Jul 07

Three Mets’ Storylines: Flores, Bullpen Bail Out Colon

Just before the Mets were swept last week in Washington, manager Terry Collins said the 14 games leading into the All-Star break were “very important.’’

He didn’t call this stretch “critical,’’ but his message was understood just the same.

FLORES: Does it again. (AP)

FLORES: Does it again. (AP)

After being destroyed in DC, the Mets responded with a four-game sweep of the Cubs; winning two of three against the Marlins, and powering their way in the opener of this four-game series, 9-7, over the Nationals. With the victory, the Mets pulled within three games of first-place Washington.

Thursday’s win came on the heels of the sobering news Matt Harvey might be lost with season-ending shoulder surgery.

Things didn’t look promising for the Mets after the Nationals took a 4-1 lead in the fourth, but they responded with four homers and a strong showing their bullpen. Travis d’Arnaud, Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores – again – and Asdrubal Cabrera homered for the Mets.

They also caught a break when Jayson Werth’s take-out slide of second baseman Neil Walker was ruled interference, so instead of runners on the corners with no outs the Nationals had the bases empty with two down.

Earlier in the game Werth was called safe on a similar play. Of course, this rule was a by-product of the Chase UtleyRuben Tejada play last year in the NL Division Series.

The following are the three main storylines from tonight’s game.

FLORES STAYS HOT: After a pair of two-homer games on this homestand, Flores did not get the start. Collins’ explanation, in part, was to give him an at-bat against one of Washington’s lefty relievers.

It sounded like he was blowing smoke, but sure enough, Flores hit the first pitch thrown to him by former Met Oliver Perez for a three-run homer in the fifth to put New York ahead to stay. It was his sixth game-winning hit of the season.

Flores has five homers during this homestand, which begs the question: Where will he play Friday?

COLON ROCKED; PEN ROCKS: Colon has been one of the most reliable starters this season, but was shelled, giving up six runs on ten hits in 4.2 innings. Three of those homers came in the fourth by Clint Robinson, Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper.

Colon was bailed out by the offense and the bullpen.

With the bases loaded in the fifth, Jerry Blevins struck out Rendon to end the inning. Hansel Robles struck out Jayson Werth to end the sixth; Addison Reed retired four hitters; and Jeurys Familia recorded his 31st save in as many opportunities.

GRANDERSON RED HOT: “Red hot,’’ haven’t been the words to describe Granderson many times this season, but he reached base five times on three hits – two doubles – and two walks.

In his last five games, Granderson is 8-for-19 (.421) with two homers and five RBI.

Granderson’s surge coincides with the move to second in the order behind Reyes.

Jul 05

Three Mets’ Storylines: Did Alderson Push Reyes’ Return?

On a night when several issues swirled around the Mets, there was little doubt the headliner in their 5-2 loss to Miami was the return of Jose Reyes.

REYES: Did Alderson rush him back? (AP)

REYES: Did Alderson rush him back? (AP)

Reyes topped the list of three key storylines, with the others being a second straight encouraging outing by Steven Matz, who is battling a bone spur in his left elbow and the selection of three Mets to the National League All-Star team.

Reyes was hitless in four at-bats and only touched the ball on a throw from catcher Travis d’Arnaud in a steal attempt.

However, that only touches the surface of the timing of his return.

REYES’ RETURN: There were reports in Tuesday’s papers that had manager Terry Collins saying Reyes wouldn’t be activated because he wasn’t ready, and the player himself said he didn’t think he was comfortable with a promotion based on how he was hitting.

Considering the Mets scored 40 runs in their previous five games – all wins – and with Wilmer Flores hitting well, there seemed no sense of urgency for this move.

This again smacks of a disconnect between GM Sandy Alderson and his manager. Why would Collins say Reyes wouldn’t be brought up unless that was his understanding after communicating with Alderson?

Somebody isn’t communicating and the feeling here it is Alderson for pushing Reyes’ return when both the manager and player said he wasn’t ready.

MATZ PUSHED IT: Matz, who hasn’t won since May 25, made his second start since the reports of a bone spur in his elbow. Matz gave up a single to open the seventh, but considering his elbow, why would Collins let the left-hander pitch to Giancarlo Stanton, who responded with a two-run homer?

Oh well, maybe it wouldn’t matter as Stanton hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Considering Matz has a health concern, I wouldn’t have let him pitch to Stanton.

ALL-STAR METS: In addition to Yoenis Cespedes, who was voted in by the fans, and homered Tuesday, Noah Syndergaard and closer Jeurys Familia, will represent the Mets in San Diego.

All are deserving but I was hoping for Bartolo Colon over Syndergaard, but the latter is also bothered with a bone spur and could use the rest.

As for Colon, he’s 43 and pitched well enough to go. I always root for good storylines, and Colon going would have been a great angle.

Jul 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Don’t Forget Cespedes As MVP Candidate

As impressive as the Mets’ four-game sweep was of the Cubs, a case can be made it was validated by what they did Monday afternoon with their firecracker comeback victory over the Miami Marlins. You can even argue two of the Mets’ most important victories this season came during this home stand.

There was Thursday’s rally from three runs down – call it the Brandon Nimmo Game – in a 4-3 victory over the Cubs. Today, they overcame another poor performance from Matt Harvey to come from six runs behind to win their fifth straight game, 8-6, to pull within four games of Washington.

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

On Thursday they put the brakes on what was turning into a severe skid; today they pressed down on the accelerator in their playoff push.

There were three significant storylines from the game, with two – Harvey and the bullpen – intertwined. The third was Yoenis Cespedes‘ clutch hitting.

CESPEDES: I keep hearing about potential NL MVP candidates, among them Daniel Murphy and Kris Bryant.

But, Cespedes can’t be ignored. He has five of his 20 homers and 28 RBI coming with RISP. His 20 homers – fourth in the NL – suggest he’s in scoring position as soon as he leaves the on-deck circle. In his last 12 home games, Cespedes is batting .419 with four doubles and four homers, including that monster drive to jumpstart Thursday’s win.

Cespedes had no chance of being the NL MVP last year because of his limited time in the league. But this year, he’d be my choice, with his game-winning, two-run double in the eighth just another sample of what he’s been doing all year.

HARVEY: Gone are the feel-good thoughts Harvey might have turned around his season after making three strong starts. Harvey encored those three starts with four bad ones in which he gave up a combined 13 runs on 30 hits and five walks with only 15 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. For the second straight game Harvey worked just 3.2 innings. (In fairness, his outing was cut short in the Washington start by rain, but even so he wasn’t pitching well.)

Harvey hasn’t come away with a victory since, May 30, some seven starts ago.

On the bright side, he hasn’t given up a homer since his May 24 loss at Washington when he gave up three. However, of his 17 starts he’s only gone seven innings twice.

For someone who considers himself an ace, this is unacceptable. For those of you who still believe him to be an ace, kindly think again if his 4-10 record and 4.86 ERA haven’t convinced you. That’s not to say he can’t be an ace in the future, but not now.

The Mets will need Harvey because of looming physical questions of Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard.

BULLPEN: The pen has been maligned, but today it stepped up with 5.1 scoreless innings.

The Mets didn’t have Addison Reed, but were picked up by Erik Goeddel, Logan Verrett, Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins and Jeurys Familia. Kudos for Verrett and Robles for working out of trouble, and again for Familia, who always seems to be on the ropes only to escape with his 29th straight victory.

A point that requires no debate: Championship teams need a strong bullpen.

Jun 27

Mets Must Give Us Reason To Care

Sometimes listening to Terry Collins makes me want to scream. I know I’ve written that before, but Collins keeps making “I want to throw my shoe at the TV” type of comments. The Mets’ manager said several things over the weekend in preparation for tonight’s game in Washington that were simply puzzling. He means well, but it becoming clearer with each press briefing he can’t think on his feet.

First, after Jacob deGrom‘s start – his tenth straight without a win – Collins said he was looking forward to coming out of the break so he could set up his rotation. Well, what about setting things up now for the next two weeks, which includes seven games in two series against the Nationals. three with the Marlins and four against the Cubs?

COLLINS: Facing toughest stretch of season. (AP)

COLLINS: Facing toughest stretch of season. (AP)

I would begin by skipping Noah Syndergaard tonight in Washington because of his second complaint of soreness in his right elbow. Would I sacrifice a game in Washington to preserve Syndergaard for the second half? Damn straight I would.

After Monday’s butt whiping, the Mets are now four games behind the Nationals – who won’t have Stephen Strasburg for either series – because Washington’s seven-game losing streak kept them in the race. If the Nationals had any killer instinct they could be up by eight games or more with a chance to put away the Mets. Who knows, maybe they were waiting for the Mets to come to town to do it.

Collins told reporters Sunday in Atlanta in preparation for the Nationals series: “The worst-case scenario is: Go to the break no worse than we are sitting right now. Right after the Nats we’ve got the Cubs – arguably the best team in baseball right now. We’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to get the `A’ game going and maintain it. Right after them you’ve got the Marlins, who are playing very, very well right now. And then back come the Nationals again. I think the next 14 days are very, very important to us.”

Good for Collins; he can read a schedule. But, with |these games so important, why send the message of mediocrity? We watched the Mets pull things together and get to the World Series last year. Now their manager is talking about treading water until the break. At least that’s the perception.

Standing pat in the standings for the next two weeks and at the trade deadline aren’t acceptable for a World Series team. I don’t want Collins to panic, but a sense of urgency would be nice. The disadvantage of getting to the World Series is the expectation to go every year. That’s pressure, but also why they play.

We’ll watch Syndergaard tonight with crossed fingers and the hope we won’t get Antonio Bastardo. I don’t trust the bullpen now, with even Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia giving me pause. The offense is beyond awful. No homers, no wins. Manufacturing runs and playing fundamental baseball seem beyond their comprehension. There were more than a few times in June when they didn’t hustle.

As far as their `A’ game, we haven’t seen it since the end of April. Nothing has been reported as to what Collins has said to his team behind closed doors. Evidently he hasn’t read the riot act or we would have heard about it. Somebody always talks.

Yes, there are injuries, but championship caliber teams overcome them. Otherwise, they are just excuses. There were holes in the batting order even before David Wright and Lucas Duda were hurt and Michael Conforto was sent down. Hopefully, there will be more stability when Jose Reyes is activated and Curtis Granderson can hit lower in the order. But, whether Granderson bats first, second, third or fourth, will it really matter if he doesn’t hit?

The remaining two weeks could determine whether Citi Field experiences October. You and I both know the Mets won’t run the table from until the All-Star break, but I want more than 7-7, for which Collins – at least publicly – seems willing to settle.

I want a sense of urgency. I want hustle and heaven forbid, their hitters to manufacture runs. I know Collins cares, but dammit, show some fire. Kick your players in the ass, because they need it. And, that includes Yoenis Cespedes. If your “star” can get away dogging it, it’s a license for everybody else to drop it down a gear.

Playing .500 for the next two weeks or the rest of the summer isn’t acceptable. It’s like going to school hoping for a `C’ grade. It’s average, which is the worst of the best or best of the worst. Being average gives us little reason to care.

Damn, I want to care about this team again.

May 19

Collins Must Share Blame For Wright; DL Should Be Considered

In the 20-plus-years I have written about major league baseball, there are a handful of players I admire and respect as much as David Wright.

Even so, I am still objective as to what I see and it currently isn’t good. Wright was scratched Tuesday because of a sore back, and then returned to go 0-for-4 with three more strikeouts Wednesday.

WRIGHT: DL bound? (AP)

WRIGHT: DL bound? (AP)

Wright is in persistent discomfort and needs up to two hours to get ready to play. He is not suited to pinch-hit, especially in cold weather, as he did Sunday in Colorado. Wright knows not to push it, but when asked he will play. That’s in his DNA.

Translated: Manager Terry Collins did Wright a disservice when he asked him to pinch-hit. Winning one game in mid-May isn’t as important as risking losing him for the long haul.

I know Collins wants to win, but he was wrong, selfish and shortsighted for asking Wright to pinch-hit. It isn’t the first time Collins pushed the envelope with Wright or other players. Don’t forget his panic move of labeling the eighth game of the season “must win,’’ and pushing Wright, Jim Henderson and Jeurys Familia, none of whom should have played that day.

Wright would never finger-point at his manager. The bottom line is Collins should have been smart enough to not put Wright in that position.

“I don’t know,” Wright told Newsday on whether pinch-hitting took him out of Tuesday’s lineup. “Again, it’s probably not the ideal circumstances. But this is the National League, you really don’t have that much leeway especially when you’re playing with a short bench.”

That puts the onus on the manager to pay attention to what he has available.

Wright is batting .221, which is a career-low for this point in the season. He already has 47 strikeouts in 113 at-bats, with four homers and eight RBI. He’s on pace to strike out 195 times, hit 17 homers and drive in 33 runs. His on-base percentage of .362 gives us glimpses of him still being a productive player.

“The back thing is just something that I’m going to have to get used to because it’s not changing,” Wright told reporters. “But I feel like I can play at a much higher level than I’m playing at right now.

“I think that there are certainly some things I’m having to make adjustments with as far as preparation, as far as playing schedule, that I’m going to have to get used to. But when I go take the field I expect to play much better than I am right now.”

Is Wright done?

I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. It’s worth sticking with him to find out, but that means staying with the plan and not deviating. That’s all on the manager.

Can Wright play Thursday night? That’s up in the air. If his availability is day-to-day and Collins doesn’t know what he has on any given night, he should go on the disabled list.

Go back to the beginning. Get re-examined and concentrate on nothing but getting stronger for the next couple of weeks. And, during this time, management should have a sit-down with Collins and tell him to get with the program and stick with it.

A lot of things must happen for this to work, including the manager being smarter than he has been.