Sep 06

Three Mets’ Storylines: Cespedes Primetime Player

When you’re a star, you come through in big moments. You live for them, and that’s what Yoenis Cespedes does for the Mets.

They Mets got Cespedes, and will likely break the bank for him, for nights like Tuesday when he slugged and threw the Mets into a vital crunch-time victory.

CESPEDES: Has a flair for dramatic. (AP)

CESPEDES: Has a flair for dramatic. (AP)

“When you’re a star, that’s what they do,” manager Terry Collins said. “That’s what Ces does. That’s why he’s here. That’s why he gets paid.”

Of his 70 RBI, seven have given the Mets the lead for good, including his two-run homer to dead center in the seventh inning of their 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

“When the team is down, I know I have to focus,” Cespedes told SNY.

As I’ve written several times, extending his current three-year, $75-million contract could hamstring the Mets financially in other areas, but there’s no denying this guy is a primetime player. Cespedes carried the Mets last year into the World Series, and he’s doing the same this summer. Five of his 28 homers have tied a game, while eight put the Mets in the lead.

As if that isn’t enough, Cespedes threw out Brandon Phillips at second to end the eighth.

There’s no other descriptor other than clutch.

Cespedes was one of four Mets’ homers, giving them 189 for the season. Curtis Granderson, Jose Reyes and Alejandro De Aza (he hit their 11th pinch-hit homer of the season) crushed the others.

Clearly, Cespedes was the storyline tonight. The others were Rafael Montero and newly acquired reliever Fernando Salas.

MONTERO OFF: Probably the best thing one could say about the performance of the Montero is it could have been worse.

The problem of command that has been an anchor to Montero dragged him down again.

Montero walked four in 4.1 innings. The killer was the walking Zack Cozart in the third as he scored ahead of Adam Duvall’s home run that tied the game.

The two walks Montero gave up in the first two innings, as well as the six in his first start, didn’t hurt him. But, you can only dance out of trouble for so long. Wildness would eventually catch up, and that’s what happened to Montero.

Throwing 79 pitches in less than five innings is the kind of stuff that has always hindered Montero, and is the obstacle keeping him out of the major leagues.

“He’s working hard to stay out of the middle of the plate and he’s missing,” Collins said. “That’s what gets him in trouble. But, I’m very impressed with his arm.”

SALAS LEADS BULLPEN: The Mets have been looking for a seventh-inning stopper for their bullpen all season.

Hansel Robles spit the bit, but perhaps Salas could fit the bill. The Mets picked up Salas in a waiver deal, Aug. 31, from the Angels in exchange for minor league pitcher Erik Manoah.

Robles was sensational from June 21 to August, going 5-0 with a 1.29 ERA. However, he had a meltdown on the mound at Yankee Stadium, Aug. 3, when Mark Teixeira rattled his cage. Since then, he’s given up 15 earned runs in his last 16 innings.

Salas was the fifth of seven Mets’ pitchers – the September call-ups issue must eventually be addressed – and put the Reds down in order in the seventh.

Josh Edgin, Gabriel Ynoa, Josh Smoker, Salas, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia – who registered his 46th save – followed Montero, just the way Collins drew it up.

Sort of.

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Sep 01

Three Mets’ Storylines: Something Not Right With DeGrom

Evidently, those three extra days of rest didn’t help Jacob deGrom or the Mets. Also not helpful to the Mets was the image of deGrom heading up the tunnel to the clubhouse and motioning trainer Ray Ramirez to follow him.

Uh oh, what else could go wrong?

“That’s news to me,” manager Terry Collins said when asked about deGrom motioning to the trainer. “What you just informed me of is very troubling to me. … Jacob deGrom is a huge piece for us.”

DE GROM: Not right. (AP)

DE GROM: Not right. (AP)

How could the manager not know, unless, of course, deGrom wanted to talk to somebody else? Even so, television replays clearly showed Ramirez followed deGrom down the tunnel.

“Everything is fine,” insisted deGrom. “I just wanted to talk to Ray. I felt out of sync out there, but nothing is wrong.”

Collins pushed deGrom back three days when it was concluded fatigue was the factor for why he was torched for 13 runs on 25 hits in his previous two starts.

DeGrom – now 7-8 with a 3.04 ERA– appeared to overcome a strained lat muscle early this season, but red flags were raised with his previous two starts and his velocity dropping to 91 mph., in Thursday night’s 6-4 loss to the Miami Marlins.

However, it’s more than just fatigue or a drop of velocity. DeGrom still lives on the outer half of the plate and won’t challenge hitters inside. Could it be a lack of confidence in his fastball?

Collins initially planned to push deGrom back until Friday against Washington, but those plans changed when Steven Matz was sidelined with a rotator cuff impingement. So, deGrom moved up a day and gave up three runs on six hits and a season-high four walks in five innings.

It wasn’t a good line, and neither were the 102 pitches he threw in that span. High pitch counts have been a persistent problem all season for deGrom, Matz and Noah Syndergaard.

“His command is not what it has been,” Collins said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

When a pitcher’s command leaves him, it is usually because of fatigue, injury or mechanics. DeGrom said it was the last option.

“It’s mechanics,” deGrom said. “I can’t throw the ball where I want to.”

The Mets began the season with a highly-regarded rotation of Matt Harvey, deGrom, Matz, Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon, who was to move to the rotation in July in favor of Zack Wheeler. That rotation was supposed to return the Mets to the World Series, but injuries cost them Harvey, Matz and Wheeler for the season; a bone spur in his elbow hampered Syndergaard; and deGrom was bothered by the strained lat muscle.

The Mets had won nine of their previous 11 games before tonight to climb back into the race. Returning to the playoffs is contingent on a lot of factors, with deGrom’s health now at the top of the list.

Regardless of what Collins said, things will be anxious for the Mets until deGrom pitches again.

Tonight’s other storylines were the return of Michael Conforto and the rise of another Met Killer.

CONFORTO RETURNS: Conforto was part of the Mets call-ups from Triple-A Las Vegas, where he hit .493 (33-for-67) with six homers and 13 RBI in 17 games.

Conforto reached base in his first three plate appearances on an opposite-field double, when he was plunked on the calf and when Christian Yelich dropped his fly ball in left center.

That he hit the ball hard to the opposite field on the error was a good sign.

MET KILLER: The Mets have been tortured by the likes of Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt, Chipper Jones, Pat Burrell, Giancarlo Stanton, and, of course, Daniel Murphy.

You can add Yelich, who drove in four runs on three hits, including a homer. He also made a diving catch of a sinking line drive hit by deGrom with the bases loaded that could have saved three runs.

Yelich has hit four homers against the Mets this year, including three in this series.

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Sep 01

Wilpon To Get Meaningful September Games

Several years ago Mets owner Fred Wilpon said he wanted his team “to play meaningful games in September.” Well, here we are, Sept. 1, and the Mets – after winning nine of 11 games – are just 1.5 games behind St. Louis for the second wild-card.

WILPON: Meaningful games in September. (AP)

WILPON: Meaningful games in September. (AP)

This week alone they leapfrogged Miami – they can complete a four-game sweep of the Marlins today behind Jacob deGrom – and Pittsburgh.

“I like our chances,” GM Sandy Alderson told reporters at Citi Field.

Manager Terry Collins said he told his players “there would be no more meetings,’’ and he thanked them for not rolling over. Huh? Translation: He thanked them for doing their jobs.

Despite numerous injuries – today Neil Walker will announce his intent to have season-ending back surgery – the Mets are in the hunt for a variety of reasons:

* Walker was scorching since late July before going down.

* Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera turned it on after coming off the disabled list.

* Bartolo Colon – who did it again Wednesday night – has kept the Mets in nearly every game he’s pitched.

* Spot starters Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero are responsible for three victories alone.

* The starters have generally been good. Noah Syndergaard overcame his funk; Steven Matz was solid before his shoulder did him in; and deGrom had a stretch of ten straight good starts before his last two stinkers.

* Wilmer Flores has continued to hit, and lately that includes against right-handers.

* The bullpen has been good, and twice needed to work over six innings to help either an injured or battered starter.

* They’ve gotten production from role players Kelly Johnson, Alejandro De Aza and Rene Rivera.

All that together adds up to a team. Yes, there has been praise for Cespedes, but he’s been far from the only one. They are in position to compete because they’ve been the essence of a team.

Last night Colon pitched and Johnson and Flores combined to drive in all their runs. Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia closed it for Colon.

You can’t say they were carried by a star.

Will the Mets get back into the playoffs, much less the World Series? I don’t know, but at least they have a chance.

If told at the beginning of the season the Mets would have been 1.5 games behind the wild card with a month to go, would you have taken it?

I would have.

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Aug 22

How Mets Stack Up With All-Time Pennant Race Comebacks

History tells us it can be done, that as difficult as it seems, the Mets can climb out of what appears to an abyss of a hole and reach the playoffs. A lot must happen, but the Mets took a positive step over the weekend in fighting back to split their four games with the Giants.

The Giants are ahead for a potential wild card, as are the Dodgers, Marlins, Pirates and Cardinals. They begin a three-game series Tuesday in St. Louis, so after losing two of three to the Cardinals at Citi Field in late July they need to do at least the same to stay in contention.

SEAVER: Key In 1969 Pennant Race. (AP)

SEAVER: Key In 1969 Pennant Race. (AP)

The Mets trail Washington by 11.5 games, so that won’t happen even if they sweep the remaining six games with the Nationals. They are 4.5 games behind St. Louis for the second wild card, and three behind Miami (six games left) and 1.5 behind Pittsburgh (no games left).

Climbing back into the race will be harder without Steven Matz, who went on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder. In addition, Neil Walker will be placed on paternity leave and miss the St. Louis series. Replacing them on the 25-man roster are infielder T.J. Rivera and pitcher Robert Gsellman.

It will be difficult considering this team isn’t hitting, although getting back Yoenis Cespedes – who hit three homers over the weekend – should help.

Seven weeks remain, so picking up a game a week should be the objective. It can be done.

The following are ten of the greatest comebacks, including the greatest deficit these teams overcame and where they were in the standings on Aug. 22.

It should be noted none of these comebacks occurred in the wild-card era, and the team that came back to win only won the World Series five times.

Here’s who made history:

1969 New York Mets

Synopsis: On Aug. 13, the soon-to-be Amazin’ Mets trailed Chicago by 10 games in the NL East, and although it had been a fun season until then, nobody had any expectations of would happen. The Mets, anchored by superior pitching, went on a 38-11 run and won the NL East by eight games. Aug. 22 standings: Six games behind Chicago. How they finished: Went 100-62; swept Atlanta in the NLCS, and beat Baltimore, four-games-to-one in the World Series.

1978 New York Yankees

Synopsis: The Yankees were going nowhere, trailing Boston by 14 games as of July 20. The Yankees won 52 of their 73 games to force a one-game playoff at Fenway Park known as the Bucky Dent Game. Aug. 22 standings: They sliced the deficit to 7.5 games. How they finished: Went 100-63, beat Kansas City in the ALCS, and the Dodgers in the World Series.

1995 Seattle Mariners

Synopsis: People tend to forget this race. With Ken Griffey out for much of the second half, Edgar Martinez carried the Mariners. One August 2, Seattle was two games under .500 and trailed the Angels by 13 games. The Mariners caught fire and finished 35-10 while the Angels simultaneously collapsed and went 22-33. Aug. 22 standings: Trailed by 11.5 games. How they finished: The Mariners finished 79-66 (they didn’t play the normal 162 games because the season was shortened because of the 1994 strike). The Mariners won a one-game playoff with the Angels, beat the Yankees in the ALDS, but lost to Cleveland in six games in the ALCS.

1935 Chicago Cubs

Synopsis: Long before they were cursed, the Cubs were a National League power. On July 5, they trailed the Giants by 10.5 games, but won 62 of their last 84 – including a stretch of 21 straight in September – to win the race going away. Aug. 22 standings: Three games behind the Giants. How they finished: Went 100-54, but lost the World Series to Detroit.

1993 Atlanta Braves

Synopsis: The Braves trailed San Francisco by 10 games on July 23, but turned it around going 49-16 in their final 65 games to win the NL West by one game. Aug. 22 standings: Trailed Giants by 7.5 games. How they finished: A NL best 104-58, but lost the NLCS in six games to Philadelphia.

1964 St. Louis Cardinals

Synopsis: This race is remembered for the dramatic collapse of the Phillies, who held an 11-game lead on the Cardinals as late as Aug. 24. St. Louis, lead by Bob Gibson and Ken Boyer, went 28-11 down the stretch. Aug. 22 standings: The Cardinals were in fourth place, 10 games behind the Phillies, and also behind the Reds and Giants. How they finished: Went 93-69 and beat the Yankees in the World Series.

1914 Boston Braves

Synopsis: On July 6 the Braves were in last place, but would go 68-19 to pass the field and won the National League by 10 games. Aug. 22 standings: Their comeback was almost done by then, trailing the Giants by a mere half-game. How they finished: Went 94-59, then beat the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.

1930 St. Louis Cardinals

Synopsis: The Cardinals are on the comeback list three times, this being the first time. They were 12 games out on Aug. 8 and only one game over .500. The Cardinals went 39-10 down the stretch to beat out the Cubs by two games. Aug. 22 standings: Trailed by eight games. How they finished: Went 92-62 only to lose the World Series in six games to the Philadelphia Athletics.

1942 St. Louis Cardinals

Synopsis: The Cardinals trailed by 10 games as late as Aug. 4, but went 44-9 down the stretch to overtake Brooklyn. Aug. 22 standings: Trailed Brooklyn by 7.5 games. How they finished: Went 106-48, then beat the Yankees in a five-game World Series.

1951 New York Giants

Synopsis: What, you thought I forgot about this one? I saved the most historic for last. On Aug. 11, the Giants trailed the Dodgers by 13 games. However, the Giants went 38-7 down the stretch and tied the Dodgers to force a three-game playoff series. Aug. 22 standings: Trailed by eight games. How they finished: At 96-58. Giants won a three-game playoff with the Dodgers, with New York winning the deciding third game on Bobby Thomson’s historic homer off Ralph Branca. The Giants would lose the World Series in six games to the Yankees.

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Aug 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Is Collins Rant Too Late?

The closed-door meeting following a press conference rant is the last act of a desperate manager and what we got from Mets manager Terry Collins.

Collins has tinkered and tweaked for months – today he wrote his 89th different lineup – but nothing has worked. A few days ago he challenged his team to loosen up and have fun.

How did they respond?

COLLINS: Loses it. (SNY)

COLLINS: Loses it. (SNY)

In the never-ending search for absolutes, today’s 9-0 humiliating loss to the Diamondbacks was unquestionably the Mets’ worst game of the season. Incidentally, that’s the same score given when a team forfeits a game; when it quits.

In the past, Collins criticized his pitching, his hitting, and his defense. He has gotten specific like not hitting with RISP and pitchers not holding runners. What he hasn’t done was criticize his players’ effort – until now.

Noah Syndergaard, who greatly contributed to the loss by emotionally unraveling on the mound, called it a “nice team meeting,” but it was far from that as Collins gave his team the message all players need to hear.

“For those who don’t want to get after it, I will find somebody else who does,” Collins said. “In Las Vegas there a whole clubhouse who wants to be here.”

Too often this year we’ve heard about injuries, about how this team doesn’t know how to manufacture runs, about the need to hit in the clutch, about a lot of things.

What we haven’t often heard is about the need to play the game the right way and being accountable. Collins isn’t stupid, he knows his job is on the line so it is only fitting he let his players and coaches know their employment is also temporary.

“I’m the manager here,” said Collins, whose rant immediately went into crescendo mode. “It starts with me. I don’t care who is not here. There are no excuses. These are major league players. The names on the back and front of their uniforms say they are major league players.

“You have a responsibility to the fans to grind it out.”

The player Collins pointed out as an example was Neil Walker, who kept working at-bats and eventually raised his average 30 points after a 2-for-32 slide. Collins mentioned how Walker was at second base on a fly ball he hit and didn’t peel off halfway to first.

There is a right and wrong way to play this game and for much of the season, the Mets have played the game the wrong way.

“Some guys are having a bad time, but you can’t say `whoa is me’ at this level,” Collins said. “Everybody is humbled. Those who get their way out of it stay in this game. I want the ones who stay.

“There has to be a passion. People pay to see us play and deserve our best effort. You play the game correctly. … Starting tomorrow we’ll get after it.”

Maybe the Mets will come out with passion tomorrow against the Padres, but a lack of fire doesn’t fully explain how this team plays. The attention to fundamentals isn’t there. Collins is right; there’s a right way to play this game and the Mets just don’t do it.

Part of that is on him and the coaches. It’s also on GM Sandy Alderson for how he put this team together.

It goes a lot deeper than running out a fly ball and getting after it tomorrow might be too late.

Collins dressing down his team was the main storyline of the day and perhaps the season. The other key storylines were the unraveling of Syndergaard and the math that defines what the Mets are up against.

SYNDERGAARD LOSES IT: Do you remember when Syndergaard challenged the Royals during the World Series?

Just as the Royals ran on him, so did the Diamondbacks, who stole four more bases today and 13 for the series.

Again his pitch count was way too high (91) for the innings (five) he gave the Mets. We can talk about location and too many foul balls, but more alarming was how he unraveled emotionally during Arizona’s three-run fourth inning.

Syndergaard was animated after balls that dropped and went through his infield. He let his emotions get the best of him and acted like a Little Leaguer.

Syndergaard said, “all of us are feeling the pressure,” and he was aggravated because “I’m aware mentally of what I’m doing wrong and keep doing it.”

THE SCARY MATH: The Mets also have to be mentally aware of the math.

They fell to .500 today at 57-57. Syndergaard said he never thought the Mets would be .500 again after their hot April.

They finished April 15-7, but have gone 42-50 since. In many circles, it is believed 87 wins could get a team the wild card. For that to happen, the Mets would have to go 30-18 in the 48 remaining games.

Starting tomorrow?

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