Sep 30

How Mets Are Scrambling From Latest Injuries

Resiliency has been a Mets’ staple this season, and with the NLDS against the Dodgers eight days away, that quality figures to come into play again as a string of injuries is surfacing at a terrible time. The Mets needed to overcome injuries all season, and nothing has changed heading into October.

MATZ: Won't pitch Thursday. (AP)

MATZ: Won’t pitch Thursday. (AP)

The status of Juan Uribe with a bruised chest has been uncertain since the weekend; it has been several days for Steven Matz with back stiffness; and now, Yoenis Cespedes is day-to-day with two bruised fingers on his left hand after being hit on the left wrist with a pitch in the third inning Wednesday night.

Manager Terry Collins said Uribe might play this weekend – weather permitting – but left it open he could miss part of the NLDS. If Uribe isn’t ready, the Mets could replace him for the first round with Dilson Herrera or they could opt to carry him and gamble shorthanded.

The need for another infielder – at the cost of carrying ten pitchers instead of 11 – could be even more pronounced considering Wilmer Flores left tonight’s game with lower back stiffness. There is no projection as to the severity of the tightness, but it’s a back so it bears watching.

Also dealing with a stiff lower back is Matz, who was scratched from Thursday’s start. If Matz is held off the NLDS roster, figure Bartolo Colon going back into the rotation and the Mets adding a long reliever, preferably a left-hander, which could mean saying hello to Sean Gilmartin.

With the weather forecast poor for the weekend, the Mets could attempt to piggyback him after one the starters, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard. The forecast for Sunday is the best of the three games, but even so there’s a high chance for rain.

The Mets don’t have to set their playoff roster until next week anyway, so there’s no hurry to make an immediate decision.

As for Cespedes, he sustained bruises to his middle and ring fingers, but has almost a week to get ready. He was replaced by Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

I’d bet against Cespedes and Flores being available for Thursday’s game, which was moved up to 12:05 p.m., in hope of avoiding the rain.

 

Sep 28

Mets Need To Go For Home Field

The cynic in me thinks Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon set off Bryce Harper by saying, “you can find your ring in New York.” Maybe he’ll find it this weekend in Citi Field where the Nationals finish playing out the string against the Mets.

COLLINS: A lot to sort out. (AP)

COLLINS: A lot to sort out. (AP)

With the NL East in their back pocket, the Mets insist they still have something to play off, namely, home field advantage against the Dodgers in the NLDS.

Manager Terry Collins said the Mets won’?t coast the final week.

“I think you’ve got to get the edge back that we had,” Collins said. “We’re going to play to win as many games as we can, to try to get home-field advantage in the first round.

“I think it’?s very, very important to have that. It’?s something we should shoot for. And I think when you’?re still playing for something, it prepares you better.”?

Winning on the road had been difficult for the Mets in recent seasons, including earlier this year. However, the Mets have gone 20-3 since splitting a two-game series in Baltimore, Aug. 18-19. That stretch includes a three-game sweep in Washington, and four-game sweep over the weekend in Cincinnati. Where the Mets have had problems was at home where they are 6-12, since Aug. 14, when the lost the first game of a three-game sweep to potential playoff opponent, Pittsburgh.

Even so, it’s always better to play at home. It’?s Game 5 against Clayton Kershaw. Where do you want that game played?

Home field is only one of several issues Collins wants to settle this week:

ROTATION: As of now, the order appears to be Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey in the pivotal Game 3, and Steven Matz. This decision also involves how many innings Harvey would pitch. Presumably, after Saturday, that’s no longer an issue.

BULLPEN: Jon Niese volunteered to be a left-handed specialist, but that doesn’?t resolve all the bullpen issues, including whether he can do the job. The list includes Tyler Clippards back; Bartolo Colon‘s role; the effectiveness of Sean Gilmartin; and the bridge to Jeurys Familia.

MIDDLE INFIELD: Presumably, Collins won’t tinker with taking Daniel Murphy out of the lineup. That leaves who will play shortstop: Wilmer Flores or Ruben Tejada?

THE OFFENSE: After fluttering for much of the first half, the Mets received an offensive jolt with the acquisitions of Yoenis Cespedes, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, and the promotion of Michael Conforto. While much of the firepower was against sub-.500 teams, the Dodgers have two of the game’s best pitchers in Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

It won’t be as easy.

Sep 25

Duda Powers Mets Closer To Title

As scintillating as Noah Syndergaard was, the most important thing for the Mets Friday night was Lucas Duda‘s continued breakout signs. Duda, on the disabled list from Aug. 22 to Sept. 7 with soreness in his lower back, is on a three-game tear, highlighted by a pair of three-run homers Friday.

DUDA: Getting power stroke back. (Getty)

DUDA: Getting power stroke back. (Getty)

The concern about Syndergaard was to get through the sixth, an inning in which he had an ERA over eight, but he was positively brilliant in giving up two runs with 11 strikeouts in 7.2 innings. However, Duda carried the Mets with his bat.

Syndergaard is damn good, but he will pitch in the playoffs. But, believe it or not, there had been talk about Duda not being on the playoff roster. Hard to believe, but true.

In his last three games, Duda is 5-for-9 with three doubles, two homers, seven RBI, three walks and no strikeouts. In fact, Duda hasn’t struck out since Sept. 20.

Prior to those last three games, Duda had driven in just two runs in his previous 14 games.

Duda’s offensive revival will be essential in the playoffs as he and Curtis Granderson represent the bulk of the Mets’ left-handed power.

With their 12-5 rout of the Reds, coupled with Philadelphia’s torching of the Nationals, the Mets’ magic number for winning the NL East for the first time since 2006 was reduced to one. Once the Mets’ clinch, manager Terry Collins will undoubtedly rest some of the regulars, but after the game Duda said there’s more work for him to do.

“It’s very exciting to be a part of this,” Duda said. “But, [after clinching] it’s important to use this time.”

As for Syndergaard, he not only pitched well and through the sixth inning, but also won on the road.

If the Dodgers get home field in the NLDS, Syndergaard could get Game 3 at Citi Field. However, if the NLDS opens in New York he could get Game 2.

Meanwhile, Collins is remaining mum on all things playoffs, as well as Matt Harvey‘s innings for Saturday. Reports have it anywhere from three to five innings.

 

Sep 23

Berra’s Passing Rekindles Controversial Series Decision

While the passing of Yogi Berra gave us pause to remember a baseball treasure and American icon, it also forced one of the most controversial managerial decisions in World Series history to resurface when he skipped the well-rested George Stone in Game 6 of the Series against Oakland in favor of  Tom Seaver on short rest, and who, by the way, entered the playoffs with a sore right shoulder.

“I went with my best,” Berra said at the time, and to his credit, four decades later was quoted in Matt Silverman’s book, “Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season,” as standing by his decision. Berra did not yield to hindsight, saying he had no regrets: “No. Seaver and [Jon Matlack]—they were the best we had.”

1973 World Series Program

1973 World Series Program

History hasn’t been kind to Berra in his decision, but that is largely because the nature of the game has changed. In 1973, there were no such things as pitch counts, innings limits and coddling pitchers. Plus, Berra’s Mets used a four-man rotation while Terry Collins‘ team this year – who went 3-6 on their home stand to keep this race alive – has gone with a six-man rotation and taken to skipping starts to give his young rotation extra rest.

Years later, the reaction from several of Berra’s players was mixed. The Mets were heading back to Oakland for Games 6 and 7, Oct. 20 and 21, ahead in the Series, 3-to-2. Berra’s thinking was to go for the throat and not play it safe. He had a fully-rested Stone, who went 12-3 that season and last started, Oct. 9, Game 4, of the NLCS against Cincinnati. Instead, he opted to go with Seaver and Matlack on three days rest each.

Seaver, Matlack and Jerry Koosman all threw more than 240 innings that year and the Mets’ rotation threw 46 complete games. Nobody on this year’s Mets will throw as many as 200 innings and the rotation only has one complete game, that coming from Bartolo Colon.

One school of thought was to go for the kill shot with Seaver, who went started seven games that year on short rest and worked at least seven innings in six of them. Seaver, who threw 290 innings that year, was their ace and arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

There were reports, which Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson did not refute, that Seaver lobbied Berra hard to pitch in Game 6. Berra acquiesced to Seaver, similarly how Collins and Mets GM Sandy Alderson caved to Matt Harvey at times this year.

Often overlooked, said Silverman, was Oakland’s Game 6 pitcher.

“People tend to forget that Oakland had Catfish Hunter going for them,” Silverman said.  “No matter who the Mets pitched, they would have had a hard time beating Hunter.”

Meanwhile, in the Oakland dugout, Athletics manager Dick Williams considered the news a break. In his book, “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Williams wrote: “The Mets, having put our backs to the wall, could afford to blow off Game Six. Yogi Berra could pitch a decent starter named George Stone in Game Six.

“That would give their ace, Tom Seaver, an extra day’s rest so that if there was a Game Seven, he’d probably be damn near unhittable, considering he’d allowed just two runs in eight innings in Game Three. And if Seaver faltered, number-two pitcher Jon Matlack would be rested and in the bullpen to back him up. Either way, we figured, the Mets had us whipped.”

Of course, Williams didn’t share those thoughts at the time.

Also overlooked is the Mets losing Game 4 of the NLCS to the Reds, Oct. 9. Had they won that game, Seaver wouldn’t have had to start Game 5 of the NLCS, Oct. 10, and could have started the Game 1 of the World Series, Oct. 13, on normal rest instead of Matlack. Starting Seaver in Game 1 could have enabled him to make three starts instead of two, and would have prevented Matlack from making three starts.

That’s an illustration as to how the game has changed. Pitchers routinely made three starts in a seven-game playoff. No more. You won’t also see a closer, like Tug McGraw, pitch eight innings in the first two games of the Series, including six in Game 2.

However, if Berra didn’t lean on McGraw in Game 2, the Series might not have gone seven games.

“That’s what second guessing is all about,” was how Rusty Staub was quoted in Silverman’s book. “However Seaver got to be the pitcher, he did pitch and pitched a pretty good game . . . and we didn’t score enough. That’s just the way it is.”

“I think Yogi made the right decision at the time,” said third baseman Wayne Garrett. “I would have pitched Seaver on three days’ rest. Why do you want to save him until the last if you can win it before? Why do you want to give them a game? If George Stone had pitched, maybe he would have beaten them. Who knows?”

Meanwhile, first baseman Ed Kranepool offered an adamant dissenting opinion.

“We didn’t have to win the sixth game; Oakland did,” Kranepool said in the book. “We had to win the seventh game, if I do my math, you have to win four out of seven. The sixth game . . . we don’t have to win, we have to show up, we have to play. We might win, we might lose. But that’s [not] the end of the World Series, correct?

“The seventh game, you lose, we should go home for the winter. You could use your whole pitching staff for the seventh. Tom Seaver is not short-rested. That’s his regular day to pitch. He’s pitched a lot of innings. He’s struck out a lot of people. He’s the best pitcher in baseball. So on the last day of the year, I do not want my third pitcher pitching, as opposed to my number one pitcher.

“George Stone was bypassed. And you tell me why?. You come to your own conclusion. We should have won the World Series.”

But, they didn’t and the debate rolls on. Berra said that summer, “it ain’t over until it’s over,” and this is one debate that won’t ever end.

 

Sep 22

Who Are The Targets Of Collins’ Anger?

It was obvious manager Terry Collins is disturbed, angry and frustrated with the Matt Harvey situation, but for some writers and blogs that are writing his angst is directed at the situation and not one individual is taking the easy way out. There are plenty of people Collins should be annoyed with, but he’s not saying because he’s too low on the food chain. Let me do that for him.

COLLINS: Looks concerned and should be. (AP)

COLLINS: Looks concerned and should be. (AP)

As I wrote yesterday, Harvey’s innings won’t keep the Mets from getting into the playoffs. After last night only a collapse of historic proportions would keep them out. Collins’ anger is justified, and some of it should be directed at himself.

Here’s where Collins’ anger should be aimed:

SANDY ALDERSON: The biggest bullseye has to be on GM Sandy Alderson’s back for not having a definitive plan for Harvey coming out of spring training. He also gets heat for not standing up to Harvey. I understand the uncertainty of innings vs. pitches and the concept of “stressful innings.” That’s not the point. The point is the Mets had a vague idea of measuring his workload with innings. So be it.

Had Alderson TOLD Harvey his limit would be six innings, this would be a moot point, including for the playoffs. With that limit, Harvey’s thrown 25.1 extra innings of his 176.2 innings (after the sixth and including the sore throat game). If the limit had been seven innings, then he’s five over (again including the sore throat game). But when your general manager is afraid to stand up to the pitcher, these things happen.

Alderson acting surprised is ridiculous, because he had to have known the limit prescribed by Dr. Andrews. Playing dumb after agent Scott Boras’ e-mail was, well, just dumb. Also, Alderson saying he didn’t think the playoffs would be an issue this year is blatantly absurd. After all, when Harvey went down for 2014, Alderson pointed to this season as to when the Mets would be competitive. And, being competitive includes making the playoffs, especially when the idea of 90 wins are thrown out.

The bottom line is Alderson’s responsibility is to put the best team on the field, and he’s not doing that by putting Harvey’s health on the line and not giving Collins the best chance to win. Collins must also be disturbed at his general manager for consistently undercutting him. While Collins was taking heat for defending the organization’s stance, Alderson was freelancing and at a public function said if Harvey’s “pitch count” was lower he could have stayed in.

On national TV, Collins told ESPN Harvey had one more inning. Yet, Alderson was counting pitches. Well, which is it? Again, “the game’s smartest general manager,” according to his biographer has complicated things.

MATT HARVEY: For being such a diva overall, and initially for not disclosing his injury in 2013. Harvey wasn’t open with the medical staff when he first suffered pain in his forearm. Not only did he hide it, but pitched with it. The result was Tommy John surgery. Sure, I understand he wants to pitch, but you have to be smart and he wasn’t.

Had the Mets immediately given Harvey an MRI at the time and shut him down, all this might have been alleviated.

Collins should also be angry with Harvey’s unwillingness to stick with the program. From the initial injury, to wanting to avoid surgery, to where he would rehab, to wanting to pitch last year, to fighting the six-man rotation, Harvey has been a pain.

And, once again, Boras works for Harvey, and the player knows what the agent is going to say. Harvey knew Boras was going to mention the innings limits, and allowed him to do so because he figured most media (SNY for example), would rip the agent and give him a free pass. Harvey was stunned at the criticism.

THE WILPONS: Harvey is one of their most important commodities, and they should have told him to stop complaining and get with a program. They could have also leaned on Alderson to give him the message. It also would have helped had ownership not been so driven to showcase him in the 2013 All-Star Game and been more concerned with the big picture.

HIMSELF: Collins is a baseball lifer and for the first time the playoffs are within his grasp, and with them a likely contract extension. He’s not going to take the shotgun approach. This isn’t the time for him to point fingers and blow this opportunity.

Here’s where this fiasco is partly Collins’ fault. Against what should have been his better judgment, Collins allowed Harvey to pitch in the sore throat game (April 19) and work into the ninth inning in a blowout win over the Yankees, April 25. He threw 8.2 innings in those two games. Had he stood up to his pitcher this could be a lesser issue, at least as far as the regular season is concerned.

SNY: They have continually blamed Boras for having an agenda, but the truth is the network also had an agenda, which was to be kind to the Mets and paint Harvey as the victim, which he is not. For as objective as the network is during its in-game coverage, all hands dropped the ball on this one.

I expected more from Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, especially since they know of the working relationship between the player and his agent. They knew Boras didn’t spring anything on Harvey.

 

All these forces conspired to fan the flames at Collins, The Wilpons are keeping a low profile; when he does speak Alderson does it clipped tones; and after his first press conference, Harvey is in full cliche mode.

However, Collins is there night after night. It’s going to get frustrating. The surprise is he didn’t let loose earlier. But, there’s more. The Mets haven’t announced a playoff plan for Harvey. I’m speculating they’ll hold him back or severely limit him, neither which will go over well.