Apr 09

Shouldn’t The Mets Always Play This Way?

Ron Darling made a big deal about Noah Syndergaard backing up a play at third base tonight in the fifth inning. In fact, SNY has been gushing non-stop how fundamentally sound the 8-1 Mets have been so far this season.

From their hustle and aggressive baserunning, to their situational hitting, to manufacturing runs without the benefit of the home run, to their defense, to their bullpen. SNY has been gushing non-stop and newspaper columnists are doing the same.

Their points are valid, but also painfully obvious. How the Mets are playing is how they should be playing all the time. It begs the question: Why weren’t they doing this for the past ten years?

Is it just Mickey Callaway? Was Terry Collins that bad? Although my head still hurts from him saying, “we are a home run hitting team.’’

That, of course, stemmed from GM Sandy Alderson’s love affair with analytics. However, as much as Major League Baseball seems married to sabermetrics and launch angles, and seemingly has abandoned the game’s traditions, it really remains a simple sport relying on pitching, defense and timely hitting, one-two-three, with home runs a distant fourth as a matter of importance.

SYNDERGAARD STRUGGLES: Syndergaard threw 46 pitches through four innings, then threw 44 combined in the fifth and sixth innings. For all the talk about Syndergaard being an overpowering pitcher – and at times he can be – he’ll never all he can be until he lowers his pitch count and goes deeper into games.

The same applies to Steven Matz and Matt Harvey, and to a lesser extent, Jacob deGrom.

We’re only nine games into the season and the Mets have already had two days off and a rainout, so their bullpen has not been taxed despite the starters not working long innings.

However, eventually, the starters will have to do better than the six innings Syndergaard gave them in tonight’s 4-2 victory.

SNY TAKES SHOT AT JETER: SNY took a not-so-subtle jab at Miami figure-head owner Derek Jeter after the third inning when it ran a montage of departed Marlins stars Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna with a sentimental ballad in the background.

EXTRA INNINGS: Assuming nothing happens and Zack Wheeler starts Wednesday’s game at Miami, it will mark the first the Mets’ highly-touted rotation. … I realize Hansel Robles gave up a homer to Bryce Harper the other day, but overall, he’s pitched very well. I liked that Callaway went right back to him. … It might be time to give Yoenis Cespedes a day off.  He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, including with the bases loaded.

Apr 04

Mets’ Bullpen Rising To Occasion

It has only been five games for the Mets, but the early returns on manager Mickey Callaway’s use of his bullpen, especially with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, have been good.

Tuesday night, Lugo relieved Matt Harvey – and two other relievers – after five innings and pitched two scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory, and today, Gsellman relieved Noah Syndergaard after four innings (92 pitches) in a 4-2 victory.

Gsellman pitched two scoreless innings in earning the victory, then was followed by single scoreless innings from Hansel Robles, AJ Ramos and Jeurys Familia.

After Harvey was pulled, Ramos entered and allowed two runners to reach and got two outs before he was replaced by Jerry Blevins, who closed out the sixth. Normally, Ramos and Blevins wouldn’t have been in the game that early.

However, Callaway’s theory is to not restrict his relievers by assigned innings, but go with the best match-ups.

And, Lugo and Gsellman pitching multiple innings is something Terry Collins normally wouldn’t have done.

“Our bullpen has done a fantastic job so far this season and we have faith in them,’’ said Callaway. “Everybody is doing the right thing. We are working on the small things, like Robles for example. He went down [to minor league camp], worked on the right things and comes out today and pitches a huge inning for us. I am really proud of those guys for that.”

Robles, who I’m not a fan of, has been terrific and today struck out the side in the seventh.

It has been a good start of the season for the Mets, who at 4-1, will be in Washington for the start of a three-game series. Oh, by the way, snow is forecast for Washington this weekend.

There are a lot of reasons why the Mets collapsed last season after consecutive playoff appearances and the bullpen was as big of an explanation as any. A lot of things have to happen if they are to recover enough to be competitive. And, the bullpen has to play a big part.

So far, so good.

Mar 25

High Marks For Callaway In First Spring

There’s nothing Mickey Callaway will learn by Thursday he already doesn’t know by now about his Mets. He had to know when he took the job that the Mets were lacking, and with his first spring training nearly under his belt, that’s still the case.

We won’t know about Callaway’s managerial acumen until the games count, and, of course, this spring training doesn’t mean anything. It was a learning experience for Callaway, his team, and for all followers of the Mets.

I don’t what kind of manager Callaway will become, but the first impression has been a good one. Callaway has only one real decision, and that’s a short-term one in how to divide the time in center between Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares until Michael Conforto returns.

Other than that, Callaway doesn’t have many critical decisions to make before the Cardinals come to town. What I like so far is how he’s handled what decisions he’s made so far:

Opening Day starter: When Jacob deGrom came down with a sore back and making as the Opening Day starter would be a stretch, Callaway named Noah Syndergaard and it took the pressure off everybody. Callaway let deGrom get ready at his own pace and didn’t rush him to get ready, which was contrary to what Sandy Alderson did last spring.

Harvey: Callaway has refrained from making any bold projections on any expectations, something that hasn’t always been the case. All Callaway has said about Harvey is that he just wants him to be as good as he can be. It’s pretty vague, but is better than saying he can win 17 games. Just let him pitch then watch him hit the free agent market.

First base: This figures to be a mess with Dominic Smith hurting and Adrian Gonzalez not hitting. Callaway has said Wilmer Flores will get more at-bats – but we’ve heard that before – and made no predictions about Smith.

Injuries: It hasn’t been an injury-free spring for the Mets, but he’s made no promises about Yoenis Cespedes or Jeurys Familia and Conforto other than to say he’ll miss the first month of the season. When it would have been tempting to push Conforto the first-year manager – and yes, Alderson, also – opted for patience.

A lot of managers coming into a high-profile job such as the Mets might be inclined to make promises and bold predictions. We’ve heard them from Jerry Manuel and Terry Collins but so far we haven’t heard any from Callaway.

So far, so good, regardless of what their spring training record was.

Feb 23

Callaway Benches Smith; Shows Who Is Boss

Today wasn’t just a milestone day for new Mets manager Mickey Callaway simply because it was his first game, it was in that he firmly established who is in charge.

From the moment he was introduced, Callaway stressed accountability and responsibility.

It wasn’t always that way under Terry Collins, who, in all fairness, didn’t get support from GM Sandy Alderson. Obviously, Alderson wouldn’t undercut Callaway over Dominic Smith, but it was encouraging to see the rookie manager pull the prospect from the starting lineup after he showed up late to a team meeting.

Callaway doesn’t have many rules, but being on time is one of them. It’s not all that hard to show up on time, and it is head scratching for someone trying to make the roster being late for the first game of the year.

Players supposed to show up for an 8:45 a.m., meeting and Smith was late. Maybe he overslept, maybe he got stuck in traffic, maybe he didn’t set his alarm properly. Whatever the reason, it didn’t fly with Callaway, nor should it.

Smith is a professional, and while he might have a lot to learn about playing the game, he should already know how to set an alarm clock.

Perhaps it would have been more impressive if it was Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard – all who tested the limits under Collins – but Callaway wouldn’t wilt in his first disciplinary test.

Good for him.

To his credit, Smith made no excuses, was contrite and admitted he was wrong.

“I shouldn’t be cutting it close like that,’’ Smith told reporters. “I’m a professional. This is my job. This is my career. It’s my livelihood. I felt like I definitely let them down today.

“He asked me what I thought the decision should be and I agreed with him. That’s the only way it should be. They shouldn’t give me a pass or whatever. They shouldn’t give anybody a pass. That’s what he’s been preaching since Day 1 – accountability. You got to be accountable for yourself, your actions.’’

Yes, it was only a Triple-A prospect. It wasn’t Cespedes, who is erratic in his hustle and blew off treatment of a quad injury to play golf; it wasn’t Harvey, who blew off a game last year nursing a hangover; and it wasn’t Syndergaard, who refused to take an MRI and subsequently tore a lat muscle last April which basically cost the Mets their season.

Some might ask why this is a big deal, that what difference does a few minutes make.

It’s because being late shows a lack of discipline. It shows a lack of respect for the rules and your teammates. It’s because little things can grow into bad habits that can cost a team games if left unchecked.

Basically, it’s learning how to win, something the Mets don’t know how to do.

Oct 23

Callaway Era Begins

Sure, it was a gamble, and nobody knows how Mickey Callaway will pan out as the 21st manager in Mets’ history, but after listening to him this afternoon GM Sandy Alderson deserves credit for thinking outside the box.

I wondered yesterday whether Callaway represents a risk as to whether Alderson reached out and got the Mets a nugget or whether he was seduced by a hot “flavor of the month.”

NEW METS ERA

           NEW METS ERA

Alderson said the Mets had on their board a list of roughly 35 names and after their research, they whittled it down to six. Originally, Alderson planned a second round of interviews, but Callaway blew him away with his session.

“All of us came out of [Callaway’s interview] excited for the possibility that Mickey would be our manager,’’ Alderson said. “That’s a visceral reaction, not one that you can put down on a checklist, but to me that said everything. I think it was consistent throughout.’’

Callaway said the feeling was mutual.

“When I sat in the room and listened to the words that Sandy, [assistant general managers J.P. Ricciardi and John Ricco] and [Chief Operating Officer] Jeff [Wilpon] were saying to me and the questions they were asking me, I knew right then we were going to be in alignment in what we wanted,’’ Callaway said. “That’s why I was so excited when I called my family after. The team itself, the pitching is something that can be some of the greatest guys on the planet. So that obviously is very exciting to me.’’

Callaway impressed today at Citi Field with his enthusiasm and charisma.

“First, we’re in the greatest city in the world,’’ Callaway said. “This is one of the greatest franchises in the world. … When I look at the New York Mets, I see a team that can contend and compete with anybody and that’s what we’ll work hard to do.’’

Secondly, and this might be most important, is his pitching background. If the Mets are to get back to the postseason, they must pitch. The 42-year-old Callaway built a staff in Cleveland that included Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Andrew Miller that led the majors in ERA (3.30), strikeouts (1,614) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.1).

Callaway favors fastballs and curveballs opposed to the sliders under former pitching coach Dan Warthen. It will be interesting to see if there is a reduction in the number of sliders thrown and how it might cause a decrease in the injuries that crippled the staff for the past two years.

Callaway has already spoken with several players – but only singled out David Wright – and said he was eager to start making calls. But, one of his first orders of business is working with Alderson and his staff on finding a pitching coach.

“We already have a partial list, we want to make sure it’s as inclusive as possible,’’ Alderson said. “I think Mickey and the front office will work collaboratively to find someone that he’s comfortable with. One of the things that we’re going to do over the next few days is put together a list of potential pitching coaches.

“I think that it’s important to recognize that yes, Mickey is a former pitching coach and it’s important for us because that’s our strength. But at the same time, Mickey will be focused entirely on the 25-man roster and the pitching coach will be very important.’’

While Terry Collins’ name wasn’t mentioned today, there was a disconnect between several of the younger players and the former manager. Callaway vows that won’t happen with him.

“We’re going to care more about the players than anyone has before. We’re going to value their work. Value their dedication,’’ Callaway promised. “I’m going to reach out to the players. I know they got the news obviously from some other source than myself, but I’m going to reach out to them, let them know how excited I am, and we’re going to start this very, very important 2018 offseason. These next three months are going to be critical to what we try to do in the season and we’re going to get to work right away.’’

And, there’s so much work to be done.