Sep 23

Mets Magic? To Be Determined

Greetings on the day after the latest Mets’ miracle. There have been times in my coverage of the Mets – which began in 2006 (and since 1998 overall of New York baseball) – where I have been called a curmudgeon, which is not entirely untrue.

I try to take more of a down-the-middle approach in my emotional perspective of the team. I don’t get too high or too low, and believe I’ve fulfilled my responsibility if there’s a balance between those who like my stuff and those who hate me.

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

There are times, I admit, when I take the hatred as a compliment.

Either way, after the Asdrubal Cabrera’s game-winner last night, the bottom line is the Mets remain tied with San Francisco and hold a slim lead over the Cardinals for the wild-card. Cabrera’s moment in Mets’ history is contingent on how this all plays out.

Will it be a Super Nova or a star that forever burns bright, like the ball that got by Bill Buckner?

It’s just stardust if the Mets fade and don’t make it; it’s special if they go on to win the World Series. The moment loses luster if they don’t run the table.

Can we agree this business of the Mets’ schedule giving them an advantage is nonsense if they don’t capitalize? Let’s face it, without Cabrera last night, and what Jose Reyes did shortly before, they would have lost four straight home games to sub-.500 teams.

The remaining schedule is largely irrelevant because: 1) those teams would love nothing more than to put it to these uppity New Yorkers; 2) those players are competing for 2017 jobs; 3) September call-ups add an unknown element to the stew; and, 4) after this weekend the last six games are on the road.

For those who insist the schedule means something, if the beginning of this week didn’t convince you, try this, if the Mets don’t make the playoffs, the biggest statistic working against them is that 26 of their 72 losses (36 percent) have been against sub-.500 Atlanta (10), Colorado (6), Philadelphia (5) and Arizona (5).

They lost another six to Miami, whom they play three games next week on the road.

Perhaps the Mets were due to win last night. Sometimes the odds work in their favor. But, was it magic? I wouldn’t go that far.

After all, there have been several times this season when it would have been easy to conclude they turned it around.

After a sluggish start, they closed April by winning 11 of 12 games, but limped through May with seven losses against cupcakes Atlanta, San Diego and Colorado.

They lost five games in June to the Braves and were swept in a three-game series in Washington to finish that month only four games over .500. The Mets appeared to turn it around with a four-game sweep of the Cubs in July, but gave up that momentum by losing three of four at home to the Nationals heading into the break.

You’ll recall manager Terry Collins saying it was “essential we play well,” in the stretch entering the break and coming out for the second half. They entered the break six games over .500 but ended July only four games over.

The Mets nose-dived to two games under in mid-August before Bartolo Colon stopped the hemorrhaging by beating the Giants in San Francisco. They went 9-2 to close August to give their season alive.

Unquestionably, the Mets have been snakebit with injuries to their young, vaunted rotation. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are all gone. But, for all their bad luck, they’ve been kept afloat by Colon, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and tonight’s spot starter Gabriel Ynoa, and the bullpen duo of Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia. Today we learned Saturday’s starter, Noah Syndergaard, will be scratched in favor of Sean Gilmartin because of a strep throat.

No doubt, the baseball Gods are toying with Collins.

Bad luck offset by good? Perhaps. But, Lugo has been brought down a peg and Reed and Familia have taken their lumps.

Wilmer Flores helped carry the team for a while, but hasn’t played in over a week because of a bad wrist (Collins took the hit for that by saying he should have used a pinch-runner). The Jay Bruce trade did not work out, but was offset by the resurgence of power from Curtis Granderson.

Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes spent time on the disabled list, but came off smoking. Cespedes is now mired in a slump, although he came through with a big hit last night.

Matt Reynolds, James Loney, Brandon Nimmo, Rene Rivera, Reyes and T.J. Rivera have either come up from the minors or were rescued off the scrap team to produce big moments. However, Michael Conforto was sent down and this season has been a bust for him.

A lot has gone wrong for the Mets – I didn’t even get to the injuries of David Wright, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda – but the flip side is a lot went right to put them where they are today.

Was last night magic? I don’t think so. It was a magical moment but means nothing if not sustainable.

For every reason why I could write them off, there are reasons I can give why they are still alive. Through it all, like they were last season, resiliency is their greatest attribute.

They are alive with nine games remaining, and considering all that has gone, maybe that’s their magic for this year.

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Sep 21

Three Mets’ Storylines: Bad Night For Collins

If you thought last night was bad for Mets manager Terry Collins, it wasn’t anything compared to Wednesday night.

For me, it began with his starting lineup and decision to not start Jay Bruce, but spiraled out of control with the handling of his late-inning bullpen, which had been a strength, but unraveled in the Mets’ 4-3 loss to the Braves.

FAMILIA: Fifth blown save. (AP)

FAMILIA: Fifth blown save. (AP)

Bartolo Colon pitched another gem, but was pulled in the seventh shortly after giving up a two-run homer to Anthony Recker to slice the Mets’ lead to 3-2. Colon was yanked for Addison Reed.

All season, the primary formula for the Mets’ success was their eighth-ninth inning duo of Reed and Jeurys Familia, but Collins – like a man poking the coals at a BBQ – couldn’t resist toying with success.

I would have stuck with Colon for another hitter because he’s gotten out of so many jams. Yes, Reed got out of the seventh. But, after Ender Inciarte reached on James Loney‘s error to open the eighth, Collins pulled Reed in favor of Josh Smoker to face Freddie Freeman. The Reed vs. Freeman history is small. Maybe no Met has been better at his job this year than Reed, but Collins was seduced by the lefty-lefty matchup.

“Freddie is 2-for-4 [against Reed lifetime and I just said this guy is too hot,” was how Collins began his Magical Mystery Tour of an explanation. “I thought [have him] face a power lefty. Got jammed, poke it in, you know. Again, we get the ground ball to start the inning (Loney’s error). … if we get that ground ball, we’re not in that situation.”

If. If we had ham, we’d have ham and eggs, if we had eggs.

Freeman singled to chase Smoker in favor of Familia for the five-out save attempt.

After a double-steal, Matt Kemp tied the game on a sacrifice fly for Familia’s fifth blown save.

The Mets had their chances in the eighth, but Yoenis Cespedes dogged it on a fly to left and barely made it to second  when Kemp couldn’t track down his fly ball. Cespedes mighty have made it to third – which he eventually stole – but died there to end the inning.

With two outs Collins pinch-hit Eric Campbell for Kelly Johnson. Then he hit Kevin Plawecki for James Loney – who entered the game hitting .357 in the previous nine games – to once again over-manage the lefty-righty nonsense.

The Braves scored the winning run against Familia in the ninth on Inciarte’s RBI grounder. Even so, the Mets had a chance in the bottom of the inning, but Inciarte robbed Cespedes of a three-run homer to end the game.

“A tremendous catch,” Collins said. “You won’t see a better catch.”

The catch was the play of the game, but the storyline was Collins’ use of his bullpen. The others were that the Mets might have already made a decision on Bruce and wasting Colon.

DECISION ON BRUCE: By pinch-hitting for Bruce Tuesday and not starting him Wednesday, one might surmise the Mets already made the decision to give him a $1-million buyout opposed to picking up his $13 million option.

It was an “uncomfortable” decision Collins made last night in sending Campbell to bat for Bruce. Campbell produced a RBI single, but the Mets still lost and there’s this fallout, so one can’t really say everything worked out for him.

Especially considering, with how the game was on the line tonight in the ninth inning, he sent Bruce up as a pinch-hitter. Tonight’s situation was even more dire. This is what aggravates me about Collins: Bruce isn’t good enough one night, but is the next.

There’s no disputing Bruce has not produced, but this has nothing to do with “playing in New York,” as the media likes to suggest, but simply a player trying too hard to produce for his new team. Collins wanted to give Bruce a mental health day, but used him as a pinch-hitter, so how can he say the player had time to collect his thoughts and let the rest work for him as it did Neil Walker, earlier?

That’s typical of Collins; he says one thing but does another.

The Mets traded for Bruce to jumpstart a dismal offense the same way Cespedes did last season. It’s clear Collins lost confidence – even though the Mets are 21-8 and back in the race without Bruce hitting – and obvious the Mets are writing him off for the rest of the way.

COLON SUPERB: Another game, another wasted start by Colon, who gave up two runs in 6.2 innings. The way it is stacked up now, Noah Syndergaard would start the wild-card game with Colon probably getting Game 1 of the Division Series against the Cubs.

That is if the Mets get that far.

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Sep 21

Mets Must Play Bruce Tonight

There’s little doubt Mets manager Terry Collins made an “uncomfortable” decision last night in sending Eric Campbell to bat for Jay Bruce. Campbell produced a RBI single, but the Mets still lost and Collins has to deal with the fallout, so one can’t really say everything worked out for him, because it didn’t.

BRUCE: He must play. (AP)

BRUCE: He must play. (AP)

In making the call, Collins was saying he had more faith in Campbell, who didn’t have a hit in the major leagues since May, than he did the slumping Bruce.

There’s no disputing Bruce has not produced, but this has nothing to do with “playing in New York,” as the media likes to suggest, but simply a player who is trying too hard to produce for his new team.

Collins wanted to give Bruce a mental health day, but used him as a pinch-hitter, so how can he say the player had time to collect his thoughts and let the rest work for him as it did Neil Walker, earlier.

That’s typical of Collins; he says one thing but does another.

Let’s forget for a moment the dismal numbers, and how Yoenis Cespedes isn’t hitting, either. The bottom line is the Mets traded for Bruce to jumpstart their dismal offense the same way Cespedes did last season. Confidence is a fragile thing and I have no doubt Bruce won’t let this beat him.

It’s clear Collins has lost confidence – even though the Mets are 20-8 and back in the race without Bruce hitting – and if he doesn’t start him tonight, then it is obvious the Mets are writing him off for the next week-and-a-half.

Bruce said all the right things last night, but he made his frustration known. If the Mets have any hope of getting anything from Bruce, he must start and be left alone. You know, give him the same leeway they do Cespedes.

If they don’t they are saying they don’t want them and there’s no return.

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Sep 18

Three Mets’ Storylines: Makeshift Starter Saves Day … Again

When the final chapter of the 2016 Mets is written, it will be about pitching. The central theme will be about those lost and those who stepped into the breach. With Jacob deGrom scratched from Sunday’s start with an elbow injury that will require season-ending surgery, Gabriel Ynoa became the latest to help keep the Mets in the center of the wild-card race.

YNOA: Makes key start. (AP)

YNOA: Makes key start. (AP)

Personally, I was disappointed manager Terry Collins didn’t give Ynoa one more batter, but it worked out for the best and the Mets went on to complete their sweep of the Minnesota Twins, 3-2, to move into the lead wild-card spot, one game ahead of San Francisco and two over the Cardinals.

Ynoa gave up four hits and struck out eight in 4.2 innings, and from there manager Terry Collins turned to his “plethora of pitchers,” to complete the sweep. Five Mets’ relievers limited the Twins to a pair of runs.

While Ynoa was done when the game was decided, his contribution was vital – and worthy of another start with deGrom for the year – he personified the overriding storyline of this season (even more than their average with RISP) of the success of their emergency starters.

With Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and deGrom lost for the year, Seth Lugo, Logan Verrett, Robert Gsellman, Ynoa and Rafael Montero – all of whom were not in the Opening Day rotation – have combined to give the Mets 25 starts (seven defined as quality) and 10 victories. Another pitcher who was supposed to be out of the rotation in early July – 43-year-old Bartolo Colon – has 14 victories in 30 starts (18 defined as quality).

That’s 24 victories in 55 starts (25 quality), which is the difference between having something to keep playing for this season and thinking about spring training.

“Hey look, somebody else has got to help,” Collins said. “When you are called upon and it’s your chance, make the most of it.”

This issue will undoubtedly be raised again in the Mets’ remaining 13 starts, as Colon is slated to get three more starts, while the Band-Aid of Lugo, Gsellman and Ynoa are anticipated getting seven more.

That was today’s main storyline with Neil Walker‘s future with the team and more injury updates the others.

WALKER WANTS TO RETURN: The Mets are where they are in the playoff hunt in large part because of Walker, who hit .282 with a career-high 23 homers and 55 RBI, before being lost for the season to undergo season-ending back surgery.

Prior to Walker’s injury, GM Sandy Alderson said he’d talk with Walker’s agent about an extension, something which obviously hasn’t happened. Walker’s leverage on the free-agent market was compromised by the surgery. That explained Walker’s interest in returning.

“This is a good fit,” Walker told reporters. “This looks good, but we don’t know what else is out there. We don’t know where teams might be coming from. The free-agent market this year is kind of weak, especially at the infield position, so you never know what good happen.”

INJURY UPDATES:  Evidently, the Mets didn’t learn from their recent experience with deGrom. Why else would Collins say today Matz could come back “with an opportunity to pitch,” at the end of the week?

Matz, who hasn’t pitched in a month because of a shoulder impingement and is coming off a 30-pitch bullpen session Saturday, could pitch Friday

When it comes to Mets’ injury news, I’ll believe it when I see it, which is why I have no faith in what Collins said.

Matz was 9-8 with a 3.40 ERA when he was sidelined. The long-term goal would be to have him a viable option to pitch in a possible postseason.

“We have no plans yet,” Collins said, almost backtracking. “Nothing’s written. Steven Matz’s name certainly will be in the mix,” Collins said. “But Steven, when he gets here, is going to be a guy with a limit in workload that he has. So to get him built up and get him where we want, I am not sure we have the starts available.”So, why

So, why float the idea in the first place?

Meanwhile, Wilmer Flores‘ sore right wrist has kept him out of the lineup since it was injured in a home-plate collision with Braves’ catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Collins took responsibility for the injury saying he should have run for Flores.

Lucas Duda started for the first time since May. He was activated from the DL Saturday after being on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his lower back. … Yoenis Cespedes left the game in the sixth inning after feeling ill. … Walker said he’s feeling better after having surgery on a herniated disk in his neck.

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Sep 13

Mets’ Three Storylines: T.J. Rivera Steps Up

Pennant races aren’t just for guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Bryce Harper. They also belong to guys like T.J. Rivera, a undrafted free agent who carried the Mets on this night over their closest rivals.

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

Getting his first start in three weeks, Rivera had three hits including a tenth-inning homer that lifted the Mets over the Nationals, 4-3 in 10 innings, at Nationals Park Tuesday night. The victory, coupled with the Cardinals beating the Cubs in St. Louis, kept the Mets with a half-game lead for the second wild-card (they are even in the loss column).

“Somebody you don’t expect has to step up and tonight it was T.J.,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s hit everywhere he’s been. He has a simple, short swing.”

In 45 at-bats since joining the Mets, Rivera his hitting .333 with his first career homer and six RBI. He’s also been solid defensively, regardless of where Collins starts him.

“It’s definitely not to hit a home run,” Rivera said of his thinking heading to the plate against Nationals closer Mark Melancon. “I just wanted to put the bat on the ball. When you haven’t been around the team much you want to contribute.”

With Neil Walker out for the season with a back injury and Wilmer Flores currently hurting following a home plate collision Saturday in Atlanta, Rivera should get more opportunities to play. Collins said it was a gut feeling to start Rivera, who won the Triple-A batting title for Las Vegas.

It’s probably a stretch to say Rivera could make the postseason roster, but he’s made enough of an impression to where he can compete for a job next spring.

Rivera was the main storyline, with the others being Noah Syndergaard’s wasted effort and Jerry Blevins picking up for Jeurys Familia.

TOUGH LUCK NOAH: Collins said with the Mets starting their best pitcher, this was a game they had to win. Syndergaard was poised to win his 14th game until Familia blew his fourth save opportunity in the ninth.

Syndergaard gave up one run on four hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts – including his 200th of the season – in one of his best outings of the season. Unlike previous outings where he ran up his pitch count, Syndergaard was extremely pitch efficient throwing 99.

“He was amped up,” Collins said. “He knew we needed to win this game.”

Syndergaard became the second-fastest Met behind Dwight Gooden to reach 200 strikeouts.

BLEVINS PICKS UP FAMILIA:  Familia blew his fourth save opportunity when the Nationals tied it on RBI singles by Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos (an infield chopper over Familia’s head).

After Rivera’s drive, the Nationals to tie the game again, but Blevins struck out Daniel Murphy on a wicked curveball to end the game.

It was his first save since 2012.

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