Oct 01

This Year Could Be Even More Special For Mets

FINALLY

                                                      FINALLY

The Mets are finally in, and it is fitting they were carried in today’s clincher by Bartolo Colon and James Loney. In many ways, how the clincher unfolded typified this season.

Fitting, because they weren’t counted on to be key players when this season began. It was anticipated by many the Mets’ highly touted young pitching would return them to the World Series.

The Mets could eventually reach their fifth World Series, but it won’t be with the five starters who were to define them for the next decade. Of the five, only Noah Syndergaard – who’ll either pitch one inning Sunday or have a bullpen session – will see the playoffs.

Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom had season-ending surgery; Zack Wheeler never made it back; and Steven Matz will have surgery on his elbow Tuesday, the day before the Mets play the Giants Wednesday, with Syndergaard against Madison Bumgarner. If it is the Cardinals, he’ll face Carlos Martinez.

Colon?

Well, he was penciled in to move to the bullpen in early July when Wheeler was to come off the disabled list. While Wheeler had several setbacks, Colon kept trotting out there – he didn’t miss a start – and eventually finished with a team-high 15 victories.

Colon gave up two runs, but only threw 61 pitches in five innings in today’s 5-3 victory over the Phillies, presumably to keep him fresh should they need him in the wild-card game.

Pitching was always going to carry the Mets, but who would have figured it would be Colon, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman? There’s Syndergaard, but he’s been gutting it out with a bone spur in his elbow. That’s also emblematic of the Mets’ season as a whole, because injuries have been a key storyline.

Injuries were a big part of the 2015 Mets, but they have been hit harder this season. Yet, somehow, GM Sandy Alderson – who took a lot of heat – acquired the necessary pieces to patch this team together.

“We have some pieces here,” manager Terry Collins said. “But, it takes the whole line. You have to ride a lot of guys.”

One of those guys is Loney, who started Saturday because Lucas Duda’s back remains sore and responded with a game-winning, two-run homer in the sixth. Overall, Loney played 99 games and produced nine homers and 34 RBI.

Loney is just one example. Rene Rivera filled in for Travis d’Arnaud and is now a mainstay. Wilmer Flores first replaced David Wright, then Asdrubal Cabrera and finally Neil Walker. Eventually, Flores was injured and replaced by T.J. Rivera.

Jose Reyes eventually took over for Wright at third and supplied the speed and spark that had long been missing. Signing Reyes also enabled Collins to move Curtis Granderson down in the order to protect Yoenis Cespedes.

Granderson took off in the second half and salvaged things with a 30-homer season. Granderson played a lot of centerfield when Cespedes went on the disabled list.

Cabrera was on the DL with Cespedes, and the Mets’ offense took off when they were activated in late August when they were in San Francisco. After losing the first two games of that series, the Mets were a dismal 60-62 on August 19.

They have been the hottest team in the majors since.

When Cespedes went down, the offensive-starved Mets traded for Jay Bruce. That deal was going down as a bust until Bruce went on a tear with a seven-game hitting streak, which included homers in three games.

From Lugo and Gsellman in the rotation, to Loney, Bruce, Reyes and the two Riveras, to the resurgence of Granderson, and, of course, the consistent production of Cabrera and Cespedes, whenever the Mets needed somebody to step up, they got it.

Through it all, Collins kept his team together, kept them hustling, and more often than not pushed the right buttons. There were times when you wondered if Collins would fired or named the Manager of the Year.

Yes, last year was thrilling, but with what the Mets had to overcome, this year might have the potential to be even more special.

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Sep 30

Gsellman, Bruce Carry Mets One Step Closer

Usually, a playoff team has a player or two not on their radar coming out of spring, that end up carrying them down the stretch. The Mets have had more than a handful this year, but clinched a tie for the wild-card spot because of the hefty contributions of Robert Gsellman and Jay Bruce.

Gsellman, along with Seth Lugo, carried the Mets’ rotation following injuries to Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom; Bruce, whom they coveted last year but wound up with Yoenis Cespedes, instead, is finally hitting to expectations.

GSELLMAN: Superb again. (AP)

GSELLMAN: Superb again. (AP)

Gsellman gave up one run in six innings and Bruce drove in three runs with his fourth homer in six games to give the Mets a 5-1 victory in chilly Philly Friday night.

However, it has been more than one game – for both.

Gsellman is 2-1 with a 1.13 ERA in his last four starts with a 25-6 strikeouts-walks ratio. He is 4-2 overall, and combined with Lugo, have won nine games.

“We’ve asked a lot of out young pitchers,” Collins said. “But, nobody was thrust in a pennant race like these guys have. They’ve done a great job of controlling their emotions. They’ve been very impressive.”

The Mets wanted Bruce last summer, but the Reds were seeking too much. After the Carlos GomezWilmer Flores/Zack Wheeler fell through, the Mets had Cespedes fall into their laps.

With Cespedes hurting for almost all of July, the Mets again needed to import a bat.

“We knew when we got him if he could start swinging the bat he would change our lineup,” Collins said. “Hopefully, he can stay hot.”

Bruce fell into deep slump shortly after the trade and was benched for several games. A pinch-hit homer got him back into the lineup, and he’s scorched ever since. Bruce is riding a six-game hitting streak, going 10-for-20 with four homers and eight RBI in that span.

“It wasn’t at a great time,” Bruce said of his slump. “But, I’m on the upswing now. I’m swinging at pitches I can hit and not missing them. … I’ve always had confidence in myself and I have confidence in this team. I want to help this team get to a World Series and win it.”

They can take another step in that direction with a victory Saturday behind Bartolo Colon.

Sep 27

Matz Done For Year; What Took So Long?

It wasn’t too long ago the Mets boasted having the best young staff in the sport, one that would return them to the World Series. With the postseason a week away – with no assurances of them getting there – four of the five are done for the season because of surgery.

MATZ:  To have surgery. (AP)

   MATZ: To have surgery. (AP)

ESPN’s Adam Rubin reported today – later confirmed by several media outlets – Steven Matz will be shut down for the remainder of the season to undergo surgery almost immediately on a bone spur in his left elbow. Matz is also down with an impingement in his shoulder, but surgery is not planned for that injury.

What took Matz so long to elect to have surgery? The 25-year-old Matz has had the spur for much of the season, with GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins insisting it was a “pain tolerance issue” and he couldn’t risk further injury.

However, it hasn’t been addressed whether the shoulder impingement irritating the rotator cuff was caused by an altering of Matz’s mechanics caused by the pain in his elbow. It’s worth exploring, especially considering the Mets’ history of handling injuries.

Matz hasn’t pitched since mid-August. Surgery should have been performed then, and possibly on his shoulder, also, to give him the maximum time for recovery and rehab. The current timetable is a three-month recovery period, which means he won’t pick up a ball until January.

Will he really have enough time? Had this been done a month or two ago, there wouldn’t be any doubt.

I would have thought with Matt Harvey out for the year (to remove a rib and alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome) and Zack Wheeler (ulnar nerve in elbow) that to hedge their bets they would have encouraged Matz to have the surgery weeks ago – at least when the shoulder issue surfaced. Instead, the last six weeks have been squandered.

Making this even more disturbing is Jacob deGrom had surgery last week to repair the ulnar nerve in his elbow. Also, Noah Syndergaard has been bothered by an elbow bone spur issue for several months. The Mets are saying surgery isn’t planned for him, but wouldn’t they want to get it addressed sooner than later?

With the others easing their way back next spring, the last thing the Mets would want is surgery for Syndergaard.

Fortunately for the Mets, they remain in the race because of Bartolo Colon, who has been pitching with a foot injury (he left Monday’s game after 2.1 innings), and the Band-Aid of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

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Sep 23

Mets Magic? To Be Determined

Greetings on the day after the latest Mets’ miracle. There have been times in my coverage of the Mets – which began in 2006 (and since 1998 overall of New York baseball) – where I have been called a curmudgeon, which is not entirely untrue.

I try to take more of a down-the-middle approach in my emotional perspective of the team. I don’t get too high or too low, and believe I’ve fulfilled my responsibility if there’s a balance between those who like my stuff and those who hate me.

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

There are times, I admit, when I take the hatred as a compliment.

Either way, after the Asdrubal Cabrera’s game-winner last night, the bottom line is the Mets remain tied with San Francisco and hold a slim lead over the Cardinals for the wild-card. Cabrera’s moment in Mets’ history is contingent on how this all plays out.

Will it be a Super Nova or a star that forever burns bright, like the ball that got by Bill Buckner?

It’s just stardust if the Mets fade and don’t make it; it’s special if they go on to win the World Series. The moment loses luster if they don’t run the table.

Can we agree this business of the Mets’ schedule giving them an advantage is nonsense if they don’t capitalize? Let’s face it, without Cabrera last night, and what Jose Reyes did shortly before, they would have lost four straight home games to sub-.500 teams.

The remaining schedule is largely irrelevant because: 1) those teams would love nothing more than to put it to these uppity New Yorkers; 2) those players are competing for 2017 jobs; 3) September call-ups add an unknown element to the stew; and, 4) after this weekend the last six games are on the road.

For those who insist the schedule means something, if the beginning of this week didn’t convince you, try this, if the Mets don’t make the playoffs, the biggest statistic working against them is that 26 of their 72 losses (36 percent) have been against sub-.500 Atlanta (10), Colorado (6), Philadelphia (5) and Arizona (5).

They lost another six to Miami, whom they play three games next week on the road.

Perhaps the Mets were due to win last night. Sometimes the odds work in their favor. But, was it magic? I wouldn’t go that far.

After all, there have been several times this season when it would have been easy to conclude they turned it around.

After a sluggish start, they closed April by winning 11 of 12 games, but limped through May with seven losses against cupcakes Atlanta, San Diego and Colorado.

They lost five games in June to the Braves and were swept in a three-game series in Washington to finish that month only four games over .500. The Mets appeared to turn it around with a four-game sweep of the Cubs in July, but gave up that momentum by losing three of four at home to the Nationals heading into the break.

You’ll recall manager Terry Collins saying it was “essential we play well,” in the stretch entering the break and coming out for the second half. They entered the break six games over .500 but ended July only four games over.

The Mets nose-dived to two games under in mid-August before Bartolo Colon stopped the hemorrhaging by beating the Giants in San Francisco. They went 9-2 to close August to give their season alive.

Unquestionably, the Mets have been snakebit with injuries to their young, vaunted rotation. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are all gone. But, for all their bad luck, they’ve been kept afloat by Colon, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and tonight’s spot starter Gabriel Ynoa, and the bullpen duo of Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia. Today we learned Saturday’s starter, Noah Syndergaard, will be scratched in favor of Sean Gilmartin because of a strep throat.

No doubt, the baseball Gods are toying with Collins.

Bad luck offset by good? Perhaps. But, Lugo has been brought down a peg and Reed and Familia have taken their lumps.

Wilmer Flores helped carry the team for a while, but hasn’t played in over a week because of a bad wrist (Collins took the hit for that by saying he should have used a pinch-runner). The Jay Bruce trade did not work out, but was offset by the resurgence of power from Curtis Granderson.

Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes spent time on the disabled list, but came off smoking. Cespedes is now mired in a slump, although he came through with a big hit last night.

Matt Reynolds, James Loney, Brandon Nimmo, Rene Rivera, Reyes and T.J. Rivera have either come up from the minors or were rescued off the scrap team to produce big moments. However, Michael Conforto was sent down and this season has been a bust for him.

A lot has gone wrong for the Mets – I didn’t even get to the injuries of David Wright, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda – but the flip side is a lot went right to put them where they are today.

Was last night magic? I don’t think so. It was a magical moment but means nothing if not sustainable.

For every reason why I could write them off, there are reasons I can give why they are still alive. Through it all, like they were last season, resiliency is their greatest attribute.

They are alive with nine games remaining, and considering all that has gone, maybe that’s their magic for this year.

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Sep 23

Three Mets’ Storylines: Doctor, We Have A Pulse

Just when you think the Mets are dead and buried, they do something to justify how they’ve been historically characterized – Amazing. They do something to pull us closer to them; to steal our emotions after we’ve said “never again.”

CABRERA: Pulls us back. (AP)

CABRERA: Pulls us back. (AP)

On the heels of an excruciatingly draining loss the previous night when Yoenis Cespedes’ was denied a game-winning home run, the Mets twice climbed out of the abyss to pick up their beleaguered bullpen to beat Philadelphia, 9-8, in 11 innings.

Like cockroaches and Keith Richards, the Mets refuse to be killed. Down two in the ninth, Jose Reyes tied it with a one-out, two-run drive off Jeanmar Gomez.

The Mets later fell behind by two again in the 11th inning against closer Jeurys Familia, but they quickly responded in the bottom of the inning against Philadelphia reliever Edubray Ramos when Michael Conforto walked, Reyes singled and Asdrubal Cabrera hit a homer that might have saved the Mets’ season.

If the Mets go on to go far in the playoffs, or even win the World Series, it will be a defining moment in their season.

“We always keep our head up,” Cabrera said. “We’re pushing all the time. … As soon as I hit it I knew it would be out.”

All season the Mets lived and died with the home run. It was how they are defined. They thrived on the long ball tonight with three more – Curtis Granderson hit a two-run homer in the second – that brought them again to the emotional top.

How long they will sustain it is anybody’s guess.

Undoubtedly, the comeback was tonight’s main storyline, with the others being the bullpen and Seth Lugo’s rough start.

BULLPEN TAKES BEATING: How the Mets navigated the last two innings has been their strength all season. You could even make an argument the Addison Reed-Familia duo has been the most valuable aspect of their team.

It hasn’t been that way this week, as their late-inning bullpen has been torched for 17 runs after the seventh inning in the last four games.

Five of those runs were charged to Reed, who uncharacteristically gave up a three-run homer to Maikel Franco in the eighth inning. Three more were against Familia.

There are few – if any – Mets who have done their jobs this year better than Reed and Familia. Tonight the long ball saved them.

LUGO HAS ROUGH START: Eventually, reality would catch up with Lugo. It did when the Phillies’ Ryan Howard and Cameron Rupp hit back-to-back homers on consecutive pitches to open the fifth.

Lugo had given the Mets at least six innings in four of his last six starts, but Thursday gave us three runs on four hits and two walks in five innings. Normally pitch efficient, Lugo threw 87 tonight.

Even so, with the news Steven Matz is likely done for the year, should the Mets reach the NL Division Series, he’ll be their No. 3 starter.

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