Oct 02

Things Still On The Line For Mets Against Nationals

UPDATED TO INCLUDE RAINOUT AND PITCHING CHANGES

For much of this season, the Mets pointed to this weekend’s series against the Nationals as critical to getting into the playoffs. Nobody thought it might be essential to get their heads screwed on straight. After mauling Cincinnati in four games to clinch the NL East, the Mets are scrambling to regain their sharpness after being swept in three games by the Phillies.

COLLINS:  Needs to make motivate his team. (AP)

COLLINS: Needs to make motivate his team. (AP)

After sweeping the Reds, manager Terry Collins projected a lull in his team’s adrenalin flow. He said yesterday he needs to channel his inner Knute Rockne.

“If you’ve been down this path, you knew that there was going to be an energy drain,’’ Collins said. “We always have a little scout meeting before the series and I will try to give my `A’ speech.’’

It’s not as if the Mets won’t have motivation as they are can still secure home field advantage in the NLDS with the Dodgers. The Mets’ 3-0 loss Thursday in Philadelphia coupled with the Dodgers’ 3-2 victory in San Francisco, leave the teams each with 89-70 records. However, the Mets hold the tiebreaker after winning the season series with the Dodgers, going 2-1 in Los Angeles and 2-2 at Citi Field.

Collins blamed pitching for the Mets’ showing in Philadelphia, but the offense is off its game, having scored only three runs in their last 18 innings.

Friday’s game is rained out, and will be made up as part of a doubleheader Saturday. The extra day might give Yoenis Cespedes a chance for his two bruised fingers on his left hand to heal enough so he can play. He would not have played Friday. The extra day could also help infielder Wilmer Flores‘s stiff lower back. It is questionable how much he’ll play this weekend.

Collins said his starters – Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard – will be limited to 80 to 90 pitches – but will he deviate with home field on the line? Syndergaard will start the day game Saturday and Harvey the night game while deGrom goes Sunday.

Collins isn’t concerned about the possibility of having to play a doubleheader – that’s almost expected – but hopes the Mets won’t have to play a make-up game Monday.

However, in looking at the big picture that won’t matter because regardless of what happens this weekend, the Mets will still be playing next week.

Oct 01

Lefty Reliever Remains Concern For Mets

It is imperative the Mets get Jon Niese in a couple of games in this weekend, preferably in back-to-back outings, as the lefty bullpen specialist remains an issue. However, a poor weather forecast might prevent that from happening.

Although volunteering to go into the bullpen was admirable, Niese was not effective in two outings in Philadelphia against left-handed hitters (he gave up four hits against five hitters).

GILMARTIN: Effective today. (Getty)

GILMARTIN: Effective today. (Getty)

Overall this season lefty batters are hitting .297 against him with a .335 on-base percentage. Those aren’t numbers conducive to being a lefty specialist.

If you’re wondering about swapping Niese for Bartolo Colon in the rotation (assuming Steven Matz is left off for the NLDS), his numbers against lefties are a .290 average with a .309 on-base percentage, so that’s not practical.

A mitigating factor towards making this decision is the ability of each to get loose quickly. Niese knew when he would enter the game and given ample time to get ready.

However, neither he nor Colon could have that advantage in the playoffs. As of now, Colon seems slated for the rotation with Matz sidelined with a stiff lower back. The Mets want to get Matz work this weekend, but the weather might prevent that from happening. As a last resort, the Mets could send him to Port St. Lucie.

With Niese not working out, it might be tempting for manager Terry Collins to consider Tyler Clippard in that role as lefty batters are hitting just .138 against him. However, if Collins uses him in that role, what would it mean to the overall set-up of the bullpen regarding the set-up role?

They could explore Clippard against lefties and use Addison Reed in the set-up role, but changing roles on the fly is always tricky. Even so, the Mets must have separate concerns with Clippard, who has given up eight runs in his last ten appearances (ten innings).

Speaking of changing roles, there’s Sean Gilmartin. He’ll likely make the playoff roster if Matz can’t go. He was effective today, giving up two runs in five innings. This year, lefties are hitting .272 against him, but he hasn’t been showcased as a specialist.

A intriguing possibility is Hansel Robles, who has given up 13 hits in 78 plate appearances to lefty hitters (.167 average with a .214 on-base percentage). Dario Alvarez is getting a look-see, but his window (six appearances, including today) is too small.

This concern is primarily based on a potential late-inning match-up against Adrian Gonzalez (28 homers and 88 RBI). Of course, they could go the route the Angels took against the Giants’ Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series and just intentionally walk him.

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.