Jul 03

A Master Plan For Flores

FLORES: A plan for him. (AP)

FLORES: A plan for him. (AP)

As they were with Daniel Murphy, the Mets never seem pleased with Wilmer Flores, who carved a place in club lore last July when he was brought to tears on the field after thinking he had been traded to Milwaukee.

A couple of days later, he hit a walk-off homer to beat the Nationals to jumpstart the Mets’ pennant push. Perhaps the Mets’ 2016 pennant push began with this weekend’s four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field, capped off by today’s 14-3 rout in which Flores tied a franchise record – Edgardo Alfonzo – with six hits, including two homers.

Yeah, six-for-six. Riding a 0-for-14 slide entering the game, there was a school of thought Flores might get sent down when Jose Reyes is brought up.

“Players aren’t naive,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “They read the papers. They know what’s going on. I don’t think there’s any question he hasn’t heard Reyes is coming.”

What’s going on is Flores is on the cusp of losing his job as the Mets, in search of an offensive spark, reached into their past. And, outside of a wild few days last summer, the Mets’ past didn’t include Flores.

A starter for much of last season in the second half at shortstop, Flores started this year on the bench following the winter acquisitions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Theoretically, Flores was to serve as the back-up at third for David Wright and first for Lucas Duda.

Flores assumed the starter’s role at third when Wright went down, but now the Mets seemed poised to replace him with a player who has never played third. Reyes is coming, make no mistake, but what should be done with Flores?

Under no circumstances should they option him to Triple-A to make room for Reyes, an idea Keith Hernandez floated on SNY. First of all, there are no assurances Reyes will take to third. They should also not relegate him full time to the bench.

“It’s experience and reps. you have to get him out there,” Collins said to give the impression Flores’ best position is batter. “You have to get him 500 at-bats. In order to have an idea of what a player is capable of doing you have to play him.”

There’s the rub. One of the things I find annoying about Collins is how he uses his bench. All too often he’ll ride his starters while the role players collect rust, which seemed to be the case with Flores before Wright was hurt. There never seemed to be a regular resting format for Wright. There was no third-to-first rotation with Flores to start the season as he sat in ten games and only had 28 at-bats in April.

Flores was on a 0-for-14 skid before Sunday’s once-in-a-lifetime game.

“I thought I was swinging the bat well, I just wasn’t lucky,” was how Flores described his mini-slump, and of his turnaround, added, “I was looking to be aggressive.”

Whatever the Mets had in mind for Flores, he’s always been the good soldier. Genuinely hurt last year when he thought he had been traded, he seemed annoyed when the Reyes issue was raised Sunday.

“It’s not my choice,” Flores curtly said. “I’m here to play.”

But where?

Like a six-year-old child who ignores his favorite toy when presented with a new one, I fear Collins might bury Flores on the bench.

Collins has proven he doesn’t always follow through with a plan. From batting Juan Lagares leadoff last season to starting the year with Curtis Granderson hitting first; to an innings limit for Matt Harvey; to juggling his lineup; to how to handle Michael Conforto, Collins is quick to abandon a plan.

I get it, Reyes will play third base, but Flores must be used. He should start at least four games a week to keep his bat sharp. One game at third, one at shortstop, one at second and one at first. Have him be a super sub on a regular rotation. If the Mets make a run, Collins can’t afford to drive Cabrera and Walker into the ground, and James Loney needs a breather at first.

Flores is hitting and the Mets must keep it that way.

Jul 02

Mets Wrap: Have They Survived A June Swoon?

Did the Mets keep alive their season with victories over the Cubs the last two days? The Brandon Nimmo game Thursday was what they desperately needed. The home run barrage Friday was an April flashback.

Both games featured Nimmo’s youthful exuberance, and an argument can be made he gave the Mets an emotional jumpstart.

SYNDERGAARD: Sunday's starter has sore elbow. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Sunday’s starter has sore elbow. (AP)

Despite their June Swoon, which included getting swept in Washington, the Mets are six games behind the Nationals, and 1.5 games behind the Dodgers for the second wild card. It means the essence of their season remains, which is getting into October.

June was a duplicate of May, with a dismal hitting slump and myriad of injuries culminating in a 12-15 record.

JUNE MVP

For the second straight month, it has to go to the only player to show up big offensively, which would be Yoenis Cespedes, who hit .315 with nine homers, 27 RBI and .374 on-base percentage. Cespedes had several brain cramp moments and played with a sore wrist. Oh yeah, one of those homers reached the upper deck at Citi Field. When he crossed the plate he said, “Wow,’’ which was the best way to describe the blast that brought back memories of Tommie Agee’s upper deck drive at Shea Stadium.

PITCHER OF THE MONTH

Noah Syndergaard won three games, but I’m leaning toward closer Jeurys Familia, who saved ten games with a 0.69 ERA. In 13 games he gave up one run on seven hits with 14 strikeouts. He also gave up seven hits and walked six making every appearance an adventure.

KEY GAME OF THE MONTH

There was the June 8, 6-5 extra-innings victory in Pittsburgh that avoided a four-game series sweep. However, I’m going with Thursday night’s 4-3 stunner over the Cubs featuring Nimmo’s game-tying hit and hustle on the bases to score the winning run. Had they lost it would have meant a five-game losing streak.

KEY MOVE OF THE MONTH

I’m going with bringing up Nimmo and sending down Michael Conforto. I’m hoping we’ll see Conforto back in July, but not at the cost of sending down Nimmo, who, if he keeps this up has to stay up. It could make for an interesting decision.

RED FLAG ENDURED

After losing David Wright for the remainder of the season, Wilmer Flores filled the breach hitting .289 with two homers and 12 RBI. The Mets are gambling Jose Reyes will further resolve their third base issue.

KEY ISSUE RESOLVED

The Mets traded for James Loney to replace Lucas Duda at the end of May. While Loney has more than capably done the job defensively, his offense has been surprising with a .294 average, three homers, ten RBI and .345 on-base percentage for the month. Loney had 30 hits and only three hitless games for June.

HEALTH ISSUES

Syndergaard and Steven Matz are dealing with bone spurs in their elbow. … Wright will be gone for the rest of the season following surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. … Duda is still at least three weeks away. … Travis d’Arnaud came off the disabled list (shoulder) and his throwing has improved. … Cespedes had several nagging issues, Curtis Granderson has a strained calf and Conforto played with a bum wrist. … Juan Lagares is expected to be activated from the DL for Saturday’s game. … Reliever Jim Henderson is out indefinitely with a strained elbow.

SIX QUESTIONS RAISED

How will they play for the rest of the month, which includes two games against the Cubs, three with Miami and four against the Nationals?

Will the Mets make a deal at the deadline?

How long will they be without Duda and what is the severity of Granderson’s injury?

Since elbow injuries are always serious, will Matz and Syndergaard stay in the rotation?

How long will the ride last with Loney and Nimmo?

After three strong starts, Matt Harvey seems to have regressed. Who is the real Harvey?

BY THE NUMBERS

3: Runs scored by the Mets for Jacob deGrom in five June starts. He was 0-3 with two no-decisions for the month.

16: Games in which the Mets scored three runs or less. Overall, they are 11-30 when they score three runs or less.

.214: Neil Walker’s average for June.

5: Victories by a starting pitcher for the month.

8: One-run games.

11: Roster moves for the month.

4: Times shut out.

LOOKING AT JULY’S SCHEDULE

So far, the Mets are 2-3 during the 14-game stretch to the All-Star break. The rest of the Cubs series (2 games), and series against the Marlins (3) and Nationals (4) could determine whether they make a move at the deadline and stay in the race.

The Mets will come out of the All-Star break with nine on the road, three each at Philadelphia, the Cubs and Marlins.

The Mets close out the month with three games at home with St. Louis and four against Colorado.

Unquestionably, July could define their season.

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.