Jul 24

Three Mets’ Storylines: There’s A Good Feeling Again



                                   CONFORTO: WOW! (Getty)

As erratic as the Mets have been since the end of April, after winning two of three in Miami the feeling again is the playoffs are possible.

And, it’s not a wistful feeling. Down by 1.5 games after the Chicago series, had they lost or been swept by the Marlins there would have been a doom-and-gloom aura surrounding the team.

“I said coming out of the break this was crunch time for us,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “This was a good series for us to win.”

Today’s 3-0 victory over the Marlins was the combination of Steven Matz pitching tough for six innings; the bullpen following the script; Michael Conforto doing it at the plate and in the field; and, believe it or not, they scored tack-on runs without going deep.

If there was a formula to winning, strong pitching, situational hitting and defense, is the one to pick, and for the most part the Mets got it this weekend.

That this came on the road against a team ahead of them in the standings, making it that much sweeter.

Today’s other storylines today were:

PITCHING PLUS: Matz, bothered with a bone spur in his elbow, pitched six strong innings to win his first game since May 25.

Perhaps most encouraging was how he pitched to Giancarlo with runners on the corners and two outs in the fifth.

“I just didn’t want to give in and give him that ball he could crush,” Matz told reporters. “I didn’t want to miss fat and make a mistake with runners on.”

Matz threw 99 pitches, which is too much for six innings.

Following Matz was the 7-8-9 script of Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia, with the closer converting his 51st consecutive save opportunity.

For all the talk of the Mets needing a reliever, what Robles and Reed have given them can’t be overlooked.

CONFORTO SHINES: Conforto laid out making a spectacular catch robbing the first batter of the game, Miguel Rojas, of extra bases. Considering Martin Prado singled and Stanton walked later in the inning, the Mets avoided a big hole.

Conforto also had two hits and scored the Mets’ first run.

“He’s too good a hitter,” Collins said. “He worked hard and flattened his swing out. I know he’s going to hit.”

Jul 20

Mets Should Have Placed Cespedes On The DL

The Mets’ handling of Yoenis Cespedes’ strained quad by manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson has been ridiculous and isn’t getting smarter by the day.

CESPEDES: Should be on DL. (Getty)

CESPEDES: Should be on DL. (Getty)

Looking at the Mets’ all-or-nothing offense – constructed by Alderson – I see the urgency of why they want to play Cespedes, but the prudent thing would have been to place him on the disabled list retroactive to July 9.

On July 8, Cespedes misplayed a ball hit over his head that resulted in him straining his right quad. He sat out the next four games – which spanned the All-Star break – before returning to the lineup, July 17.

Remember, stints on the DL are measured in days and not games. The Mets made the right call in giving him the break to see if he could have bounced back. However, it was clear Cespedes wasn’t ready when he returned to the lineup, July 17. Since then, Cespedes has played and looked terrible in three games, going 1-for-10, and did not play Wednesday.

Even worse, by playing him the Mets lost the opportunity to back-date the time on the disabled list. Had the Mets done the right thing, Wednesday would be his 12th day on the disabled list, which means if everything went well, he could play Sunday in Miami.

But, after what Collins told reporters prior to the game, Cespedes isn’t ready and figures to be a liability against the Marlins. That is, if he plays at all, or doesn’t hurt himself further and eventually goes on the disabled list.

If that happens, nobody knows when the Mets will have a reasonably healthy Cespedes.

“We know his leg is, by far, not close to being 100 percent,” Collins said. “We saw it last night. We do not need him to blow that out in a day game after a night game, especially with a day off tomorrow.”

If Cespedes isn’t close now, then what was he a week ago?

As it is, the Mets’ outfield is muddled and will remain so with Cespedes at half-speed. And, even when Cespedes plays, it will be restricted to left field, leaving Collins to figure out who will play right and center.

The Mets’ outfield remains a cluster, and neither Collins nor Alderson seem capable of unraveling the mess.

Jul 18

Three Mets’ Storylines: Matz Struggles

What, you expected the Mets to run the table against the Cubs?

After winning four straight in the NLCS and four in a series at Citi Field prior to the break, the Cubs were due and Steven Matz wasn’t good enough to prevent Monday’s 5-1 loss at Wrigley Field.

MATZ: Didn't have it. (Getty)

MATZ: Didn’t have it. (Getty)

Matz threw 102 pitches in five innings, of which 26 were foul balls. That says he wasn’t able to put away hitters. Part of it is bone-spur related, and that will continue to be the case until he has surgery.

Matz said he didn’t feel any pain and wouldn’t use that as an excuse.

“I don’t think I had my best command,” Matz said, especially of his breaking pitches. With that, you have to wonder how much of it is the elbow.  Matz was done in on a three-run homer to Anthony Rizzo when he hung a change-up over the middle of the plate.

“I don’t think it was a bad pitch [selection],” Matz said of the pitch to Rizzo. “It was poor execution.”

When Matz was missing, it wasn’t outside where he wanted, but over the plate.

“You have to make them chase a little bit,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “I didn’t think he had his Grade A stuff. Hopefully, he’ll good after this.”

Collins wouldn’t say if Matz was hurting, but acknowledged he didn’t have it Monday.

“There are going to be times when he pitches through discomfort,” Collins said. “Other times he’s going to feel good.”

Matz’s performance reflected the uncertainty of what the Mets can expect from him in the second half. In his previous two starts, Matz worked seven innings in each and gave up a combined five runs.

Matz has hammered in his first start this year, reeled off seven straight victories, and has now lost five straight.

There’s been a lot of speculation as to what the Mets might do at the trade deadline. Bullpen? Yeah, that’s needed. Another bat, preferably one who can hit with runners in scoring position? Definitely.

However, with Matt Harvey gone for the year – he had surgery Monday – and the heads-or-tails prognosis of Matz and Tuesday’s starter Noah Syndergaard, adding another arm to the rotation could be their biggest need.

With the loss, coupled with Miami’s victory in Philadelphia, the Mets fell 6.5 games behind Washington in the NL East and trail Los Angeles and the Marlins for the wild-card.

Monday’s other two story lines are:

THE OUTFIELD DILEMMA: As expected, Yoenis Cespedes played left field, which means he came out of Sunday’s game with no problems. That’s the good news.

Cespedes was hitless in three at-bats against Jon Lester, but nobody could time him. Cespedes threw out a runner out at the plate and almost nailed another at second base.

Prior to the game Collins anticipated playing Cespedes in center Tuesday with Michael Conforto in left. However, after the game Collins said he didn’t think Cespedes moved well.

Conforto appeared as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and delivered an opposite-field single.

That was a terrific sign because prior to the game he admitted being pull-happy in May and June when his average nose-dived.

Collins said he wants to use Cespedes in left to save his legs. He also said Conforto could get time in center, where he’s never played.

I wrote in spring training how I wanted to see Conforto get some time in center, but that never happened. Instead, they might do it during a pennant race, even though Curtis Granderson has played over 1,000 games in center.

Then again, at 35, Granderson’s legs aren’t what they used to be.

FLORES PLAYS: Against the left-hander Lester, Wilmer Flores was in the lineup against James Loney, which I speculated earlier today. Flores singled and homered.

It was Flores’ ninth homer of the year and sixth in July to lead the National League. Yet, manager Terry Collins still doesn’t have a sense of urgency to get his bat in his offensively starved lineup.

I’ll say this again; Flores needs to play even if he’s not the sexy choice of GM Sandy Alderson. In for Loney one game; in for Neil Walker the next; then Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes.

That way, they all play and all get a game off a week.

Why is that so hard to understand?

Jul 18

Matz One Of Four Mets’ Questions Tonight

One of the key questions facing the Mets in the second half is left-hander Steven Matz’s painful bone spur in his elbow, which surfaced after his June 24 start in Atlanta.

Matz gave up six runs in 4.1 innings that day and the Mets said there was something wrong with his elbow. The Mets foolishly did not rest him and said it was a pain tolerance issue.

MATZ: Hoping the rest helps. (AP)

MATZ: Hoping the rest helps. (AP)

So far, the Mets are winning their gamble of pushing Matz, and he’s survived his last three starts. Matz’s last two have been strong, as he went seven innings in each and gave up a combined five runs, yet lost tboth.

Matz last pitched, July 10, against Washington, so hopefully the All-Star break will give him some relief Monday night against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. To ease the stress on his arm, Matz has backed off throwing his slider.

To ease the stress on his arm, Matz has backed off throwing his slider. His ability to throw his breaking pitches will be a big factor tonight and every start in the second half.

In addition to Matz, these are the other questions facing the Mets tonight:

Yoenis Cespedes: Despite a strained right quad, Cespedes played Sunday in Philadelphia. He came out of the game all right, but the day after is always key. If he needs to go on the disabled list, they can no longer backdate it eight days and that time would be lost.

Michael Conforto: When Conforto was sent down, manager Terry Collins said he would play when he returned, but where? Cespedes wants to play left because it would provide less strain on his right quad. That’s where he should have been playing in the first place, with Conforto learning to play all the outfield positions.

Wilmer Flores: He needs to play, but finding him the right position hasn’t been easy. Instead of the path of least resistance and subbing him throughout the infield, Collins does not have a plan. Left-hander Jon Lester starts tonight for the Cubs, so it would make sense to sub him at first and give James Loney a break.

Jul 08

Three Mets’ Storylines: More Injuries

What was that line in Bull Durham? “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And, sometimes it rains.” However, on this night for the Mets, it didn’t rain long or hard enough.

The Mets lost 3-1 Friday to the Washington Nationals, but that was just the game. On a day the Mets lost Matt Harvey to season-ending shoulder surgery they lost a lot more during the game.

SYNDERGAARD: When will we see him again? (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: When will we see him again? (AP)

I covered Harvey earlier today, so the top three Mets storylines tonight are: 1) Noah Syndergaard leaving with an arm injury, 2) Yoenis Cespedes leaving with a strained quad muscle, and 3) Jose Reyes’ reluctance to run.

SYNDERGAARD LEAVES WITH ARM INJURY: Syndergaard, who has been bothered by a bone spur in his elbow, and whom manager Terry Collins would pitch in the All-Star Game, left in the fifth inning with what the Mets called “arm fatigue.”

Collins told reporters: “He just said his arm went dead. It got tired on him. … “He tells me there’s nothing wrong. He’s just tired.”

Collins said Syndergaard will not pitch in the All-Star Game. He also said “as of now,’’ there’s no correlation between this and the bone spur.

His velocity was down and he winced with his last pitch. Doesn’t a wince denote pain? If he couldn’t feel anything in his arm, that’s not a dead arm.

“I didn’t have anything on pitches,” Syndergaard told reporters. “I knew something wasn’t right.”

Twice already this season Syndergaard complained of discomfort in his pitching elbow and underwent a MRI. He said he didn’t think a third MRI is necessary.

Wanna bet?

CESPEDES HAS QUAD INJURY: The Mets’ All-Star outfielder left after three innings with a strained right quad while chasing Daniel Murphy’s double.

Cespedes leaped to catch the carom off the wall and landed awkwardly. What the good folks at SNY didn’t say was he didn’t play the ball properly and was too close to the wall.

Collins said he might have to do without him for a couple of games, which should also put him out of the All-Star Game.

“`I’m running out of things to say and we’re running out of bodies,” said Collins, who indicated the Mets will play shorthanded for the rest of the series.

REYES DOESN’T RUN: The Mets had runners on the corners with no outs, with Reyes on first. Or, should I say, anchored on first?

He didn’t try to steal to get the tying run into scoring position. He didn’t run to stay out of the inning-ending double play.

SNY’s analysis ranged from the wet turf, to being rusty to not being confident, yet, to run. None are good explanations.

Reyes is here for his speed and provide a spark. If he’s rusty, what’s the point? The day before he was activated Collins said Reyes wasn’t ready, and several days prior to that the player said he didn’t want to come back until he was 100 percent.

Evidently he is not, despite the homer Thursday. Evidently, if the manager and player said Reyes wasn’t ready, then did management force this move just to sell a few tickets against the Marlins?