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.

 

Dec 30

Pirates Acquire 1B Chris McGuiness

DAVIS: Nothing moving.

The Mets have unsuccessfully tried to get pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez from Orioles for Ike Davis, but are still talking to the Brewers, Orioles and Pirates, reported Mike Puma of the New York Post before the weekend.

However, scratch the Pirates off that list. The Bucs announced that have acquired first baseman Chris McGuiness from the Texas Rangers for righthander Miles Mikolas.

McGuiness, 25, batted .246 with 11 home runs and 43 RBI in 104 Triple-A games last season, and it looks like he’ll likely be the left-handed bat they were looking for to platoon with Gaby Sanchez.

Sandy Alderson continues to seek a top pitching prospect for Davis and is bent on holding out for one even if it means keeping him. My guess is that if Davis becomes the power hitter he’s been projected to be for another team, Alderson wants to make sure he gets a top arm out of it.

Seeing Davis become a 35+ home run hitter elsewhere would definitely sting. But will a team deal a top prospect on a hunch that Ike could be that guy? That’s the dilemma.

About two weeks ago it was reported that the Mets were seeking O’s top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy for Davis. On Friday, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Orioles would need to be “blown away” to deal Eduardo Rodriguez.

The Ike Davis rumors first caught fire at the GM Meetings and then again at the Winter Meetings when Sandy Alderson had several conversations with Brewers GM Doug Melvin in a trade for their young pitching prospect, Tyler Thornburg. However, those discussions fizzled out when the Brewers balked at the suggestion.

During the Mets Holiday Party, Alderson did confirm that he was still talking with a number of teams, but said “I can’t say anything will happen.”

Jul 12

Mets Should Stay Intact And Try For Strong Second Half

Rarely does a major league roster go unchanged from Opening Day to the end of the season and the 2013 New York Mets are no exception. The roster Terry Collins will be playing with this weekend in Pittsburgh and taking into the All-Star break barely resembles that of the one that left Port St. Lucie.

WRIGHT: Not the only positive. (AP)

WRIGHT: Not the only positive. (AP)

Less than a month ago the Mets were 15 games below .500, and with a sweep of the Pirates could be five games under. Nobody expects a sweep, but nobody thought they could go 5-0-2 in their past seven road series, either.

Think about it, the Mets are playing their best ball of the season and the Pirates are cooling. It can be done. But, if not, that still leaves the Mets with two weeks before the trade deadline. Should they be buyers or sellers?

Next winter is when the Mets tell us they could be active in the free-agent market, but who wants to wait that long? History tells us the Mets came from behind in 1969 and 1973 to reach the playoffs, so why not at least be thinking along those lines now, even if the odds are long?

A Mets executive recently told me a successful season would be defined as finishing .500, which would be a 14-game improvement over 2012. That is not unrealistic and should be ownership’s commitment to its fan base. The mantra should be: There will not be a fifth straight losing season.

The Mets are where they are because:

* An All-Star first half from David Wright. Even if  he’s not hitting a lot of home runs, he’s driving the ball, getting on base, playing a strong third base and producing with runners in scoring position.

* A strong first half from Matt Harvey, who could start the All-Star Game despite ten no-decisions. With a little support, .500 would be even more realistic.

* The acquisition of Eric Young, who as the tenth option, became the leadoff hitter the Mets have sought. Young is the kind of player the Mets, if they got creative again, could add. The Giants won two of the last three World Series with mid-season acquisitions such as Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff and Angel Pagan. None were marquee players, but pushed the Giants over the top. Proof the Mets don’t have to splurge to make second-half noise.

* Marlon Byrd has become the productive outfielder the Mets have been seeking. Why trade him now? Maybe he’ll cool, who knows? But, he’s produced and there are others like him out there.

* John Buck had a monster April. After a prolonged cooling off period, Buck is hitting again. He’s also been a stabilizing influence for Harvey.

* Josh Satin gave the Mets production they lacked from Ike Davis. While Davis will get most of the playing time, the Mets can’t afford to ignore Satin. Collins said he wants to get a look at Satin at second and the outfield. He’s waffled before, but needs to see what Satin can do.

* If Ruben Tejada hadn’t been hurt, he would have been demoted to the minor leagues. Omar Quintanilla is hitting and playing the kind of shortstop the Mets hoped from Tejada, who doesn’t deserve to have his old job handed to him.

* Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee rebounded from slow starts to become reliable starters. Hefner, especially, has been terrific, even better than Harvey over the past month. There’s the temptation of dealing Hefner now with the thought this is a fluke, but why not ride him out and see what you have over a full year?

* When the Mets become serious contenders they will need a closer, so trading Bobby Parnell, as I suggested yesterday, would be counterproductive.

Yes, we’ve been here before, seduced by a good run from the Mets. However, this is a season we never expected much from them. They are giving us more than we could have envisioned despite adversity.

In each of the past four seasons the Mets have gone into the All-Star break thinking they would be sellers at the break, only to have them do nothing but let talent slip away during the winter.

This year has a different feel to it. After a miserable start, they have stabilized and are playing competitive, aggressive baseball. There are still holes, but this time management should reward its players and fan base and give us something to watch after the national attention goes away following the All-Star Game.

Stay intact and give us a reason to come out in the second half.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos