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.

 

 

Jul 21

Mets Should Hope Cespedes Leaves

If the Mets were truly honest with themselves, they might secretly be hoping for Yoenis Cespedes to exercise is one-year opt out and hit the market, where they can let him walk and develop their young outfielders.

There’s been speculation lately of giving Cespedes an extension now, which would create a splash but wouldn’t be in the best long-term interest of the Mets. It could set them back a few years.

CESPEDES: Let him Go. (AP)

CESPEDES: Let him Go. (AP)

The upside of letting Cespedes go is it would enable the Mets to develop their young outfielders: Juan Lagares, Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo.

It would also allow them to funnel some of the money Cespedes would receive to signing some of their young pitching: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Considering he’s coming off surgery and how poorly he’s pitched this year, signing Matt Harvey has dropped on the priority meter.

It must also be considered if Harvey and Zack Wheeler don’t bounce back, and they don’t have Bartolo Colon return, they would need to spend for a pitcher in the off-season. They must also address their bench and bullpen needs.

One of the obstacles to bringing back Cespedes is where to play him – and everybody else – if he won’t play center. I’m not crazy about having the player dictate where he will and won’t play. If Cespedes can’t, or won’t, play center he should leave. The Mets wanting him back was predicated on him playing center.

What the last few weeks with Cespedes’ strained quad taught us is: 1) he really doesn’t want to play center, which is something GM Sandy Alderson should have resolved before re-signing him, 2) neither Conforto and Nimmo have much experience in center, which is where they would figure to play, and 3) Lagares, who is on a long-term deal, would be the odd-man out.

Also bothersome in keeping Cespedes have been his brain and hustle lapses. And this year, in addition to his quad, his wrist, ankle and hip have slowed him down this year.

When Cespedes was playing for a contract last year it was with the drive of having something to prove. However, this year he’s proven to be too brittle and problematic.

If the Mets can get out from under Cespedes’ contract they’ll be lucky.

Jul 17

Three Mets’ Storylines: Conforto’s Return Raises Questions

Michael Conforto is returning to the Mets and with him comes a dilemma for manager Terry Collins on how to handle his outfield. Collins said he couldn’t foresee Conforto and Brandon Nimmo playing in the same outfield. That choice was resolved with Nimmo being sent down.

Conforto, who played 16 games for Triple-A Las Vegas, but only four in right field. That could present a problem, because earlier in the day Collins said Yoenis Cespedes would play left field, which was Conforto’s position.

CONFORTO: Return raises questions. (AP)

CONFORTO: Return raises questions. (AP)

Cespedes, who misplayed a fly ball while playing center field that lead to his strained right quad, stated a preference to play left the remainder of the season, where he should have been playing all along.

Had the Mets played him in left, they could have given Conforto reps in right and center field during spring training.

When Conforto was optioned, Collins said he would return when he regained his stroke – which he did batting .344 (21-for-61) with three homers and 15 RBI – and when that happened he would play.

Where and how often are to be determined.

Since Juan Lagares has played well, presumably he’ll get most of the time in center. That would lead to speculation Conforto and Curtis Granderson – both left-handed hitters – would share right field.

However, Granderson, who homered in Sunday’ 5-0 victory over Philadelphia, has also been hot lately. What becomes of him? Granderson has one more year on his contract. If the Mets go from buyers to sellers in the next two weeks, could they shop Granderson?

Presuming Cespedes opts out after this season, the Mets’ long-range outfield figures to be Conforto, Nimmo and Lagares. However, Nimmo said he hopes to primarily play center at Las Vegas, which immediately creates speculation the Mets could be thinking about dealing Lagares at the deadline.

“I know I have a lot to work on, and I can still do that in Triple-A,” Nimmo told reporters in Philly. “I think right now they feel like Conforto can really help out the team. I think that he can, too. I hope that he’s healthy and good to go and can help this team and spur them on to a nice winning streak.”

Should Lagares be traded and Cespedes opts out, the Mets could have a significant void next season. If they keep Lagares, the Mets could be privately hoping Cespedes opts out.

Conforto’s return raises questions about the composition of the Mets’ outfield in the second half and beyond.

The Mets’ other storylines from Sunday are:

DE GROM’S BRILLIANCE: It has been an up-and-down season for Jacob deGrom, but he’s never been better than Sunday when he threw a one-hit shutout. Pitching on ten days rest after eschewing an All-Star appearance, deGrom produced the best start of his career, a one-hit, 5-0 gem.

“Every time you go out there you want to go as long as you can,” deGrom told SNY. “It was definitely fun. Hopefully, I’ll have many more.”

Everything worked for deGrom, especially his change-up, which he said was the product of improved mechanics that prevented him from flying open with his delivery. Perhaps most of all, deGrom attributed today to the rest from skipping the All-Star Game.

“Just getting a break after throwing every five days,” deGrom said. “You start to feel things and I was definitely worn out. It was needed.”

In the first half, deGrom had a stretch of 10 starts without a victory and an offense that gave him three runs in June. However, he is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in his last three starts, walking five against 27 strikeouts over 29 innings.

POWER RESURFACES: Much was made of the Mets’ power in the first half, and they got homers from Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Granderson has one of the strangest stat lines with just 28 RBI to go along with his 16 homers. Collins said he likes Granderson batting second, which presumably is where he’ll stay. But, he’s said that before.

For Cabrera, it was his 13th homer, a two-run drive in the eighth that gave deGrom a comfortable cushion to close out the game.

 

Jul 16

Three Mets’ Storylines: Fundamentals Lacking

It was the same old story for the Mets Saturday night in Philadelphia: No Fundies, no fun.

Although the Mets hit two sacrifice flies, their continued inability to hit with runners in scoring position – their primary first-half flaw – re-surfaced again in a 4-2 loss to the Phillies that dropped them seven games behind Washington.

VERRETT: Bright spot. (Getty)

VERRETT: Bright spot. (Getty)

After Juan Lagares’ sacrifice put runners on second and third with one out in the seventh, they came up empty. Then in the bottom of the inning, Asdrubal Cabrera’s throwing error on seemingly a routine play put on what turned out to be the winning run on base.

The seventh-inning breakdowns continued to underscore what has been a theme this season in that when the Mets don’t hit a homer then won’t win.

“We’re not driving in runs when we need to,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “We’re not taking care of those opportunities when we get them.”

We can debate from now until the trade deadline what the Mets need more: another bat; a starter; or a reliever. But none of that matters if they don’t execute the fundamentals, and tonight that was the key storyline.

The others:

VERRETT GAVE THEM A CHANCE: Logan Verrett took the ball with the very real possibility he was pitching to stay in the rotation as Matt Harvey’s replacement.

Verrett gave up a homer to Ryan Howard, but few Mets’ pitchers haven’t. Verrett gave up two runs in six innings, which is the definition of a quality start.

Verrett walked only one and struck out four and for the second straight start threw over 100 pitches. If there was a negative, it was getting ahead of hitters but not putting them away.

Even so, he should stay in the rotation.

“At this moment we don’t have a lot of options,” Collins said. “But he’s got to give us good innings. That’s the job of any pitcher. … We’re just hoping that now, with it being a little bit more of a consistent role, he starts to find that command that makes him so effective.’’

CESPEDES STATUS UNCERTAIN: Collins said Yoenis Cespedes could have pinch-hit in the ninth if the Mets put a tying run on base.

However, Collins also said he doesn’t know what would have happened had Cespedes got on base or his availability Sunday. As of now, Cespedes hasn’t played since July 8. The Mets gambled he would heal during the All-Star break, but that hasn’t happened.

It might be time to DL him and bring up Michael Conforto.

 

Jul 15

Three Mets’ Storylines: Walker The Difference

On a day the Pittsburgh Pirates demoted Jon Niese to the bullpen and their general manager Neal Huntington lamented the trade that brought him from the Mets, the player they surrendered, Neil Walker, hit a three-run homer for the difference Friday night in Philadelphia.

“In hindsight, maybe the two fringe prospects and trying to figure out where to re-allocate the money might have been a better return [for Walker],” Huntington told a Pittsburgh radio station.

WALKER: Powers Mets over Phils. (Getty)

WALKER: Powers Mets over Phils. (Getty)

I applaud honesty – the trade has not worked out for the Pirates – but it’s pretty stupid to trash Niese, whom he admitted he’s trying to deal. As a GM you can’t devalue the product you’re trying to unload. That’s GM 101.

Sandy Alderson did the same thing with Ike Davis, and also wasn’t shy about ripping Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy.

Walker’s opposite-field homer to left in the sixth powered the Mets to a 5-3 victory over the Phillies and kept them six games behind Washington. It was Walker’s 16th homer – he had 16 last year – to give him 40 RBI. He made an immediate strong impression with nine homers in April.

Walker has played well but hasn’t made Mets’ fans forget Murphy. And they certainly won’t if Walker leaves after this season while Murphy plays two more years with Washington.

Then again, and here’s a wild thought, what if the Pirates DFA’d Niese? With Matt Harvey gone for the year, and health questions with Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, would the Mets bring back Niese? They did with Jose Reyes, so why not?

However, on this night Walker was the Mets’ main storyline.

The other two are:

BULLPEN BAILS OUT COLON: Bartolo Colon (W, 8-4) started strong, but gave up three unearned runs on four hits in the sixth.

Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia combined to strike out five and give up one hit in 3.1 scoreless innings. Reed worked 1.1 innings, which I like. He’s strong and if the bullpen is a concern, manager Terry Collins shouldn’t be afraid to give him the extra out.

For Familia, he is 32-for-32 in save opportunities. Earlier this year Familia got his saves, but not without angst. He’s slider has a lot more bite and the confidence level is a lot higher with him now.

The Mets entered the second half with their bullpen a priority and one game won’t alter that thinking, but until those moves are made, this is what they need.

LAGARES SHINES: Juan Lagares homered, stole a base and manufactured a run with a strong slide, and made an outstanding catch in right-center.

Collins told reporters “that’s the kind of player he can be.’’

A Gold Glover two years ago, he was out of shape and a bust last season, but is playing with an aggressiveness the Mets should continue to expect.