Apr 30

Revisiting Top 20 Mets’ Questions

Entering the season I suggested  20 questions the Mets would need to answer in the positive for them to return to the World Series. From performance to health to various intangibles, every team faces important questions and they don’t disappear just because it played in the World Series the year before.

At the time, I wrote I would periodically revisit those questions to measure how the Mets are progressing.

Here’s how they are doing:

Q: Will they have a World Series hangover or let down?

A: There were a few red flags and a 2-5 start, but they closed the month with a power surge, clubbing 31 homers in their last 14 games. Last April they won 11 straight. They closed the month winning eight straight and 13 of 15. There’s no appearance of any hangover and it looks as if we’ll have our Mets-Nationals pennant race.

WALKER: Mets' player for April. (AP)

WALKER: Mets’ player for April. (AP)

Q: How will manager Terry Collins respond to being a favorite?

A: So far, so good. I wasn’t crazy about him calling the eighth game of the season “must win.” And, I didn’t like him playing David Wright for the whole game Friday with the explanation he wanted him to face the Giants’ lefty relievers in preparation for facing Madison Bumgarner Sunday. What, Wright has never faced a lefty before? But, I do like him moving Michael Conforto to the No. 3 hole, which was the catalyst for the offensive surge. I also liked how he let Hansel Robles face Freddie Freeman when he could have played the lefty-righty percentages. Best of all, I liked how he admitted the Mets might have made a mistake in not giving his starters enough work during spring training. Overall, he’s done a solid job worthy of his extension.

Q: What’s going on with Matt Harvey?

A: After a 7.50 spring training ERA and 0-3 start, there were understandably questions about Harvey. A lot is always demanded from Harvey, and after making it through last season without any problems following Tommy John surgery, the expectations are even higher. He’s pitched better in his last two starts, both wins. No reason for concern right now.

Q: Will Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Syndergaard has been incredible consistently throwing in the high 90s. His secondary pitches have also been dominant. DeGrom missed time with a strained lat muscle and tending to his family because of complications following the birth of his son. Both child and lat are doing fine. He didn’t have a smooth start Saturday against the Giants, but as usually the case with him, he finds a way to pitch through trouble.

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: I would say an awful lot. He was hammered in his first start, but won his last three. Matz has been terrific, but like deGrom and Harvey, he’s throwing too many pitches for the innings he works. That eventually could catch up to the bullpen.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: Nothing has changed, the plan remains for him to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is brought up, which should be around July 1. He would then move to the bullpen.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: So far, it has been like leather. Familia recently has worked his way out of a tough stretch. He’s converted all seven of his save opportunities with a 2.45 ERA.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: This might have been the Mets’ most important pre-season issue, but the bullpen has been solid in all phases. Addison Reed has been a very capable set-up reliever and Antonio Bastardo has pitched well despite a poor spring training. Jim Henderson and Logan Verrett have been more than pleasant surprises. Robles is getting more chances to shine and he’s delivering.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud, are you there?

A: Nope. Once again, he’s on the disabled list, this time with a strained rotator cuff. The Mets still don’t know what he can produce over 500 at-bats and might not find out this year, either. He wasn’t hitting or throwing well at the time of the injury.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: When Conforto was moved to the No. 3 hole, Yoenis Cespedes went to clean-up and Duda was dropped to fifth. He’s hitting .240 with four homers and 14 RBI, and again has proven streaky. Four homers a month will give him 24 for the year, which is short of his expectations. Also short of what the Mets want from him.

Q: Will Neil Walker make people forget Daniel Murphy?

A: Walker has been the Mets’ Player of the Month for April with nine homers, tying him with Dave Kingman (1976), Carlos Delgado (2006) and John Buck (2013) for the club record. Sure, Murphy was a terrific month, but Walker has been better than advertised. The question now is: How hard will the Mets try to bring him back?

Q: Is Asdrubal Cabrera an upgrade over Wilmer Flores at shortstop?

A: Cabrera has done it both in the field and at the plate. There’s no uneasiness when a grounder is hit to him.

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: Still nobody knows. It takes him two hours to get ready for a game and his back is always a question. Which is why it was foolish to let him play nine innings in a blowout game Friday night. Why push the envelope? Wright has two homers and only five RBI hitting mostly in the second spot in the order. He’s only hitting .143 (3-for-21) with RISP. It’s not about hitting for power, it is about hitting a single when you need it.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: That’s the chance the Mets took when they gave Cespedes an out clause after one season in his three-year deal. If it does happen that way, it has been a fun ride. Cespedes still has his lapses in the field, but he’s locked in at the plate with seven homers and 23 RBI for the month. However, he is on pace to strike out over 200 times.

Q: A breakout year for Conforto?

A: it is sure looking that way. Conforto lit the offense on fire since moving to the No. 3 hole. He closed the month reaching base in 17 straight games and tying a club record with doubles in six straight. He has four homers in his last 14 games. Everything he hits seems to be hard and on a line. Plus, he’s making the plays in the field. He’s not a star in the making. He already is a star.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Curtis Granderson?

A: After a slow start Granderson is on a roll. He’s scored 15 runs in his last 13 games and has a .350 on-base percentage. He also has four homers. Granderson still strikes out a lot and isn’t trying to steal anymore.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: Kevin Plawecki is now a starter with d’Arnaud’s injury. Collins needs to find a way to get Alejandro De Aza and Flores more at-bats. Eventually, the Mets will need them. Rene Rivera is now the backup catcher.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: That’s always the wild card. Right now it is d’Arnaud. Cespedes missed several games with a bruised right leg, then hit a pinch-hit three-run homer to tie a game this week against Cincinnati. Harvey entered the season a question because of a bladder infection. He’s fine now. DeGrom’s lat was a scare, but he’s also fine. Wright, of course, is always a concern.

Q: What’s going with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals sprinted out of the gate and opened up a five-game lead on April 16 that is now down to a half-game. MVP Bryce Harper is playing as if he wants to win it again. Their pitching has also been strong and Murphy is playing well.

Q: Can the Mets get off to another fast start?

A: An 11-game winning streak keyed a 15-8 April record last year and gave them a buffer to overcome injuries and a drastic hitting slump. The Mets had another strong April this year at 15-7, which they needed to keep pace with Washington. The Nationals come to town for a three-game series, May 17-19, and the Mets are in Washington, May 23-25.

Please follow me on Twitter.

Apr 07

Early Impressions Of Mets Have Been Good

It’s always fun to examine the first impressions of a new season.

For example, it is safe to say John Buck will not finish with 292 RBI. However, you might get interesting odds if you believe the 4-2 Mets will continue their pace and outplay the 2-4 Yankees.

That being said, the measuring stick for success or failure is their starting pitching. If they get innings it keeps them in games and the bullpen off the mound.

DAVIS: Some anguish there/

DAVIS: Some anguish there

There’s absolutely no way the starters will continue with a 1.41 ERA, but if the front end of Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee produce, and they get something from the back end, they’ll remain competitive.

However, if the starters run into stretches where they are batted around, it exposes the bullpen, which has been tested and performed well twice and poorly twice.

The most important start of the season was Jeremy Hefner as a replacement for Johan Santana. Currently, he’s the fourth starter, and Sunday’s starter, Aaron Laffey, is the fifth. A week in and already the Mets have two holes in the rotation. I have no expectations of Shaun Marcum.

The bullpen was on Saturday and Sunday. Scott Rice is a good story, but there’s a reason he’s bounced around. This is a make-or-break year for Bobby Parnell. I have confidence in Josh Edgin, but little in LaTroy Hawkins. Scott Atchison was superb Sunday.

GM Sandy Alderson has spent two years trying to build a bullpen and he might have to do it again.

Alderson is adamant about not rushing Zack Wheeler, and evidenced by him getting hit hard last week, that’s the smart call. However, it’s easy to say that now, but let’s see what happens if the back end of the rotation becomes a black hole.

One thing for certain is the injured Jenrry Mejia isn’t in the plan – as a starter or reliever. The way the Mets jerked him around might have irreparably damaged his career.

Offensively, two things always jump out: 1) their high propensity for striking out, and 2) long stretches of not hitting with runners in scoring position. Both have already come into play.

They’ve homered in each game, but that won’t continue, although the potential for greater power production is realistic.

Buck has been the best story, but let’s be honest, if he continues to be good and the Mets fade, teams will be calling for him by the July 31 trade deadline. By that time, Travis d’Arnaud could be here. In a perfect world, the Mets would continue to play well and d’Arnaud could be Buck’s caddy for half the season.

David Wright had three hits Saturday to break out of a dry stretch, but has yet to homer. He’s hit 30 before, but if he doesn’t and still drives in runs and has a high OPS, we shouldn’t worry about him. Wright has the same number of strikeouts as walks (4), which in today’s game is acceptable. As long as he has a high on-base percentage (.455 now), there’s no reason for concern.

The guy I wonder about is Ike Davis, who had two hits Saturday to get out of a 1-for-16 slide. Davis, with one homer, has a tendency to go into prolonged slumps. The red flag with him is he has more than twice as many strikeouts (7) to hits (3) and a .273 on-base percentage. Davis had a miserable first half last season and you must consider if his slow start is making him wonder.

So far, the most encouraging sign about Lucas Duda is he has more walks than strikeouts and a .500 on-base percentage. He’s staying within himself and if he continues to be selective, he’ll get his pitch to hit.

Daniel Murphy, despite not having much of spring training, is driving the ball. Murphy is strong, and I wonder if he concentrated more on turning on the pitch if he’d hit for more power. Wade Boggs always said he could hit a lot of home runs if he wanted. The same went with Tony Gwynn. Murphy isn’t in either class, but is a contact hitter.

If there’s been one disappointment it has been Ruben Tejada, who’s especially struggling with the glove.

The major offensive concern was the outfield, but so far it hasn’t been a problem. Collin Cowgill has hit for power, Duda has been on base and Marlon Byrd has been hitting. Mike Baxter reached base three times Saturday and should get a longer look in the leadoff spot, as that remains unsettled.

The Mets are playing better than expected, but the same cracks that haunted them in the past are still evident. After a week, yes, there is the potential for a long summer. But, also the potential for some fun.

May 23

Thank God For Mets

As you can tell, I have not been around since Friday. I went in for surgery, had complications and only today have I been able to sit up without help. The only thing I could reach was the TV remote. Today is the first day since Friday that I’ve been online.

Helping me through this time have been the Mets and TV sports. In particular, the NBA playoffs. My basketball rooting interest are the Celtics and whatever team is playing Los Angeles and Miami. When those teams play I am paralyzed as to who I want to lose more, the Lakers or LeBron James’ team. No, I won’t get over it.

But, I must say, the Mets have been a joy to watch. R.A. Dickey is a great story and his contract should be extended. Time after time, he does it again. I wasn’t crazy about the communication in left field between Mike Baxter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and the bullpen has been a challenge to watch.

I’ve been watching Ike Davis, and while I believe he’ll get his swing fixed, the overriding question is when? I was against the minor leagues, but he’s just not right.

I see where David Wright’s average has dropped and threatening to dip below .400. I read with amusement where Terry Collins answered about Wright possibly challenging .400, saying he had the speed. What mumble jumble. If George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Rod Carew all fell way short, how could anybody believe Wright can sustain that clip for the Mets?

Anyway, I said thank God for the Mets, and I meant it. Whomever your team is, give thanks for that. When people are down physically and mentally, or just shut ins, sports is their key to the outside and there’s a lot of reason to give thanks for that.

I hate leaving the blog unattended, and tried to reach Joe DeCaro to post for me, only I learned he had surgery himself. The two of us should be on the DL.

Anyway, I hope you realize I was thinking about you guys while I was hurting and how I missed the communication with you. I need to reach out again to repair the damage from being away, but I hope you realize after all this time I wouldn’t leave without saying a proper goodbye and something had to have come up.

It’s still a thrill for me to watch the Mets, comment about them and read your responses. Thank you for that and I’ll try to stay on my feet from now on.

Best to you all, JD