Mar 23

Mets Boast Formidable Lineup

The Mets’ batting order will vary depending on the opposing pitcher and who are the hot hitters. However, the lineup manager Terry Collins started Wednesday against the Miami Marlins is the one he’ll likely write in most days.

And, when clicking it can be very formidable.

REYES: The catalyst. (AP)

REYES: The catalyst. (AP)

Jose Reyes, 3B: With David Wright to open the season on the disabled list and Reyes playing every day, there’s no need to search for another leadoff hitter and we won’t see him in the outfield. Backup: Wilmer Flores, T.J. Rivera.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: He produced in this slot last year and there’s no reason to change. He has the power to be a run- producer high in the order and bat control to advance runners. Backup: Reyes with Flores playing third that day.

Yoenis Cespedes, LF: Traditionally, your best hitter bats third. That’s Cespedes, no question. Backup: It will depend whether Michael Conforto or Brandon Nimmo are on the roster.

Curtis Granderson, CF: He homered twice Wednesday and if he’s hitting that’s sufficient protection for Cespedes. A potential issue is stacking two high-strikeout hitters back-to-back. Backup: The only true center fielder is Juan Lagares.

Neil Walker, 2B: I like putting a switch-hitter between Granderson and Jay Bruce. Let’s hope he shows the power he did last season. Backup: Rivera and/or Flores.

Bruce, RF: Let’s face it, there will be no immediate trade involving Bruce. And, with the $13 million they are paying him, he will play which could leave Conforto on the outs. He could open the season in the minor leagues to get consistent at-bats. Backup: If he stays, Conforto could be a factor. If not, Granderson would return to his natural position.

Lucas Duda, 1B: He’s healthy – knock on wood – for now. With the hitters immediately ahead of him, Duda should have plenty of RBI opportunities. Duda has had a good spring and has been driving the ball to the opposite field. Backup: Flores is the first option. Potential backup Bruce hasn’t gotten enough playing time at the position.

Travis d’Arnaud, C: Somebody has to hit eighth. He’s had a good spring at the plate, but his throwing needs work. Backup: Rene Rivera, but we’ll see Kevin Plawecki this summer.

Collins consistently said last year’s offense was built to hit the long ball, and this season should be no different as he has four sluggers who have hit 30 homers in a season, with three of them – Granderson, Bruce and Duda – left-handed added to Cespedes. Even so, it was encouraging to hear Collins say he wanted to push the envelope offensively and manufacture runs. The flip side is those four are also capable to strike out over 100 times.

For that to happen, the Mets must strike out less and walk more and emphasize the need for making productive outs and improve their hitting with runners in scoring position.

Mar 22

Matz Hammered; Fastball Command Off

What had been a strong spring for Steven Matz following elbow surgery, turned sour Wednesday when he was routed by the Miami Marlins. The positive take on giving up five earned runs on eight hits in four innings (79 pitches) are the following: 1) his outing wasn’t injury related, 2) there wasn’t anything wrong with his fastball velocity, 3) considering he has been consistent this spring, today should go down as “one of those games,” and 4) he quickly identified his problem.

MATZ: Still has work to do. (AP)

MATZ: Still has work to do. (AP)

“I think just fastball command,” Matz told reporters. “I gave up a hit on a curveball to [Matt] den Dekker. Other than that, they were all fastballs. Spring Training is about fastball command, and I’ll keep hammering away at that.

“I was up in the zone. Last time, I was up out of the zone and had some walks. This time, [the fastballs] were up in the zone, and they were able to get their barrels to it more. I felt like mechanically, I was OK, but the ball was just up in the zone. That’s right where the bat path is, and they were able to hit them pretty hard.”

The negative take is that fastball command should usually be on this late in spring training, and if Matz doesn’t regain it in his remaining one or two starts then there could be a problem. My thinking is today was “one of those games,” and a red flag isn’t waving.

My concern with Matz is whether he’ll get enough work this spring. The conventional wisdom on a starter’s innings in spring training has usually been in the high 20s up to 30 innings. With his four innings today, Matz has 12.2 innings and assuming five in his next start that’s not even 20. Especially coming off surgery he might not be strong enough.

“I’m glad I’ve got one or two more starts before the season comes,” Matz said. “You try to not let this stuff bother you, but still. when you’re getting hit around, it’s never fun. I’ll take away something and bring it to my next start.”

 

 

Sep 26

Three Mets’ Storylines: Marlins Won Emotional Battle From Start

Unquestionably, the Miami Marlins played – and won – the emotional card Monday night in beating the Mets. The pre-game ceremonies honoring Jose Fernandez were touching and emotional; not a dry eye in the house.

The trumpet solo of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,’’ was beyond belief. Who would have expected that? Then there was the emotional meeting of the Mets and Marlins at the pitcher’s mound, reminiscent of the night of Mike Piazza’s homer when the Mets and Braves embraced.

“This is bigger than baseball,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “This kid touched a lot of people. They jumped on us early and took the air out of the balloon.”

CESPEDES AND GORDON EMBRACE (AP)

CESPEDES AND GORDON EMBRACE (AP)

While it had to be tough for them, the Mets’ players conducted themselves with class and dignity and understood the anguish of the Marlins and let them have their moment.

“This team is first class,” Collins said of his players. “Our organization is first class. … They respected the night.”

None of that can be planned. That has to come from the heart.

“There’s no script for this,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly.

Dee Gordon immediately captured the hearts of the crowd by leading off the game with a home run. He first honored Fernandez by taking the pitcher’s right-handed stance and wearing his helmet. After one pitch, he switched to his normal left-handed stance and homered and broke down in tears when he reached the plate.

The game was emotionally over then, but the Marlins put a nice touch on the night when they circled the mound and left their caps on the rubber that was Fernandez’s domain.

Collins understood the emotion of the night, that didn’t but didn’t share the fans’ enthusiasm with the Marlins’ 7-3 victory.

“It’s hard,’’ Collins said. “It’s always for Jose, but I like to win. … I said yesterday I would be glad when this day is over, and I’m glad it is over.’’

Through it all, the Mets caught a break when Cincinnati routed the Cardinals in St. Louis.

Emotions, of course, was the main storyline. The others were Bartolo Colon’s short night and the Mets’ listless offense.

COLON DIDN’T HAVE IT: Colon flexed his legs that made us wonder if something is physically wrong with the Mets’ only remaining healthy pitcher.

Colon gave ups seven runs on eight hits in 2.1 innings. He hadn’t had a start this poor since only four innings, Aug. 15, in Arizona.

“He didn’t have his good stuff tonight,’’ Collins said, adding he hopes it is different Saturday in Philadelphia.

Collins thought something was wrong with Colon’s calf, but said the pitcher is fine.

THE OFFENSE DISAPPEARED: The Mets scored 44 runs in their four games against the Phillies, but came up empty tonight.

The Mets produced only seven hits against nine Marlins pitchers.

Jay Bruce started again and got another hit. Perhaps he’s turned it around.

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Sep 25

Three Mets’ Storylines: Marlins’ Fernandez Honored In Rare Tribute

When we first heard the shocking news Sunday morning of the tragic death of Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, a moment of silence was the inevitable expectation. However, the Mets did more to show their respect to Fernandez, who was scheduled to start Monday.

METS SHOW RESPECT

     METS SHOW RESPECT

Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon had a Mets’ jersey designed with Fernandez’s name and No. 16 designed and suggested Yoenis Cespedes – a fellow Cuban – hang it in the dugout during the game.

The Mets will hang it in their dugout for their three-game series with the Marlins. It was an uncommon gesture of compassion.

In a blistering sense of irony, Fernandez was originally scheduled to start for the Marlins Sunday against Atlanta. Had he not been pushed back a day, he wouldn’t have been on that boat.

While Sunday was highly emotional, it will pale in comparison to Monday when the Marlins play their first game at home (their game Sunday against Atlanta was scheduled). With six games remaining, the Mets hold a one-game lead over St. Louis and San Francisco for the wild-card, while the Marlins trail by 4.5 games. So, there is a lot to play for by both teams.

While the Mets have shown, and will undoubtedly display this week the proper respect, they still have a job to complete.

Manager Terry Collins understands the delicate balance of respect and competitiveness.

“Obviously, when we get down there, we will have a meeting – we will get together – so that we keep things in perspective,” Collins said. “It’s going to be really a tough night for a lot of people. Certainly, we lost a great player, but the respect for the game itself – and he had it – it’s got to be played, and it’s got to be played right.

“Because I know that’s how Jose would want to do it. That’s how he would want it played. And so we’ve got to keep that in our minds also.”

Fernandez’s tragic death was the unfortunate storyline on this day. The others were Robert Gsellman’s start and Jay Bruce’s possible revival were the others.

GSELLMAN’S BEST START: The Mets used 27 pitchers in the first three games of their series against Philadelphia and desperately needed a strong start from Gsellman. They certainly didn’t expect seven scoreless innings, which on a normal day would have headlined the 17-0 rout.

“Our bullpen was shot,” Collins said. “When you run 27 pitchers out in three games, you’re out of gas. It was nice to be able to have comfortable innings at the end of the game.”

Assuming the Mets reach the NL Division Series against the Cubs, they’ll go with a four-man rotation with Gsellman fourth in line. That’s one of the reasons why Collins extended him to 107 pitches.

“Hopefully, we get to the postseason. He’s got to be a part of it,” Collins said. “I thought it was really, really important to build him up to the 100 pitches, so whether he throws 70 or 75 pitches in a playoff game, it’s easier for him.”

BRUCE DELIVERS: Bruce, who hit a pinch-homer the previous night, started for the second time in eight games, went 2-for-4 and scored two runs.

He got the Mets going when he doubled and scored in the second inning. You have to figure that to keep Bruce going he’ll start Monday in Miami.

The Mets’ offense also included the Curtis Granderson’s 30th homer and a grand slam from Asdrubal Cabrera.

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Jul 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Don’t Forget Cespedes As MVP Candidate

As impressive as the Mets’ four-game sweep was of the Cubs, a case can be made it was validated by what they did Monday afternoon with their firecracker comeback victory over the Miami Marlins. You can even argue two of the Mets’ most important victories this season came during this home stand.

There was Thursday’s rally from three runs down – call it the Brandon Nimmo Game – in a 4-3 victory over the Cubs. Today, they overcame another poor performance from Matt Harvey to come from six runs behind to win their fifth straight game, 8-6, to pull within four games of Washington.

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

On Thursday they put the brakes on what was turning into a severe skid; today they pressed down on the accelerator in their playoff push.

There were three significant storylines from the game, with two – Harvey and the bullpen – intertwined. The third was Yoenis Cespedes‘ clutch hitting.

CESPEDES: I keep hearing about potential NL MVP candidates, among them Daniel Murphy and Kris Bryant.

But, Cespedes can’t be ignored. He has five of his 20 homers and 28 RBI coming with RISP. His 20 homers – fourth in the NL – suggest he’s in scoring position as soon as he leaves the on-deck circle. In his last 12 home games, Cespedes is batting .419 with four doubles and four homers, including that monster drive to jumpstart Thursday’s win.

Cespedes had no chance of being the NL MVP last year because of his limited time in the league. But this year, he’d be my choice, with his game-winning, two-run double in the eighth just another sample of what he’s been doing all year.

HARVEY: Gone are the feel-good thoughts Harvey might have turned around his season after making three strong starts. Harvey encored those three starts with four bad ones in which he gave up a combined 13 runs on 30 hits and five walks with only 15 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. For the second straight game Harvey worked just 3.2 innings. (In fairness, his outing was cut short in the Washington start by rain, but even so he wasn’t pitching well.)

Harvey hasn’t come away with a victory since, May 30, some seven starts ago.

On the bright side, he hasn’t given up a homer since his May 24 loss at Washington when he gave up three. However, of his 17 starts he’s only gone seven innings twice.

For someone who considers himself an ace, this is unacceptable. For those of you who still believe him to be an ace, kindly think again if his 4-10 record and 4.86 ERA haven’t convinced you. That’s not to say he can’t be an ace in the future, but not now.

The Mets will need Harvey because of looming physical questions of Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard.

BULLPEN: The pen has been maligned, but today it stepped up with 5.1 scoreless innings.

The Mets didn’t have Addison Reed, but were picked up by Erik Goeddel, Logan Verrett, Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins and Jeurys Familia. Kudos for Verrett and Robles for working out of trouble, and again for Familia, who always seems to be on the ropes only to escape with his 29th straight victory.

A point that requires no debate: Championship teams need a strong bullpen.