Apr 11

Mets Week In Review: An Encouraging Start

If the Mets play out this season as they did their first week, I’ll take it. In a heartbeat I would take it.

mets-logoball-2They are 2-2 after four games, which is .500, the bullseye placed on their back. They played four tight, taut games, that if the breaks went a different way could have put them at 0-4.

The upside is they could also just as easily be at 4-0, which is the beauty of it all.

A clutch hit here or there by the Nationals against Bartolo Colon or Matt Harvey puts a different spin on the week. Just as easily, however, a tighter defense last night and a better pitch from Jacob deGrom spins the week another way.

What we can take out of the first week is the Mets figure to be a team that should tay in every game, and I’ll take that any time because it should mean being there in the end, which is another way of saying they will play meaningful baseball in September.

And, you must do that before you can play meaningful games in October, and isn’t that what we all want – regardless of who makes out the lineup card?

Here’s what I took from the first week:

* Bartolo Colon has something left in his tank. He overcame a rough first inning to beat Washington to show us all there’s nothing wrong with a little age.

* Something the Mets haven’t consistently done in recent seasons was to capitalize on opportunities, which is what they did in both their victories over the Nationals. So, when in doubt, hitting the ball to Ian Desmond is a good strategy.

* Matt Harvey is pitching with a chip on his shoulder aimed at those who tend to judge him on more than what he does on the mound. If that’s his motivation, so be it. Just keep pitching this way and all will be well. Do that and let the Mets worry about keeping him from the Yankees in the future.

* The bullpen is better than advertised. Rafael Montero took the loss Friday night in Atlanta, but the loss lies on Wilmer Flores’ errant throws, a bad decision by David Wright and not hitting in the clutch. Having fundamental breakdowns is how the Mets will likely lose most of their games this season. It will be maddening, but, then again, that’s the Mets.

* A week in and we haven’t seen a lot of power, and that’s probably the way it will go all season. This team needs Lucas Duda’s home run bat.

* Injuries helped shape the Opening Day roster and as always will play a significant role. The Mets lost Josh Edgin and Zack Wheeler before the season started, then lost Jenrry Mejia on Opening Day.

* An underlying theme this week has been the lineup. Whether it is all Terry Collins and not from above – which I doubt – it hasn’t produced an offensive explosion, and it has left Juan Lagares, the projected leadoff hitter, in a funk. He’s not the only one, as Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Flores are also running in mud. Wright, Duda and Travis d’Arnaud are having strong starts, but then again, it has been only four games.

* The closeness of the games is a good sign, but it should also be a nagging reminder of the red flag of their thin bench. Eventually, they’ll have a game when they’ll be caught short.

No, it hasn’t been a great start – although the starting pitching has been a positive – but we’ve seen far worse from the Mets. It has been an encouraging start, and if they are standing at .500 six months from now I’ll have a hunger for much more from them.

And, isn’t that what we want?

Apr 10

Whose Lineup Is It Really?

GM Sandy Alderson took a not-so subtle poke at Mets manager Terry Collins the other day when he interrupted the latter’s pregame press conference and said, “Hey, Terry, here’s your lineup for tomorrow.”

Now, I’m not saying Alderson handed Collins a lineup and said, “use this,” but I do believe he’s had a lot of influence in what is put on the field.

Curtis Granderson hitting first, David Wright second, projected leadoff hitter Juan Lagares sixth and the pitcher eighth is not what was practiced during spring training, and, of course, there are questions why?

The front office routinely talks with the manager about lineups, but I doubt a manager with far more job security would accept this influence, and definitely not the ribbing Alderson gave. Bruce Bochy wouldn’t have. Neither would have Joe Torre or Tony La Russa or Sparky Anderson.

All this seems to be a jab at Collins, whom Alderson said he wasn’t supportive of in his book. How can anybody not see that? Surely, it had to make Collins uncomfortable, although he wouldn’t say anything. How could he?

The Mets’ unconventional lineup has drawn attention throughout baseball, to which Alderson told reporters: “I think what happened is people were surprised by the lineup. People don’t like surprises, whether it’s the media or fans or other people in baseball who’ve got everything figured out. So when there’s a surprise like that, people are scrambling around for some sort of rationale or explanation. Sometimes it gets a little crazy. That’s what I chalk it up to — mostly.”

That’s one or the reasons why there is spring training as teams work to avoid surprises. Why practice something and then deviate?

It makes no sense.

 

Apr 07

Sleeping On The Mets: A Lot Of Good, Some Bad In DC

After sleeping on it, there was a lot to like about the Mets’ win yesterday in Washington. Of course, it’s only one game so don’t read too much into anything. After all, does anybody really expect Lucas Duda to drive in 324 runs? Personally, I’d take a third of that.

Even so, here’s what I took from the Mets beating the Nationals, 3-1:

MEJIA: Could be a big loss. (AP)

MEJIA: Could be a big loss. (AP)

THE GOOD

* They won a close game, on the road, against a division opponent that dominated them last season. Yesterday was the type of game the Mets would often lose to the Nationals.

* Bartolo Colon gave up one run in six innings to quell the chatter he shouldn’t have started. I understand giving the young kids a chance, but Colon can still bring it and his age shouldn’t be used against him. The game could have gotten away from the Mets in the first when the Nationals put two on with no outs, but Colon slammed the door. He also pitched out of trouble in the sixth.

* I flat out loved what the bullpen did with three scoreless innings. They overcame losing Jenrry Mejia to get out of the ninth. It won’t be like this every night, but it was fun to watch. Jeurys Familia and Carlos Torres didn’t have great springs, but were sharp. I also liked Jerry Blevins putting down Bryce Harper.

* All too often in recent seasons the Mets failed to capitalize on opportunities, but yesterday took advantage of two Ian Desmond errors to score their three runs. That’s what winning teams do.

* Duda, who missed most of spring training with a strained intercostal muscle, drove in two runs. Duda is benefitting from Kevin Long. His plate patience is good and his stroke on the two-run single was short and compact.

* Travis d’Arnaud‘s triple. There’s a lot of pressure on him to show something at the plate.

* Daniel Murphy committed a throwing error, but moved around all right and didn’t seem bothered by his pulled right hamstring.

THE BAD

* Mejia couldn’t come out for the ninth because of soreness in his throwing elbow and was placed on the disabled list today. He’s already had one Tommy John surgery. Since Bobby Parnell isn’t ready to come off the disabled list, the immediate fallout should have Familia assuming the closer role.

LINGERING ISSUES

* Yes, they won, but I still don’t care for the line-up. Juan Lagares spent most of spring training at the top of the order and it must be confusing for him to be dropped down. I don’t like Collins’ response of protecting him from the top of Washington’s rotation as it gives a message of negativity. But, they won and Curtis Granderson drew two walks leading off so I don’t expect them to change tomorrow. I also don’t like David Wright batting second, something he hadn’t done since 2010.

ON DECK: Mejia goes on disabled list.

Apr 06

Mets Game Thread: Colon Done For Day

The Mets built their lead to 3-1 in the seventh when Juan Lagares reached on Ian Desmond’s throwing error and scored on Travis d’Arnaud’s drive off the center field wall.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis pinch-hit for Bartolo Colon to close his pitching line at one run on three hits and one walk with eight strikeouts in six innings

Carlos Torres was the first reliever out of the Mets’ bullpen and put down the Nationals on three straight grounders.

Score: Mets 3, Nationals 1. (7th)

Apr 05

Still Plenty Of Questions For Mets

The Mets have their Opening Day roster, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have questions or concerns. This is a team GM Sandy Alderson said has the potential to win 90 games.

But, it is the spring and everybody has the right to be optimistic – even overly optimistic.

Yes, Matt Harvey is back – and with a chip on his shoulder – but, remember he’s only won 12 games in the major leagues. Also, they are without four pitchers – Vic Black, Josh Edgin, Zack Wheeler and Bobby Parnell – expected to be key members of the rotation, and replacing them forced serious damage control to their roster.

There’s reason to be hopeful about the season, but for it to be a truly successful summer, the following questions must be answered in the positive: (Note: I will revisit these questions through out the season.)

1. What can the Mets reasonably expect from Harvey?

Answer: He had a good spring training, but coming off Tommy John surgery they’ll be cautious. Harvey has 12 major league victories in only 36 starts, so expectations must be tempered. Don’t go thinking 20 wins and a Cy Young. The Mets would take 15 wins and for him to be healthy by October.

2. What happens to Bartolo Colon this year?

Answer: The Opening Day starter had a horrible spring training. The decision was based on winning 15 games and throwing over 200 innings last season. The Mets wanted to trade him during the winter, but found no takers.

3. An encore year for Jacob deGrom?

Answer: Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year was 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA and with Zack Wheeler gone for the season, he’ll need a significant boost in his numbers for the Mets to entertain thoughts of being competitive.

4. Will it ever happen for Jon Niese?

Answer: Your guess is as good as mine. At one time Niese was a hot property. However, being left-handed and with a manageable contract have not been enough to offset his 52-51 career record over seven years; a career-high 13 wins in 2012; 17 victories in the past two years; and an injury history that has allowed him to make as many as 30 starts only three times.

5. How long a leash will the Mets give Dillon Gee?

Answer: Let’s face it, if he were pitching a no-hitter, they’d yank him in the seventh inning if somebody called with a trade offer. They waited to name him to the rotation, and if he falters at all there will be talk of Rafael Montero taking his place.

6. Can the Mets trio of lefty relievers do the job?

Answer: An on-going question this spring was whether they’d find a viable left-hander in the bullpen. In the final week they opted to keep Rule 5 pick Sean Gilmartin, and then traded for Jerry Blevins and Alex Torres. You wouldn’t be wrong asking yourself if something were deficient with these guys, otherwise why would they be so available?

7. Can Jenrry Mejia hold the fort until Bobby Parnell returns?

Answer: After being bounced around from the bullpen to the rotation, Mejia assumed the closer role when Parnell went down with an elbow injury and responded with 28 saves, which is six more than Parnell had in his best year. Terry Collins said it is Parnell’s job when he comes off the disabled list. When that happens perhaps the bullpen can settle down into roles.

8. Will the Mets stabilize the rest of their bullpen?

Answer: Mejia, Jeurys Familia and Carlos Torres haven’t had a great spring, and Collins is trying to find roles for Montero and Buddy Carlyle. It appeared at the start of spring training the Mets had the foundation of a solid bullpen. But, without Edgin, Black and Parnell, the Mets are in potentially a lot of trouble.

9. When will Travis d’Arnaud evolve from the prospect stage?

Answer: A trip to the minor leagues helped d’Arnaud in the second half of last season, but he’s still not close to where the Mets hope he’ll be. If d’Arnaud gets off to a slow start, there will be clamoring for Kevin Plawecki.

10. Is Lucas Duda worth that contract extension?

Answer: The Mets tabled talks on a four-year, $31-million extension until next offseason. If he comes through with another 30-homer, 90-RBI summer, he’ll be worth the deal.

11. What will the Mets do with Daniel Murphy?

Answer: Because he’s making $8-million this year and will not be resigned, the Mets will make every effort to deal him by the trade deadline. They might even make a trade regardless of how well they are doing just to save some money.

12. What kind of patience will they show Wilmer Flores?

Answer: Because he had a good spring training and the Mets were preoccupied with a myriad of issues and injuries, Flores was mostly ignored. Rest assured, however, if Flores gets off to a slow start, there will be mutterings of replacing him.

13. Will David Wright regain his stroke?

Answer: Wright’s 162-game averages are 25 homers and 101 RBI, figures he hasn’t reached since 2010. Injuries limited him less than 155 games played in all but two years since 2010. Wright’s stroke is totally dependent on staying healthy.

14. Will Juan Lagares be worth the extension?

Answer: This is not a move the Mets have traditionally made with their own prospects so this is a gamble in every sense. He’s already proven he can field as evidenced by winning the Gold Glove Award, but he must improve his on-base percentage and cut his strikeouts if he’s to excel in the leadoff slot.

15. What is the power range for Curtis Granderson?

Answer: The Mets don’t expect him to hit forty as he did twice with the Yankees, but they’d like him to hit more than the 20 he did last season in his first as a Met. There was talk of hitting him in the leadoff spot, but 141 strikeouts are contrary to success hitting first.

16. Can Michael Cuddyer hit like a former NL batting champion?

Answer: Cuddyer hit .331 in winning the NL crown in 2012, and was at .332 last year when injuries cut short his season. The Mets aren’t expecting him to hit for power, but he hit six homers this spring. The Mets are planning to bat him fifth behind Duda.

17. Just how long before their decision to use contractual decisions to build their Opening Day roster hurt them?

Answer: It could happen any time. Gilmartin, Carlyle and reserve outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis are on the Opening Day roster primarily because of contractual obligations. In addition, they will be without role player Eric Campbell and be forced to carry eight relievers. In addition, did the Mets put their best pitching staff together by leaving off Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz?

18. What one stat could best determine if the Mets are to become competitive?

Answer: There are dozens of stats the Mets must improve on, but their 4-15 record against the Washington Nationals is arguably the most telling. Even if they were just 8-11 last year that would put them over .500 for the season.

19. How important is a fast start?

Answer: Huge would be an understatement. Apart from screwed up notion of playing three interleague games against the Yankees, the Mets schedule is entirely within the NL East. They’ll have three games against the Nationals; six against Atlanta; three against Philadelphia and four against Miami. There should be no excuse not to make a statement within the division.

20. Will there be a time when Collins and Alderson clash?

Answer: Undoubtedly yes. The make-up of the Opening Day roster has already caused head scratching. What should really tell us something is what happens if the Mets are competitive at the trade deadline and Alderson doesn’t pull the trigger on a deal.