Sep 05

Three Mets’ Storylines: The Importance Of Colon

To a player, every year is an audition for the next, and here’s hoping the Mets are taking copious notes on Bartolo Colon. With how well he’s pitched, how ravaged the rotation has been, and the uncertainty of Zack Wheeler’s future, it should be a given re-signing Colon is a priority.

It doesn’t matter he’s 43, or can’t throw his fastball through a wall, or the ceiling of their younger pitchers, Colon knows how to pitch. Colon knows what he has, or more importantly, what he doesn’t possess.

COLON: Bring him back. (AP)

COLON: Bring him back. (AP)

“We had a man on the mound,” manager Terry Collins said. “Nothing fazes him. He gave us what he always does, which is quality innings. He’s an amazing guy.

“Every fifth day he takes the baseball. You don’t have to worry about pitch counts. You don’t have to worry about innings. All he does is make pitches.”

But, none of those pitches were more important than in the third and sixth innings when the Reds had a runner on third with no outs, and twice came away empty. That enabled the half-asleep Mets’ offense time to wake up with three tack-on runs to beat the Reds, 5-0, on Labor Day.

With the victory, the Mets kept heat on St. Louis for the second wild-card and moved to six-games over .500 (72-66), a level they hadn’t been since the night of July 27 when they lost to the Cardinals as Jeurys Familia blew his first save of the season.

The Mets, save Colon, who flew in Sunday afternoon, were dog tired after playing a night game and flying in well past midnight. The Mets were asking Colon to carry them, which he has done now for three seasons.

On Aug. 19, the Mets fell two games below .500 with a loss in San Francisco. Colon beat the Giants the next day to jumpstart the Mets on a stretch where they have won 12 of their next 16 games.

During that stretch, Colon won three games at a time when the Mets lost Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom from the rotation.

Colon gave up five hits and a walk in six scoreless innings to raise his record to a team-high 13-7 with a 3.22 ERA. Colon does it by keeping the Reds off balance by working quickly and staying ahead in the count with a fastball that didn’t stray much over 90 mph.

While Noah Syndergaard throws in the high 90s and sometimes touches triple digits, and deGrom raises red flags when his fastball drops to 91 mph., Colon remains a testament to the pitching tenants of location and movement over velocity.

It’s something the vaunted Mets youthful rotation should learn from, as well as they could from how often to throw between starts. In essence, he’s an active pitching coach.

“If you don’t learn stuff watching him pitch, you’re wasting your time,” Collins said.

For as well as Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman pitched as spot starters, here’s hoping the Mets aren’t seduced by their success and don’t assume Matt Harvey, deGrom and Matz will return without incident. And, for not pitching for the last two years, the Mets can’t assume anything with Wheeler.

However, for the bargain basement cost of $7.25 million, Colon leads the rotation in wins (13), starts (28) and innings pitched (164.2).

Colon doesn’t fit the prototype, but all he does is come through and that’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

REYNOLDS RAKES: While everybody was tired, probably nobody was more drained than Matt Reynolds, who flew all night from Salt Lake City and arrived a few hours before game time.

Reynolds caught the red-eye from Salt Lake City to catch a connection in Boston before heading to Cincinnati. And, it didn’t help he was seated next to one of those obnoxious fliers who insist on talking non-stop.

Reynolds drove in two runs on three hits, including a homer, to lead an offense that rested Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Reyes, Curtis Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera (he appeared as a pinch-hitter and singled).

“I just wanted to go out there and play and have fun,’’ Reynolds told SNY. “I didn’t try to put too much pressure on myself.”

Reynolds said a key was an adjustment he made in Triple-A to move closer to the plate, which forced him to shorten his swing.

BULLPEN STRONG AGAIN: Before this season is over, the Mets’ bullpen will throw a pile of innings, perhaps too many for Collins’ liking.

Collins was able to rest Addison Reed and Familia, who were both used in a non-save situation the night before.

Collins got an inning from the recently-and-frequently abused Hansel Robles; two-thirds of an inning from Jerry Blevins; and 1.1 innings from the recently acquired Fernando Salas.

BRUCE RETURNS HOME: Cincinnati will always be home to Jay Bruce, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his return to Great American Ballpark.

The Reds honored Bruce prior to the game with a video tribute and made a donation to his foundation that supports children with development disabilities.

“It was good. It was a bit odd,” said Bruce. “The Reds took the time to welcome me back. It was what I expected out of this organization. They treated me great the whole time I was here.”

EXTRA INNINGS: Kelly Johnson hit his tenth homer. In looking ahead, the Mets need to seriously consider bringing back Johnson, who doesn’t appear ready to retire. … Wilmer Flores had an interesting day, getting thrown out at second trying to stretch a single and at third attempting to stretch a double. I admit, I was hoping to see him try for an inside-the-park homer. C’mon, admit it, so were you. … The shutout was the Mets’ 11th of the year.

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Sep 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Has Granderson Answered Wake-up Call?

The Mets have waited all season for Curtis Granderson to answer his wake up call. Did he finally pick up the phone?

Moved to the cleanup spot, Granderson drove in three runs with a sacrifice fly and two-run homer in the Mets’ 5-1 victory Sunday over the Washington Nationals.

i-1Granderson drove in two runs with a bases load single Saturday.

“When he’s hitting we’re a completely different team,” said manager Terry Collins.

Granderson has three homers, eight RBI and has scored six runs over his last six games, but even if he continues on a streak of historic proportions, he won’t finish with the numbers he envisioned coming out of spring training.

He’s hitting .222, but what is alarming is his homers-to-RBI ratio of 23-43.

Perhaps also warming up – just in time to his return to Cincinnati – is Jay Bruce, who had two hits, including a two-run homer.

With Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom currently out with injuries, the Mets might be in position where their offense must carry them.

With the victory, the Mets remain one game behind St. Louis for the second wild card. They have now won 11 of their last 15 games.

LUGO SUPERB AGAIN: About that comment about the offense carrying the Mets, well, that might not be the case if they continue to get strong pitching from Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

Starting on the heels of Gsellman’s strong start the previous night, Lugo was terrific, giving up one run on six hits in seven innings.

He’s now 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA since joining the Mets.

If there was a turning point, it came in the first inning when the Nationals loaded the bases, but Lugo escaped untouched.

“Absolutely,” Collins said when asked if that was a deciding factor. “He needed to get out of it and he did. He settled down and pitched well.”

Lugo, Gsellman and Gabriel Ynoa have a combined six victories as spot starters.

KEEPING IT GOING: Yes, the Mets are hot, and yes, their schedule is seemingly easier than the rest of their competitors for the wild card.

“We need to go and have a good road trip and see where we are when we get back,” Collins said.

Here’s hoping the Mets sleep fast tonight as they have a 1 p.m., game tomorrow in Cincinnati.

Brilliant scheduling.

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Sep 03

Three Mets’ Storylines: Gsellman, Young Pitchers Provide Spark

Should the Mets prevail over the pack and clinch a wild-card berth, considerable credit should go to their nondescript spot starters who have combined to keep them afloat while injuries sideline their heralded young arms.

Robert Gsellman is the latest, giving up one run in six innings in the Mets’ 3-1 victory over Washington. It was Gsellman’s second victory. Seth Lugo, Sunday’s starter, has won twice; Gabriel Ynoa has a win; Rafael Montero, Tuesday’s starter in place of Jacob deGrom, threw five scoreless innings to take a no-decision against Miami; and Josh Smoker has a victory in relief.

GSELLMAN: Big start for Mets. (AP)

GSELLMAN: Big start for Mets. (AP)

“The young energy has picked us up a lot,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said.

To say “pick up” might be an oversimplification. That’s six wins in games they would have been favored to lose, so instead of possibly being below .500, they are now a game behind St. Louis for the second wild card.

It wasn’t as if Gsellman was overpowering. Instead, the Nationals had him reeling a couple of times, but he composed himself to minimize the damage.

Washington had the bases loaded with one out in the first inning, but Gsellman held the Nationals to a sacrifice fly.

“The game could change in the first inning,” Gsellman said. “[I just want to] take a deep breath and don’t try to get too ahead of yourself.’’

Another key moment came in the fourth when the Nationals put the first two runners on, but Gsellman regrouped to get the next three hitters, including fielding Tanner Roark’s bunt to force a runner at third.

“I think it’s a tribute to his make-up,” Collins said. “That [first inning] was a big inning for him by limiting the damage. … I’ve been hearing what kind of stuff he has and we’re seeing it.”

The Mets also received a key defensive play from Michael Conforto when he made a diving catch of Daniel Murphy‘s sinking liner.

Gsellman was the headliner, with the other two storylines being Curtis Granderson and several injury updates.

GRANDERSON COMES THROUGH: If there has been a recurring theme this season it has been the Mets’ inability to hit with RISP, particularly Granderson, who broke a 1-for-31 slide in that situation with a two-run single in the third.

Even so, one of the Mets’ most head-scratching statistics this season is Granderson’s 22 homers with only 40 RBI.

It’s staggering when you think about it.

INJURY UPDATES: Steven Matz is expected to resume throwing Monday in Port St. Lucie. He’s on the disabled list with an impingement in his shoulder. … Lucas Duda (back) is swinging at soft-toss pitches and could take batting practice by the end of the week. The Mets say he could return this season. … Zack Wheeler has been shut down for the rest of the year with a strained right flexor muscle. … Neil Walker’s microdiscectomy surgery is expected this week.

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Sep 02

Murphy Decision Will Haunt Mets For Years

It’s ironic even beyond Metsian standards to have Neil Walker announce his decision to have season-ending back surgery the day before Daniel Murphy comes to town with his first-place Washington Nationals.

I like Walker. A lot of us do. However, he’s a hired gun who could be on the road again after he heals. But, who doesn’t love Murphy – and cringes whenever he comes to the plate against his former team?

MURPHY: Got last laugh. (AP)

              MURPHY: Got last laugh. (AP)

Regardless of what GM Sandy Alderson said last winter, the Mets could have afforded both Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes, but for whatever reason didn’t want to come up with the coin to pay the homegrown player. Surely, the Mets could have matched the $37.5-million over three years the Nationals gave Murphy.

Whether it was his comments about having a homosexual teammate – Murphy said he could embrace him as a teammate but not the lifestyle – or that he wasn’t a great defensive player, or whatever other reason, he didn’t fit into Alderson’s “mold.”

Yes, Murphy had flaws defensively. Yes, he had mental cramps on the bases and in the field. But, then again, isn’t that a big part of Cespedes’ resume?

One thing you can say about Murphy over Cespedes is the former always hustles and plays hard. Murphy’s attention was never split between baseball and the golf course.

Of course, Cespedes has the greater athletic skills, but if he doesn’t always use them, what’s the use? Cespedes has the physical make-up of being a superstar, and as he proved last year the potential to carry a team.

Then again, something clicked between Murphy and hitting coach Kevin Long, and didn’t he carry them in the playoffs? And, it isn’t a fluke because hasn’t Murphy carried the Nationals this year to the point where he’s a serious MVP candidate.

The Mets searched for years to find a position for Murphy, who is a natural third baseman. They tried left field. They tried first base before settling on second base. Murphy has his head scratching moments at second, but worked to harness his talent. He made his fair share of head turning plays as well.

Conversely, Cespedes said he’d play center field – it was reportedly a key in signing him – but now it is left field or bust. Murphy did whatever he could to fit in and do whatever the Mets needed. It seems Cespedes can’t be bothered at times.

Infatuated with what Cespedes might become, Alderson opted to let Murphy go – they made a token qualifying offer they knew he couldn’t accept – and offered the mercurial outfielder $75 million over three years. That’s double what Murphy will get from the Nationals.

Because Alderson deals with Sabremetrics and prototypes he doesn’t see or acknowledge the rawness of what Murphy provides. Had Sabremetrics and Alderson been around in another era, would he have overlooked Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Brooks Robinson, Jerry Koosman and Mike Piazza?

Hell, he may have even bypassed Babe Ruth.

Now, with one month left in this season, it is clear Alderson made the wrong decision on Murphy, and not solely because Walker will have season-ending back surgery and may never play for the Mets again.

The Mets got a good year from Cespedes, but not exceptional because of his quad injury, made worse by them delaying a month to put him on the disabled list. By the way, he’s still not 100 percent.

Alderson doesn’t get a pass because of David Wright. After last season there should have been some reasonable expectation Wright could be injured again. So, with the Nationals set with Murphy for the next two years, the Mets will be searching for a second baseman and possibly a third baseman.

What about Wilmer Flores, you ask?

Flores is the Plain Jane you don’t want to take to the prom; he’s not the flashy platinum blonde homecoming queen Alderson lusts after for a player. I feel the Mets will underappreciate and eventually ditch Flores the way they did Murphy.

And, Cespedes?

Well, they gave him the option to opt out after this year. Instead of spending to plug the holes in their rotation, the bullpen, first, second and third, and in the outfield, the Mets will instead throw even more money to keep Cespedes.

In doing so, they will be stunting the development of Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo. They also have the decision on what to do with Jay Bruce and possibly Curtis Granderson.

And, no matter how much money they are willing to give Cespedes, there’s a good chance he’ll leave anyway and they’ll lose out on making deals to improve, elsewhere.

But, Murphy will be settled in with Washington.

Letting Murphy go was the lead domino in a series of moves that could haunt the Mets to the point where even all that great young pitching – with has three studs lost for the year – can’t carry the load.

Nice job.

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Sep 01

Three Mets’ Storylines: Something Not Right With DeGrom

Evidently, those three extra days of rest didn’t help Jacob deGrom or the Mets. Also not helpful to the Mets was the image of deGrom heading up the tunnel to the clubhouse and motioning trainer Ray Ramirez to follow him.

Uh oh, what else could go wrong?

“That’s news to me,” manager Terry Collins said when asked about deGrom motioning to the trainer. “What you just informed me of is very troubling to me. … Jacob deGrom is a huge piece for us.”

DE GROM: Not right. (AP)

DE GROM: Not right. (AP)

How could the manager not know, unless, of course, deGrom wanted to talk to somebody else? Even so, television replays clearly showed Ramirez followed deGrom down the tunnel.

“Everything is fine,” insisted deGrom. “I just wanted to talk to Ray. I felt out of sync out there, but nothing is wrong.”

Collins pushed deGrom back three days when it was concluded fatigue was the factor for why he was torched for 13 runs on 25 hits in his previous two starts.

DeGrom – now 7-8 with a 3.04 ERA– appeared to overcome a strained lat muscle early this season, but red flags were raised with his previous two starts and his velocity dropping to 91 mph., in Thursday night’s 6-4 loss to the Miami Marlins.

However, it’s more than just fatigue or a drop of velocity. DeGrom still lives on the outer half of the plate and won’t challenge hitters inside. Could it be a lack of confidence in his fastball?

Collins initially planned to push deGrom back until Friday against Washington, but those plans changed when Steven Matz was sidelined with a rotator cuff impingement. So, deGrom moved up a day and gave up three runs on six hits and a season-high four walks in five innings.

It wasn’t a good line, and neither were the 102 pitches he threw in that span. High pitch counts have been a persistent problem all season for deGrom, Matz and Noah Syndergaard.

“His command is not what it has been,” Collins said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

When a pitcher’s command leaves him, it is usually because of fatigue, injury or mechanics. DeGrom said it was the last option.

“It’s mechanics,” deGrom said. “I can’t throw the ball where I want to.”

The Mets began the season with a highly-regarded rotation of Matt Harvey, deGrom, Matz, Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon, who was to move to the rotation in July in favor of Zack Wheeler. That rotation was supposed to return the Mets to the World Series, but injuries cost them Harvey, Matz and Wheeler for the season; a bone spur in his elbow hampered Syndergaard; and deGrom was bothered by the strained lat muscle.

The Mets had won nine of their previous 11 games before tonight to climb back into the race. Returning to the playoffs is contingent on a lot of factors, with deGrom’s health now at the top of the list.

Regardless of what Collins said, things will be anxious for the Mets until deGrom pitches again.

Tonight’s other storylines were the return of Michael Conforto and the rise of another Met Killer.

CONFORTO RETURNS: Conforto was part of the Mets call-ups from Triple-A Las Vegas, where he hit .493 (33-for-67) with six homers and 13 RBI in 17 games.

Conforto reached base in his first three plate appearances on an opposite-field double, when he was plunked on the calf and when Christian Yelich dropped his fly ball in left center.

That he hit the ball hard to the opposite field on the error was a good sign.

MET KILLER: The Mets have been tortured by the likes of Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt, Chipper Jones, Pat Burrell, Giancarlo Stanton, and, of course, Daniel Murphy.

You can add Yelich, who drove in four runs on three hits, including a homer. He also made a diving catch of a sinking line drive hit by deGrom with the bases loaded that could have saved three runs.

Yelich has hit four homers against the Mets this year, including three in this series.

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