Sep 28

Where Would Mets Be Without Lugo?

With four precious games remaining in their season, the Mets hold a slim lead over the Giants and Cardinals in the wild-card race.

Here’s a question: Where would the Mets be without Seth Lugo?

Here’s another: Assuming Noah Syndergaard starts Sunday in Philadelphia, who would likely start the wild-card game?

Yup, it would be Lugo.

Lugo took a no-decision in his last two starts, but won his previous four. For the record, the Mets won all six of those games. Care to guess where the Mets might be without that string?

Make no mistake, the Mets are still kicking because of Lugo and Robert Gsellman, who have combined for seven overall victories.

It’s not as if they started the season in the rotation and had time to grow into their jobs, but they stepped into the breach immediately and won at a time the Mets were fighting to save their season. They didn’t make Mets’ fans forget Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Syndergaard, and let’s not ignore Zack Wheeler.

What they did was reduce the sting from their losses and provided a glimpse of optimism for the future. With all but Syndergaard – for now – recovering from surgery that’s comforting.

“The thing that’s been most impressive with these two young guys [is] make no mistake, they know whose shoes they’re filling,” manager Terry Collins said. “But when they come up here, they have not been intimidated by anything. All they’ve done is gone out and pitch their game, and their stuff is good, and we’re seeing it play here. You’ve got to give a little credit to the character of those guys, because they could have been really intimated.”

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Sep 27

Good Postseason Signs For Mets In Rout

The Marlins would have been hard-pressed to continue to ride the emotional wave from Monday’s ceremonies and victory over the Mets following the tragic death of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

That would be hard to do when you run into the kind of pitching they faced against Noah Syndergaard. It also didn’t hurt their offense resurfaced with a pair of two-run homers from Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes in Tuesday’s 19-hit, 12-1 mauling of the Marlins.

SYNDERGAARD: Good sign. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Good sign. (AP)

It was the first time since Bruce was acquired that he and Cespedes homered in the same game.

As the Mets look ahead to a possible postseason appearance, they took numerous positives from the game.

The most important, of course, was Syndergaard, whose last start was scratched because of a strep throat. Syndergaard last pitched, Aug. 19 in a loss to Atlanta, gave up a run on five hits with eight strikeouts.

“It was huge,” Syndergaard said about getting back into a groove. “I tried to keep each pitch simple. I felt I could locate my sinker on both sides of the plate.”

It was a smart move by manager Terry Collins to pull him when he did after 93 pitches. Syndergaard is next in line to pitch Sunday in Philadelphia. If the Mets don’t need that game, Collins will undoubtedly hold him back to start the wild-card play-in game, Wednesday, perhaps against San Francisco.

Maybe in a match-up against Madison Bumgarner at Citi Field? Or, perhaps in St. Louis against Adam Wainwright?

If there’s a three-way tie, it is presumed Syndergaard would start Sunday, which would probably leave the start to Seth Lugo.

There aren’t any questions about Syndergaard’s health or endurance, which considering the announcement earlier in the day that Steven Matz will have elbow surgery and be lost for the year.

If the Mets are to go anywhere in the playoffs, a lot will fall on Syndergaard.

After Syndergaard, the other key storylines were Bruce and Lucas Duda and the lengthening of the Mets’ batting order.

Bruce, who has started three straight games, has five hits in that span, including two homers. His two-run homer in the second put the Mets ahead for good.

After a dreadful slump sent him to the bench and raised questions about his spot on the playoff roster and even if the Mets would bring him back for 2017.

“It’s been very encouraging,” Collins said of Bruce’s resurgence. “If he’s back, we’re going to have a different line-up.”

Bruce said the slump was a difficult stretch, but he never lost faith of his talent.

“I feel comfortable at the plate,” Bruce said. “I just kept preparing and kept working. I just focus on preparing and always think today is the day I’ll come out of it.”

Curtis Granderson, who drove in three runs on two hits, is now entrenched in the clean-up spot with Bruce hitting fifth.

Duda drove in three runs on two hits and again played the field. At first, the Mets thought Duda would only be used as a pinch-hitter. That notion could be gone now, which could make it a Duda (two hits and two walks) vs. James Loney battle for a playoff roster spot.

“It’s definitely tough,” Duda said of his return from back surgery. “The more I play the more comfortable I get. It’s a work in progress. From rehabbing to here is a pretty big jump. The speed of the game, both offensively and defensively, is faster.”

While these were positive signs as the Mets gear for the playoffs, one negative is Wilmer Flores’ wrist, which could sideline him for the rest of the regular season and put his spot on a playoff roster in jeopardy.

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Sep 25

Three Mets’ Storylines: Marlins’ Fernandez Honored In Rare Tribute

When we first heard the shocking news Sunday morning of the tragic death of Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, a moment of silence was the inevitable expectation. However, the Mets did more to show their respect to Fernandez, who was scheduled to start Monday.

METS SHOW RESPECT

     METS SHOW RESPECT

Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon had a Mets’ jersey designed with Fernandez’s name and No. 16 designed and suggested Yoenis Cespedes – a fellow Cuban – hang it in the dugout during the game.

The Mets will hang it in their dugout for their three-game series with the Marlins. It was an uncommon gesture of compassion.

In a blistering sense of irony, Fernandez was originally scheduled to start for the Marlins Sunday against Atlanta. Had he not been pushed back a day, he wouldn’t have been on that boat.

While Sunday was highly emotional, it will pale in comparison to Monday when the Marlins play their first game at home (their game Sunday against Atlanta was scheduled). With six games remaining, the Mets hold a one-game lead over St. Louis and San Francisco for the wild-card, while the Marlins trail by 4.5 games. So, there is a lot to play for by both teams.

While the Mets have shown, and will undoubtedly display this week the proper respect, they still have a job to complete.

Manager Terry Collins understands the delicate balance of respect and competitiveness.

“Obviously, when we get down there, we will have a meeting – we will get together – so that we keep things in perspective,” Collins said. “It’s going to be really a tough night for a lot of people. Certainly, we lost a great player, but the respect for the game itself – and he had it – it’s got to be played, and it’s got to be played right.

“Because I know that’s how Jose would want to do it. That’s how he would want it played. And so we’ve got to keep that in our minds also.”

Fernandez’s tragic death was the unfortunate storyline on this day. The others were Robert Gsellman’s start and Jay Bruce’s possible revival were the others.

GSELLMAN’S BEST START: The Mets used 27 pitchers in the first three games of their series against Philadelphia and desperately needed a strong start from Gsellman. They certainly didn’t expect seven scoreless innings, which on a normal day would have headlined the 17-0 rout.

“Our bullpen was shot,” Collins said. “When you run 27 pitchers out in three games, you’re out of gas. It was nice to be able to have comfortable innings at the end of the game.”

Assuming the Mets reach the NL Division Series against the Cubs, they’ll go with a four-man rotation with Gsellman fourth in line. That’s one of the reasons why Collins extended him to 107 pitches.

“Hopefully, we get to the postseason. He’s got to be a part of it,” Collins said. “I thought it was really, really important to build him up to the 100 pitches, so whether he throws 70 or 75 pitches in a playoff game, it’s easier for him.”

BRUCE DELIVERS: Bruce, who hit a pinch-homer the previous night, started for the second time in eight games, went 2-for-4 and scored two runs.

He got the Mets going when he doubled and scored in the second inning. You have to figure that to keep Bruce going he’ll start Monday in Miami.

The Mets’ offense also included the Curtis Granderson’s 30th homer and a grand slam from Asdrubal Cabrera.

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Sep 24

Three Mets’ Storylines: No Moral Victories In Pennant Race

Terry Collins spoke glowingly of how proud he was of his team; how the Mets showed no quit. Down by ten early, the Mets battled back to put the tying runs on base in the ninth.

What would have been the greatest comeback in Mets’ history was within grasp when Lucas Duda came to the plate.

CECCHINI: Big night for rookie. (AP)

CECCHINI: Big night for rookie. (AP)

“I thought Duda would hit a home run there to win it,” the Mets’ manager said.

He didn’t, and when Travis d’Arnaud grounded back to the mound, an exhilarating comeback had fizzled and the Mets’ 10-8 loss to Philadelphia was complete and a chance to open up ground in the tight NL wild-card race was lost.

Collins’ bench gave the Mets – or, if you prefer, the Las Vegas 51s – a chance to win, but it couldn’t overcome the hole dug by spot starter Sean Gilmartin and reliever Rafael Montero.

Gilmartin started because Noah Syndergaard was out with a strep throat. The Mets have been living on borrowed time with their rotation for a couple of months now, and tonight it caught up with them.

There were a lot of good things that came out of the night, but in the end, during a taut pennant race, there is no such thing as moral victories.

Collins pulled his key starters – Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes – which was the right thing to do. It’s too easy to speculate things might have been different if they stayed in the game, but that’s just guessing.

The Mets have seven games remaining and stealing rest for them was the correct move. There was no pressure on the bench players and they thrived.

“Maybe that might give them some confidence if they are called on this week,” Collins said.

GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE: The Mets caught a glimpse of their future when high draft picks Michael Conforto, Gavin Cecchini and Brandon Nimmo all came to the plate in the fifth and sixth innings.

Grouped with T.J. Rivera and Ty Kelly, there’s a lot to look forward to.

FINAL WEEK PITCHING: Syndergaard threw a bullpen session Saturday, and will be slotted to start Tuesday. Bartolo Colon will start Monday in Miami against the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez.

Colon is in line to pitch the season finale in Philadelphia.

Fernandez is 2-0 against the Mets this season and 3-0 with a 1.34 ERA in eight career starts against the Mets. He’s an incredible 29-2 with a 1.49 ERA in 42 starts at home during his career.

Collins said if Steven Matz does pitch this season it will be out of the bullpen.

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Sep 23

Mets Magic? To Be Determined

Greetings on the day after the latest Mets’ miracle. There have been times in my coverage of the Mets – which began in 2006 (and since 1998 overall of New York baseball) – where I have been called a curmudgeon, which is not entirely untrue.

I try to take more of a down-the-middle approach in my emotional perspective of the team. I don’t get too high or too low, and believe I’ve fulfilled my responsibility if there’s a balance between those who like my stuff and those who hate me.

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

There are times, I admit, when I take the hatred as a compliment.

Either way, after the Asdrubal Cabrera’s game-winner last night, the bottom line is the Mets remain tied with San Francisco and hold a slim lead over the Cardinals for the wild-card. Cabrera’s moment in Mets’ history is contingent on how this all plays out.

Will it be a Super Nova or a star that forever burns bright, like the ball that got by Bill Buckner?

It’s just stardust if the Mets fade and don’t make it; it’s special if they go on to win the World Series. The moment loses luster if they don’t run the table.

Can we agree this business of the Mets’ schedule giving them an advantage is nonsense if they don’t capitalize? Let’s face it, without Cabrera last night, and what Jose Reyes did shortly before, they would have lost four straight home games to sub-.500 teams.

The remaining schedule is largely irrelevant because: 1) those teams would love nothing more than to put it to these uppity New Yorkers; 2) those players are competing for 2017 jobs; 3) September call-ups add an unknown element to the stew; and, 4) after this weekend the last six games are on the road.

For those who insist the schedule means something, if the beginning of this week didn’t convince you, try this, if the Mets don’t make the playoffs, the biggest statistic working against them is that 26 of their 72 losses (36 percent) have been against sub-.500 Atlanta (10), Colorado (6), Philadelphia (5) and Arizona (5).

They lost another six to Miami, whom they play three games next week on the road.

Perhaps the Mets were due to win last night. Sometimes the odds work in their favor. But, was it magic? I wouldn’t go that far.

After all, there have been several times this season when it would have been easy to conclude they turned it around.

After a sluggish start, they closed April by winning 11 of 12 games, but limped through May with seven losses against cupcakes Atlanta, San Diego and Colorado.

They lost five games in June to the Braves and were swept in a three-game series in Washington to finish that month only four games over .500. The Mets appeared to turn it around with a four-game sweep of the Cubs in July, but gave up that momentum by losing three of four at home to the Nationals heading into the break.

You’ll recall manager Terry Collins saying it was “essential we play well,” in the stretch entering the break and coming out for the second half. They entered the break six games over .500 but ended July only four games over.

The Mets nose-dived to two games under in mid-August before Bartolo Colon stopped the hemorrhaging by beating the Giants in San Francisco. They went 9-2 to close August to give their season alive.

Unquestionably, the Mets have been snakebit with injuries to their young, vaunted rotation. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are all gone. But, for all their bad luck, they’ve been kept afloat by Colon, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and tonight’s spot starter Gabriel Ynoa, and the bullpen duo of Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia. Today we learned Saturday’s starter, Noah Syndergaard, will be scratched in favor of Sean Gilmartin because of a strep throat.

No doubt, the baseball Gods are toying with Collins.

Bad luck offset by good? Perhaps. But, Lugo has been brought down a peg and Reed and Familia have taken their lumps.

Wilmer Flores helped carry the team for a while, but hasn’t played in over a week because of a bad wrist (Collins took the hit for that by saying he should have used a pinch-runner). The Jay Bruce trade did not work out, but was offset by the resurgence of power from Curtis Granderson.

Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes spent time on the disabled list, but came off smoking. Cespedes is now mired in a slump, although he came through with a big hit last night.

Matt Reynolds, James Loney, Brandon Nimmo, Rene Rivera, Reyes and T.J. Rivera have either come up from the minors or were rescued off the scrap team to produce big moments. However, Michael Conforto was sent down and this season has been a bust for him.

A lot has gone wrong for the Mets – I didn’t even get to the injuries of David Wright, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda – but the flip side is a lot went right to put them where they are today.

Was last night magic? I don’t think so. It was a magical moment but means nothing if not sustainable.

For every reason why I could write them off, there are reasons I can give why they are still alive. Through it all, like they were last season, resiliency is their greatest attribute.

They are alive with nine games remaining, and considering all that has gone, maybe that’s their magic for this year.

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