Oct 07

Revisiting Mets’ Top 20 Questions

Every spring I pose 20 questions the Mets must answer to have a successful year and after the season I raise them again.

Here goes:

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

A: There were several times this season when the Mets were sluggish and flat. There were numerous injuries that set them back, but didn’t derail them. If they crippled by injuries, they wouldn’t have won 87 games and reached the wild-card game had they been totally derailed. There are several reasons why the Mets aren’t still alive, but an emotional hangover isn’t one of them.

DE GROM: One of many injuries. (AP)

     DE GROM: One of many injuries. (AP)

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

A: Let’s face it, there several things I don’t like about how Collins handles things, beginning with the injuries. A player will be down for a few days, then a week, then on to the disabled list. I didn’t like how he placated Yoenis Cespedes, and it went beyond the golf issue. There were more than a few in-game decisions that could have turned out better, but that’s with every manager. In the end, for the most part his players hustled for him and he kept the clubhouse.

Q: What’s going on with Harvey?

A: Not much. For the second time in three years, his season was cut short by surgery. And, as in 2013, Matt Harvey wasn’t totally forthcoming about his injury and the situation worsened. Harvey got off to a miserable start. He seemed to briefly stabilize, but then had another slide – this time leading him to the disabled list. It has reached the point where Harvey can’t be counted on. If the Mets decide to trade him, that’s fine by me, because I still think he’ll walk in a couple of years.

Q: Will DeGrom and Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Jacob deGrom looked great at times, but there was a long stretch of no support. Three rough starts in a row led to the disabled list. As for Noah Syndergaard, he pitched for much of the season with a bone spur in his elbow. He was superb in the wild-card game with seven scoreless innings. Will he require surgery? That’s to be determined, but if healthy will enter 2017 as the No. 1 starter.

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: A great start fizzled into a trip to the disabled list and eventually surgery. Matz’s short career has already been riddled with injuries. Surgery was on the elbow, but there is still the issue of the impingement of his shoulder. He’ll be a question until he proves otherwise in spring training.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: Colon was the staff leader with 15 victories and the rotation’s anchor when everybody but Syndergaard went down. Colon was worth every penny of the $7 million he earned, and should be brought back.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: Thick enough to lead the league with 51 saves. Familia gave up the game-winning homer in the wild-card game. He was totally stand-up after the game, which is the trait of all the great ones. The Mets have more pressing concerns than Familia’s psyche.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: Addison Reed led the league in holds and the bridge became stronger with the acquisition of Fernando Salas. A lot was expected of Hansel Robles, but his development stuttered at times. The Mets also expected much from Jim Henderson, but his season was sidetracked because he was misused early in the season. Jerry Blevins had a good season, but Josh Smoker and Josh Edgin remain questions as does Gabriel Ynoa. The Mets have plenty of names, but few givens.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud?

A: The Mets are still looking for him. Between his injuries and lack of production, the Mets enter the offseason with a huge concern at catcher. Rene Rivera was a positive addition, but the Mets can’t rely on him offensively.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: Well, he was injured again. Isn’t that consistency? Duda spent much of the season on the disabled list with a back injury. Duda was activated in September. It was good to see him, but not all his health concerns were answered. James Loney was a solid replacement, but I’m doubtful the Mets will bring him back. If not Duda, don’t be surprised to see Michael Conforto get reps in spring training.

Q: Will Walker make people forget Murphy?

A: Not a chance, especially how Daniel Murphy torched them all season. Neil Walker carried the Mets early before he was lost with a back injury. Walker has an option for 2017. Back surgery doesn’t help his bargaining position, but don’t be surprised if the Mets extend a qualifying offer.

Q: Is Cabrera an upgrade over Flores?

A: I’ve always been a Wilmer Flores supporter and don’t believe he’s gotten a fair shake. Even so, Asdrubal Cabrera exceeded all expectations and you can make an argument he’s the Mets’ MVP, and that includes over Cespedes.

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: For those who expected another injury it happened. This time, it was spinal stenosis that necessitated season-ending surgery. Wright wasn’t hitting when he went on the disabled list. Losing Wright enabled the Mets to bring back Jose Reyes. Wright should be ready by spring training, but there are no assurances as to how he’ll be. The Mets must protect themselves in case Wright can’t play, which means they’ll probably bring back Reyes.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: Only the most naïve don’t think Cespedes will opt out. I have no problems with that, but the Mets must be wary of bringing him back. For all the lip service Cespedes gives about wanting him to return to the Mets, his priority is getting the big bucks, which is more than the $50 million remaining on his deal over the next two seasons. Early reports have Cespedes seeking $100 million over five years. There’s no denying Cespedes can hit, but he’s high maintenance, injury prone and hustles when the mood strikes. Oh yeah. One more thing … if you play in New York and want over $100 million, then you talk after a playoff loss. I think the Mets baby this guy too much and the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Q: A breakout year for Conforto?

A: Nope. He sizzled in April, hurt his wrist and eventually rode the Vegas-New York shuttle. In April, Collins moved Conforto to third in the order, but then yanked him around. When he finally came back from Triple-A in September we barely saw him. With the Mets expected to pick up the option on Jay Bruce and another year with Curtis Granderson, there’s little room for Conforto if Cespedes comes back.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Granderson?

A: Nope. Granderson’s patience at the leadoff spot last year was key to the Mets getting to the World Series in 2015. However, Granderson’s 30-59 homer-RBI ratio was almost historically poor. The acquisition of Reyes enabled Collins to move Granderson behind Cespedes in the order. Granderson had a strong September and will be on the last season of his contract next year.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: One thing we learned about the season is the Mets had better depth than we expected. There was Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and T.J. Rivera from the system, plus Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman for the rotation. GM Sandy Alderson did a good job this year plugging holes with Reyes, Loney, Bruce and Rivera.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: Just about everybody. When a team loses three-fifths of its rotation, plus Wright, Walker, Duda, d’Arnaud and Flores from its offense, it will be in trouble. Considering all that happened, the Mets were fortunate to win 87 games and reach the playoffs. It was a rough year and the prognosis for the pitchers is uncertainty. Part of the Mets’ offseason analysis must be of its medical staff.

Q: What’s going on with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals, especially Murphy, owned the Mets this year and won the NL East going away. And, they did so with their own list of injuries, including Stephen Strasburg going on the DL twice. They’re playing Los Angeles in the NLDS and lost Game 1 at home.

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

A: They did, but it didn’t matter. The Mets were hot in April and hot in September. Between them, the Mets were a sub .500 team.

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Oct 06

Bumgarner Wins Classic Duel

For the second straight season, the interlocking “NY’’ on the Mets’ caps stood for “next year.’’ After an improbable run to overcome lengthy offensive droughts and numerous injuries to reach the postseason, the Mets received a sterling performance from Noah Syndergaard.

BUMGARNER: A classic ace. (AP)

BUMGARNER: A classic ace. (AP)

However, it wasn’t enough to beat Madison Bumgarner, who again came up with a game for the ages in October, who spun a four-hitter to beat the Mets, 3-0, to send the San Francisco Giants to the NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Syndergaard throws heat all the time and showed he doesn’t just have ace potential, but that he’s already there. However, Bumgarner will go down as one of the game’s greatest playoff pitchers in history.

In three postseason win-or-go-home games, Bumgarner has thrown 23 scoreless innings. He has reached a level few could ever imagine.

In 2014, Bumgarner won Games 1 and 5 in the World Series, then came back after two days of rest to throw five scoreless innings in relief. When asked what he hoped his legacy would be, Bumgarner simply said: “A winner. That’s all anybody wants to be regarded as.”

Syndergaard outpitched Bumgarner in the early part of the game, but as his strikeouts mounted – he finished with ten – so did his pitch count. Syndergaard threw 108 in seven innings while Bumgarner threw 119 for the complete game.

“Bumgarner, he never gives in,” said Jose Reyes. “We had some chances and couldn’t do anything with them.”

Bumgarner vs. Syndergaard had baseball junkies salivating and weren’t disappointed. The Mets had their best going, but unfortunately, the Giants had one of the best of all time going for them.

The starters were the storyline of the night, with the others being Jeurys Familia and Yoenis Cespedes spitting the bit.

FAMILIA LOSES IN THE NINTH: Familia saved 51 games this season and the Mets weren’t in the playoffs without him.

Last year, Familia blew three save opportunities. Tonight wasn’t a save chance, but it hurt just the same.

The fall began with a double by Brandon Crawford. After Angel Pagan failed to get a bunt down, Joe Panik walked then Conor Gillaspie crushed a three-run homer to bring on winter.

“It was a sinker. That’s my best pitch,” said a stand-up Familia. “Every time I try to go out and do the best I can. I missed with the location. I have to move on.`I know these things are going to happen. It’s a game.”

CESPEDES SILENT: For all his talking about living for these moments, for the second straight postseason Cespedes came up empty.

As far as I’m concerned, Cespedes gave away his four at-bats by swinging from the heels at pitches out of his reach. Bumgarner toyed with him getting him to strike out twice and pop up.

Cespedes saw only 18 pitches.

True to form, Cespedes opted not to talk after the game.

Perhaps he had an early tee time.

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Oct 03

Leaving Loney Off Wild-Card Roster Would Be Mistake

There’s no doubt Mets GM Sandy Alderson is a smart guy, but there are times he thinks too damn much. Reportedly he’s doing that now by considering leaving James Loney off the wild-card playoff roster in favor of Lucas Duda.

Never mind the fairness element, that without Loney replacing Duda for 99 games, the Mets are already scattering for their off-season homes.

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off roster. (SNY)

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off. (SNY)

Clearly, Alderson, who is Sabremetrics junkie infatuated with the home run, is hoping Duda might run into a pitch against the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner Wednesday night. It could happen, but I’m betting after not playing most of the season with a back injury he will be handcuffed by Bumgarner’s nasty slider.

As lefty hitters, neither Loney (2-for-13, .154 BA/.214 OB) nor Duda (0-for-1) have a distinguished history against Bumgarner. For that matter, neither does Eric Campbell (1-for-5).

When you look at the splits, look at their career numbers against all left-handed pitchers. In 572 career at-bats against lefties, Duda is hitting .224 with 17 homers, a .659 OPS and a 200-50 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Conversely, in 1,264 at-bats, Loney is hitting .251 with 20 homers, a .646 OPS and a 222-83 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Actually, if it came down to career numbers against Bumgarner, what about Kelly Johnson (7-for-20 lifetime)?

I’m not blaming manager Terry Collins should the Mets go with Duda because he’s not pulling the strings. This is Alderson’s baby. Both pay lip service to a give-and-take working relationship, but Alderson runs the show.

The Bumgarner-Noah Syndergaard match-up suggests the possibility of a low-scoring game. Alderson is gambling Duda will connect for a bomb, but the odds suggest Loney is more apt to continue an inning.

And, with runs figuring to be at a premium, Loney is the superior defensive player. He has a better glove, more range, and a better arm. Should I remind you of his throw to the plate in Game 5 of last year’s World Series? Didn’t think so.

One of the main storylines in this game will be Syndergaard’s ability to hold potential base stealers, who ran on him at will this year.

As a right-handed first baseman, it is harder for Duda to hold runners as his tag will be at the runner’s calf instead of his arm. Meanwhile, with a good move, Loney’s tag will be on the runner’s hand. If nothing else it could shorten a lead by a step.

Look, Duda might hit three homers. He could also make two errors and strike out three times. Who knows? But, for one game, with this pitching match-up, the right way to go is Loney over Duda.

If they want to take Duda over Campbell for a pinch-hit swing late in the game, fine. But, seriously, if Campbell pinch-hits, the Mets would likely be behind, and who would he bat for?

Alderson is smart, but he’s thinking too much on this one and it could bite him in the butt.

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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.