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 18

Three Mets’ Storylines: Makeshift Starter Saves Day … Again

When the final chapter of the 2016 Mets is written, it will be about pitching. The central theme will be about those lost and those who stepped into the breach. With Jacob deGrom scratched from Sunday’s start with an elbow injury that will require season-ending surgery, Gabriel Ynoa became the latest to help keep the Mets in the center of the wild-card race.

YNOA: Makes key start. (AP)

YNOA: Makes key start. (AP)

Personally, I was disappointed manager Terry Collins didn’t give Ynoa one more batter, but it worked out for the best and the Mets went on to complete their sweep of the Minnesota Twins, 3-2, to move into the lead wild-card spot, one game ahead of San Francisco and two over the Cardinals.

Ynoa gave up four hits and struck out eight in 4.2 innings, and from there manager Terry Collins turned to his “plethora of pitchers,” to complete the sweep. Five Mets’ relievers limited the Twins to a pair of runs.

While Ynoa was done when the game was decided, his contribution was vital – and worthy of another start with deGrom for the year – he personified the overriding storyline of this season (even more than their average with RISP) of the success of their emergency starters.

With Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and deGrom lost for the year, Seth Lugo, Logan Verrett, Robert Gsellman, Ynoa and Rafael Montero – all of whom were not in the Opening Day rotation – have combined to give the Mets 25 starts (seven defined as quality) and 10 victories. Another pitcher who was supposed to be out of the rotation in early July – 43-year-old Bartolo Colon – has 14 victories in 30 starts (18 defined as quality).

That’s 24 victories in 55 starts (25 quality), which is the difference between having something to keep playing for this season and thinking about spring training.

“Hey look, somebody else has got to help,” Collins said. “When you are called upon and it’s your chance, make the most of it.”

This issue will undoubtedly be raised again in the Mets’ remaining 13 starts, as Colon is slated to get three more starts, while the Band-Aid of Lugo, Gsellman and Ynoa are anticipated getting seven more.

That was today’s main storyline with Neil Walker‘s future with the team and more injury updates the others.

WALKER WANTS TO RETURN: The Mets are where they are in the playoff hunt in large part because of Walker, who hit .282 with a career-high 23 homers and 55 RBI, before being lost for the season to undergo season-ending back surgery.

Prior to Walker’s injury, GM Sandy Alderson said he’d talk with Walker’s agent about an extension, something which obviously hasn’t happened. Walker’s leverage on the free-agent market was compromised by the surgery. That explained Walker’s interest in returning.

“This is a good fit,” Walker told reporters. “This looks good, but we don’t know what else is out there. We don’t know where teams might be coming from. The free-agent market this year is kind of weak, especially at the infield position, so you never know what good happen.”

INJURY UPDATES:  Evidently, the Mets didn’t learn from their recent experience with deGrom. Why else would Collins say today Matz could come back “with an opportunity to pitch,” at the end of the week?

Matz, who hasn’t pitched in a month because of a shoulder impingement and is coming off a 30-pitch bullpen session Saturday, could pitch Friday

When it comes to Mets’ injury news, I’ll believe it when I see it, which is why I have no faith in what Collins said.

Matz was 9-8 with a 3.40 ERA when he was sidelined. The long-term goal would be to have him a viable option to pitch in a possible postseason.

“We have no plans yet,” Collins said, almost backtracking. “Nothing’s written. Steven Matz’s name certainly will be in the mix,” Collins said. “But Steven, when he gets here, is going to be a guy with a limit in workload that he has. So to get him built up and get him where we want, I am not sure we have the starts available.”So, why

So, why float the idea in the first place?

Meanwhile, Wilmer Flores‘ sore right wrist has kept him out of the lineup since it was injured in a home-plate collision with Braves’ catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Collins took responsibility for the injury saying he should have run for Flores.

Lucas Duda started for the first time since May. He was activated from the DL Saturday after being on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his lower back. … Yoenis Cespedes left the game in the sixth inning after feeling ill. … Walker said he’s feeling better after having surgery on a herniated disk in his neck.

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Sep 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Lugo Continues To Shine

Every pennant winner needs that player who comes out of nowhere to fill a huge void, which is exactly what the Mets have in Seth Lugo. More to the point, where would they be without him?

LUGO: Cruises to win. (AP)

LUGO: Cruises to win. (AP)

Lugo has given the Mets’ rotation a sense of stability after injuries to Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Lugo, who joined the rotation Aug. 19, was superb in Sunday’s 10-3 rout of Atlanta, giving up two runs on six hits in seven innings.

Now 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA, Lugo figures to get three more starts and if he runs the table could tie deGrom with seven victories in his rookie season.

“He has a feel for pitching,” said manager Terry Collins. “He knows how to get a ground ball to get out of trouble. You see him bear down and his fastball gets a little better.”

If there was a turning point, it came in the fourth, when the Mets held a 6-1 lead but the Braves had the bases loaded with one out. However, Lugo got Dansby Swanson to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“He mixes his pitches well,” said catcher Rene Rivera. “When he gets a runner on base, he focuses and executes.”

The Mets were never seriously threatened from then on.

Lugo’s domination on the day the Mets said good-riddance to Turner Field was the clear storyline. The others were Collins’ questionable handling of two of his key injured players and finally, some production, from James Loney.

MORE COLLINS HEADSCRATCHING: Less than 24 hours after Collins took the blame for not running for Wilmer Flores only to have him thrown out, and injured, on a play at the plate, he foolishly kept the gimpy Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes in a blowout game despite the expanded rosters.

Cabrera has been playing with a sore knee and Cespedes a bad quad – injuries that forced both to the disabled list in the second half of the season – so you would think Collins would use every opportunity to rest them.

For all practical purposes, the competitive aspect of the game was over when the Mets took a 10-1 lead in the fifth.

Even so, Cabrera and Cespedes remained in the game despite the expanded rosters.

Collins said they wanted to stay in the game to beg the question: Who is managing this team anyway?

Heading into Washington for three games against the Nationals, who would like nothing better to cap the division with a sweep of the Mets, and on a stretch of 19 straight games without an off day, it’s beyond foolish to keep players coming off injuries in a blowout game.

LONEY RESURFACES: When Lucas Duda went down with a back injury, the Mets caught a break when they picked up Loney.

He’s been solid defensively and hit .294 in June and .280 in July, but only .213 in August.

However, he’s been warming up in September, and Sunday went 2-for-4 with a double and homer

Nobody can say for sure if Duda will return, so it would be important to have a hot Loney for the last three weeks.

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Aug 09

Mets’ Lineup, Aug. 9, Against Arizona

Before the Mets can go on any winning streak they must first win two games in a row and going against Arizona’s Zack Greinke it won’t be easy. The Mets will try to get another start from Steven Matz‘s sore elbow.

Here’s who’ll go against Greinke:

Curtis Granderson – CF: It’s stunning, really. Granderson has 18 homers, but only 31 RBI. Almost incomprehensible. Batting .194 (12-64) over last 17 games.

Neil Walker – 2B: The hottest Met, hitting .476 (10-21) on the road trip. For the season is batting .260 (19-73) with 26 RBI with RISP.

Jay Bruce – RF: Seven of last nine hits have been homers, two since joining the Mets. His 84 RBI are second in the NL.

James Loney – 1B: With Lucas Duda‘s health an issue, bringing back Loney should be a priority. Has hit safely in 19 of last 22 games.

Wilmer Flores – 3B: The Mets don’t have a real place for him, and frankly, aren’t trying hard to find one. Is hitting .271 (13-48) with RISP, yet this is a team that doesn’t produce in the clutch.

Michael Conforto – LF: At one time, Mets told us he would end up their No. 3 hitter. They were also going to play him in center.

Travis d’Arnaud – C: Mets pitchers have a 3.87 ERA when he starts. Their ERA is 2.68 when Rene Rivera plays.

Matt Reynolds – SS: Looks as if he’s The Flavor of the Month at shortstop with Asdrubal Cabrera on the DL.

Steven Matz – LHP: Is 8-8 after a 7-1 start. Yes, a lot of that is because of the bone spur. Making first career start against Arizona.

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Jul 31

Mets Wrap: Limping Into The Dog Days

Just as the Mets closed June so too did they end July by winning at home in the month’s final game to snap a four-game losing streak.

WALKER: Is he back? (AP)

   WALKER: Is he back? (AP)

It’s an oversimplification to suggest the Mets kept their playoff aspirations alive with Sunday’s come-from-behind, 6-4, victory over the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field. Sure, they could go on to win ten in a row, even if their reported trade offer of Travis d’Arnaud and Brandon Nimmo – plus a third player – for Milwaukee’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy falls through.

In avoid being swept by the Rockies, the Mets salvaged Mike Piazza Weekend in time for their four-game stretch with the Yankees. What they couldn’t avoid was losing another player, this time it is shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera with a strained left patella tendon when he awkwardly twisted his knee rounding third.

“I’m very concerned about it,” manager Terry Collins told reporters.

With the trade deadline extended a day, the Mets have until 4 p.m., Monday to decide whether to go for it or pack it in for another year. There are compelling reasons in support of both positions. On the go side, at 54-50, they are in fourth place in the wild-card standings behind Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis, but only 2.5 games behind the Marlins for the final spot. On the nay side they trail NL East leader Washington by seven games, plus have a long list of injuries.

Plus, despite winning Sunday and Neil Walker suddenly hot again, the Mets’ offense has been in a three-month slide.

Who cares if the Mets are third in the NL in homer with 132, when in the 15-team league they are 11th in on-base percentage (.305), 13th in RBI (365), 14th in runs (375) and 15th in average (.238). And, if you’re into the new-age numbers, they are 11th in OPS (.714).

There’s still time for the Mets to make a run, even if they don’t make a splash at the deadline.

JULY MVP

James Loney has been a terrific replacement for Lucas Duda, whose return timetable is uncertain. His defense has been magnificent, and he’s been a presence at the plate, hitting .282 with six homers, 21 RBI and a .337 on-base percentage. And in July, when both Yoenis Cespedes and Walker struggled, Loney hit .291 with three homers and 11 RBI.

PITCHER OF THE MONTH

Addison Reed has arguably been one of GM Sandy Alderson’s best acquisitions. He leads the NL with 26 holds, including 10 for July along with a 0.00 ERA for the month. He struck out 16 in 12 innings, and gave up only four hits. Overall, he has a 1.81 ERA and 0.45 WHIP.

KEY GAME OF THE MONTH

There have been several significant games, and but I’m leaning toward Friday’s 6-1 loss to the Rockies in which the Mets had two on with nobody out and reliever Scott Oberg entered to get three outs on three pitches. I could have gone with any of Jeurys Familia‘s two blown saves, or even Sunday, but I chose this one because of Collins’ post-game message.

“We have a good team,” Collins said. “We’re going through a rough time right now. We’re not dead. We’re still in the hunt. We need to lighten it up and have some fun. … We have to stop worrying about some of the bad things and concentrate on some of the good things.”

KEY MOVE OF THE MONTH

When Walker was in the midst of a horrid slump, Collins opted to sit him down for a couple of games. The turnaround wasn’t immediate, but he is 12-for-22 so far on the home stand., including a three-run homer Sunday.

RED FLAG ENDURED

Both Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz have been pitching with bone spurs in their elbows. Both have had rising pitch counts, but so far they haven’t missed any time, although Syndergaard was scratched from the All-Star game.

Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen are experimenting by cutting their between-starts sessions and pre-game warmups. So far, so good.

KEY ISSUE RESOLVED

I don’t know what Alderson will do Monday, but to date, he’s done a good job of plugging holes with Loney, catcher Rene Rivera and Kelly Johnson. Jose Reyes was a temporary fix, but he’s on the disabled list.

HEALTH ISSUES

Look for Cabrera to go on the disabled list and replaced by Matt Reynolds. He’ll join Reyes and Juan Lagares, who went on the DL last week. … Yoenis Cespedes has a strained right quad. Frankly, I’d put him on the DL now and see what two weeks rest might do, rather than have him go at half-speed and risk losing him at the end of August or September. … Syndergaard and Matz are dealing with bone spurs and bear constant watching. … Matt Harvey is gone for the year and nobody knows when Zack Wheeler will return. … We see David Wright watching games from the bullpen. … The speculated return date for Duda keeps being pushed back, … Remember reliever Jim Henderson? Still no word when he’ll return.

SIX QUESTIONS RAISED

Will the Mets make a deal at the deadline?

How long will Cabrera and Reyes be out?

How long will Matz and Syndergaard hold up?

How long will the ride last with Loney?

After coming back, will Nimmo and Michael Conforto start hitting?

Is Bartolo Colon slowing down?

BY THE NUMBERS

2: Blown saves by Familia after converting 52 straight.

3: Players put on the DL (Reyes, Lagares and Harvey).

13: Games during the month in which they scored three runs or less.

8: Victories by a starting pitcher for the month.

LOOKING AT AUGUST’S SCHEDULE

It doesn’t get any easier for the first week with four against the Yankees, who are now without Alrodis Chapman and Andrew Miller, then three in Detroit. From there they have six games against Arizona and three with San Diego, then four at San Francisco and three at St. Louis. They close the month with three at home against Philadelphia and three with Miami.