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.

Jul 09

Three Mets’ Storylines: Murphy Deserves This

Daniel Murphy is just piling it on the Mets now. The one-time Met turned Mets tormenter with Washington stuck it to his former team again Saturday night.

Murphy drove in four runs on three hits – including a homer; missing a second by a few feet – in a 6-1 Nationals’ rout that opened their lead over the Mets to a comfy five games in the NL East. Murphy is a big part of that lead. Had he stayed with the Mets and produced the same numbers, you can make an argument the standings could be flipped.

MURPHY: Easy to root for. (AP)

MURPHY: Easy to root for. (AP)

Ask GM Sandy Alderson why they are not.“It’s always nice to beat a divisional opponent,” said Murphy as he suppressed a smile when asked if he took any pleasure in beating the team that shunned in the free-agent market.

“It’s always nice to beat a divisional opponent,” said Murphy as he suppressed a smile when asked if he took any pleasure in beating the team that shunned in the free-agent market.

Murphy is batting .437 with six homers and 19 RBI against the Mets. Overall, he’s hitting .349 with 16 homers and 64 RBI and if the season ended today, and it’s getting close to that feeling with the Mets, he would be a MVP frontrunner.

And, I couldn’t be happier for him. As a sportswriter, I root for good stories and Murphy is a good story. He was a great story last October, and before that was always an interesting story for the Mets.

For some reason only Alderson and the Wilpons know – but haven’t been forthcoming about – the Mets didn’t want him back, only giving him a $15.8-million token qualifying offer.

Maybe his politically-incorrect statements was the decider. Definitely, he didn’t fit Alderson’s Sabremetrics profile, which I always felt was overrated. His defense was never top drawer, but the first-place Nationals don’t seem to have a problem with his glove.

Murphy was a homegrown Met who always busted his hump for the team. He had some brain cramps, but there was never a problem with his heart.

I always liked Murphy when he played with the Mets and wanted him back, although I never believed Alderson would pull that trigger. The kicker is Murphy, after working with Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, showed the power stroke last year in the second half in the playoffs he’s flashing now.

One of the things I always liked about Murphy is he’s not a chest-thumper. When asked if he’s having fun, especially in the park where he blossomed last year in the playoffs, Murphy said: “We’re playing well. [Being called a] post-season hero is humbling, but there were 25 guys over there last year.”

Last year seems like a long time ago, and with each Murphy at-bat it’s getting further away. I don’t know if the Mets can regroup and challenge Washington after the break, but I am happy to see him thriving.

Murphy deserves to be a headliner, and could be one through 2018 with the Nationals, while the player they replaced him with – Neil Walker – could walk after this season.

Murphy was the main storyline Saturday. The two others were the Mets’ continued inability to hit with RISP and how Antonio Bastardo adds nothing to the bullpen.

METS WITH RISP: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a significant issue all season. They were 0-5 with RISP and stranded seven runners. If there was a turning point in the game it came in the first when the Mets had runners on second and third with no outs and came away with only one run.

Max Scherzer, who no-hit the Mets last year and has 29 strikeouts in three starts against them this season, struck out Asdrubal Cabrera and Brandon Nimmo to get out of the inning.

“It’s an age-old story,” Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters. “When you have a pitcher like [Scherzer] on the ropes early, you’d better get him.”

All season Collins said the Mets are built on power, which is not the optimum way to construct a team. Of all the telling stats about the Mets, perhaps the most significant is they have won only five games in which they did not hit a homer.

BASTARDO BOMBS OUT: Bastardo is not why they lost tonight, but continued to be a weak link in the bullpen.

Murphy took him deep tonight and also on Thursday. He has a 4.91 ERA and as simply not produced as the situational lefty.

The Mets enter the break with no shortage of needs, and a lefty in the bullpen is one of them.

 

Jul 07

Three Mets’ Storylines: Flores, Bullpen Bail Out Colon

Just before the Mets were swept last week in Washington, manager Terry Collins said the 14 games leading into the All-Star break were “very important.’’

He didn’t call this stretch “critical,’’ but his message was understood just the same.

FLORES: Does it again. (AP)

FLORES: Does it again. (AP)

After being destroyed in DC, the Mets responded with a four-game sweep of the Cubs; winning two of three against the Marlins, and powering their way in the opener of this four-game series, 9-7, over the Nationals. With the victory, the Mets pulled within three games of first-place Washington.

Thursday’s win came on the heels of the sobering news Matt Harvey might be lost with season-ending shoulder surgery.

Things didn’t look promising for the Mets after the Nationals took a 4-1 lead in the fourth, but they responded with four homers and a strong showing their bullpen. Travis d’Arnaud, Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores – again – and Asdrubal Cabrera homered for the Mets.

They also caught a break when Jayson Werth’s take-out slide of second baseman Neil Walker was ruled interference, so instead of runners on the corners with no outs the Nationals had the bases empty with two down.

Earlier in the game Werth was called safe on a similar play. Of course, this rule was a by-product of the Chase UtleyRuben Tejada play last year in the NL Division Series.

The following are the three main storylines from tonight’s game.

FLORES STAYS HOT: After a pair of two-homer games on this homestand, Flores did not get the start. Collins’ explanation, in part, was to give him an at-bat against one of Washington’s lefty relievers.

It sounded like he was blowing smoke, but sure enough, Flores hit the first pitch thrown to him by former Met Oliver Perez for a three-run homer in the fifth to put New York ahead to stay. It was his sixth game-winning hit of the season.

Flores has five homers during this homestand, which begs the question: Where will he play Friday?

COLON ROCKED; PEN ROCKS: Colon has been one of the most reliable starters this season, but was shelled, giving up six runs on ten hits in 4.2 innings. Three of those homers came in the fourth by Clint Robinson, Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper.

Colon was bailed out by the offense and the bullpen.

With the bases loaded in the fifth, Jerry Blevins struck out Rendon to end the inning. Hansel Robles struck out Jayson Werth to end the sixth; Addison Reed retired four hitters; and Jeurys Familia recorded his 31st save in as many opportunities.

GRANDERSON RED HOT: “Red hot,’’ haven’t been the words to describe Granderson many times this season, but he reached base five times on three hits – two doubles – and two walks.

In his last five games, Granderson is 8-for-19 (.421) with two homers and five RBI.

Granderson’s surge coincides with the move to second in the order behind Reyes.

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.