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.

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.