Jul 18

Three Mets’ Storylines: Matz Struggles

What, you expected the Mets to run the table against the Cubs?

After winning four straight in the NLCS and four in a series at Citi Field prior to the break, the Cubs were due and Steven Matz wasn’t good enough to prevent Monday’s 5-1 loss at Wrigley Field.

MATZ: Didn't have it. (Getty)

MATZ: Didn’t have it. (Getty)

Matz threw 102 pitches in five innings, of which 26 were foul balls. That says he wasn’t able to put away hitters. Part of it is bone-spur related, and that will continue to be the case until he has surgery.

Matz said he didn’t feel any pain and wouldn’t use that as an excuse.

“I don’t think I had my best command,” Matz said, especially of his breaking pitches. With that, you have to wonder how much of it is the elbow.  Matz was done in on a three-run homer to Anthony Rizzo when he hung a change-up over the middle of the plate.

“I don’t think it was a bad pitch [selection],” Matz said of the pitch to Rizzo. “It was poor execution.”

When Matz was missing, it wasn’t outside where he wanted, but over the plate.

“You have to make them chase a little bit,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “I didn’t think he had his Grade A stuff. Hopefully, he’ll good after this.”

Collins wouldn’t say if Matz was hurting, but acknowledged he didn’t have it Monday.

“There are going to be times when he pitches through discomfort,” Collins said. “Other times he’s going to feel good.”

Matz’s performance reflected the uncertainty of what the Mets can expect from him in the second half. In his previous two starts, Matz worked seven innings in each and gave up a combined five runs.

Matz has hammered in his first start this year, reeled off seven straight victories, and has now lost five straight.

There’s been a lot of speculation as to what the Mets might do at the trade deadline. Bullpen? Yeah, that’s needed. Another bat, preferably one who can hit with runners in scoring position? Definitely.

However, with Matt Harvey gone for the year – he had surgery Monday – and the heads-or-tails prognosis of Matz and Tuesday’s starter Noah Syndergaard, adding another arm to the rotation could be their biggest need.

With the loss, coupled with Miami’s victory in Philadelphia, the Mets fell 6.5 games behind Washington in the NL East and trail Los Angeles and the Marlins for the wild-card.

Monday’s other two story lines are:

THE OUTFIELD DILEMMA: As expected, Yoenis Cespedes played left field, which means he came out of Sunday’s game with no problems. That’s the good news.

Cespedes was hitless in three at-bats against Jon Lester, but nobody could time him. Cespedes threw out a runner out at the plate and almost nailed another at second base.

Prior to the game Collins anticipated playing Cespedes in center Tuesday with Michael Conforto in left. However, after the game Collins said he didn’t think Cespedes moved well.

Conforto appeared as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and delivered an opposite-field single.

That was a terrific sign because prior to the game he admitted being pull-happy in May and June when his average nose-dived.

Collins said he wants to use Cespedes in left to save his legs. He also said Conforto could get time in center, where he’s never played.

I wrote in spring training how I wanted to see Conforto get some time in center, but that never happened. Instead, they might do it during a pennant race, even though Curtis Granderson has played over 1,000 games in center.

Then again, at 35, Granderson’s legs aren’t what they used to be.

FLORES PLAYS: Against the left-hander Lester, Wilmer Flores was in the lineup against James Loney, which I speculated earlier today. Flores singled and homered.

It was Flores’ ninth homer of the year and sixth in July to lead the National League. Yet, manager Terry Collins still doesn’t have a sense of urgency to get his bat in his offensively starved lineup.

I’ll say this again; Flores needs to play even if he’s not the sexy choice of GM Sandy Alderson. In for Loney one game; in for Neil Walker the next; then Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes.

That way, they all play and all get a game off a week.

Why is that so hard to understand?

Jul 18

What’s The Plan For Flores?

Like many of you, I have pet peeves with manager Terry Collins. Today’s is his inability to follow through with his proclamations. Ranging from protecting his pitchers with innings limits, to his batting order, to resting injured players, to how he doles out playing time, what Collins says can’t be truly believed.

FLORES: What will they do with him. (AP)

FLORES: What will they do with him. (AP)

Such as Wilmer Flores’ playing time.

When Jose Reyes was signed, Collins said he would share time with Flores. At the time, I wrote Flores should be used as a super sub, not only giving Reyes a rest, but for Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker and James Loney.

Since Reyes rejoined the Mets, July 5, Flores has just 17 at-bats in seven games. Flores had been playing, and was hot, since replacing David Wright. He was sizzling leading up to Reyes’ return.

On July 3, he went 6-for-6 with two homers against the Cubs. Three days later, he homered twice against the Marlins. He’s had only two hits since. He did not play Sunday and Collins hasn’t indicated when he’ll play.

When it comes to Collins, there are no concrete plans. There wasn’t for limiting Matt Harvey’s innings last season. There doesn’t appear to be one with the outfield since it was learned Michael Conforto is coming up from Triple-A Las Vegas.

And, there doesn’t seem to be one with Flores’ playing time.

Perhaps he could play tonight against lefthander Jon Lester in Chicago, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t. The next lefthander scheduled against the Mets is Adam Conley, Friday, in Miami.

Who knows what Collins’ plans are, or what GM Sandy Alderson dictates them to be.

Perhaps they are planning to deal Flores again. This time, I hope it wasn’t the circus it was last year.

Jul 12

What Went Wrong For Mets In First Half And Other Obstacles

On Monday I examined ten positives from the Mets’ first half. Today I look at ten things that either went wrong or must be overcome.

The Mets are tied with Miami six games behind Washington in the NL East. From injuries to poor performances, it was far from an idyllic first half.

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

It isn’t as if it all spiraled out of control, but numerous things must be overcome if the Mets are to make a second-half run:

1. HISTORY: The Mets have never reached the postseason in consecutive seasons, let alone the World Series. History has always been a tough nut to crack.

2. TEAM IDENTITY: The Mets are constructed in GM Sandy Alderson’s vision, which sometimes is no better than that of Mr. Magoo. Manager Terry Collins said Sunday “situational hitting” is the key things the Mets must improve on in the second half after repeatedly saying the season’s first three months they are a team built on power. Those are two incompatible concepts. The Mets won only five games in which they did not hit a homer. That must change.

3. RISP: This is linked to the first event. The Mets hit a paltry .213 with runners in scoring position with 180 strikeouts. The Mets average roughly eight runners left on base per game. Nearly 55 percent of the Mets’ scoring is attributable to home runs, and they only have a plus-20 run differential. Not good.

4. STRIKEOUTS: Alderson’s attraction to the new-wave statistics seemingly includes a disregard for striking out. It’s like he doesn’t care when a hitter strikes out, which is inexcusable. The Mets average 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which is just shy of three innings. The Mets are giving away three innings of potential offense, meaning there are no sacrifice flies; no chance of reaching on a hit, error or walk; and no productive outs. Curtis Granderson is on pace to strike out 144 times, followed by Yoenis Cespedes (142) and Neil Walker (122). Before they went on the disabled list, David Wright and Lucas Duda were also on pace to strikeout over 120 times. Michael Conforto was on pace to strikeout over 100 times before he was optioned to the minors. That’s Alderson’s offense, and it is not conducive to winning.

5. ROTATION PROBLEMS: The Mets’ young starting rotation was to carry this team, but Matt Harvey is lost for the year; Noah Syndergaard has a bone spur in his right elbow and enters the second half as a significant question; Jacob deGrom went ten starts without a victory; and Steven Matz has a bone spur in his left elbow, but pitched well in his last three starts. The Mets hoped to plug Bartolo Colon into the bullpen and bring up Zack Wheeler. However, Wheeler has had several setbacks and won’t be available until mid-August.

6. WRIGHT IS LOST: Wright is gone for the year following neck surgery and his career is in jeopardy. Wright has been saddled with injuries for several years. In addition to a lack of production, his salary has hamstrung the Mets in making moves.

7. OTHER INJURIES: In addition to Harvey and Wright, Duda is out indefinitely with a fracture in his lower back. The Mets enter the second half with Cespedes out with a strained quad with no timetable for his return. Granderson is playing with a strained calf and Conforto was playing with an injured wrist when he was demoted. Reliever Jim Henderson is on the disabled list with a strained right biceps.

8. WEAK BULLPEN: Outside of Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed, there’s little reliability to the Mets’ bullpen. Losing Henderson and Josh Edgin hurt, and Antonio Bastardo offered nothing. Hansel Robles has been inconsistent.

9. DIVISION RECORD: The Mets are 19-22 vs. the NL East, including 4-9 against the Washington Nationals. They routed the Phillies and Braves last year, and had a winning record against Washington. Things are a lot tougher this year.

10. TOUGH ROAD AHEAD: Not only did the Mets limp into the break, but open the second half with a rugged schedule of nine games on the road, including three each in Chicago against the Cubs and three in Miami. They then come home with three against St. Louis. August brings four games with the Yankees, four at San Francisco, and three each at Detroit and St. Louis. If there isn’t a turnaround, their six games against the Nationals in September could be a moot point.

Jul 10

Three Mets’ Storylines: Loss Defines First Half

If ever a game was a microcosm of the Mets’ disappointing first half, it was Sunday’s loss to the Nationals.

The Mets were six games behind the Nationals when they were gut-punched after being swept in a three-game series in Washington two weeks ago that left them six games behind.

MATZ: Lone bright spot. (AP)

MATZ: Lone bright spot. (AP)

But, manager  Terry Collins said the homestand leading into the break, four games each against the Cubs and Nationals, and three with Miami, had the potential to turn the momentum and give them a chance to enter the second half with a good feeling.

That looked possible after a stunning four-game sweep of the Cubs and winning two of three against Marlins. But, after losing three of four to the Nationals, including 3-2 today, they are again six back.

“We’re still in the race,” was how Collins described the disappointing end of the first half to reporters. “We were in this situation one year ago. Things looked bleak, but we ended up in the World Series.”

The three key storylines taken today’s game are the Nationals’ continued dominance of the Mets; New York’s continued inability to produce offensively; and, Steven Matz again pitching well after his elbow flare-up.

WASHINGTON’S DOMINANCE: The Mets are a disappointing 4-9 against the Nationals this year, scoring a composite 16 runs in those nine losses. That’s emblematic of a myriad of deficiencies, notably of their all-or-nothing offense.

Assuming the Mets get it together and see another World Series, they will pretty much have to run the table in their remaining six games with Washington.

Washington’s first-half dominance over the Mets is definitely Daniel Murphy-related. He hit a two-run homer Sunday and has seven homers and 21 RBI so far against the Mets. He hit three homers and drove in ten runs over the weekend.

THE OFFENSE: When asked what the Mets had to most improve on in the second half, Collins simply said: “situational hitting.”

Previously, Collins insisted on saying his team was built on power, but history is full of power-laden teams that don’t win. Then again, GM Sandy Alderson – a disciple of the new-wave numbers – constructed this team.

The Mets got two homers from Jose Reyes today – that’s not why they signed him – and are second in the National League (to Washington) with 120 homers. However, far more telling is their .213 average with RISP with 180 strikeouts. They have won only five games when they don’t homer; are 11-34 with they score three runs or less; and, have been shutout eight times.

Complicating matters are they don’t have David Wright for the rest of the season; have been without Lucas Duda since May 21 with no idea of when he’ll be back; and, are without Yoenis Cespedes indefinitely.

MATZ SETTLES DOWN: Since the issue about his bone spur, Matz, who doesn’t have a win since May 25, has given the Mets seven innings in back-to-back starts and before that worked into the sixth against the Cubs.

That’s encouraging news, especially after losing Matt Harvey for the season and Noah Syndergaard’s mysterious “arm fatigue.’’

I believe in babying pitchers’ arms when there is an injury. That’s what the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg, and something the Mets do not believe.

With Matz, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop because it always does with the Mets.

Jul 06

Three Mets’ Storylines: Harvey Injury Overshadows DeGrom

What many speculated all season finally surfaced in a bad way after Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over Miami with the news Matt Harvey was placed on the 15-day DL with shoulder discomfort. Harvey will be examined by Dr. Robert Thompson in St. Louis on Thursday. He’s the same surgeon who operated on Dillon Gee several years to remove a blood clot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Harvey has a similar issue, but that’s a good place to start.

HARVEY: DL bound. (AP)

HARVEY: DL bound. (AP)

All season, including after his poor performance Monday against the Marlins, Harvey, GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins insisted there was nothing physically wrong with him.

Considering that, this issue might have surfaced Monday when he gave up 11 hits.

However, Harvey said he wasn’t comfortable with his mechanics, but never complained about pain.

All indications from the Mets are this came out of nowhere, but then again Harvey hasn’t always been totally upfront about his arm. He’s also been stubborn about having things his way ranging from not being open about his initial injury in 2013; to resisting surgery; to where he would rehab; his innings limits last year; to coming out of games.

Of course, today’s DL move again raises questions of Harvey’s workload of 216 innings last season after missing 2104 with Tommy John surgery. The Mets didn’t have a definitive innings last year, which his agent Scott Boras didn’t let us forget.

Also to be revisited was how the Mets reduced his spring training workload. This is something Collins attributed to Harvey’s slow start. Don’t forget, as that bad start dragged on, the Mets gave Harvey the options of sorting things out either on the DL or in Port St. Lucie.

He declined both.

The Mets didn’t handle Harvey well last year, and today’s news makes you wonder whether they are handling the bone spur problems with Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz wisely.

Harvey’s injury, plus the questions surrounding Syndergaard and Matz – not to mention Zack Wheeler’s setback – reinforces the importance of what Jacob deGrom gave the Mets Wednesday.

DeGrom is 5-4 and has won two straight following ten consecutive winless starts.

The Mets were to ride all their young arms to a return to the World Series, but all of their starters – outside of Bartolo Colon – have had, or currently have significant health concerns. That’s why deGrom’s seven strong innings – two runs on six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts – was the key storyline for the Mets until Harvey rocked their world.

First deGrom, then Harvey, and today’s final storyline was how to divvy up playing time between Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores, both of whom had two hits.

A couple of days ago I suggested a simple plan how to keep Flores in the lineup despite the addition of Reyes, which is to put him in a rotation system along with Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera and James Loney.

Foolproof actually, but apparently not Collins proof. When asked about splitting time between Reyes – who doubled twice – and Flores – who for the second time this homestand homered twice – during the Nationals series, said: “Look, it’s going to be hard to get both guys in there at the same time. One of them is going to have to sit.”

Why?

When the Mets slumped last year, Collins said if a player didn’t hit he would sit. What’s wrong with that approach now?

Cabrera, Walker and Loney all will need to rest. However, I’m afraid Collins is going to let Flores cool off on the bench.