Oct 04

Mets-Giants: Five Key Battles

There are games within the game – the key match-ups – that could determine the winner of Wednesday’s Mets-Giants, wild-card game. The winner goes on to play the Cubs in the NL Division Series. There were alternating times this season that both teams thought that might not be possible.

Because of its Game 7 winner-take-all format, there’s a fragile balance to the individual match-ups, with the slightest play or decision determining whether a team’s season ends or winter begins.

SYNDERGAARD: Mets' biggest key. (FOX)

SYNDERGAARD: Mets’ biggest key. (FOX)

Here are my five most intriguing match-ups:

BATTLE OF THE MANAGERS: While there have been reports the Mets’ Terry Collins could have been fired in August, the Giants’ Bruce Bochy could be a Hall of Famer. Based on winning three World Series titles, I would vote for him. Collins deserves kudos for keeping his team together during a string of adversities and controversies. Doing that should merit serious Manager of the Year consideration. It should be noted some of those controversies were self-induced.

In the end: When faced with a decision Bochy won’t waffle as Collins did in Game 5 of the World Series when he stuck with Matt Harvey.

BATTLE OF THE ACES: Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard is as intriguing as it gets. It is a dream for those loving a pitcher’s duel. While Syndergaard is in his first full season – really hard to believe – Bumgarner is an established postseason presence with the lowest road ERA 0.60 ERA (minimum of 25 innings) in playoff history. Bumgarner’s performance two years ago against Kansas City, when he won Games 1 and 5, then came back on two days to throw five innings in relief for the save in Game 7, is arguably one of the most impressive performances in postseason history.

The Mets like to boast of their young arms – and rightfully so – but Harvey, Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz had a long way to match Bumgarner.

In the end: Syndergaard has the stuff for greatness and he’s pitched hurt. It wouldn’t be surprising if he spins a shutout, as he’s that dominant. But, if you get on you can steal on him, rattle him and drive him from the game. In a big game, there are a handful of names you want: Sandy Koufax (4-3, 0-95 ERA), Cliff Lee (7-0, 1.27 ERA), Andy Pettitte (19-10, 3.83 ERA), Orel Hershiser (8-3, 2.59 ERA), John Smoltz (15-4, 2.67 ERA), Curt Schilling (11-2, 2.23 ERA) and Bumgarner (7-3, 2.14 ERA).

BATTLE OF OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHIES: All season, Collins sang the refrain the Mets were a team built on the home run. The Giants, meanwhile, are a better at stringing together innings and putting pressure on the pitcher. Statistics is baseball’s yardstick. We can get caught up in the new-age numbers, but there are only a few that give a clearer picture.

It’s all about runs.

Mets: 671 runs scored; 218 homers; 649 RBI. Giants: 715 runs scored; 130 homers; 675 RBI.

Batting averages count, too.

Mets: Hit .225 with RISP and .187 with two outs and RISP. Giants: Hit .250 with RISP and .220 with two outs and RISP.

Other important numbers.

Mets: On-base percentage of .316, with 517 walks and 1,302 strikeouts. Giants: On-base percentage of .329 with 572 walks and 1,107 strikeouts.

Summary: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a storyline all season, and they can’t afford to squander whatever opportunities they’ll get against Bumgarner. While the Mets do live on the homer and clearly have more power with three hitters – Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson hitting over 30 – the Giants outscored them by 44 runs. The Mets don’t prolong innings with walks let too many chances get away by striking out.


When it comes to the stars, it’s Cespedes against Buster Posey and their contrasting styles of power vs. patience.

Cespedes hit .280 with 31 homers, but only 86 RBI. For all his homers there should be more run production, especially since he hit .278 with RISP. However, his production is offset by 108 strikeouts compared to only 51 walks. In the clutch, pitchers are able to get Cespedes to chase.

Cespedes is an imposing figure at the plate, but his MVP candidacy faded with mediocre numbers after the All-Star break of .246, ten homers and 34 RBI. One red flag entering the postseason was Cespedes’ numbers since Sept. 15, when every one of the Mets’ 15 games was crucial. In his span, Cespedes hit .220 (13-for-59) with one homer and seven RBI, with ten strikeouts and seven RBI.

Another was his non-presence in the Mets’ clubhouse celebration. I appreciate his disappointment in how he ended the season, but this was a team moment and reminiscent of a NFL wide receiver. Yoenis, meet Odell Beckham Jr.

When it comes to needing a homer, you want Cespedes, but what about Posey?

Posey’s.288 average only a handful of points higher than Cespedes, but with only 14 homers. However, he drove in 80 runs creating speculation how many RBI he could have had if matched Cespedes’ power?

He’s a gap hitter with 33 doubles (Cespedes had 25) and better in the clutch with a .311 average with runners on base and .287 with RISP. Posey hit only .221 after the seventh inning, but that’s when he hit five of his homers with 21 RBI.

After the All-Star break, Posey hit .282 with three homers and 38 to pump the brakes on the Giants’ second-half skid. Since Sept. 15, Posey hit .306 (19-for-62) with two homers and 16 RBI (averaged one a game for 16 games) with nine strikeouts and seven walks.

Summary: It depends on what you want. If it’s a homer, go with Cespedes, but Posey is more apt to drive in a run in other ways and keep an inning alive with 68 strikeouts and 64 walks. It comes to this: Who do you want at the plate in the ninth inning, with the game tied with a runner on third with less than two outs?


Of all the stats, perhaps the most important could leave the others useless, and that’s the Giants’ 29 blown saves, including nine in September. Santiago Casilla (31 saves) lost his closer role to Sergio Romo (four saves), but the Mets’ eighth-inning duo of Addison Reed (40 holds) and Jeurys Familia (51 saves) is the most reliable in the majors.

Summary: Both teams need to get through seven, but with different reasons.

The Giants need to string together enough runs and work Syndergaard’s pitch count to get into the middle of the Mets’ bullpen. If they do that, and Bumgarner gets through the seventh and into the eighth, they can win.

The Mets need to get to Bumgarner enough to a lead entering the eighth. If they do that, and Syndergaard takes the Mets to the Reed-Familia finish line – something he’s done 12 times in 30 starts and only twice in his last five, we could see Bartolo Colon Friday in Chicago.

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Sep 20

Three Mets’ Storylines: Did They Lose Bruce?

In the end, it came down to this: manager Terry Collins has more confidence in Eric Campbell, a player who hasn’t had a hit since May than he does Jay Bruce, the player whom the Mets hoped would carry them into the playoffs.

BRUCE: Did Mets lose him? (AP)

BRUCE: Did Mets lose him? (AP)

Campbell came through with a RBI pinch-hit single in the eighth, but the Mets still lost, 5-4, to Atlanta Tuesday night, and you have to wonder – as Bruce must, also – that he’ll be of little, or no use, to them in the remaining 11 games.

And, after that, do they see a reason to bring him back next season?

There’s no disputing Bruce has been horrid ohis last 24 games, hitting .167 and .125 with RISP. There’s also no disputing he was leading the National League in RBI with 80 when the trade was made.

A manager has a myriad of tough decisions to make, and with this one was the balance between trying to get a player going and winning the game.

“It’s one of the worst things you can do as a manager is to pinch-hit for a star,” Collins said. “My job is to win the game. … I think he’s extremely frustrated. All he cares about is to be a good teammate and help this team. I sure he’s dumped a lot of pressure on himself.”

Collins said he spoke with Bruce before that inning and told him he would use a pinch-hitter, to which he said the player told him: “You do what you have to do.”

Bruce left the dugout as Campbell came to the plate, which isn’t a good image. But, he was probably thinking he didn’t want to have the cameras focused on him for the rest of the game.

Later, it was clear Bruce wasn’t happy, but he said all the right things.

“It was very difficult,” Bruce said about being pinch-hit for. “It’s the first time I was pinch-hit for. (Actually, it is the ninth time according to ESPN). I always think I’m the best choice, but he’s the manager and it his decision and I respect that.

“Coming over here, it has been tough for me. I’m worried about the team. I have plenty of time later to think about myself but now isn’t the time. I’m ready to play. I’ll be ready every day.”

The thing that bothers me about the decision was not that Collins hit for Bruce, but his inconsistency in his decision-making. There have been too many times when logic dictated he do something, but did the opposite. From leaving Matt Harvey in too long to not resting Yoenis Cespedes, to a half-dozen other things, Collins’ track record is inconsistency.

So, did the Mets lose Bruce?

If Bruce is a man of his word, they didn’t. But, that leads to the question whether the Mets’ lack of confidence reached the point where they don’t want him anymore.

Unquestionably, Collins’ decision on Bruce was the game’s primary storyline. The others were the Mets’ offense and a look at the wild-card race.

OFFENSE STRUGGLES VS. TEHERAN:  Perhaps it is an overstatement to say Julio Teheran owns the Mets, but it wouldn’t be wrong to indicate he’s in their heads.

The Mets managed one run on five hits in seven innings against Teheran. Who knows? Had he stayed in for another inning perhaps the Bruce issue wouldn’t have surfaced.

“He’s good, he’s an All-Star,” Curtis Granderson said. “He has some really good stuff.”

Collectively, the Mets have scored 21 runs over their last eight games. And, with the topic of struggling hitters, Cespedes is hitting .179 over his last ten games and struck out to end the game.

WILD-CARD UPDATE: The loss coupled with St. Louis winning in Colorado dropped the Mets and Cardinals to a tie.

Meanwhile, with Miami winning over the Nationals, the Marlins moved over .500 and remain in wild-card contention. The Mets are in Miami for three games next week.

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Sep 12

Mets’ Lineup, Sept. 12, At Washington

When the Mets’ schedule came out last winter, the first thing I searched for were the Washington series. I was disappointed the last two series weren’t played the last two weeks, but that’s the way it goes.

Of course, I didn’t expect them to be nine games out in early September. It’s not as if the Mets don’t have anything to play for. Last year, the Mets buried the Nationals in DC in an all but clinching series. The three-game series in Washington gives the Nationals the chance – and Daniel Murphy will love this – a chance to bury the Mets for the division this week.“We

The Mets’ focus must be on St. Louis and San Francisco for the wild-card. Within the past three weeks the Mets have gone from being all-but-buried to looking at the second wild card and hope it doesn’t entail flying to California for one game, to controlling their own destiny and play the wild-card game at Citi Field.

“We know we can certainly play with them,” manager Terry Collins told reporters Sunday in Atlanta. “We’ve just got to go in there and play. For us, it’s about winning games. I don’t care who they are against. We’ve just got to win games.”

This week, while the Mets play the Nationals, the Cardinals are home to the Cubs. Then this weekend it will be the Cardinals in San Francisco for four games.

Here’s the Mets’ lineup tonight:

Jose Reyes, 3B: Hitting .282 (171-606) vs, Nats. … Hitting .290 (9-31) with RISP. …Hitting .290 (34-114) with .360 on-base percentage in 27 games since coming off the DL. … Has franchise-record 19 homers leading off a game.

 Asdrubal Cabrera – SS: Hitting .270 (20-74) vs. Nats. … Hitting .232 (19-82) with 20 RBI with RISP. … Hitting .385 in 22 games since coming off DL. … Still bothered by sore knee.Yoneis Cespedes – LF

Yoenis Cespedes – LF: Hitting .307 (27-88) vs. Nats. … Hitting .286 (26-91) with nine homers and 50 RBI with RISP. … His 30 homers tie him for fourth in NL.

Curtis Granderson – CF: Hitting .265 (57-215) vs. Nats. … Hitting .130 (12-92) with RISP. … Is batting .289 with six homers – including in four straight games – in last 12 games. … Production coincides with hitting fourth behind Cespedes and drawing more walks.

Kelly Johnson – 2B: Hitting .262 (79-302) vs. Nats. … Hitting .282 (20-71) with 22 RBI with RISP. … Has four pinch-hit homers.

Jay Bruce – RF: Hitting .215 (45-209) vs. Nats. … Hitting .327 (37-113) with nine homers and 59 RBI with RISP. … Mets hold option for 2017.

Travis d’Arnaud – C: Hitting .242 (29-120) vs. Nats. … Hitting .114 (5-44) with RISP. … Opponents hitting .272 when d’Arnaud catches and Mets pitchers have a 4.14 ERA. Mets are 31-31 when he’s behind the plate.

James Loney – 1B: Hitting .313 (42-134) vs. Nats. … Hitting .197 (13-66) with RISP. … Has seven homers, the most in a season since 2014.

Rafael Montero – RHP: Mets won his last two starts despite Montero walking ten in 9.1 innings. … Is 0-1 with a 6.43 ERA against Washington.

Sep 07

Mets’ Three Storylines: Taking Care Of Business

The Mets did more than complete a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, they did what all contenders must do, which is take care of business.

It’s hard enough to beat a team in three straight games, but the streak is now 14 straight for the Mets over the Reds with a 6-3 victory Wednesday.

REYES: Big time addition. (AP)

REYES: Big time addition. (AP)

The Reds showed why they are 24 games below .500, but manager Terry Collins said there was no danger of the Mets playing down to their competition, which they frequently have this summer.

“Our guys are completely focused on what they’ve got to do and how they’ve got to go about it,” Collins said.

Beginning with the game’s first pitch, which Jose Reyes crushed over the wall in right, the Reds did everything they could to give the game to the Mets, who gladly accepted.

The Reds had three runners thrown out attempting to steal, including one at the plate; they went 3-for-13 with RISP; they struck out 13 times; they left 12 runners. When offered such gifts, a contender must capitalize, which the Mets did, something they often didn’t do for nearly three months this summer.

Now, with a little over three weeks remaining, the Mets have sliced into a once 5.5-game wild-card deficit to mere percentage points behind St. Louis for the second wild-card after the Cardinals lost in Pittsburgh Wednesday.

Taking advantage of opportunities is why the Mets are back in the race and today’s primary storyline. The others are Reyes’ continued solid play and winning with Noah Syndergaard not at his best.

REYES DOES IT ALL: Reyes not only homered, but also stole a base, singled and scored two runs. Again, he played a solid third base.

“I thought he was going to be a guy that could create some runs by getting on base,” Collins said of Reyes. “But he’s gotten big hits, huge hits. There’s no question there’s a lot of baseball left in that guy.”

The Mets acquired Reyes as a spark plug and a stopgap, and he’s responded by hitting.287 with six homers, 15 RBI, eight stolen bases and a .341 on-base percentage as a reliable leadoff hitter.

Reyes’ production enabled Collins to drop the struggling Curtis Granderson to the middle of the order, where he’s finally showing signs of production.

Granderson hit his second homer in as many games hitting behind Yoenis Cespedes in the clean-up spot. Granderson now has 25 homers and 45 RBI.

Wilmer Flores also homered, his 16th of the season.

SYNDERGAARD STRUGGLES: All this power picked up Syndergaard, who pitched five scoreless innings, but allowed ten runners (six hits and four walks).

Syndergaard’s problem was again command, evidenced by 95 pitches, of which only 61 were strikes.

Syndergaard’s short outing forced Collins to dip deep into his bullpen using five relievers. Of the five, only one – Gabriel Ynoa, who gave up three runs – isn’t expected to be on the playoff roster if the Mets are fortunate to have one.

And, right now that’s a good possibility because they are taking care of business.

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Sep 06

Mets’ Lineup, Sept. 6, At Cincinnati

The Mets came to Cincinnati and whipped the Reds on no sleep Monday. Well rested, they send out Rafael Montero and this lineup tonight:

Jose Reyes 3B: Didn’t play Monday. Hitting .321 (9-28) with RISP. He’s playing a good third base. Would like to see him try to steal more.

Asdrubal Cabrera SS: Singled as a pinch-hitter Monday. Is tearing it up since coming off the DL, going .418 with six homers and 15 RBI in 17 games.

Yoenis Cespedes LF: Didn’t play Monday. Right quad still bothers him at times. Overall, has 27 homers and 68 RBI. With September call-ups would like to see him rested more often late in the game.

Wilmer Flores 1B: Went 3-4 Monday. Yeah, I did a double-take when I saw him in clean-up spot. Is batting .295 with 14 homers and 45 RBI since June 3.

Jay Bruce RF: Was 0-4 with two strikeouts Monday. Batting .202 with four homer and 10 RBI with the Mets.

Travis d’Arnaud C: Went 1-3 Monday. Is making more solid contact. Hit .282 in August. Mets are 29-30 when he starts and pitchers have a 4.17 ERA with him behind the plate.

Curtis Granderson CF: Did not play Monday. Has 23 homers with only 43 RBI. Hitting .301 (28-93) lifetime against Cincinnati.

Matt Reynolds 2B: Went 3-4 with a homer and two RBI Monday. Has three homers and 13 RBI on the season.

Montero RHP: Making his second start of the season. Has never pitched against Reds.

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