Nov 04

How Mets Compare To Cubs

After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally won their World Series. The curses are over, so perhaps they can do the right thing and invite Steve Bartman to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day 2017.

It would be a classy gesture, akin to the Red Sox making up with Bill Buckner – who, by the way – felt the curses of both the Red Sox and Cubs.

REED: A priority. (AP)

                    REED: A priority. (AP)

I doubt it would happen, but I always root for the good story. Meanwhile, our Mets have a title drought of our own – 30 long years.

The Cubs won 103 games this summer and the Mets won 87, but is 16 games the real separation between the two teams? The Mets can’t go back to their four-game sweep of the Cubs in last year’s NLCS or a sweep of them this summer at Citi Field.

The Cubs roared past the Mets, and here’s a position-by-position comparison between the franchises:

FRONT OFFICE: Theo Epstein had a plan when he took over in 2012, and it was only four years before he lead a parade in Chicago. Like was said of the Yankees’ Brian Cashman over the years, he better win that payroll. ($171 million and license to spend).

Meanwhile, Mets GM Sandy Alderson’s mission statement when he was hired in 2010 was to get rid of burdensome contracts – Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Francisco Rodriguez to name a few – and cut payroll, which he did.

The Mets’ payroll was $126 million in Alderson’s first year and jumped to $142 million in 2011 because of existing obligations, but from 2012- 2014 had sub-$100 million payrolls.

It subsequently jumped to $135 million this year for Opening Day.

Unlike Epstein, Alderson does not have free reign to spend because the Mets are still recovering from the Ponzi scandal.

EDGE: Chicago.

MANAGER: Joe Maddon is regarded as one of the game’s best minds, but in all fairness with his moves in Games 6 and 7, it would be accurate to say the Cubs won in spite of him and not because of him.

He abused reliever Aroldis Chapman in the last three games. It was absurd he sent Chapman out for the ninth with a huge lead in Game 6. I was stunned he sent him out for the ninth, but it also showed extreme confidence in Chapman but also underscored an overall lack of faith he had in the rest of the bullpen. That’s something Terry Collins would never have done.

I thought he pulled Kyle Hendricks way too soon, something we’ve seen of Collins frequently.

The bunt call with Javier Baez was foolish. There were other moments, but those stood out the most.

But Maddon caught some breaks. The last two games in Cleveland allowed him to use Kyle Schwarber as the DH. Think about that Cubs fans when you rail against American League baseball.

The Cubs also caught a huge break with the rain delay that gave them a much-needed timeout. It also took steam from the Indians.

Since Collins replaced Jerry Manuel, he was initially hamstrung with a limited payroll and Alderson’s domineering hand of calling the shots.

Collins’ in-game managing can be head scratching, especially the use of his bullpen and bench. He has shown questionable loyalties to his players, notably Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores and Yoenis Cespedes.

He has been let down numerous times, but his players hustle for him.

EDGE: Chicago.

ROTATION: Jake Arrieta won 22 games in 2015 to win the NL Cy Young Award. Either Jon Lester or Hendricks could win it this year. They have one more season with John Lackey and Jason Hammel is the fifth starter.

Most of the pre-season pitching accolades went to the Mets’ young core of Harvey, Jake deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz. Throw in Zack Wheeler and four of the five are coming off surgery. Bartolo Colon is a free agent, but the Mets want him back.

However, that’s no guarantee he’ll be back. Nothing is assured, including Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman picking up where they left off. They gave the Mets a brief, but an impressive window.

The bottom line is the Mets’ rotation can be terrific, but with the surgeries and relative inexperience, they enter spring training with a myriad of questions.

EDGE: Chicago.

BULLPEN

With Chapman on the free-agent market and Maddon’s obvious lack of faith in his bullpen, the Cubs have serious questions.

Mike Montgomery is 27 and worked a lot in the postseason. They also had Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards and Justin Grimm on the postseason roster. They are under 30, had decent seasons, but Maddon had little faith in them in Games 6 of 7. We’ll never know what Maddon would have done if Game 7 went longer.

The Mets have serious bullpen issues with Jeurys Familia facing at least a 30-game suspension and Addison Reed entering free agency. Honestly, they are in a world of hurt in their bullpen.

If you assume Chapman is gone, the same assumption can be made of Reed, left-hander Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas. They already decided against Jim Henderson. Josh Edgin had a short rebound season from surgery. Hansel Robles is coming off a hot-and-cold season, as did Logan Verrett.

Erik Goeddel and Sean Gilmartin also made appearances, as did Rafael Montero.

EDGE: Even.

CATCHING: Ironically, Maddon’s lack of faith in his bullpen prompted going to Jon Lester, and with him, his personal catcher David Ross. Ross homered to help win Game 7 and retire in style.

The Cubs still list Schwarber as a catcher, but after knee surgery, that won’t happen. Willson Contreras had a good year and enters spring training No. 1.

Travis d’Arnaud was hurt each of the last two seasons and still needs to prove he can hit. Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera are back-ups. The Mets need a serious upgrade here.

EDGE: Chicago.

FIRST BASE: It’s Anthony Rizzo (.292/32 HR/109 RBI) for the Cubs against the Mets’ perpetually injured Lucas Duda, and possibly James Loney.

The Mets are also toying with the idea of experimenting with Conforto and David Wright at first. It is a reach.

EDGE: Chicago.

SECOND BASE: When Schwarber was injured, Ben Zobrist played more in left field, and that gave Javier Baez more time at second base.

The versatility of MVP candidate Kris Bryant, who can play the infield and outfield corners, enabled Maddon to keep Zobrist fresh at second.

The Mets were surprised by Neil Walker’s power, but he’s a free-agent coming off back surgery. The most they’ll extend is probably a one-year qualifying. They still have Flores, who they repeatedly showed a lack of faith, and the up-and-coming T.J. Rivera. Kelly Johnson, who filed for free agency. Will they trade for him for a third straight season?

EDGE: Chicago.

SHORTSTOP

The Cubs’ Addison Russell is one of the game’s rising stars, while Asdrubal Cabrera was arguably the Mets’ MVP.

However, Cabrera showed breakdown signs several times last summer. They have him for another year and Collins needs to do a better job of resting him.

EDGE: Chicago.

THIRD BASE

If not Rizzo, Bryant (.292/39/102) could be the NL MVP. He’s 24, terrific in the clutch and can play four positions.

The Mets don’t know if Wright will be back, and if he does, where he’ll play and how much are issues. If he doesn’t, they’ll go with Jose Reyes and Flores.

EDGE: Chicago.

LEFT FIELD

The Cubs have the combination of Zobrist – whom the Mets’ coveted after the 2015 season – and Schwarber. The World Series MVP, Zobrist is also one of baseball’s good guys as he signed autographs outside his Chicago home.

How many remember that Albert Belle chased down trick-or-treaters in his truck?

Zobrist is versatile, has power and hits in the clutch. Small wonder the Mets and Nationals both wanted him. Schwarber, meanwhile, thanks to the DH rule was a factor with awesome power.

The assumption is Cespedes will be gone, leaving left field to Conforto. Curtis Granderson could also get time in left with Jay Bruce brought back to play right field.

EDGE: Chicago.

CENTER FIELD: Dexter Fowler had a terrific season, but is a free agent. He said the Cubs are on his list, but as I did in left field with the Mets and Cespedes, I will assume he’ll be gone.

If the Cubs don’t bring back Fowler, and since there’s no way of knowing who’ll the Cubs will fish for, their internal option is 22-year-old Albert Almora Jr.

Ideally, the Mets wanted Cespedes in center, but he balked. Juan Lagares was injured for a good part of the season, but returned to play well.

Granderson will also get center field time in his last season with the Mets because of Bruce’s presence in right field.

EDGE: Mets.

RIGHT FIELD: The Cubs didn’t get $180 million worth from Jason Heyward. He has a tremendous glove, but his bat went into hibernation this summer.

Bruce struggled after coming over from Cincinnati, but picked it up at the end. Even so, it was a good pick-up, and he’s more economically feasible than either Cespedes or Heyward.

When Bruce isn’t playing, they can turn to Granderson.

EDGE: Mets.

 

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.

Please follow me on Twitter

Sep 09

Is There No Turning Back For Mets?

This certainly isn’t your father’s Turner Field for the Mets. This place used to torment the Mets not too long ago. Just ask David Wright; if you want to go back further, there’s Armando Benitez.

Not Friday night. In the first game of their final series for the Mets here before Turner Field closes after the season, they rallied from four runs down to beat the Atlanta Braves, 6-4.

JOHNSON: Hits game-winner. (AP)

JOHNSON: Hits game-winner. (AP)

With the all-hands-on-deck victory, the Mets have won six straight games and 15 of their last 19 to move a season-high nine games over .500 and remain a half-game ahead of St. Louis for the second wild-card spot.

“Right now, things are falling our way,” manager Terry Collins said. “That’s what you have to have. We had a lot of games this year when they weren’t falling our way. We have to keep plugging.”

On Aug. 19, they were 5.5 games out of wild-card contention and fading fast. Tonight, I can’t help but wonder if there’s no turning back for the Mets.

There were plenty of Mets to pick up Robert Gsellman, who has two wins in picking up their injury-ravaged rotation.

* It began with Curtis Granderson, who started the comeback with a two-run homer in the sixth. It was the fourth straight in which the now hot Granderson has homered.

* The bullpen of Jim Henderson, Josh Smoker, Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia combined to throw four scoreless innings.

* James Loney started a 3-6-3 inning-ending double play in the sixth after the Braves opened the inning with runners on the corners. Smoker relieved Henderson to strike out A.J. Pierzynski and get Ender Inciarte to hit into the double-play.

* Alejandro De Aza’s walk jumpstarted the Mets’ four-run eighth, keyed by Yoenis Cespedes’ sacrifice fly – he always does something – Granderson’s game-tying single and Kelly Johnson’s go-ahead pinch-hit double.

Players who have struggled all year are playing big; players who weren’t even on the team on Opening Day are making contributions.

Everything is clicking for the Mets. Every decision Collins is making is working. With 21 games remaining, the Mets are playing like they are counting on October.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 20

Colon Shows Value; Why They Should Bring Him Back

Sometime this winter, GM Sandy Alderson will have to make a decision – yes or no – on several players. Bartolo Colon will be one of them, and when he does, I hope he remembers today.

With the Mets in dire need of a victory Saturday afternoon to pull them out of their most recent funk, Colon was magnificent working into the seventh in beating the Giants, 9-5.

COLON: Need him back. (AP)

COLON: Need him back. (AP)

Colon is now 11-7, including 6-1 after a loss. That’s well worth the $11 million he makes this season. There are a lot of numbers used to evaluate a pitcher, but record after a loss is especially significant.

Will the Mets bring Colon back for a fourth season? I don’t know. Should they? I think so, and not for the comic relief, which is another way of saying he alleviates tension, and there certainly has been a lot of that this year.

Colon gave up two runs on nine hits with five strikeouts in 6.1 innings. Of his 25 starts, he’s worked into the sixth 16 times and into the seventh nine times.

Did I mention he’s 43?

The Mets brought Colon back for this season with the idea of moving him to the bullpen in July when it was hoped Zack Wheeler would come off the DL. Wheeler could be shut down the rest of the season. Next year is pure speculation for Wheeler.

That’s also the operative word for Matt Harvey, who underwent shoulder surgery. Not to mention Steven Matz, who will undergo surgery on his elbow, and is now having shoulder issues. Noah Syndergaard also has a bone spur issue that could necessitate surgery.

Of their core five of young arms that was supposed to make the National League playoffs the “Mets Invitational,” Jacob deGrom is the only one you can say with any confidence will be on the 2017 Opening Day roster. Nobody throws the “ace” word in Colon’s direction, but he’s the stopper in this rotation.

So, why wouldn’t you bring back Colon?

Speaking of players returning, the Mets have far less control over Yoenis Cespedes, who drove in three runs with two homers and a double. He also sent a third ball to the warning track.

It’s a double-edged sword for the Mets with Cespedes. They need him to go on a tear similar to last year if they are to make a playoff run.

However, the hotter Cespedes gets, and with the free-agent market for right-handed hitters next year paltry at best, it increases the odds of him opting out and going on the market. There’s no reason why he wouldn’t.

The Mets would have him for the next two years for $50 million if he decides to stay. But, if he tests the market it will cost the Mets much more, and, why wouldn’t he test the market again.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 09

No Need To Rush Wright

When it comes to recovering from injuries, David Wright has often been his worst enemy. Too often he tried to play through pain to stay on the field for the Mets.

He missed over four months last year dealing with spinal stenosis. He will miss the rest this year following surgery, June 16, to repair a herniated disk in his neck. I know this drives him crazy, but knowing he won’t come back is a good thing because he can’t force the issue.

WRIGHT: Take it slow. (AP)

WRIGHT: Take it slow. (AP)

Wright, speaking to children at the Coleman Country Day Camp Monday, said he’s been making steady improvement. Although, his reply of “I hope not,” when asked if his playing career could be over, spoke volumes about the seriousness of the injury and its possible ramifications.

“I’m feeling very good,” Wright said. “Now it’s just a matter of time taking its course and allowing the bone to heal. It’s been explained to me like a broken bone, it just takes time to heal. I feel good. I still don’t have the range of motion that I did before the surgery, but that’s why it takes three, four months for a full recovery.

“Now it’s just a matter of being patient and allowing the screws and the plate to [get in] place and fuse together so that hopefully there’s no more problems in the future.

“Hopefully” is a big word. So is “patient.”

The agreement Alex Rodriguez reached with the Mets Sunday reminds us of the fragility of careers and how quickly they could end.

Wright is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. I’m sure a lot is going through his mind, especially at two in the morning when he’s up feeding daughter, Olivia Shea, or changing diapers. Wright is a genuine guy who does real things, and I’m betting he lets wife, Molly, sleep.

Of all the athletes I have covered, Wright is one of my favorite. I miss seeing him play and believe he’ll come back. I really do.

But, there’s no rush to see him, so it doesn’t matter if he’s ready for Opening Day 2017, or needs another month or two.

Wright is a family man now. He doesn’t need the money. As much as he wants to play, he also knows he’ll be playing with house money the rest of his career.

Hopefully, he’ll finish healthy and walk away on his own terms, something Rodriguez will not do.

Please follow me on Twitter