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 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.

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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.

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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.

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Jun 12

Things Better Change Quickly For Mets

Last week I asked if there was a reason to be concerned with the Mets, but stopped short of saying they were in trouble. I’m not stopping short any longer. If the season ended today the Mets would make the playoffs as the second wild card, but there are more than a few reasons to believe they aren’t heading in the right direction.

MATZ: Roughed up Sunday. (Getty)

MATZ: Roughed up Sunday. (Getty)

There’s plenty of season left to turn things around, but also enough time has gone by to conclude despite their young pitching – and Bartolo Colon – that if there’s not a reversal soon the playoffs many of us took for granted on Opening Day might not happen.

Following their 15-7 April, including Sunday’s 5-3 loss in Milwaukee the Mets have gone 19-21. They are 4.5 games behind Washington, and one of seven teams lumped under the 4.5-game umbrella of wild-contenders.

Teams will lose, but the Mets didn’t play well during their 5-5 road trip. They weren’t just beaten, they beat themselves. On Sunday, they had breakdowns in all phases: 1) Steven Matz was roughed up in his second straight start; 2) the defense committed three errors and could have had a fourth; and 3) and their hitters struck out ten times and went 2-for-9 with RISP.

April’s storyline was the Mets’ propensity for hitting homers, but more importantly in their 62 games they have scored three or fewer runs in half (31) of them. That’s an alarming number. Overall, they are hitting .214 with RISP; and average around nine strikeouts and close to the same in runners left on base in a game.

Nine strikeouts mean in three innings they did not put the ball in play. For all those who don’t give credence to strikeouts as an important statistic, it is time to get a clue. Not putting the ball in play means no chance for hits; no chance to reach on an error; no sacrifice flies; and no productive outs to put runners in scoring position.

A positive note is Matt Harvey seems to have turned it around, but could that be offset by Matz’s two straight stinkers? And, Jacob deGrom hasn’t won in his last seven starts. The bullpen, so positive in April, is showing cracks. Closer Jeurys Familia is far from a sure thing. Their most reliable reliever is Addison Reed; with everybody else you hold your breath.

Injuries are a concern with David Wright, Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud on the disabled list. They could get d’Arnaud back in a week or so, but he wasn’t hitting or throwing runners out on the bases before he got hurt. Michael Conforto has a sore wrist and is in a dreadful slump; Neil Walker has a tight lower back; and Juan Lagares has an injured left thumb.

The upcoming schedule is brutal as from now until the All-Star break they have three more games with Pittsburgh; two against Kanas City; three with the Marlins; four against the Cubs and seven with the Nationals. Beginning Tuesday, the Mets start a stretch of 26 games in 27 days.

Seriously, there’s a chance the trade deadline could be moot.

The Mets can get on a hot streak, turn things around and maybe add a couple of pieces just as they did last season. However, since the end of April we’ve seen precious few signs of that happening.

There’s reason for concern, and yes, they are in trouble.