Aug 18

Stop Fooling Around And Bring Up Conforto

Just a few months ago when optimism still surrounded the Mets, manager Terry Collins moved Michael Conforto to the No. 3 spot in the order and promised he would get at-bats against left-handers. After all, Collins said at the time, Conforto represented the future.

CONFORTO: Needs to play. (Getty)

CONFORTO: Needs to play. (Getty)

None of that lasted long when Conforto went into a slump, as young players frequently do, Collins and the Mets showed no patience. First, Conforto was dropped in the order, then dropped off at the airport to ride the Vegas Shuttle.

Collins said Conforto still “is a big piece of what we want to do,” and when he turns it around in Triple-A he would be back soon. Conforto is tearing it up in Vegas but remains 2,500 miles from New York. So much for that promise.

Things have changed. The Mets are no longer a threat to the Nationals in the NL East and are fading in the wild card. They are four games out and are in danger of being overtaken by Colorado (Mets lead by 2.5 games) and Philadelphia (they lead by 4.5 games).

Yeah, you read that last part correctly.

Conforto needs to come up now. The best position for him is left field, but that won’t happen because the Mets insist on placating Yoenis Cespedes, who can’t, or refuses, to play center. Conforto is willing to try center, but where does that leave Curtis Granderson?

Since Cespedes won’t budge – the Mets should hope he opts out and leaves – it’s down to the young guy they can push around in Conforto or the veteran with the big salary and small production in Granderson. The Mets won’t touch Cespedes; GM Sandy Alderson must talk to him through “his people.”

The decision on what to do with the Mets’ outfield is a battle of egos and dollars over the potential of young talent. That’s not the way to go about turning your season around.

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Aug 03

Pet Peeve: Out Of Control Umpires

NOTE:  I’d like to introduce something new – Pet Peeve – where I respond to something in baseball, not necessarily pertaining to the Mets.

An umpire’s position merits respect much like a cop on the beat, but at the same time, shouldn’t they have to earn it?

They earn it by being consistent. By being fair. By keeping their emotions in check. By having patience. By not losing control.

The episode the other night in Philadelphia with plate umpire Bob Davidson is the perfect example of what the players complain about, and that is being a bully. Upset over a fan reportedly yelling at him – over and over –  “you suck,” Davidson walked over the stands next to the dugout and had the fan ejected from the stadium.

It wasn’t the first time he had a fan tossed. He did it several years ago at a Cardinals-Brewers game in Milwaukee. He had a field day that afternoon, bouncing players, managers and a fan.

What happened In Philly was arrogance to the highest degree. Not only did he act outside his jurisdiction, but what he did underscored one of the things players hate about umpires: That they have rabbit ears.

Heckling is part of the game, and if Davidson is that sensitive to where he can’t take it he should retire.

Were the fans sitting next to this guy angry enough to where they called security? Not to anything I’ve read. Davidson said the Philadelphia fans cheered him, but that’s hard to believe.

It is up to the Phillies to maintain their crowds. They should monitor the crowd to ensure things are under control; nobody is threatened or uncomfortable; and that everybody is having a good time.

Apparently, Davidson wasn’t, and that’s just too bad.

Davidson’s actions could have provoked something ugly. What if this guy broke free as he was being escorted and charged the field? What if he was part of a group?

What if? What if?

What Davidson should have done if he was so concerned about the women who might be offended – that was his claim – was to have security tell the guy to tone it down. Davidson didn’t do this. Nor did he tell the fan himself to shut up.

Davidson exceeded his authority and should be reprimanded. I don’t care how. Fine him. Suspend him. Do both.

It’s bad enough many of these umpires fly solo and insist on their own strike zones, but to police the crowd, to be cop, judge and jury goes over the line.

Get Davidson out of here.

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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.