Aug 26

Mets Still Have Concerns Despite Winning Streak

As good as the Mets have been, and they’ve been terrific lately, there remain issues surfacing as they head into October. Several were exposed the past week in Baltimore and Denver, and now in Philadelphia. Fortunately, they were able to outslug their mistakes, and we haven’t seen that in a long time with the Mets.

Some of these flaws surfaced again Wednesday, but scoring nine runs is a great buffer. Even so, here’s what they must address:

COLLINS:  Needs to make adjustments. (AP)

COLLINS: Needs to make adjustments. (AP)

TERRY COLLINS:  Being in a pennant race is new to these guys and that includes the manager. When Jacob deGrom is cruising as he was last week in Baltimore, can’t you just leave him in the game after he gives up a two-out single in the eighth when his pitch-count is still reasonable? If you get into the playoffs, you need to see your ace work out of trouble just as the Giants did last year with Madison Bumgarner.

Collins has a tendency to micromanage. And, speaking of which, with most of the pieces in place – and hitting, by the way – how hard is it to finally pick a lineup?

THE BULLPEN:  When they scored 14 runs in back-to-back games in Denver, and went wild Monday in Philly, they needed every one of those runs because of their leaky bullpen. Championships aren’t won with porous bullpens. Look at the Giants last season. If the Mets don’t fix their pen they will be in trouble. The concern isn’t Jeurys Familia, but getting to him. Speaking of which, they will need Tyler Clippard, who was clearly angry after being pulled with two outs in the eighth on Tuesday.

The Mets acquired Clippard for a reason, which was to be the eighth-inning set-up man. Let him do his job. They’ll need him. The bullpen faltered again Wednesday, but Clippard responded and even got to pitch the ninth. This was giving Clippard a needed positive nod.

HANSEL ROBLES:  Ron Darling nailed it when he ripped Hansel Robles for trying to quick-pitch in Philly. When the hitter’s head is down you don’t quick-pitch. It is bush league and could have resulted in getting one of his teammates hurt. Philadelphia pitchers can throw hard also, and Daniel Murphy was buzzed.

Robles has outstanding potential to fill the seventh-inning slot. What they don’t need is a hot head who could cost them a game – or a player. While we’re on the subject of not being a hot dog, we don’t need bat flips or styling – see: Murphy – after home runs. Act like you’ve been there before. Ticking off the opposition only puts a target on your back. It’s up to Collins first, then the veterans to make this message.

THE OFFENSE:  They are mashing, but in the playoffs runs are at a premium. Teams must manufacture runs in the postseason. We need to see them run, hit behind the runner and string hits together as they did Wednesday.

Yeah, I’m being picky, but you only see the best pitching in the playoffs and not like the staffs or the Rockies and Phillies. What they did in the first inning Wednesday was classic situational hitting, which I loved. Like that more than the homers. And, the ninth was also terrific as they tacked on runs without the homer. Responding to the Phillies’ four-spot in the eighth was something we haven’t always seen and it was a great sign.

It’s a different game in October, which must be realized. They are 14 games over .500 and hold a 6.5 lead over the Nationals. But, nothing is won yet and they have three games coming up with Washington.

Aug 25

Conforto Gives Mets Comfort For Next Year

At one time this season the Mets were desperate for outfielders. Looking ahead to next spring they appear to be in good shape, especially if they bring back Yoenis Cespedes.

Most intriguing is Michael Conforto, who was in college a year ago in June. In an un-Met like move, they brought him up when Michael Cuddyer was injured, and what do you know, he’s producing.

CONFORTO: Made impression.

CONFORTO: Made impression.

More importantly, he’s making adjustments. When pitchers starting working him away, he went to the opposite field. Hopefully, he’ll keep making them, but some hitters never learn. Ike Davis never did, and Lucas Duda is now getting the idea.

Conforto found his opportunity in Cuddyer’s sore knee. And, when it appeared he’d go down when David Wright came off the disabled list, the Mets opted to keep him and send out reliever Dario Alvarez.

“It’s crazy,’’ Conforto told reporters. “The way it’s been happening, you don’t like to see that, you don’t like to see guys going on the DL. But the fact that I’m still here, I’m very excited. It’s where I want to be.’’

It might be difficult for the Mets to keep Cespedes, but he would solve a lot of problems. The Mets will have Curtis Granderson for two more years and Cuddyer for next season.

Conforto has three homers, but has been adept at hitting line drives and playing a solid defense. He’s hitting only .258, but has a .356 on-base percentage and .840 OPS. He runs the bases well, and who knows, perhaps he could be the answer to the Mets’ leadoff question.

It isn’t hard to envision Conforto starting and Cuddyer coming off the bench.

What do you know, the words “next season,’’ in connection with the Mets isn’t a depressing thought.

Aug 24

Optimal Time For Wright To Return

In some respect, it will be Opening Day II for the Mets with the return of David Wright tonight in Philadelphia. Only this time the Mets are 11 games over .500.

“For me it almost feels like Opening Day, where you have some butterflies, kind of nervous excitement,” Wright told reporters this afternoon.

The last time they had a record this good was Sept. 28, 2008 when they lost to the Marlins – and consequently the pennant – on the last day of the season for the second straight year and finished 89-73.

WRIGHT: Welcome back. (AP)

WRIGHT: Welcome back. (AP)

No, this wasn’t the Tom Glavine game, but Johan Santana pitched a 2-0 gem the previous day to give the Mets life. They were in first place as late as Sept. 19 and held a 3.5-game lead on Sept. 10.

This was the last time the Mets were truly relevant in the concept of October baseball.

This is the optimum time for Wright to come back because how well they are playing with a five-game lead on Washington, and their rejuvenated offense has to alleviate the pressure he would normally face when coming off the disabled list.

If the Mets go on and in the words of Bob Murphy, “win the damn thing,’’ it will be because they played over .500 during his absence with four players – Daniel Murphy, Eric Campbell, Ruben Tejada and Juan Uribe – trying to take his place.

For the longest time the Mets weren’t hitting or winning on the road. They are doing both now. And, concurrently the Washington Nationals are floundering. However, five-game leads can quickly evaporate as the Mets learned in 2007 and 2008. Those were completely different teams then, deeper offensively but not with this pitching. That pitching provides optimism they won’t fade this time.

As September approaches, Wright will complement the offense and not be required to carry it on his shoulders. With less pressure, and manager Terry Collins knowing he can plug in Juan Uribe any time if he needs to rest him, the situation is such once Wright catches up to the speed of the major league game as opposed to the minors, he can resume raking.

And, the Mets can build on this lead.

Aug 23

Things Falling Into Place For Mets

Maybe there are omens, if you believe in such things, but there is so much to like about what’s happening for the Mets, and it could be personified by Logan Verrett. Not only did the Mets get five innings from Verrett in his start for Matt Harvey, but got eight strong – with eight strikes in today’s series clinching win over the Rockies.

Things don’t often fall into place the way did for the Mets today. After a rocky first inning Verrett settled down to where you thought you were actually seeing Harvey. Funny line from Verrett, telling Harvey, “I don’t know why everybody is freaking out because everybody knows I’m a better pitcher than you.”

Not only did the Mets rest Harvey, but got a victory and their first sweep of the Rockies in Coors Field. For one day at least, Verrett made us believe this innings-saving program with Harvey might just work after all.

Conventional wisdom had the Mets sending down Verrett to Triple-A Las Vegas after the game, but he was so impressive the Mets optioned out left reliever Dario Alvarez instead. Verrett also gives manager Terry Collins a reliable choice should he need to rest Harvey again or Noah Syndergaard. As a manager, you don’t want to do a lot of searching in September.

The Mets’ bullpen – evidenced by the first two games of the Colorado series – has been shaky lately, but Verrett can offer stability.

There were other season-falling-into-place signs for the Mets this week.

All right, I thought they dragged their feet placing Lucas Duda on the disabled list, but they appear to be surviving his absence. Daniel Murphy, who supposedly can’t play defense, started a key double play. Speaking of defense, Wilmer Flores – with tears out of his eyes – is showing he can play shortstop when he has to. He saved a run, today.

And, the more I see him, the more I like Yoenis Cespedes. He made two scintillating plays in center field that undoubtedly saved a few runs. Since the Mets got him their offense has transformed into something to be feared.

I didn’t think GM Sandy Alderson had it in him, but getting Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Tyler Clippard jumpstarted this team.

Once struggling for runs, the Mets are scoring at a rate where the pressure was lessened on Michael Conforto, and will be for David Wright when he’s activated from the disabled list Monday in Philadelphia. The Mets need Wright to be Wright, but with the way the Mets are hitting – thanks in large part to Cespedes – they can ease him back. The last thing the Mets want is for Wright to force things, and if the offense keeps producing it makes things easier for Wright.

And, with Uribe, they have a reliable option at third. Uribe, with the Latin pitchers, can be a calming influence. He was today with Hansel Robles.

The Mets are a season-high 11 games over .500 as they go to Philadelphia. However, these Phillies are a different bunch than the team the Mets have beaten up on this year.

The Mets have pitched well all season, recently started to hit and their defense is better. If Verrett can stabilize the bullpen when he’s not pitching eight strong, then the Mets could be doing more than playing meaningful games in September.

They could be playing meaningful games in October, and wouldn’t that be sweet.


Aug 20

Hopes And Expectations Not The Same For Wright

There are hopes and there are expectations, and they aren’t one of the same when it pertains to the Mets and David Wright. When Wright returns – perhaps within the week – we hope for him to stay healthy and perform like the All-Star he was. But, we can’t really expect it, can we?

Manager Terry Collins is already putting limits on Wright by telling reporters, “[he] won’t be that everyday guy until we know his back is 100 percent and that might not be until next spring.” That might be the most realistic thing Collins ever said about Wright.

WRIGHT: We want to see his smile. (AP)

WRIGHT: We want to see his smile. (AP)

From when Wright comes back and until the end of the season, the Mets might learn third base might be pushing it for him. We might learn because of the bending at the position, that third base might not be the place for him. Then what?

Wright might share time with Daniel Murphy and Juan Uribe, as the Mets’ infield will resemble a jig-saw puzzle with pieces strewn all over the table. Murphy, Kelly Johnson and Wilmer Flores could share second; Ruben Tejada and Flores would share shortstop. Johnson can spell anybody at any position.

“That is what happens when you get a lot of players that are pretty good,” Collins told reporters in Baltimore. “You’ve got to figure out how to get them all in the game at different times. Yeah, it will be a little bit of a challenge.”

However, if Wright is stable and hitting, he’ll get most of the time at third base. Everybody, even Collins, knows that to be true.

That’s the best case scenario for the Mets, regardless of Collins’ words or caution. That is what we’re hoping for, but can’t realistically expect.