Jul 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Don’t Forget Cespedes As MVP Candidate

As impressive as the Mets’ four-game sweep was of the Cubs, a case can be made it was validated by what they did Monday afternoon with their firecracker comeback victory over the Miami Marlins. You can even argue two of the Mets’ most important victories this season came during this home stand.

There was Thursday’s rally from three runs down – call it the Brandon Nimmo Game – in a 4-3 victory over the Cubs. Today, they overcame another poor performance from Matt Harvey to come from six runs behind to win their fifth straight game, 8-6, to pull within four games of Washington.

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

On Thursday they put the brakes on what was turning into a severe skid; today they pressed down on the accelerator in their playoff push.

There were three significant storylines from the game, with two – Harvey and the bullpen – intertwined. The third was Yoenis Cespedes‘ clutch hitting.

CESPEDES: I keep hearing about potential NL MVP candidates, among them Daniel Murphy and Kris Bryant.

But, Cespedes can’t be ignored. He has five of his 20 homers and 28 RBI coming with RISP. His 20 homers – fourth in the NL – suggest he’s in scoring position as soon as he leaves the on-deck circle. In his last 12 home games, Cespedes is batting .419 with four doubles and four homers, including that monster drive to jumpstart Thursday’s win.

Cespedes had no chance of being the NL MVP last year because of his limited time in the league. But this year, he’d be my choice, with his game-winning, two-run double in the eighth just another sample of what he’s been doing all year.

HARVEY: Gone are the feel-good thoughts Harvey might have turned around his season after making three strong starts. Harvey encored those three starts with four bad ones in which he gave up a combined 13 runs on 30 hits and five walks with only 15 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. For the second straight game Harvey worked just 3.2 innings. (In fairness, his outing was cut short in the Washington start by rain, but even so he wasn’t pitching well.)

Harvey hasn’t come away with a victory since, May 30, some seven starts ago.

On the bright side, he hasn’t given up a homer since his May 24 loss at Washington when he gave up three. However, of his 17 starts he’s only gone seven innings twice.

For someone who considers himself an ace, this is unacceptable. For those of you who still believe him to be an ace, kindly think again if his 4-10 record and 4.86 ERA haven’t convinced you. That’s not to say he can’t be an ace in the future, but not now.

The Mets will need Harvey because of looming physical questions of Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard.

BULLPEN: The pen has been maligned, but today it stepped up with 5.1 scoreless innings.

The Mets didn’t have Addison Reed, but were picked up by Erik Goeddel, Logan Verrett, Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins and Jeurys Familia. Kudos for Verrett and Robles for working out of trouble, and again for Familia, who always seems to be on the ropes only to escape with his 29th straight victory.

A point that requires no debate: Championship teams need a strong bullpen.

Jun 28

Harvey Needs To Pitch Bigger Than His Ego

Readers of this blog know I have been critical of Matt Harvey and this “Dark Knight” and “Today is Harvey Day” nonsense. It comes with a gut feeling he’s been seduced by the trappings of being a “New York Sports Star” and being a celebrity is what drives him.

HARVEY: Needs to pitch bigger than his ego. (AP)

HARVEY: Needs to pitch bigger than his ego. (AP)

However, with a 29-27 career record, can he really be considered a star?  He’s more celebrity than star. More smoke than fire. More sizzle than steak. Perhaps a Kardashian in cleats. I could go all day, but the bottom line is for a variety of reasons ranging from injuries to poor performance to a mental block, he hasn’t developed into what we think he could be. Or, maybe what he should be.

Two games over .500 is not a big deal, and never mind the new wave stats: wins and losses are important.

Harvey craves the attention and spotlight. The Mets have tread water the last two months, but with a grueling schedule entering the All-Star break they face the real possibility of falling into a downward spiral. Yes, there is such a thing as a “must win” game in June.

Monday night might have produced their worst performance of the season in an 11-4 trouncing to the Nationals. They are in third place in the NL East and would fall five games back with a loss Tuesday night. From a team perspective, a case can be made tonight is one of Harvey’s most important starts. The Mets desperately need not only a victory, but a stellar performance from the pitcher they still consider an ace.

If Harvey gets torched tonight, and with the prospect of not having Steven Matz on Wednesday, the party that is 2016 could soon be over. It’s quite simple, Harvey needs to pitch bigger than his ego.

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Jun 27

Mets Wrap: Blitzed By Nationals

Manager Terry Collins said this was the start of an important two-week stretch for the Mets and they better bring their “A’’ game to the table. Can you imagine what would have happened had they not thought it was important?

Whatever d'Arnaud told him it didn't work. (AP)

Whatever d’Arnaud told him it didn’t work. (AP)

I’m being sarcastic, which is the best way to handle a game like the Mets’ 11-4 loss at Washington.

Noah Syndergaard started despite having a barking elbow from his previous game. Syndergaard clearly didn’t have it, giving up five runs on seven hits and three walks in three innings in which he threw a grueling 71 pitches.

Syndergaard imploded in a five-run third, and again couldn’t hold runners as the Nationals stole five bases against him.

Collins said Syndergaard’s elbow wasn’t an issue. Syndergaard refuted multiple media reports he had a bone spur or bone chips in his elbow.

METS GAME WRAP

June 27, 2016, @ Washington

Game: #75          Score:  Nationals 11, Mets 4

Record: 40-35     Streak: L 2

Standings: Third, NL East, four games behind Washington.

Runs: 274    Average: 3.65     Times 3 runs or less: 37

SUMMARY: It unraveled for Syndergaard in a five-run third in which the Nationals stole four bases. It would have been worse had Bryce Harper not had a brain cramp on the bases.

KEY MOMENT:  Anthony Rendon’s two-run single to right in the third completely erased the Mets’ 4-0 lead. You knew it was over then.

THUMBS UP: The Mets had 14 hits, getting two each from Curtis Granderson, Yoenis Cespedes, Wilmer Flores and Brandon Nimmo. Travis d’Arnaud had three hits.

THUMBS DOWN:  The Mets had 14 hits, but scored only four runs. … Syndergaard was all over the place with three walks. … Rumor had it Rene Rivera was to catch Syndergaard to but the brakes on the opponent’s running game. … Reliever Sean Gilmartin gave up five runs on seven hits in two innings.

EXTRA INNINGS:  The Mets began a stretch of playing 11 of 14 games against first-place teams. … The Mets are now 16-16 vs. NL East teams. … The Mets are 11-13 in June.

QUOTEBOOK: “[Syndergaard] threw almost 40 pitches in the third and that was enough. … His velocity was good but his command was off.” – Collins on Syndergaard’s performance. 

BY THE NUMBERS:  6: Stolen bases by the Nationals. Overall, opposing runners have stolen 28 bases in 31 attempts against Syndergaard.

NEXT FOR METS: Matt Harvey will try to get back on track after two mediocre outings.

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Jun 23

Mets Should Break Out Kid Gloves With Syndergaard

Just because the Mets received positive news with Noah Syndergaard doesn’t mean they should press their luck. Syndergaard was pulled from Wednesday’s game with tightness in his pitching elbow, news testily blurted out by clearly irritated manager Terry Collins.

SYNDERGAARD: Be careful with him. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Be careful with him. (AP)

A MRI at the Hospital of Special Surgery showed no structural damage, but the Mets aren’t saying his availability for Monday in Washington. Why is this even a question, similar to him pitching in the All-Star Game?

He threw a season-high 115 pitches in his previous start and his pitch-count in comparison to innings worked has been relatively high this season. The prudent thing would be to skip Monday to keep him fresh for the Cubs.

Is this a knee-jerk reaction? I don’t think so, considering this is the second time this season he’s been examined for elbow tightness. There’s nothing to be gained by pushing the envelope. It is better to miss a start now than possibly miss a lot of starts in the second half.

As for the All-Star Game? Sure it’s a big deal for him personally, but it was also a big thing for Matt Harvey in 2013 when he insisted on pitching – with the team’s blessing – after complaining of a tight forearm. Does anybody need to be reminded of what happened?

As for Yoenis Cespedes, well, he has a mild sprain of his left wrist that required a cortisone injection. He’ll miss a few days, but should miss the disabled list. Zack Wheeler was also examined and diagnosed with sensory nerve irritation in his elbow. He also took a cortisone injection and will resume throwing when he’s able.

It was a scary day on the injury front for the Mets, but they received the best news possible. They were lucky, but hopefully they’ll be smart enough not to push their luck with Syndergaard. Time to walk away from the table now and regroup for later.

Jun 20

Not A Fan Of Demoting Conforto

It’s a good thing the Mets are off Monday because playing games doesn’t seem to be good idea. Citi Field is quiet today, except for the buzz in manager Terry Collins‘ office, where he is presumably huddling with GM Sandy Alderson and his coaching staff about what to do next. At the top of the list is the decision whether to demote Michael Conforto in Triple-A Las Vegas to work on the swing that deserted him.

CONFORTO: Not of fan of demoting him. (AP)

CONFORTO: Not of fan of demoting him. (AP)

Most likely the corresponding move would be promoting Brandon Nimmo. As much as I’d like to see Nimmo – much the way I wanted to see Conforto last year – I’m not a big proponent about this move. Not yet, anyway.

I realize that’s contradictory considering I advocated sending down Matt Harvey and Ike Davis. However, these circumstances are different. With Davis, he resisted changing or his style, and had been with the Mets long enough for them to believe nothing would change. With Harvey, he was coming off

Davis resisted changing his style and had been with the Mets long enough for them to believe nothing would change. Harvey was coming off Tommy John surgery and injuries are always more complex.

Conforto doesn’t fit into any of these boxes. For one, he’s been bothered by a sore wrist, but nothing to where he needs to go on the disabled list. If he is hurt, then why is he playing? Also, reports are unlike Davis he’s very coachable and is tenure with the Mets has been short.

Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle all went down to the minors, so nobody should be immune. However, I don’t see where a Conforto for Nimmo swap is a good thing. If Conforto goes down and regains his stroke and is brought up in two weeks, what becomes of Nimmo? Theoretically, they would simply send him back down, but how does that help anybody?

If Nimmo is hitting, wouldn’t they want to keep him up here? If so, where would he play? He certainly wouldn’t replace Yoenis Cespedes or Curtis Granderson, and as is the case with most young players the Mets wouldn’t want him to ride the bench.

Conforto isn’t hitting, but neither is anybody else. I would keep Conforto on the major league level and give him an opportunity to work things out with the Mets.