Apr 30

Revisiting Top 20 Mets’ Questions

Entering the season I suggested  20 questions the Mets would need to answer in the positive for them to return to the World Series. From performance to health to various intangibles, every team faces important questions and they don’t disappear just because it played in the World Series the year before.

At the time, I wrote I would periodically revisit those questions to measure how the Mets are progressing.

Here’s how they are doing:

Q: Will they have a World Series hangover or let down?

A: There were a few red flags and a 2-5 start, but they closed the month with a power surge, clubbing 31 homers in their last 14 games. Last April they won 11 straight. They closed the month winning eight straight and 13 of 15. There’s no appearance of any hangover and it looks as if we’ll have our Mets-Nationals pennant race.

WALKER: Mets' player for April. (AP)

WALKER: Mets’ player for April. (AP)

Q: How will manager Terry Collins respond to being a favorite?

A: So far, so good. I wasn’t crazy about him calling the eighth game of the season “must win.” And, I didn’t like him playing David Wright for the whole game Friday with the explanation he wanted him to face the Giants’ lefty relievers in preparation for facing Madison Bumgarner Sunday. What, Wright has never faced a lefty before? But, I do like him moving Michael Conforto to the No. 3 hole, which was the catalyst for the offensive surge. I also liked how he let Hansel Robles face Freddie Freeman when he could have played the lefty-righty percentages. Best of all, I liked how he admitted the Mets might have made a mistake in not giving his starters enough work during spring training. Overall, he’s done a solid job worthy of his extension.

Q: What’s going on with Matt Harvey?

A: After a 7.50 spring training ERA and 0-3 start, there were understandably questions about Harvey. A lot is always demanded from Harvey, and after making it through last season without any problems following Tommy John surgery, the expectations are even higher. He’s pitched better in his last two starts, both wins. No reason for concern right now.

Q: Will Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Syndergaard has been incredible consistently throwing in the high 90s. His secondary pitches have also been dominant. DeGrom missed time with a strained lat muscle and tending to his family because of complications following the birth of his son. Both child and lat are doing fine. He didn’t have a smooth start Saturday against the Giants, but as usually the case with him, he finds a way to pitch through trouble.

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: I would say an awful lot. He was hammered in his first start, but won his last three. Matz has been terrific, but like deGrom and Harvey, he’s throwing too many pitches for the innings he works. That eventually could catch up to the bullpen.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: Nothing has changed, the plan remains for him to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is brought up, which should be around July 1. He would then move to the bullpen.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: So far, it has been like leather. Familia recently has worked his way out of a tough stretch. He’s converted all seven of his save opportunities with a 2.45 ERA.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: This might have been the Mets’ most important pre-season issue, but the bullpen has been solid in all phases. Addison Reed has been a very capable set-up reliever and Antonio Bastardo has pitched well despite a poor spring training. Jim Henderson and Logan Verrett have been more than pleasant surprises. Robles is getting more chances to shine and he’s delivering.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud, are you there?

A: Nope. Once again, he’s on the disabled list, this time with a strained rotator cuff. The Mets still don’t know what he can produce over 500 at-bats and might not find out this year, either. He wasn’t hitting or throwing well at the time of the injury.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: When Conforto was moved to the No. 3 hole, Yoenis Cespedes went to clean-up and Duda was dropped to fifth. He’s hitting .240 with four homers and 14 RBI, and again has proven streaky. Four homers a month will give him 24 for the year, which is short of his expectations. Also short of what the Mets want from him.

Q: Will Neil Walker make people forget Daniel Murphy?

A: Walker has been the Mets’ Player of the Month for April with nine homers, tying him with Dave Kingman (1976), Carlos Delgado (2006) and John Buck (2013) for the club record. Sure, Murphy was a terrific month, but Walker has been better than advertised. The question now is: How hard will the Mets try to bring him back?

Q: Is Asdrubal Cabrera an upgrade over Wilmer Flores at shortstop?

A: Cabrera has done it both in the field and at the plate. There’s no uneasiness when a grounder is hit to him.

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: Still nobody knows. It takes him two hours to get ready for a game and his back is always a question. Which is why it was foolish to let him play nine innings in a blowout game Friday night. Why push the envelope? Wright has two homers and only five RBI hitting mostly in the second spot in the order. He’s only hitting .143 (3-for-21) with RISP. It’s not about hitting for power, it is about hitting a single when you need it.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: That’s the chance the Mets took when they gave Cespedes an out clause after one season in his three-year deal. If it does happen that way, it has been a fun ride. Cespedes still has his lapses in the field, but he’s locked in at the plate with seven homers and 23 RBI for the month. However, he is on pace to strike out over 200 times.

Q: A breakout year for Conforto?

A: it is sure looking that way. Conforto lit the offense on fire since moving to the No. 3 hole. He closed the month reaching base in 17 straight games and tying a club record with doubles in six straight. He has four homers in his last 14 games. Everything he hits seems to be hard and on a line. Plus, he’s making the plays in the field. He’s not a star in the making. He already is a star.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Curtis Granderson?

A: After a slow start Granderson is on a roll. He’s scored 15 runs in his last 13 games and has a .350 on-base percentage. He also has four homers. Granderson still strikes out a lot and isn’t trying to steal anymore.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: Kevin Plawecki is now a starter with d’Arnaud’s injury. Collins needs to find a way to get Alejandro De Aza and Flores more at-bats. Eventually, the Mets will need them. Rene Rivera is now the backup catcher.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: That’s always the wild card. Right now it is d’Arnaud. Cespedes missed several games with a bruised right leg, then hit a pinch-hit three-run homer to tie a game this week against Cincinnati. Harvey entered the season a question because of a bladder infection. He’s fine now. DeGrom’s lat was a scare, but he’s also fine. Wright, of course, is always a concern.

Q: What’s going with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals sprinted out of the gate and opened up a five-game lead on April 16 that is now down to a half-game. MVP Bryce Harper is playing as if he wants to win it again. Their pitching has also been strong and Murphy is playing well.

Q: Can the Mets get off to another fast start?

A: An 11-game winning streak keyed a 15-8 April record last year and gave them a buffer to overcome injuries and a drastic hitting slump. The Mets had another strong April this year at 15-7, which they needed to keep pace with Washington. The Nationals come to town for a three-game series, May 17-19, and the Mets are in Washington, May 23-25.

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Apr 06

Today In Mets’ History: Colon Gets OD Nod Against Nats

On this day in 2015, when the speculation was whether Jacob deGrom or Matt Harvey would get the Opening Day start in Washington, manager Terry Collins went with 41-year-old Bartolo Colon, which was at the time, and what proved to be the right choice.

COLON: Has proved to be invaluable. (Getty)

COLON: Has proved to be invaluable. (Getty)

Colon became the oldest Met pitcher to start an Opening Day and he responded by giving up one run on three hits in the 3-1 victory over the Nationals, beating Max Scherzer in the process.

The Mets signed Colon to a two-year, $20-million contract during the winter of 2013 as a stopgap after Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery. Colon won 15 games and worked 202.1 innings in 2014. Last year he won 14 more with 194.2 innings, however, in the wake of Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz being promoted he was sent to the bullpen.

Colon, 218-154 lifetime, pitched well during the playoffs in relief and was rewarded with a $7.25 million extension. Colon will work as the fifth starter until Zack Wheeler is brought up sometime in July.

ON DECK: Don’t Write Off Wright

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Apr 02

Top 20 Mets’ Questions

Fortunately, spring training results don’t count. While the Mets won’t carry their exhibition record to Kansas City, let’s hope they don’t bring with them their quality of play.

After all, there are reasons why they finished 8-17 this spring, and some of them include their regulars not playing well. (The Nationals were 19-4 this spring, and if things counted they would open the season with a 12-game lead on the Mets).

Can the Mets get back to the World Series? Well, of course, they can, but it is dependent on how they answer the following questions:

COLLINS: Doesn't have the answers, yet. (Getty_

COLLINS: Doesn’t have the answers, yet. (Getty)

Q: Will they have a World Series hangover or let down?

A: Things happen during a season that have nothing to do with cockiness or an emotional let down. You certainly can’t draw a definitive conclusion based on spring training, but there were a few red flags, such as Matt Harvey letting a few back-page headlines get to him and Yoenis Cespedes’ brain cramp. Will there be a carryover? We shall see. But admit it, you weren’t pleased with how they played this spring. Nobody was.

Q: How will manager Terry Collins respond to being a favorite?

A: No Collins-run team has had expectations this high. It’s not enough for him to maintain a steady hand. There will be times when he has to go to the whip. I thought he let Harvey play him last season, which only inflamed the innings issue. This year, Harvey and no other pitcher can bully him to stay in a game. This will be Collins’ most demanding season. He’ll also need to formulate a playing time plan with David Wright and not take any garbage from Cespedes when be decides to mail it in. Collins got a free pass for the most part in previous seasons because the expectations were so low. They aren’t low anymore.

Q: What’s going on with Harvey?

A: Let’s face it; a 7.50 ERA stinks, whether it is in the exhibition or regular season. A lot is always expected from Harvey, and this year is his second coming off Tommy John surgery. That makes the expectations even higher. Harvey marches to his own tune, which is fine if he can back it up. So far, he’s only shown glimpses. Time to back it up, big boy. If you want to be Batman, you’ll need to develop a thicker skin.

Q: Will Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Many scouts think their ceilings are higher than Harvey’s. That’s one of the reasons, along with their current contractual status, why I believe they should be signed to long-term deals before Harvey. This will be our first season of watching Syndergaard full time, and frankly that’s one of the most intriguing things of the season for me. And, who can’t envision deGrom winning a Cy Young?

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: This will also be our first season watching Matz fulltime. As a lefty, his ceiling is enormous, but he must stay healthy. There were concerns, voiced by Collins several weeks ago. Most starters get up to six starts and 30 innings in spring training. The Mets’ starters got far less.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: The plan is for him to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is brought up, which should be around July 1. He then could be sent to the bullpen. They shouldn’t be too hasty to cut ties with Colon, especially if he’s pitching well because things happen. You’re a Mets’ fan. You know things happen.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: As much as a having a signature pitch, a great reliever needs the ability to bounce back and forget. Mariano Rivera said one of the best things to happen in his career was when Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar beat him in the 1997 playoffs with a home run. He said it shaped his emotional development. Familia wasn’t as effective and blew a save in the World Series. Maybe he got the job by default after Jenrry Mejia kicked away his career, but it’s Familia’s job to keep.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: As of now Addison Reed is the set-up reliever and Antonio Bastardo the lefty specialist. In recent years, the composition of the Mets’ bullpen has been fluid at best. The Mets will also carry lefty Jerry Blevins. Hansel Robles will open the season serving a two-game suspension. Robles is a hot head that needs to learn composure. The Mets will also keep Jim Henderson and Logan Verrett, the latter whom can pitch in long relief or as a spot starter. Henderson, who has major league experience, should be interesting to watch. However, this isn’t a proven group collectively. Seriously, does anybody here take your breath away? Ideally, the bridge to Familia would be even stronger if the starters can go seven innings.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud, are you there?

A: The Mets need a healthy d’Arnaud to give them a full season. He’s shown occasional pop, but what can he do with 500 plate appearances. His career high is 421 plate appearances in 2014, when he had a .302 on-base percentage with 13 homers and 41 RBI. However, he hit 12 homers with 41 RBI and a solid .340 on-base percentage in 268 plate appearances last year. The pitchers like how he calls a game, but he needs work holding on runners and his throwing.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: Although his on-base percentage has been decent, .352 and .349 in 2015 and 2014, respectively, he still strikes out too damn much for my liking (138 times last year and 135 times in 2014). Maybe I’m just too picky. He’ll hit eight homers in one month and one in another. Five a month, which is roughly one a week, would be perfect. It adds up to 30. But, hell yes, I’d love to see 40. Who knows, back-to-back with Cespedes can give the Mets their best power duo since Darryl Strawberry and Howard Johnson. I like watching Duda and think he can develop into a real basher. I’d like to see more productive outs.

Q: Will Neil Walker make people forget Daniel Murphy?

A: Murphy was a terrific Met, despite his occasional mental and fielding lapses. Walker is a .272 lifetime hitter with a .338 career on-base percentage. However, his 162-game average is 18 homers and 81 RBI, which surpasses Murphy. It won’t be easy forgetting Murphy, as he’ll face the Mets 19 times while with the Nationals.

Q: Is Asdrubal Cabrera an upgrade over Wilmer Flores at shortstop?

A: While their 2015 power numbers are similar, sending Flores to the bench deepens the bench, which is a significant plus. Cabrera hit 15 homers with 58 RBI last season for Tampa Bay, while Flores hit 16 homers with 59 RBI. Cabrera is considered better defensively. Cabrera committed nine errors in 443 chances last year while Flores made 14 in 400 chances.

WRIGHT: Nobody knows. (AP)

WRIGHT: Nobody knows. (AP)

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: It’s only a coincidence the 13th question is about Wright, who hasn’t played in 150 games since 2012. Injuries have limited him to less than 140 games in four of the last five years. To project 140 games, much less his production is folly. Right now, I’d take 120 games and be happy. In addition to his pregame hitting and fielding, Wright puts in at least 90 minutes before games with exercises designed to loosen up his back.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: That’s the chance the Mets took when they gave Cespedes an out clause after one season in his three-year deal. I have limited confidence he won’t be sidetracked by the money and glitz of New York. Never mind his brain cramp in spring training, but last year in September and during the playoffs he had some head-scratching moments. But, if Cespedes lets it all out, this could be another special season.

Q: A breakout year for Michael Conforto?

A: I’m not saying he’s another Tony Gwynn, but the expectations are high. Let’s just hope Collins isn’t tempted to rest him against left-handers. Let him play and give him a chance to develop into a real talent, not a part time flash.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Curtis Granderson?

A: I confess I didn’t like Granderson leading off, but his ability to draw walks changed that thinking. If Granderson can improve his walks by cutting down his 151 strikeouts he can be a greater offensive force. If he does that he might hit 30 homers (he hit 26 last year with 70 RBI) again.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: I like Flores’ ability to play anywhere in the infield, but hope he doesn’t languish for weeks before getting a chance to play. Alejandro De Aza was to be a big piece before Cespedes was brought back. His role is undefined at best. Juan Lagares won a Gold Glove in center field two years ago but is now coming off the bench. When he does play, it has to be in center. Eric Campbell has always produced coming off the bench, but his weaknesses are exposed the longer he plays. Kevin Plawecki was kept, but I don’t want him to wither on the bench for weeks. If that happens, he’s better off in Triple-A.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: That’s always the wild card. None of the starting pitchers are ailing. Cabrera missed significant time in spring training, but will play Sunday night. Conforto and Cespedes missed some time, and Wright is always a question. If they stay healthy and produce, there’s no reason they can’t make the playoffs again. Health is always the biggest variable for any team.

Q: What’s going with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals were a buzz saw in Florida and appear to have a federal budget sized chip on their collective shoulders, beginning with MVP Bryce Harper. Their rotation isn’t as deep as the Mets, but their front three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg (in his walk year) and Gio Gonzalez can stack up with the front end of most staffs. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has a lot to prove, and if Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman stay healthy there’s no reason they can’t wrestle back the NL East.

Q: Can the Mets get off to another fast start?

A: An 11-game winning streak keyed a 15-8 April record last year and gave them a buffer to overcome injuries and a drastic hitting slump. The Mets lost their first-place lead on May 20 (it grew to a 4.5-game deficit in July) before they wrestled back the division for good from Washington, Aug. 2. The Mets caught a break last year when the Nationals stumbled. They can’t count on that again.

I will revisit these questions periodically throughout the summer.

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Mar 12

No Concerns About Colon Or Matz

On Saturday, the Cardinals took it to Bartolo Colon, and the day before the Nationals did likewise to Steven Matz. There’s no reason for the Mets to be concerned about either because there is still two weeks to go before the start of the season. There’s still plenty of time for both to get ready.

Colon gave up four runs on six hits in 3.2 innings. He’s been through this before.

“I feel healthy,” Colon told reporters through an interpreter, and isn’t that the most important thing? “Unfortunately, the way I pitched today, they gave me a little bit of a rough time and it wasn’t great. I thought I was throwing it where I wanted to, but the batters were about to get me. They took advantage”

These things happen. As long as Colon is not hurting, he’ll be fine.

Control was also the issue with Matz, as it often is the case with young pitchers early in spring training. Matz walked the first two batters he faced in the third, then gave up a single to load the bases. He threw 41 pitches in two-plus innings, but 27 were for strikes. Actually, that’s not too bad a ratio.

“I don’t think you ever care for walks,” Matz said Friday. I just got a little erratic there. It’s still early. … I felt good. I really wanted to stay in there and try to work out of that.”

The first thing pitchers want to accomplish early in spring training, and both Colon and Matz were making their second starts, is to be healthy, and that’s not an issue for either. Control, especially of breaking pitches, takes a few starts.

Healthwise, both are on schedule. There’s nothing for the Mets to be concerned about now.

 

 

Mar 03

Not Worried About Montero’s Rough Day

Rafael Montero got hammered Thursday afternoon, but no worries he wasn’t going to beat out Sean Gilmartin or Logan Verrett for a spot in the Mets’ bullpen anyway. Montero has always been ticketed as a starter at Triple-A Las Vegas barring an injury.

MONTERO: Rough day. (AP)

MONTERO: Rough day. (AP)

Montero gave up four runs on four hits and two walks in a 39-pitch first inning in the Mets’ 9-4 loss to Washington.

It didn’t matter that the first five Nationals reached base. What mattered was Montero, who was on the DL from April 30 through the remainder of the season with a bad shoulder, is healthy. Whether he starts at Vegas or works out the bullpen in Flushing, he can’t do either if he’s not healthy.

“I think it’s just key for me to be healthy right now. I’m happy with that,” Montero told reporters. “And, I’m really just looking at it as just the first time going out. Hopefully, everything will go better going forward.”

Part of the essence of spring training is what Montero went through today, and that’s a player coming back from an injury. Montero will pitch numerous more times this spring, perhaps compiling as many as 20 innings. But, regardless of how well he performs, unless somebody gets hurt, Montero will end up in Las Vegas.

When he gets there he should be used in a starting role, because he could end up in that position with the Mets if Zack Wheeler has a setback in his rehab. Should that be the case, his innings needs to be stretched out.

So, what happened Thursday has to be looked at as one of those things. Nothing seems to be going to imminently happen to Montero.

The same can’t be said for Yoenis Cespedes‘ pig.