Jul 27

Three Mets’ Storylines: Loss A Gut Check

The Mets’ 2015 signature was resiliency; their ability to bounce back from adversity and seemingly crushing defeat.

It was around this time last season when Jeurys Familia blew his last save in a rain-soaked, thought-to-be devastating loss to San Diego. The night before Wilmer Flores endeared himself to Mets Nation when he shed tears out at shortstop after thinking he’d been traded.

What happened next will forever be a part of Mets’ lore. GM Sandy Alderson got Yoenis Cespedes in a trade, Flores homered to beat Washington and become an iconic presence, and the Mets sizzled into the World Series. In their champagne drenched clubhouses in Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field, to a man, the Mets trumpeted their ability to get off the mat as to what their team about.

CESPEDES: Can't do it all. (AP)

CESPEDES: Can’t do it all. (AP)

It’s time to show that quality again, following the season’s most disappointing and potentially devastating loss of the season, 5-4 to the St. Louis Cardinals, Wednesday night after Familia’s first blown save.

“This is really a tough one to take,” drained Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters. “When you come back on Adam Wainwright and have a chance to win the game, that’s a pretty big night. And then to have your closer, who just has been lights out, give up two, that’s a little tougher to take.”

Will it turn bitter and send them on an out-of-control slide or force that character to the surface?

Logan Verrett gave the Mets a chance to win, giving up three runs in seven innings. But, in the bottom half of the inning and a run already in to pull the Mets within a run, on the ninth-pitch of a heavyweight battle, Cespedes swung to create two unmistakable sounds.

There was the crack of the bat that punctuates a Cespedes home run and the explosion of emotion that engulfed Citi Field, which hadn’t been this loud since last October.

Cespedes wasn’t even back in the dugout when the inevitable thought was raised: Could this be the at-bat, the game, to propel the Mets?

With Familia riding a streak of 52 consecutive saves, it was a logical conclusion.

Addison Reed stuffed the Cardinals, 1-2-3 in the eighth, but it wasn’t long before Familia, who has given us jitters before, showed he didn’t have it.

Familia got the first hitter, but then walked Jedd Gyorko on four pitches. Gyorko homered swinging at first-pitch fastballs in both games of Tuesday’s doubleheader, so Familia was going to be careful. He was too careful with sliders away.

Then Yadier Molina, who has broken Mets’ hearts before, doubled over the head of center fielder Juan Lagares and pinch-runner Randal Grichuk scored standing up to tie the game.

“I think I left it a little bit in the middle, and he made a good swing,” the stand-up Familia told reporters of the pitch to Molina.

The Mets appeared off the hook with no less than a tie when Molina was caught going to third on Jeremy Hazelbaker’s bouncer back to the mound. However, Hazelbaker quickly stole second and scored on Kolten Wong’s pinch-hit double.

Citi Field was now as quiet as it was in the last inning of Game 5 of the World Series.

The Mets’ season ended that night. What will become of it after Wednesday night?

“We’re hoping,” Collins said on bouncing back. “This is something we haven’t had happen for a long time … Jeurys Familia with a blown save. We have to back tomorrow.”

It might be imperative.

The emotional turmoil was the first of three main storylines. The others were:

ESSENCE OF CESPEDES: Cespedes is clearly hobbling, but plays anyway for the chance at what happened in the seventh when he hit his first homer since July 5.

Cespedes’ importance to the Mets is further underscored in that they were 2-for-14 with RISP Wednesday, and just 4-for-33 in the series.

“We didn’t get past that,” Collins said the Mets’ primary issue this season. “We had a lot of opportunities to score some runs.”

If there was a bright spot to the offense – outside of Cespedes – it was a Neil Walker sighting.

Walker entered the game on a 2-for-39 slide, but reached base four times on three hits and a walk.

VERRETT START WASTED: Last season at Colorado, in replacing an injured Matt Harvey, Verrett might have come up with the most important start of the season for the Mets.

Verrett always says his job is to give his team a chance to win and he did that by giving up three runs in seven innings.

As the trade deadline approaches there’s concern by some the Mets might need another starter, but that won’t be the case if he keeps pitching the way he has in his last two starts.

Jul 26

Alderson’s Trade Stance Raises Questions

Here’s hoping GM Sandy Alderson is blowing smoke when he says don’t expect the Mets to add a starting pitcher or substantial hitter at the trade deadline. Maybe he’s trying to bluff teams. Maybe he’s trying to screw with reporters. Maybe he’s trying to drive manager Terry Collins crazy.

ALDERSON: Smoke or fire? (AP)

ALDERSON: Smoke or fire? (AP)

Probably all good reasons to Alderson, but you always have to read between the lines with him.

“We’re simply not going to move players we think are going to have a significant role for us in the somewhat near future for the possibility of getting the kind of unique return that we got last year,” Alderson told reporters.

Unique? Does that mean Alderson thinks last year was a fluke?

It sure sounds that way. There was a lot of gloom-and-doom around the Mets last July, before Alderson traded for Yoenis Cespedes and brought up Michael Conforto from the minors. This July, the Mets are the defending National League champions in need of help, and the void they claim they must fill – the bullpen – isn’t what they really need.

With how things played out Tuesday, could Alderson change his mind?

The pen has been solid the past six weeks. But after watching them slog through Tuesday’s doubleheader split with the Cardinals, losing, 3-2 in the opener and winning the second game 3-1, you know they must add a hitter and with the health issues of their starters, they need another arm.

Why the pen?

“Realistically, the bullpen is the area where we can probably get someone who can make a difference at a relatively low cost in terms of prospects,” Alderson said.

Alderson is really saying the Mets don’t want to give up anything significant, which has always been his M.O. Hitters and starting pitchers cost more than relievers, and Alderson doesn’t want to part with their minor league depth. Teams want shortstop prospect Amed Rosario, which is understandable. However, of the Mets’ top ten prospects listed by MLB.com, five are shortstops.

Damn, I hate that. In order to get something of quality you have to give up something.

“Realistically, it’s unlikely we’ll end up with another starting pitcher,” Alderson said. “It’s unrealistic that we’ll end up with a significant position player. And, with respect to the bullpen, we’re very happy with our bullpen. But at the same time we’re looking to upgrade the bottom half of the bullpen so we have a little more depth.”

Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia have been superb – Familia has converted 52 consecutive save opportunities after locking down last night’s second game – but Alderson says the issue is depth. Frankly, for a team trying to get to the World Series, a reliever for the sixth inning is not what they need most.

Alderson fears the law firm of Robles, Reed and Familia, is being worn down, but doesn’t giving them the proper rest fall on pitching coach Dan Warthen and Collins?

Here’s a thought, perhaps if the starting pitchers worked longer and didn’t run up such high pitch counts that would save the bullpen. That’s what Bartolo Colon did in the second game when he gave up one run in seven innings.

However, knowing Noah Syndergaard is pitching with a bone spur – pain tolerance is what the manager said is the key – and considering two starts ago he left with arm fatigue, why would Collins let him throw 114 pitches?

That many pitches warrants a complete game, but Syndergaard gave the Mets only six innings. Collins said he doesn’t know why Syndergaard’s pitch counts have been high, but it’s simple really, despite his 100 mph., heater, he’s not putting away hitters.

Syndergaard isn’t pitch efficient. He throws too many pitches for the innings he provides. That must change, and it has to change for Steven Matz, who is also trying to grind through a bone spur.

The Mets are pushing the envelope with Syndergaard and Matz and they know it. Matt Harvey is gone for the year. They have no idea what they’ll get from Zack Wheeler, or when they’ll even see him. Their preseason expectations had Wheeler replacing Colon in the rotation in early July,

Colon, after three poor starts, for one night at least put to rest his 43-year-old arm hit the wall. Because Colon threw only 87 pitches, he’ll come back on three days rest to start Saturday against Colorado.

“He’s been as good, if not better than anybody,” Collins said of Colon and his rotation. “He’s a special guy and we’re very lucky to have him.”

Doesn’t this gamble tell you the need for another starter?

Surely, Collins has been thinking about who would pitch Saturday, especially with Sean Gilmartin, who is with Triple-A Las Vegas, going on the disabled list earlier in the day. Collins wouldn’t think of going to Syndergaard on short rest and isn’t enamored with the idea of using Seth Lugo or bringing up Gabriel Ynoa from Triple-A Las Vegas.

Collins got testy when pressed for his reasoning on using Colon with short rest, and finally finished with a curt, “if he gets his brains beat out in three days, it will obviously be a bad decision.”

You can forgive Collins for getting upset because he was probably thinking of how the Mets would score runs with Jose Reyes to be lost for several games with a Grade 1 intercostal strain in his left rib cage. Collins is being optimistic because those things usually take a long time, and Reyes has a history of lengthy DL stints with strained muscles.

It means they’ll go back to Wilmer Flores, who had four hits in the second game. It also means they better hope last night meant the return of Asdrubal Cabrera, who finally had a hit with a runner in scoring position.

There’s a lot going on with the Mets, but despite being only within 4.5 games of the Nationals, Alderson isn’t giving many signs of being optimistic.

Maybe it’s a smokescreen.

Jul 25

Mets Talking Trade With Brewers

Apparently, the Mets will be buyers at the trade deadline, but will they shop at Nordstrom’s or K-Mart? The rap on Mets GM Sandy Alderson is he wants to pay K-Mart prices for Nordstrom quality.

LUCROY: What will he cost? (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

LUCROY: What will he cost? (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The Mets reportedly interested in Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy and relievers Jeremy Jeffress and lefty Will Smith. Lucroy was on the Mets’ radar over a month ago, but the relievers are new on their list.

Any one of them could help the Mets; all three could put them over the top. Perhaps.

The Brewers already rejected catcher Travis d’Arnaud for Lucroy straight up, so the Mets would have to sweeten the pot with a high-level prospect. No, Wilmer Flores doesn’t count and considering his setbacks, neither would Zack Wheeler.

It’s that mystery prospect that’s intriguing.

The Mets say they don’t want to part with shortstop Amed Rosario, but what about Gavin Cecchini, also a shortstop? Luis Carpio is also a shortstop prospect. They certainly can’t keep all three.

First baseman Dominic Smith and outfielder Brandon Nimmo could be on the table.

But, whose table?

The Mets said adding to their bullpen is a priority, but Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia have been a solid 7-8-9 trio over the past six weeks.

A name to keep your eye on is former Nationals reliever Drew Storen, who was designated for assignment by Toronto, where he was having a miserable season, going 1-3 with a 6.21 ERA in 38 appearances. In 33.1 innings he had 32 strikeouts, which was excellent, but gave up 23 runs on 43 hits and 10 walks (1.590 WHIP), which clearly is not.

Jul 19

Three Mets’ Storylines: Syndergaard Answers Questions

SYNDERGAARD: Answers questions. (Getty)

SYNDERGAARD: Answers questions. (Getty)

Unquestionably, the most important storyline from Tuesday’s Mets’ game was Noah Syndergaard came out of it physically unscathed.

In his previous start 11 days ago, Syndergaard left his last game against Washington with the abstract diagnosis of “arm fatigue.” Of course, his early departure came on the heels of a bone spur in his elbow. And, the spur came after two exams of that elbow this season.

And, the spur came after two exams of that elbow this season.

The Mets’ 2-1 victory, while important, it wasn’t as significant as Syndergaard’s health, which was tested with 105 pitches.

“The arm fatigue is obviously gone,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “He had to really work hard [to get out of trouble]. I thought it was a good outing for him.”

The Cubs had runners on second and third in the first two innings, in which he wriggled out of; scored an unearned run in the third; and had two on in the fourth.

The Cubs could have blown the game open if they could run the bases and hit with runners in scoring position, a problem evidently not exclusive to the Mets.

Of course, we’ll know more about Syndergaard tomorrow, but currently, all signs are positive.

The other key storylines are:

FAMILIA, UNBELIEVABLY, STAYS PERFECT: Jeurys Familia’s consecutive saves streak was over. How could it not have been when the Cubs loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth?

Familia walked the first two hitters, then Jose Reyes misplayed Javier Baez’s bunt attempt by not letting the ball foul.

With the bases loaded, pinch-hitter Matt Szczur grounded to first and James Loney made a perfect throw to the plate for the force.

Kris Bryant followed with a grounder to third that Reyes converted into a 5-4-3 game-ending double play.

“He’s a fighter,” catcher Rene Rivera said of Familia’s ability to escape. “He had the focus to come back and throw strikes and get the ground ball.”

Familia has converted 49 straight save opportunities dating back to last season, and 33 in a row this year.

RIVERA HAS HUGE GAME: Rivera, who doesn’t play nearly enough, had three hits, including driving in the game-winning run with a single to right in the ninth inning.

Rivera also made a snazzy tag at the plate to nail Jake Arrieta, with the out coming on an instant-replay reversal.

He also made a throwing error that allowed the Cubs’ run to score, but it can’t all be perfect, although on this night the ending sure was.


Jul 12

What Went Wrong For Mets In First Half And Other Obstacles

On Monday I examined ten positives from the Mets’ first half. Today I look at ten things that either went wrong or must be overcome.

The Mets are tied with Miami six games behind Washington in the NL East. From injuries to poor performances, it was far from an idyllic first half.

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

It isn’t as if it all spiraled out of control, but numerous things must be overcome if the Mets are to make a second-half run:

1. HISTORY: The Mets have never reached the postseason in consecutive seasons, let alone the World Series. History has always been a tough nut to crack.

2. TEAM IDENTITY: The Mets are constructed in GM Sandy Alderson’s vision, which sometimes is no better than that of Mr. Magoo. Manager Terry Collins said Sunday “situational hitting” is the key things the Mets must improve on in the second half after repeatedly saying the season’s first three months they are a team built on power. Those are two incompatible concepts. The Mets won only five games in which they did not hit a homer. That must change.

3. RISP: This is linked to the first event. The Mets hit a paltry .213 with runners in scoring position with 180 strikeouts. The Mets average roughly eight runners left on base per game. Nearly 55 percent of the Mets’ scoring is attributable to home runs, and they only have a plus-20 run differential. Not good.

4. STRIKEOUTS: Alderson’s attraction to the new-wave statistics seemingly includes a disregard for striking out. It’s like he doesn’t care when a hitter strikes out, which is inexcusable. The Mets average 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which is just shy of three innings. The Mets are giving away three innings of potential offense, meaning there are no sacrifice flies; no chance of reaching on a hit, error or walk; and no productive outs. Curtis Granderson is on pace to strike out 144 times, followed by Yoenis Cespedes (142) and Neil Walker (122). Before they went on the disabled list, David Wright and Lucas Duda were also on pace to strikeout over 120 times. Michael Conforto was on pace to strikeout over 100 times before he was optioned to the minors. That’s Alderson’s offense, and it is not conducive to winning.

5. ROTATION PROBLEMS: The Mets’ young starting rotation was to carry this team, but Matt Harvey is lost for the year; Noah Syndergaard has a bone spur in his right elbow and enters the second half as a significant question; Jacob deGrom went ten starts without a victory; and Steven Matz has a bone spur in his left elbow, but pitched well in his last three starts. The Mets hoped to plug Bartolo Colon into the bullpen and bring up Zack Wheeler. However, Wheeler has had several setbacks and won’t be available until mid-August.

6. WRIGHT IS LOST: Wright is gone for the year following neck surgery and his career is in jeopardy. Wright has been saddled with injuries for several years. In addition to a lack of production, his salary has hamstrung the Mets in making moves.

7. OTHER INJURIES: In addition to Harvey and Wright, Duda is out indefinitely with a fracture in his lower back. The Mets enter the second half with Cespedes out with a strained quad with no timetable for his return. Granderson is playing with a strained calf and Conforto was playing with an injured wrist when he was demoted. Reliever Jim Henderson is on the disabled list with a strained right biceps.

8. WEAK BULLPEN: Outside of Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed, there’s little reliability to the Mets’ bullpen. Losing Henderson and Josh Edgin hurt, and Antonio Bastardo offered nothing. Hansel Robles has been inconsistent.

9. DIVISION RECORD: The Mets are 19-22 vs. the NL East, including 4-9 against the Washington Nationals. They routed the Phillies and Braves last year, and had a winning record against Washington. Things are a lot tougher this year.

10. TOUGH ROAD AHEAD: Not only did the Mets limp into the break, but open the second half with a rugged schedule of nine games on the road, including three each in Chicago against the Cubs and three in Miami. They then come home with three against St. Louis. August brings four games with the Yankees, four at San Francisco, and three each at Detroit and St. Louis. If there isn’t a turnaround, their six games against the Nationals in September could be a moot point.