Aug 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Is Collins Rant Too Late?

The closed-door meeting following a press conference rant is the last act of a desperate manager and what we got from Mets manager Terry Collins.

Collins has tinkered and tweaked for months – today he wrote his 89th different lineup – but nothing has worked. A few days ago he challenged his team to loosen up and have fun.

How did they respond?

COLLINS: Loses it. (SNY)

COLLINS: Loses it. (SNY)

In the never-ending search for absolutes, today’s 9-0 humiliating loss to the Diamondbacks was unquestionably the Mets’ worst game of the season. Incidentally, that’s the same score given when a team forfeits a game; when it quits.

In the past, Collins criticized his pitching, his hitting, and his defense. He has gotten specific like not hitting with RISP and pitchers not holding runners. What he hasn’t done was criticize his players’ effort – until now.

Noah Syndergaard, who greatly contributed to the loss by emotionally unraveling on the mound, called it a “nice team meeting,” but it was far from that as Collins gave his team the message all players need to hear.

“For those who don’t want to get after it, I will find somebody else who does,” Collins said. “In Las Vegas there a whole clubhouse who wants to be here.”

Too often this year we’ve heard about injuries, about how this team doesn’t know how to manufacture runs, about the need to hit in the clutch, about a lot of things.

What we haven’t often heard is about the need to play the game the right way and being accountable. Collins isn’t stupid, he knows his job is on the line so it is only fitting he let his players and coaches know their employment is also temporary.

“I’m the manager here,” said Collins, whose rant immediately went into crescendo mode. “It starts with me. I don’t care who is not here. There are no excuses. These are major league players. The names on the back and front of their uniforms say they are major league players.

“You have a responsibility to the fans to grind it out.”

The player Collins pointed out as an example was Neil Walker, who kept working at-bats and eventually raised his average 30 points after a 2-for-32 slide. Collins mentioned how Walker was at second base on a fly ball he hit and didn’t peel off halfway to first.

There is a right and wrong way to play this game and for much of the season, the Mets have played the game the wrong way.

“Some guys are having a bad time, but you can’t say `whoa is me’ at this level,” Collins said. “Everybody is humbled. Those who get their way out of it stay in this game. I want the ones who stay.

“There has to be a passion. People pay to see us play and deserve our best effort. You play the game correctly. … Starting tomorrow we’ll get after it.”

Maybe the Mets will come out with passion tomorrow against the Padres, but a lack of fire doesn’t fully explain how this team plays. The attention to fundamentals isn’t there. Collins is right; there’s a right way to play this game and the Mets just don’t do it.

Part of that is on him and the coaches. It’s also on GM Sandy Alderson for how he put this team together.

It goes a lot deeper than running out a fly ball and getting after it tomorrow might be too late.

Collins dressing down his team was the main storyline of the day and perhaps the season. The other key storylines were the unraveling of Syndergaard and the math that defines what the Mets are up against.

SYNDERGAARD LOSES IT: Do you remember when Syndergaard challenged the Royals during the World Series?

Just as the Royals ran on him, so did the Diamondbacks, who stole four more bases today and 13 for the series.

Again his pitch count was way too high (91) for the innings (five) he gave the Mets. We can talk about location and too many foul balls, but more alarming was how he unraveled emotionally during Arizona’s three-run fourth inning.

Syndergaard was animated after balls that dropped and went through his infield. He let his emotions get the best of him and acted like a Little Leaguer.

Syndergaard said, “all of us are feeling the pressure,” and he was aggravated because “I’m aware mentally of what I’m doing wrong and keep doing it.”

THE SCARY MATH: The Mets also have to be mentally aware of the math.

They fell to .500 today at 57-57. Syndergaard said he never thought the Mets would be .500 again after their hot April.

They finished April 15-7, but have gone 42-50 since. In many circles, it is believed 87 wins could get a team the wild card. For that to happen, the Mets would have to go 30-18 in the 48 remaining games.

Starting tomorrow?

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Aug 09

Three Mets’ Keys For Tonight

The Mets have been playing win one, lose one for a month now. If October is going to happen, then this has to happen:

Get to Greinke Early:  It’s the same with Zack Greinke as most good starters and that’s to get at him early to run up his pitch count.

Pitch economy for Matz: Steven Matz is 8-8 after a 7-1 start, and the bone spur is the primary reason. Matz can’t throw his slider effectively, which hurts his other pitches. Throwing 100 pitches in six innings doesn’t make it.

Hit the ball: Whether against Greinke or the Arizona bullpen, the Mets have to capitalize on their opportunities. Their numbers with RISP are historically bad.

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Aug 08

Why I Believe Collins Will Return

Terry Collins has not had a great season – with last week especially tough – but barring a total free-fall I see him returning next year as Mets manager.

If the Mets remain in contention until the end, and since “playing meaningful games in September,’’ is the Wilpons’ mission statement that should be the first points in Collins’ favor.

01-terry-collins-080915-getty-ftrjpg_dduuxh7xyqfg1ckk33738rts9Not returning to the World Series isn’t a failure; a failure this year would be not competing. To fire a manager for not returning to the World Series would be grossly unfair if the circumstances are ignored.

As much as I disliked how Collins handled the Yoenis Cespedes Golfgate, it is reflective how he mostly has the backs of his players. The Mets don’t hit with RISP and frankly they haven’t done a lot of things well, but they always hustle.

Barring the occasional Cespedes lapse, his players bust it for him and that’s a sign the manager has the clubhouse. That wasn’t the case when the Mets fired Art Howe, Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel.

Also working in Collins’ favor – and he’s benefitted from this before – have been the multitude of injuries. The Mets are two games out of the wild-card today, but their situation would be a lot better if they had Matt Harvey, David Wright, Lucas Duda, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jim Henderson and Juan Lagares, and Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard were completely healthy.

Bad years will happen, which has been the case with Curtis Granderson, Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto, but their lack of production – in normal seasons – would have been off-set if the other guys were healthy.

But, that hasn’t been the case. Injuries happen and championship teams overcome, and so far the Mets are still afloat. That can’t be underestimated.

Finally, working in Collins’ favor is his relationship with GM Sandy Alderson, which I wrote last week has a disconnect. Alderson wasn’t complimentary of Collins in his autobiography and evidenced by Cespedes last week, there are still problems.

Collins manages the team Alderson gives him, and there are plenty of things to call the general manager out on regarding how he put this team together. However, Alderson is smart enough to know if Collins is made the scapegoat, then it will be he who takes what will be considerable heat.

For now, as long as the fans and media go after Collins, then he’s insulated. Collins’ presence is his safety net.

Look, I’ve gotten on Collins a lot this year, but to be fair his team is weathering the storm. I believe he will, and should, have next year.

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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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Aug 06

Three Mets’ Storylines: Looks Bad Collins Didn’t Challenge

Another day, another head-scratching moment for the Mets. There were all those lost opportunities during the game, but the most puzzling moment came after the game’s final play when manager Terry Collins eschewed the opportunity to use his challenge.

As long as there’s a chance, and replay gave the Mets that chance, you go for it, but Collins did not. Earlier this week in dealing with the issue of perception vs. reality in the Yoenis Cespedes golf matter, Collins angrily said he didn’t care about perception and dealt in reality.

In not appealing, the perception is Collins doesn’t care – which I know isn’t true – against the reality, which he admitted that he wasn’t thinking.

BRUCE: Game ends in controversy. (AP)

BRUCE: Game ends in controversy. (AP)

The Mets finally appeared to get a hit with a runner in scoring position when Travis d’Arnaud grounded a single into right field, but Jay Bruce was thrown out at the plate to end the game when his cleat was caught in the dirt.

Once down 6-1, the Mets’ comeback fizzled at 6-5, but in this day of instant replay – when you never really know – Collins didn’t even bother to challenge the call. Replays showed Bruce was out, but clearcut replays have been reversed before, so why not?

It’s like on fourth-and-18, instead of throwing into the end zone you just take a knee.

“It was a tough way to end it,” Collins told reporters. “I thought for sure he was going to make it.”

Would Collins accept a base runner’s explanation he “thought for sure,” the ball was foul as to why he didn’t run? I don’t think so.

“That might be one of those plays where you might as well just take the chance anyway and see what happens,” Collins said. “I didn’t think about it.”

That’s a terrible thing for a manager to admit.

Bruce couldn’t say whether he was safe or out.

“I’ve seen it challenged before, but that’s not my decision,” Bruce said. “It’s a judgment call and I wasn’t part of the judgment call.”

It has been a rough season and a rough week for Collins, but that’s no excuse. Instant Replay, at least in Cespedes’ world, is a mulligan and Collins should have used it.

Not doing so, along with the Mets’ ineptitude to hit with RISP (2-for-12, 10 LOB, three double plays) was the main storyline. The others are the Mets’ fifth spot in the rotation and Zack Wheeler‘s rehab game.

TAKING THE FIFTH: For the most part, Logan Verrett has given the Mets a chance to win most of his starts in place of Matt Harvey. He didn’t Saturday night in giving up six runs in 3.2 innings. Considering how poorly the Mets’ offense has been, he gave them very little chance.

“I talked with [GM] Sandy [Alderson] about some things and we’re going to certainly look at some options,” Collins said when asked whether Verrett will stay in the rotation.

An option to replace him is Jon Niese, who pitched a scoreless 2.1 innings in relief.

WHEELER MAKES REHAB START:  With the Mets nine games behind Washington and 2.5 behind Miami, and tied with Pittsburgh for two games behind the final wild-card berth, the season is rapidly fading.

Given that, they would be foolish to wait for Wheeler’s return from the disabled list, because by the time he’s ready the season could be over. Wheeler threw 17 pitches in a rain-shortened rehab assignment with Class A St. Lucie. His fastball ranged from 90-96 mph.

Wheeler’s rehab assignment, barring a setback, will end the first week in September.

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