Nov 04

How Mets Compare To Cubs

After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally won their World Series. The curses are over, so perhaps they can do the right thing and invite Steve Bartman to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day 2017.

It would be a classy gesture, akin to the Red Sox making up with Bill Buckner – who, by the way – felt the curses of both the Red Sox and Cubs.

REED: A priority. (AP)

                    REED: A priority. (AP)

I doubt it would happen, but I always root for the good story. Meanwhile, our Mets have a title drought of our own – 30 long years.

The Cubs won 103 games this summer and the Mets won 87, but is 16 games the real separation between the two teams? The Mets can’t go back to their four-game sweep of the Cubs in last year’s NLCS or a sweep of them this summer at Citi Field.

The Cubs roared past the Mets, and here’s a position-by-position comparison between the franchises:

FRONT OFFICE: Theo Epstein had a plan when he took over in 2012, and it was only four years before he lead a parade in Chicago. Like was said of the Yankees’ Brian Cashman over the years, he better win that payroll. ($171 million and license to spend).

Meanwhile, Mets GM Sandy Alderson’s mission statement when he was hired in 2010 was to get rid of burdensome contracts – Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Francisco Rodriguez to name a few – and cut payroll, which he did.

The Mets’ payroll was $126 million in Alderson’s first year and jumped to $142 million in 2011 because of existing obligations, but from 2012- 2014 had sub-$100 million payrolls.

It subsequently jumped to $135 million this year for Opening Day.

Unlike Epstein, Alderson does not have free reign to spend because the Mets are still recovering from the Ponzi scandal.

EDGE: Chicago.

MANAGER: Joe Maddon is regarded as one of the game’s best minds, but in all fairness with his moves in Games 6 and 7, it would be accurate to say the Cubs won in spite of him and not because of him.

He abused reliever Aroldis Chapman in the last three games. It was absurd he sent Chapman out for the ninth with a huge lead in Game 6. I was stunned he sent him out for the ninth, but it also showed extreme confidence in Chapman but also underscored an overall lack of faith he had in the rest of the bullpen. That’s something Terry Collins would never have done.

I thought he pulled Kyle Hendricks way too soon, something we’ve seen of Collins frequently.

The bunt call with Javier Baez was foolish. There were other moments, but those stood out the most.

But Maddon caught some breaks. The last two games in Cleveland allowed him to use Kyle Schwarber as the DH. Think about that Cubs fans when you rail against American League baseball.

The Cubs also caught a huge break with the rain delay that gave them a much-needed timeout. It also took steam from the Indians.

Since Collins replaced Jerry Manuel, he was initially hamstrung with a limited payroll and Alderson’s domineering hand of calling the shots.

Collins’ in-game managing can be head scratching, especially the use of his bullpen and bench. He has shown questionable loyalties to his players, notably Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores and Yoenis Cespedes.

He has been let down numerous times, but his players hustle for him.

EDGE: Chicago.

ROTATION: Jake Arrieta won 22 games in 2015 to win the NL Cy Young Award. Either Jon Lester or Hendricks could win it this year. They have one more season with John Lackey and Jason Hammel is the fifth starter.

Most of the pre-season pitching accolades went to the Mets’ young core of Harvey, Jake deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz. Throw in Zack Wheeler and four of the five are coming off surgery. Bartolo Colon is a free agent, but the Mets want him back.

However, that’s no guarantee he’ll be back. Nothing is assured, including Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman picking up where they left off. They gave the Mets a brief, but an impressive window.

The bottom line is the Mets’ rotation can be terrific, but with the surgeries and relative inexperience, they enter spring training with a myriad of questions.

EDGE: Chicago.

BULLPEN

With Chapman on the free-agent market and Maddon’s obvious lack of faith in his bullpen, the Cubs have serious questions.

Mike Montgomery is 27 and worked a lot in the postseason. They also had Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards and Justin Grimm on the postseason roster. They are under 30, had decent seasons, but Maddon had little faith in them in Games 6 of 7. We’ll never know what Maddon would have done if Game 7 went longer.

The Mets have serious bullpen issues with Jeurys Familia facing at least a 30-game suspension and Addison Reed entering free agency. Honestly, they are in a world of hurt in their bullpen.

If you assume Chapman is gone, the same assumption can be made of Reed, left-hander Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas. They already decided against Jim Henderson. Josh Edgin had a short rebound season from surgery. Hansel Robles is coming off a hot-and-cold season, as did Logan Verrett.

Erik Goeddel and Sean Gilmartin also made appearances, as did Rafael Montero.

EDGE: Even.

CATCHING: Ironically, Maddon’s lack of faith in his bullpen prompted going to Jon Lester, and with him, his personal catcher David Ross. Ross homered to help win Game 7 and retire in style.

The Cubs still list Schwarber as a catcher, but after knee surgery, that won’t happen. Willson Contreras had a good year and enters spring training No. 1.

Travis d’Arnaud was hurt each of the last two seasons and still needs to prove he can hit. Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera are back-ups. The Mets need a serious upgrade here.

EDGE: Chicago.

FIRST BASE: It’s Anthony Rizzo (.292/32 HR/109 RBI) for the Cubs against the Mets’ perpetually injured Lucas Duda, and possibly James Loney.

The Mets are also toying with the idea of experimenting with Conforto and David Wright at first. It is a reach.

EDGE: Chicago.

SECOND BASE: When Schwarber was injured, Ben Zobrist played more in left field, and that gave Javier Baez more time at second base.

The versatility of MVP candidate Kris Bryant, who can play the infield and outfield corners, enabled Maddon to keep Zobrist fresh at second.

The Mets were surprised by Neil Walker’s power, but he’s a free-agent coming off back surgery. The most they’ll extend is probably a one-year qualifying. They still have Flores, who they repeatedly showed a lack of faith, and the up-and-coming T.J. Rivera. Kelly Johnson, who filed for free agency. Will they trade for him for a third straight season?

EDGE: Chicago.

SHORTSTOP

The Cubs’ Addison Russell is one of the game’s rising stars, while Asdrubal Cabrera was arguably the Mets’ MVP.

However, Cabrera showed breakdown signs several times last summer. They have him for another year and Collins needs to do a better job of resting him.

EDGE: Chicago.

THIRD BASE

If not Rizzo, Bryant (.292/39/102) could be the NL MVP. He’s 24, terrific in the clutch and can play four positions.

The Mets don’t know if Wright will be back, and if he does, where he’ll play and how much are issues. If he doesn’t, they’ll go with Jose Reyes and Flores.

EDGE: Chicago.

LEFT FIELD

The Cubs have the combination of Zobrist – whom the Mets’ coveted after the 2015 season – and Schwarber. The World Series MVP, Zobrist is also one of baseball’s good guys as he signed autographs outside his Chicago home.

How many remember that Albert Belle chased down trick-or-treaters in his truck?

Zobrist is versatile, has power and hits in the clutch. Small wonder the Mets and Nationals both wanted him. Schwarber, meanwhile, thanks to the DH rule was a factor with awesome power.

The assumption is Cespedes will be gone, leaving left field to Conforto. Curtis Granderson could also get time in left with Jay Bruce brought back to play right field.

EDGE: Chicago.

CENTER FIELD: Dexter Fowler had a terrific season, but is a free agent. He said the Cubs are on his list, but as I did in left field with the Mets and Cespedes, I will assume he’ll be gone.

If the Cubs don’t bring back Fowler, and since there’s no way of knowing who’ll the Cubs will fish for, their internal option is 22-year-old Albert Almora Jr.

Ideally, the Mets wanted Cespedes in center, but he balked. Juan Lagares was injured for a good part of the season, but returned to play well.

Granderson will also get center field time in his last season with the Mets because of Bruce’s presence in right field.

EDGE: Mets.

RIGHT FIELD: The Cubs didn’t get $180 million worth from Jason Heyward. He has a tremendous glove, but his bat went into hibernation this summer.

Bruce struggled after coming over from Cincinnati, but picked it up at the end. Even so, it was a good pick-up, and he’s more economically feasible than either Cespedes or Heyward.

When Bruce isn’t playing, they can turn to Granderson.

EDGE: Mets.

 

May 02

Mets’ April Review And Looking At May

Just as they did last season, the Mets won 15 games in April, and again the spark was a long winning streak. Last year it was 11 games; this year it was eight.

WALKER: My Mets' MVP for April. (AP)

WALKER: My Mets’ MVP for April. (AP)

As much as the Mets like to boast about their young pitching – as well they should – the springboard this time was power. It was not, as has been suggested, Terry Collins’ knee jerk managing in the eighth game of the season.

Yes, they won that game and have gone on to win five straight series. That’s purely coincidental.

The Mets tied a club record with 33 homers for the month, which enabled them to overcome Jacob deGrom’s two missed starts because of a strained lat muscle and Matt Harvey’s 0-3 start.

A key that can’t be underestimated has been the Mets’ ability to get an early lead, as they scored first in 10 of their last 14 games in April. Overall, they are 13-3 when they scored first this year.

The Mets crushed three homers and took a 4-0 lead in the first inning Monday against the Braves.

APRIL MVP

Contrary to the popular opinion of Yoenis Cespedes, I’m going with Neil Walker, who was hitting before Michael Conforto was moved to third in the order. Walker is tied for third in the majors with nine homers and finished the month with a career-high 19 for April.

Conforto would be my second choice and Cespedes third.

PITCHER OF THE MONTH

Noah Syndergaard took a pounding Sunday, but has been overpowering with 38 strikeouts with a 1.69 ERA for the month.

KEY GAME OF THE MONTH

Matt Harvey lost his first three starts, but finally won, April 22, 6-3, at Atlanta. He wasn’t totally on his game, but he pitched out of trouble enough times to turn it around. Sure, the game when Cespedes hit a three-run pinch-hit homer was more dramatic, but in the big picture getting Harvey going was more important.

KEY MOVE OF THE MONTH

On April 15 in Cleveland, Collins moved Conforto to the No. 3 spot in the batting order and the Mets have sizzled since going 12-3. When hitting third or fourth, Conforto is batting .373 with nine doubles, four homers and 15 RBI.

RED FLAGS ENDURED

Jacob deGrom missed two starts because of a strained right lat; Harvey lost his first three starts; closer Jeurys Familia sustained a rocky stretch, but has converted all eight of this save opportunities.

KEY ISSUE RESOLVED

Shortstop and the bullpen were two significant issues facing the Mets entering the season, but Asdrubal Cabrera has been superb both in the field and at the plate. The bullpen converted nine of 11 save opportunities and stranded 26 of 35 runners.

HEALTH ISSUES

Travis d’Arnaud was placed on the disabled list with a strained rotator cuff. … Cespedes missed close to a week with a bruised right leg. … David Wright ended the month without a problem, but his back remains an issue.

SIX QUESTIONS RAISED

Will the power continue?

Power of not, can Conforto keep it up?

Can Wright stay healthy?

Will the new guys, Walker and Cabrera, keep hitting?

Will we see deGrom and Harvey go on a roll?

Can the bullpen keep it up?

BY THE NUMBERS

.333: Walker’s average with RISP.

4: Times the Mets hit back-to-back homers.

5: Consecutive series the Mets won to close the month.

9: Consecutive games in which Cespedes had at least one extra-base hit.

22: Strikeouts by Cespedes.

29: Strikeouts by Wright.

33: Homers hit by the month.

LOOKING AT MAY’S SCHEDULE

They began May losing to Madison Bumgarner Sunday and close their current homestand against Atlanta.

The Mets are on a stretch of 17 games in 17 days, including their first West Coast trip, with four games in San Diego and Los Angeles and three in Colorado.

They’ll return home for a pair of three-games series against Washington (May 17-19) and Milwaukee (May 20-22), then go to Washington (May 23-25) for three more against the Nationals.

They’ll close out the month with three at home against the Dodgers (May 27-29) and two against the Chicago White Sox (a three-game series that ends June 1).

 

Mar 27

Mets’ Issues With A Week To Go

The Mets begin defense of their National League title a week from today, but will do so a team not without its issues.

Let’s go position-by-position to see how they stack up:

STARTING PITCHING: One issue was Jacob deGrom’s dip in velocity, but he was back in the mid-90s in Saturday’s start. Steven Matz gave up one run Sunday, but also walked four and later said he was gassed. He only gets one more start and doesn’t look sharp. There are no questions with Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, and Bartolo Colon has not pitched well.

MATZ: Not ready. (AP)

MATZ: Not ready. (AP)

BULLPEN: Jim Henderson, Erik Goeddel, Sean Gilmartin and Logan Verrett are competing for the last bullpen spot. With three days off in the first week, the Mets shouldn’t have a problem not having Hansel Robles for the first two games as he serves a suspension.

CATCHER: Travis d’Arnaud is penciled in as the starter, but took a .200 batting average and .275 on-base percentage into Sunday’s game against the Nationals. The original plan was for Kevin Plawecki to be the back-up, and as of today they are leaning in that direction. However, with a heavy dose of days off in April – meaning he wouldn’t play much – and the prospect of saving a few bucks because of his Super 2 status, why not go with Johnny Monell and give Plawecki at-bats.

FIRST BASE: Lucas Duda hit 27 homers with 73 RBI last season and 30-92 in 2014. However, he had nearly a 2-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks-ratio in both seasons. He’s extremely streaky, capable of ten homers in one month and two in another. Five drives a month would be add consistency to his make-up. Wilmer Flores is the projected back-up.

SECOND BASE: Neil Walker is not having a good spring, but his track record shows he’s not a .171 hitter. There’s no indication his lack of production is because of any injury. It’s just a slow start.

SHORTSTOP: Asdrubal Cabrera has missed much of the spring with a strained left knee. There’s a chance he’ll be ready by Opening Day, but there’s no sense in pushing things. If not Cabrera, then Flores could get the start.

THIRD BASE: David Wright’s back seems fine, but he’s been bothered by tightness in his legs. He won’t get the at-bats he prefers but will have to make the best of it. I still think the best decision would be for him to be the DH in the first two games at Kansas City.

LEFT FIELD: Michael Conforto didn’t play Saturday because of a back issue, but was in the lineup Sunday. The Mets ideally want to play Conforto against lefties, but hasn’t had a good spring, which might temper those plans. In that case, we could see more of Juan Lagares (.316 this spring).

CENTERFIELD: The Mets’ best left fielder is center fielder Yoenis Cespedes, whose .394 average and .429 on-base percentage, not to mention the pig roast he hosted, would combine to push his brain cramp to the back burner. The Mets figure to bat him third behind Wright.

RIGHT FIELD: Curtis Granderson is hitting .324. A walking machine last year, he has drawn only one this spring.

Jan 08

Mets Look Done For The Winter

Shortly after the conclusion of the Winter Meetings, Mets GM Sandy Alderson said he wasn’t done and indicated Dillon Gee could be moved in January.

FLORES: His job. (Getty)

FLORES: His job. (Getty)

Don’t bet on him getting traded before spring training, and with Alderson admitting this week Wilmer Flores will likely be the Opening Day starter, don’t count on the Mets doing anything significant in the next six weeks.

“Nothing is likely to occur,’’ Alderson told the New York Post about acquiring a shortstop.

By himself Gee would not bring in a quality shortstop.

Shortstop, outfield and finding another left-handed reliever to complement Josh Edgin were the Mets’ primary offseason priorities they addressed by signing Michael Cuddyer, committing to Flores and re-signing lefty Scott Rice.

Gee could be moved in spring training when injuries occur to other teams, but they might first look to pick up players released just before Opening Day before dealing with the Mets. Given that, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gee still with the Mets either in long relief or in the minors.

So, I’m not seeing the Mets doing anything noteworthy until late in spring training.

Nov 24

Mets’ Shortstop Question Defines Winter

To get an accurate read on how the New York Mets feel about themselves, look no further than their handling of the shortstop position.

It’s an oversimplification to call them cheap for not going after Troy Tulowitzki because the asking price, both in what the Rockies would demand in players and the salary the Mets would have to pay would have been exorbitant.

Everybody, of course, knows the Red Sox are always serious about winning, so signing Hanley Ramirez is something in the Boston’s DNA.

The Mets won’t go that high-end, but there is talk they might go after Stephen Drew, but he’s not the missing piece to their puzzle. He might be a better, more experienced and expensive alternative to Wilmer Flores.

However, is Drew the player the Mets want to build around? He might cost them $4 million, but if he proves himself he would likely walk after 2015 and the Mets – who deem themselves competitive this year – would be searching for a new shortstop next year.

And, teams considering themselves contenders aren’t usually in the market for a shortstop.

Alexei Ramirez or Starlin Castro have been linked to the Mets, but they don’t want to surrender their young pitching.

That brings us full circle to their shortstop at the end of last, which is Flores. He represents their least expensive option. He could also be their future, if they were to give him a full shot at the position.

And, if it didn’t work out, then they could always go get a shortstop next year.

Meet the new winter, just like the old one.