Jul 27

Three Mets’ Storylines: Loss A Gut Check

The Mets’ 2015 signature was resiliency; their ability to bounce back from adversity and seemingly crushing defeat.

It was around this time last season when Jeurys Familia blew his last save in a rain-soaked, thought-to-be devastating loss to San Diego. The night before Wilmer Flores endeared himself to Mets Nation when he shed tears out at shortstop after thinking he’d been traded.

What happened next will forever be a part of Mets’ lore. GM Sandy Alderson got Yoenis Cespedes in a trade, Flores homered to beat Washington and become an iconic presence, and the Mets sizzled into the World Series. In their champagne drenched clubhouses in Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field, to a man, the Mets trumpeted their ability to get off the mat as to what their team about.

CESPEDES: Can't do it all. (AP)

CESPEDES: Can’t do it all. (AP)

It’s time to show that quality again, following the season’s most disappointing and potentially devastating loss of the season, 5-4 to the St. Louis Cardinals, Wednesday night after Familia’s first blown save.

“This is really a tough one to take,” drained Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters. “When you come back on Adam Wainwright and have a chance to win the game, that’s a pretty big night. And then to have your closer, who just has been lights out, give up two, that’s a little tougher to take.”

Will it turn bitter and send them on an out-of-control slide or force that character to the surface?

Logan Verrett gave the Mets a chance to win, giving up three runs in seven innings. But, in the bottom half of the inning and a run already in to pull the Mets within a run, on the ninth-pitch of a heavyweight battle, Cespedes swung to create two unmistakable sounds.

There was the crack of the bat that punctuates a Cespedes home run and the explosion of emotion that engulfed Citi Field, which hadn’t been this loud since last October.

Cespedes wasn’t even back in the dugout when the inevitable thought was raised: Could this be the at-bat, the game, to propel the Mets?

With Familia riding a streak of 52 consecutive saves, it was a logical conclusion.

Addison Reed stuffed the Cardinals, 1-2-3 in the eighth, but it wasn’t long before Familia, who has given us jitters before, showed he didn’t have it.

Familia got the first hitter, but then walked Jedd Gyorko on four pitches. Gyorko homered swinging at first-pitch fastballs in both games of Tuesday’s doubleheader, so Familia was going to be careful. He was too careful with sliders away.

Then Yadier Molina, who has broken Mets’ hearts before, doubled over the head of center fielder Juan Lagares and pinch-runner Randal Grichuk scored standing up to tie the game.

“I think I left it a little bit in the middle, and he made a good swing,” the stand-up Familia told reporters of the pitch to Molina.

The Mets appeared off the hook with no less than a tie when Molina was caught going to third on Jeremy Hazelbaker’s bouncer back to the mound. However, Hazelbaker quickly stole second and scored on Kolten Wong’s pinch-hit double.

Citi Field was now as quiet as it was in the last inning of Game 5 of the World Series.

The Mets’ season ended that night. What will become of it after Wednesday night?

“We’re hoping,” Collins said on bouncing back. “This is something we haven’t had happen for a long time … Jeurys Familia with a blown save. We have to back tomorrow.”

It might be imperative.

The emotional turmoil was the first of three main storylines. The others were:

ESSENCE OF CESPEDES: Cespedes is clearly hobbling, but plays anyway for the chance at what happened in the seventh when he hit his first homer since July 5.

Cespedes’ importance to the Mets is further underscored in that they were 2-for-14 with RISP Wednesday, and just 4-for-33 in the series.

“We didn’t get past that,” Collins said the Mets’ primary issue this season. “We had a lot of opportunities to score some runs.”

If there was a bright spot to the offense – outside of Cespedes – it was a Neil Walker sighting.

Walker entered the game on a 2-for-39 slide, but reached base four times on three hits and a walk.

VERRETT START WASTED: Last season at Colorado, in replacing an injured Matt Harvey, Verrett might have come up with the most important start of the season for the Mets.

Verrett always says his job is to give his team a chance to win and he did that by giving up three runs in seven innings.

As the trade deadline approaches there’s concern by some the Mets might need another starter, but that won’t be the case if he keeps pitching the way he has in his last two starts.

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 25

Suggesting A New Batting Order For Listless Mets’ Offense

Seventh? Can you believe it? Michael Conforto was in the starting lineup for Monday’s game – that was rained out – but hitting seventh in the order.

After a successful stint in the minors that culminated in two hits Sunday in Miami, that’s not where he should be in the order. Manager Terry Collins should leave Conforto in center, have him bat third and just leave him alone.

CONFORTO: Keep him third. (Getty)

CONFORTO: Keep him third. (Getty)

Conforto fizzled in April, got pull happy and saw his average drop from a season-high .365 on April 30 to a season-low .222 when he was sent down after four hitless games, June 21-24.

Conforto was told to concentrate on using the entire field and that’s been his mindset since coming back up.

“Just getting back to the kind of hitter that I feel like I am and use the whole field, take what the pitcher gives me,” Conforto told reporters in Miami about his hitting approach. “It’s really stuff we were working on up there. When you go down there, you get a chance to take a breath and really look at what’s going on and work on some things. It was a positive for me to go down there and work on some stuff.”

The Mets’ lineup has been dormant for much of the season, and part of the reason has been an inconsistent batting order.

Here’s what I suggest to offer stability:

Jose Reyes, 3B: He’s off to a good start since coming back and the only speed threat in the order.

Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B: He’s been terrible with RISP, so why not hit him in a place where there isn’t many runners in that position? Besides, Cabrera has been successful batting second.

Conforto, CF: He shouldn’t be here if he doesn’t play, and the best thing is to play him where he’s expected to end up. No more moving him around or pinch-hitting for him against right-handers.

Yoenis Cespedes, LF: The Mets aren’t going to budge on this – Cespedes will play left. But, he’s been the best power bat so hit him cleanup.

Curtis Granderson, RF: Batting him fifth would sandwich Cespedes against two left-handers.

James Loney, 1B: He’s been a terrific pick up and done it both in the field and at the plate. I’d also hit Wilmer Flores sixth when he plays, and once again, he should be in a rotation with the other infielders.

Travis d’Arnaud, C: Of course, this is predicated on him still being here. Should they get Jonathan Lucroy from Milwaukee, I’d bat him sixth behind Granderson and drop Loney down a notch.

Neil Walker, 2B: Slumps don’t get much deeper than the one Walker is currently riding. Pitchers could work around him to get to the pitcher. In the end, if Walker stays patient, this could help snap him out of a slump.

Pitcher’s spot: Ninth.

 

Jul 22

Three Mets’ Storylines: This Is Why They Got Reyes

The Mets gambled bringing back Jose Reyes because they needed a leadoff hitter to spark their listless offense. What they envisioned came to fruition Friday night in Miami in what truly can be described as a must-win game.

Reyes ripped three hits, scored two runs, drove in another, stole a base and had several sparkling defensive plays in a 5-3 victory to pull them within a half-game of the Marlins for the final wild-card spot.

REYES: Huge spark tonight. (Getty)

REYES: Huge spark tonight. (Getty)

“I needed to step up my game a little bit and set the tone,” Reyes told SNY. “We know we had to win the first game of the series because they have [Jose] Fernandez going tomorrow and he’s one of the best pitchers in the league.”

The Mets’ offense still has holes, but if Reyes keeps having games like Friday’s, leadoff won’t be one of them.

“This guy produces runs,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “We have a lot of games left to play and hopefully he’ll be a big part of our line-up. … Hopefully, he’ll have a lot more like this.”

In addition to Reyes, the Mets got two sacrifice flies from Yoenis Cespedes and a two-run homer by James Loney.

Reyes did commit a throwing error, but overall his defense at third has exceeded expectations. More games like Friday’s will greatly increase Reyes’ chances of coming back next year.

The following are the other two storylines in the game the Mets needed:

BULLPEN SCRIPT: In their perfect world, the Mets want a bullpen script of Hansel Robles in the seventh (he also got the last two outs in the sixth), Addison Reed in the eighth and Jeurys Familia in the ninth.

Of course, with Familia it isn’t always easy. Cespedes misplayed Christian Yelich’s line drive into a double and Familia walked Marcell Ozuna to bring the tying run to the plate.

However, as he did in Chicago, Familia regrouped and struck out Derek Dietrich, and after Martin Prado’s RBI single, Adeiny Hechavarria grounded out to lock down his 50th straight save.

The bullpen picked up Logan Verrett, who gave up two runs in 5.1 innings, which should merit another start in the rotation. However, I’m not sure if he’s shown enough to prevent the Mets

WALKER STRUGGLES: Second baseman Neil Walker, who captivated Mets’ fans with nine homers and 19 RBI in April, continued to flounder as he went 0-for-5 to see his average drop to .242 and on-base percentage slide to .311.

Walker has only two hits in his last 32 at-bats in the last nine games he’s played.

With Fernandez being a tough nut to crack, it might not be a bad idea of resting him Saturday and letting Wilmer Flores play second.

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.