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 13

Mets Must Overhaul Pitching Protocols



The only one of the Mets starters not currently waving a health red flag is the one whose roots are not in the organization – Bartolo Colon. To be fair, Colon had health issues earlier in his career and a PED history, but he’s clean now and save a ball hit off his thumb has been fine.

Colon, at 43, has been a source of stability on the mound since joining the Mets, but his greatest contribution might be the suggestion to Noah Syndergaard, whose 23-year-old arm suddenly lost its steam, to back off his between-starts throwing.

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets' pitching problems. (Getty)

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets’ pitching problems. (Getty)

When Syndergaard told Bob Klapisch, one the most knowledgeable baseball writers I know, his arm felt “like there are parachutes attached to it,”  there was the image of swimming against the current.

Syndergaard is pitching through a bone spur in his elbow. Syndergaard experienced a sudden five-mph., drop off his fastball in his last start against the Nationals, similar to turning an oscillating fan from high to medium. Every pitch was a change-up.

Matt Harvey, who at 27, is out for the season following shoulder surgery; the second time in four years the knife cut him out of the rotation. Jacob deGrom was given a chance to be on the National League All-Star team but told manager Terry Collins he was too tired. The word he used was “beat.”

He’s only 28.

Then there’s Steven Matz. He had Tommy John surgery before he was 25, and like Syndergaard is pitching with a painful bone spur.

Finally, there’s Zack Wheeler, who at 26, also experienced Tommy John surgery. He was supposed to come off the disabled list in late June and send Colon to the bullpen. Then it was July, then after the All-Star break. Now, it is mid-August.

I’m waiting for the announcement he will not pitch this year.

Realistically, nobody expected all these guys to blossom into 20-game winners at once. However, also realistically, nobody expected them all to break down all at once, which is closer to happening than one might think.

Is this a coincidence or something deeper?

I would love to see the Mets get back to the World Series. However, I would rather they not make the playoffs, even have a losing season, if it meant seeing each of these guys healthy. For that to happen, the Mets need a serious and comprehensive plan. And remember, wishing is not a plan.

The first step is to recognize how they’ve handled things in the past. The second step is to recognize it hasn’t worked.

I’ve been on the record and will not back off saying they mishandled Harvey from the outset of his arm problems in 2013. It should be noted Harvey back then, and today contributes to his own problems.

Syndergaard won’t pitch until the Mets are in Chicago next week. They’ll ease him back in the rotation, which is a wise decision. Not so wise is their inexplicable decision not to schedule a new MRI. The Mets are going on a previous set taken several weeks before the Washington meltdown.

Just stupid.

GM Sandy Alderson said of Syndergaard and Matz their bone spurs is a matter of pain tolerance. More than once they’ve said the pitchers – the keys to the Mets’ future – couldn’t risk further injury.

Wrong answer.

There are no guarantees when it comes to injuries. The only guarantee is if you continually do something wrong and it doesn’t work, it won’t get better.

The Mets have the possibility to have a great pitching staff, but that’s all it is now – potential. It will remain potential unless the Mets do a complete overhaul in how they handle their pitchers.

From throwing between starts, to pitch counts, to days off, to dealing with pain and discomfort, to a myriad of other things, there must be a complete change. There should be uniformity in policy and procedure from the rookie league to Citi Field.

I don’t know if these Mets will develop into a staff for the ages or fizzle out like the Oakland staff under Billy Martin. Both could happen.

Something is wrong and priority one for the Mets is to find out what it is and fix it.

I don’t care about what happens this year, it’s probably too late, anyway. I care about what happens in the years to come.


Jul 10

Three Mets’ Storylines: Loss Defines First Half

If ever a game was a microcosm of the Mets’ disappointing first half, it was Sunday’s loss to the Nationals.

The Mets were six games behind the Nationals when they were gut-punched after being swept in a three-game series in Washington two weeks ago that left them six games behind.

MATZ: Lone bright spot. (AP)

MATZ: Lone bright spot. (AP)

But, manager  Terry Collins said the homestand leading into the break, four games each against the Cubs and Nationals, and three with Miami, had the potential to turn the momentum and give them a chance to enter the second half with a good feeling.

That looked possible after a stunning four-game sweep of the Cubs and winning two of three against Marlins. But, after losing three of four to the Nationals, including 3-2 today, they are again six back.

“We’re still in the race,” was how Collins described the disappointing end of the first half to reporters. “We were in this situation one year ago. Things looked bleak, but we ended up in the World Series.”

The three key storylines taken today’s game are the Nationals’ continued dominance of the Mets; New York’s continued inability to produce offensively; and, Steven Matz again pitching well after his elbow flare-up.

WASHINGTON’S DOMINANCE: The Mets are a disappointing 4-9 against the Nationals this year, scoring a composite 16 runs in those nine losses. That’s emblematic of a myriad of deficiencies, notably of their all-or-nothing offense.

Assuming the Mets get it together and see another World Series, they will pretty much have to run the table in their remaining six games with Washington.

Washington’s first-half dominance over the Mets is definitely Daniel Murphy-related. He hit a two-run homer Sunday and has seven homers and 21 RBI so far against the Mets. He hit three homers and drove in ten runs over the weekend.

THE OFFENSE: When asked what the Mets had to most improve on in the second half, Collins simply said: “situational hitting.”

Previously, Collins insisted on saying his team was built on power, but history is full of power-laden teams that don’t win. Then again, GM Sandy Alderson – a disciple of the new-wave numbers – constructed this team.

The Mets got two homers from Jose Reyes today – that’s not why they signed him – and are second in the National League (to Washington) with 120 homers. However, far more telling is their .213 average with RISP with 180 strikeouts. They have won only five games when they don’t homer; are 11-34 with they score three runs or less; and, have been shutout eight times.

Complicating matters are they don’t have David Wright for the rest of the season; have been without Lucas Duda since May 21 with no idea of when he’ll be back; and, are without Yoenis Cespedes indefinitely.

MATZ SETTLES DOWN: Since the issue about his bone spur, Matz, who doesn’t have a win since May 25, has given the Mets seven innings in back-to-back starts and before that worked into the sixth against the Cubs.

That’s encouraging news, especially after losing Matt Harvey for the season and Noah Syndergaard’s mysterious “arm fatigue.’’

I believe in babying pitchers’ arms when there is an injury. That’s what the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg, and something the Mets do not believe.

With Matz, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop because it always does with the Mets.

Jul 08

Harvey Made Right Call On Surgery

Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey unquestionably made the right decision to undergo surgery for treatment of the thorasic outlet syndrome in his pitching shoulder. It was the best option for his pitching and financial future, and to the Mets for the remainder of this season and beyond.

Dr. Robert Thompson is expected to perform the procedure next week in St. Louis. The surgery, which would entail removing one of his ribs, is designed to relieve pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the space between the neck and shoulder. The increased pressure caused numbness in his arm and fingers.

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

Harvey’s options were surgery or a nerve-blocking injection, the latter being a temporary solution with surgery eventually required.

Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, whose comments last year on the pitcher’s innings limit created a stir, strongly advocated the surgery to ESPN: “The doctors clearly recommended that he have this done, mainly so that he can be ready for ’17.’

“The rehab on this is six months. Now, if there was a small window of a season, you might be able to take a shot. It’s actually Botox, which relaxes the muscles. That’s not a long-term solution. `The only way this is going to be treated appropriately –  and obviously, we don’t want to do anything to affect next year – is to get this surgically taken care of.”

That’s the understandable driving force behind the decision. This was chosen to set up Harvey for his turn at free agency. Had he chosen the injection and gotten through the season, that would be great. But, if it only lasted a few months and he had the surgery later this year, or in the offseason, or next year, all or most of 2017, could be lost. That would leave Harvey with one year to make an impression on his future suitors when he hits the free agent market after the 2018 season.

And, nobody knows how he’ll pitch coming off surgery. If you’re Harvey – not to mention the Mets or any team that would go after him – you want two years to make an impression. That’s why Harvey’s decision is a no-brainer. But, how does losing Harvey help the Mets the rest of this year?

Knowing the Mets won’t have him in the second half enables GM Sandy Alderson to freely pursue another arm before the July 31 trade deadline, even if it jacks up the asking price. That’s preferable to waiting through at least two Harvey starts before hitting the market late, which would increase the price even more.

This also allows manager Terry Collins to determine his rotation now and eliminates the inevitable questioning and excuse making after each of his starts. And, who would want to see Harvey go down for surgery in a September pennant-race game or the playoffs?

Harvey hasn’t pitched well, going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts, and this ailment is an obvious explanation. Harvey frequently complained about not having his mechanics, but not having feelings in his arm and fingers could explain a change in mechanics.

However, left unanswered is why Harvey hadn’t complained about a lack of feeling before his disastrous start on Monday. Boras’ answer to that question explains both the good, and bad, about Harvey.

His bulldog approach on the mound, for example, his eight innings in Game 5 of the World Series, is to be applauded. It’s the spirit that defines an ace. That’s the good.

But, here’s the bad, as delivered by Boras.

“He’s felt this way since spring training, but he wanted to gut it out, try to do it, until finally, he’s going, ‘Look, I’m just feeling like I don’t feel the baseball the same.’ Once we heard that, I was like, ‘Maybe we have a TOS situation,’ and got him over to Dr. Thompson.”

Sounds plausible, but it underscores the increasingly, maddening, “I’ll do what I feel like” aspect that has defined Harvey’s short career. It also raises the inevitable question of what could have happened had this been discovered a month or two earlier.

If he had surgery in May or June perhaps he could have come back in late August, or September, or even the playoffs.

We’ll never know.