Aug 07

Three Mets’ Storylines: Will Walker Be Around In 2017 To Save Them?

Just when it looked as if things couldn’t get bleaker for the Mets, Neil Walker rescued them Sunday afternoon with a two-run, ninth-inning homer.

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

It wasn’t the first time Walker picked up the Mets by the scruff of the neck and made me wonder if Walker will be around to save them in 2017. He’s free to leave after this season and there’s been no word on what the Mets’ plans are – or Walker’s.

The Mets were lucky to get him from Pittsburgh after Daniel Murphy left last winter. Ben Zobrist was their first replacement choice, but they were never going to afford him. GM Sandy Alderson let Murphy walk for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which Dilson Herrera as their fall back. Well, Herrera now is in Cincinnati’s farm system.

If they let Walker go as they did Murphy, they will be forced to find a second baseman. Will they go outside? Will it be Wilmer Flores, whom they never want to give a fair chance? Will it be Jose Reyes? Will they bring back Kelly Johnson or try Matt Reynolds?

Whoever they choose, it’s unlikely he’ll match Walker’s production, which will become even more important should Yoenis Cespedes leave and David Wright doesn’t recover. What Walker did Sunday is to remind us how important he has been to the Mets and fragility of their offense.

As has been the case with the Mets a lot lately, the game boiled down to the late innings. Manager Terry Collins pulled Jacob deGrom with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead in the seventh, but Jerry Blevins couldn’t keep Detroit from tying the game and the Mets were in danger of being swept and falling further behind in the wild-card race.

However, the Tigers ran themselves out of the eighth inning to set up Walker’s 19th homer, a drive well into the right-field seats that carried the Mets to a 3-1 victory.

After a sizzling April, Walker went into a dismal slump, but regained his stroke after the All-Star break and took a .489 stretch (22-for-45) into the game. With Cespedes basically a non-entity since early July, Walker kept the Mets afloat; he has three homers and nine RBI over his last dozen games.

Walker approached his at-bat against Francisco Rodriguez wanting to get a fastball early and stay away from the closer’s put-away changeup.

“You hope he leaves something up in the zone and that’s what I got,” Walker said. “With most closers you want to get to them early [in the count] because they have a devastating out pitch.”

Considering the Mets’ overall lack of prowess hitting with RISP and their injuries, one shudders to think where they would be without Walker. For one thing, it’s doubtful they would be three games over .500.

Walker has been crucial to the Mets’ hanging around, and as dismal as they have played, they are one good week from getting a foothold in the wild card race. They are currently nine games behind Washington in the NL East, so that boat is pulling out of the harbor. Still, the wild card is possible, as they trail the second slot by 1.5 games.

Walker’s homer was the headline of the day for the Mets, followed by deGrom’s start and my favorite Ernie Harwell story.

DE GROM START WASTED: The only real concern the Mets have with deGrom is not being able to score runs for him. Sunday marked the 11th time in his short career in which he gave up one or fewer runs and the Mets didn’t give him more than one run.

DeGrom had a 1-0 lead entering the seventh, but the Tigers loaded the bases on Justin Upton’s single, a walk to James McCann and Andrew Romine’s squibber that died near the third base line. Enter Blevins, who was greeted by Ian Kinsler’s weak chopper past the mound to tie the game and ensure deGrom’s seventh no-decision.

Collins said he thought deGrom was losing it after the walk when asked why he didn’t let him finish. For his part, deGrom said, “it was probably the right call,” to pull him.

As for Kinsler’s hit, deGrom said: “You’re trying to get weak contact there or a strikeout. It was a little too weak. It’s all part of the game.”

Fortunately for the Mets, on this day it wasn’t the definitive part of the game.

MY FAVORITE HARWELL STORY:  This series in Detroit reminds me of the late Tigers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, will always be one of my favorite people I’ve met in sports.

I always heard about his kindness, but experienced it first hand by his selfless gesture toward me in the Tigers’ clubhouse years ago. I was just starting out covering the Indians at the time when I ventured into the Tigers’ clubhouse to get a Kirk Gibson quote.

I waited patiently until the circle around Gibson was breaking up when I approached him. He looked at me and gruffly said, “I’m done for the day,’’ then turned his back. I was more than a little miffed when a TV guy stuck his mike in Gibson’s face. What could I do, show Gibson my resume and clips portfolio?

“What the hell?” I thought. Harwell saw this and walked up to me and said, “Don’t worry about it. That happens all the time.”

I always remembered that and remained grateful for Harwell’s compassion and kindness. He didn’t know me and didn’t have to do that, but that was Ernie.

When I was covering the Yankees I always made it a point to visit with him whenever I was in Detroit.

He was the best. The very best.

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Aug 06

Three Mets’ Storylines: Looks Bad Collins Didn’t Challenge

Another day, another head-scratching moment for the Mets. There were all those lost opportunities during the game, but the most puzzling moment came after the game’s final play when manager Terry Collins eschewed the opportunity to use his challenge.

As long as there’s a chance, and replay gave the Mets that chance, you go for it, but Collins did not. Earlier this week in dealing with the issue of perception vs. reality in the Yoenis Cespedes golf matter, Collins angrily said he didn’t care about perception and dealt in reality.

In not appealing, the perception is Collins doesn’t care – which I know isn’t true – against the reality, which he admitted that he wasn’t thinking.

BRUCE: Game ends in controversy. (AP)

BRUCE: Game ends in controversy. (AP)

The Mets finally appeared to get a hit with a runner in scoring position when Travis d’Arnaud grounded a single into right field, but Jay Bruce was thrown out at the plate to end the game when his cleat was caught in the dirt.

Once down 6-1, the Mets’ comeback fizzled at 6-5, but in this day of instant replay – when you never really know – Collins didn’t even bother to challenge the call. Replays showed Bruce was out, but clearcut replays have been reversed before, so why not?

It’s like on fourth-and-18, instead of throwing into the end zone you just take a knee.

“It was a tough way to end it,” Collins told reporters. “I thought for sure he was going to make it.”

Would Collins accept a base runner’s explanation he “thought for sure,” the ball was foul as to why he didn’t run? I don’t think so.

“That might be one of those plays where you might as well just take the chance anyway and see what happens,” Collins said. “I didn’t think about it.”

That’s a terrible thing for a manager to admit.

Bruce couldn’t say whether he was safe or out.

“I’ve seen it challenged before, but that’s not my decision,” Bruce said. “It’s a judgment call and I wasn’t part of the judgment call.”

It has been a rough season and a rough week for Collins, but that’s no excuse. Instant Replay, at least in Cespedes’ world, is a mulligan and Collins should have used it.

Not doing so, along with the Mets’ ineptitude to hit with RISP (2-for-12, 10 LOB, three double plays) was the main storyline. The others are the Mets’ fifth spot in the rotation and Zack Wheeler‘s rehab game.

TAKING THE FIFTH: For the most part, Logan Verrett has given the Mets a chance to win most of his starts in place of Matt Harvey. He didn’t Saturday night in giving up six runs in 3.2 innings. Considering how poorly the Mets’ offense has been, he gave them very little chance.

“I talked with [GM] Sandy [Alderson] about some things and we’re going to certainly look at some options,” Collins said when asked whether Verrett will stay in the rotation.

An option to replace him is Jon Niese, who pitched a scoreless 2.1 innings in relief.

WHEELER MAKES REHAB START:  With the Mets nine games behind Washington and 2.5 behind Miami, and tied with Pittsburgh for two games behind the final wild-card berth, the season is rapidly fading.

Given that, they would be foolish to wait for Wheeler’s return from the disabled list, because by the time he’s ready the season could be over. Wheeler threw 17 pitches in a rain-shortened rehab assignment with Class A St. Lucie. His fastball ranged from 90-96 mph.

Wheeler’s rehab assignment, barring a setback, will end the first week in September.

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Aug 05

Three Mets’ Storylines: What’s Wrong With Syndergaard?

Noah Syndergaard only gave up four runs tonight, and it is an oversimplification to say the problem is the Mets didn’t score for him. But, something just isn’t right.

The issue isn’t him not being able to throw hard. He still throws very hard, but velocity isn’t the most variable for a pitcher. A successful pitcher needs movement, location and velocity, with speed being the third most important. You can even drop that to fourth if you want to include having a variety of secondary pitches.

SYNDERGAARD: Off his game. (AP)

               SYNDERGAARD: Off his game. (AP)

While throwing in the high 90s and even touching triple digits in the Mets’ 4-3 loss at Detroit, Syndergaard, as he has been for much of the season – or at least since the issue of his bone spur surfaced – is far from pitch efficient.

Syndergaard threw 112 pitches, but only worked six innings. It was the fourth straight game in which he threw over 100 pitches yet didn’t go past the sixth. He hasn’t gone seven innings since July 3; of his 21 starts, he’s gone seven or more innings just eight times.

I don’t care Syndergaard is throwing a lot of pitches; I care he’s not efficient or effective with them. I care he seems to be running in place.

“It has been a battle,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “He’s had to work very hard. You have to learn how to pitch at this level and through tough times.”

While much is made of Syndergaard’s overpowering stuff, he’s only had four double-digit strikeout games with his last being June 15 against Pittsburgh nine starts ago.

We’ve been hearing a lot of the high number of foul balls off him (26 tonight), which comes from not being able to put away hitters. His curveball didn’t surface until the fifth inning. Until then, it was mostly straight fastballs – mostly to the outside against right-handed pitchers.

“I’m thinking right now I’m trying to be too fine with my pitches,” Syndergaard said. “It’s like I’m throwing darts out there. It’s frustrating because the past month I feel that I have the stuff to dominate, but it hasn’t been clicking.”

Do you remember when Syndergaard went high and tight during the World Series? Then he challenged the Royals saying they could find him 60 feet, six inches from the plate.

Collins insists Syndergaard still has swagger, but you rarely see him work the inner half of the plate. You don’t see that biting slider. You don’t see him effectively holding runners (Ian Kinsler singled, stole his way to third and scored on Miguel Cabrera’s single in the first). You don’t see a lot of the things that earned him a comic book hero nickname.

The problem isn’t 100 percent the bone spur because of the velocity, but it makes you wonder if the pain prevents him from being what he needs to be, and what he has been.

Syndergaard is still a young stud, but he’s not as polished as Justin Verlander was last night and has been for years. Hope Syndergaard was taking notes.

Syndergaard was the night’s biggest storyline. The others were the non-existent offense and Collins’ lineup.

THE SILENT BATS: A positive is the Mets only left three runners on base. The flip side is they barely sniffed Verlander.

Mets hitters only had five hits and one walk and struck out 12 times. Kelly Johnson hit a two-run homer in the fourth and the Mets scratched out a cosmetic run in the ninth.

THE LINEUP: I haven’t agreed with Collins on a lot of things lately, including last night’s lineup. Your best power hitter – Yoenis Cespedes – is out for at least two weeks, so one would think Curtis Granderson would be dropped down to the middle of the order.

Alejandro De Aza played center, which I liked, but where was Michael Conforto? Collins made a big deal of saying he would play center. And, if Conforto isn’t playing, why is he here?

Arguably the hottest Mets’ hitter in July was Wilmer Flores, but he sat again.

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Aug 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Colon Is Headliner

There’s not much more one can say about Bartolo Colon that hasn’t been said, so let’s pile on more of the superlatives we’ve been saying in his three years with the Mets.

COLON: Leads rotation. (AP)

COLON: Leads rotation. (AP)

Colon, despite averaging about 10 mph., less on his fastball than Noah Syndergaard, was stupendous in Thursday night’s 4-1 victory at Yankee Stadium. The guy is 43, but the Mets’ most durable starter and leads the rotation he wasn’t even supposed to be a part of at this time with ten victories.

“I didn’t see myself being a starter at this point,” Colon told an interpreter. “I think just from conversations we’ve had, I saw myself in the bullpen at this point of the season. Thank God I’ve had that opportunity.”

Colon threw 90 pitches, of which 84 were fastballs, which is an extraordinary ratio. He gave up one run on six hits with no walks in 6.2 innings.

“I thought maybe had his best stuff of the year,” manager Terry Collins said. “It’s amazing what he’s done.”

What he’s done is keep the Mets in the wild-card race. They trail St. Louis and Miami for the second wild-card spot by one game heading into a three-game series in Detroit.

The two other Mets’ storylines were Jay Bruce’s three-run homer and the steady contributions of Kelly Johnson.

BRUCE IS LOOSE: The newly-acquired Mets’ right fielder broke his 0-for-10 start with the team with a three-run homer in the fifth inning to give the cruising Colon a 4-0 lead.

“I told some guys it felt like my first major league home run running around the bases,” Bruce said. “It was good to make an impact that way. It ended up being a big spot.”

And, with Yoenis Cespedes on the disabled list, there will be a lot more big spots for Bruce.

“I try to think small,” said Bruce about his approach with runners on base. “I don’t try to do too much and put added pressure on myself.”

JOHNSON COMES UP BIG: Johnson gave the Mets a spark last year after coming over from the Braves last year, and he’s been doing it again in his second stint with them.

Johnson homered in the fifth and made a nifty play to start a game-ending double play.

It takes stars like Cespedes and Bruce to carry a team, but the contributions of guys like Johnson can’t be underestimated.

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Aug 04

Cespedes Golf Issue Shows Disconnect Between Alderson And Collins

In listening to the contrasting versions of the Yoenis Cespedes injury/golf issue between Mets GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins illustrates the gap and lack of communication in their working relationship and how ultimately things won’t end well for the latter.

CESPEDES:  Laughing at Mets.  (AP)

CESPEDES: Laughing at Mets. (AP)

Collins spoke first Thursday afternoon and initially seemed composed in his press conference, but quickly became testy and controversial, interrupted questions and getting angry with reporters.

Collins’ ears perked up when the word “golf’’ was mentioned.

“Don’t go there,” said Collins, cutting off the question before it was asked. “Golf had nothing to do with it. He’s a baseball player.”

When the question was rerouted to being about perception, Collins went off, and frankly said some things that were embarrassing.

“I don’t care about perception,” Collins snapped. “I care about reality. The reality is, he was OK. He was OK to play [Wednesday] night. The reality is, he came up after his last at-bat and said, ‘My leg’s bothering me again.’

“It happened from when he got on base. He ran the bases. It didn’t hurt him in the fourth inning; it didn’t hurt him in the sixth inning. It hurt him in the ninth inning. That’s reality. That’s what we have to deal with. We can’t worry about what happened at 12 in the afternoon. We’ve got to worry about what happened at 10 o’clock [Wednesday] night. That’s when he hurt his leg.”

Collins was so far off, just as he was when asked why Cespedes wasn’t placed on the disabled list the first week of July.

“Because he wasn’t hurt that bad,” Collins said. “He didn’t complain about it.”

Listening to Alderson later, it was as if he heard Collins and then said the opposite.

“Let’s face it,” Alderson said. “Playing golf during the day and then going out and getting injured in the evening, it’s a bad visual. I think [Cespedes] recognizes it at this point and we’ll go from there.”

What Alderson said next clearly undercut Collins’ earlier comments.It’s been a trying month or so with Yoenis and the injury and in retrospect, we probably should have just put him on the DL in the beginning of this episode,” Alderson said. “On the other hand, he wanted to try to play through it.’’

“It’s been a trying month or so with Yoenis and the injury and in retrospect, we probably should have just put him on the DL in the beginning of this episode,” Alderson said. “On the other hand, he wanted to try to play through it.”

I don’t have a problem with not putting Cespedes on the DL immediately. He was hurt before the All-Star break and it made sense to take the calculated gamble of seeing if the rest during the break could have helped him.

But, was Cespedes getting any rest if he was on the golf course every day. There are reports he likes to play four or five times a week. However, whether he used a cart or not doesn’t matter. There’s still a lot of standing and walking, and Bobby Valentine made an interesting comment when he compared the muscle movements and torque of the baseball swing.

It might not be as taxing as playing basketball, but there is a strain which is compounded when it’s hot. Neither Alderson nor Collins said it, but when Cespedes is on the golf course for three hours, he’s not getting treatment, is he?

I wonder how David Wright, who used to spend up to two hours getting ready to play, feels about this.

All that is the reality Collins wanted to deal in.

The reality is Cespedes was not getting as much treatment as he should have been getting.

The reality is if Collins was trying to preserve Cespedes for these games in AL parks when he could have used the DH, then he shouldn’t have used him as a pinch-hitter when the Mets held a five-run lead.

The reality is if Cespedes tweaked his quad Tuesday night as a pinch-hitter, he shouldn’t have been on a golf course Wednesday afternoon.

The reality is if Cespedes takes fewer swings before a game, then he shouldn’t be taking more and more golf swings.

The reality is if Cespedes can’t play left field to preserve his legs he shouldn’t be playing 18 rounds several times a week.

The reality is when Alderson said he conferred with Cespedes’ representatives about not playing golf when on the DL, he’s admitting no control over his player.

Collins is right about one thing, and that is Cespedes is a baseball player. And, the reality is he’s being paid $27 million to play for the Mets and isn’t giving his employer his best effort.

The reality is there is a disconnect between Alderson and Collins and this won’t end well for the manager.

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