Sep 12

Met On The Mound: Montero Pitching For Spot On Playoff Roster

I’m not crazy about the Mets having to start Rafael Montero tonight in Washington, but I’m glad they have an experienced arm to turn to and manager Terry Collins isn’t forced to alter his rotation by flipping him with Noah Syndergaard.

MONTERO: Pitching for playoff spot. (AP)

MONTERO: Pitching for playoff spot. (AP)

It’s a smart move on Collins’ part not to toy with Syndergaard, who is showing signs of regaining his command after a stretch where he was bothered by a bone spur and poor command.

The Mets have been fortunate to win both of Montero’s starts despite his wildness. Collins likes that Montero throws hard – ten walks in 9.1 innings – but said command is the central issue.

Command will be a deciding factor if the Mets get down to making a playoff roster. Montero has the experience and is capable of giving the Mets innings. Montero must show tonight and in possibly two remaining starts that his control won’t be a liability.

The Mets have no choice but to stick with Montero for now because both Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz are now throwing off flat ground. They are likely two weeks away.

So for now, Montero has his immediate destiny in his hands. The Mets won’t have five starters on their playoff roster, and unlike last season, unless Matz and deGrom return, Bartolo Colon won’t work out of the bullpen.

I never imagined I would write that with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman ahead of him – and barring no returns from the DL – Montero has tonight and possibly two other starts later to make the impression he belongs.

Yes, there’s always next year, but Montero has a chance to pitch in the playoffs this season and these opportunities don’t come often.

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Sep 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Lugo Continues To Shine

Every pennant winner needs that player who comes out of nowhere to fill a huge void, which is exactly what the Mets have in Seth Lugo. More to the point, where would they be without him?

LUGO: Cruises to win. (AP)

LUGO: Cruises to win. (AP)

Lugo has given the Mets’ rotation a sense of stability after injuries to Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Lugo, who joined the rotation Aug. 19, was superb in Sunday’s 10-3 rout of Atlanta, giving up two runs on six hits in seven innings.

Now 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA, Lugo figures to get three more starts and if he runs the table could tie deGrom with seven victories in his rookie season.

“He has a feel for pitching,” said manager Terry Collins. “He knows how to get a ground ball to get out of trouble. You see him bear down and his fastball gets a little better.”

If there was a turning point, it came in the fourth, when the Mets held a 6-1 lead but the Braves had the bases loaded with one out. However, Lugo got Dansby Swanson to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“He mixes his pitches well,” said catcher Rene Rivera. “When he gets a runner on base, he focuses and executes.”

The Mets were never seriously threatened from then on.

Lugo’s domination on the day the Mets said good-riddance to Turner Field was the clear storyline. The others were Collins’ questionable handling of two of his key injured players and finally, some production, from James Loney.

MORE COLLINS HEADSCRATCHING: Less than 24 hours after Collins took the blame for not running for Wilmer Flores only to have him thrown out, and injured, on a play at the plate, he foolishly kept the gimpy Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes in a blowout game despite the expanded rosters.

Cabrera has been playing with a sore knee and Cespedes a bad quad – injuries that forced both to the disabled list in the second half of the season – so you would think Collins would use every opportunity to rest them.

For all practical purposes, the competitive aspect of the game was over when the Mets took a 10-1 lead in the fifth.

Even so, Cabrera and Cespedes remained in the game despite the expanded rosters.

Collins said they wanted to stay in the game to beg the question: Who is managing this team anyway?

Heading into Washington for three games against the Nationals, who would like nothing better to cap the division with a sweep of the Mets, and on a stretch of 19 straight games without an off day, it’s beyond foolish to keep players coming off injuries in a blowout game.

LONEY RESURFACES: When Lucas Duda went down with a back injury, the Mets caught a break when they picked up Loney.

He’s been solid defensively and hit .294 in June and .280 in July, but only .213 in August.

However, he’s been warming up in September, and Sunday went 2-for-4 with a double and homer

Nobody can say for sure if Duda will return, so it would be important to have a hot Loney for the last three weeks.

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Sep 10

Translating Alderson: Mets Not Expecting DeGrom, Matz Soon

Recent history tells us when Mets’ brass speculates on the return of injured players, it usually takes longer than announced. So, when GM Sandy Alderson refused to comment Friday on the progress of Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, I can’t help but conclude they aren’t coming back anytime soon.

“I’m not going to talk about them,” Alderson said. “The players who have gotten us here are the players who are healthy and the players who have performed. It doesn’t do anybody any good about talking about when, or if, certain players are going to come back.”

ALDERSON: Easy to conclude his words. (AP)

ALDERSON: Easy to conclude his words. (AP)

DeGrom threw on flat ground Friday. He’ll throw on flat ground again in a couple of days. Then, in a few days, he’ll throw off the mound, which should be in a week.

So, with me doing what Alderson won’t, I’m guessing the Mets will skip deGrom’s spot in the rotation at least twice.

Matz, who will throw off the mound Saturday, is slightly ahead of deGrom. Assuming all goes well, he’ll go off the mound again in several days. The best case scenario for him will be after next weekend’s series against Minnesota.

Figuring that time frame for both, each could get about two or three starts before the end of the season.

Until then, the Mets will continue with Robert Gsellman, who have up four runs Friday in Atlanta, and Seth Lugo, who has a blister and will be pushed back to Sunday.

“We have the players who we have,” Alderson said. “We hope they continue to do the same job they’ve done. It’s really not constructive to talk about the players who aren’t here, or the players who aren’t close to being here. Talking about injuries is history.”

The operative words being “aren’t close to being here.’’

If they were, Alderson would have said so. Right?

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Sep 09

Is There No Turning Back For Mets?

This certainly isn’t your father’s Turner Field for the Mets. This place used to torment the Mets not too long ago. Just ask David Wright; if you want to go back further, there’s Armando Benitez.

Not Friday night. In the first game of their final series for the Mets here before Turner Field closes after the season, they rallied from four runs down to beat the Atlanta Braves, 6-4.

JOHNSON: Hits game-winner. (AP)

JOHNSON: Hits game-winner. (AP)

With the all-hands-on-deck victory, the Mets have won six straight games and 15 of their last 19 to move a season-high nine games over .500 and remain a half-game ahead of St. Louis for the second wild-card spot.

“Right now, things are falling our way,” manager Terry Collins said. “That’s what you have to have. We had a lot of games this year when they weren’t falling our way. We have to keep plugging.”

On Aug. 19, they were 5.5 games out of wild-card contention and fading fast. Tonight, I can’t help but wonder if there’s no turning back for the Mets.

There were plenty of Mets to pick up Robert Gsellman, who has two wins in picking up their injury-ravaged rotation.

* It began with Curtis Granderson, who started the comeback with a two-run homer in the sixth. It was the fourth straight in which the now hot Granderson has homered.

* The bullpen of Jim Henderson, Josh Smoker, Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia combined to throw four scoreless innings.

* James Loney started a 3-6-3 inning-ending double play in the sixth after the Braves opened the inning with runners on the corners. Smoker relieved Henderson to strike out A.J. Pierzynski and get Ender Inciarte to hit into the double-play.

* Alejandro De Aza’s walk jumpstarted the Mets’ four-run eighth, keyed by Yoenis Cespedes’ sacrifice fly – he always does something – Granderson’s game-tying single and Kelly Johnson’s go-ahead pinch-hit double.

Players who have struggled all year are playing big; players who weren’t even on the team on Opening Day are making contributions.

Everything is clicking for the Mets. Every decision Collins is making is working. With 21 games remaining, the Mets are playing like they are counting on October.

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Sep 08

So What If Tebow Signing A Gimmick

Why would the Mets sign Tim Tebow to a minor league contract? Well, why not?

My first thought was not that the Mets were seeking divine intervention in their playoff push, but of the more practical acceptance for what it really is – a no-risk opportunity.

TEBOW: Now a Met. (FOX Sports)

TEBOW: Now a Met. (FOX Sports)

The Mets don’t have anything to lose. If Tebow – who hasn’t played baseball since his junior year in high school – doesn’t make it like everybody expects, they haven’t lost anything. However, if the former Heisman Trophy winner and New York Jet does catch lightning in a bottle, then everybody is a winner.

In a conference call this afternoon. GM Sandy Alderson addressed, and as expected, denied the obvious motivation.

“While I and the organization, I think, are mindful of the novel nature of this situation, this decision was strictly driven by baseball,” Alderson said, his nose growing with each word.

“This was not something that was driven by marketing considerations or anything of the sort. We are extremely intrigued with the potential that Tim has.”

If that’s the case, then why were the decision makers Alderson and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon, and did not involve the Mets’ baseball operations personnel?

A decision on a prospect that will go to the fall instructional league, Sept. 19, doesn’t go all the way to the top. In addition, just any prospect trying to salvage a professional sports career, isn’t excused a couple days a week to pursue a college football TV analyst position.

Alderson spoke glowingly of Tebow’s work ethic and professionalism and how the Mets’ minor leaguers could learn from watching him. While that’s all well and good, but this is an opportunity to keep the Mets in the news this winter and sell some tickets in spring training and in the minors next year.

Of course, Alderson won’t admit that for it would defeat the purpose.

As for Tebow, who didn’t make it with Jets, Denver, Philadelphia or New England, his motivation is presumably the desire to compete. He likely doesn’t need the money, and if he did, he’s surely smart enough to understand he’s years from major league money.

He’s also smart enough to realize this won’t be easy. As Michael Jordan learned, hitting a baseball might be the single most difficult thing to do in sports.

“I know this is a tough game,’’ said Tebow on the conference call. “ But I’m looking forward to putting in the work and I felt like this was the best fit.”

This is very easy to figure out, but what I don’t get is all the criticism of him doing this and the calls for him to get a real job. Shouldn’t he be free to pursue whatever career he wants?

If this is what Tebow wants to do, and he’s found a willing partner in the Mets, what’s the big deal?

And for those who say the Mets already have enough left-handed hitting outfielders, well, that’s a little premature, don’t you think?

The call-in shows were full of Tebow this afternoon, and he’ll be on the back pages tomorrow.

Just like the Mets want.

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