Aug 18

Three Mets’ Storylines: Niese Rocked

Jon Niese’s return to the rotation turned out to be a tease for the Mets. Starting in place of Logan Verrett Wednesday night, Niese threw three scoreless innings before Arizona unloaded on him with three runs in the third and knocked him from the game the following inning.

Niese, making his first start in over a month (when he was with Pittsburgh), gave up homers to Yasmany Tomas and Rickie Weeks, in the third before he was chased in favor of Erik Goeddel in the fourth.

Niese gave up four runs on four hits in 4.2 innings, but struck out six in the 13-5 loss. Last week in New York, the Diamondbacks got to him for six runs in one inning.

With no imminent help coming up from Las Vegas or from the waiver wire, Niese will likely remain in the rotation.

OFFENSE DISAPPEARS … AGAIN: The Mets scored seven runs Tuesday, but after scratching out a run in the first did precious little.

The Mets produced only four hits.

Manager Terry Collins, in trying to “take something off his plate,’’ dropped Curtis Granderson to sixth, but was 1-for-4 with a meaningless homer in the ninth and two strikeouts.

The Mets expect Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera to be activated this weekend in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Michael Conforto, who the Mets seemingly have no intention of bringing up from Triple-A, is 12-for-18 in his last four games.

DOESN’T GET EASIER: After finishing their season series 1-5 against the Diamondbacks, the Mets are off to San Francisco for a four-game series then three in St. Louis.

The match-ups will be: Thursday, Jacob deGrom vs. Madison Bumgarner; Friday, Steven Matz vs. Johnny Cueto; Saturday, Bartolo Colon vs. Matt Moore; Sunday, Noah Syndergaard vs. Jeff Samardzija.

Sunday’s game was moved to the night.

Niese, deGrom and Matz are scheduled to start in St. Louis.

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Aug 17

Time To Sit Granderson

There are cold stretches, slumps and what Mets’ outfielder Curtis Granderson is currently in, which has gone on long enough.

Manager Terry Collins said if you don’t hit, you’ll sit, and Granderson hasn’t hit all season. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve met around baseball, but his smile doesn’t drive in runs. Come to think about it, neither do his home runs. His 32 RBI off 18 homers is one of the most staggering statistics I’ve ever seen.

GRANDERSON: The Grandy Man can't. (AP)

GRANDERSON: The Grandy Man can’t. (AP)

So, why is he still in the lineup when Michael Conforto is in the minor leagues? Ditto for Brandon Nimmo.

Let’s look at more frightening numbers: Granderson is hitting .224 this season; is batting .127 (10-79) with RISP; and .165 (15-91) over his last 23 games.

Somehow, none on this has sunk in on Collins.

“You still look up and this guy is going to end up with over 20 homers,” Collins told reporters. “He’s not necessarily a RBI guy, so no matter where you think you should hit anybody in the order, they are going to end up coming up with guys on base at times.”

It might be one of the dumbest things I’ve heard from a manager in nearly 25 years around this game.

First of all, he has 18 homers now, so what’s two more? Secondly, and even more importantly, if you end up with runners on base your job is to drive them in. Memo to Collins: Everybody is a RBI guy.

Perhaps Granderson is spending too much time around Collins because his explanation made no sense. None.

“Initially, I was in the position where I was going to lead off and set the tone and things like that,” Granderson told reporters.

“And, I’ve mixed when to be aggressive versus when to set the tone for everybody else, so there’s been pitches I could have gone after and attacked and maybe did something with that I let go by.”

Huh?

Granderson’s responsibility as a hitter is two-fold: 1) if there’s nobody on base he’s supposed to get on base, but a .317 on-base percentage says he’s not doing it, and 2) if there are runners on base his job is to advance them or drive them in.

It’s not all that hard to understand, but obviously with Granderson this season, much harder to do.

Granderson’s job is to always be aggressive, and he hasn’t been. It’s time to get somebody in the lineup that can be.

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Aug 12

Mets Matters: Conforto Optioned; Lineups

Michael Conforto gave the Mets a spark last year in their second-half push toward the playoffs. He started this season in the lineup, but low in the order. Manager Terry Collins said Conforto’s future was third in the order, but that fizzled, as did the plan for him to play against left-handers.

When Yoenis Cespedes was injured, Collins said Conforto would get time in center. That didn’t happen, either. The Mets placed Conforto on the Vegas Shuttle today when they optioned him to Triple-A to make room for righty reliever Seth Lugo.

We’ll see Conforto again, perhaps even before the rosters are expanded Sept. 1.

Collins keeps saying Conforto is a big piece of the Mets’ future, so why doesn’t he show it?

WHEELER NOT CLOSE:  Perhaps the Mets should start thinking about shutting down Zack Wheeler for the season. The plan was to activate him from the disabled list around July 1, but he’s had several setbacks.

He made his first rehab start earlier this week, but it lasted 17 pitches before being washed away by rain. Today the Mets said Wheeler will be examined by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews because of persistent elbow discomfort.

There’s no reason to push him when he’s clearly not ready.

LINEUP vs. SAN DIEGO:  The Mets are supposed to beat up on the San Diego Padres, then again they were going to get back into the wild-card race against Arizona. Instead, they were swept and have lost 11 of their past 15 games to fall to .500 at 57-57.

On Thursday, Collins said, “starting tomorrow we’re going to go after it.” They try to do so with Logan Verrett (3-7, 4.66).

Here’s the lineup behind him:

Curtis Granderson – LF:  Batting .229 with 18 homers and 31 RBI. … Career .288 hitter (21-73) vs. Padres. … Hitting .135 (10-74) with RISP.

T.J. Rivera – 3B: Made his major league debut Wednesday and got a hit. … Was leading the International League with a .349 average.

Neil Walker – 2B: Is batting .275 with 20 homers and 51 RBI. … Lifetime .232 hitter (36-155) vs. Padres. … Batting .270 (20-74) with RISP.

Jay Bruce – RF: Is batting .257 with 27 homers and 84. … Lifetime .232 hitter (41-177) vs. Padres. … Overall, is batting .344 (33-96) with nine homers and 55 RBI with RISP.

James Loney – 1B: Is batting .277 with six homers and 25 RBI. … Lifetime .255 hitter (83-325) vs. Padres. … Batting .229 (11-48) with 16 RBI with RISP.

Travis d’Arnaud – C: Is batting .228 with three homers and 11 RBI. … Lifetime .235 hitter (4-17) against Padres. … Batting .147 (5-34) with RISP.

Alejandro De Aza – CF: Is batting .200 with three homers and nine RBI. … Lifetime .226 hitter (7-31) vs. Padres. … Is hitting .080 (2-25) with RISP.

Matt Reynolds – SS: Is batting .208 with two homers and 10 RBI. … Has never faced Padres. … Is hitting .294 (5-17) with RISP.

Verrett – RHP: Has no decisions in four of last five starts. … Hitters are batting .235 (20-85) with 14 strikeouts with RISP.

SERIES ROTATION:

Saturday: RHP Jacob deGrom (7-5, 2.35) vs. RHP Jarred Cosart (0-1, 5.79), 7:10 p.m. ET

Sunday: LHP Steven Matz (8-8, 3.60) vs. LHP Clayton Richard (0-1, 6.46), 1:10 p.m. ET

 

 

Aug 12

What’s Your Confidence Level In Mets After Collins’ Rant

The key to a successful managerial rant and closed door meeting is to have a quality starter going next, but the Mets have Logan Verrett tonight against San Diego. Then again, Noah Syndergaard was supposed to turn things around Thursday.

COLLINS: Did he convince you things would change? (Getty)

COLLINS: Did he convince you things would change? (Getty)

Manager Terry Collins was correct in much of his assessment of his team but whiffed on a very important point: the topic of grinding out at-bats. Such nonsense. Collins said “this team has been about grinding out at-bats the past few years.”

Evidently, he hasn’t watched the same team I have been. With the exception of a few hitters, this team doesn’t grind out at-bats. Grinding out at-bats would entail drawing a few walks, but they are ninth in the National League with 342 walks. Conversely, they are fifth highest with 947 strikeouts.

And please, if I hear one more time things will get better once Yoenis Cespedes gets back I will scream. He can hit baseballs a long way, but he also strikes out too damn much. He might be the Mets’ least disciplined hitter.

To turn things around, the Mets must show signs of life, yet they haven’t won successive games since before the All-Star break. Collins went on about playing baseball “the right way,” but don’t you remember all those times in April and May when he said, almost with pride, “that this team doesn’t play small ball?”

Small ball is playing the game the right way. Small ball is recognizing the value of 27 outs and not giving away eight of them a game with strikeouts. A productive out should not be celebrated, but common place for a winning team. Advancing runners into scoring position is essential, but then again, the Mets are last in the majors hitting with a man in scoring position, so, does it really matter?

This is a team without an offensive clue, and that’s an organizational philosophy. Playing small ball is boring and not in line with the new-age sabremetrics favored by the architect of this team, GM Sandy Alderson, who cares about home runs and doesn’t give strikeouts anything more than a passing glance.

Defensively, there’s little range and players are out of position.

On the mound, the Mets’ rotation – once touted as the best in baseball – is a house of cards. Jacob deGrom and Bartolo Colon are the only reliable starters. Syndergaard and Steven Matz have struggled with bone spurs and if the Mets fall behind any further, consideration should be made to shut them down.

There’s been a long list of injuries, but every team has injuries. The Dodgers don’t have Clayton Kershaw and the Cardinals went without Matt Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Stephen Strasburg went on Washington’s DL, but catching the Nationals won’t happen. Didn’t the Marlins lose Giancarlo Stanton for awhile?

Championship caliber teams overcome and the Mets don’t. James Loney has helped and so has Kelly Johnson, but Jose Reyes was never the answer, Reyes was a grasp at the past in the hope of forgetting the present. They waited too long before going after Jay Bruce.

Collins promised us that starting today, with Verrett, the Mets were “going after it.”

Collins has promised a lot of things. He promised Michael Conforto would bat third, hit against lefties and play every day. Then he promised he would play in center. Collins promised regular at-bats for Wilmer Flores. He promised he would care for the rotation, but aren’t you waiting for Syndergaard and Matz to pack it in for the year like Matt Harvey?

The Mets were supposed to have an easy second-half schedule, but August will see them in San Francisco and St. Louis, before the get another crack at Miami and Washington.

Collins ranted a good game Thursday, but in the end did nothing to raise my confidence in this team. How about you?

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Aug 07

Three Mets’ Storylines: Will Walker Be Around In 2017 To Save Them?

Just when it looked as if things couldn’t get bleaker for the Mets, Neil Walker rescued them Sunday afternoon with a two-run, ninth-inning homer.

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

It wasn’t the first time Walker picked up the Mets by the scruff of the neck and made me wonder if Walker will be around to save them in 2017. He’s free to leave after this season and there’s been no word on what the Mets’ plans are – or Walker’s.

The Mets were lucky to get him from Pittsburgh after Daniel Murphy left last winter. Ben Zobrist was their first replacement choice, but they were never going to afford him. GM Sandy Alderson let Murphy walk for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which Dilson Herrera as their fall back. Well, Herrera now is in Cincinnati’s farm system.

If they let Walker go as they did Murphy, they will be forced to find a second baseman. Will they go outside? Will it be Wilmer Flores, whom they never want to give a fair chance? Will it be Jose Reyes? Will they bring back Kelly Johnson or try Matt Reynolds?

Whoever they choose, it’s unlikely he’ll match Walker’s production, which will become even more important should Yoenis Cespedes leave and David Wright doesn’t recover. What Walker did Sunday is to remind us how important he has been to the Mets and fragility of their offense.

As has been the case with the Mets a lot lately, the game boiled down to the late innings. Manager Terry Collins pulled Jacob deGrom with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead in the seventh, but Jerry Blevins couldn’t keep Detroit from tying the game and the Mets were in danger of being swept and falling further behind in the wild-card race.

However, the Tigers ran themselves out of the eighth inning to set up Walker’s 19th homer, a drive well into the right-field seats that carried the Mets to a 3-1 victory.

After a sizzling April, Walker went into a dismal slump, but regained his stroke after the All-Star break and took a .489 stretch (22-for-45) into the game. With Cespedes basically a non-entity since early July, Walker kept the Mets afloat; he has three homers and nine RBI over his last dozen games.

Walker approached his at-bat against Francisco Rodriguez wanting to get a fastball early and stay away from the closer’s put-away changeup.

“You hope he leaves something up in the zone and that’s what I got,” Walker said. “With most closers you want to get to them early [in the count] because they have a devastating out pitch.”

Considering the Mets’ overall lack of prowess hitting with RISP and their injuries, one shudders to think where they would be without Walker. For one thing, it’s doubtful they would be three games over .500.

Walker has been crucial to the Mets’ hanging around, and as dismal as they have played, they are one good week from getting a foothold in the wild card race. They are currently nine games behind Washington in the NL East, so that boat is pulling out of the harbor. Still, the wild card is possible, as they trail the second slot by 1.5 games.

Walker’s homer was the headline of the day for the Mets, followed by deGrom’s start and my favorite Ernie Harwell story.

DE GROM START WASTED: The only real concern the Mets have with deGrom is not being able to score runs for him. Sunday marked the 11th time in his short career in which he gave up one or fewer runs and the Mets didn’t give him more than one run.

DeGrom had a 1-0 lead entering the seventh, but the Tigers loaded the bases on Justin Upton’s single, a walk to James McCann and Andrew Romine’s squibber that died near the third base line. Enter Blevins, who was greeted by Ian Kinsler’s weak chopper past the mound to tie the game and ensure deGrom’s seventh no-decision.

Collins said he thought deGrom was losing it after the walk when asked why he didn’t let him finish. For his part, deGrom said, “it was probably the right call,” to pull him.

As for Kinsler’s hit, deGrom said: “You’re trying to get weak contact there or a strikeout. It was a little too weak. It’s all part of the game.”

Fortunately for the Mets, on this day it wasn’t the definitive part of the game.

MY FAVORITE HARWELL STORY:  This series in Detroit reminds me of the late Tigers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, will always be one of my favorite people I’ve met in sports.

I always heard about his kindness, but experienced it first hand by his selfless gesture toward me in the Tigers’ clubhouse years ago. I was just starting out covering the Indians at the time when I ventured into the Tigers’ clubhouse to get a Kirk Gibson quote.

I waited patiently until the circle around Gibson was breaking up when I approached him. He looked at me and gruffly said, “I’m done for the day,’’ then turned his back. I was more than a little miffed when a TV guy stuck his mike in Gibson’s face. What could I do, show Gibson my resume and clips portfolio?

“What the hell?” I thought. Harwell saw this and walked up to me and said, “Don’t worry about it. That happens all the time.”

I always remembered that and remained grateful for Harwell’s compassion and kindness. He didn’t know me and didn’t have to do that, but that was Ernie.

When I was covering the Yankees I always made it a point to visit with him whenever I was in Detroit.

He was the best. The very best.

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