Apr 09

Today In Mets’ HIstory: Carter Hits OD Game-Winning Homer

On this date in 1985, the Mets’ drive to, as manager Davey Johnson said, “to dominate,” began with Gary Carter‘s 10th-inning Opening Day homer gave them a 6-5 victory over St. Louis at Shea Stadium.

Carter Gary Plaque_NBL_0The Mets acquired Carter in an offseason trade with Montreal for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans.

The Mets’ championship team of 1986 was built around draft picks Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, but the trades for Carter and Keith Hernandez were largely regarded as the final pieces of the puzzle.

The Mets finished second to St. Louis in 1985, but the die had been cast. During spring training in 1986, Johnson said the Mets would “dominate,” that year. The Mets cruised through the regular season, outlasted Houston to win the NLCS with a dramatic win in extra-innings. That was a crucial win because Mike Scott – who was clearly in the Mets’ head – was the Astros’ Game 7 starter.

The Mets rallied to win Game 6 of the World Series in another epic game, to set up Game 7. The Mets came from behind to win that game, also. Carter hit .276 in the World Series with two homers and nine RBI.

Carter played only five years with the Mets and released after the 1989 season. He played three more years in the majors with San Francisco (1990), Los Angeles (1991) and retired after the 1992 season with a farewell tour with Montreal.

After falling short in several votes, Carter was finally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Carter died, February 16, 2012.

ON DECK: Mets Should Skip DeGrom’s Next Start

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Apr 05

Today In Mets’ History: Trade For Rusty Staub

On this date in 1972, the Mets acquired one of the most popular players in franchise history when they traded outfielder Ken Singleton and infielders Tim Foli and Mike Jorgensen to Montreal for All-Star right fielder Rusty Staub.

STAUB: Mets favorite. (Topps)

STAUB: Mets favorite. (Topps)

Injuries limited Staub to just 66 games that season, but he played a significant role in leading the Mets to the World Series in 1973. An enduring image from that postseason is Staub injuring his shoulder after running into an outfield wall and not being able to throw.

A six-time All-Star, Staub played 23 years in the Major Leagues, with nine of them with the Mets, in which he hit .276 with 75 homers and 399 RBI. Staub didn’t reach the All-Star Game with the Mets, but did so with Houston, Montreal and Detroit.

Staub retired with 2,716 hits (292 homers) and a .279 average.

ON DECK: Mets Today. Blog doings.

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Apr 04

This Year Will Be The Toughest Job Of Collins’ Career

If you heard Terry Collins‘ lame defense of Yoenis Cespedes‘ boneheaded error Sunday night – “Gold Glove out there, it surprised everybody.” – then you’ll see why this will be the toughest of his managerial career.

Collins is an apologist for Cespedes’ lack of effort and for Matt Harvey questioning his authority. But there’s so much more. There’s how he’ll limit David Wright‘s playing time, or more to the point, not knowing when he’ll have the third baseman available.

COLLINS: Facing his toughest challenge. (AP)

COLLINS: Facing his toughest challenge. (AP)

Cespedes is also a Mets’ wildcard in nobody knows how he’ll respond to the pressure of his $27.5-million contract. If Cespedes folds then Collins is again searching for offensive help, especially if Wright doesn’t hit.

Everybody raves about the Mets’ young pitching, but none of those arms – save Bartolo Colon – have won as many as 15 games. And, please, let’s not forget about the uncertainty of the bullpen.

The Mets are also counting on a breakout years from Michael Conforto and Steven Matz and a new double-play combination.

That’s a lot of variables placed pressure squarely on Collins’ shoulders. How he handles that pressure will go a long way towards where the Mets finish. However, perhaps most importantly is Collins has never had a team this talented. He’s never had a team that went to the World Series the previous season and with as many expectations like his 2016 Mets.

In his first years with the Mets, Collins had the security of having a bad team without a willingness to spend money. Those teams had no expectations and GM Sandy Alderson wasn’t going to sacrifice Collins as he tinkered with payroll and building this rotation. Managers of rebuilding teams having low expectations don’t get fired.

However, it’s different now. That security is gone. The expectations are high as is the pressure to win. And, pressure makes managers vulnerable. That’s why this will be his toughest year.

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Apr 03

Repeating Will Be Harder

Wilmer Flores wasn’t halfway back to the Mets’ dugout after striking out to end the bottom of the 12th inning and last year’s World Series when we already asking the question: Can the Mets return to the Series?

Getting to the World Series is one thing, but getting back there is different, and much harder. Much harder for the simple reason everybody is gunning for you.

SYNDERGAARD: Game two starter. (Getty)

SYNDERGAARD: Game two starter. (Getty)

“The first thing I talked about in spring training is the difference between being the hunter and the hunted,” David Wright told reporters. “We have a bullseye on us now.”

That they do. The Washington Nationals want to wrestle the NL East back from them and the Chicago Cubs – everybody’s sexy pick to get to the World Series – want to avenge being swept in the NLCS.

Last year at this time, the Mets entered the season without having a winning record since 2008. The hope was their young pitching keyed by Matt Harvey‘s return following Tommy John surgery, and Jacob deGrom coming off a Cy Young season, could carry them. And, don’t forget, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz hadn’t even made their major league debuts.

The Mets entered 2015 with questions at catcher, shortstop, Wright’s health at third, left field and in the bullpen.

The Mets got off to a blistering start, but lost Wright in April with a strained hamstring that turned into spinal stenosis and almost four months on the disabled list. The pitching kept the Mets afloat when the hitting collapsed.

The Mets kicked away their early lead, then turned their season around when Michael Conforto was brought up and the team traded for Yoenis Cespedes with a couple of days after a trade for Carlos Gomez fell through which created the enduring image of the season, that being Flores crying at shortstop after hearing he had been traded to Milwaukee.

The season began with .500 as the goal, but the Mets pulled away from Washington, outlasted the Dodgers in five games – winning the deciding game on the road – and sweeping the Cubs to reach their first World Series since 2000 and the fifth in franchise history.

However, Jeurys Familia blew three save opportunities in the World Series and the bats fell quiet and the Royals won in five games.

“Falling short can be a motivator,” deGrom said.

Daniel Murphy left, but the Mets appear to have upgraded their up-the-middle defense with the acquisitions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Cespedes was brought back and they’ll have Conforto for a full year. They’ll also expect to have Syndergaard and Matz for a full season.

The health of Wright and Travis d’Arnaud are significant issues as is the make-up of the bullpen.

But, we’re not talking about .500 as a primary goal, but winning a World Series.

“Mets fans are hungry,” Wright said. “We’re hungry.”

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Apr 02

Top 20 Mets’ Questions

Fortunately, spring training results don’t count. While the Mets won’t carry their exhibition record to Kansas City, let’s hope they don’t bring with them their quality of play.

After all, there are reasons why they finished 8-17 this spring, and some of them include their regulars not playing well. (The Nationals were 19-4 this spring, and if things counted they would open the season with a 12-game lead on the Mets).

Can the Mets get back to the World Series? Well, of course, they can, but it is dependent on how they answer the following questions:

COLLINS: Doesn't have the answers, yet. (Getty_

COLLINS: Doesn’t have the answers, yet. (Getty)

Q: Will they have a World Series hangover or let down?

A: Things happen during a season that have nothing to do with cockiness or an emotional let down. You certainly can’t draw a definitive conclusion based on spring training, but there were a few red flags, such as Matt Harvey letting a few back-page headlines get to him and Yoenis Cespedes’ brain cramp. Will there be a carryover? We shall see. But admit it, you weren’t pleased with how they played this spring. Nobody was.

Q: How will manager Terry Collins respond to being a favorite?

A: No Collins-run team has had expectations this high. It’s not enough for him to maintain a steady hand. There will be times when he has to go to the whip. I thought he let Harvey play him last season, which only inflamed the innings issue. This year, Harvey and no other pitcher can bully him to stay in a game. This will be Collins’ most demanding season. He’ll also need to formulate a playing time plan with David Wright and not take any garbage from Cespedes when be decides to mail it in. Collins got a free pass for the most part in previous seasons because the expectations were so low. They aren’t low anymore.

Q: What’s going on with Harvey?

A: Let’s face it; a 7.50 ERA stinks, whether it is in the exhibition or regular season. A lot is always expected from Harvey, and this year is his second coming off Tommy John surgery. That makes the expectations even higher. Harvey marches to his own tune, which is fine if he can back it up. So far, he’s only shown glimpses. Time to back it up, big boy. If you want to be Batman, you’ll need to develop a thicker skin.

Q: Will Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Many scouts think their ceilings are higher than Harvey’s. That’s one of the reasons, along with their current contractual status, why I believe they should be signed to long-term deals before Harvey. This will be our first season of watching Syndergaard full time, and frankly that’s one of the most intriguing things of the season for me. And, who can’t envision deGrom winning a Cy Young?

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: This will also be our first season watching Matz fulltime. As a lefty, his ceiling is enormous, but he must stay healthy. There were concerns, voiced by Collins several weeks ago. Most starters get up to six starts and 30 innings in spring training. The Mets’ starters got far less.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: The plan is for him to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is brought up, which should be around July 1. He then could be sent to the bullpen. They shouldn’t be too hasty to cut ties with Colon, especially if he’s pitching well because things happen. You’re a Mets’ fan. You know things happen.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: As much as a having a signature pitch, a great reliever needs the ability to bounce back and forget. Mariano Rivera said one of the best things to happen in his career was when Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar beat him in the 1997 playoffs with a home run. He said it shaped his emotional development. Familia wasn’t as effective and blew a save in the World Series. Maybe he got the job by default after Jenrry Mejia kicked away his career, but it’s Familia’s job to keep.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: As of now Addison Reed is the set-up reliever and Antonio Bastardo the lefty specialist. In recent years, the composition of the Mets’ bullpen has been fluid at best. The Mets will also carry lefty Jerry Blevins. Hansel Robles will open the season serving a two-game suspension. Robles is a hot head that needs to learn composure. The Mets will also keep Jim Henderson and Logan Verrett, the latter whom can pitch in long relief or as a spot starter. Henderson, who has major league experience, should be interesting to watch. However, this isn’t a proven group collectively. Seriously, does anybody here take your breath away? Ideally, the bridge to Familia would be even stronger if the starters can go seven innings.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud, are you there?

A: The Mets need a healthy d’Arnaud to give them a full season. He’s shown occasional pop, but what can he do with 500 plate appearances. His career high is 421 plate appearances in 2014, when he had a .302 on-base percentage with 13 homers and 41 RBI. However, he hit 12 homers with 41 RBI and a solid .340 on-base percentage in 268 plate appearances last year. The pitchers like how he calls a game, but he needs work holding on runners and his throwing.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: Although his on-base percentage has been decent, .352 and .349 in 2015 and 2014, respectively, he still strikes out too damn much for my liking (138 times last year and 135 times in 2014). Maybe I’m just too picky. He’ll hit eight homers in one month and one in another. Five a month, which is roughly one a week, would be perfect. It adds up to 30. But, hell yes, I’d love to see 40. Who knows, back-to-back with Cespedes can give the Mets their best power duo since Darryl Strawberry and Howard Johnson. I like watching Duda and think he can develop into a real basher. I’d like to see more productive outs.

Q: Will Neil Walker make people forget Daniel Murphy?

A: Murphy was a terrific Met, despite his occasional mental and fielding lapses. Walker is a .272 lifetime hitter with a .338 career on-base percentage. However, his 162-game average is 18 homers and 81 RBI, which surpasses Murphy. It won’t be easy forgetting Murphy, as he’ll face the Mets 19 times while with the Nationals.

Q: Is Asdrubal Cabrera an upgrade over Wilmer Flores at shortstop?

A: While their 2015 power numbers are similar, sending Flores to the bench deepens the bench, which is a significant plus. Cabrera hit 15 homers with 58 RBI last season for Tampa Bay, while Flores hit 16 homers with 59 RBI. Cabrera is considered better defensively. Cabrera committed nine errors in 443 chances last year while Flores made 14 in 400 chances.

WRIGHT: Nobody knows. (AP)

WRIGHT: Nobody knows. (AP)

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: It’s only a coincidence the 13th question is about Wright, who hasn’t played in 150 games since 2012. Injuries have limited him to less than 140 games in four of the last five years. To project 140 games, much less his production is folly. Right now, I’d take 120 games and be happy. In addition to his pregame hitting and fielding, Wright puts in at least 90 minutes before games with exercises designed to loosen up his back.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: That’s the chance the Mets took when they gave Cespedes an out clause after one season in his three-year deal. I have limited confidence he won’t be sidetracked by the money and glitz of New York. Never mind his brain cramp in spring training, but last year in September and during the playoffs he had some head-scratching moments. But, if Cespedes lets it all out, this could be another special season.

Q: A breakout year for Michael Conforto?

A: I’m not saying he’s another Tony Gwynn, but the expectations are high. Let’s just hope Collins isn’t tempted to rest him against left-handers. Let him play and give him a chance to develop into a real talent, not a part time flash.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Curtis Granderson?

A: I confess I didn’t like Granderson leading off, but his ability to draw walks changed that thinking. If Granderson can improve his walks by cutting down his 151 strikeouts he can be a greater offensive force. If he does that he might hit 30 homers (he hit 26 last year with 70 RBI) again.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: I like Flores’ ability to play anywhere in the infield, but hope he doesn’t languish for weeks before getting a chance to play. Alejandro De Aza was to be a big piece before Cespedes was brought back. His role is undefined at best. Juan Lagares won a Gold Glove in center field two years ago but is now coming off the bench. When he does play, it has to be in center. Eric Campbell has always produced coming off the bench, but his weaknesses are exposed the longer he plays. Kevin Plawecki was kept, but I don’t want him to wither on the bench for weeks. If that happens, he’s better off in Triple-A.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: That’s always the wild card. None of the starting pitchers are ailing. Cabrera missed significant time in spring training, but will play Sunday night. Conforto and Cespedes missed some time, and Wright is always a question. If they stay healthy and produce, there’s no reason they can’t make the playoffs again. Health is always the biggest variable for any team.

Q: What’s going with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals were a buzz saw in Florida and appear to have a federal budget sized chip on their collective shoulders, beginning with MVP Bryce Harper. Their rotation isn’t as deep as the Mets, but their front three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg (in his walk year) and Gio Gonzalez can stack up with the front end of most staffs. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has a lot to prove, and if Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman stay healthy there’s no reason they can’t wrestle back the NL East.

Q: Can the Mets get off to another fast start?

A: An 11-game winning streak keyed a 15-8 April record last year and gave them a buffer to overcome injuries and a drastic hitting slump. The Mets lost their first-place lead on May 20 (it grew to a 4.5-game deficit in July) before they wrestled back the division for good from Washington, Aug. 2. The Mets caught a break last year when the Nationals stumbled. They can’t count on that again.

I will revisit these questions periodically throughout the summer.

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