Aug 12

What’s Your Confidence Level In Mets After Collins’ Rant

The key to a successful managerial rant and closed door meeting is to have a quality starter going next, but the Mets have Logan Verrett tonight against San Diego. Then again, Noah Syndergaard was supposed to turn things around Thursday.

COLLINS: Did he convince you things would change? (Getty)

COLLINS: Did he convince you things would change? (Getty)

Manager Terry Collins was correct in much of his assessment of his team but whiffed on a very important point: the topic of grinding out at-bats. Such nonsense. Collins said “this team has been about grinding out at-bats the past few years.”

Evidently, he hasn’t watched the same team I have been. With the exception of a few hitters, this team doesn’t grind out at-bats. Grinding out at-bats would entail drawing a few walks, but they are ninth in the National League with 342 walks. Conversely, they are fifth highest with 947 strikeouts.

And please, if I hear one more time things will get better once Yoenis Cespedes gets back I will scream. He can hit baseballs a long way, but he also strikes out too damn much. He might be the Mets’ least disciplined hitter.

To turn things around, the Mets must show signs of life, yet they haven’t won successive games since before the All-Star break. Collins went on about playing baseball “the right way,” but don’t you remember all those times in April and May when he said, almost with pride, “that this team doesn’t play small ball?”

Small ball is playing the game the right way. Small ball is recognizing the value of 27 outs and not giving away eight of them a game with strikeouts. A productive out should not be celebrated, but common place for a winning team. Advancing runners into scoring position is essential, but then again, the Mets are last in the majors hitting with a man in scoring position, so, does it really matter?

This is a team without an offensive clue, and that’s an organizational philosophy. Playing small ball is boring and not in line with the new-age sabremetrics favored by the architect of this team, GM Sandy Alderson, who cares about home runs and doesn’t give strikeouts anything more than a passing glance.

Defensively, there’s little range and players are out of position.

On the mound, the Mets’ rotation – once touted as the best in baseball – is a house of cards. Jacob deGrom and Bartolo Colon are the only reliable starters. Syndergaard and Steven Matz have struggled with bone spurs and if the Mets fall behind any further, consideration should be made to shut them down.

There’s been a long list of injuries, but every team has injuries. The Dodgers don’t have Clayton Kershaw and the Cardinals went without Matt Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Stephen Strasburg went on Washington’s DL, but catching the Nationals won’t happen. Didn’t the Marlins lose Giancarlo Stanton for awhile?

Championship caliber teams overcome and the Mets don’t. James Loney has helped and so has Kelly Johnson, but Jose Reyes was never the answer, Reyes was a grasp at the past in the hope of forgetting the present. They waited too long before going after Jay Bruce.

Collins promised us that starting today, with Verrett, the Mets were “going after it.”

Collins has promised a lot of things. He promised Michael Conforto would bat third, hit against lefties and play every day. Then he promised he would play in center. Collins promised regular at-bats for Wilmer Flores. He promised he would care for the rotation, but aren’t you waiting for Syndergaard and Matz to pack it in for the year like Matt Harvey?

The Mets were supposed to have an easy second-half schedule, but August will see them in San Francisco and St. Louis, before the get another crack at Miami and Washington.

Collins ranted a good game Thursday, but in the end did nothing to raise my confidence in this team. How about you?

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Aug 07

Three Mets’ Storylines: Will Walker Be Around In 2017 To Save Them?

Just when it looked as if things couldn’t get bleaker for the Mets, Neil Walker rescued them Sunday afternoon with a two-run, ninth-inning homer.

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

It wasn’t the first time Walker picked up the Mets by the scruff of the neck and made me wonder if Walker will be around to save them in 2017. He’s free to leave after this season and there’s been no word on what the Mets’ plans are – or Walker’s.

The Mets were lucky to get him from Pittsburgh after Daniel Murphy left last winter. Ben Zobrist was their first replacement choice, but they were never going to afford him. GM Sandy Alderson let Murphy walk for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which Dilson Herrera as their fall back. Well, Herrera now is in Cincinnati’s farm system.

If they let Walker go as they did Murphy, they will be forced to find a second baseman. Will they go outside? Will it be Wilmer Flores, whom they never want to give a fair chance? Will it be Jose Reyes? Will they bring back Kelly Johnson or try Matt Reynolds?

Whoever they choose, it’s unlikely he’ll match Walker’s production, which will become even more important should Yoenis Cespedes leave and David Wright doesn’t recover. What Walker did Sunday is to remind us how important he has been to the Mets and fragility of their offense.

As has been the case with the Mets a lot lately, the game boiled down to the late innings. Manager Terry Collins pulled Jacob deGrom with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead in the seventh, but Jerry Blevins couldn’t keep Detroit from tying the game and the Mets were in danger of being swept and falling further behind in the wild-card race.

However, the Tigers ran themselves out of the eighth inning to set up Walker’s 19th homer, a drive well into the right-field seats that carried the Mets to a 3-1 victory.

After a sizzling April, Walker went into a dismal slump, but regained his stroke after the All-Star break and took a .489 stretch (22-for-45) into the game. With Cespedes basically a non-entity since early July, Walker kept the Mets afloat; he has three homers and nine RBI over his last dozen games.

Walker approached his at-bat against Francisco Rodriguez wanting to get a fastball early and stay away from the closer’s put-away changeup.

“You hope he leaves something up in the zone and that’s what I got,” Walker said. “With most closers you want to get to them early [in the count] because they have a devastating out pitch.”

Considering the Mets’ overall lack of prowess hitting with RISP and their injuries, one shudders to think where they would be without Walker. For one thing, it’s doubtful they would be three games over .500.

Walker has been crucial to the Mets’ hanging around, and as dismal as they have played, they are one good week from getting a foothold in the wild card race. They are currently nine games behind Washington in the NL East, so that boat is pulling out of the harbor. Still, the wild card is possible, as they trail the second slot by 1.5 games.

Walker’s homer was the headline of the day for the Mets, followed by deGrom’s start and my favorite Ernie Harwell story.

DE GROM START WASTED: The only real concern the Mets have with deGrom is not being able to score runs for him. Sunday marked the 11th time in his short career in which he gave up one or fewer runs and the Mets didn’t give him more than one run.

DeGrom had a 1-0 lead entering the seventh, but the Tigers loaded the bases on Justin Upton’s single, a walk to James McCann and Andrew Romine’s squibber that died near the third base line. Enter Blevins, who was greeted by Ian Kinsler’s weak chopper past the mound to tie the game and ensure deGrom’s seventh no-decision.

Collins said he thought deGrom was losing it after the walk when asked why he didn’t let him finish. For his part, deGrom said, “it was probably the right call,” to pull him.

As for Kinsler’s hit, deGrom said: “You’re trying to get weak contact there or a strikeout. It was a little too weak. It’s all part of the game.”

Fortunately for the Mets, on this day it wasn’t the definitive part of the game.

MY FAVORITE HARWELL STORY:  This series in Detroit reminds me of the late Tigers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, will always be one of my favorite people I’ve met in sports.

I always heard about his kindness, but experienced it first hand by his selfless gesture toward me in the Tigers’ clubhouse years ago. I was just starting out covering the Indians at the time when I ventured into the Tigers’ clubhouse to get a Kirk Gibson quote.

I waited patiently until the circle around Gibson was breaking up when I approached him. He looked at me and gruffly said, “I’m done for the day,’’ then turned his back. I was more than a little miffed when a TV guy stuck his mike in Gibson’s face. What could I do, show Gibson my resume and clips portfolio?

“What the hell?” I thought. Harwell saw this and walked up to me and said, “Don’t worry about it. That happens all the time.”

I always remembered that and remained grateful for Harwell’s compassion and kindness. He didn’t know me and didn’t have to do that, but that was Ernie.

When I was covering the Yankees I always made it a point to visit with him whenever I was in Detroit.

He was the best. The very best.

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Aug 02

Three Mets’ Storylines: Welcome Jay Bruce

The reception was cordial and polite – reserved actually, as if the crowd was guarded about their expectations – when Jay Bruce went to the plate for the first time Tuesday night in a Mets uniform. You might even say it was business as usual, because after all, the trade that brought him to New York from Cincinnati has been brewing for a long time.

“I feel like I’ve been getting traded to the Mets for over a year now,” Bruce told reporters in his introductory press conference prior to Tuesday’s 7-1 victory over the Yankees. “You never know what’s going to happen until it actually happens. Last year there was some crazy stuff during the deadline. I try not to jump to conclusions or assume anything. So I waited until I got the call.

“And when it happened, I was very, very excited.”

DE AZA: Home run swing. (AP)

DE AZA: Home run swing. (AP)

Bruce joins the Mets as the NL leader in RBI with 80 built on a .360 average with RISP. Conversely, the Mets are last in the majors with a .205 average with RISP. Bruce had an uneventful 0-for-4 as he flied out to left in the first; grounded out to first in the fourth; and struck out looking in the sixth and seventh.

It might have been jitters, but no worries on the night. The trade was the right move and the Mets will be beneficiaries soon enough.

“I know he was nervous, even though he’s an established star in the big leagues and is trying to fit in,” manager Terry Collins said.

As expected, Bruce’s first game was the primary storyline. Here are the other two.

DE AZA SHOULD GET SHOT IN CENTER: When the Mets signed Alejandro De Aza – prior to signing Yoenis Cespedes – they did so with the intent of platooning him with Juan Lagares. But, with Lagares on the DL – where Cespedes should be – why are the Mets still in a funk about who can play center field?

After a slow start and was on the brink of being released, De Aza started getting more playing time and since July is batting .342, including a two-run homer Tuesday night.

“I just want to keep working and help the team win,” De Aza said. “I’ve been working hard in the cages to shorten up my swing.”

THE MYSTERIOUS MIND OF COLLINS: Jacob deGrom was superb, but what I will take out of this game most – outside of Bruce’s debut – was Collins’ decision to pinch-hit Cespedes for De Aza in the seventh.

The Mets were up by five at the time, so why bat for the player who homered and is your best defensive center fielder? Cespedes’ RBI infield single was a moot point and foolish risk.

“I just wanted to get him an at-bat,” said Collins, as if Cespedes would forget how to hit before starting as the DH Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.

“I felt a little discomfort running down the line,” Cespedes said. “But once I got back in the dugout it felt better.”

No, Cespedes didn’t get hurt, but what if he reinjured his strained quad? Why take that chance with the game seemingly out of reach?

Sometimes, Collins makes me scratch my head and wonder. Other times he makes my want to throw a shoe at the TV.

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Jul 28

Collins Lets Down Mets

Welcome back to “Panic City.” While some of us are residents, the mayor isn’t you or me, but Mets manager Terry Collins. No doubt the population could be growing after the Mets lost in agonizing and aggravating fashion for the second straight game, this time, 2-1, Thursday to the Colorado Rockies on Jeurys Familia‘s second blown save in less than 24 hours.

Of course, while it is easy to blame Familia and their chronic failure to hit with runners in scoring position, the primary culprit was Collins, whose game management wasted a brilliant effort by Jacob deGrom, who threw seven scoreless innings.

DE GROM: Mets waste his effort. (AP)

DE GROM: Mets waste his effort. (AP)

The Mets had a 1-0 lead and were poised to break the game open in the seventh when they had runners on second and third with no outs. They had ten hits, one walk, and had a runner reach on an error, so getting on base wasn’t the problem.

One would have thought they would have scored at least one run even by accident with deGrom due up. However, Collins sent up pinch-hitter Yoenis Cespedes – a temporary hitter from the previous night – despite knowing the Rockies would intentionally walk him.

“Let’s load the bases and make them get out of it,” the baseball lifer Collins told reporters. However, he must have conveniently forgotten defensive teams traditionally walk the bases full to set up a force at the plate or a double play. That strategy applies to the seventh as well as the ninth.

The force at the plate came soon enough when pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson – battling for Juan Lagares – hit a grounder to shortstop and Trevor Story‘s throw nailed Rivera. Curtis Granderson struck out on a wild swing, and Wilmer Flores popped out.

So, by batting Cespedes for deGrom, Collins lost his starter, Cespedes for a pinch-runner and Lagares. Had deGrom stayed in it would have enabled Addison Reed to close, which was the original plan.

After Familia’s blown save the previous night – in which he threw close to 30 pitches – Collins matter-of-factly said he would rest today. He didn’t because Familia told him before the game he was available. Add this to the growing list of statements Collins makes yet retreats on.

After Story singled, stole second and David Dahl walked, you knew this wasn’t going to end well. Daniel Descalso beat out a bunt in front of the plate when Rene Rivera gambled to let the ball roll foul, which it didn’t.

There’s bad luck, dumb luck and Mets’ luck, which is the worst kind. As it turned out, that would be the Rockies’ only hit of the inning. Colorado tied it on a fielder’s choice grounder and Familia’s wild pitch.

So, Collins went against his better judgment and used Familia just because the closer said he could pitch. We all know how that turned out in Game 5 of the World Series. But this time the season didn’t end.

Not yet, anyway.

 

 

Jun 14

Moving Granderson To Third Is Best Mets Can Do

The argument for the Mets using Curtis Granderson in the leadoff spot last year was his high on-base percentage. Fueled by 91 walks, it was a solid .364 last season, which enabled him to score 98 runs.

His current numbers refute that argument. Granderson’s on-base percentage is a puny .316 this year with only 27 walks, but 61 strikeouts. These are numbers not befitting a leadoff hitter, which is why the decision to move him to third in the order, sandwiched between Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes is a good one.

GRANDERSON: Seeking a spark, Mets move him to third on order. (Getty)

GRANDERSON: Seeking a spark, Mets move him to third on order. (Getty)

Actually, there is not much else the Mets could have done. They aren’t hitting, especially with runners in scoring position. They aren’t getting on base. They have three starters on the disabled list and Neil Walker’s back and Michael Conforto’s wrist have them sidelined. With no help coming from the minors or in a trade, it is time to tinker.

With no help coming from the minors or in a trade, it is time to tinker. Moving Granderson to a traditional RBI spot seems like a logical first step, For his 12 homers, he should have a lot more than 20 RBI.

The Mets’ order tonight reminds me of when managers of slumping teams pulled the lineup out of a hat. It’s not quite that bad for Terry Collins, who was released from a Milwaukee hospital and will be on the bench.

Here’s tonight’s order:

Alejandro De Aza, LF: His .181 average isn’t encouraging, but he’s fast enough to be considered at the top of the order.

Cabrera, SS: Is hitting .267, but has been fairly consistent. Is not really a No. 2 hitter in the classic sense, but is comfortable here.

Granderson, RF: Not the prototypical No. 3 hitter, but his power (12 homers) fits in the middle of the order. He should have more RBI and should get more opportunities more RBI opportunities with Cabrera, and perhaps in the future, Juan Lagares hitting ahead of him. Hitting ahead of Cespedes, his walks could increase.

Cespedes, CF: Has hit five of his 16 homers with RISP. Overall, in the 57 games in which he has played, he’s batting .282 with 16 homers, 40 RBI and 34 runs scored. In his first 57 games with the Mets last year, he hit .287 with 17 homers, 44 RBI and 39 runs scored.

Kelly Johnson, 2B: Is 4-for-9 since coming over from Atlanta. Has gone 55 at-bats since his last homer, so he’s due.

Wilmer Flores, 3B: Is hitting .406 (13-32) since taking over for David Wright. Hit a game-winning single to beat the Pirates, June 8, at Pittsburgh.

James Loney, 1B: Has done well in place of Lucas Duda, including hitting a two-run homer, June 3, at Miami. Is a lifetime .314 hitter against Pirates.

Kevin Plawecki, C: Hitting only .205. I can see the Mets sticking with Rene Rivera as the backup when Travis d’Arnaud comes off the disabled list probably next week.

Jacob deGrom, P: Lost to the Pirates, June 7, giving up three runs in six innings. DeGrom hasn’t registered a win since April 30, getting two losses and five no-decisions in that span.

As I wrote the other day, the Mets are floundering and in dire need of a spark. Maybe this is it.