Jul 26

Alderson’s Trade Stance Raises Questions

Here’s hoping GM Sandy Alderson is blowing smoke when he says don’t expect the Mets to add a starting pitcher or substantial hitter at the trade deadline. Maybe he’s trying to bluff teams. Maybe he’s trying to screw with reporters. Maybe he’s trying to drive manager Terry Collins crazy.

ALDERSON: Smoke or fire? (AP)

ALDERSON: Smoke or fire? (AP)

Probably all good reasons to Alderson, but you always have to read between the lines with him.

“We’re simply not going to move players we think are going to have a significant role for us in the somewhat near future for the possibility of getting the kind of unique return that we got last year,” Alderson told reporters.

Unique? Does that mean Alderson thinks last year was a fluke?

It sure sounds that way. There was a lot of gloom-and-doom around the Mets last July, before Alderson traded for Yoenis Cespedes and brought up Michael Conforto from the minors. This July, the Mets are the defending National League champions in need of help, and the void they claim they must fill – the bullpen – isn’t what they really need.

With how things played out Tuesday, could Alderson change his mind?

The pen has been solid the past six weeks. But after watching them slog through Tuesday’s doubleheader split with the Cardinals, losing, 3-2 in the opener and winning the second game 3-1, you know they must add a hitter and with the health issues of their starters, they need another arm.

Why the pen?

“Realistically, the bullpen is the area where we can probably get someone who can make a difference at a relatively low cost in terms of prospects,” Alderson said.

Alderson is really saying the Mets don’t want to give up anything significant, which has always been his M.O. Hitters and starting pitchers cost more than relievers, and Alderson doesn’t want to part with their minor league depth. Teams want shortstop prospect Amed Rosario, which is understandable. However, of the Mets’ top ten prospects listed by MLB.com, five are shortstops.

Damn, I hate that. In order to get something of quality you have to give up something.

“Realistically, it’s unlikely we’ll end up with another starting pitcher,” Alderson said. “It’s unrealistic that we’ll end up with a significant position player. And, with respect to the bullpen, we’re very happy with our bullpen. But at the same time we’re looking to upgrade the bottom half of the bullpen so we have a little more depth.”

Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia have been superb – Familia has converted 52 consecutive save opportunities after locking down last night’s second game – but Alderson says the issue is depth. Frankly, for a team trying to get to the World Series, a reliever for the sixth inning is not what they need most.

Alderson fears the law firm of Robles, Reed and Familia, is being worn down, but doesn’t giving them the proper rest fall on pitching coach Dan Warthen and Collins?

Here’s a thought, perhaps if the starting pitchers worked longer and didn’t run up such high pitch counts that would save the bullpen. That’s what Bartolo Colon did in the second game when he gave up one run in seven innings.

However, knowing Noah Syndergaard is pitching with a bone spur – pain tolerance is what the manager said is the key – and considering two starts ago he left with arm fatigue, why would Collins let him throw 114 pitches?

That many pitches warrants a complete game, but Syndergaard gave the Mets only six innings. Collins said he doesn’t know why Syndergaard’s pitch counts have been high, but it’s simple really, despite his 100 mph., heater, he’s not putting away hitters.

Syndergaard isn’t pitch efficient. He throws too many pitches for the innings he provides. That must change, and it has to change for Steven Matz, who is also trying to grind through a bone spur.

The Mets are pushing the envelope with Syndergaard and Matz and they know it. Matt Harvey is gone for the year. They have no idea what they’ll get from Zack Wheeler, or when they’ll even see him. Their preseason expectations had Wheeler replacing Colon in the rotation in early July,

Colon, after three poor starts, for one night at least put to rest his 43-year-old arm hit the wall. Because Colon threw only 87 pitches, he’ll come back on three days rest to start Saturday against Colorado.

“He’s been as good, if not better than anybody,” Collins said of Colon and his rotation. “He’s a special guy and we’re very lucky to have him.”

Doesn’t this gamble tell you the need for another starter?

Surely, Collins has been thinking about who would pitch Saturday, especially with Sean Gilmartin, who is with Triple-A Las Vegas, going on the disabled list earlier in the day. Collins wouldn’t think of going to Syndergaard on short rest and isn’t enamored with the idea of using Seth Lugo or bringing up Gabriel Ynoa from Triple-A Las Vegas.

Collins got testy when pressed for his reasoning on using Colon with short rest, and finally finished with a curt, “if he gets his brains beat out in three days, it will obviously be a bad decision.”

You can forgive Collins for getting upset because he was probably thinking of how the Mets would score runs with Jose Reyes to be lost for several games with a Grade 1 intercostal strain in his left rib cage. Collins is being optimistic because those things usually take a long time, and Reyes has a history of lengthy DL stints with strained muscles.

It means they’ll go back to Wilmer Flores, who had four hits in the second game. It also means they better hope last night meant the return of Asdrubal Cabrera, who finally had a hit with a runner in scoring position.

There’s a lot going on with the Mets, but despite being only within 4.5 games of the Nationals, Alderson isn’t giving many signs of being optimistic.

Maybe it’s a smokescreen.

Jul 24

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

 

CONFORTO: WOW! (Getty)

                                   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.