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.

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May 30

What Will Mets Get From Harvey?

The Mets set the bar low for Matt Harvey’s last start. It’s been set even lower for what could be a water-logged Memorial Day start this afternoon against the Chicago White Sox.

Before the Nationals ripped him last week, manager Terry Collins wanted a “quality’’ outing from his former No. 1 starter. He didn’t get it, Harvey’s ERA zoomed to 6.08 and he left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters.

HARVEY: What will we get? (AP)

HARVEY: What will we get? (AP)

This time out, “I’m hoping that he relaxes,” said Collins.

If he does, Harvey will have to shift it into a higher mental gear we haven’t seen before.

“I’m hoping that he just goes out and pitches like he knows how – and that is worrying about making pitches, not so much about the mechanics,” Collins said.

Meanwhile, Collins believes Harvey’s problems are a combination mechanical and mental. In addition to working with pitching coach Dan Warthen on his mechanics – from release point to where his lead foot lands – Collins said Harvey is also working with the Mets’ mental skills coach.

Collins wouldn’t specify the next step for Harvey if he gets routed.

“I just think we’ve got to wring the rag dry here,” Collins said. “This is not just a Triple-A guys who’s up for a tryout. This is a guy who pitched in an All-Star Game a couple of years ago and was one of the best in the game. And, I think we need to push a little bit farther.”

Nobody knows what will happen today, but perhaps Harvey will come up with a performance worth talking about.

May 26

Matz Passes Watershed Moment; Collins Should Be Applauded

There comes a time in every player’s path from prospect to star when he faces a watershed test he must pass, which is what happened to Mets pitcher Steven Matz Wednesday afternoon in Washington. Hopefully, it will be something Matz will wistfully recall down the road, perhaps before All-Star and playoff games.

MATZ: Passes the test. (AP)

MATZ: Passes the test. (AP)

Pitching coach Dan Warthen immediately recognized it and told manager Terry Collins, “we’re going to see what the kid is made of.”

The Mets were hanging to a slim 2-0 lead when the Nationals had a runner on with two outs in the eighth. Collins knew it, too, when he glanced into the Nationals’ dugout and saw Bryce Harper, the 2015 NL MVP, selecting a bat.

Matz was at 100 pitches and this was his last inning regardless and Collins had a warmed-up Jerry Blevins in the bullpen. The conventional choice, one Collins has frequently made in the past, was to go to the mound with his hand extended for the ball and pat Matz on the back.

Instead, Collins nodded to Warthen and did nothing.

“When you have a young player in certain situations, you have to challenge him,” Collins would say to reporters. “If he’s going to be a big winner for us, he’s got to learn to get the big out.”

It was an important gesture Collins and it was more than symbolic. It was one of confidence not lost on the young left-hander. It might turn out to be the most important decision Collins will make this season.

“It definitely means something,” said Matz, now 7-1 this year and already 11-1 in his young career. “As a competitor, you don’t want to come out in that situation. And for your manager to have faith in you to leave you out to face arguably the greatest hitter in the game right now, it’s pretty awesome.”

And, awesome was Matz’s response as he threw four more pitches – all fastballs – to wrap up his gem, the last one to get Harper to meekly ground out to second. From the other dugout, Nationals manager Dusty Baker made a comparison Mets’ fans should appreciate.

“You don’t see many lefties like that,” Baker told reporters. “He was very determined. He’s a good athlete. He reminded me of Jon Matlack back in my day, with the Mets. He was throwing the heck out of the ball, working quick. He threw a heck of a game. A heck of a game.”

Yeah, “heck” was a good term for Baker to use. We can go on for a long time raving about Matz, but for now Mets’ fans should settle for being grateful to have him.

And, for Collins’ unconventional, yet essential decision of loyalty to trust him.

As Matz’ career hopefully progresses to stardom, this will be a moment he will frequently recall.

May 25

Mets Opt To Keep Harvey In Rotation

As beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, the same can be said of a Matt Harvey start.

Harvey has been awful most of this season, so I would have sent him to the minor leagues for a couple of starts. However, Mets manager Terry Collins – after conferring with GM Sandy Alderson and pitching coach Dan Warthen – said enough was seen to let Harvey make his next start, Monday, against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field.

HARVEY: Gets another chance.  (AP)

HARVEY: Gets another chance. (AP)

It isn’t the first time I disagree with a Collins decision and won’t be the last.

Harvey opened the game with three scoreless innings, but as has been the case with him this year, he lost it in the middle innings giving up five runs on three homers in the Mets’ 7-4 loss to the Nationals.

It could have been worse, but a diving play by Neil Walker in the second thwarted a potential big inning.

“You saw the game,” catcher Kevin Plawecki told reporters wanting to know what is wrong with Harvey.

“`Even though his command wasn’t good, we saw great movement on his fastball,” began Collins’ explanation of why Harvey is getting another chance. “His velocity was up. There was tightness in his slider. These are all things we haven’t seen in his last couple of starts.

“We have to quit looking at the negatives and start looking at some positives. We’re going to try to build on it and see what he’s like next Monday. … This guy is too big a piece to write-off.”

Although I would have done it differently, I do applaud Collins’ loyalty toward his player, even when it backfired on him before.

Collins wouldn’t speculate as to what might happen with Harvey if he bombs again; most likely more drama. Collins certainly won’t say this is his last chance before Vegas because that put added stress on him.

Collins ruled out the disabled list because there apparently is nothing wrong with him, although players have been stashed there before. Reportedly, the minor leagues and bullpen weren’t options, but pushing him back was discussed.

Former Mets pitcher turned SNY analyst Ron Darling disagreed, saying he didn’t see much to build on, saying his slider looked good only 30% on the time and it is no big deal for a pitcher to amp it up occasionally.

Darling also criticized Harvey for not speaking after the game, saying “he lost some street cred’’ in the clubhouse, because it forced his teammates – in particular, Plawecki – to clean up his mess.

“His teammates are thinking, `we’re not here to clean up your mess, you clean up your own mess.’

“Part of being a professional athlete is you have to answer the questions,’’ Darling said.

Collins didn’t comment on Harvey’s unprofessional silent act, but Nationals manager Dusty Baker noticed.

“`It’s his prerogative to do what he wants to do,” said Baker, probably recalling his time when Barry Bonds was on his team. “`If he [doesn’t want to talk], he doesn’t have to talk. But he’s making it harder on himself. New York will eat you up.”

The nibbling has begun.

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