Jul 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Don’t Forget Cespedes As MVP Candidate

As impressive as the Mets’ four-game sweep was of the Cubs, a case can be made it was validated by what they did Monday afternoon with their firecracker comeback victory over the Miami Marlins. You can even argue two of the Mets’ most important victories this season came during this home stand.

There was Thursday’s rally from three runs down – call it the Brandon Nimmo Game – in a 4-3 victory over the Cubs. Today, they overcame another poor performance from Matt Harvey to come from six runs behind to win their fifth straight game, 8-6, to pull within four games of Washington.

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

CESPEDES: MVP Candidate. (AP)

On Thursday they put the brakes on what was turning into a severe skid; today they pressed down on the accelerator in their playoff push.

There were three significant storylines from the game, with two – Harvey and the bullpen – intertwined. The third was Yoenis Cespedes‘ clutch hitting.

CESPEDES: I keep hearing about potential NL MVP candidates, among them Daniel Murphy and Kris Bryant.

But, Cespedes can’t be ignored. He has five of his 20 homers and 28 RBI coming with RISP. His 20 homers – fourth in the NL – suggest he’s in scoring position as soon as he leaves the on-deck circle. In his last 12 home games, Cespedes is batting .419 with four doubles and four homers, including that monster drive to jumpstart Thursday’s win.

Cespedes had no chance of being the NL MVP last year because of his limited time in the league. But this year, he’d be my choice, with his game-winning, two-run double in the eighth just another sample of what he’s been doing all year.

HARVEY: Gone are the feel-good thoughts Harvey might have turned around his season after making three strong starts. Harvey encored those three starts with four bad ones in which he gave up a combined 13 runs on 30 hits and five walks with only 15 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. For the second straight game Harvey worked just 3.2 innings. (In fairness, his outing was cut short in the Washington start by rain, but even so he wasn’t pitching well.)

Harvey hasn’t come away with a victory since, May 30, some seven starts ago.

On the bright side, he hasn’t given up a homer since his May 24 loss at Washington when he gave up three. However, of his 17 starts he’s only gone seven innings twice.

For someone who considers himself an ace, this is unacceptable. For those of you who still believe him to be an ace, kindly think again if his 4-10 record and 4.86 ERA haven’t convinced you. That’s not to say he can’t be an ace in the future, but not now.

The Mets will need Harvey because of looming physical questions of Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard.

BULLPEN: The pen has been maligned, but today it stepped up with 5.1 scoreless innings.

The Mets didn’t have Addison Reed, but were picked up by Erik Goeddel, Logan Verrett, Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins and Jeurys Familia. Kudos for Verrett and Robles for working out of trouble, and again for Familia, who always seems to be on the ropes only to escape with his 29th straight victory.

A point that requires no debate: Championship teams need a strong bullpen.

Jul 02

Mets Wrap: Have They Survived A June Swoon?

Did the Mets keep alive their season with victories over the Cubs the last two days? The Brandon Nimmo game Thursday was what they desperately needed. The home run barrage Friday was an April flashback.

Both games featured Nimmo’s youthful exuberance, and an argument can be made he gave the Mets an emotional jumpstart.

SYNDERGAARD: Sunday's starter has sore elbow. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Sunday’s starter has sore elbow. (AP)

Despite their June Swoon, which included getting swept in Washington, the Mets are six games behind the Nationals, and 1.5 games behind the Dodgers for the second wild card. It means the essence of their season remains, which is getting into October.

June was a duplicate of May, with a dismal hitting slump and myriad of injuries culminating in a 12-15 record.

JUNE MVP

For the second straight month, it has to go to the only player to show up big offensively, which would be Yoenis Cespedes, who hit .315 with nine homers, 27 RBI and .374 on-base percentage. Cespedes had several brain cramp moments and played with a sore wrist. Oh yeah, one of those homers reached the upper deck at Citi Field. When he crossed the plate he said, “Wow,’’ which was the best way to describe the blast that brought back memories of Tommie Agee’s upper deck drive at Shea Stadium.

PITCHER OF THE MONTH

Noah Syndergaard won three games, but I’m leaning toward closer Jeurys Familia, who saved ten games with a 0.69 ERA. In 13 games he gave up one run on seven hits with 14 strikeouts. He also gave up seven hits and walked six making every appearance an adventure.

KEY GAME OF THE MONTH

There was the June 8, 6-5 extra-innings victory in Pittsburgh that avoided a four-game series sweep. However, I’m going with Thursday night’s 4-3 stunner over the Cubs featuring Nimmo’s game-tying hit and hustle on the bases to score the winning run. Had they lost it would have meant a five-game losing streak.

KEY MOVE OF THE MONTH

I’m going with bringing up Nimmo and sending down Michael Conforto. I’m hoping we’ll see Conforto back in July, but not at the cost of sending down Nimmo, who, if he keeps this up has to stay up. It could make for an interesting decision.

RED FLAG ENDURED

After losing David Wright for the remainder of the season, Wilmer Flores filled the breach hitting .289 with two homers and 12 RBI. The Mets are gambling Jose Reyes will further resolve their third base issue.

KEY ISSUE RESOLVED

The Mets traded for James Loney to replace Lucas Duda at the end of May. While Loney has more than capably done the job defensively, his offense has been surprising with a .294 average, three homers, ten RBI and .345 on-base percentage for the month. Loney had 30 hits and only three hitless games for June.

HEALTH ISSUES

Syndergaard and Steven Matz are dealing with bone spurs in their elbow. … Wright will be gone for the rest of the season following surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. … Duda is still at least three weeks away. … Travis d’Arnaud came off the disabled list (shoulder) and his throwing has improved. … Cespedes had several nagging issues, Curtis Granderson has a strained calf and Conforto played with a bum wrist. … Juan Lagares is expected to be activated from the DL for Saturday’s game. … Reliever Jim Henderson is out indefinitely with a strained elbow.

SIX QUESTIONS RAISED

How will they play for the rest of the month, which includes two games against the Cubs, three with Miami and four against the Nationals?

Will the Mets make a deal at the deadline?

How long will they be without Duda and what is the severity of Granderson’s injury?

Since elbow injuries are always serious, will Matz and Syndergaard stay in the rotation?

How long will the ride last with Loney and Nimmo?

After three strong starts, Matt Harvey seems to have regressed. Who is the real Harvey?

BY THE NUMBERS

3: Runs scored by the Mets for Jacob deGrom in five June starts. He was 0-3 with two no-decisions for the month.

16: Games in which the Mets scored three runs or less. Overall, they are 11-30 when they score three runs or less.

.214: Neil Walker’s average for June.

5: Victories by a starting pitcher for the month.

8: One-run games.

11: Roster moves for the month.

4: Times shut out.

LOOKING AT JULY’S SCHEDULE

So far, the Mets are 2-3 during the 14-game stretch to the All-Star break. The rest of the Cubs series (2 games), and series against the Marlins (3) and Nationals (4) could determine whether they make a move at the deadline and stay in the race.

The Mets will come out of the All-Star break with nine on the road, three each at Philadelphia, the Cubs and Marlins.

The Mets close out the month with three games at home with St. Louis and four against Colorado.

Unquestionably, July could define their season.

Jun 25

Striking Similarities Between This Year And Last For Mets

The similarities between this year and last are striking and the struggling Mets can only hope the results will be the same, which would be a long jaunt into October. Last year on this date, the Mets were floundering at 37-37 and 3.5 games behind the also struggling Washington Nationals.

CESPEDES: Bad on the bases.  (Getty)

CESPEDES: Bad on the bases. (Getty)

The Mets entered Saturday’s game in Atlanta with a better record (39-33) and closer to the Nationals (three games behind) than last season, yet there is a growing sense of urgency. Things would be a lot worse if the Nationals haven’t lost seven straight games.

Last summer GM Sandy Alderson was under pressure to revive the Mets’ listless offense, which was without David Wright, by making a trade – that turned out to be for Yoenis Cespedes – and bringing up Michael Conforto.

This year, with Wright again on the disabled list, the Mets hope to jumpstart their stagnant offense by bringing back Jose Reyes – which nobody expects will have an impact similar to Cespedes – and bringing up Brandon Nimmo and sending down Conforto.

When Conforto came up last year, he made an immediate positive impression, which didn’t go away until May of this year. Manager Terry Collins said when he saw Conforto had a “deer in the headlights” look Friday night, he knew it was time to make a move. The numbers screamed the same with an average of .107 over his last 25 games.

“I think in talking with the coaching staff and the manager, we just felt that, look, this is counterproductive and what we need to do is get him to Las Vegas, get his swing back, and then hopefully get him back here within a relatively short period of time,” Alderson told reporters.

What does that mean?

As much as I want to see what Nimmo can do, I don’t like the idea of him going back down right away, because we all know he’s not here to ride the bench. I’m also not crazy about the Mets’ thinking as to Nimmo’s future. He played center at Vegas, and although Cespedes is a Gold Glove Award winning left field, Nimmo will play left and Cespedes will stay in center.

Nimmo, after traveling most of the night – which only reinforces the notion the Mets need their Triple-A team to be closer – was on the bench tonight and is expected to start Sunday.

Speaking of playing out of position, Reyes is expected to play third and possibly some center, where he’s never played before on this level. At one time Reyes was a prolific base stealer who was stellar at shortstop. Those days are gone.

“Do we expect him to win the National League battle title this year the way he did in 2011? No,” Alderson said. “Has he lost a step maybe? Is he the premier shortstop that he once was? It doesn’t really matter – he’s not going to play shortstop. So we’ve taken all of those things into account. We think he can help us. You know, from a motivational standpoint, I don’t think we would be able to find a player who is more determined, more highly motivated to perform than Jose is today.”

The motivation comes in Reyes’ desire to save his career after a domestic violence incident that landed him a 50-game suspension.

“He understands the mistake he made and has taken responsibility for it,” Alderson said. “But at the same time, he doesn’t deserve to be ostracized.”

While Reyes isn’t the same player he once was, it’s a safe bet he’s still better on the bases than Cespedes, who was picked off first Friday night without diving back which resulted in a twisted ankle. And Saturday he dogged it and was thrown out at second going in standing up.

Both were mind cramps, which is also similar to 2015. However, if Cespedes gets the benefit of doubt and was injured and couldn’t slide, he shouldn’t have been in the lineup.

That’s on Collins and Alderson.

 

Jun 15

Surgery Might Be Wright’s Best Chance

Like everybody else, I want to see David Wright be healthy and productive for the Mets. But it won’t happen this year and there are no guarantees about the future. Wright is currently mulling over the possibility of season-ending neck surgery with Dr. Robert Watkins. Should he have it, there are no assurances of when he’ll be ready for the 2017 season.

WRIGHT: What will he do? (AP)

WRIGHT: What will he do? (AP)

Far be it for me, or anybody else for that matter, to tell somebody to have surgery, especially in an area as vital as the neck. As I found out with my surgery in 2014 for a broken arm that backfired and caused me to be hospitalized for six months and leave in a wheelchair, stuff happens.

However, Wright’s case it is far more complicated than a broken arm. What we do know is there are no guarantees with rest and rehabilitation, either. If he goes that route, comes back and is reinjured to where surgery is a must, then not only this season, but perhaps much of next year will be gone, too.

Matt Harvey faced the same dilemma in 2013 before relenting and taking the Tommy John.

Wright is 33. He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis last year and was out for nearly four months. He’s currently on the disabled list with a herniated disk in his neck. He was off to a sluggish start – seven homers with 14 RBI – when he was injured. He was also having a rough time in the field, most notably his throwing.

Wilmer Flores is currently the third baseman and hitting well since taking over. Eric Campbell and Ty Kelly also spent time at third.

The Mets’ offense has been non-productive for nearly six weeks, averaging less than four runs a game. There’s no immediate help in the future from the minor leagues or in a possible trade. Mike Schmidt isn’t walking through that door.

I want to see Wright play, but I would rather he be healthy. That’s why I would opt for the surgery.

 

Jun 14

Moving Granderson To Third Is Best Mets Can Do

The argument for the Mets using Curtis Granderson in the leadoff spot last year was his high on-base percentage. Fueled by 91 walks, it was a solid .364 last season, which enabled him to score 98 runs.

His current numbers refute that argument. Granderson’s on-base percentage is a puny .316 this year with only 27 walks, but 61 strikeouts. These are numbers not befitting a leadoff hitter, which is why the decision to move him to third in the order, sandwiched between Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes is a good one.

GRANDERSON: Seeking a spark, Mets move him to third on order. (Getty)

GRANDERSON: Seeking a spark, Mets move him to third on order. (Getty)

Actually, there is not much else the Mets could have done. They aren’t hitting, especially with runners in scoring position. They aren’t getting on base. They have three starters on the disabled list and Neil Walker’s back and Michael Conforto’s wrist have them sidelined. With no help coming from the minors or in a trade, it is time to tinker.

With no help coming from the minors or in a trade, it is time to tinker. Moving Granderson to a traditional RBI spot seems like a logical first step, For his 12 homers, he should have a lot more than 20 RBI.

The Mets’ order tonight reminds me of when managers of slumping teams pulled the lineup out of a hat. It’s not quite that bad for Terry Collins, who was released from a Milwaukee hospital and will be on the bench.

Here’s tonight’s order:

Alejandro De Aza, LF: His .181 average isn’t encouraging, but he’s fast enough to be considered at the top of the order.

Cabrera, SS: Is hitting .267, but has been fairly consistent. Is not really a No. 2 hitter in the classic sense, but is comfortable here.

Granderson, RF: Not the prototypical No. 3 hitter, but his power (12 homers) fits in the middle of the order. He should have more RBI and should get more opportunities more RBI opportunities with Cabrera, and perhaps in the future, Juan Lagares hitting ahead of him. Hitting ahead of Cespedes, his walks could increase.

Cespedes, CF: Has hit five of his 16 homers with RISP. Overall, in the 57 games in which he has played, he’s batting .282 with 16 homers, 40 RBI and 34 runs scored. In his first 57 games with the Mets last year, he hit .287 with 17 homers, 44 RBI and 39 runs scored.

Kelly Johnson, 2B: Is 4-for-9 since coming over from Atlanta. Has gone 55 at-bats since his last homer, so he’s due.

Wilmer Flores, 3B: Is hitting .406 (13-32) since taking over for David Wright. Hit a game-winning single to beat the Pirates, June 8, at Pittsburgh.

James Loney, 1B: Has done well in place of Lucas Duda, including hitting a two-run homer, June 3, at Miami. Is a lifetime .314 hitter against Pirates.

Kevin Plawecki, C: Hitting only .205. I can see the Mets sticking with Rene Rivera as the backup when Travis d’Arnaud comes off the disabled list probably next week.

Jacob deGrom, P: Lost to the Pirates, June 7, giving up three runs in six innings. DeGrom hasn’t registered a win since April 30, getting two losses and five no-decisions in that span.

As I wrote the other day, the Mets are floundering and in dire need of a spark. Maybe this is it.