Sep 28

Lugo Puts Mets On Cusp

The Mets aren’t closing in on a wild-card berth for a lot of reasons, not the least of which has been emergency starter Seth Lugo.

An after thought in spring training, Lugo figures to be the Mets’ third starter in the NL Division Series should they advance that far.

LUGO: Puts Mets on verge. (AP)

LUGO: Puts Mets on verge. (AP)

The victory, coupled with the Cardinals losing at home to the Reds, reduced the Mets’ magic number to two over St. Louis. The Mets are off Thursday then have three games over the weekend in Philadelphia, while the Cardinals have four games remaining.

Lugo is as much an unsung contributor as anybody to have the Mets in this position.

“This kid has come here and done nothing but save us,’’ manager Terry Collins said of Lugo, who hasn’t given up more than three runs in any start.

In beating the Marlins, 5-2, Wednesday night, Lugo won his fifth game, and the Mets are undefeated in his last seven starts, impressive numbers as he helped fill the voids created by injuries to Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom.

Couple what Lugo did with three wins by Robert Gsellman – Friday’s starter in Philadelphia – and the Mets wouldn’t even be sniffing October.

Credit Lugo’s five victories in large part to his batting-average allowed with RISP to .149.

COLLINS SHOWED CLASS: The Mets and Marlins exchanged embraces prior to Monday’s tribute game to Jose Fernandez.

But, after the game Collins walked towards the Miami dugout to exchange hugs with Marlins manager Don Mattingly, hitting coach Barry Bonds, second baseman Dee Gordon, outfielders Christian Yelich and Jeff Francoeur, and later club president David Samson.

During the series, numerous Marlins – notably Gordon – had high praise for the Mets, who signed the Fernandez jersey that hung in their dugout presented it to the Miami front office.

“We have a special group of guys they are respectful of the game and respectful to people,’’ said Collins, who lead the way.

BRUCE, GRANDERSON STILL SMOKING: Jay Bruce’s miserable slump is behind him as he homered for the third time in four games.

After being benched and on the verge of being written out of the Mets’ postseason plans, Bruce regained his spot in the lineup.

Bruce has 32 homers overall and seven with the Mets.

“He’s locked in for me,’’ Collins said. “It couldn’t come at a better time.’’

Bruce said his timing is a lot better and spoke with a feeling of relief.

“Ever since the day I got here I wanted to play good baseball and be a contributor to the team,’’ Bruce said. “This is a good team and I’m having a lot of fun being here.’’

Also having a lot of fun is Granderson, who went 4-for-4 and reached base five times, and eight straight overall.

Once mired below .180, Granderson is up to .233 with a .331 on-base percentage.

Granderson’s surge coincides with Yoenis Cespedes’ return from the disabled list, which enabled him to settle in at the clean-up spot.

“He’s been a different animal since he moved to fourth,’’ Collins said. “He’s been getting walks and hitting home runs.’’

EXTRA INNINGS: If the Mets have a playoff berth wrapped up by Sunday, they are likely to skip Noah Syndergaard’s start to have him ready for a start Wednesday. If the Mets need to win Sunday to secure the home field for the wild-card game, they are still likely to skip him. … Lucas Duda, who had two hits Tuesday, was scratched with soreness in his lower back. James Loney was back in the lineup and homered (eighth). … Addison Reed registered his 39th hold and Jeurys Familia his 50th save. … Tim Tebow homered on the first pitch he saw in an Instructional League game.

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Sep 27

Good Postseason Signs For Mets In Rout

The Marlins would have been hard-pressed to continue to ride the emotional wave from Monday’s ceremonies and victory over the Mets following the tragic death of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

That would be hard to do when you run into the kind of pitching they faced against Noah Syndergaard. It also didn’t hurt their offense resurfaced with a pair of two-run homers from Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes in Tuesday’s 19-hit, 12-1 mauling of the Marlins.

SYNDERGAARD: Good sign. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Good sign. (AP)

It was the first time since Bruce was acquired that he and Cespedes homered in the same game.

As the Mets look ahead to a possible postseason appearance, they took numerous positives from the game.

The most important, of course, was Syndergaard, whose last start was scratched because of a strep throat. Syndergaard last pitched, Aug. 19 in a loss to Atlanta, gave up a run on five hits with eight strikeouts.

“It was huge,” Syndergaard said about getting back into a groove. “I tried to keep each pitch simple. I felt I could locate my sinker on both sides of the plate.”

It was a smart move by manager Terry Collins to pull him when he did after 93 pitches. Syndergaard is next in line to pitch Sunday in Philadelphia. If the Mets don’t need that game, Collins will undoubtedly hold him back to start the wild-card play-in game, Wednesday, perhaps against San Francisco.

Maybe in a match-up against Madison Bumgarner at Citi Field? Or, perhaps in St. Louis against Adam Wainwright?

If there’s a three-way tie, it is presumed Syndergaard would start Sunday, which would probably leave the start to Seth Lugo.

There aren’t any questions about Syndergaard’s health or endurance, which considering the announcement earlier in the day that Steven Matz will have elbow surgery and be lost for the year.

If the Mets are to go anywhere in the playoffs, a lot will fall on Syndergaard.

After Syndergaard, the other key storylines were Bruce and Lucas Duda and the lengthening of the Mets’ batting order.

Bruce, who has started three straight games, has five hits in that span, including two homers. His two-run homer in the second put the Mets ahead for good.

After a dreadful slump sent him to the bench and raised questions about his spot on the playoff roster and even if the Mets would bring him back for 2017.

“It’s been very encouraging,” Collins said of Bruce’s resurgence. “If he’s back, we’re going to have a different line-up.”

Bruce said the slump was a difficult stretch, but he never lost faith of his talent.

“I feel comfortable at the plate,” Bruce said. “I just kept preparing and kept working. I just focus on preparing and always think today is the day I’ll come out of it.”

Curtis Granderson, who drove in three runs on two hits, is now entrenched in the clean-up spot with Bruce hitting fifth.

Duda drove in three runs on two hits and again played the field. At first, the Mets thought Duda would only be used as a pinch-hitter. That notion could be gone now, which could make it a Duda (two hits and two walks) vs. James Loney battle for a playoff roster spot.

“It’s definitely tough,” Duda said of his return from back surgery. “The more I play the more comfortable I get. It’s a work in progress. From rehabbing to here is a pretty big jump. The speed of the game, both offensively and defensively, is faster.”

While these were positive signs as the Mets gear for the playoffs, one negative is Wilmer Flores’ wrist, which could sideline him for the rest of the regular season and put his spot on a playoff roster in jeopardy.

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Sep 23

Mets Magic? To Be Determined

Greetings on the day after the latest Mets’ miracle. There have been times in my coverage of the Mets – which began in 2006 (and since 1998 overall of New York baseball) – where I have been called a curmudgeon, which is not entirely untrue.

I try to take more of a down-the-middle approach in my emotional perspective of the team. I don’t get too high or too low, and believe I’ve fulfilled my responsibility if there’s a balance between those who like my stuff and those who hate me.

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

There are times, I admit, when I take the hatred as a compliment.

Either way, after the Asdrubal Cabrera’s game-winner last night, the bottom line is the Mets remain tied with San Francisco and hold a slim lead over the Cardinals for the wild-card. Cabrera’s moment in Mets’ history is contingent on how this all plays out.

Will it be a Super Nova or a star that forever burns bright, like the ball that got by Bill Buckner?

It’s just stardust if the Mets fade and don’t make it; it’s special if they go on to win the World Series. The moment loses luster if they don’t run the table.

Can we agree this business of the Mets’ schedule giving them an advantage is nonsense if they don’t capitalize? Let’s face it, without Cabrera last night, and what Jose Reyes did shortly before, they would have lost four straight home games to sub-.500 teams.

The remaining schedule is largely irrelevant because: 1) those teams would love nothing more than to put it to these uppity New Yorkers; 2) those players are competing for 2017 jobs; 3) September call-ups add an unknown element to the stew; and, 4) after this weekend the last six games are on the road.

For those who insist the schedule means something, if the beginning of this week didn’t convince you, try this, if the Mets don’t make the playoffs, the biggest statistic working against them is that 26 of their 72 losses (36 percent) have been against sub-.500 Atlanta (10), Colorado (6), Philadelphia (5) and Arizona (5).

They lost another six to Miami, whom they play three games next week on the road.

Perhaps the Mets were due to win last night. Sometimes the odds work in their favor. But, was it magic? I wouldn’t go that far.

After all, there have been several times this season when it would have been easy to conclude they turned it around.

After a sluggish start, they closed April by winning 11 of 12 games, but limped through May with seven losses against cupcakes Atlanta, San Diego and Colorado.

They lost five games in June to the Braves and were swept in a three-game series in Washington to finish that month only four games over .500. The Mets appeared to turn it around with a four-game sweep of the Cubs in July, but gave up that momentum by losing three of four at home to the Nationals heading into the break.

You’ll recall manager Terry Collins saying it was “essential we play well,” in the stretch entering the break and coming out for the second half. They entered the break six games over .500 but ended July only four games over.

The Mets nose-dived to two games under in mid-August before Bartolo Colon stopped the hemorrhaging by beating the Giants in San Francisco. They went 9-2 to close August to give their season alive.

Unquestionably, the Mets have been snakebit with injuries to their young, vaunted rotation. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are all gone. But, for all their bad luck, they’ve been kept afloat by Colon, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and tonight’s spot starter Gabriel Ynoa, and the bullpen duo of Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia. Today we learned Saturday’s starter, Noah Syndergaard, will be scratched in favor of Sean Gilmartin because of a strep throat.

No doubt, the baseball Gods are toying with Collins.

Bad luck offset by good? Perhaps. But, Lugo has been brought down a peg and Reed and Familia have taken their lumps.

Wilmer Flores helped carry the team for a while, but hasn’t played in over a week because of a bad wrist (Collins took the hit for that by saying he should have used a pinch-runner). The Jay Bruce trade did not work out, but was offset by the resurgence of power from Curtis Granderson.

Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes spent time on the disabled list, but came off smoking. Cespedes is now mired in a slump, although he came through with a big hit last night.

Matt Reynolds, James Loney, Brandon Nimmo, Rene Rivera, Reyes and T.J. Rivera have either come up from the minors or were rescued off the scrap team to produce big moments. However, Michael Conforto was sent down and this season has been a bust for him.

A lot has gone wrong for the Mets – I didn’t even get to the injuries of David Wright, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda – but the flip side is a lot went right to put them where they are today.

Was last night magic? I don’t think so. It was a magical moment but means nothing if not sustainable.

For every reason why I could write them off, there are reasons I can give why they are still alive. Through it all, like they were last season, resiliency is their greatest attribute.

They are alive with nine games remaining, and considering all that has gone, maybe that’s their magic for this year.

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Sep 21

Three Mets’ Storylines: Bad Night For Collins

If you thought last night was bad for Mets manager Terry Collins, it wasn’t anything compared to Wednesday night.

For me, it began with his starting lineup and decision to not start Jay Bruce, but spiraled out of control with the handling of his late-inning bullpen, which had been a strength, but unraveled in the Mets’ 4-3 loss to the Braves.

FAMILIA: Fifth blown save. (AP)

FAMILIA: Fifth blown save. (AP)

Bartolo Colon pitched another gem, but was pulled in the seventh shortly after giving up a two-run homer to Anthony Recker to slice the Mets’ lead to 3-2. Colon was yanked for Addison Reed.

All season, the primary formula for the Mets’ success was their eighth-ninth inning duo of Reed and Jeurys Familia, but Collins – like a man poking the coals at a BBQ – couldn’t resist toying with success.

I would have stuck with Colon for another hitter because he’s gotten out of so many jams. Yes, Reed got out of the seventh. But, after Ender Inciarte reached on James Loney‘s error to open the eighth, Collins pulled Reed in favor of Josh Smoker to face Freddie Freeman. The Reed vs. Freeman history is small. Maybe no Met has been better at his job this year than Reed, but Collins was seduced by the lefty-lefty matchup.

“Freddie is 2-for-4 [against Reed lifetime and I just said this guy is too hot,” was how Collins began his Magical Mystery Tour of an explanation. “I thought [have him] face a power lefty. Got jammed, poke it in, you know. Again, we get the ground ball to start the inning (Loney’s error). … if we get that ground ball, we’re not in that situation.”

If. If we had ham, we’d have ham and eggs, if we had eggs.

Freeman singled to chase Smoker in favor of Familia for the five-out save attempt.

After a double-steal, Matt Kemp tied the game on a sacrifice fly for Familia’s fifth blown save.

The Mets had their chances in the eighth, but Yoenis Cespedes dogged it on a fly to left and barely made it to second  when Kemp couldn’t track down his fly ball. Cespedes mighty have made it to third – which he eventually stole – but died there to end the inning.

With two outs Collins pinch-hit Eric Campbell for Kelly Johnson. Then he hit Kevin Plawecki for James Loney – who entered the game hitting .357 in the previous nine games – to once again over-manage the lefty-righty nonsense.

The Braves scored the winning run against Familia in the ninth on Inciarte’s RBI grounder. Even so, the Mets had a chance in the bottom of the inning, but Inciarte robbed Cespedes of a three-run homer to end the game.

“A tremendous catch,” Collins said. “You won’t see a better catch.”

The catch was the play of the game, but the storyline was Collins’ use of his bullpen. The others were that the Mets might have already made a decision on Bruce and wasting Colon.

DECISION ON BRUCE: By pinch-hitting for Bruce Tuesday and not starting him Wednesday, one might surmise the Mets already made the decision to give him a $1-million buyout opposed to picking up his $13 million option.

It was an “uncomfortable” decision Collins made last night in sending Campbell to bat for Bruce. Campbell produced a RBI single, but the Mets still lost and there’s this fallout, so one can’t really say everything worked out for him.

Especially considering, with how the game was on the line tonight in the ninth inning, he sent Bruce up as a pinch-hitter. Tonight’s situation was even more dire. This is what aggravates me about Collins: Bruce isn’t good enough one night, but is the next.

There’s no disputing Bruce has not produced, but this has nothing to do with “playing in New York,” as the media likes to suggest, but simply a player trying too hard to produce for his new team. Collins wanted to give Bruce a mental health day, but used him as a pinch-hitter, so how can he say the player had time to collect his thoughts and let the rest work for him as it did Neil Walker, earlier?

That’s typical of Collins; he says one thing but does another.

The Mets traded for Bruce to jumpstart a dismal offense the same way Cespedes did last season. It’s clear Collins lost confidence – even though the Mets are 21-8 and back in the race without Bruce hitting – and obvious the Mets are writing him off for the rest of the way.

COLON SUPERB: Another game, another wasted start by Colon, who gave up two runs in 6.2 innings. The way it is stacked up now, Noah Syndergaard would start the wild-card game with Colon probably getting Game 1 of the Division Series against the Cubs.

That is if the Mets get that far.

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Sep 21

Mets Must Play Bruce Tonight

There’s little doubt Mets manager Terry Collins made an “uncomfortable” decision last night in sending Eric Campbell to bat for Jay Bruce. Campbell produced a RBI single, but the Mets still lost and Collins has to deal with the fallout, so one can’t really say everything worked out for him, because it didn’t.

BRUCE: He must play. (AP)

BRUCE: He must play. (AP)

In making the call, Collins was saying he had more faith in Campbell, who didn’t have a hit in the major leagues since May, than he did the slumping Bruce.

There’s no disputing Bruce has not produced, but this has nothing to do with “playing in New York,” as the media likes to suggest, but simply a player who is trying too hard to produce for his new team.

Collins wanted to give Bruce a mental health day, but used him as a pinch-hitter, so how can he say the player had time to collect his thoughts and let the rest work for him as it did Neil Walker, earlier.

That’s typical of Collins; he says one thing but does another.

Let’s forget for a moment the dismal numbers, and how Yoenis Cespedes isn’t hitting, either. The bottom line is the Mets traded for Bruce to jumpstart their dismal offense the same way Cespedes did last season. Confidence is a fragile thing and I have no doubt Bruce won’t let this beat him.

It’s clear Collins has lost confidence – even though the Mets are 20-8 and back in the race without Bruce hitting – and if he doesn’t start him tonight, then it is obvious the Mets are writing him off for the next week-and-a-half.

Bruce said all the right things last night, but he made his frustration known. If the Mets have any hope of getting anything from Bruce, he must start and be left alone. You know, give him the same leeway they do Cespedes.

If they don’t they are saying they don’t want them and there’s no return.

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