Jul 25

Harvey Tries To Get On Track Against Dodgers; Lineups

Matt Harvey hopes to put the brakes on a skid that began in mid-May when the Pirates roughed him up for seven runs in four innings. Harvey, once the epitome of control and avoiding the long ball, walked two and gave up two homers that day.

Including that game, Harvey gave up eight homers in four starts. For the most part, he avoided the home run since, giving up just two in his next six starts. However, his control has been terrible as he’s walked 16 in his last five starts.

Here’s the lineup for Harvey’s start tonight against the Dodgers:

Curtis Granderson, RF

Ruben Tejada, SS

Daniel Murphy, 3B

Kelly Johnson, 2B

Lucas Duda, 1B

Michael Conforto, LF

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF

Kevin Plawecki, C

Matt Harvey, RHP

LINEUP COMMENTS: Interesting to see Tejada in the lineup when the expectations were he’s sit for Wilmer Flores However, if based on recent production it was the right call. … Newcomer Johnson is hitting clean-up with Duda dropping to fifth. … Nieuwenhuis playing over Juan Lagares, which is another good call.

 

Jul 17

Oddsmakers, And Numbers, Don’t Like Mets

Last year’s National League champions, San Francisco, won 88 games to qualify as a wild-card entry. For the Mets to win that many games, they must go 41-32, nine games over .500.

Oddsmakers have the Mets at 33-1 to win the World Series, this after being 25-1 on July 1. Evidently, that four-game winning streak entering the break carried little goodwill.

We shall see what the Mets are made of after the first three series of the second half – at St. Louis and Washington, and home to the Dodgers.

The Mets are stacking their rotation for the Washington series, with Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard. And, since Syndergaard goes tonight at St. Louis, it computes to the five-man rotation.

That means Harvey will get his way, for at least for the near future. You wanted it big boy, now just pitch.

“For us to stay in this race, we’ve got to beat Washington,’’ said Collins. “That is why we aligned the rotation the way we did.’’

Sure, the Washington games are important, but if the Mets lose in St. Louis but beat the Nationals, what have they gained?

The bottom line is all the games are important to the Mets, who will attempt to reach the postseason for the first time since 2006, but with an offense ranked 28th in scoring at 310 runs, which is roughly 3.5 a game.

With a 3.23 ERA, there is virtually no margin for error, and making it all the more difficult is there’s no imminent help on the horizon, whether from outside the organization; in the minor leagues; or from the return of the injured David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud.

The Mets’ primary competition for the wild-card at Pittsburgh, Chicago and San Francisco. They currently trail the Pirates and Cubs, but are one game up on the Giants. Also, all three teams are .500 or better on the road while the Mets have been dismal away from home. And, of course, the Giants have a championship pedigree.

GM Sandy Alderson has taken heat, and deservedly so, for not being aggressive in the trade market.

He did an admirable job cutting payroll and jettisoning the likes of Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and others, but somewhere in his contract his job description there needs to be a clause about putting a winning team on the field, not a cheap one.

May 24

Mets At Crossroads

After his Mets were swept out of Pittsburgh, manager Terry Collins insisted his team was not at a “critical juncture,’’ in the season – which I said they were several days ago – and wasn’t “dead in the water.’’

COLLINS: What's he really thinking? (AP)

COLLINS: What’s he really thinking? (AP)

It’s still May and they are 2.5 games behind Washington – after being ahead by eight – so dead might be stretching things. However, “critical juncture,’’ still applies after scoring four runs while hitting .211 with 36 strikeouts in the Pirates’ series.

Truth is, the Mets are closer to third place than first. They are also closer to being the team they are now than the one that won 11 straight games. Not too long ago, the Mets’ run-differential was plus-25. Today it is minus-one. Instead of being ten games over .500, they are only three.

Collins can talk all he wants about not panicking, not quitting and, of course, that his team plays hard. “Effort isn’t a problem,’’ Collins said this afternoon.

Talent, however, or lack of it, is the problem.

They were outscored by a composite 21-4 score by the Pirates, with their two best pitchers losing. Matt Harvey had the worst outing of his career Saturday, just a few hours after the team said David Wright would remain on the disabled list.

This team isn’t hitting; the pitching has struggled; the defense has been poor; and there’s no consistency in the batting order. Compounding matters, they don’t have imminent help coming from the minor leagues and aren’t close to making a trade.

Collins has been in this business for a long time. He knows when a team is playing well and when it isn’t. He’s not about to admit it publicly this is a critical time for the Mets.

But, he’s a smart guy. He knows it is.

He also knows the team the Mets have now is the one that will have to turn things around.

Mar 27

Black Shocked He Was Demoted

Reliever Vic Black has been optioned and will begin the season in Triple-A Las Vegas, the team announced via Twitter on Wednesday.

“I didn’t see it coming, but I also couldn’t expect anything different really because what I did was struggle all spring,” Black said. “And that’s not what they’re trying to put together on the team right now. Like they said, especially starting off, you’re trying to get hot out of the gates, and I didn’t give them the best opportunity for what they were hoping. I know they were disappointed, as am I, which is part of it. But I’ll be back.”

Black, 25, has had a rough spring training and in 10 Grapefruit League games he has posted a 5.79 ERA, allowing 13 hits while walking 10 batters, in 9.1 innings pitched.

No word yet on who replaces Black in the bullpen, perhaps Gonzalez Germen, but kudos to the Mets for making a tough decision like this, as much as it must have pained them to do so.

I felt as though things were heading this way for Black the last two weeks and I spoke to one prominent Pirates blogger who told me his inconsistency with command made it easy for the Pirates to move him in the Marlon Byrd deal.

Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call for Black, and that he can work himself back to the Mets in short order. It also has the added benefit of alerting all Mets pitchers about the importance of throwing strikes.

One last thing. For years I’ve hammered the Mets on occasion for a lack of accountability. What I mean is that they demand accountability from their players, but all too often would wait months before actually addressing poor production from one of their players. In fact, Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson would usually stand at the podium and make excuses for their players rather than taking action.

Cutting Vic Black was a refreshing departure from the status quo. It showed that the word accountability actually means something again and that there would be swift action if one’s results weren’t measuring up. Good to see.

Feb 06

Mets’ Legend Ralph Kiner Remembered

This one hurts. Not just the New York Mets and their fans, but all Major League Baseball, lost a legend today with the passing of Ralph Kiner in his California home with his family by his side.

Kiner lived his 91 years to his fullest as a Hall of Fame slugger followed by a 52-year broadcast career with the Mets. This is a man who hung around with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and dated Elizabeth Taylor.

Murphy, Nelson and Kiner: Gone, but never forgotten.

Murphy, Nelson and Kiner: Gone, but never forgotten.

On and off the field, Kiner was a star, one who inspired and drew awe, but of his traits and skills, perhaps his greatest was his humility and ability to connect with his adoring fans on a basic, human level.

“Losing Ralph is like losing a member of the family,’’ said Mets broadcaster Howie Rose, perhaps saying it best. “His warmth, humility and sense of humor will be missed. I’ll always treasure being able to share a broadcast booth with a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.’’

Numbers are numbers, and Kiner’s were most impressive, beginning with leading the National League in homers in each of his first seven years in the majors. He averaged a homer every 14.1 at-bats and over 100 RBI a season.

However, those are numbers, which don’t accurately measure his impact.

Bud Selig called him “a player ahead of his time.’’

In a statement, the Pirates, for whom he starred, said: “Ralph was one of the greatest players to ever wear a Pirates uniform and was a tireless ambassador for the game of baseball. He was a treasured member of the Pittsburgh community during his seven years with the Pirates.’’

Tom Seaver called him “a jewel,’’ while Mets owner Fred Wilpon said: “Ralph Kiner was one of the most beloved people in Mets history – an original Met and extraordinary gentleman. … He was one of a kind.’’

Mets fans grew to know, and love Kiner, as a broadcaster. He, along with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, were their original broadcast team. Kiner carved out a niche for himself as host of “Kiner’s Korner,’’ the postgame show where players reveled in talking with Kiner and getting gift certificates and $100 checks.

Kiner became known for his stories and malaprops, once saying, “if Casey Stengel were alive today he’d be spinning in his grave.’’

Not just stories, but Kiner loved to talk hitting, often, in the days before specialized hitting coaches, talking with the younger Mets.

“One September afternoon in 1969, I asked him to come and feed balls through the pitching machine,’’ recalled Ron Swoboda. “We talked for about an hour. He gave me tips on holding the bat. That night I had the greatest night of my career.’’

That night, Sept. 15, Swoboda hit a pair of two-run homers off Steve Carlton in a 4-3 victory. That night, Carlton struck out 19 Mets.

I have had several opportunities to talk with Kiner while covering the Mets. Once in spring training, Kiner spoke to a group of reporters for about 15 minutes. I had a couple of extra questions and wanted to grab him for a few more moments.

Forty-five minutes later, Ralph and I were still talking in the Mets’ dugout in Port St. Lucie. He was a joy.

However, that wasn’t the first time Ralph was so generous with his time with me.

As a college intern working for the Houston Astros, I had the opportunity to do stats for the Mets broadcast crew of Ralph, Murphy and Nelson for a weekend series. I don’t remember if he said anything humorous that weekend. What I do remember was he was gracious, warm and friendly. I was a college intern and this man was in the Hall of Fame and dated Liz Taylor.

Still, he was genuine, and as Howie Rose said, treated everyone like they were family. I had a chance that weekend to learn first hand what thousands of New Yorkers already knew: Ralph Kiner was a gem.