Apr 08

Mets Should Consider Mike Baxter At Leadoff

Six games into the season and the Mets have used three different leadoff hitters. Evidently, there are answers to be found.

One who should get a longer look is Mike Baxter, who started Saturday and reached base three times on two hits and a walk.

BAXTER: The catch that saved Santana. (AP)

BAXTER: The catch that saved Santana. (AP)

A lead off hitter needs to get on base, and if not then take the count as deep as possible to give the following hitters a chance to learn what they can of the pitcher. Baxter usually runs up the pitch count, and if he plays a full game can see as many as a dozen pitches. That’s an in-game scouting report to those following him in the order.

Little League coaches like to say, “a walk is as good as a hit,’’ and there are times it is the same in the major leagues.

“He takes a base on balls,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “If he was a genuine base-stealer, he’d be dangerous. You look up, and he’s got a .375 on-base. It seems like he’s on first base all of the time.’’

Actually, Baxter’s career on-base percentage is .360, but Collins’ point is well taken. It is an on-base percentage representative of a productive leadoff hitter, as good as they received from Jose Reyes.

The stereotypical leadoff hitter is a base stealer, the kind the Mets enjoyed with Reyes early in his career. However, Wade Boggs didn’t steal many bases and hit .321 batting leadoff in over 900 games in his career.

They all can’t be Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock or Maury Wills.

Although the game has changed and there isn’t an emphasis on base stealing as there once was, the basic fundamental of a lead off hitter has always been the same, which is get on base to set the table for the run-producers.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis was penciled in as the leadoff hitter going into spring training, but has a propensity for striking out. He is still very much a work in progress. Other candidates Collin Cowgill and Jordany Valdespin never had full seasons as a starters.

Cowgill has homered twice and if he continues to flash power he might be needed lower in the order. Valdespin is fast, but can be an out-of-control free swinger. He doesn’t figure to last long at that position, and as a defensive liability, probably won’t get many starting opportunities.

Baxter has a decent glove – Johan Santana wouldn’t have his no-hitter without him – but has never had a full time chance.

So, as long as Collins is searching for answers, Baxter is worthy of an opportunity.

ON DECK: Contrasting pitchers Matt Harvey and Roy Halladay.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 08

Mets Hit Road With Hope

Fast starts can lead to expectations. After opening the season with wins in consecutive series over San Diego and Miami, it is way to soon to consider the Mets a General Electric type behemoth.

But, there is some juice here, enough to where there is some light.

HARVEY: First up on road trip. (AP)

HARVEY: First up on road trip. (AP)

The Mets began the season with little hope of cracking last year’s 74 victories, but the first week created a sense there might be something to the summer if nothing more than another collapse in the making.

But, wouldn’t you rather have a duplicate of last season – a good start followed by a fall – rather than no season at all?

Following a baseball team is all about hope, and maybe the Mets will break your hearts again. While hoping for October is outlandish, hoping for an enjoyable summer, where meaningful games are played, could be possible.

It is hard in baseball to look at a schedule, circle a date and think, “that’s a win.’’ There are many variables in baseball that make it difficult, but looking at their upcoming 10-game road trip, it isn’t hard to fathom an opportunity to make April interesting, and with it, maybe the entire summer.

The Mets open a three-game series tonight in Philadelphia behind Matt Harvey, who every time he pitches, has his teammates believing.

“It’s exciting to see him pitch,’’ David Wright said. “He pitches with a lot of poise. We believe we can win every time he goes out there.’’

The Phillies aren’t the monster they used to be, and their starter tonight, Roy Halladay, is in decline. Philadelphia, ever grateful for the Marlins, has been slow out of the gate.

As bad as they were last year, the Mets were 10-8 against the Phillies, including 7-2 in their park. Confidence can be a fragile thing, but the Mets know they can win down there.

Following Harvey will be Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner against Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick, respectively.

After Philadelphia comes Minnesota. The Twins enjoyed a strong run from 2002-2010 when they made the playoffs six times, but they’ve had two down seasons.

If the Mets should pattern themselves after any team over the past decade, they would do far worse than emulate the Twins, who have fielded fundamentally strong teams with good pitching while on a limited budget.

The probable for Minnesota are: Jon Niese, Aaron Laffey and Harvey.

The Mets conclude their trip with four games in Colorado, which is three years removed from the playoffs and five from the World Series.

The Mets haven’t enjoyed much success against the Rockies, but their park is one where pretty much anything can happen.

As of now, Gee, Hefner, Niese and Laffey will start against the Rockies.

By no means is this an easy stretch, but coming home even or 6-4 is doable, before series against Washington, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Circle your calendar: April 19 at Citi Field, Harvey against Stephen Strasburg.

ON DECK: Making a case for Mike Baxter leading off.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Apr 07

Mets Wrap: Marlon Byrd And Bullpen Keys To Comeback Win

There are a lot of indicators for a successful team and the Mets did several of them today in beating the Miami Marlins, 4-3, Sunday. Among them are winning close games, being able to come from behind, clutch hitting and solid relief work. The bullpen kept the Mets in the game until aggressive base running by Ruben Tejada and Kirk Nieuwenhuis set up Marlon Byrd’s game-winning, two-run single off Marlins’ closer Steve Cishek.

BYRD: Delivers in clutch. (AP)

BYRD: Delivers in clutch. (AP)

ON THE MOUND: In his Mets’ debut Aaron Laffey gave up three runs on 10 hits, but did get into the fifth inning. … Greg Burke, Josh Edgin, Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins and Scott Rice combined for 4.2 scoreless innings. … Atchison came into the game with one out and runners on second and third in the seventh and was able to get out of the inning.

AT THE PLATE:  Daniel Murphy homered again. … Tejada was hit by a pitch and Nieuwenhuis singled and took second on the throw to set up Byrd for the game-winner. … The Mets overcame 13 strikeouts and going 1-for-8 with RISP.

IN THE FIELD: Lucas misplayed a ball near the wall, but was bailed out by Atchison. … Murphy is getting better at second, starting two double plays.

ON DECK:  A tale of two pitchers heading in opposite directions in their careers when Matt Harvey (1-0, 0.00 ERA) goes against Roy Halladay (0-1, 13.50).

Apr 07

Zack Wheeler Very Close To Big League Debut

zack wheeler

According to Mark Hale of the New York Post, Triple-A manager Wally Backman believes Zack Wheeler is not far away from being promoted to the Mets despite his rough outing on Thursday, and drew comparisons to Matt Harvey.

“He is the same spot Matt Harvey was at last year, I would say,” Backman said of Wheeler in a phone interview with The Post Friday. “It’s a matter of command. I think it’s going to be a matter of consistency.”

“He struggled with command a little bit Thursday night. It was the first game. He was rushing a little bit. He showed signs of just dominating, and then he’d get a little bit erratic.”

Wheeler had big command issues walking three of the first six batters he faced. He was unable to complete the fourth inning after tossing 86 pitches in 3.1 innings.

Last season, Wheeler went 2-2 with a 3.27 ERA in six Triple-A starts, striking out 31 and walking 16 in 33 innings.

Apr 06

Mets Looking For Breakout Game From Offense

Nobody expected the Mets to be an offensive juggernaut, and scoring 19 runs in the first two games should have done nothing to change that impression. Certainly the last two games proved it.

They scored five runs last night, but by that time the game had already been decided.

Manager Terry Collins is hoping for a breakout game today against the Marlins.

“We’ve got a couple guys, hopefully they’re gonna start breaking out of it here pretty soon,’’ Collins said.

The Mets’ hottest hitter has been John Buck (7-for-17). David Wright and Daniel Murphy are each 3-for-14 and Ike Davis is a frigid 1-for-16.

The Mets have homered in each of the first four games, with Buck leading with two. The long-time problem of hitting with runners in scoring position has raised its ugly head as they are 2-16 in the last two games after going 10-19 in the first two. They left 12 runners on last night after leaving 16 in the first three games.