Aug 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Loss Sets Up Vital Syndergaard Start

At 23, the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard has pitched in the World Series. However, it might not be a stretch to say Thursday’s start might be one of the most important of his young career.

Seriously.

SYNDERGAARD: Faces big start. (Getty)

SYNDERGAARD: Faces big start. (Getty)

After losing two straight games to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team with the 26th worst record in the major leagues, the Mets are a team struggling to keep from going into a freefall.

Oscar Hernandez’s homer off reliever Jerry Blevins in the 12th inning was the difference in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks to drop the Mets to one game over .500.

This time last year the Mets were vibrant and a team on the rise. There were so many moments when they lifted themselves off the ropes on their drive to the World Series.

“We’ve been through these tough times before,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “But, we’re not coming through like we did a year ago.”

Collins was then asked if he thought the Mets expect to regroup simply because they did so last season.

“I hope not,” Collins said. “You’re not given anything up here. … This is the major leagues. Tonight is over. We have to come back tomorrow. We have to get ready for tomorrow because today is done.”

The seriousness of the Mets’ situation was the most significant storyline of the night. The other two were Kelly Johnson’s big swing in the ninth and another strong outing from Bartolo Colon.

JOHNSON DELIVERS: There might not be a more distinctive sound in sports than the crack of the bat. The Mets had to wait until the ninth before hearing it Wednesday, when Johnson – hitting for Ty Kelly – launched a Jake Barrett deep into the upper deck for a game-tying home run.

Until Johnson unloaded, the Mets’ offense had been silenced, limited to just three singles. With one out, Alejandro De Aza walked to set up Johnson.

Johnson hit homers last week in back-to-back games at the Yankees and Detroit. In fact, he had hits in five straight games, Aug. 3-7, and then was sent to the bench, again.

Sure, I get wanting a bat coming off the bench, but with the way this offense is going, don’t you want that potential three or four times a game?

COLON SUPERB AGAIN: Colon made his second straight strong start, giving up one run in seven innings. He struck out a season-high eight while throwing 110 pitches. Of course, most of them were fastballs, perfectly placed.

A key moment in the game could have been in the first inning when the Diamondbacks put runners on the corners with no outs on a double by Jean Segura and Michael Bourn’s bunt single. However, Segura was caught in a rundown between third and home, and Colon struck out Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb to get out of the inning.

Colon then stranded Diamondbacks in scoring position in the second, fourth and fifth innings.

NOTES: The Mets seemingly traded for Carlos Gomez last year for Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler, but the deal fell through on a medical issue. Earlier in the day, Gomez was designated for assignment by the Astros. The Mets, needing a right-handed hitter and speed, said they would keep an open mind on going after Gomez again. … T.J. Rivera started at third and got his first career hit, a single to center leading off the tenth. … The Diamondbacks stole four more bases and have nine in the two games. … Jeurys Familia pitched two innings for the first time this season. He threw 38 pitches and will likely not be available Thursday. … Neil Walker had two more hits and has 28 in his last 14 games.

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Aug 08

Why I Believe Collins Will Return

Terry Collins has not had a great season – with last week especially tough – but barring a total free-fall I see him returning next year as Mets manager.

If the Mets remain in contention until the end, and since “playing meaningful games in September,’’ is the Wilpons’ mission statement that should be the first points in Collins’ favor.

01-terry-collins-080915-getty-ftrjpg_dduuxh7xyqfg1ckk33738rts9Not returning to the World Series isn’t a failure; a failure this year would be not competing. To fire a manager for not returning to the World Series would be grossly unfair if the circumstances are ignored.

As much as I disliked how Collins handled the Yoenis Cespedes Golfgate, it is reflective how he mostly has the backs of his players. The Mets don’t hit with RISP and frankly they haven’t done a lot of things well, but they always hustle.

Barring the occasional Cespedes lapse, his players bust it for him and that’s a sign the manager has the clubhouse. That wasn’t the case when the Mets fired Art Howe, Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel.

Also working in Collins’ favor – and he’s benefitted from this before – have been the multitude of injuries. The Mets are two games out of the wild-card today, but their situation would be a lot better if they had Matt Harvey, David Wright, Lucas Duda, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jim Henderson and Juan Lagares, and Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard were completely healthy.

Bad years will happen, which has been the case with Curtis Granderson, Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto, but their lack of production – in normal seasons – would have been off-set if the other guys were healthy.

But, that hasn’t been the case. Injuries happen and championship teams overcome, and so far the Mets are still afloat. That can’t be underestimated.

Finally, working in Collins’ favor is his relationship with GM Sandy Alderson, which I wrote last week has a disconnect. Alderson wasn’t complimentary of Collins in his autobiography and evidenced by Cespedes last week, there are still problems.

Collins manages the team Alderson gives him, and there are plenty of things to call the general manager out on regarding how he put this team together. However, Alderson is smart enough to know if Collins is made the scapegoat, then it will be he who takes what will be considerable heat.

For now, as long as the fans and media go after Collins, then he’s insulated. Collins’ presence is his safety net.

Look, I’ve gotten on Collins a lot this year, but to be fair his team is weathering the storm. I believe he will, and should, have next year.

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Aug 07

What If The Mets Signed Alex Rodriguez In 2000?

Alex Rodriguez’s career has less than a week remaining following today’s announcement he will stop playing Friday to become an adviser/instructor for the team with whom he fought, embarrassed and will pay him $27 million to walk away.

Whatever you think of Rodriguez – he’s a polarizing figure both ways – I will always attach two words to his career: “What if?”

RODRIGUEZ: What if? (AP)

RODRIGUEZ: What if? (AP)

What if he didn’t use PEDs? What if he never left Seattle? What if he went to Boston instead of the Yankees? What if he wasn’t such a distraction off the field? What if he didn’t break down physically at the end?

Regarding the Mets, I wonder “what if Rodriguez signed with them instead of Texas after the 2000 World Series?”

It was the winter of that year and the Mets were among a handful of teams interested in signing Rodriguez. Some had him as the front-runner. The Mets’ GM at the time, Steve Phillips, cited several factors in backing away, including reportedly a refusal to meet Rodriguez’s non-salaried demands of a private plane and luxury box; an office with four employees in Shea Stadium; and a billboard presence.

Phillips made a point of saying he wasn’t going to turn the Mets into a “24-plus-one-roster” and destroy the chemistry of the team. Then, of course, there was his salary. The Mets were willing to go over $120 million, which is what Cleveland’s Manny Ramirez signed for with Boston that year.

However, the Rangers’ ten-year, $252-million contract was beyond comprehension.

What if the Mets were willing to give Rodriguez what he wanted? What if?

The Mets were coming off a World Series appearance and obviously a good team. Adding Rodriguez to a lineup that already included Mike Piazza could have devastated the National League, and it wouldn’t have been hard to envision another World Series. Maybe two. Maybe more.

If that was the case, might Bobby Valentine survived, and in doing so, the Mets avoided the parade of Art Howe, Willie Randolph, Jerry Manuel and now Terry Collins?

Would we have ever seen the Sandy Alderson era?

With Piazza and Rodriguez hitting back-to-back, how many more homers could each have hit having the other for protection?

In 2000, the Mets were nine years away from moving into Citi Field. If they signed Rodriguez, would that have delayed or sped up the plans for Citi Field, which hit the drawing board in December of 2001?

On the field, what would Rodriguez have prevented or enabled the Mets to do?

For one thing, signing Rodriguez would have delayed bringing up Jose Reyes, unless they were intent on playing him at second base. They certainly would have had no use for Kaz Matsui with Rodriguez at shortstop.

Then again, if the Mets’ thinking at the time were to move Reyes to third, would that have delayed the arrival of David Wright?

The Mets went back to the playoffs in 2006, but how far might they have gone with an infield – from third to first – of Wright, Rodriguez, Reyes and Carlos Delgado?

With Rodriguez, would the Mets have been in position to go after Delgado and Carlos Beltran? As pricey as Rodriguez’s contract was, if his presence put the Mets in the playoffs several times, how would this have impacted the Wilpon’s financial situation?

Reyes, Rodriguez, Wright, Delgado and Beltran would have comprised a formidable offense, and if they still added Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, then Johan Santana, could the Mets have been a dynasty in the 2000s?

There are no guarantees in sports, but it’s fun to speculate how different things might have been. Mets’ history and overall baseball history would surely have changed had Rodriguez ended up in Shea Stadium during the winter of 2000.

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Aug 05

Three Mets’ Storylines: What’s Wrong With Syndergaard?

Noah Syndergaard only gave up four runs tonight, and it is an oversimplification to say the problem is the Mets didn’t score for him. But, something just isn’t right.

The issue isn’t him not being able to throw hard. He still throws very hard, but velocity isn’t the most variable for a pitcher. A successful pitcher needs movement, location and velocity, with speed being the third most important. You can even drop that to fourth if you want to include having a variety of secondary pitches.

SYNDERGAARD: Off his game. (AP)

               SYNDERGAARD: Off his game. (AP)

While throwing in the high 90s and even touching triple digits in the Mets’ 4-3 loss at Detroit, Syndergaard, as he has been for much of the season – or at least since the issue of his bone spur surfaced – is far from pitch efficient.

Syndergaard threw 112 pitches, but only worked six innings. It was the fourth straight game in which he threw over 100 pitches yet didn’t go past the sixth. He hasn’t gone seven innings since July 3; of his 21 starts, he’s gone seven or more innings just eight times.

I don’t care Syndergaard is throwing a lot of pitches; I care he’s not efficient or effective with them. I care he seems to be running in place.

“It has been a battle,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “He’s had to work very hard. You have to learn how to pitch at this level and through tough times.”

While much is made of Syndergaard’s overpowering stuff, he’s only had four double-digit strikeout games with his last being June 15 against Pittsburgh nine starts ago.

We’ve been hearing a lot of the high number of foul balls off him (26 tonight), which comes from not being able to put away hitters. His curveball didn’t surface until the fifth inning. Until then, it was mostly straight fastballs – mostly to the outside against right-handed pitchers.

“I’m thinking right now I’m trying to be too fine with my pitches,” Syndergaard said. “It’s like I’m throwing darts out there. It’s frustrating because the past month I feel that I have the stuff to dominate, but it hasn’t been clicking.”

Do you remember when Syndergaard went high and tight during the World Series? Then he challenged the Royals saying they could find him 60 feet, six inches from the plate.

Collins insists Syndergaard still has swagger, but you rarely see him work the inner half of the plate. You don’t see that biting slider. You don’t see him effectively holding runners (Ian Kinsler singled, stole his way to third and scored on Miguel Cabrera’s single in the first). You don’t see a lot of the things that earned him a comic book hero nickname.

The problem isn’t 100 percent the bone spur because of the velocity, but it makes you wonder if the pain prevents him from being what he needs to be, and what he has been.

Syndergaard is still a young stud, but he’s not as polished as Justin Verlander was last night and has been for years. Hope Syndergaard was taking notes.

Syndergaard was the night’s biggest storyline. The others were the non-existent offense and Collins’ lineup.

THE SILENT BATS: A positive is the Mets only left three runners on base. The flip side is they barely sniffed Verlander.

Mets hitters only had five hits and one walk and struck out 12 times. Kelly Johnson hit a two-run homer in the fourth and the Mets scratched out a cosmetic run in the ninth.

THE LINEUP: I haven’t agreed with Collins on a lot of things lately, including last night’s lineup. Your best power hitter – Yoenis Cespedes – is out for at least two weeks, so one would think Curtis Granderson would be dropped down to the middle of the order.

Alejandro De Aza played center, which I liked, but where was Michael Conforto? Collins made a big deal of saying he would play center. And, if Conforto isn’t playing, why is he here?

Arguably the hottest Mets’ hitter in July was Wilmer Flores, but he sat again.

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Jul 28

Collins Lets Down Mets

Welcome back to “Panic City.” While some of us are residents, the mayor isn’t you or me, but Mets manager Terry Collins. No doubt the population could be growing after the Mets lost in agonizing and aggravating fashion for the second straight game, this time, 2-1, Thursday to the Colorado Rockies on Jeurys Familia‘s second blown save in less than 24 hours.

Of course, while it is easy to blame Familia and their chronic failure to hit with runners in scoring position, the primary culprit was Collins, whose game management wasted a brilliant effort by Jacob deGrom, who threw seven scoreless innings.

DE GROM: Mets waste his effort. (AP)

DE GROM: Mets waste his effort. (AP)

The Mets had a 1-0 lead and were poised to break the game open in the seventh when they had runners on second and third with no outs. They had ten hits, one walk, and had a runner reach on an error, so getting on base wasn’t the problem.

One would have thought they would have scored at least one run even by accident with deGrom due up. However, Collins sent up pinch-hitter Yoenis Cespedes – a temporary hitter from the previous night – despite knowing the Rockies would intentionally walk him.

“Let’s load the bases and make them get out of it,” the baseball lifer Collins told reporters. However, he must have conveniently forgotten defensive teams traditionally walk the bases full to set up a force at the plate or a double play. That strategy applies to the seventh as well as the ninth.

The force at the plate came soon enough when pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson – battling for Juan Lagares – hit a grounder to shortstop and Trevor Story‘s throw nailed Rivera. Curtis Granderson struck out on a wild swing, and Wilmer Flores popped out.

So, by batting Cespedes for deGrom, Collins lost his starter, Cespedes for a pinch-runner and Lagares. Had deGrom stayed in it would have enabled Addison Reed to close, which was the original plan.

After Familia’s blown save the previous night – in which he threw close to 30 pitches – Collins matter-of-factly said he would rest today. He didn’t because Familia told him before the game he was available. Add this to the growing list of statements Collins makes yet retreats on.

After Story singled, stole second and David Dahl walked, you knew this wasn’t going to end well. Daniel Descalso beat out a bunt in front of the plate when Rene Rivera gambled to let the ball roll foul, which it didn’t.

There’s bad luck, dumb luck and Mets’ luck, which is the worst kind. As it turned out, that would be the Rockies’ only hit of the inning. Colorado tied it on a fielder’s choice grounder and Familia’s wild pitch.

So, Collins went against his better judgment and used Familia just because the closer said he could pitch. We all know how that turned out in Game 5 of the World Series. But this time the season didn’t end.

Not yet, anyway.