Aug 12

Three Mets’ Storylines: Bullpen Gives Them Chance, But Fall Short

It obviously wasn’t what the Mets wanted – their fourth straight loss to drop under .500 – but it was something they needed, which was a game in which they didn’t lie down after a terrible start.

After Thursday’s beat down to Arizona, Mets manager Terry Collins went on a four-minute rant, threatening his players with jobs and vowed, “starting [Friday] we’re going to get after it.”

VERRETT: Ripped. (AP)

VERRETT: Ripped. (AP)

It didn’t start that way as the Padres ripped starter Logan Verrett for five runs in the first inning, and took an 8-2 lead in the third before hanging on to win, 8-6, Friday night at Citi Field.

The Mets almost overcame four homers off Verrett and stayed alive because their bullpen retired 19 straight, which allowed them to climb back with Jay Bruce’s RBI single in the fifth; and RBI hits by Matt Reynolds and Ty Kelly, and Wilmer Flores’ run-scoring grounder in the sixth.

It was the first time they scored that many runs in an inning since four in the fifth inning last Thursday at Yankee Stadium.

They lost, but after the Arizona series, there was a sign of a pulse.

“I was very impressed,” Collins said of his team’s effort. “I saw a lot more energy. I saw some passion. I saw better at-bats. I was very impressed with how they went about it.”

That was the biggest thing to take from the game, with the other storylines being Verrett and Travis d’Arnaud.

VERRETT ROCKED: Verrett was mauled for five runs in the first and eight in 2.2 innings in what was considered an audition to stay in the rotation.

Verrett has had some good moments, but his last two starts haven’t been good and the pre-game speculation was if he pitched poorly he would be out of the rotation.

But, to replaced by whom?

“We’re going to make a change,” Collins said. “If his knee is OK, it will be Jon Niese.”

WE HAVE D’ARNAUD SIGHTING: Collins pinch-hit for d’Arnaud in the ninth inning leading to speculation – including by me – the Mets were cooling on him.

D’Arnaud sat Thursday but was back in the lineup Friday and went 3-for-4, including his fourth homer, and drove in two runs and scored two.

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Aug 12

Mets Should Say `No’ To Puig

When I read the Forbes internet story that the Mets were considering a trade for Los Angeles’ Yasiel Puig, I couldn’t yell “NO’’ loud or fast enough. While the Mets are in desperate need of a bat, Puig isn’t the answer.

If anything, he raises more questions than he answers.

PUIG: No thanks. (Getty)

PUIG: No thanks. (Getty)

They already have an outfield headache with Yoenis Cespedes, so why would the add another one in Puig, who is now toiling in Triple-A for the Dodgers? The only splash Puig would make is to divert attention away from what we’re currently seeing.

The Dodgers are sure to want starting pitching, to which the Mets should walk away, unless the names are Jon Niese or Logan Verrett.

The thing about Puig is he’s valued more on potential than production. Even at his best, Puig’s best year was 2013 when he hit .319 with 19 homers, 42 RBI and a staggering 97 strikeouts in 382 at bats.

The following year, with 558 at-bats, he increased his RBI to 69, but hit fewer homers (16) and had a lot more strikeouts (124).

After a highlight reel rookie season, he’s regressed, and has become a problem with his partying – he posted party pictures while in the minors – attitude and lack of hustle. The Dodgers are so incensed when Puig posted party videos while he’s on the disabled list.

If you’re into the new-age numbers, his 5.4 WAR in 2014 is down to 0.8.

The Mets are trying to find playing time for Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares, who’s currently on the disabled list. They don’t need a non-productive malcontent in Puig. I might consider Puig for Cespedes straight up if for no other reason than to get out from under the latter’s huge salary ($50 million owed if he doesn’t opt out).

Puig is not a fit for the Mets. They don’t need this problem.

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Aug 10

Have Mets Cooled On D’Arnaud?

The numbers aren’t good for Travis d’Arnaud, that much can’t be disputed. Even so, Mets manager Terry Collins made a red-flag kind of move with his decision to pinch-hit for him Tuesday night.

Down by two with two outs and a runner on first in the ninth, d’Arnaud represented the tying run when his spot came up in the order. Only d’Arnaud, the Mets’ No. 1 catcher, was pinch-hit for by Ty Kelly, who would be making just his 32nd career at-bat.

D'ARNAUD: What's Mets' future? (Getty)

D’ARNAUD: What’s Mets’ future? (Getty)

Although d’Arnaud has been cold, I was surprised because he has the power to tie the game. Clearly Collins didn’t have confidence in him last night, but I wonder if he has lost all confidence.

Can you really blame him? Can you blame GM Sandy Alderson if he goes in another direction next year, and I don’t mean towards Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki?

The Mets have waited for d’Arnaud to not only become the player they traded for, but just stay on the field. He spent nearly two months on the disabled list this season with a strained rotator cuff, two months in 2015 and two weeks in 2014.

D’Arnaud, a lifetime .243 hitter, averages only seven homers and 25 RBI a season. Nothing at all to get excited about. More importantly, he averages just 62 games played a year. That’s something that should worry the Mets.

Defensively, the ERA of Mets’ pitchers is over a run a game higher with d’Arnaud than Rivera. Potential base stealers run at will against d’Arnaud, who doesn’t get any help with Mets pitchers’ inability to hold runners. The Diamondbacks stole five bases last night.

The Mets are in a pennant race, but at the same time keeping an eye on the future. And, right now that eye is turning away from d’Arnaud.

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Aug 09

Mets’ Lineup, Aug. 9, Against Arizona

Before the Mets can go on any winning streak they must first win two games in a row and going against Arizona’s Zack Greinke it won’t be easy. The Mets will try to get another start from Steven Matz‘s sore elbow.

Here’s who’ll go against Greinke:

Curtis Granderson – CF: It’s stunning, really. Granderson has 18 homers, but only 31 RBI. Almost incomprehensible. Batting .194 (12-64) over last 17 games.

Neil Walker – 2B: The hottest Met, hitting .476 (10-21) on the road trip. For the season is batting .260 (19-73) with 26 RBI with RISP.

Jay Bruce – RF: Seven of last nine hits have been homers, two since joining the Mets. His 84 RBI are second in the NL.

James Loney – 1B: With Lucas Duda‘s health an issue, bringing back Loney should be a priority. Has hit safely in 19 of last 22 games.

Wilmer Flores – 3B: The Mets don’t have a real place for him, and frankly, aren’t trying hard to find one. Is hitting .271 (13-48) with RISP, yet this is a team that doesn’t produce in the clutch.

Michael Conforto – LF: At one time, Mets told us he would end up their No. 3 hitter. They were also going to play him in center.

Travis d’Arnaud – C: Mets pitchers have a 3.87 ERA when he starts. Their ERA is 2.68 when Rene Rivera plays.

Matt Reynolds – SS: Looks as if he’s The Flavor of the Month at shortstop with Asdrubal Cabrera on the DL.

Steven Matz – LHP: Is 8-8 after a 7-1 start. Yes, a lot of that is because of the bone spur. Making first career start against Arizona.

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Aug 07

Three Mets’ Storylines: Will Walker Be Around In 2017 To Save Them?

Just when it looked as if things couldn’t get bleaker for the Mets, Neil Walker rescued them Sunday afternoon with a two-run, ninth-inning homer.

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

It wasn’t the first time Walker picked up the Mets by the scruff of the neck and made me wonder if Walker will be around to save them in 2017. He’s free to leave after this season and there’s been no word on what the Mets’ plans are – or Walker’s.

The Mets were lucky to get him from Pittsburgh after Daniel Murphy left last winter. Ben Zobrist was their first replacement choice, but they were never going to afford him. GM Sandy Alderson let Murphy walk for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which Dilson Herrera as their fall back. Well, Herrera now is in Cincinnati’s farm system.

If they let Walker go as they did Murphy, they will be forced to find a second baseman. Will they go outside? Will it be Wilmer Flores, whom they never want to give a fair chance? Will it be Jose Reyes? Will they bring back Kelly Johnson or try Matt Reynolds?

Whoever they choose, it’s unlikely he’ll match Walker’s production, which will become even more important should Yoenis Cespedes leave and David Wright doesn’t recover. What Walker did Sunday is to remind us how important he has been to the Mets and fragility of their offense.

As has been the case with the Mets a lot lately, the game boiled down to the late innings. Manager Terry Collins pulled Jacob deGrom with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead in the seventh, but Jerry Blevins couldn’t keep Detroit from tying the game and the Mets were in danger of being swept and falling further behind in the wild-card race.

However, the Tigers ran themselves out of the eighth inning to set up Walker’s 19th homer, a drive well into the right-field seats that carried the Mets to a 3-1 victory.

After a sizzling April, Walker went into a dismal slump, but regained his stroke after the All-Star break and took a .489 stretch (22-for-45) into the game. With Cespedes basically a non-entity since early July, Walker kept the Mets afloat; he has three homers and nine RBI over his last dozen games.

Walker approached his at-bat against Francisco Rodriguez wanting to get a fastball early and stay away from the closer’s put-away changeup.

“You hope he leaves something up in the zone and that’s what I got,” Walker said. “With most closers you want to get to them early [in the count] because they have a devastating out pitch.”

Considering the Mets’ overall lack of prowess hitting with RISP and their injuries, one shudders to think where they would be without Walker. For one thing, it’s doubtful they would be three games over .500.

Walker has been crucial to the Mets’ hanging around, and as dismal as they have played, they are one good week from getting a foothold in the wild card race. They are currently nine games behind Washington in the NL East, so that boat is pulling out of the harbor. Still, the wild card is possible, as they trail the second slot by 1.5 games.

Walker’s homer was the headline of the day for the Mets, followed by deGrom’s start and my favorite Ernie Harwell story.

DE GROM START WASTED: The only real concern the Mets have with deGrom is not being able to score runs for him. Sunday marked the 11th time in his short career in which he gave up one or fewer runs and the Mets didn’t give him more than one run.

DeGrom had a 1-0 lead entering the seventh, but the Tigers loaded the bases on Justin Upton’s single, a walk to James McCann and Andrew Romine’s squibber that died near the third base line. Enter Blevins, who was greeted by Ian Kinsler’s weak chopper past the mound to tie the game and ensure deGrom’s seventh no-decision.

Collins said he thought deGrom was losing it after the walk when asked why he didn’t let him finish. For his part, deGrom said, “it was probably the right call,” to pull him.

As for Kinsler’s hit, deGrom said: “You’re trying to get weak contact there or a strikeout. It was a little too weak. It’s all part of the game.”

Fortunately for the Mets, on this day it wasn’t the definitive part of the game.

MY FAVORITE HARWELL STORY:  This series in Detroit reminds me of the late Tigers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, will always be one of my favorite people I’ve met in sports.

I always heard about his kindness, but experienced it first hand by his selfless gesture toward me in the Tigers’ clubhouse years ago. I was just starting out covering the Indians at the time when I ventured into the Tigers’ clubhouse to get a Kirk Gibson quote.

I waited patiently until the circle around Gibson was breaking up when I approached him. He looked at me and gruffly said, “I’m done for the day,’’ then turned his back. I was more than a little miffed when a TV guy stuck his mike in Gibson’s face. What could I do, show Gibson my resume and clips portfolio?

“What the hell?” I thought. Harwell saw this and walked up to me and said, “Don’t worry about it. That happens all the time.”

I always remembered that and remained grateful for Harwell’s compassion and kindness. He didn’t know me and didn’t have to do that, but that was Ernie.

When I was covering the Yankees I always made it a point to visit with him whenever I was in Detroit.

He was the best. The very best.

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