A key last year was the Mets’ fast start, highlighted by the long winning streak that put them 10 games over .500 to give them a solid buffer to help hold of the Nationals later in the summer. The Mets need to do the same this year as they have a considerably tougher May schedule with a game against San Francisco, seven against the Dodgers and six against Washington.

That’s 14 games against playoff caliber teams.

As for the Super Bowl, I am pulling for the Broncos.

 

Dec 08

Mets Wrap: Day One At Winter Meetings

While the Mets remain focused on Ben Zobrist, the Winter Meetings were rocked Monday with the report of a domestic assault against Aroldis Chapman that voided a trade by the Reds to the Dodgers. The trade has been held up as Major League Baseball investigates.

It is the second domestic violence incident this winter, with the first involving Jose Reyes. New Commissioner Rob Manfred has a lot of work to do to avoid the embarrassment NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell felt in the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy cases.

Something disturbing is the Reds were aware of the incident before making the trade.

You can bet this trade won’t go through soon, if at all, which actually is good news for the Mets.

The Mets remain hot for Zobrist and met with his agents. Zobrist is expected to arrive in Nashville today for the Winter Meetings, an indication a deal is imminent. Zobrist met with San Francisco, but told the Giants he wants to play second and not left field. That leaves the field down to the Mets and Washington. If the Mets want him, they’ll have to give the 35-year-old a four-year contract.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing going on with Daniel Murphy, not even a whisper.

Also happening today:

* Mets assistant GM John Ricco confirmed Yoenis Cespedes is out of their price range.

* Left hander Jon Niese is being shopped as the Mets won’t deal from their core of five young starters.

* There’s interest in re-signing lefty reliever Jerry Blevins. The Mets need bullpen help but weren’t players for either Darren O’Day or Ryan Madson.

 

Dec 07

Mets Face Competition For Zobrist

If the Mets really want Ben Zobrist, they might have to give in on that fourth year as there’s a growing line of suitors for the versatile infielder, who, by the way, is an accomplished hitter who can also play the outfielder.

The reported dollars start around $50 million and he’s looking for four years. The Mets want three, and in what should be regarded as bluffing more than anything else, say they could still re-sign Daniel Murphy.

Reports have the Giants having interest, but where he’ll play is the question. They could stick him in left, but their infield is set. I doubt he’ll want to go there just to be a role player, but if Zobrist wants to win the Giants will get his consideration.

The Mets will also get competition from the Washington Nationals, and Zobrist would bring some stability and professionalism to their dysfunctional clubhouse. I also don’t need to remind you the Nationals have deeper pockets than the Mets.

One report recently had the Dodgers showing interest, but they just signed Chase Utley. That signing should also preclude the Dodgers as a potential landing spot for Murphy.

The Yankees continually say they aren’t in the market for Zobrist, but I’ll never discount their propensity for bluffing.

Meanwhile, the Angels, White Sox, Indians and Orioles could all use a second baseman. Of the four, the Angels appear the most willing to write the big check.

ON DECK: Potential landing spots for Murphy.