Oct 10

Cespedes Will Cash In By What He Does In Postseason

Yoenis Cespedes torched the National League in August, but the Mets’ free-agent-to-be will make his money by what he does in October. Call it the “Carlos Beltran Rule.’’

Early reports have Cespedes seeking a package in the seven-year, $140-million range. The Mets have the funds, but do they have the willingness to offer a contract that would exceed what David Wright is making?

CESPEDES: Long walk back to bench. (Getty)

CESPEDES: Long walk back to bench. (Getty)

Winning the World Series will go a long way toward answering that question, but Cespedes will have to do better than striking out three times Friday night – on just 12 pitches.

He rebounded tonight with a home run against the Dodgers’ Cy Young Award candidate, Zack Greinke.

I’ve advocated the Mets re-signing Cespedes since mid-August and not backing off that now. At 29, he has many productive years to go. I think they can afford to go after Cespedes, and at the same time, retain Daniel Murphy.

If they go on to win the World Series, how can they not keep Cespedes, especially if he turns it on again?

It’s not as if Cespedes is intimidated by the stage and bright lights. He hit .350 in two playoff series while with Oakland. In 2009, playing for his native Cuba in the World Baseball Classic, Cespedes hit .458 with three triples – the guy can motor – and two homers.

“If you know Cuban baseball, you’d better be good or you don’t play,’’ Mets manager Terry Collins said about Cespedes’ knack of producing in the spotlight. “They played on a world stage and they had to win, so I think this guy knows how to win.

“I don’t think he’s intimidated by anything. When you’ve had to somewhat run for your life, not much else scares you.’’

Cespedes certainly didn’t show any signs of wilting under pressure after the trade. He posted monster numbers after the Mets acquired him from Detroit minutes from the trade deadline, hitting .287 with a .604 OPS, 17 home runs and 44 RBI in 57 games for the Mets.

Cespedes was entering a pennant race and knew what was at stake.

“When the stadiums are full, I try to concentrate the most I can to give the best of me and have good results,’’ Cespedes told reporters. “I’m doing the same thing here as I did in Cuba.’’

Except more people are watching and more dollars at stake.

Oct 09

DeGrom Brilliant In Win Over Dodgers; Gives Us Glimpse Into Future

This one didn’t disappoint. The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw against the Mets’ Jacob deGrom was to be special. It was going to create an October memory, but it turned into something we’ll  never forget.

The Mets’ indisputable ace threw over 120 pitches – who would have thought it? – over seven scoreless innings in a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS. Kershaw and Zack Greinke were to slice through the upstart Mets, but they didn’t buckle.

DeGrom was beyond special, and it wasn’t just because he struck out 13. The Dodgers had numerous opportunities, but deGrom refused to cave. As aces do, he didn’t just close the door on the Dodgers, he slammed the door on them.

Daniel Murphy, whom the Mets aren’t expected to bring back next year, homered in the fourth, and David Wright broke the game open with a two-run single to chase Kershaw in the seventh.

Game 1 gave us an glimpse into the Mets’ future.

The Mets can only hope deGrom, Saturday’s starter Noah Syndergaard and Monday’s starter Matt Harvey, will be here in five years. Wright will be at the end of his contract, and Murphy – whom the Mets are expected to lowball as they did Jose Reyes – will be gone.

You had to feel good for both of them. The Mets have alternately tried to trade and find a position for Murphy for years. The Mets made a big splash at the trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean they’ll spend this winter. If they have any hope of bringing back Yoenis Cespedes, it will cost them Murphy.

As for Wright, he has been waiting for another postseason since 2006, when the Mets lost the NLCS to St. Louis. Even through the disappointment of watching Carlos Beltran take that called third strike, Wright admitted he thought the Mets would be a postseason fixture.

Instead, they became an annual disappointment, and Wright had been beset with injuries. He missed over four months this summer with back issues, and the thought of whether he’d ever play again had to creep into his mind.

His two-run single turned out to be the difference.

Michael Cuddyer, signed last winter to provide a veteran presence, misplayed two fly balls to left into doubles, but deGrom picked him up. Cuddyer’s role is expected to be reduced next year to coming off the bench, as Michael Conforto will be the every day left fielder.

But, that’s next year, and next year can wait. These Mets are about taking care of business, and that’s what they did Friday night.

 

Oct 05

The World Series Match-Up I Want Most

With the playoff field set, it’s fun to look at potential World Series match-ups for the Mets. Of course, Mets-Yankees immediately springs to mind, but doesn’t give me the buzz of several others.

STAUB: As a Colt-45. (Topps)

STAUB: As a Colt-45. (Topps)

The one really grabbing my attention is Mets-Astros, a clash of two underdogs who entered the National League together as expansion franchises in 1962. The match-up would provide numerous story lines, including stars Nolan Ryan and Rusty Staub, who played for both teams; a comparison of each team’s early building plans; and, of course, revisiting the 1986 NLCS.

It would be delicious.

Mets-Rangers doesn’t stir my heart, but the Blue Jays would be interesting, especially if Met-killer Troy Tulowitzki can play. There’s also the story lines of why the Blue Jays traded Jose Reyes, and old friend R.A. Dickey. The potential slugfests with the Blue Jays could bring us some football-type scores.

I’m not sure Mets-Astros will make the networks happy, which is reason enough to want it. Frankly, although they are a great baseball story, their revival doesn’t touch the ratings meter. Probably the World Series match-up the networks least want to see is Astros-Pirates, or Astros against anybody, or Pirates against anybody.

You can probably throw the Royals and Blue Jays in that mix.

Although they are a great organization, perhaps the best in baseball, but the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t a ratings coup because have been in a lot recently. But, Yankees-Cardinals, the two winningest franchises in history, would be very special.

The team the networks most want to see are the Cubs, with a Cubs-Yankees series most desirable. That’s a ratings slam dunk.

I usually root for the underdog, which is why I’d like to see the Astros, That, plus I worked for the Astros for several years right out of college.

If the Cubs get in, they damn well better win it just to get rid of their cursed storyline. Just give it up on the cow kicking over the lantern and Steve Bartman. There are a lot of reasons why the Cubs haven’t won. Playing all their games at day to tire them out is plausible, but most prevalent have been they’ve put a lot of lousy teams on the field.

It would be sad to think of the Cubs in the World Series without Harry Caray and Ernie Banks. But, if thety win it all would be the removal of the curse, much like it was when the Red Sox won in 1994. People can finally die and go to heaven, but the main thing is won’t have to hear the whining anymore.

But, if they won, wouldn’t a lot of their mystique fade away?

TUESDAY, OCT. 6

AL wild card: Houston Astros at New York Yankees at 8 p.m. ET (TV coverage on ESPN)

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 7
NL wild card: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates at 8 p.m. ET (TBS)

THURSDAY, OCT. 8
ALDS Game 1: Wild-card winner at Kansas City Royals (Fox or Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network)
ALDS Game 1: Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays (Fox or Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network/SportsNet)

FRIDAY, OCT. 9
NLDS Game 1: Wild-card winner at St. Louis Cardinals (TBS)
NLDS Game 1: New York Mets at Los Angeles Dodgers (TBS)
ALDS Game 2: Wild-card winner at Kansas City Royals (Fox or Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network)
ALDS Game 2: Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays (Fox or Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network/SportsNet)

SATURDAY, OCT. 10
NLDS Game 2: Wild-card winner at St. Louis Cardinals (TBS)
NLDS Game 2: New York Mets at Los Angeles Dodgers (TBS)

SUNDAY, OCT. 11
ALDS Game 3: Kansas City Royals at Wild-card winner (Fox or Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network)
ALDS Game 3: Toronto Blue Jays at Texas Rangers (TBD)

MONDAY, OCT. 12
NLDS Game 3: St. Louis Cardinals at wild-card winner (TBS)
NLDS Game 3: Los Angeles Dodgers at New York Mets (TBS)
ALDS Game 4*: Kansas City Royals at Wild-card winner  (Fox or Fox Sports 1)
ALDS Game 4*: Toronto Blue Jays at Texas Rangers (Fox or Fox Sports 1 or SportsNet)

TUESDAY, OCT. 13
NLDS Game 4*: St. Louis Cardinals at wild-card winner (TBS)
NLDS Game 4*: Los Angeles Dodgers at New York Mets (TBS)

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 14
ALDS Game 5*: Wild-card winner at Kansas City Royals (Fox or Fox Sports 1)
ALDS Game 5*: Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays  (Fox or Fox Sports 1 or SportsNet)

THURSDAY, OCT. 15
NLDS Game 5*: Wild-card winner at St. Louis Cardinals (TBS)
NLDS Game 5*: New York Mets at Los Angeles Dodgers (TBS)

 

Oct 01

Lefty Reliever Remains Concern For Mets

It is imperative the Mets get Jon Niese in a couple of games in this weekend, preferably in back-to-back outings, as the lefty bullpen specialist remains an issue. However, a poor weather forecast might prevent that from happening.

Although volunteering to go into the bullpen was admirable, Niese was not effective in two outings in Philadelphia against left-handed hitters (he gave up four hits against five hitters).

GILMARTIN: Effective today. (Getty)

GILMARTIN: Effective today. (Getty)

Overall this season lefty batters are hitting .297 against him with a .335 on-base percentage. Those aren’t numbers conducive to being a lefty specialist.

If you’re wondering about swapping Niese for Bartolo Colon in the rotation (assuming Steven Matz is left off for the NLDS), his numbers against lefties are a .290 average with a .309 on-base percentage, so that’s not practical.

A mitigating factor towards making this decision is the ability of each to get loose quickly. Niese knew when he would enter the game and given ample time to get ready.

However, neither he nor Colon could have that advantage in the playoffs. As of now, Colon seems slated for the rotation with Matz sidelined with a stiff lower back. The Mets want to get Matz work this weekend, but the weather might prevent that from happening. As a last resort, the Mets could send him to Port St. Lucie.

With Niese not working out, it might be tempting for manager Terry Collins to consider Tyler Clippard in that role as lefty batters are hitting just .138 against him. However, if Collins uses him in that role, what would it mean to the overall set-up of the bullpen regarding the set-up role?

They could explore Clippard against lefties and use Addison Reed in the set-up role, but changing roles on the fly is always tricky. Even so, the Mets must have separate concerns with Clippard, who has given up eight runs in his last ten appearances (ten innings).

Speaking of changing roles, there’s Sean Gilmartin. He’ll likely make the playoff roster if Matz can’t go. He was effective today, giving up two runs in five innings. This year, lefties are hitting .272 against him, but he hasn’t been showcased as a specialist.

A intriguing possibility is Hansel Robles, who has given up 13 hits in 78 plate appearances to lefty hitters (.167 average with a .214 on-base percentage). Dario Alvarez is getting a look-see, but his window (six appearances, including today) is too small.

This concern is primarily based on a potential late-inning match-up against Adrian Gonzalez (28 homers and 88 RBI). Of course, they could go the route the Angels took against the Giants’ Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series and just intentionally walk him.

Sep 23

Berra’s Passing Rekindles Controversial Series Decision

While the passing of Yogi Berra gave us pause to remember a baseball treasure and American icon, it also forced one of the most controversial managerial decisions in World Series history to resurface when he skipped the well-rested George Stone in Game 6 of the Series against Oakland in favor of  Tom Seaver on short rest, and who, by the way, entered the playoffs with a sore right shoulder.

“I went with my best,” Berra said at the time, and to his credit, four decades later was quoted in Matt Silverman’s book, “Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season,” as standing by his decision. Berra did not yield to hindsight, saying he had no regrets: “No. Seaver and [Jon Matlack]—they were the best we had.”

1973 World Series Program

1973 World Series Program

History hasn’t been kind to Berra in his decision, but that is largely because the nature of the game has changed. In 1973, there were no such things as pitch counts, innings limits and coddling pitchers. Plus, Berra’s Mets used a four-man rotation while Terry Collins‘ team this year – who went 3-6 on their home stand to keep this race alive – has gone with a six-man rotation and taken to skipping starts to give his young rotation extra rest.

Years later, the reaction from several of Berra’s players was mixed. The Mets were heading back to Oakland for Games 6 and 7, Oct. 20 and 21, ahead in the Series, 3-to-2. Berra’s thinking was to go for the throat and not play it safe. He had a fully-rested Stone, who went 12-3 that season and last started, Oct. 9, Game 4, of the NLCS against Cincinnati. Instead, he opted to go with Seaver and Matlack on three days rest each.

Seaver, Matlack and Jerry Koosman all threw more than 240 innings that year and the Mets’ rotation threw 46 complete games. Nobody on this year’s Mets will throw as many as 200 innings and the rotation only has one complete game, that coming from Bartolo Colon.

One school of thought was to go for the kill shot with Seaver, who went started seven games that year on short rest and worked at least seven innings in six of them. Seaver, who threw 290 innings that year, was their ace and arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

There were reports, which Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson did not refute, that Seaver lobbied Berra hard to pitch in Game 6. Berra acquiesced to Seaver, similarly how Collins and Mets GM Sandy Alderson caved to Matt Harvey at times this year.

Often overlooked, said Silverman, was Oakland’s Game 6 pitcher.

“People tend to forget that Oakland had Catfish Hunter going for them,” Silverman said.  “No matter who the Mets pitched, they would have had a hard time beating Hunter.”

Meanwhile, in the Oakland dugout, Athletics manager Dick Williams considered the news a break. In his book, “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Williams wrote: “The Mets, having put our backs to the wall, could afford to blow off Game Six. Yogi Berra could pitch a decent starter named George Stone in Game Six.

“That would give their ace, Tom Seaver, an extra day’s rest so that if there was a Game Seven, he’d probably be damn near unhittable, considering he’d allowed just two runs in eight innings in Game Three. And if Seaver faltered, number-two pitcher Jon Matlack would be rested and in the bullpen to back him up. Either way, we figured, the Mets had us whipped.”

Of course, Williams didn’t share those thoughts at the time.

Also overlooked is the Mets losing Game 4 of the NLCS to the Reds, Oct. 9. Had they won that game, Seaver wouldn’t have had to start Game 5 of the NLCS, Oct. 10, and could have started the Game 1 of the World Series, Oct. 13, on normal rest instead of Matlack. Starting Seaver in Game 1 could have enabled him to make three starts instead of two, and would have prevented Matlack from making three starts.

That’s an illustration as to how the game has changed. Pitchers routinely made three starts in a seven-game playoff. No more. You won’t also see a closer, like Tug McGraw, pitch eight innings in the first two games of the Series, including six in Game 2.

However, if Berra didn’t lean on McGraw in Game 2, the Series might not have gone seven games.

“That’s what second guessing is all about,” was how Rusty Staub was quoted in Silverman’s book. “However Seaver got to be the pitcher, he did pitch and pitched a pretty good game . . . and we didn’t score enough. That’s just the way it is.”

“I think Yogi made the right decision at the time,” said third baseman Wayne Garrett. “I would have pitched Seaver on three days’ rest. Why do you want to save him until the last if you can win it before? Why do you want to give them a game? If George Stone had pitched, maybe he would have beaten them. Who knows?”

Meanwhile, first baseman Ed Kranepool offered an adamant dissenting opinion.

“We didn’t have to win the sixth game; Oakland did,” Kranepool said in the book. “We had to win the seventh game, if I do my math, you have to win four out of seven. The sixth game . . . we don’t have to win, we have to show up, we have to play. We might win, we might lose. But that’s [not] the end of the World Series, correct?

“The seventh game, you lose, we should go home for the winter. You could use your whole pitching staff for the seventh. Tom Seaver is not short-rested. That’s his regular day to pitch. He’s pitched a lot of innings. He’s struck out a lot of people. He’s the best pitcher in baseball. So on the last day of the year, I do not want my third pitcher pitching, as opposed to my number one pitcher.

“George Stone was bypassed. And you tell me why?. You come to your own conclusion. We should have won the World Series.”

But, they didn’t and the debate rolls on. Berra said that summer, “it ain’t over until it’s over,” and this is one debate that won’t ever end.