Jul 12

What Went Wrong For Mets In First Half And Other Obstacles

On Monday I examined ten positives from the Mets’ first half. Today I look at ten things that either went wrong or must be overcome.

The Mets are tied with Miami six games behind Washington in the NL East. From injuries to poor performances, it was far from an idyllic first half.

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Big question. (AP)

It isn’t as if it all spiraled out of control, but numerous things must be overcome if the Mets are to make a second-half run:

1. HISTORY: The Mets have never reached the postseason in consecutive seasons, let alone the World Series. History has always been a tough nut to crack.

2. TEAM IDENTITY: The Mets are constructed in GM Sandy Alderson’s vision, which sometimes is no better than that of Mr. Magoo. Manager Terry Collins said Sunday “situational hitting” is the key things the Mets must improve on in the second half after repeatedly saying the season’s first three months they are a team built on power. Those are two incompatible concepts. The Mets won only five games in which they did not hit a homer. That must change.

3. RISP: This is linked to the first event. The Mets hit a paltry .213 with runners in scoring position with 180 strikeouts. The Mets average roughly eight runners left on base per game. Nearly 55 percent of the Mets’ scoring is attributable to home runs, and they only have a plus-20 run differential. Not good.

4. STRIKEOUTS: Alderson’s attraction to the new-wave statistics seemingly includes a disregard for striking out. It’s like he doesn’t care when a hitter strikes out, which is inexcusable. The Mets average 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which is just shy of three innings. The Mets are giving away three innings of potential offense, meaning there are no sacrifice flies; no chance of reaching on a hit, error or walk; and no productive outs. Curtis Granderson is on pace to strike out 144 times, followed by Yoenis Cespedes (142) and Neil Walker (122). Before they went on the disabled list, David Wright and Lucas Duda were also on pace to strikeout over 120 times. Michael Conforto was on pace to strikeout over 100 times before he was optioned to the minors. That’s Alderson’s offense, and it is not conducive to winning.

5. ROTATION PROBLEMS: The Mets’ young starting rotation was to carry this team, but Matt Harvey is lost for the year; Noah Syndergaard has a bone spur in his right elbow and enters the second half as a significant question; Jacob deGrom went ten starts without a victory; and Steven Matz has a bone spur in his left elbow, but pitched well in his last three starts. The Mets hoped to plug Bartolo Colon into the bullpen and bring up Zack Wheeler. However, Wheeler has had several setbacks and won’t be available until mid-August.

6. WRIGHT IS LOST: Wright is gone for the year following neck surgery and his career is in jeopardy. Wright has been saddled with injuries for several years. In addition to a lack of production, his salary has hamstrung the Mets in making moves.

7. OTHER INJURIES: In addition to Harvey and Wright, Duda is out indefinitely with a fracture in his lower back. The Mets enter the second half with Cespedes out with a strained quad with no timetable for his return. Granderson is playing with a strained calf and Conforto was playing with an injured wrist when he was demoted. Reliever Jim Henderson is on the disabled list with a strained right biceps.

8. WEAK BULLPEN: Outside of Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed, there’s little reliability to the Mets’ bullpen. Losing Henderson and Josh Edgin hurt, and Antonio Bastardo offered nothing. Hansel Robles has been inconsistent.

9. DIVISION RECORD: The Mets are 19-22 vs. the NL East, including 4-9 against the Washington Nationals. They routed the Phillies and Braves last year, and had a winning record against Washington. Things are a lot tougher this year.

10. TOUGH ROAD AHEAD: Not only did the Mets limp into the break, but open the second half with a rugged schedule of nine games on the road, including three each in Chicago against the Cubs and three in Miami. They then come home with three against St. Louis. August brings four games with the Yankees, four at San Francisco, and three each at Detroit and St. Louis. If there isn’t a turnaround, their six games against the Nationals in September could be a moot point.

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 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.

Jun 17

Wright Injury, Lack Of Offense, Could Force Mets To Deal Harvey

I don’t know if we’ll see David Wright will play again for the Mets. I would hope so, but one never knows.

However, what we can be reasonably sure of is we’ll likely never see the Wright who hit at least 26 homers and drove in 100 runs five times in a six-year stretch.

HARVEY: What could he bring in return? (AP)

HARVEY: What could he bring in return? (AP)

The Mets haven’t been hitting for the better part of the last six weeks. Wright and Lucas Duda are on the disabled list. Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes are starting to show breakout signs after being in lengthy slumps.

Don’t forget both Cespedes and Neil Walker can leave after this season. And, we don’t know if the Mets will need to replace Wright, but they will need to add offense. Let’s not limit the offense to power, but the ability to hit with RISP.

Catcher, first base, second base, third base and an outfielder will be on GM Sandy Alderson’s shopping list this winter, and not all of those voids will be filled by free agency.

Given that, it might be time explore dealing one of their young arms. They dealt Zack Wheeler along with Wilmer Flores for Carlos Gomez, but that fell apart.

Once again, this leads to speculation they might be willing to part with Friday’s starter, Matt Harvey, who was so-so against Atlanta after three consecutive strong starts.

Harvey, who worked six innings against the Braves, will be a free agent after the 2018 season. He’s making over $4.3 million this year and is arbitration eligible after the next two seasons, so he has a reasonable contract.

With Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz in the rotation, Wheeler on the disabled list, and the recently drafting pitchers Justin Dunn of Boston College and Anthony Kay of UConn, the Mets seem in good shape with their starting pitching.

And, with the belief his agent, Scott Boras, won’t seek to negotiate early and won’t leave money on the table – the recent deal signed by Steven Strasburg notwithstanding – this might be the time to deal Harvey in need of offense.

That Harvey has pitched well in three of his last four starts _ he gave up four runs in six inning Friday – and has shown he’s healthy after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013 enhances his value.

Depending how the remainder of the season shakes out, dealing Harvey might be something to explore. Seriously.

 

Jun 12

Things Better Change Quickly For Mets

Last week I asked if there was a reason to be concerned with the Mets, but stopped short of saying they were in trouble. I’m not stopping short any longer. If the season ended today the Mets would make the playoffs as the second wild card, but there are more than a few reasons to believe they aren’t heading in the right direction.

MATZ: Roughed up Sunday. (Getty)

MATZ: Roughed up Sunday. (Getty)

There’s plenty of season left to turn things around, but also enough time has gone by to conclude despite their young pitching – and Bartolo Colon – that if there’s not a reversal soon the playoffs many of us took for granted on Opening Day might not happen.

Following their 15-7 April, including Sunday’s 5-3 loss in Milwaukee the Mets have gone 19-21. They are 4.5 games behind Washington, and one of seven teams lumped under the 4.5-game umbrella of wild-contenders.

Teams will lose, but the Mets didn’t play well during their 5-5 road trip. They weren’t just beaten, they beat themselves. On Sunday, they had breakdowns in all phases: 1) Steven Matz was roughed up in his second straight start; 2) the defense committed three errors and could have had a fourth; and 3) and their hitters struck out ten times and went 2-for-9 with RISP.

April’s storyline was the Mets’ propensity for hitting homers, but more importantly in their 62 games they have scored three or fewer runs in half (31) of them. That’s an alarming number. Overall, they are hitting .214 with RISP; and average around nine strikeouts and close to the same in runners left on base in a game.

Nine strikeouts mean in three innings they did not put the ball in play. For all those who don’t give credence to strikeouts as an important statistic, it is time to get a clue. Not putting the ball in play means no chance for hits; no chance to reach on an error; no sacrifice flies; and no productive outs to put runners in scoring position.

A positive note is Matt Harvey seems to have turned it around, but could that be offset by Matz’s two straight stinkers? And, Jacob deGrom hasn’t won in his last seven starts. The bullpen, so positive in April, is showing cracks. Closer Jeurys Familia is far from a sure thing. Their most reliable reliever is Addison Reed; with everybody else you hold your breath.

Injuries are a concern with David Wright, Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud on the disabled list. They could get d’Arnaud back in a week or so, but he wasn’t hitting or throwing runners out on the bases before he got hurt. Michael Conforto has a sore wrist and is in a dreadful slump; Neil Walker has a tight lower back; and Juan Lagares has an injured left thumb.

The upcoming schedule is brutal as from now until the All-Star break they have three more games with Pittsburgh; two against Kanas City; three with the Marlins; four against the Cubs and seven with the Nationals. Beginning Tuesday, the Mets start a stretch of 26 games in 27 days.

Seriously, there’s a chance the trade deadline could be moot.

The Mets can get on a hot streak, turn things around and maybe add a couple of pieces just as they did last season. However, since the end of April we’ve seen precious few signs of that happening.

There’s reason for concern, and yes, they are in trouble.