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 09

Three Mets’ Storylines: Murphy Deserves This

Daniel Murphy is just piling it on the Mets now. The one-time Met turned Mets tormenter with Washington stuck it to his former team again Saturday night.

Murphy drove in four runs on three hits – including a homer; missing a second by a few feet – in a 6-1 Nationals’ rout that opened their lead over the Mets to a comfy five games in the NL East. Murphy is a big part of that lead. Had he stayed with the Mets and produced the same numbers, you can make an argument the standings could be flipped.

MURPHY: Easy to root for. (AP)

MURPHY: Easy to root for. (AP)

Ask GM Sandy Alderson why they are not.“It’s always nice to beat a divisional opponent,” said Murphy as he suppressed a smile when asked if he took any pleasure in beating the team that shunned in the free-agent market.

“It’s always nice to beat a divisional opponent,” said Murphy as he suppressed a smile when asked if he took any pleasure in beating the team that shunned in the free-agent market.

Murphy is batting .437 with six homers and 19 RBI against the Mets. Overall, he’s hitting .349 with 16 homers and 64 RBI and if the season ended today, and it’s getting close to that feeling with the Mets, he would be a MVP frontrunner.

And, I couldn’t be happier for him. As a sportswriter, I root for good stories and Murphy is a good story. He was a great story last October, and before that was always an interesting story for the Mets.

For some reason only Alderson and the Wilpons know – but haven’t been forthcoming about – the Mets didn’t want him back, only giving him a $15.8-million token qualifying offer.

Maybe his politically-incorrect statements was the decider. Definitely, he didn’t fit Alderson’s Sabremetrics profile, which I always felt was overrated. His defense was never top drawer, but the first-place Nationals don’t seem to have a problem with his glove.

Murphy was a homegrown Met who always busted his hump for the team. He had some brain cramps, but there was never a problem with his heart.

I always liked Murphy when he played with the Mets and wanted him back, although I never believed Alderson would pull that trigger. The kicker is Murphy, after working with Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, showed the power stroke last year in the second half in the playoffs he’s flashing now.

One of the things I always liked about Murphy is he’s not a chest-thumper. When asked if he’s having fun, especially in the park where he blossomed last year in the playoffs, Murphy said: “We’re playing well. [Being called a] post-season hero is humbling, but there were 25 guys over there last year.”

Last year seems like a long time ago, and with each Murphy at-bat it’s getting further away. I don’t know if the Mets can regroup and challenge Washington after the break, but I am happy to see him thriving.

Murphy deserves to be a headliner, and could be one through 2018 with the Nationals, while the player they replaced him with – Neil Walker – could walk after this season.

Murphy was the main storyline Saturday. The two others were the Mets’ continued inability to hit with RISP and how Antonio Bastardo adds nothing to the bullpen.

METS WITH RISP: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a significant issue all season. They were 0-5 with RISP and stranded seven runners. If there was a turning point in the game it came in the first when the Mets had runners on second and third with no outs and came away with only one run.

Max Scherzer, who no-hit the Mets last year and has 29 strikeouts in three starts against them this season, struck out Asdrubal Cabrera and Brandon Nimmo to get out of the inning.

“It’s an age-old story,” Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters. “When you have a pitcher like [Scherzer] on the ropes early, you’d better get him.”

All season Collins said the Mets are built on power, which is not the optimum way to construct a team. Of all the telling stats about the Mets, perhaps the most significant is they have won only five games in which they did not hit a homer.

BASTARDO BOMBS OUT: Bastardo is not why they lost tonight, but continued to be a weak link in the bullpen.

Murphy took him deep tonight and also on Thursday. He has a 4.91 ERA and as simply not produced as the situational lefty.

The Mets enter the break with no shortage of needs, and a lefty in the bullpen is one of them.

 

Jul 08

Mets’ July 8 Lineup Against Nationals

The red-hot Mets will go for their eighth victory in nine games on this “very important” homestand when Noah Syndergaard goes against Stephen Strasburg tonight at Citi Field, with the star shining brightest likely to be named the starter in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

Here’s tonight’s batting order against Strasburg:

Jose Reyes – 3B: Career .287 hitter (168-586) vs. Nationals. … Has three hits, two doubles and a homer since returning to Mets.

Curtis Granderson – RF: Career .272 hitter (53-195) against Washington. … Should have more than 27 RBI for his 15 homers. Perhaps that will improve with him batting second.

Yoenis Cespedes – CF: Career 329 hitter (25-76) vs. Nationals. … Batting a sizzling .419 (13-31) with three homers on the homestand.

Neil Walker – 2B: Lifetime .291 hitter (46-158) against Washington. … Has 15 homers; had 16 last season.

James Loney -1B: Lifetime .323 hitter (40-124) against Nationals. … Batting .290 (9-31) during homestand and .281 (9-31) with ten RBI with RISP.

Asdrubal Cabrera – SS: Batting .304 (7-23) with two homers on homestand. … Career .274 hitter against Nationals.

Brandon Nimmo – LF: Batting .286 (6-21) with one homer on homestand. … Already has one homer and four RBI with RISP.

Rene Rivera – C: Is lifetime .324 hitter (11-34) against Nationals.

Syndergaard – RHP: Pitching with bone spurs in his elbow. … Is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts vs. Nationals this year, and 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in five career starts.

COMMENTS: Thoroughly annoyed with how Wilmer Flores is being jerked around. Players as hot as Flores deserve to be rewarded by staying in the lineup. I can appreciate playing Reyes, but what harm would it be resting Cabrera for a night? Walker’s and Loney’s numbers vs. Nats merit them starting tonight. … I can’t figure out what manager Terry Collins is thinking about. … On the other hand, it is good to see him stick to the plan of pairing Rivera with Syndergaard. … Also pleased to see Nimmo in the lineup.

Jul 07

Three Mets’ Storylines: Flores, Bullpen Bail Out Colon

Just before the Mets were swept last week in Washington, manager Terry Collins said the 14 games leading into the All-Star break were “very important.’’

He didn’t call this stretch “critical,’’ but his message was understood just the same.

FLORES: Does it again. (AP)

FLORES: Does it again. (AP)

After being destroyed in DC, the Mets responded with a four-game sweep of the Cubs; winning two of three against the Marlins, and powering their way in the opener of this four-game series, 9-7, over the Nationals. With the victory, the Mets pulled within three games of first-place Washington.

Thursday’s win came on the heels of the sobering news Matt Harvey might be lost with season-ending shoulder surgery.

Things didn’t look promising for the Mets after the Nationals took a 4-1 lead in the fourth, but they responded with four homers and a strong showing their bullpen. Travis d’Arnaud, Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores – again – and Asdrubal Cabrera homered for the Mets.

They also caught a break when Jayson Werth’s take-out slide of second baseman Neil Walker was ruled interference, so instead of runners on the corners with no outs the Nationals had the bases empty with two down.

Earlier in the game Werth was called safe on a similar play. Of course, this rule was a by-product of the Chase UtleyRuben Tejada play last year in the NL Division Series.

The following are the three main storylines from tonight’s game.

FLORES STAYS HOT: After a pair of two-homer games on this homestand, Flores did not get the start. Collins’ explanation, in part, was to give him an at-bat against one of Washington’s lefty relievers.

It sounded like he was blowing smoke, but sure enough, Flores hit the first pitch thrown to him by former Met Oliver Perez for a three-run homer in the fifth to put New York ahead to stay. It was his sixth game-winning hit of the season.

Flores has five homers during this homestand, which begs the question: Where will he play Friday?

COLON ROCKED; PEN ROCKS: Colon has been one of the most reliable starters this season, but was shelled, giving up six runs on ten hits in 4.2 innings. Three of those homers came in the fourth by Clint Robinson, Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper.

Colon was bailed out by the offense and the bullpen.

With the bases loaded in the fifth, Jerry Blevins struck out Rendon to end the inning. Hansel Robles struck out Jayson Werth to end the sixth; Addison Reed retired four hitters; and Jeurys Familia recorded his 31st save in as many opportunities.

GRANDERSON RED HOT: “Red hot,’’ haven’t been the words to describe Granderson many times this season, but he reached base five times on three hits – two doubles – and two walks.

In his last five games, Granderson is 8-for-19 (.421) with two homers and five RBI.

Granderson’s surge coincides with the move to second in the order behind Reyes.

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.