Sep 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Lugo Continues To Shine

Every pennant winner needs that player who comes out of nowhere to fill a huge void, which is exactly what the Mets have in Seth Lugo. More to the point, where would they be without him?

LUGO: Cruises to win. (AP)

LUGO: Cruises to win. (AP)

Lugo has given the Mets’ rotation a sense of stability after injuries to Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Lugo, who joined the rotation Aug. 19, was superb in Sunday’s 10-3 rout of Atlanta, giving up two runs on six hits in seven innings.

Now 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA, Lugo figures to get three more starts and if he runs the table could tie deGrom with seven victories in his rookie season.

“He has a feel for pitching,” said manager Terry Collins. “He knows how to get a ground ball to get out of trouble. You see him bear down and his fastball gets a little better.”

If there was a turning point, it came in the fourth, when the Mets held a 6-1 lead but the Braves had the bases loaded with one out. However, Lugo got Dansby Swanson to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“He mixes his pitches well,” said catcher Rene Rivera. “When he gets a runner on base, he focuses and executes.”

The Mets were never seriously threatened from then on.

Lugo’s domination on the day the Mets said good-riddance to Turner Field was the clear storyline. The others were Collins’ questionable handling of two of his key injured players and finally, some production, from James Loney.

MORE COLLINS HEADSCRATCHING: Less than 24 hours after Collins took the blame for not running for Wilmer Flores only to have him thrown out, and injured, on a play at the plate, he foolishly kept the gimpy Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes in a blowout game despite the expanded rosters.

Cabrera has been playing with a sore knee and Cespedes a bad quad – injuries that forced both to the disabled list in the second half of the season – so you would think Collins would use every opportunity to rest them.

For all practical purposes, the competitive aspect of the game was over when the Mets took a 10-1 lead in the fifth.

Even so, Cabrera and Cespedes remained in the game despite the expanded rosters.

Collins said they wanted to stay in the game to beg the question: Who is managing this team anyway?

Heading into Washington for three games against the Nationals, who would like nothing better to cap the division with a sweep of the Mets, and on a stretch of 19 straight games without an off day, it’s beyond foolish to keep players coming off injuries in a blowout game.

LONEY RESURFACES: When Lucas Duda went down with a back injury, the Mets caught a break when they picked up Loney.

He’s been solid defensively and hit .294 in June and .280 in July, but only .213 in August.

However, he’s been warming up in September, and Sunday went 2-for-4 with a double and homer

Nobody can say for sure if Duda will return, so it would be important to have a hot Loney for the last three weeks.

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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

Three Mets’ Storylines: De Grom To Miss Start

Do you wonder why I greet most Mets’ statements pertaining to injuries with skepticism?

Answer: On the day after Jacob deGrom emphatically said there was nothing wrong with him physically and manager Terry Collins pleaded ignorant to why his starter called for trainer Ray Ramirez when he left the game, the Mets said he’ll miss his next start, Tuesday, in Cincinnati with elbow inflammation.

DE GROM: To miss start. (AP)

DE GROM: To miss start. (AP)

For a team hasn’t had a chance to catch the Nationals for weeks now, it was the most important storyline for the Mets Friday.

A MRI showed inflammation but no structural damage. The prescription is anti-inflammatory medication and to resume throwing when the discomfort subsides.

“We’re lucky it isn’t worse than it is,” Collins said.

DeGrom gave up three runs on six hits and a season-high four walks in five innings Thursday. Considering he gave up 13 runs on 25 hits in his previous two starts, he would be watched closely. So, don’t you think Collins might have noticed when deGrom motioned for the trainer? If not him, then how about pitching coach Dan Warthen?

After the game, deGrom said he felt: “Just out of sync out there. I waved him [Ramirez] in to talk to him, but there’s nothing wrong.”

DeGrom said his problems weren’t physical, but mechanical. Since when did he start consulting with the trainer on mechanics?

DeGrom said he’s not too concerned and attributed the stiffness to poor mechanics.

“My arm is dragging and that put more stress on my elbow and causes it to flare up a little bit,” deGrom said. “Maybe the cause for my arm dragging is because of bad mechanics.”

 

The other storylines in Washington’s 4-1 victory were Noah Syndergaard’s continued inability to hold runners and the Mets’ inability to touch A.J. Cole.

SAME PROBLEM BEATS SYNDERGAARD: Syndergaard pitched well enough to win most games, giving up two runs on three hits and one walk in seven innings. He retired the final ten batters he faced.

Syndergaard was done in by giving up four stolen bases that resulted in both runs. Both Trea Turner in the first and Bryce Harper in the fourth stole third base and eventually scored from there.

Take away the steals and Syndergaard could have been on the winning end.

Analyst Ron Darling said teaching pitchers during the season to hold runners wouldn’t work, but it prompts the question why this isn’t done during spring training or when these guys are in the minor leagues.

Darling left the impression there isn’t an organizational philosophy in stopping the running game.

That could be that many teams don’t emphasize stolen bases as a weapon. Note: The Nationals and Diamondbacks sure do.

NO OFFENSE, AGAIN: A.J. Cole was superb in making his third start of the season, giving up one run on three hits in six innings, that being Asdrubal Cabrera’s 19th homer of the season.

Washington pitchers struck out 10, including five by Cole. Jose Reyes, Jay Bruce and Kelly Johnson each struck out twice.

Outside of Cabrera’s homer, only twice did the Mets have a runner in scoring position.

The Mets had two on in the seventh, but Reyes struck out to end the inning.

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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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Aug 18

Stop Fooling Around And Bring Up Conforto

Just a few months ago when optimism still surrounded the Mets, manager Terry Collins moved Michael Conforto to the No. 3 spot in the order and promised he would get at-bats against left-handers. After all, Collins said at the time, Conforto represented the future.

CONFORTO: Needs to play. (Getty)

CONFORTO: Needs to play. (Getty)

None of that lasted long when Conforto went into a slump, as young players frequently do, Collins and the Mets showed no patience. First, Conforto was dropped in the order, then dropped off at the airport to ride the Vegas Shuttle.

Collins said Conforto still “is a big piece of what we want to do,” and when he turns it around in Triple-A he would be back soon. Conforto is tearing it up in Vegas but remains 2,500 miles from New York. So much for that promise.

Things have changed. The Mets are no longer a threat to the Nationals in the NL East and are fading in the wild card. They are four games out and are in danger of being overtaken by Colorado (Mets lead by 2.5 games) and Philadelphia (they lead by 4.5 games).

Yeah, you read that last part correctly.

Conforto needs to come up now. The best position for him is left field, but that won’t happen because the Mets insist on placating Yoenis Cespedes, who can’t, or refuses, to play center. Conforto is willing to try center, but where does that leave Curtis Granderson?

Since Cespedes won’t budge – the Mets should hope he opts out and leaves – it’s down to the young guy they can push around in Conforto or the veteran with the big salary and small production in Granderson. The Mets won’t touch Cespedes; GM Sandy Alderson must talk to him through “his people.”

The decision on what to do with the Mets’ outfield is a battle of egos and dollars over the potential of young talent. That’s not the way to go about turning your season around.

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