Oct 06

Bumgarner Wins Classic Duel

For the second straight season, the interlocking “NY’’ on the Mets’ caps stood for “next year.’’ After an improbable run to overcome lengthy offensive droughts and numerous injuries to reach the postseason, the Mets received a sterling performance from Noah Syndergaard.

BUMGARNER: A classic ace. (AP)

BUMGARNER: A classic ace. (AP)

However, it wasn’t enough to beat Madison Bumgarner, who again came up with a game for the ages in October, who spun a four-hitter to beat the Mets, 3-0, to send the San Francisco Giants to the NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Syndergaard throws heat all the time and showed he doesn’t just have ace potential, but that he’s already there. However, Bumgarner will go down as one of the game’s greatest playoff pitchers in history.

In three postseason win-or-go-home games, Bumgarner has thrown 23 scoreless innings. He has reached a level few could ever imagine.

In 2014, Bumgarner won Games 1 and 5 in the World Series, then came back after two days of rest to throw five scoreless innings in relief. When asked what he hoped his legacy would be, Bumgarner simply said: “A winner. That’s all anybody wants to be regarded as.”

Syndergaard outpitched Bumgarner in the early part of the game, but as his strikeouts mounted – he finished with ten – so did his pitch count. Syndergaard threw 108 in seven innings while Bumgarner threw 119 for the complete game.

“Bumgarner, he never gives in,” said Jose Reyes. “We had some chances and couldn’t do anything with them.”

Bumgarner vs. Syndergaard had baseball junkies salivating and weren’t disappointed. The Mets had their best going, but unfortunately, the Giants had one of the best of all time going for them.

The starters were the storyline of the night, with the others being Jeurys Familia and Yoenis Cespedes spitting the bit.

FAMILIA LOSES IN THE NINTH: Familia saved 51 games this season and the Mets weren’t in the playoffs without him.

Last year, Familia blew three save opportunities. Tonight wasn’t a save chance, but it hurt just the same.

The fall began with a double by Brandon Crawford. After Angel Pagan failed to get a bunt down, Joe Panik walked then Conor Gillaspie crushed a three-run homer to bring on winter.

“It was a sinker. That’s my best pitch,” said a stand-up Familia. “Every time I try to go out and do the best I can. I missed with the location. I have to move on.`I know these things are going to happen. It’s a game.”

CESPEDES SILENT: For all his talking about living for these moments, for the second straight postseason Cespedes came up empty.

As far as I’m concerned, Cespedes gave away his four at-bats by swinging from the heels at pitches out of his reach. Bumgarner toyed with him getting him to strike out twice and pop up.

Cespedes saw only 18 pitches.

True to form, Cespedes opted not to talk after the game.

Perhaps he had an early tee time.

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Oct 05

Mets-Giants Matchups; Loney Gets Start

Regardless of how Terry Collins explains it, the Mets’ manager made the right decision to start James Loney at first base in tonight’s wild-card game.

Collins said Loney is better defensively, but we already knew that to be a no-brainer. It is also a slam dunk that in what could be a classic pitcher’s duel – Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard – runs figure to come at a premium placing an emphasis on defense.

LONEY: Gets call. (AP)

LONEY: Gets call. (AP)

Collins also said Lucas Duda might not be physically ready, but why did the Mets go through the motions without knowing for sure?

Duda is a strikeout machine when he’s not on his game, and after missing most of the season, it was a reach hoping he’d catch lightning in a bottle. Loney doesn’t have great numbers against Bumgarner – 2-for-13 – but did play 100 games for the Mets and hit .265 with nine homers and 34 RBI. One of those homers was a deciding two-run blast Saturday to clinch home field for the wild-card.

Even so, Loney said he’s anxious to face Bumgarner.

“He’s been a great pitcher for many years now,” Loney told reporters. “[He] throws strikes and competes out there. A fierce competitor.”

Here’s the Mets’ lineup tonight and the likely Giant opposite number:

Jose Reyes, 3B: Returned to his roots and supplied the spark the Mets needed. … It could be a game-time decision for the Giants to start Eduardo Nunez (hamstring issues) or Conor Gillaspie.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: Depending on your perspective, he could be their MVP with solid defense and clutch hitting despite two bad knees. … Brandon Crawford should have been on the All-Star team. He hit .275 with 12 homers and 84 RBI, but has been prone to the strikeout (115) this year.

Yoenis Cespedes, LF: Is the center piece of the Mets’ offense despite finishing the season on a 3-for-24 slide. … The Giants go with a familiar face – former Met Angel Pagan – who has been a solid switch-hitter in his five years on the West Coast. Is a stolen base threat with 15.

Curtis Granderson, CF: Had a strong second half to finish with 30 homers, but his RBI total was shockingly low. Has played a solid center. … Former Washington National Denard Span is back to torment the Mets. Hit 11 homers and still plays a decent center.

Jay Bruce, RF: Did not provide the pop the Mets wanted, but might have salvaged his tenure here to the point of returning next year with homers in three of his last five games. … Hunter Pence is a guy the Mets should have gone after when he was in Philadelphia. Has played hurt most of the year, but hit .289 with 13 homers and 57 RBI.

T.J. Rivera, 2B: Minor league batting champion is still hitting as Wilmer Flores’ replacement. Hasn’t been rattled yet. … Joe Panik has also played hurt most of the year, but still drove in 62 runs. Is beyond solid defensively.

Loney, 1B: Good glove and a steady bat. One of GM Sandy Alderson’s midseason replacements that helped put the Mets here. … Brandon Belt led the Giants with 17 homers. Is patient at the plate and solid defensively.

Rene Rivera, C: Wasn’t on the Opening Day roster, but his calming presence helped Matt Harvey early and later Syndergaard, especially against the running game. … Buster Posey could be the game’s premier catcher. Calls a great game and is a clutch hitter.

Syndergaard, RHP: Has overpowering stuff and with injuries to Harvey and Jacob deGrom emerged as the ace. Can support himself at the plate, but a weakness is an inability to slow down the running game (48 stolen bases in 57 attempts). … If you believe in the law of averages, the Mets could be in good shape against Bumgarner, who is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA lifetime at Citi Field, and a 0.91 ERA in his last eight postseason appearances.

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Oct 03

Leaving Loney Off Wild-Card Roster Would Be Mistake

There’s no doubt Mets GM Sandy Alderson is a smart guy, but there are times he thinks too damn much. Reportedly he’s doing that now by considering leaving James Loney off the wild-card playoff roster in favor of Lucas Duda.

Never mind the fairness element, that without Loney replacing Duda for 99 games, the Mets are already scattering for their off-season homes.

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off roster. (SNY)

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off. (SNY)

Clearly, Alderson, who is Sabremetrics junkie infatuated with the home run, is hoping Duda might run into a pitch against the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner Wednesday night. It could happen, but I’m betting after not playing most of the season with a back injury he will be handcuffed by Bumgarner’s nasty slider.

As lefty hitters, neither Loney (2-for-13, .154 BA/.214 OB) nor Duda (0-for-1) have a distinguished history against Bumgarner. For that matter, neither does Eric Campbell (1-for-5).

When you look at the splits, look at their career numbers against all left-handed pitchers. In 572 career at-bats against lefties, Duda is hitting .224 with 17 homers, a .659 OPS and a 200-50 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Conversely, in 1,264 at-bats, Loney is hitting .251 with 20 homers, a .646 OPS and a 222-83 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Actually, if it came down to career numbers against Bumgarner, what about Kelly Johnson (7-for-20 lifetime)?

I’m not blaming manager Terry Collins should the Mets go with Duda because he’s not pulling the strings. This is Alderson’s baby. Both pay lip service to a give-and-take working relationship, but Alderson runs the show.

The Bumgarner-Noah Syndergaard match-up suggests the possibility of a low-scoring game. Alderson is gambling Duda will connect for a bomb, but the odds suggest Loney is more apt to continue an inning.

And, with runs figuring to be at a premium, Loney is the superior defensive player. He has a better glove, more range, and a better arm. Should I remind you of his throw to the plate in Game 5 of last year’s World Series? Didn’t think so.

One of the main storylines in this game will be Syndergaard’s ability to hold potential base stealers, who ran on him at will this year.

As a right-handed first baseman, it is harder for Duda to hold runners as his tag will be at the runner’s calf instead of his arm. Meanwhile, with a good move, Loney’s tag will be on the runner’s hand. If nothing else it could shorten a lead by a step.

Look, Duda might hit three homers. He could also make two errors and strike out three times. Who knows? But, for one game, with this pitching match-up, the right way to go is Loney over Duda.

If they want to take Duda over Campbell for a pinch-hit swing late in the game, fine. But, seriously, if Campbell pinch-hits, the Mets would likely be behind, and who would he bat for?

Alderson is smart, but he’s thinking too much on this one and it could bite him in the butt.

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Oct 02

Mets’ Questions In Deciding Wild-Card Roster

There are a lot of things Mets GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins will consider over the next few days as they construct their postseason roster in preparation for the wild-card game against San Francisco, Wednesday, at Citi Field.

Collins has been spoiled with access up to 40 players since September 1. Now, they’ll face Madison Bumgarner with 25.

ALDERSON: A lot on his mind. (AP)

ALDERSON: A lot on his mind. (AP)

Here are the questions Alderson must answer:

CATCHER: Could they consider carrying a third catcher in Kevin Plawecki? They could go this way because in the one game format Collins shouldn’t hesitate to use a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner. Plus, in the back of his mind should be the prospect of extra innings.

FIRST BASE: Who starts? The early word is Lucas Duda could get the start over James Loney with the thinking he might have one good swing in him. We’ve heard a lot about the possibility of Eric Campbell. Even if he doesn’t start, he should be there because he represents a right-handed pinch-hit option.

OUTFIELD: Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes will be the starters. However, the recent play of Juan Lagares introduced an element nobody considered two weeks ago. Lagares has shown he can swing the bat, so if he’s carried, who will the Mets choose between Michael Conforto and Alejandro De Aza? There’s no way Collins would favor De Aza’s defense over Bruce’s bat, but he could choose him over Conforto.

STARTERS: They will carry three, Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon and Seth Lugo over Robert Gsellman. Why three? Because what happens if Syndergaard were to get injured or shelled early in the game?

BULLPEN: Since the opponent is the Giants, who are heavy with left-handed hitters, will the Mets go with one less position player and add lefty Josh Edgin? The rest of the pen would include Jerry Blevins, Hansel Robles, Fernando Salas, Josh Smoker, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia.

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Oct 01

This Year Could Be Even More Special For Mets

FINALLY

                                                      FINALLY

The Mets are finally in, and it is fitting they were carried in today’s clincher by Bartolo Colon and James Loney. In many ways, how the clincher unfolded typified this season.

Fitting, because they weren’t counted on to be key players when this season began. It was anticipated by many the Mets’ highly touted young pitching would return them to the World Series.

The Mets could eventually reach their fifth World Series, but it won’t be with the five starters who were to define them for the next decade. Of the five, only Noah Syndergaard – who’ll either pitch one inning Sunday or have a bullpen session – will see the playoffs.

Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom had season-ending surgery; Zack Wheeler never made it back; and Steven Matz will have surgery on his elbow Tuesday, the day before the Mets play the Giants Wednesday, with Syndergaard against Madison Bumgarner. If it is the Cardinals, he’ll face Carlos Martinez.

Colon?

Well, he was penciled in to move to the bullpen in early July when Wheeler was to come off the disabled list. While Wheeler had several setbacks, Colon kept trotting out there – he didn’t miss a start – and eventually finished with a team-high 15 victories.

Colon gave up two runs, but only threw 61 pitches in five innings in today’s 5-3 victory over the Phillies, presumably to keep him fresh should they need him in the wild-card game.

Pitching was always going to carry the Mets, but who would have figured it would be Colon, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman? There’s Syndergaard, but he’s been gutting it out with a bone spur in his elbow. That’s also emblematic of the Mets’ season as a whole, because injuries have been a key storyline.

Injuries were a big part of the 2015 Mets, but they have been hit harder this season. Yet, somehow, GM Sandy Alderson – who took a lot of heat – acquired the necessary pieces to patch this team together.

“We have some pieces here,” manager Terry Collins said. “But, it takes the whole line. You have to ride a lot of guys.”

One of those guys is Loney, who started Saturday because Lucas Duda’s back remains sore and responded with a game-winning, two-run homer in the sixth. Overall, Loney played 99 games and produced nine homers and 34 RBI.

Loney is just one example. Rene Rivera filled in for Travis d’Arnaud and is now a mainstay. Wilmer Flores first replaced David Wright, then Asdrubal Cabrera and finally Neil Walker. Eventually, Flores was injured and replaced by T.J. Rivera.

Jose Reyes eventually took over for Wright at third and supplied the speed and spark that had long been missing. Signing Reyes also enabled Collins to move Curtis Granderson down in the order to protect Yoenis Cespedes.

Granderson took off in the second half and salvaged things with a 30-homer season. Granderson played a lot of centerfield when Cespedes went on the disabled list.

Cabrera was on the DL with Cespedes, and the Mets’ offense took off when they were activated in late August when they were in San Francisco. After losing the first two games of that series, the Mets were a dismal 60-62 on August 19.

They have been the hottest team in the majors since.

When Cespedes went down, the offensive-starved Mets traded for Jay Bruce. That deal was going down as a bust until Bruce went on a tear with a seven-game hitting streak, which included homers in three games.

From Lugo and Gsellman in the rotation, to Loney, Bruce, Reyes and the two Riveras, to the resurgence of Granderson, and, of course, the consistent production of Cabrera and Cespedes, whenever the Mets needed somebody to step up, they got it.

Through it all, Collins kept his team together, kept them hustling, and more often than not pushed the right buttons. There were times when you wondered if Collins would fired or named the Manager of the Year.

Yes, last year was thrilling, but with what the Mets had to overcome, this year might have the potential to be even more special.

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