Jul 18

Three Mets’ Storylines: Matz Struggles

What, you expected the Mets to run the table against the Cubs?

After winning four straight in the NLCS and four in a series at Citi Field prior to the break, the Cubs were due and Steven Matz wasn’t good enough to prevent Monday’s 5-1 loss at Wrigley Field.

MATZ: Didn't have it. (Getty)

MATZ: Didn’t have it. (Getty)

Matz threw 102 pitches in five innings, of which 26 were foul balls. That says he wasn’t able to put away hitters. Part of it is bone-spur related, and that will continue to be the case until he has surgery.

Matz said he didn’t feel any pain and wouldn’t use that as an excuse.

“I don’t think I had my best command,” Matz said, especially of his breaking pitches. With that, you have to wonder how much of it is the elbow.  Matz was done in on a three-run homer to Anthony Rizzo when he hung a change-up over the middle of the plate.

“I don’t think it was a bad pitch [selection],” Matz said of the pitch to Rizzo. “It was poor execution.”

When Matz was missing, it wasn’t outside where he wanted, but over the plate.

“You have to make them chase a little bit,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “I didn’t think he had his Grade A stuff. Hopefully, he’ll good after this.”

Collins wouldn’t say if Matz was hurting, but acknowledged he didn’t have it Monday.

“There are going to be times when he pitches through discomfort,” Collins said. “Other times he’s going to feel good.”

Matz’s performance reflected the uncertainty of what the Mets can expect from him in the second half. In his previous two starts, Matz worked seven innings in each and gave up a combined five runs.

Matz has hammered in his first start this year, reeled off seven straight victories, and has now lost five straight.

There’s been a lot of speculation as to what the Mets might do at the trade deadline. Bullpen? Yeah, that’s needed. Another bat, preferably one who can hit with runners in scoring position? Definitely.

However, with Matt Harvey gone for the year – he had surgery Monday – and the heads-or-tails prognosis of Matz and Tuesday’s starter Noah Syndergaard, adding another arm to the rotation could be their biggest need.

With the loss, coupled with Miami’s victory in Philadelphia, the Mets fell 6.5 games behind Washington in the NL East and trail Los Angeles and the Marlins for the wild-card.

Monday’s other two story lines are:

THE OUTFIELD DILEMMA: As expected, Yoenis Cespedes played left field, which means he came out of Sunday’s game with no problems. That’s the good news.

Cespedes was hitless in three at-bats against Jon Lester, but nobody could time him. Cespedes threw out a runner out at the plate and almost nailed another at second base.

Prior to the game Collins anticipated playing Cespedes in center Tuesday with Michael Conforto in left. However, after the game Collins said he didn’t think Cespedes moved well.

Conforto appeared as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and delivered an opposite-field single.

That was a terrific sign because prior to the game he admitted being pull-happy in May and June when his average nose-dived.

Collins said he wants to use Cespedes in left to save his legs. He also said Conforto could get time in center, where he’s never played.

I wrote in spring training how I wanted to see Conforto get some time in center, but that never happened. Instead, they might do it during a pennant race, even though Curtis Granderson has played over 1,000 games in center.

Then again, at 35, Granderson’s legs aren’t what they used to be.

FLORES PLAYS: Against the left-hander Lester, Wilmer Flores was in the lineup against James Loney, which I speculated earlier today. Flores singled and homered.

It was Flores’ ninth homer of the year and sixth in July to lead the National League. Yet, manager Terry Collins still doesn’t have a sense of urgency to get his bat in his offensively starved lineup.

I’ll say this again; Flores needs to play even if he’s not the sexy choice of GM Sandy Alderson. In for Loney one game; in for Neil Walker the next; then Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes.

That way, they all play and all get a game off a week.

Why is that so hard to understand?

Jul 17

Three Mets’ Storylines: Conforto’s Return Raises Questions

Michael Conforto is returning to the Mets and with him comes a dilemma for manager Terry Collins on how to handle his outfield. Collins said he couldn’t foresee Conforto and Brandon Nimmo playing in the same outfield. That choice was resolved with Nimmo being sent down.

Conforto, who played 16 games for Triple-A Las Vegas, but only four in right field. That could present a problem, because earlier in the day Collins said Yoenis Cespedes would play left field, which was Conforto’s position.

CONFORTO: Return raises questions. (AP)

CONFORTO: Return raises questions. (AP)

Cespedes, who misplayed a fly ball while playing center field that lead to his strained right quad, stated a preference to play left the remainder of the season, where he should have been playing all along.

Had the Mets played him in left, they could have given Conforto reps in right and center field during spring training.

When Conforto was optioned, Collins said he would return when he regained his stroke – which he did batting .344 (21-for-61) with three homers and 15 RBI – and when that happened he would play.

Where and how often are to be determined.

Since Juan Lagares has played well, presumably he’ll get most of the time in center. That would lead to speculation Conforto and Curtis Granderson – both left-handed hitters – would share right field.

However, Granderson, who homered in Sunday’ 5-0 victory over Philadelphia, has also been hot lately. What becomes of him? Granderson has one more year on his contract. If the Mets go from buyers to sellers in the next two weeks, could they shop Granderson?

Presuming Cespedes opts out after this season, the Mets’ long-range outfield figures to be Conforto, Nimmo and Lagares. However, Nimmo said he hopes to primarily play center at Las Vegas, which immediately creates speculation the Mets could be thinking about dealing Lagares at the deadline.

“I know I have a lot to work on, and I can still do that in Triple-A,” Nimmo told reporters in Philly. “I think right now they feel like Conforto can really help out the team. I think that he can, too. I hope that he’s healthy and good to go and can help this team and spur them on to a nice winning streak.”

Should Lagares be traded and Cespedes opts out, the Mets could have a significant void next season. If they keep Lagares, the Mets could be privately hoping Cespedes opts out.

Conforto’s return raises questions about the composition of the Mets’ outfield in the second half and beyond.

The Mets’ other storylines from Sunday are:

DE GROM’S BRILLIANCE: It has been an up-and-down season for Jacob deGrom, but he’s never been better than Sunday when he threw a one-hit shutout. Pitching on ten days rest after eschewing an All-Star appearance, deGrom produced the best start of his career, a one-hit, 5-0 gem.

“Every time you go out there you want to go as long as you can,” deGrom told SNY. “It was definitely fun. Hopefully, I’ll have many more.”

Everything worked for deGrom, especially his change-up, which he said was the product of improved mechanics that prevented him from flying open with his delivery. Perhaps most of all, deGrom attributed today to the rest from skipping the All-Star Game.

“Just getting a break after throwing every five days,” deGrom said. “You start to feel things and I was definitely worn out. It was needed.”

In the first half, deGrom had a stretch of 10 starts without a victory and an offense that gave him three runs in June. However, he is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in his last three starts, walking five against 27 strikeouts over 29 innings.

POWER RESURFACES: Much was made of the Mets’ power in the first half, and they got homers from Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Granderson has one of the strangest stat lines with just 28 RBI to go along with his 16 homers. Collins said he likes Granderson batting second, which presumably is where he’ll stay. But, he’s said that before.

For Cabrera, it was his 13th homer, a two-run drive in the eighth that gave deGrom a comfortable cushion to close out the game.

 

Jul 15

Three Mets’ Storylines: Walker The Difference

On a day the Pittsburgh Pirates demoted Jon Niese to the bullpen and their general manager Neal Huntington lamented the trade that brought him from the Mets, the player they surrendered, Neil Walker, hit a three-run homer for the difference Friday night in Philadelphia.

“In hindsight, maybe the two fringe prospects and trying to figure out where to re-allocate the money might have been a better return [for Walker],” Huntington told a Pittsburgh radio station.

WALKER: Powers Mets over Phils. (Getty)

WALKER: Powers Mets over Phils. (Getty)

I applaud honesty – the trade has not worked out for the Pirates – but it’s pretty stupid to trash Niese, whom he admitted he’s trying to deal. As a GM you can’t devalue the product you’re trying to unload. That’s GM 101.

Sandy Alderson did the same thing with Ike Davis, and also wasn’t shy about ripping Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy.

Walker’s opposite-field homer to left in the sixth powered the Mets to a 5-3 victory over the Phillies and kept them six games behind Washington. It was Walker’s 16th homer – he had 16 last year – to give him 40 RBI. He made an immediate strong impression with nine homers in April.

Walker has played well but hasn’t made Mets’ fans forget Murphy. And they certainly won’t if Walker leaves after this season while Murphy plays two more years with Washington.

Then again, and here’s a wild thought, what if the Pirates DFA’d Niese? With Matt Harvey gone for the year, and health questions with Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, would the Mets bring back Niese? They did with Jose Reyes, so why not?

However, on this night Walker was the Mets’ main storyline.

The other two are:

BULLPEN BAILS OUT COLON: Bartolo Colon (W, 8-4) started strong, but gave up three unearned runs on four hits in the sixth.

Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia combined to strike out five and give up one hit in 3.1 scoreless innings. Reed worked 1.1 innings, which I like. He’s strong and if the bullpen is a concern, manager Terry Collins shouldn’t be afraid to give him the extra out.

For Familia, he is 32-for-32 in save opportunities. Earlier this year Familia got his saves, but not without angst. He’s slider has a lot more bite and the confidence level is a lot higher with him now.

The Mets entered the second half with their bullpen a priority and one game won’t alter that thinking, but until those moves are made, this is what they need.

LAGARES SHINES: Juan Lagares homered, stole a base and manufactured a run with a strong slide, and made an outstanding catch in right-center.

Collins told reporters “that’s the kind of player he can be.’’

A Gold Glover two years ago, he was out of shape and a bust last season, but is playing with an aggressiveness the Mets should continue to expect.

May 15

Mets Wrap: Don’t Blame Umps For Last Two Losses

LAGARES: Out of the baseline. Maybe. (AP)

LAGARES: Out of the baseline. Maybe. (AP)

Controversial calls factored in the Mets’ losses today and Saturday, but to be clear, they did not decide the outcome either game.

I’m not sure Juan Lagares ran out of the baseline today, but I am positive Tony Wolters did not foul tip that pitch Saturday. I’m also positive I don’t care for manager Terry Collins’ explanation both times.

“Look [second base umpire Rob Drake] made the call,’’ Collins meekly told reporters. “Doesn’t matter what it’s going to do, you don’t challenge it. So it’s over, let’s go, move on.’’

All fire Saturday, that answer portrayed Collins as defeated today. The Mets seemed defeated mentally after Collins left the field.

All right, the play is not reviewable, but Collins never said he asked the umpire – on either night – to ask for help. If he did, he should have made a big stink about the arrogance of umpires who refuse to ask for a second opinion.

There’s no crying in baseball, as so goes the cliché from the movie. That should include the SNY analysts. The Mets didn’t lose either game because of bad calls, they lost because they didn’t play well, either night.

Rockies pitchers threw 126 pitches Sunday, which means the Mets had 126 potential opportunities to make plays. They also were 2-for-6 with RISP with six runners left on base.

Those numbers were 145 pitches on Saturday, going 3-for-11 with RISP and eight stranded.

Collins likes to say the Mets are a “team built on power.’’ If that is the case, and it appears to be, then they are constructed poorly.

Everybody loves homers, but the Mets’ numbers hitting with RISP and leaving runners on base aren’t good. As a team, they are hitting .212 with RISP, and leave an average of seven runners on base and strike out nine times a game.

Your pitching has to be pretty good to overcome that, and frankly, it hasn’t been.

Jacob deGrom pitched well enough to win most games, but said he missed on several pitches, notably on Carlos Gonzalez’s homer in the sixth.

Reliever Jim Henderson, who has been spotless for much of the season, gave up a two-run homer in the seventh.

Those two pitches hurt the Mets more than the Lagares call, and even with those pitches, they had their chances.

The bottom line is winning teams take advantage of opportunities and the Mets aren’t playing well right now.

“It was a long trip, a terrible finish to it,’’ Collins said. “We’ll pick up the pieces. We’ve got a long, long, long way to go.’’

METS GAME WRAP

May 15, 2016

Game: #37           Score: Rockies 4, Mets 3

Record: 21-16     Streak: L 4

Standings: Third, NL East 1.5 GB Nationals; half-game behind Phillies  Playoffs Today: Second WC vs. Philadelphia

Runs: 146     Average: 3.9    Times 3 or less: 16

SUMMARY:  DeGrom wasn’t great, but pitched well enough to win most games, which he might have done had he gotten support from his offense and bullpen.

KEY MOMENT:  Ryan Raburn’s two-run, pinch-hit homer off Henderson in the seventh. Perhaps, Collins pulling deGrom after just 102 pitches moments before might be that moment. Your choice.

THUMBS UP:  DeGrom gave the Mets a chance to win. … Yoenis Cespedes homered in the second. … Washington and Philadelphia also lost.

THUMBS DOWN:  Alejandro De Aza and Asdrubal Cabrera went a combined 1-for-8 with no walks and four strikeouts at the top of the order. … Henderson’s pitch to Raburn.

EXTRA INNINGS:  Collins said Steven Matz will throw Monday and could still pitch during the Washington series. … David Wright appeared as a pinch-hitter and made the last out of the game.

QUOTEBOOK:  “I’m still not feeling very comfortable on the mound,’’ – DeGrom on his pitching.

BY THE NUMBERS:  32: Runs scored by the Mets during the 11-game trip.

NEXT FOR METS:  Noah Syndergaard (3-2, 2.53 ERA) starts against Washington on Tuesday night. He is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in three career starts against the Nationals.

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May 14

Mets Wrap: Struggles Continue; Drop Into Third

It would happen eventually with the Mets, that their vaunted offense would sputter and couldn’t be carried by their pitching.

COLLINS: Bad call costs Mets. (AP)

COLLINS: Bad call costs Mets. (AP)

Logan Verrett, starting in place of Steven Matz, was shelled, and for the third straight game the offense provided little. Together it added up to a 7-4 loss Saturday night to the Colorado Rockies.

The loss, coupled with Philadelphia beating Cincinnati, dropped the Mets into third behind the Phillies. That’s third behind the Phillies.

The Mets were eight games over .500 when they began their season-long 11-game road trip. They close it out Sunday having already lost six games.

Manager Terry Collins insists on saying he has a power-hitting team, but they’ve only scored 29 runs in the ten games so far on this trip and scored three runs or less six times. Add to that Matt Harvey falling deeper into his funk; Matz is ailing; and Bartolo Colon was shelled in his last start.

Jacob deGrom hopes to put the brakes on this slide before the Mets return home to face Washington.

METS GAME WRAP

May 14, 2016

Game: #36   Score: Rockies 7, Mets 4

Record: 21-15  Streak: L 3

Standings: Third, NL East 1.5 GB Nationals and half-game behind Philadelphia   Playoffs Today: Second WC vs. Philadelphia

Runs: 143 Average: 3.97  Times 3 runs or less: 15

SUMMARY: Verrett was hammered, but by the time the offense showed signs of life in the sixth the hole was too deep.

KEY MOMENT:  Catcher Tony Wolters’ two-run double in the third broke the game open. The double came after a controversial call by home plate umpire Carlos Torres that resulted in Collins being ejected. Torres said the ball was tipped, but replays didn’t show it that way.

THUMBS UP: Neil Walker broke out of his slump with three hits, including getting back his home run trot (No. 10). … The Mets had 13 hits, including bunching four together in the sixth. … Another good appearance by Sean Gilmartin. … Ditto for Jim Henderson. … Two hits by David Wright, including a hustle double leading off the seventh.

THUMBS DOWN: Verrett gave up seven runs on ten hits in 2.2 innings. … Mets went 3-for-11 with RISP and left eight. … Only one walk? Hard to believe.

EXTRA INNINGS:  Matz might not throw tomorrow. The Mets haven’t said if he’s in or out of the Washington series. … DeGrom is 2-0 lifetime against the Rockies. … Wright could sit Sunday. There’s talk the Mets should drop Wright in the order, but his on-base percentage is a team-high .376.

QUOTEBOOK: “It’s unfair. No reason for it. [The hitter] was heading back to the dugout. [The umpire] said he heard it. You can’t challenge it. … It cost us the game. End of story.” – Collins on the blown call by umpire Torres.

BY THE NUMBERS: 43: Number of at-bats between homers for Walker. 

NEXT FOR METS:  DeGrom starts Sunday.

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