Sep 27

Good Postseason Signs For Mets In Rout

The Marlins would have been hard-pressed to continue to ride the emotional wave from Monday’s ceremonies and victory over the Mets following the tragic death of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

That would be hard to do when you run into the kind of pitching they faced against Noah Syndergaard. It also didn’t hurt their offense resurfaced with a pair of two-run homers from Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes in Tuesday’s 19-hit, 12-1 mauling of the Marlins.

SYNDERGAARD: Good sign. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Good sign. (AP)

It was the first time since Bruce was acquired that he and Cespedes homered in the same game.

As the Mets look ahead to a possible postseason appearance, they took numerous positives from the game.

The most important, of course, was Syndergaard, whose last start was scratched because of a strep throat. Syndergaard last pitched, Aug. 19 in a loss to Atlanta, gave up a run on five hits with eight strikeouts.

“It was huge,” Syndergaard said about getting back into a groove. “I tried to keep each pitch simple. I felt I could locate my sinker on both sides of the plate.”

It was a smart move by manager Terry Collins to pull him when he did after 93 pitches. Syndergaard is next in line to pitch Sunday in Philadelphia. If the Mets don’t need that game, Collins will undoubtedly hold him back to start the wild-card play-in game, Wednesday, perhaps against San Francisco.

Maybe in a match-up against Madison Bumgarner at Citi Field? Or, perhaps in St. Louis against Adam Wainwright?

If there’s a three-way tie, it is presumed Syndergaard would start Sunday, which would probably leave the start to Seth Lugo.

There aren’t any questions about Syndergaard’s health or endurance, which considering the announcement earlier in the day that Steven Matz will have elbow surgery and be lost for the year.

If the Mets are to go anywhere in the playoffs, a lot will fall on Syndergaard.

After Syndergaard, the other key storylines were Bruce and Lucas Duda and the lengthening of the Mets’ batting order.

Bruce, who has started three straight games, has five hits in that span, including two homers. His two-run homer in the second put the Mets ahead for good.

After a dreadful slump sent him to the bench and raised questions about his spot on the playoff roster and even if the Mets would bring him back for 2017.

“It’s been very encouraging,” Collins said of Bruce’s resurgence. “If he’s back, we’re going to have a different line-up.”

Bruce said the slump was a difficult stretch, but he never lost faith of his talent.

“I feel comfortable at the plate,” Bruce said. “I just kept preparing and kept working. I just focus on preparing and always think today is the day I’ll come out of it.”

Curtis Granderson, who drove in three runs on two hits, is now entrenched in the clean-up spot with Bruce hitting fifth.

Duda drove in three runs on two hits and again played the field. At first, the Mets thought Duda would only be used as a pinch-hitter. That notion could be gone now, which could make it a Duda (two hits and two walks) vs. James Loney battle for a playoff roster spot.

“It’s definitely tough,” Duda said of his return from back surgery. “The more I play the more comfortable I get. It’s a work in progress. From rehabbing to here is a pretty big jump. The speed of the game, both offensively and defensively, is faster.”

While these were positive signs as the Mets gear for the playoffs, one negative is Wilmer Flores’ wrist, which could sideline him for the rest of the regular season and put his spot on a playoff roster in jeopardy.

Please follow me on Twitter

Sep 18

Three Mets’ Storylines: Makeshift Starter Saves Day … Again

When the final chapter of the 2016 Mets is written, it will be about pitching. The central theme will be about those lost and those who stepped into the breach. With Jacob deGrom scratched from Sunday’s start with an elbow injury that will require season-ending surgery, Gabriel Ynoa became the latest to help keep the Mets in the center of the wild-card race.

YNOA: Makes key start. (AP)

YNOA: Makes key start. (AP)

Personally, I was disappointed manager Terry Collins didn’t give Ynoa one more batter, but it worked out for the best and the Mets went on to complete their sweep of the Minnesota Twins, 3-2, to move into the lead wild-card spot, one game ahead of San Francisco and two over the Cardinals.

Ynoa gave up four hits and struck out eight in 4.2 innings, and from there manager Terry Collins turned to his “plethora of pitchers,” to complete the sweep. Five Mets’ relievers limited the Twins to a pair of runs.

While Ynoa was done when the game was decided, his contribution was vital – and worthy of another start with deGrom for the year – he personified the overriding storyline of this season (even more than their average with RISP) of the success of their emergency starters.

With Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and deGrom lost for the year, Seth Lugo, Logan Verrett, Robert Gsellman, Ynoa and Rafael Montero – all of whom were not in the Opening Day rotation – have combined to give the Mets 25 starts (seven defined as quality) and 10 victories. Another pitcher who was supposed to be out of the rotation in early July – 43-year-old Bartolo Colon – has 14 victories in 30 starts (18 defined as quality).

That’s 24 victories in 55 starts (25 quality), which is the difference between having something to keep playing for this season and thinking about spring training.

“Hey look, somebody else has got to help,” Collins said. “When you are called upon and it’s your chance, make the most of it.”

This issue will undoubtedly be raised again in the Mets’ remaining 13 starts, as Colon is slated to get three more starts, while the Band-Aid of Lugo, Gsellman and Ynoa are anticipated getting seven more.

That was today’s main storyline with Neil Walker‘s future with the team and more injury updates the others.

WALKER WANTS TO RETURN: The Mets are where they are in the playoff hunt in large part because of Walker, who hit .282 with a career-high 23 homers and 55 RBI, before being lost for the season to undergo season-ending back surgery.

Prior to Walker’s injury, GM Sandy Alderson said he’d talk with Walker’s agent about an extension, something which obviously hasn’t happened. Walker’s leverage on the free-agent market was compromised by the surgery. That explained Walker’s interest in returning.

“This is a good fit,” Walker told reporters. “This looks good, but we don’t know what else is out there. We don’t know where teams might be coming from. The free-agent market this year is kind of weak, especially at the infield position, so you never know what good happen.”

INJURY UPDATES:  Evidently, the Mets didn’t learn from their recent experience with deGrom. Why else would Collins say today Matz could come back “with an opportunity to pitch,” at the end of the week?

Matz, who hasn’t pitched in a month because of a shoulder impingement and is coming off a 30-pitch bullpen session Saturday, could pitch Friday

When it comes to Mets’ injury news, I’ll believe it when I see it, which is why I have no faith in what Collins said.

Matz was 9-8 with a 3.40 ERA when he was sidelined. The long-term goal would be to have him a viable option to pitch in a possible postseason.

“We have no plans yet,” Collins said, almost backtracking. “Nothing’s written. Steven Matz’s name certainly will be in the mix,” Collins said. “But Steven, when he gets here, is going to be a guy with a limit in workload that he has. So to get him built up and get him where we want, I am not sure we have the starts available.”So, why

So, why float the idea in the first place?

Meanwhile, Wilmer Flores‘ sore right wrist has kept him out of the lineup since it was injured in a home-plate collision with Braves’ catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Collins took responsibility for the injury saying he should have run for Flores.

Lucas Duda started for the first time since May. He was activated from the DL Saturday after being on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his lower back. … Yoenis Cespedes left the game in the sixth inning after feeling ill. … Walker said he’s feeling better after having surgery on a herniated disk in his neck.

Please follow me on Twitter

Sep 13

Did Collins Fall On Sword For Scott?

It hasn’t been a great week for Mets manager Terry Collins, who had three major brain cramps, all of which should have been preventable.

First, on Saturday he failed to pinch-run for Wilmer Flores, who was then subsequently thrown out at the plate, injured and hasn’t played since. On Sunday, he admitted screwing up. He said he was preoccupied talking with pitching coach Dan Warthen about his pitching.

BACKMAN: Could he have saved Collins this week? (AP)

BACKMAN: Could he have saved Collins this week? (AP)

That day, in a blowout win over the Braves, he left shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes – both of whom spent time on the disabled list with leg injuries and still aren’t running well – in the game too long. Blowout wins are rare and represent a chance to grab rest for tired players.

Finally, Monday, when it was apparent Rafael Montero didn’t have it, he kept the shell-shocked starter in the game too long. He could have pulled Montero in the first or pinch-hit for him. He did neither and Montero let the game away. Would the Mets have won had Montero been pulled? Who knows, but it can’t make Collins feel any less angst.

Ironically, the Montero gaffe occurred hours after the Mets split with Triple-A manager Wally Backman.

All three events should fall under the responsibility of bench coach Dick Scott, but not once did Collins point blame in his direction. That fits in with Collins’ makeup. He’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus. For that matter, he doesn’t take shots at GM Sandy Alderson for leaving him shorthanded at times.

Frankly, too many times.

Scott, it should be mentioned, beat out Backman for the bench coach job last winter. Alderson had his reasons for choosing Scott, but it should also be noted his relationship with Backman is frosty at best.

Many decisions a manager makes these days are on the fly. However, with the abundance of statistics and scouting reports available, the bench coach has come into play. The bench coach has to analyze this information and be able to think two or three moves ahead and give it to the manager when the need arises.

In all three decisions within the past week, Collins didn’t shuffle blame on Scott. That’s not who he is; he’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus.

We don’t know what Scott said, or didn’t say. What we do know, based on reputation, Backman – no shrinking violet – wouldn’t have been shy to make a suggestion.

Please follow me on Twitter

Sep 05

Three Mets’ Storylines: The Importance Of Colon

To a player, every year is an audition for the next, and here’s hoping the Mets are taking copious notes on Bartolo Colon. With how well he’s pitched, how ravaged the rotation has been, and the uncertainty of Zack Wheeler’s future, it should be a given re-signing Colon is a priority.

It doesn’t matter he’s 43, or can’t throw his fastball through a wall, or the ceiling of their younger pitchers, Colon knows how to pitch. Colon knows what he has, or more importantly, what he doesn’t possess.

COLON: Bring him back. (AP)

COLON: Bring him back. (AP)

“We had a man on the mound,” manager Terry Collins said. “Nothing fazes him. He gave us what he always does, which is quality innings. He’s an amazing guy.

“Every fifth day he takes the baseball. You don’t have to worry about pitch counts. You don’t have to worry about innings. All he does is make pitches.”

But, none of those pitches were more important than in the third and sixth innings when the Reds had a runner on third with no outs, and twice came away empty. That enabled the half-asleep Mets’ offense time to wake up with three tack-on runs to beat the Reds, 5-0, on Labor Day.

With the victory, the Mets kept heat on St. Louis for the second wild-card and moved to six-games over .500 (72-66), a level they hadn’t been since the night of July 27 when they lost to the Cardinals as Jeurys Familia blew his first save of the season.

The Mets, save Colon, who flew in Sunday afternoon, were dog tired after playing a night game and flying in well past midnight. The Mets were asking Colon to carry them, which he has done now for three seasons.

On Aug. 19, the Mets fell two games below .500 with a loss in San Francisco. Colon beat the Giants the next day to jumpstart the Mets on a stretch where they have won 12 of their next 16 games.

During that stretch, Colon won three games at a time when the Mets lost Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom from the rotation.

Colon gave up five hits and a walk in six scoreless innings to raise his record to a team-high 13-7 with a 3.22 ERA. Colon does it by keeping the Reds off balance by working quickly and staying ahead in the count with a fastball that didn’t stray much over 90 mph.

While Noah Syndergaard throws in the high 90s and sometimes touches triple digits, and deGrom raises red flags when his fastball drops to 91 mph., Colon remains a testament to the pitching tenants of location and movement over velocity.

It’s something the vaunted Mets youthful rotation should learn from, as well as they could from how often to throw between starts. In essence, he’s an active pitching coach.

“If you don’t learn stuff watching him pitch, you’re wasting your time,” Collins said.

For as well as Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman pitched as spot starters, here’s hoping the Mets aren’t seduced by their success and don’t assume Matt Harvey, deGrom and Matz will return without incident. And, for not pitching for the last two years, the Mets can’t assume anything with Wheeler.

However, for the bargain basement cost of $7.25 million, Colon leads the rotation in wins (13), starts (28) and innings pitched (164.2).

Colon doesn’t fit the prototype, but all he does is come through and that’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

REYNOLDS RAKES: While everybody was tired, probably nobody was more drained than Matt Reynolds, who flew all night from Salt Lake City and arrived a few hours before game time.

Reynolds caught the red-eye from Salt Lake City to catch a connection in Boston before heading to Cincinnati. And, it didn’t help he was seated next to one of those obnoxious fliers who insist on talking non-stop.

Reynolds drove in two runs on three hits, including a homer, to lead an offense that rested Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Reyes, Curtis Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera (he appeared as a pinch-hitter and singled).

“I just wanted to go out there and play and have fun,’’ Reynolds told SNY. “I didn’t try to put too much pressure on myself.”

Reynolds said a key was an adjustment he made in Triple-A to move closer to the plate, which forced him to shorten his swing.

BULLPEN STRONG AGAIN: Before this season is over, the Mets’ bullpen will throw a pile of innings, perhaps too many for Collins’ liking.

Collins was able to rest Addison Reed and Familia, who were both used in a non-save situation the night before.

Collins got an inning from the recently-and-frequently abused Hansel Robles; two-thirds of an inning from Jerry Blevins; and 1.1 innings from the recently acquired Fernando Salas.

BRUCE RETURNS HOME: Cincinnati will always be home to Jay Bruce, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his return to Great American Ballpark.

The Reds honored Bruce prior to the game with a video tribute and made a donation to his foundation that supports children with development disabilities.

“It was good. It was a bit odd,” said Bruce. “The Reds took the time to welcome me back. It was what I expected out of this organization. They treated me great the whole time I was here.”

EXTRA INNINGS: Kelly Johnson hit his tenth homer. In looking ahead, the Mets need to seriously consider bringing back Johnson, who doesn’t appear ready to retire. … Wilmer Flores had an interesting day, getting thrown out at second trying to stretch a single and at third attempting to stretch a double. I admit, I was hoping to see him try for an inside-the-park homer. C’mon, admit it, so were you. … The shutout was the Mets’ 11th of the year.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 31

Walker’s Season Likely Over; What Of Career With Mets?

UPDATED: Walker facing surgery.

Before leaving the podium, Mets manager Terry Collins dropped the other shoe. After all, they wouldn’t be the Mets if they didn’t encore good news with bad. This time, it was the sobering news Neil Walker was facing having season-ending back surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck.

“This is a big disappointment,” said a dejected Collins. “He’s had a big year for us.”

The announcement came moments after Kelly Johnson‘s three-run double in the eighth inning proved the difference in the Mets’ 5-2 victory over Miami. The other two runs came on Wilmer Flores‘ two-run homer. Ironically, Johnson and Flores figure to get the lion’s share of the time at second base with Walker gone.

WALKER: Status unknown. (AP)

WALKER: Facing surgery. (AP)

With the victory, the Mets have won nine of their last 11 games to climb back into the wild-card race. They are in it, also in large part, because of what Walker gave them in April with nine homers and 19 RBI and his hot streak in early August.

In April, there were numerous reports about the need to bring Walker back for 2017, because with Yoenis Cespedes expected to opt out, the Mets couldn’t afford to lose both.

With Walker’s season over, one must wonder if the same can be said of his Mets’ career. Walker can leave as a free agent this winter, but the injury takes away whatever leverage he had because a bad back represents a terrible credit report.

As good as Walker played, perhaps an even longer-lasting impression is David Wright. Looking at how long Wright struggled might have been a deciding factor in Walker’s decision. After all, having surgery now might enhance his chances of playing next season considering a six-month recovery time.

Somebody will sign Walker, but it will likely be a one-year deal with incentives based on games played. Considering what they’ve gone through with Wright, I’m not sure they’ll go in that direction with Walker.

Walker was having a tremendous season, hitting .282 with 23 homers and 55 RBI. In 23 games since July 27, Walker was batting .440 with seven homers, 15 RBI and 19 runs scored. That’s a significant loss for a team in a pennant race.

For the short term, the Mets are in decent position at second base with Flores and Johnson.

When Daniel Murphy left, there was speculation Flores could inherit second base, but that notion was quickly dashed when the Mets signed Walker. Then, when Wright went down, Flores was to play third, but that changed when Jose Reyes was signed.

Now, with Walker gone, Flores might finally be getting his chance.

Please follow me on Twitter