May 31

Mets Must Do More To Stay Relevant

Shaun Marcum is pitching to extend the Mets’ winning streak to six games tonight in Miami. The Mets surprised some people this week, perhaps even the Phillies and Nationals, whom they trail by one and two games, respectively, in the lost column.

The Mets have three with the Marlins before heading to Washington. It sure would add some spice to the spring if the Mets were to close the gap on the Nationals before getting to DC.

PARNELL: Leads recent bullpen surge. (AP_

PARNELL: Leads recent bullpen surge. (AP)

They obviously became relevant to the Yankees this week, but there are several things that must happen for that relevance to carry over to the National League East.

It begins with pitching, and the Mets have been superb in not giving up a walk for three straight games. That’s something they hadn’t done since 1994, and almost incomprehensible.

The time is rapidly approaching when Zack Wheeler could be ready, but they should ride Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee – both coming off strong starts – for as long as they can. Marcum will stay in the rotation by virtue of making $4 million this year.

Mets starters are on a roll with a 2.91 ERA in over their last nine starts. The bullpen is also producing, giving up just two runs in its last 13.2 innings. The Mets bullpen has seven victories, but that can be misleading as it indicates blown saves by the middle-inning pitchers and entering the game with the starter either tied or behind.

Should the pitching continue the Mets could find themselves in an interesting summer. Stranger things have happened.

The Mets’ offense collapsed in the second half last year, and save David Wright and Daniel Murphy, there’s been little consistent production.

That must change, and fast.

Marlon Byrd came through Thursday night and Lucas Duda the night before, but more is needed from Duda and Ike Davis.

How bad has Davis been? Consider this, he has 13 RBI for the season. In contrast, Cubs pitchers have 19 in May.

Davis is batting eighth tonight and those whispers of going back to the minors are getting louder. As long as the Mets are winning, Davis is likely to stay. But, eventually he needs to get this straightened out.

Here’s tonight’s lineup against Miami starter Jacob Turner:

Omar Quintanilla, SS: The eighth Met to hit in the leadoff spot.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Has hit safely in 14 of his last 18 games, including nine doubles, two homers and 10 RBI.

David Wright, 3B: Hitting just .189  (7-37) in his last ten games.

Lucas Duda, LF: Has hit in 11 of last 13 games (.308), including game-ending run Tuesday against Mariano Rivera.

John Buck, C: Hitting .350 (14-40) with RISP.

Rick Ankiel, CF: Has two homers and seven RBI in 15 games with Mets.

Marlon Byrd, RF: Has 14 RBI in 19 games in May.

Ike Davis, 1B: Hitting .141 on the road with no homers.

Shaun Marcum, RHP: Coming off 12-strikeout performance in no-decision against Braves.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 22

Collins Won’t Bat Duda Cleanup

lucas duda

After last night’s invigorating 2-0 shutout victory over the Nationals. Terry Collins said  he would not move Lucas Duda from the No. 6 slot to the cleanup spot in the batting order.

Despite Ike Davis’ Feats of Strength (I thought Festivus was in December) on Friday night when he and Duda each slugged a pair of home runs, the first baseman has gone 0-for-8 with four more strikeouts since, and continues to kill the team batting cleanup and posting a .167/.214/.323 slash in 60 at-bats. To put that into perspective, Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill and Jon Niese all have better slugging percentages. Get the picture? He’s even worse against lefthanded pitching which begs the question, when will the Mets realize he’s just a platoon player at best?

Back to Duda, remember all through spring and even just last week I spoke about what a huge role confidence is playing in the left fielder’s metamorphosis?

Here is what I wrote on Saturday:

Duda has been a revelation so far even though it’s still early. Knowing that Duda is so sensitive and shies away from any interview requests, I believe that he’s too tough on himself. He lacks the confidence that a big guy like himself should have. Once he starts to taste a little of that confidence, it takes a hold of him and his play improves dramatically.

We got to see him and spoke to Wally Backman about him last season after he was demoted. Duda was isolated from his teammates and would sit and sulk before and after games. He took the demotion hard and for a guy who had little confidence in himself to begin with, the fact that the team lost confidence him too sent him reeling.

However something happened this winter. When he hurt himself lifting furniture, it led to him reporting to St. Lucie a month early to work exclusively with Dave Hudgens. 30 days of exclusive one-on-one training and confidence boosting. When camp officially broke, Duda was transformed and bursting with confidence again. Duda was doing interviews, laughing, and having fun. He has reinvented himself and I credit the Mets hitting coach for what we are seeing so far.

Here is what Terry Collins had to say about Duda after the game:

“This game is all about confidence,” Collins said. “Lucas Duda is feeling pretty good. I don’t want to change that. One thing I don’t want to do right now is put him in a situation where he thinks he’s got to do more than he’s doing at this particular moment.

Collins gets it. Yes, Duda is leading the league with a .475 on-base percentage. And yes, his .659 slugging percentage is second only to John Buck. And yes, his 1.135 OPS leads the Mets. If it were anyone else, but Duda I’d say put him in the cleanup spot. But it is Duda, and we should leave well enough alone – at least for the time being. Let him keep building up that confidence, and let’s check back at the end of May.

Apr 19

Live Blogging From Citi

600x763_harvey_vs_strasburg

Live Blog From Citi Field Pressbox

Top First: It starts to rain right after the anthem and moment of silence for Boston and Texas. The weather isn’t Minnesota-Denver bad, but I thought there would be more people here for Harvey-Strasburg. Harvey strikes out his first hitter and gets out of the inning with a runner on second.

Bottom First: Jordany Valdespin leading off again. Glad to see Terry Collins running with this. Valdespin reaches on E6. Takes third on Daniel Murphy’s hit-and-run single and scores on wild pitch. Murphy takes third on fly ball and scored on John Buck’s RBI. That’s 20 RBI for him. Really is amazing. I like Murphy’s aggressiveness in advancing on fly to right.

john buck

Mets 2, Nationals 0

Top Second: A lot of attention in the press box on what’s going on in Boston. Harvey breezing. Fans Chad Tracy. A 1-2-3 second.

Bottom Second: Marlon Byrd doubles, but is stranded on third as Strasburg punches out Valdespin. That’s a wasted opportunity and you don’t get many off Strasburg. We’ll see if this haunts them later. Strasburg nearing 50 pitches already.

End Second: Mets 2, Nationals 0

Top Third: Strasburg doubles, but Harvey gets out of it by striking out Jayson Werth.

werth strikes out

Bottom Third: Rain gone. Doc Gooden gets a nice ovation when they show him on the video board. He tweeted Harvey is the real deal. Looks like it. … Meanwhile, Boston PD has suspect cornered. That’s where a lot of the attention is. … Ike Davis strikes out for second time. Buck fans and another runner is left in scoring position.

End Third: Mets 2, Nationals 0

Top Fourth: Harvey finished the fourth with one hit and two walks and five strikeouts. He’s thrown 62 pitches, 41 for strikes. Everything is working for him tonight.

Bottom Fourth: There’s a steady falling mist again. Strasburg walked Duda, but set the next three hitters down. He’s settled down since the first, giving up two runs on three hits and two walks and five strikeouts. He’s pitching a good game, too.

End Fourth: Mets 2, Nationals 0

Top Fifth: A 1-2-3 inning for Harvey, Strikes out Suzuki swinging. They have apprehended the second suspect. Pressbox buzzing.

matt harvey 3

Bottom Fifth: Valdespin, Murphy, Wright go down in order. Just in – Brandon: Nimmo is 3-for-3.

End Fifth: Mets 2, Nationals 0

Top Sixth: Everyone watching the breaking news of suspect capture in Boston. Terrific job by law enforcement across the board. Boston can sleep easier tonight.… Harvey throws DP grounder started by Murphy, who is looking better and better at second. … Valdespin makes diving catch to end inning.

Bottom Sixth: Davis and Duda homer. Davis hit his to left and Duda’s went to center. … Crowd chanting “Harvey’s better.’’ Actually, pretty funny. … Strasburg already over 100 pitches, so this figures to be his last inning.

John Buck, Ike Davis

End Sixth: Mets 4, Nationals 0

Screenshot_1

Top Seventh: Harvey enters the inning with a two-hit shutout on 82 pitches. But, a walk and a couple of hits later and his shutout was gone. … Perhaps even more impressive was getting out of a bases loaded jam with no outs without giving up further damage. … Harvey finished with one run given up on four hits, three walks and seven strikeouts.

Bottom Seventh: Strasburg didn’t come out. He gave up four runs on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts in six innings. “USA – USA – USA -USA!” The crowd chants as news of arrest shows on scoreboard.

End Seventh: Mets 4, Nationals 1

Top Eighth: Big cheer when news on the scoreboard announced second suspect was captured. … Another cheer when Boston Police Department was saluted. … Scott Rice pitched a scoreless inning.

Bottom Eighth: Drew Storen now pitching and gives up leadoff triple to David Wright and two-run homer to Davis. … Duda added another homer, his fifth of the season.

End Eighth: Mets 7, Nationals 1.

Top Ninth: Sweet Caroline was played as Bobby Parnell threw his warm-up pitches. The Mets did it before, but it sounded better tonight. … Sweet, diving play by Murphy to get the second out.

Final: Mets 7, Nationals 1

Apr 19

Marquee Billing: Matt Harvey Against Stephen Strasburg

If Matt Harvey is as good as advertised, there will be many more nights like tonight, with him going against another’s ace.

The expectations of Harvey is he will become the anchor of the Mets’ rotation for years to come, picking up along the way a Cy Young Award or two, numerous All-Star appearances, and in the best case scenario, nights of glory in October.

HARVEY: Wants the ball.

HARVEY: Wants the ball.

Late October.

He will become this generation’s Tom Seaver; he will become Dwight Gooden without the fall.

Think Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal. Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson. Jim Palmer against Denny McLain.

It would be fun if that unfolds, but before we get lost in the future, let’s appreciate the present, which is Harvey against Washington’s Stephen Strasburg.

It shouldn’t be lost tonight is more than a marquee pairing of franchise arms, but for the Mets the need to shake a three-game funk in which their rotation and bullpen were hammered by the Colorado Rockies.

Harvey has known of this for a week, and had a good four hours on a plane last night from Denver to contemplate tonight. Not only of the Nationals’ potent line-up, but the electricity in the stands about the duel and expectations of him being “the real deal,’’ and rescuing this summer.

The scouting report on Harvey is not only about his plus-stuff, but his demeanor and poise. Harvey is very much aware what awaits him tonight, and most importantly, relishes the moment. He has confidence without the cockiness.

“He knows exactly who he is facing,’’ manager Terry Collins told reporters in Denver before the Mets lost their third straight game against the Rockies.

“He’s one of these guys who says, `I’ll take the next game.’ He knows what’s going on and who he is facing. … I know he will be ready.’’

Fifteen games into the season and already the Mets are facing a pivotal moment. If they lose tonight, Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee are up next, and who can’t envision three losses spiraling into six? Who can’t imagine the Mets losing control of their season before the kids are out of school for the summer?

Hey, with their bullpen and back end of the rotation, the Mets could lose their summer before the Kentucky Derby.

The Mets are 7-7, which honestly exceeded spring training expectations. However, the expectations are greater than competing for the playoffs, but instead striving for respectability and relevance. Catching the Braves and Nationals will be for another year.

Statistically, Harvey has three of the Mets’ victories with a microscopic 0.82 ERA. He has given up six hits and six walks with 25 strikeouts in 22 innings. And, he’s done it when the belief was he wouldn’t have given the Mets anything less.

Collins said Harvey covets the big stage. He wants the ball. And, when he gets it tonight, he’ll know what to do.

Jan 16

Soriano Has Nationals Thinking Title In NL East

Not that the bullpen-needy Mets would have made a play for Rafael Soriano anyway, but the Washington Nationals’ acquisition of the Yankees’ 2012 insurance policy has them as the sexy pick to win the NL East.

It isn’t as if they needed much make-up after winning 98 games last season, but Soriano strengthens an already strong bullpen stronger. For his $28-million, two-year deal, Soriano will close, but the Nationals also have Drew Storen – their once closer-in-waiting – and Tyler Clippard, who saved 32 games last year, for late in the game.

The Mets, the only team not to sign a free-agent this winter, kicked the tires on Brian Wilson, who after Tommy John surgery, would be a gamble. Their closer is Frank Francisco, who ended last season with arm problems.

The Nationals’ manager, Davey Johnson, is adept at juggling a bullpen, although he was helpless as his pen blew a six-run lead to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. That might have been the gnawing feeling that prompted them to sign Soriano.

The Nationals already upgraded with the acquisitions of starter Dan Haren and outfielder Denard Span. Washington also expects Stephen Strasburg to work at least 200 innings. Perhaps they learned from last summer’s mistake and will pace him out better.

Washington alienated a lot of people last year when they shut-down Strasburg, giving the impression they’ll make the playoffs every season. It’s not that easy, and the Nationals are showing that with what they’ve done this winter. One thing for sure, they won’t be a surprise this year.

The Braves won’t have Chipper Jones, but added outfielder B.J. Upton to their offense. They won 94 games last summer.

Philadelphia added outfielder Ben Revere and expect to have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for the entire season. They should better last year’s 81 wins.

It appears the Mets will be competing with Miami to stay out of the cellar, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

That Nationals are building the right way, with a mix of drafting, trades and free-agent signings. With today’s economics, a team must be strong at all three phases, which the top three teams in the NL East have shown.

The Mets are putting their eggs in the farm-system basket, which is traditionally the way to go, and still is the foundation. However, they don’t have all the farm pieces to go the whole route, as they can’t fill out their roster with them or use them to trade.

The Mets also don’t have major league pieces they can trade without opening up additional holes.

As far as free-agency is concerned, they are balking on giving Scott Hairston – who hit 20 homers for them last year – a two-year deal.

The last time they had a good mix was 2007, the summer they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. They also blew a late lead in 2008, the last time they had a winning season.

That seemed like such a long time ago.