Jun 12

Things Better Change Quickly For Mets

Last week I asked if there was a reason to be concerned with the Mets, but stopped short of saying they were in trouble. I’m not stopping short any longer. If the season ended today the Mets would make the playoffs as the second wild card, but there are more than a few reasons to believe they aren’t heading in the right direction.

MATZ: Roughed up Sunday. (Getty)

MATZ: Roughed up Sunday. (Getty)

There’s plenty of season left to turn things around, but also enough time has gone by to conclude despite their young pitching – and Bartolo Colon – that if there’s not a reversal soon the playoffs many of us took for granted on Opening Day might not happen.

Following their 15-7 April, including Sunday’s 5-3 loss in Milwaukee the Mets have gone 19-21. They are 4.5 games behind Washington, and one of seven teams lumped under the 4.5-game umbrella of wild-contenders.

Teams will lose, but the Mets didn’t play well during their 5-5 road trip. They weren’t just beaten, they beat themselves. On Sunday, they had breakdowns in all phases: 1) Steven Matz was roughed up in his second straight start; 2) the defense committed three errors and could have had a fourth; and 3) and their hitters struck out ten times and went 2-for-9 with RISP.

April’s storyline was the Mets’ propensity for hitting homers, but more importantly in their 62 games they have scored three or fewer runs in half (31) of them. That’s an alarming number. Overall, they are hitting .214 with RISP; and average around nine strikeouts and close to the same in runners left on base in a game.

Nine strikeouts mean in three innings they did not put the ball in play. For all those who don’t give credence to strikeouts as an important statistic, it is time to get a clue. Not putting the ball in play means no chance for hits; no chance to reach on an error; no sacrifice flies; and no productive outs to put runners in scoring position.

A positive note is Matt Harvey seems to have turned it around, but could that be offset by Matz’s two straight stinkers? And, Jacob deGrom hasn’t won in his last seven starts. The bullpen, so positive in April, is showing cracks. Closer Jeurys Familia is far from a sure thing. Their most reliable reliever is Addison Reed; with everybody else you hold your breath.

Injuries are a concern with David Wright, Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud on the disabled list. They could get d’Arnaud back in a week or so, but he wasn’t hitting or throwing runners out on the bases before he got hurt. Michael Conforto has a sore wrist and is in a dreadful slump; Neil Walker has a tight lower back; and Juan Lagares has an injured left thumb.

The upcoming schedule is brutal as from now until the All-Star break they have three more games with Pittsburgh; two against Kanas City; three with the Marlins; four against the Cubs and seven with the Nationals. Beginning Tuesday, the Mets start a stretch of 26 games in 27 days.

Seriously, there’s a chance the trade deadline could be moot.

The Mets can get on a hot streak, turn things around and maybe add a couple of pieces just as they did last season. However, since the end of April we’ve seen precious few signs of that happening.

There’s reason for concern, and yes, they are in trouble.

May 29

Loney Was Best Possible Available Option For Mets

James Loney might not have been the best player the Mets could have gotten to replace Lucas Duda at first base for the next two months, but considering how they do things he was the best possible option.

The Mets considered several internal options – including Wilmer Flores – but acted with unusual swiftness for them by getting Loney, 32, from San Diego for cash.

LONEY: Best available choice. (AP)

LONEY: Best available choice. (AP)

I would have preferred Adam LaRoche, but the speculated cost in coaxing him out of retirement from the White Sox would probably have been too high. However, I definitely prefer Loney over a mix-and-match platoon of Eric Campbell and Flores. He’s also a better option than moving Michael Conforto or David Wright to new positions.

“Loney was an immediate, obvious possibility in terms of ease of acquisition and a variety of things,” GM Sandy Alderson told reporters. “We had someone go and look at James a couple of games last week and earlier in the month. We felt this was the right move for us at the moment.

“We felt we needed another left-handed bat. James doesn’t have a lot of power. He hasn’t demonstrated that, but we’ve got that elsewhere in the lineup. He’s someone who hits from the left side, a contact hitter, doesn’t strike out a lot. He could be a nice fit for us.”

Manager Terry Collins, whose roots are in the Dodger system as are Loney’s, has known him for 15 years.

“He’ll add a nice dimension to us,” Collins said. “He’s a very good first baseman. He’s a good offensive player. He’s not necessarily a big power guy. He’s a tremendous guy in the clubhouse.”

Loney was released by the Rays this spring and had been with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in El Paso, Texas, where he was hitting .342 with two homers and 28 RBI in 158 at-bats.

Loney was to make $9.6 million this year, but because he was released by the Rays, the Mets are responsible for the pro-rated major league minimum for him.

All in all, it was the best possible deal the Mets could have made.

 

May 23

Mets Place Duda On DL; Ty Kelly Promoted

As speculated here yesterday, the Mets placed first baseman Lucas Duda on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 21, with a stress fractured to his lower back. Taking Duda’s spot on the roster is Ty Kelly from Triple-A Las Vegas. 

Kelly can play both the infield and outfield and is available for tonight’s game in Washington. To make room on the 40-man roster lefty reliever Dario Alvarez was designated for assignment.

Kelly, 27, was signed as a minor league free agent, last November. He is leading minor league baseball with a .391 average and an on-base percentage of .478. He was previously in the Baltimore, Toronto and St. Louis organizations. He was originally drafted by the Orioles in the 13th round in 2009.

May 22

Mets’ First Base Options Without Duda

UPDATED TO INCLUDE CONFORTO CORRECTION

Didn’t the Mets learn anything dealing with David Wright‘s back issue? Apparently not, as there still hasn’t been a decision how to deal with Lucas Duda‘s back problems that might be a disk. Despite sweeping the Brewers, the Mets’ offense continues to sputter and I’m guessing they’ll make a DL move before the Washington series.

It is a huge mistake if they don’t.

DUDA: What will they do if they don't have him? (AP)

DUDA: What will they do if they don’t have him? (AP)

Duda did not play the last two games and has been abysmal in May, going 7-for-41 with only one RBI and 11 strikeouts in his last 13 games. With three games against the Nationals, they’ll need every bit of offense they can get.

“It’s pretty concerning,” manager Terry Collins told reporters Sunday. “He tried to go out the last two games and play and it was still bothering him.”

Back problems which Wright can attest to linger and Duda won’t get much better, if at all, before Monday’s game. That’s why I’m thinking they’ll DL him. Assuming that’s the case and this drags on, what are the Mets’ possible first-base options?

STATUS QUO: In the short term they can continue to use Eric Campbell until Wilmer Flores comes off the DL at the end of the week. Campbell has played well in spots replacing Duda and before that, Wright. However, as was the case last year when Wright went down, Campbell’s flaws get exposed over time. The same could apply to Flores, whose playing time is greatly reduced this year and how he’ll take to first base is unknown.

Considering their history this is the path of least resistance and the course I imagine the Mets first taking.

Another bench option could be Alejandro De Aza, but there’s the issue of his experience at the position.

CONFORTO: It is totally outside the box thinking to tinker with Michael Conforto. It’s a risk to take a player unproven at a position and move him during the season. First base is not as easy as people think as Conforto will have to learn to hold runners, field bunts and become proficient with cutoffs and relays. Plus grounders will come at him a lot faster than they do in the outfield.

Mickey Mantle and Carl Yastrzemski moved at the end of their careers, but with the advantage of knowing they’d switch and had a spring training to learn the position. A plus is it could improve the outfield defense by moving Yoenis Cespedes to left – where he won a Gold Glove – and playing Juan Lagares in center, where he also won a Gold Glove.

WRIGHT: Just because he plays one corner infield position doesn’t mean he can play the other. It should be easier for Wright because it is an infield position and he’s used to fielding hard grounders. Even so, he’d still have to learn the same nuances as Conforto.

However, if this turns into a long-term thing with Duda it would be worth exploring because Wright’s back has hindered his defense, in particular when it comes to throwing. There might come a time, and it could occur sooner than later, this move might merit serious consideration.

If Duda’s injury sidelines him the way Wright’s benched him for four months, it would be prudent for the Mets to test Wright at first as to get a handle on their options. And, as is usually the case, economics will factor into the equation.

Duda will make $6.7 million this year and is arbitration eligible after next season and be a free-agent after 2018. The Mets don’t have the financial commitment to Duda that they do with Wright to whom they owe $67 million – not including this year – through 2020.

Wright’s health will always be a question and since his retirement isn’t an imminent issue the more they know about his ability to play – or not play – first base is important.

SMITH: The Mets are counting on Dominic Smith as their long-term answer with the assumption Wright doesn’t emerge as an option. Smith, the Mets’ 2013 first-round pick, is currently at Double-A, where he’s hitting less than .280.

Yes, I know they pushed the envelope with Conforto, who brought up from Double-A, but two months later in the season. Could Smith make the jump? It’s possible, but it’s no slam dunk.

I wouldn’t be adverse to bringing up Smith for a look-see. I’m not worried about his confidence being impacted if he struggles, because if he’s as good as the Mets hope he’ll become, then he should be strong enough mentally to overcome a rough stretch.

THE TRADE MARKET: There are numerous options in the free-agent market this winter who might be available in a trade at the deadline should their teams want to make a deal for a prospect.

An intriguing possibility is to coax Adam LaRoche out of retirement – it would be a package deal with his son – but could necessitate sending something to the White Sox. That’s way outside the box, but it wouldn’t hurt to explore.

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May 17

Mets Wrap: Syndergaard Stuffs Nats

SYNERGAARD: All arm and hair. (Getty)

SYNDERGAARD: All arm and hair. (Getty)

Take away two pitches and the Mets and Nationals might still be playing. Home runs by Curtis Granderson – off the first pitch thrown to him – and Michael Conforto off Max Scherzer were all Noah Syndergaard needed to win, 2-0, Tuesday night.

“I think he rises to the challenge,” Mets manager Terry Collins to reporters about Syndergaard in a classic understatement.

Syndergaard struck out ten to break the Mets’ four-game losing streak to pull them within a half-game of the Nationals. Scherzer, who was coming off a 20-strikeout performance in his previous start, also struck out ten.

The game featured the return of long-time Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy to return. Murphy hit six homers in last year’s postseason before he was signed as a free-agent in the offseason.

“Very nice of them,” Murphy said of two standing ovations.

After that, he was booed.

METS GAME WRAP

May 17, 2016

Game: #38      Score: Mets 2, Nationals 0

Record: 22-16      Streak: W 1

Standings: Second, NL East .5 GB Nationals Playoffs Today: First WC vs. Pittsburgh

Runs: 148       Average: 3.89    Times 3 or less: 17

SUMMARY: Sometimes pitching duels don’t live up to their promise. This one did.

KEY MOMENT:  Granderson’s homer in the first.

THUMBS UP:  Syndergaard was brilliant, throwing 102 pitches in seven innings. He gave up five hits and didn’t walk a batter. … Granderson reached base in all four plate appearances. … Addison Reed struck out two of the three Nationals he faced. … Jeurys Familia earned his 13th save in as many opportunities.

THUMBS DOWN:  None.

EXTRA INNINGS:  David Wright was scratched because of sore back and is listed day-to-day. It is the first time this season Wright didn’t play because of his back. I am wondering if his late pinch-hit appearance Sunday after sitting all day might have been a cause. … Lucas Duda didn’t play because of a sore back. He received an injection and the hope is he’ll be able to play Thursday. … Tests showed no ligament damage with Steve Matz. He won’t pitch in this series but could start Friday. I would still save him for next week.

QUOTEBOOK:  “Played good because we pitched good.’’ – Collins in as succinct an analysis as possible.

BY THE NUMBERS:  6-0: Mets’ record this year after an off day.

NEXT FOR METS:  Bartolo Colon Wednesday against Gio Gonzalez.