Aug 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Is Collins Rant Too Late?

The closed-door meeting following a press conference rant is the last act of a desperate manager and what we got from Mets manager Terry Collins.

Collins has tinkered and tweaked for months – today he wrote his 89th different lineup – but nothing has worked. A few days ago he challenged his team to loosen up and have fun.

How did they respond?

COLLINS: Loses it. (SNY)

COLLINS: Loses it. (SNY)

In the never-ending search for absolutes, today’s 9-0 humiliating loss to the Diamondbacks was unquestionably the Mets’ worst game of the season. Incidentally, that’s the same score given when a team forfeits a game; when it quits.

In the past, Collins criticized his pitching, his hitting, and his defense. He has gotten specific like not hitting with RISP and pitchers not holding runners. What he hasn’t done was criticize his players’ effort – until now.

Noah Syndergaard, who greatly contributed to the loss by emotionally unraveling on the mound, called it a “nice team meeting,” but it was far from that as Collins gave his team the message all players need to hear.

“For those who don’t want to get after it, I will find somebody else who does,” Collins said. “In Las Vegas there a whole clubhouse who wants to be here.”

Too often this year we’ve heard about injuries, about how this team doesn’t know how to manufacture runs, about the need to hit in the clutch, about a lot of things.

What we haven’t often heard is about the need to play the game the right way and being accountable. Collins isn’t stupid, he knows his job is on the line so it is only fitting he let his players and coaches know their employment is also temporary.

“I’m the manager here,” said Collins, whose rant immediately went into crescendo mode. “It starts with me. I don’t care who is not here. There are no excuses. These are major league players. The names on the back and front of their uniforms say they are major league players.

“You have a responsibility to the fans to grind it out.”

The player Collins pointed out as an example was Neil Walker, who kept working at-bats and eventually raised his average 30 points after a 2-for-32 slide. Collins mentioned how Walker was at second base on a fly ball he hit and didn’t peel off halfway to first.

There is a right and wrong way to play this game and for much of the season, the Mets have played the game the wrong way.

“Some guys are having a bad time, but you can’t say `whoa is me’ at this level,” Collins said. “Everybody is humbled. Those who get their way out of it stay in this game. I want the ones who stay.

“There has to be a passion. People pay to see us play and deserve our best effort. You play the game correctly. … Starting tomorrow we’ll get after it.”

Maybe the Mets will come out with passion tomorrow against the Padres, but a lack of fire doesn’t fully explain how this team plays. The attention to fundamentals isn’t there. Collins is right; there’s a right way to play this game and the Mets just don’t do it.

Part of that is on him and the coaches. It’s also on GM Sandy Alderson for how he put this team together.

It goes a lot deeper than running out a fly ball and getting after it tomorrow might be too late.

Collins dressing down his team was the main storyline of the day and perhaps the season. The other key storylines were the unraveling of Syndergaard and the math that defines what the Mets are up against.

SYNDERGAARD LOSES IT: Do you remember when Syndergaard challenged the Royals during the World Series?

Just as the Royals ran on him, so did the Diamondbacks, who stole four more bases today and 13 for the series.

Again his pitch count was way too high (91) for the innings (five) he gave the Mets. We can talk about location and too many foul balls, but more alarming was how he unraveled emotionally during Arizona’s three-run fourth inning.

Syndergaard was animated after balls that dropped and went through his infield. He let his emotions get the best of him and acted like a Little Leaguer.

Syndergaard said, “all of us are feeling the pressure,” and he was aggravated because “I’m aware mentally of what I’m doing wrong and keep doing it.”

THE SCARY MATH: The Mets also have to be mentally aware of the math.

They fell to .500 today at 57-57. Syndergaard said he never thought the Mets would be .500 again after their hot April.

They finished April 15-7, but have gone 42-50 since. In many circles, it is believed 87 wins could get a team the wild card. For that to happen, the Mets would have to go 30-18 in the 48 remaining games.

Starting tomorrow?

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Aug 05

Three Mets’ Storylines: What’s Wrong With Syndergaard?

Noah Syndergaard only gave up four runs tonight, and it is an oversimplification to say the problem is the Mets didn’t score for him. But, something just isn’t right.

The issue isn’t him not being able to throw hard. He still throws very hard, but velocity isn’t the most variable for a pitcher. A successful pitcher needs movement, location and velocity, with speed being the third most important. You can even drop that to fourth if you want to include having a variety of secondary pitches.

SYNDERGAARD: Off his game. (AP)

               SYNDERGAARD: Off his game. (AP)

While throwing in the high 90s and even touching triple digits in the Mets’ 4-3 loss at Detroit, Syndergaard, as he has been for much of the season – or at least since the issue of his bone spur surfaced – is far from pitch efficient.

Syndergaard threw 112 pitches, but only worked six innings. It was the fourth straight game in which he threw over 100 pitches yet didn’t go past the sixth. He hasn’t gone seven innings since July 3; of his 21 starts, he’s gone seven or more innings just eight times.

I don’t care Syndergaard is throwing a lot of pitches; I care he’s not efficient or effective with them. I care he seems to be running in place.

“It has been a battle,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “He’s had to work very hard. You have to learn how to pitch at this level and through tough times.”

While much is made of Syndergaard’s overpowering stuff, he’s only had four double-digit strikeout games with his last being June 15 against Pittsburgh nine starts ago.

We’ve been hearing a lot of the high number of foul balls off him (26 tonight), which comes from not being able to put away hitters. His curveball didn’t surface until the fifth inning. Until then, it was mostly straight fastballs – mostly to the outside against right-handed pitchers.

“I’m thinking right now I’m trying to be too fine with my pitches,” Syndergaard said. “It’s like I’m throwing darts out there. It’s frustrating because the past month I feel that I have the stuff to dominate, but it hasn’t been clicking.”

Do you remember when Syndergaard went high and tight during the World Series? Then he challenged the Royals saying they could find him 60 feet, six inches from the plate.

Collins insists Syndergaard still has swagger, but you rarely see him work the inner half of the plate. You don’t see that biting slider. You don’t see him effectively holding runners (Ian Kinsler singled, stole his way to third and scored on Miguel Cabrera’s single in the first). You don’t see a lot of the things that earned him a comic book hero nickname.

The problem isn’t 100 percent the bone spur because of the velocity, but it makes you wonder if the pain prevents him from being what he needs to be, and what he has been.

Syndergaard is still a young stud, but he’s not as polished as Justin Verlander was last night and has been for years. Hope Syndergaard was taking notes.

Syndergaard was the night’s biggest storyline. The others were the non-existent offense and Collins’ lineup.

THE SILENT BATS: A positive is the Mets only left three runners on base. The flip side is they barely sniffed Verlander.

Mets hitters only had five hits and one walk and struck out 12 times. Kelly Johnson hit a two-run homer in the fourth and the Mets scratched out a cosmetic run in the ninth.

THE LINEUP: I haven’t agreed with Collins on a lot of things lately, including last night’s lineup. Your best power hitter – Yoenis Cespedes – is out for at least two weeks, so one would think Curtis Granderson would be dropped down to the middle of the order.

Alejandro De Aza played center, which I liked, but where was Michael Conforto? Collins made a big deal of saying he would play center. And, if Conforto isn’t playing, why is he here?

Arguably the hottest Mets’ hitter in July was Wilmer Flores, but he sat again.

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Aug 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Colon Is Headliner

There’s not much more one can say about Bartolo Colon that hasn’t been said, so let’s pile on more of the superlatives we’ve been saying in his three years with the Mets.

COLON: Leads rotation. (AP)

COLON: Leads rotation. (AP)

Colon, despite averaging about 10 mph., less on his fastball than Noah Syndergaard, was stupendous in Thursday night’s 4-1 victory at Yankee Stadium. The guy is 43, but the Mets’ most durable starter and leads the rotation he wasn’t even supposed to be a part of at this time with ten victories.

“I didn’t see myself being a starter at this point,” Colon told an interpreter. “I think just from conversations we’ve had, I saw myself in the bullpen at this point of the season. Thank God I’ve had that opportunity.”

Colon threw 90 pitches, of which 84 were fastballs, which is an extraordinary ratio. He gave up one run on six hits with no walks in 6.2 innings.

“I thought maybe had his best stuff of the year,” manager Terry Collins said. “It’s amazing what he’s done.”

What he’s done is keep the Mets in the wild-card race. They trail St. Louis and Miami for the second wild-card spot by one game heading into a three-game series in Detroit.

The two other Mets’ storylines were Jay Bruce’s three-run homer and the steady contributions of Kelly Johnson.

BRUCE IS LOOSE: The newly-acquired Mets’ right fielder broke his 0-for-10 start with the team with a three-run homer in the fifth inning to give the cruising Colon a 4-0 lead.

“I told some guys it felt like my first major league home run running around the bases,” Bruce said. “It was good to make an impact that way. It ended up being a big spot.”

And, with Yoenis Cespedes on the disabled list, there will be a lot more big spots for Bruce.

“I try to think small,” said Bruce about his approach with runners on base. “I don’t try to do too much and put added pressure on myself.”

JOHNSON COMES UP BIG: Johnson gave the Mets a spark last year after coming over from the Braves last year, and he’s been doing it again in his second stint with them.

Johnson homered in the fifth and made a nifty play to start a game-ending double play.

It takes stars like Cespedes and Bruce to carry a team, but the contributions of guys like Johnson can’t be underestimated.

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Jul 31

Mets Wrap: Limping Into The Dog Days

Just as the Mets closed June so too did they end July by winning at home in the month’s final game to snap a four-game losing streak.

WALKER: Is he back? (AP)

   WALKER: Is he back? (AP)

It’s an oversimplification to suggest the Mets kept their playoff aspirations alive with Sunday’s come-from-behind, 6-4, victory over the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field. Sure, they could go on to win ten in a row, even if their reported trade offer of Travis d’Arnaud and Brandon Nimmo – plus a third player – for Milwaukee’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy falls through.

In avoid being swept by the Rockies, the Mets salvaged Mike Piazza Weekend in time for their four-game stretch with the Yankees. What they couldn’t avoid was losing another player, this time it is shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera with a strained left patella tendon when he awkwardly twisted his knee rounding third.

“I’m very concerned about it,” manager Terry Collins told reporters.

With the trade deadline extended a day, the Mets have until 4 p.m., Monday to decide whether to go for it or pack it in for another year. There are compelling reasons in support of both positions. On the go side, at 54-50, they are in fourth place in the wild-card standings behind Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis, but only 2.5 games behind the Marlins for the final spot. On the nay side they trail NL East leader Washington by seven games, plus have a long list of injuries.

Plus, despite winning Sunday and Neil Walker suddenly hot again, the Mets’ offense has been in a three-month slide.

Who cares if the Mets are third in the NL in homer with 132, when in the 15-team league they are 11th in on-base percentage (.305), 13th in RBI (365), 14th in runs (375) and 15th in average (.238). And, if you’re into the new-age numbers, they are 11th in OPS (.714).

There’s still time for the Mets to make a run, even if they don’t make a splash at the deadline.

JULY MVP

James Loney has been a terrific replacement for Lucas Duda, whose return timetable is uncertain. His defense has been magnificent, and he’s been a presence at the plate, hitting .282 with six homers, 21 RBI and a .337 on-base percentage. And in July, when both Yoenis Cespedes and Walker struggled, Loney hit .291 with three homers and 11 RBI.

PITCHER OF THE MONTH

Addison Reed has arguably been one of GM Sandy Alderson’s best acquisitions. He leads the NL with 26 holds, including 10 for July along with a 0.00 ERA for the month. He struck out 16 in 12 innings, and gave up only four hits. Overall, he has a 1.81 ERA and 0.45 WHIP.

KEY GAME OF THE MONTH

There have been several significant games, and but I’m leaning toward Friday’s 6-1 loss to the Rockies in which the Mets had two on with nobody out and reliever Scott Oberg entered to get three outs on three pitches. I could have gone with any of Jeurys Familia‘s two blown saves, or even Sunday, but I chose this one because of Collins’ post-game message.

“We have a good team,” Collins said. “We’re going through a rough time right now. We’re not dead. We’re still in the hunt. We need to lighten it up and have some fun. … We have to stop worrying about some of the bad things and concentrate on some of the good things.”

KEY MOVE OF THE MONTH

When Walker was in the midst of a horrid slump, Collins opted to sit him down for a couple of games. The turnaround wasn’t immediate, but he is 12-for-22 so far on the home stand., including a three-run homer Sunday.

RED FLAG ENDURED

Both Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz have been pitching with bone spurs in their elbows. Both have had rising pitch counts, but so far they haven’t missed any time, although Syndergaard was scratched from the All-Star game.

Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen are experimenting by cutting their between-starts sessions and pre-game warmups. So far, so good.

KEY ISSUE RESOLVED

I don’t know what Alderson will do Monday, but to date, he’s done a good job of plugging holes with Loney, catcher Rene Rivera and Kelly Johnson. Jose Reyes was a temporary fix, but he’s on the disabled list.

HEALTH ISSUES

Look for Cabrera to go on the disabled list and replaced by Matt Reynolds. He’ll join Reyes and Juan Lagares, who went on the DL last week. … Yoenis Cespedes has a strained right quad. Frankly, I’d put him on the DL now and see what two weeks rest might do, rather than have him go at half-speed and risk losing him at the end of August or September. … Syndergaard and Matz are dealing with bone spurs and bear constant watching. … Matt Harvey is gone for the year and nobody knows when Zack Wheeler will return. … We see David Wright watching games from the bullpen. … The speculated return date for Duda keeps being pushed back, … Remember reliever Jim Henderson? Still no word when he’ll return.

SIX QUESTIONS RAISED

Will the Mets make a deal at the deadline?

How long will Cabrera and Reyes be out?

How long will Matz and Syndergaard hold up?

How long will the ride last with Loney?

After coming back, will Nimmo and Michael Conforto start hitting?

Is Bartolo Colon slowing down?

BY THE NUMBERS

2: Blown saves by Familia after converting 52 straight.

3: Players put on the DL (Reyes, Lagares and Harvey).

13: Games during the month in which they scored three runs or less.

8: Victories by a starting pitcher for the month.

LOOKING AT AUGUST’S SCHEDULE

It doesn’t get any easier for the first week with four against the Yankees, who are now without Alrodis Chapman and Andrew Miller, then three in Detroit. From there they have six games against Arizona and three with San Diego, then four at San Francisco and three at St. Louis. They close the month with three at home against Philadelphia and three with Miami.

 

 

Jul 21

Mets Should Hope Cespedes Leaves

If the Mets were truly honest with themselves, they might secretly be hoping for Yoenis Cespedes to exercise is one-year opt out and hit the market, where they can let him walk and develop their young outfielders.

There’s been speculation lately of giving Cespedes an extension now, which would create a splash but wouldn’t be in the best long-term interest of the Mets. It could set them back a few years.

CESPEDES: Let him Go. (AP)

CESPEDES: Let him Go. (AP)

The upside of letting Cespedes go is it would enable the Mets to develop their young outfielders: Juan Lagares, Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo.

It would also allow them to funnel some of the money Cespedes would receive to signing some of their young pitching: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Considering he’s coming off surgery and how poorly he’s pitched this year, signing Matt Harvey has dropped on the priority meter.

It must also be considered if Harvey and Zack Wheeler don’t bounce back, and they don’t have Bartolo Colon return, they would need to spend for a pitcher in the off-season. They must also address their bench and bullpen needs.

One of the obstacles to bringing back Cespedes is where to play him – and everybody else – if he won’t play center. I’m not crazy about having the player dictate where he will and won’t play. If Cespedes can’t, or won’t, play center he should leave. The Mets wanting him back was predicated on him playing center.

What the last few weeks with Cespedes’ strained quad taught us is: 1) he really doesn’t want to play center, which is something GM Sandy Alderson should have resolved before re-signing him, 2) neither Conforto and Nimmo have much experience in center, which is where they would figure to play, and 3) Lagares, who is on a long-term deal, would be the odd-man out.

Also bothersome in keeping Cespedes have been his brain and hustle lapses. And this year, in addition to his quad, his wrist, ankle and hip have slowed him down this year.

When Cespedes was playing for a contract last year it was with the drive of having something to prove. However, this year he’s proven to be too brittle and problematic.

If the Mets can get out from under Cespedes’ contract they’ll be lucky.