Oct 11

With Mets Out, Who Do You Root For?

With the Mets hibernating for the winter, who do you root for in the playoffs? When covering a game or team, I try to be very analytical. But when watching a game where I don’t have a reporting interest, I find myself taking sides. I’ll find a storyline, or a player, or something that makes me pull for one team over another.

What about these playoffs?

Well, two teams – Boston and Texas – are done. Just as well. There’s nothing really compelling about the Rangers, and the Red Sox, frankly, have are boring at times. When they were losing every year, they were the frustrated losers you felt sorry for. However, after winning three World Series, their fans have become insufferable, like they have a sense of entitlement. What other teams does that remind you of?

Let’s look at the field and find that nugget:

Giants: Yes, they’ve won three World Series since 2010, more than most teams have won in a lifetime. The Mets have won only two. But, it is how they play that is attractive. If you were up to 3 in the morning watching Game 3 of their NLDS with the Cubs. They aren’t star based – outside of workhorse Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey – but play as a collective unit. They play baseball the right way, with an attention to fundamentals and hustle. My best friend is a Giants’ fan and I like watching the games with him. They have won ten straight elimination games which is truly amazing. I would like them to send the Series back to Chicago, if for nothing else, to see the panic from Cubs fans.

Cubs: I know their story; they haven’t won the World Series since 1908. I get it, but it isn’t as if this group has been playing for nearly a century. After Steve Bartman, if is hard to empathize with their fan base. On the flip side, I do admire their organization for giving David Wright the third base bag last year after the NLCS. Very classy. But, it’s almost like a badge of honor in how their fan base takes defeat. Outside of Wrigley Field, where is their identity outside of losing. Actually, I think it would be a very cool thing for them not to win until 2018, which would be 110 years between titles.

Dodgers: I’m pulling for a Giants-Dodgers NLCS. That would be historic. That would be run. One of the greatest rivalries in sport highlighted in a Championship series. I’ve met Vin Scully, but he’s not calling the games anymore. Their arrive late-leave early fan base in annoying, but it’s Southern California. What can you do? The Dodgers have some great players to watch, like Clayton Kershaw. Would like to see him break his postseason funk. He’s going today. Of course, you could always root for Chase Utley.

Nationals: You can always root for Daniel Murphy, and I see nothing wrong with that. The Mets have had so many rivals through the years and the Nationals are the current team on their dislike radar. To me, there’s nothing compelling either way that would make me want to either cheer or boo them. Not even Bryce Harper.

Indians: I grew up an Indians fan and watched them struggle for years. This truly is a frustrated fan base. I have a good friend who works for the Indians, plus I have all those years going to that big, empty stadium. I still have the boxscore from the first game my dad took me to, plus that memory of he taking me and my brother out of school for Opening Day. I used to take a tape recorder and sit in the upper deck and do play-by-play.  Often I had an entire section to myself. Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Ray Fosse, Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant. Those were my guys. Plus, Cleveland Stadium had the world’s greatest mustard. Like the Giants, they also have a lot of players under the radar who play the right way. Credit Terry Francona. It’s good to see him back in the playoffs after he was unfairly run out of Boston.

Blue Jays: When I covered the Orioles and Yankees, Toronto was one of my favorite spots on the tour. Love that city. And, they are the only franchise I know that has their own song that they play during the seventh-inning stretch. The Canadian version of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”  Nice fans, except for the moron who threw the beer can. How can any team sell beer in cans these days with the high jackass factor? The Blue Jays are a fun team to watch. Their World Series teams in 1992 and 1993 were underrated on the all-time greatness meter. This is a very good team with a lot of great players. Could either Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista be future Mets if Yoenis Cespedes leaves?

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Oct 10

Wondering About Matt Harvey Again

It’s about Matt Harvey, so the “What If Wonder Machine,” is whirling again. Since 2012, the question the Mets have been asking is: How good can this guy be?

However, the next Tom Seaver has not even become the next Gary Gentry, who went 41-42 in four seasons with the Mets.

HARVEY: Remember when? (AP)

HARVEY: Remember when? (AP)

Harvey is 29-28 in his four-year Mets career, but because of two arm surgeries in three years, consistently poor run support and his inability to close out games, has always left us wanting more.

Harvey’s climb back to becoming an elite pitcher – he has that potential – took another step as he’s begun throwing as part of his recovery after surgery in July in treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome. It is a complicated procedure that involved removing a rib.

Posting on his Instagram account, Harvey wrote: “He’s working the mechanics.”

Harvey, currently on the 60-day disabled list, is expected to be ready for spring training.

Before the ailment sidelined him, Harvey started 17 games and went 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA and a miserable 1.47 WHIP. In 92.2 innings he gave up 111 hits and 25 walks. He started poorly, seemed to right himself, then hit the skids again.

The year 2012, when he made ten starts to begin a career full of promise. His 3-5 record could be brushed off by inexperience and a lack of run support, but what caught everybody’s attention was an overpowering fastball, a confidence that belied his years and a stunning 2.73 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.

That greatness emerged – no, make that exploded – in 26 starts in 2013 which culminated in starting the All-Star Game at Citi Field.

However, in what began a disturbing career trend, prior to the All-Star Game Harvey developed tightness in his forearm, which he initially did not disclose. He tried to pitch through it and was adamant about starting the All-Star Game.

He continued to pitch after the All-Star break, but after losing three of his last four decisions in August, the discomfort continued and he was placed on the disabled list and eventually had Tommy John surgery. Harvey missed the 2014 season and returned the following year, showing glimpses of his previous dominance and finished at 13-8.

I thought he would be hellfire this year, in fact, wrote he’d be so fueled by what happened in Game 5 of the World Series that he’d win 20 games and compete for the Cy Young Award.

It didn’t happen. After two surgeries in three years, I look at Harvey’s career with caution. He’s young enough to bounce back, but he’s had a big enough window to make one wonder.

It’s an oversimplification to say his mediocre career record is just a lack of run support. Great pitchers find a way to win and too many games have slipped away from him.

I’m asking the same question Harvey should be asking: Why?

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Oct 07

Revisiting Mets’ Top 20 Questions

Every spring I pose 20 questions the Mets must answer to have a successful year and after the season I raise them again.

Here goes:

Q: Will they have a World Series hangover or let down?

A: There were several times this season when the Mets were sluggish and flat. There were numerous injuries that set them back, but didn’t derail them. If they crippled by injuries, they wouldn’t have won 87 games and reached the wild-card game had they been totally derailed. There are several reasons why the Mets aren’t still alive, but an emotional hangover isn’t one of them.

DE GROM: One of many injuries. (AP)

     DE GROM: One of many injuries. (AP)

Q: How will manager Terry Collins respond to being a favorite?

A: Let’s face it, there several things I don’t like about how Collins handles things, beginning with the injuries. A player will be down for a few days, then a week, then on to the disabled list. I didn’t like how he placated Yoenis Cespedes, and it went beyond the golf issue. There were more than a few in-game decisions that could have turned out better, but that’s with every manager. In the end, for the most part his players hustled for him and he kept the clubhouse.

Q: What’s going on with Harvey?

A: Not much. For the second time in three years, his season was cut short by surgery. And, as in 2013, Matt Harvey wasn’t totally forthcoming about his injury and the situation worsened. Harvey got off to a miserable start. He seemed to briefly stabilize, but then had another slide – this time leading him to the disabled list. It has reached the point where Harvey can’t be counted on. If the Mets decide to trade him, that’s fine by me, because I still think he’ll walk in a couple of years.

Q: Will DeGrom and Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Jacob deGrom looked great at times, but there was a long stretch of no support. Three rough starts in a row led to the disabled list. As for Noah Syndergaard, he pitched for much of the season with a bone spur in his elbow. He was superb in the wild-card game with seven scoreless innings. Will he require surgery? That’s to be determined, but if healthy will enter 2017 as the No. 1 starter.

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: A great start fizzled into a trip to the disabled list and eventually surgery. Matz’s short career has already been riddled with injuries. Surgery was on the elbow, but there is still the issue of the impingement of his shoulder. He’ll be a question until he proves otherwise in spring training.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: Colon was the staff leader with 15 victories and the rotation’s anchor when everybody but Syndergaard went down. Colon was worth every penny of the $7 million he earned, and should be brought back.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: Thick enough to lead the league with 51 saves. Familia gave up the game-winning homer in the wild-card game. He was totally stand-up after the game, which is the trait of all the great ones. The Mets have more pressing concerns than Familia’s psyche.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: Addison Reed led the league in holds and the bridge became stronger with the acquisition of Fernando Salas. A lot was expected of Hansel Robles, but his development stuttered at times. The Mets also expected much from Jim Henderson, but his season was sidetracked because he was misused early in the season. Jerry Blevins had a good season, but Josh Smoker and Josh Edgin remain questions as does Gabriel Ynoa. The Mets have plenty of names, but few givens.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud?

A: The Mets are still looking for him. Between his injuries and lack of production, the Mets enter the offseason with a huge concern at catcher. Rene Rivera was a positive addition, but the Mets can’t rely on him offensively.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: Well, he was injured again. Isn’t that consistency? Duda spent much of the season on the disabled list with a back injury. Duda was activated in September. It was good to see him, but not all his health concerns were answered. James Loney was a solid replacement, but I’m doubtful the Mets will bring him back. If not Duda, don’t be surprised to see Michael Conforto get reps in spring training.

Q: Will Walker make people forget Murphy?

A: Not a chance, especially how Daniel Murphy torched them all season. Neil Walker carried the Mets early before he was lost with a back injury. Walker has an option for 2017. Back surgery doesn’t help his bargaining position, but don’t be surprised if the Mets extend a qualifying offer.

Q: Is Cabrera an upgrade over Flores?

A: I’ve always been a Wilmer Flores supporter and don’t believe he’s gotten a fair shake. Even so, Asdrubal Cabrera exceeded all expectations and you can make an argument he’s the Mets’ MVP, and that includes over Cespedes.

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: For those who expected another injury it happened. This time, it was spinal stenosis that necessitated season-ending surgery. Wright wasn’t hitting when he went on the disabled list. Losing Wright enabled the Mets to bring back Jose Reyes. Wright should be ready by spring training, but there are no assurances as to how he’ll be. The Mets must protect themselves in case Wright can’t play, which means they’ll probably bring back Reyes.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: Only the most naïve don’t think Cespedes will opt out. I have no problems with that, but the Mets must be wary of bringing him back. For all the lip service Cespedes gives about wanting him to return to the Mets, his priority is getting the big bucks, which is more than the $50 million remaining on his deal over the next two seasons. Early reports have Cespedes seeking $100 million over five years. There’s no denying Cespedes can hit, but he’s high maintenance, injury prone and hustles when the mood strikes. Oh yeah. One more thing … if you play in New York and want over $100 million, then you talk after a playoff loss. I think the Mets baby this guy too much and the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Q: A breakout year for Conforto?

A: Nope. He sizzled in April, hurt his wrist and eventually rode the Vegas-New York shuttle. In April, Collins moved Conforto to third in the order, but then yanked him around. When he finally came back from Triple-A in September we barely saw him. With the Mets expected to pick up the option on Jay Bruce and another year with Curtis Granderson, there’s little room for Conforto if Cespedes comes back.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Granderson?

A: Nope. Granderson’s patience at the leadoff spot last year was key to the Mets getting to the World Series in 2015. However, Granderson’s 30-59 homer-RBI ratio was almost historically poor. The acquisition of Reyes enabled Collins to move Granderson behind Cespedes in the order. Granderson had a strong September and will be on the last season of his contract next year.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: One thing we learned about the season is the Mets had better depth than we expected. There was Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and T.J. Rivera from the system, plus Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman for the rotation. GM Sandy Alderson did a good job this year plugging holes with Reyes, Loney, Bruce and Rivera.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: Just about everybody. When a team loses three-fifths of its rotation, plus Wright, Walker, Duda, d’Arnaud and Flores from its offense, it will be in trouble. Considering all that happened, the Mets were fortunate to win 87 games and reach the playoffs. It was a rough year and the prognosis for the pitchers is uncertainty. Part of the Mets’ offseason analysis must be of its medical staff.

Q: What’s going on with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals, especially Murphy, owned the Mets this year and won the NL East going away. And, they did so with their own list of injuries, including Stephen Strasburg going on the DL twice. They’re playing Los Angeles in the NLDS and lost Game 1 at home.

Q: Can the Mets get off to another fast start?

A: They did, but it didn’t matter. The Mets were hot in April and hot in September. Between them, the Mets were a sub .500 team.

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Oct 06

Mets’ Playoff Ouster Has Us Thinking About April

After last year, there was one goal for the Mets and it was winning the World Series. Since it won’t happen, by definition, 2016 was a failure. However, the image of the Big Picture depends on angle in which it was viewed. Straight on it was a bust, but “Mets 2016” was a puzzle with many missing pieces.

If we take away one thing from this season is we discovered the Mets’ farm system isn’t as barren as once perceived and they have more depth than we thought.

COLLINS: Reason to be hopeful. (AP)

COLLINS: Reason to be hopeful. (AP)

All teams sustain injuries and the Mets were no exception. The Mets had more than most, beginning with losing Matt Harvey to surgery, then Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, and we never saw Zack Wheeler.

“The job our guys did to get to this point to be in this game is unbelievable,” manager Terry Collins said. “When you lose three-fifths, obviously, of one of the best rotations in the game – you lose two guys or three guys out of the middle of your lineup for a long period of time – to sit here where we are today, I’m tremendously proud.”

Under the rubble of their rotation were found some gems. Noah Syndergaard, even before seven magnificent innings Wednesday, continues to emerge as an ace. Syndergaard pitched hurt, and still throws too many innings, but he’s already one of the best.

Without those injuries Bartolo Colon wouldn’t have stayed in the rotation and led the staff with 15 victories. Also, we wouldn’t have found out about Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

The Mets have questions about the health of their starting pitchers, but unlike most teams they have the depth to get to sustain.

The bullpen was a significant issue entering the season, but Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia gave them perhaps the game’s best eighth-ninth inning combination, which could be even stronger if they retain Fernando Salas and Hansel Robles harnesses his emotions, the back end could be even better.

Injuries also ravaged the infield, where the Mets lost David Wright and Neil Walker for the season. They also were without Wilmer Flores and Lucas Duda for extended periods. The reports are encouraging about Wright’s return, but they must be cognizant about replacing him. In that regard, Flores will have surgery on his right wrist. Walker can be a free agent, but his back surgery will lower his asking price. That will be a tough decision.

The Mets will now be forced to make choices on bringing back Kelly Johnson, James Loney and catcher Rene Rivera. They also let us find out T.J. Rivera can play. Perhaps most importantly, they found out Jose Reyes still has the spark, if not the talent.

Injuries also factored in the outfield as they played lengthy segments without Juan Lagares and Yoenis Cespedes. They also survived long production droughts from Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce, Alejandro De Aza and Curtis Granderson.

However, Granderson and Bruce came on strong at the end and have reputations of production. They have another year with Granderson under contract and an option on Bruce, so there’s flexibility. If Cespedes opts out as he’s expected to do, the Mets have options with Conforto and Brandon Nimmo.

Collins said of his team: “They’re hurting, but there’s no reason to be. They were written off so many times this summer and they kept fighting back.”

The Mets didn’t win, but I can’t say it was a lost season. The Mets found out a lot about many players who weren’t on their radar in April.

In many ways, if their rotation recovers from the knife, the Mets could be in better position to win next year than they were this April. Many Octobers have left the Mets with the feeling of relief the season was finally over.

This year, October has us thinking about April.

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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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