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.

Jul 05

Three Mets’ Storylines: Did Alderson Push Reyes’ Return?

On a night when several issues swirled around the Mets, there was little doubt the headliner in their 5-2 loss to Miami was the return of Jose Reyes.

REYES: Did Alderson rush him back? (AP)

REYES: Did Alderson rush him back? (AP)

Reyes topped the list of three key storylines, with the others being a second straight encouraging outing by Steven Matz, who is battling a bone spur in his left elbow and the selection of three Mets to the National League All-Star team.

Reyes was hitless in four at-bats and only touched the ball on a throw from catcher Travis d’Arnaud in a steal attempt.

However, that only touches the surface of the timing of his return.

REYES’ RETURN: There were reports in Tuesday’s papers that had manager Terry Collins saying Reyes wouldn’t be activated because he wasn’t ready, and the player himself said he didn’t think he was comfortable with a promotion based on how he was hitting.

Considering the Mets scored 40 runs in their previous five games – all wins – and with Wilmer Flores hitting well, there seemed no sense of urgency for this move.

This again smacks of a disconnect between GM Sandy Alderson and his manager. Why would Collins say Reyes wouldn’t be brought up unless that was his understanding after communicating with Alderson?

Somebody isn’t communicating and the feeling here it is Alderson for pushing Reyes’ return when both the manager and player said he wasn’t ready.

MATZ PUSHED IT: Matz, who hasn’t won since May 25, made his second start since the reports of a bone spur in his elbow. Matz gave up a single to open the seventh, but considering his elbow, why would Collins let the left-hander pitch to Giancarlo Stanton, who responded with a two-run homer?

Oh well, maybe it wouldn’t matter as Stanton hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Considering Matz has a health concern, I wouldn’t have let him pitch to Stanton.

ALL-STAR METS: In addition to Yoenis Cespedes, who was voted in by the fans, and homered Tuesday, Noah Syndergaard and closer Jeurys Familia, will represent the Mets in San Diego.

All are deserving but I was hoping for Bartolo Colon over Syndergaard, but the latter is also bothered with a bone spur and could use the rest.

As for Colon, he’s 43 and pitched well enough to go. I always root for good storylines, and Colon going would have been a great angle.

Jun 13

These Mets Made You Watch

Yoenis Cespedes has turned out to be one of those hitters, the kind that grab your attention and keep your eyes transfixed to the plate, whether you’re at the ballpark or watching on television. When he steps up, whether you’re heading to the concession stand or the refrigerator your heads turn to him like a rubber necker staring at a highway accident.

STRAWBERRY: Stirred us. (AP)

STRAWBERRY: Stirred us. (AP)

Everything can wait until you see what Cespedes does. It could be another home run; a line drive into the gap; or he could screw himself into the ground striking out. It doesn’t matter because it was an event.

Cespedes is one of four Mets that I believe who mesmerized us with their power.

Dave Kingman was the first. He was long and lean, once a pitcher. But, strong and launched 154 homers in his six years in two stints with the Mets, most of them high, arching moonshots.

Kingman came to the Mets from San Francisco, purchased for merely $150,000. He was the total all-or-nothing slugger with 442 career homers and 1,816 strikeouts.

Another was Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, who hit 220 homers eight years with the Mets. Piazza came to the Mets from the Dodgers – after a week layover in Miami – and lead them to the 2000 World Series. Piazza’s swing uncoiled, almost in slow motion, but the ball jumped off his bat.

Piazza authored arguably the most memorable homer in franchise history with his game-winner over the Braves in the first pro sports event in New York following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Others hit longer or higher home runs. Others hit them in October. But, Piazza’s was undoubtedly the most emotional and will never be forgotten,

Finally, there was Darryl Strawberry, the only one of the group who was home grown. He hit 252 homers in eight years with the Mets, and things froze at Shea when he came to the plate. Strawberry played for the Mets, Yankees, Dodgers and Giants – all four of New York’s baseball teams.

If there was one Strawberry blast that defined his power and strength, it was his blast off the scoreboard clock in old Busch Stadium.

There were other Mets who hit significant, if not dramatic, home runs. David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. Lenny Dykstra, Rod Swoboda and Tommie Agee also hit memorable home runs for the Mets.

But, Strawberry, Piazza, Kingman and Cespedes made us stop and watch.