Jun 30

Mets Get Resilient Effort When They Need It Most

They wouldn’t be the Mets if things were easy. Last year they reached the World Series because of their young arms, a hot month from Yoenis Cespedes, but perhaps most of all, with their resiliency. They overcame injuries and dreadful two-month team hitting slump to find themselves standing at the end.

With those arms, reaching the playoffs this year would be a formality. It sure looked that way with a sizzling April. However, they’ve played sub-.500 baseball the past two months, and after being swept out of Washington, not many gave much for their chances this weekend against the hot Cubs, especially with Steven Matz starting with a painful bone spur in his valuable left elbow.

NIMMO: Scores game-winner. (AP)

NIMMO: Scores game-winner. (AP)

I thought Matz shouldn’t have started, and despite working into the sixth, I’m not yielding on that sentiment. We’ll see how he feels Friday and the days beyond. I really hope I am wrong. The Mets gambled and won when they pushed the envelope with Matz, who overcame a two-run first to throw 104 painful pitches in a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Cubs.

The Mets had to win, because at the same time Matz was ducking a John Lackey fastball to his head, Cespedes was reaching the third deck at Citi Field, and Brandon Nimmo was thrilling us with a timely hit and baserunning, the Nationals were bludgeoning the Reds.

After losing three straight to the Nationals – and five of seven overall – the Mets entered this series realistically needing to win at least three of four games to stay within binocular distance in the NL East. Make that telescopic distance if the Cubs swept the Mets and Nationals did the same to Cincinnati.

Come Friday morning, Panic City is still a couple of exits away.

“I don’t know yet,” manager Terry Collins told reporters as to the magnitude of the victory. “It sure came at the right time. It was a real impressive win.”

It was impressive because outside of Cespedes Home Run Derby type of blast, the Mets did the basic, dirty things they did last year and what they must do in the second half.

It began with Matz, who fell behind 2-0 in the first on a Kris Bryant homer, but gutted his way into the sixth.

“I felt good,” Matz said about his much-talked-about elbow. “I was able to pitch without any issues. I was able to keep us close. I’m happy with how things turned out. I’d say it’s a little relief.”

Down 3-0, the Mets started their comeback – something they did with frequency in 2015 – with Cespedes’ 466-foot drive into the upper deck in the sixth.

“It was a 2-0 pitch,” Cespedes said. “The plan was to swing, and swing hard.”

It woke up Citi Field like a hard slap to the face.

The Mets finally got to Lackey with Travis d’Arnaud‘s one-out single in the seventh that brought in Joel Peralta. Alejandro De Aza, vilified in Washington, pinch-hit for reliever Erik Goeddel and walked. Nimmo, whose exuberance has been a lift, singled home a run after an intense nine-pitch at-bat.

“I was trying to keep things simple,” Nimmo said. “I wanted to be short and get the ball on the barrel.”

The Mets have often been criticized for not being aggressive on the bases, but Nimmo drew a wild throw from Cubs second baseman Javier Baez off Neil Walker‘s chopper and scored when the ball got by the third baseman Bryant.

Of course, there couldn’t be a 1-2-3 ninth. That would be too easy.

The Cubs put runners at second and third with no outs against Jeurys Familia. An intentional walk loaded the bases, but Bryant and Willson Contreras couldn’t resist Familia’s sinker and struck out. With a little discipline, the Cubs would’ve had two bases-loaded walks. Baez then popped out to end the game and for one night at least, we got a reminder of the resiliency this team can still muster.

Jun 28

Harvey Needs To Pitch Bigger Than His Ego

Readers of this blog know I have been critical of Matt Harvey and this “Dark Knight” and “Today is Harvey Day” nonsense. It comes with a gut feeling he’s been seduced by the trappings of being a “New York Sports Star” and being a celebrity is what drives him.

HARVEY: Needs to pitch bigger than his ego. (AP)

HARVEY: Needs to pitch bigger than his ego. (AP)

However, with a 29-27 career record, can he really be considered a star?  He’s more celebrity than star. More smoke than fire. More sizzle than steak. Perhaps a Kardashian in cleats. I could go all day, but the bottom line is for a variety of reasons ranging from injuries to poor performance to a mental block, he hasn’t developed into what we think he could be. Or, maybe what he should be.

Two games over .500 is not a big deal, and never mind the new wave stats: wins and losses are important.

Harvey craves the attention and spotlight. The Mets have tread water the last two months, but with a grueling schedule entering the All-Star break they face the real possibility of falling into a downward spiral. Yes, there is such a thing as a “must win” game in June.

Monday night might have produced their worst performance of the season in an 11-4 trouncing to the Nationals. They are in third place in the NL East and would fall five games back with a loss Tuesday night. From a team perspective, a case can be made tonight is one of Harvey’s most important starts. The Mets desperately need not only a victory, but a stellar performance from the pitcher they still consider an ace.

If Harvey gets torched tonight, and with the prospect of not having Steven Matz on Wednesday, the party that is 2016 could soon be over. It’s quite simple, Harvey needs to pitch bigger than his ego.

Please follow me on Twitter

Jun 27

Mets Must Give Us Reason To Care

Sometimes listening to Terry Collins makes me want to scream. I know I’ve written that before, but Collins keeps making “I want to throw my shoe at the TV” type of comments. The Mets’ manager said several things over the weekend in preparation for tonight’s game in Washington that were simply puzzling. He means well, but it becoming clearer with each press briefing he can’t think on his feet.

First, after Jacob deGrom‘s start – his tenth straight without a win – Collins said he was looking forward to coming out of the break so he could set up his rotation. Well, what about setting things up now for the next two weeks, which includes seven games in two series against the Nationals. three with the Marlins and four against the Cubs?

COLLINS: Facing toughest stretch of season. (AP)

COLLINS: Facing toughest stretch of season. (AP)

I would begin by skipping Noah Syndergaard tonight in Washington because of his second complaint of soreness in his right elbow. Would I sacrifice a game in Washington to preserve Syndergaard for the second half? Damn straight I would.

After Monday’s butt whiping, the Mets are now four games behind the Nationals – who won’t have Stephen Strasburg for either series – because Washington’s seven-game losing streak kept them in the race. If the Nationals had any killer instinct they could be up by eight games or more with a chance to put away the Mets. Who knows, maybe they were waiting for the Mets to come to town to do it.

Collins told reporters Sunday in Atlanta in preparation for the Nationals series: “The worst-case scenario is: Go to the break no worse than we are sitting right now. Right after the Nats we’ve got the Cubs – arguably the best team in baseball right now. We’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to get the `A’ game going and maintain it. Right after them you’ve got the Marlins, who are playing very, very well right now. And then back come the Nationals again. I think the next 14 days are very, very important to us.”

Good for Collins; he can read a schedule. But, with |these games so important, why send the message of mediocrity? We watched the Mets pull things together and get to the World Series last year. Now their manager is talking about treading water until the break. At least that’s the perception.

Standing pat in the standings for the next two weeks and at the trade deadline aren’t acceptable for a World Series team. I don’t want Collins to panic, but a sense of urgency would be nice. The disadvantage of getting to the World Series is the expectation to go every year. That’s pressure, but also why they play.

We’ll watch Syndergaard tonight with crossed fingers and the hope we won’t get Antonio Bastardo. I don’t trust the bullpen now, with even Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia giving me pause. The offense is beyond awful. No homers, no wins. Manufacturing runs and playing fundamental baseball seem beyond their comprehension. There were more than a few times in June when they didn’t hustle.

As far as their `A’ game, we haven’t seen it since the end of April. Nothing has been reported as to what Collins has said to his team behind closed doors. Evidently he hasn’t read the riot act or we would have heard about it. Somebody always talks.

Yes, there are injuries, but championship caliber teams overcome them. Otherwise, they are just excuses. There were holes in the batting order even before David Wright and Lucas Duda were hurt and Michael Conforto was sent down. Hopefully, there will be more stability when Jose Reyes is activated and Curtis Granderson can hit lower in the order. But, whether Granderson bats first, second, third or fourth, will it really matter if he doesn’t hit?

The remaining two weeks could determine whether Citi Field experiences October. You and I both know the Mets won’t run the table from until the All-Star break, but I want more than 7-7, for which Collins – at least publicly – seems willing to settle.

I want a sense of urgency. I want hustle and heaven forbid, their hitters to manufacture runs. I know Collins cares, but dammit, show some fire. Kick your players in the ass, because they need it. And, that includes Yoenis Cespedes. If your “star” can get away dogging it, it’s a license for everybody else to drop it down a gear.

Playing .500 for the next two weeks or the rest of the summer isn’t acceptable. It’s like going to school hoping for a `C’ grade. It’s average, which is the worst of the best or best of the worst. Being average gives us little reason to care.

Damn, I want to care about this team again.

Jun 08

What’s Your Concern Level For Mets?

We know the Mets aren’t playing well, but are they in trouble? They have coughed and sputtered for the past six weeks, and if not for their outstanding starting pitching, they could have conceivably fallen back to .500 if not below.

So what’s your concern level with the Mets?

In addition to a month-long hitting funk, there have been injuries and bullpen lapses. For all their home runs, this team hasn’t hit with runners in scoring position, has a low on-base percentage and strikes out way too much.

I liked reacquiring Kelly Johnson, but considering the depth of their offensive funk he won’t be enough.

For the most part the pitching has been good, but their three top starters came away empty in Pittsburgh.

Last season the Mets’ hitting slump began around this time before the overhaul that brought in Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Juan Uribe and Johnson at the trade deadline.

It remains to be seen what GM Sandy Alderson can accomplish before July 31. The next month should tell the Mets what they might get from Lucas Duda and David Wright in the second half and the level of urgency for Alderson to deal.

It’s premature to say the Mets can’t get back to the World Series, but it isn’t too early to draw the conclusion from now until All-Star break can be very telling as they have three more games with Pittsburgh; two against Kanas City; three with the Marlins; four against the Cubs and seven with the Nationals.

In trouble? Not yet, but there is cause for concern.

May 31

Mets Wrap: Looking At Wright’s Future And The Bullpen Meltdown

A bad back ended Don Mattingly’s career, one that could have landed him in the Hall of Fame had he not been injured and forced to retire at age 34. A bad back ended Larry Bird’s career. The Mets are facing the same prospect with David Wright.

WRIGHT: What's he thinking now? (AP)

WRIGHT: What’s he thinking now? (AP)

Wright spent four months on the disabled list with spinal stenosis last season. He’s currently facing the prospect of the disabled list with a herniated disc in his neck. The Mets delayed the disabled list when they made room for James Loney by sending Eric Campbell to Triple-A Las Vegas.

When the Mets gave Wright a long-term contract in December of 2012, they pared down the amounts for the last two seasons in anticipation of his skills diminishing. Wright will get $20 million a season through 2018; $15 million in 2019 and $12 million in 2020.

With his recent injury history, manager Terry Collins told reporters he’s sensing those skills fading now.

“This guy has been a special player,” Collins said. “Certainly being the captain and the face of this organization, a manager’s worst nightmare is to see a star start to fade. I think David’s got a lot of baseball left in him because of the way he prepares and the way he gets himself ready. But it’s hard to watch what he’s going through.

“He’s still special. He’s still a great player. We just hope this neck thing goes away in a few days and he’s back in our lineup.”

Wright didn’t play in Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to Chicago to miss his fourth straight game, and the injection he received will take at least two more games before taking effect. That makes the disabled list a real possibility.

It won’t happen this season, but the Mets and Wright should be thinking about the next four years because it is fairly obvious he’s not going to make the end of his career at third.

There are several options:

FORCED RETIREMENT: They could buy him out, which is what they did with Jason Bay and Michael Cuddyer. Neither side wants this, but Wright’s pride probably will make him consider this option over time.

Wright, at 33, has seven homers, but only 14 RBI, He has a respectable .350 on-base percentage. What is not are his strikeouts, with 55 in 137 at-bats. Wright is batting .226 with 31 hits. If you flipped the strikeouts with hits, his average would be .401. That emphasizes the importance of the strikeouts.

There are a lot of reasons for the strikeouts, with his back one of them. I know Wright doesn’t like how he’s playing, but I also know he has too much pride and integrity to just take the money. He has to know something has to change.

POSITION CHANGE: Where would he go? First base and left field are the only possibilities.

I floated the idea of left field last summer because it would have the least amount of stress on his back. His throwing shouldn’t be a problem because he wouldn’t have to throw sidearm.

There’s less pounding on his back in the outfield because he won’t have the deep bending before every pitch. I know you’re thinking about Michael Conforto, but it wouldn’t hurt to try him at right field. As far as Curtis Granderson, he has one more year after 2016.

Yes, there’s crouching at first base, but it isn’t as intense as playing third base because a lot of time he’ll be holding runners which does not require as deep a crouch.

As a corner infielder, Wright should quickly pick up the nuances of the new position. As for Lucas Duda, the Mets don’t have to offer him arbitration and he can leave as a free agent.

METS GAME WRAP

May 31, 2016, @ Citi Field

Game: #51          Score:  White Sox 6, Mets 4

Record: 29-22     Streak: L 1

Standings: Second, NL East, two games behind the Nationals.  Playoffs: Tied with Pittsburgh for No. 1 WC.

Runs: 194    Average:  3.8   Times 3 or less: 24

SUMMARY:  Steven Matz finally broke down by giving up three runs in the sixth inning, and the bullpen imploded by giving up three runs. The consensus was Matz was rushing his pitches. Matz worked 5.2 innings, but he was getting hit so I have no problem with pulling him at that time. I don’t think Collins had a quick hook.

Noah Syndergaard, who threw only 34 pitches Saturday before being ejected, worked the seventh and threw 17 pitches. If they were going to use Syndergaard in relief, why not let him work one more inning? It would be like his throw day between starts. Had Syndergaard worked the eighth, there wouldn’t have been the Hansel Robles meltdown.

Robles gave up three runs on one hit – Tyler Saradino’s two-run homer – and two walks.

Giving Syndergaard another inning would’ve been the way to go, especially since he said Jeurys Familia wasn’t available.

KEY MOMENT: Saradino’s two-run homer. … Matz was coasting before he gave up a two-run homer to Todd Frazier.

THUMBS UP: SNY had a good night with its feature on catching. Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling calling the game from the stands was a nice angle. By the way, a little ketchup on a hot dog isn’t such a bad thing. … Matz for five innings was pretty good. … The Mets manufactured a couple of runs on two sacrifice flies. … Neil Walker’s two-run homer was his 13th of the season. … Granderson had two hits. … Jim Henderson and Syndergaard in relief.

THUMBS DOWN:  If Collins wasn’t going to use Syndergaard for more than an inning, then why not give Henderson a full inning? He only threw two pitches to get out of the sixth. Maybe using Syndergaard screwed up Collins’ bullpen rotation. If that is the case, then Syndergaard shouldn’t have been used. … Watching Saladino steal second and third uncontested in the sixth and score on a single is giving away a run. Overall, the White Sox stole four bases with ease. … Mets hitters struck out nine times, went 2-for-7 with RISP and stranded nine runners. … The idiot who called Collins “coach.’’

EXTRA INNINGS:  James Loney started at first base and committed an error. He went 0-for-4. … Before Tuesday night, Matz had given up two runs or less in seven straight starts. … The Mets have homered in 11 straight games. … The Mets’ bullpen has given up 20 earned runs in its last 21 innings. … Overall it has given up 15 homers.

QUOTEBOOK: “He said he was rushing a bit and all the balls were over the middle of the plate.’’ – Collins on what catcher Kevin Plawecki said of Matz’s problem.

BY THE NUMBERS:  4: Number of walks and homers Robles has given up in his last 13 hitters.

NEXT FOR METS:  Jacob deGrom will start Wednesday afternoon.

Please follow me on Twitter