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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Aug 03

Three Mets’ Storylines: Cespedes Goes From Golf Course To DL

With how the Mets played Wednesday, it’s as if they fell out of an Ugly Tree and hit every branch on the way down. The thud at the end was the sound of Yoenis Cespedes landing on the disabled list with a strained right quad, a move that should have been made weeks ago.

The Mets were counting on the combination of Cespedes and Jay Bruce jumpstarting their stagnant offense, but they went a combined 1-for-9 with three strikeouts in a 9-5 loss at Yankee Stadium, including 0-for-4 with RISP. The number I don’t have is what Cespedes shot during his 18 holes earlier in the day.

CESPEDES: Goes on DL ... finally. (AP)

CESPEDES: Goes on DL … finally. (AP)

Manager Terry Collins said prior to the game he was OK with Cespedes playing golf the day of a game despite the Mets’ efforts to keep him off his feet and preserve his energy since the All-Star break.

“Was he running on the course or was he walking? Did he ride a cart or was he jogging?” Collins told reporters “I don’t have any problem with it.”

This wasn’t the first time Cespedes’ penchant for golfing had been an issue. Cespedes golfed the day of Game 4 of the NLCS, then left the game with a shoulder injury. Collins didn’t have a problem with it then, either.

Collins and the Mets mishandled Cespedes’ injury from the beginning. The first mistake was playing him out of position in center. The injury occurred in early July when Cespedes misplayed a ball hit over his head and landed awkwardly.

Sure, it could have happened in left, but what happened later is where the Mets blew it. The Mets didn’t put him on the DL at the time and opted to wait until after the All-Star break, but did nothing when it was clear Cespedes was hurting.

The Mets weren’t hitting, but hoped Cespedes would run into a pitch, like he did against St. Louis, but that moment was lost in Jeurys Familia‘s first blown save.

Collins pointed to these five DH games as a chance to use Cespedes’ bat and keep him off the field. So, what did Collins do? He foolishly used him as a pinch-hitter Tuesday and Cespedes aggravated the quad with an awkward swing.

After Tuesday’s game, Cespedes said he felt something, so he did the responsible thing and played golf Wednesday – with the photos on the Internet – and was given a pass by Collins.

Others though different.

“You’re being rested for a reason,” said SNY analyst Nelson Figueroa. “When they are trying to give you time off, you shouldn’t be on a golf course.”

Added Bobby Valentine: “He should be worried about his RBI’s not his handicap. He’s a paid professional in one sport. … He’s in New York, he shouldn’t do it.”

Whether he used a cart or not is irrelevant. When you play 18 holes you’re still spending a lot of time on your feet and your legs get tired. Then to play a baseball game later is draining.

“I think the best option is just rest, about 10 days or so,” Cespedes told reporters through an interpreter. “Because if I continue playing hurt, I’m never going to recover.”

Too bad Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who brought up Brandon Nimmo to replace Cespedes, couldn’t figure that out weeks ago.

Cespedes injury was clearly the story of the night and will continue to be for a long time.

The other storylines were Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira being hit by a Steven Matz pitch to almost ignite a brawl, then getting in the head of reliever Hansel Robles. That came after the news Lucas Duda had a setback in his back rehab and will probably be lost for the rest of the season.

TEIXEIRA vs. METS PITCHERS:  Matz had a rough start, giving up six runs in six innings, including a homer by Teixeira. The damage was done in the first two innings, but Matz regrouped to retire 12 of the final 13 batters he faced.

The one he didn’t was Teixeira, who was plunked on the leg. It was clear Matz wasn’t throwing at Teixeira, because he immediately turned his back to the plate. When a pitcher intentionally hits a batter he doesn’t turn his back because he doesn’t want to give the hitter a free run at him.

Collins said there was no intent.

“We know Steven Matz wasn’t throwing at anybody,” Collins said. “If his command is that good we wouldn’t have been behind 6-3.”

Even so, to Teixeira perception was reality.

“I know Matz is a good kid,” Teixeira said. “`I’ve talked to him a few times. But listen, when you hit a home run and the next pitch is not even close and hits you it just looks bad. So I just told him, I didn’t appreciate it.”

And, Robles didn’t appreciate Teixeira when the Yankees blew open the game in the seventh inning. When Teixeira was on second, Robles became incensed because he thought he was stealing signs. Robles became angrier when Teixeira mocked him, even to the point where he laughed and pretended to give a set of signs.

“I’ve never gotten inside someone’s head by standing there,” Teixeira said. “After three or four pitches, I realize he’s staring at me. I was trying to have some fun with him. If you think I have your signs, then change your signs.”

Collins conceded Teixeira wasn’t doing anything, but Robles was still upset.

“I think he was trying to pick up signs,” Robles said. “That’s not the way you play baseball. … Just play baseball, you don’t need to pick up signs.”

DUDA HAS SETBACK:  Duda, who had been on the DL since May 23 with a stress fracture in his lower back, was still feeling discomfort and was re-examined by Los Angeles-based orthopedic surgeon Robert Watkins, who suggested 30 days rest. After that, figuring another two to three weeks of rehab, then you’re talking the end of the season.

Duda is making $6.75 million this year. There’s a good chance the Mets will non-tender him in December. The clear option is to bring back James Loney next season, but Alderson said it is possible Michael Conforto or Bruce might be tested at first.

Yeah, that will work.

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Jul 25

Suggesting A New Batting Order For Listless Mets’ Offense

Seventh? Can you believe it? Michael Conforto was in the starting lineup for Monday’s game – that was rained out – but hitting seventh in the order.

After a successful stint in the minors that culminated in two hits Sunday in Miami, that’s not where he should be in the order. Manager Terry Collins should leave Conforto in center, have him bat third and just leave him alone.

CONFORTO: Keep him third. (Getty)

CONFORTO: Keep him third. (Getty)

Conforto fizzled in April, got pull happy and saw his average drop from a season-high .365 on April 30 to a season-low .222 when he was sent down after four hitless games, June 21-24.

Conforto was told to concentrate on using the entire field and that’s been his mindset since coming back up.

“Just getting back to the kind of hitter that I feel like I am and use the whole field, take what the pitcher gives me,” Conforto told reporters in Miami about his hitting approach. “It’s really stuff we were working on up there. When you go down there, you get a chance to take a breath and really look at what’s going on and work on some things. It was a positive for me to go down there and work on some stuff.”

The Mets’ lineup has been dormant for much of the season, and part of the reason has been an inconsistent batting order.

Here’s what I suggest to offer stability:

Jose Reyes, 3B: He’s off to a good start since coming back and the only speed threat in the order.

Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B: He’s been terrible with RISP, so why not hit him in a place where there isn’t many runners in that position? Besides, Cabrera has been successful batting second.

Conforto, CF: He shouldn’t be here if he doesn’t play, and the best thing is to play him where he’s expected to end up. No more moving him around or pinch-hitting for him against right-handers.

Yoenis Cespedes, LF: The Mets aren’t going to budge on this – Cespedes will play left. But, he’s been the best power bat so hit him cleanup.

Curtis Granderson, RF: Batting him fifth would sandwich Cespedes against two left-handers.

James Loney, 1B: He’s been a terrific pick up and done it both in the field and at the plate. I’d also hit Wilmer Flores sixth when he plays, and once again, he should be in a rotation with the other infielders.

Travis d’Arnaud, C: Of course, this is predicated on him still being here. Should they get Jonathan Lucroy from Milwaukee, I’d bat him sixth behind Granderson and drop Loney down a notch.

Neil Walker, 2B: Slumps don’t get much deeper than the one Walker is currently riding. Pitchers could work around him to get to the pitcher. In the end, if Walker stays patient, this could help snap him out of a slump.

Pitcher’s spot: Ninth.

 

Jul 12

What Went Wrong For Mets In First Half And Other Obstacles

On Monday I examined ten positives from the Mets’ first half. Today I look at ten things that either went wrong or must be overcome.

The Mets are tied with Miami six games behind Washington in the NL East. From injuries to poor performances, it was far from an idyllic first half.

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

It isn’t as if it all spiraled out of control, but numerous things must be overcome if the Mets are to make a second-half run:

1. HISTORY: The Mets have never reached the postseason in consecutive seasons, let alone the World Series. History has always been a tough nut to crack.

2. TEAM IDENTITY: The Mets are constructed in GM Sandy Alderson’s vision, which sometimes is no better than that of Mr. Magoo. Manager Terry Collins said Sunday “situational hitting” is the key things the Mets must improve on in the second half after repeatedly saying the season’s first three months they are a team built on power. Those are two incompatible concepts. The Mets won only five games in which they did not hit a homer. That must change.

3. RISP: This is linked to the first event. The Mets hit a paltry .213 with runners in scoring position with 180 strikeouts. The Mets average roughly eight runners left on base per game. Nearly 55 percent of the Mets’ scoring is attributable to home runs, and they only have a plus-20 run differential. Not good.

4. STRIKEOUTS: Alderson’s attraction to the new-wave statistics seemingly includes a disregard for striking out. It’s like he doesn’t care when a hitter strikes out, which is inexcusable. The Mets average 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which is just shy of three innings. The Mets are giving away three innings of potential offense, meaning there are no sacrifice flies; no chance of reaching on a hit, error or walk; and no productive outs. Curtis Granderson is on pace to strike out 144 times, followed by Yoenis Cespedes (142) and Neil Walker (122). Before they went on the disabled list, David Wright and Lucas Duda were also on pace to strikeout over 120 times. Michael Conforto was on pace to strikeout over 100 times before he was optioned to the minors. That’s Alderson’s offense, and it is not conducive to winning.

5. ROTATION PROBLEMS: The Mets’ young starting rotation was to carry this team, but Matt Harvey is lost for the year; Noah Syndergaard has a bone spur in his right elbow and enters the second half as a significant question; Jacob deGrom went ten starts without a victory; and Steven Matz has a bone spur in his left elbow, but pitched well in his last three starts. The Mets hoped to plug Bartolo Colon into the bullpen and bring up Zack Wheeler. However, Wheeler has had several setbacks and won’t be available until mid-August.

6. WRIGHT IS LOST: Wright is gone for the year following neck surgery and his career is in jeopardy. Wright has been saddled with injuries for several years. In addition to a lack of production, his salary has hamstrung the Mets in making moves.

7. OTHER INJURIES: In addition to Harvey and Wright, Duda is out indefinitely with a fracture in his lower back. The Mets enter the second half with Cespedes out with a strained quad with no timetable for his return. Granderson is playing with a strained calf and Conforto was playing with an injured wrist when he was demoted. Reliever Jim Henderson is on the disabled list with a strained right biceps.

8. WEAK BULLPEN: Outside of Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed, there’s little reliability to the Mets’ bullpen. Losing Henderson and Josh Edgin hurt, and Antonio Bastardo offered nothing. Hansel Robles has been inconsistent.

9. DIVISION RECORD: The Mets are 19-22 vs. the NL East, including 4-9 against the Washington Nationals. They routed the Phillies and Braves last year, and had a winning record against Washington. Things are a lot tougher this year.

10. TOUGH ROAD AHEAD: Not only did the Mets limp into the break, but open the second half with a rugged schedule of nine games on the road, including three each in Chicago against the Cubs and three in Miami. They then come home with three against St. Louis. August brings four games with the Yankees, four at San Francisco, and three each at Detroit and St. Louis. If there isn’t a turnaround, their six games against the Nationals in September could be a moot point.