Jul 28

Collins Lets Down Mets

Welcome back to “Panic City.” While some of us are residents, the mayor isn’t you or me, but Mets manager Terry Collins. No doubt the population could be growing after the Mets lost in agonizing and aggravating fashion for the second straight game, this time, 2-1, Thursday to the Colorado Rockies on Jeurys Familia‘s second blown save in less than 24 hours.

Of course, while it is easy to blame Familia and their chronic failure to hit with runners in scoring position, the primary culprit was Collins, whose game management wasted a brilliant effort by Jacob deGrom, who threw seven scoreless innings.

DE GROM: Mets waste his effort. (AP)

DE GROM: Mets waste his effort. (AP)

The Mets had a 1-0 lead and were poised to break the game open in the seventh when they had runners on second and third with no outs. They had ten hits, one walk, and had a runner reach on an error, so getting on base wasn’t the problem.

One would have thought they would have scored at least one run even by accident with deGrom due up. However, Collins sent up pinch-hitter Yoenis Cespedes – a temporary hitter from the previous night – despite knowing the Rockies would intentionally walk him.

“Let’s load the bases and make them get out of it,” the baseball lifer Collins told reporters. However, he must have conveniently forgotten defensive teams traditionally walk the bases full to set up a force at the plate or a double play. That strategy applies to the seventh as well as the ninth.

The force at the plate came soon enough when pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson – battling for Juan Lagares – hit a grounder to shortstop and Trevor Story‘s throw nailed Rivera. Curtis Granderson struck out on a wild swing, and Wilmer Flores popped out.

So, by batting Cespedes for deGrom, Collins lost his starter, Cespedes for a pinch-runner and Lagares. Had deGrom stayed in it would have enabled Addison Reed to close, which was the original plan.

After Familia’s blown save the previous night – in which he threw close to 30 pitches – Collins matter-of-factly said he would rest today. He didn’t because Familia told him before the game he was available. Add this to the growing list of statements Collins makes yet retreats on.

After Story singled, stole second and David Dahl walked, you knew this wasn’t going to end well. Daniel Descalso beat out a bunt in front of the plate when Rene Rivera gambled to let the ball roll foul, which it didn’t.

There’s bad luck, dumb luck and Mets’ luck, which is the worst kind. As it turned out, that would be the Rockies’ only hit of the inning. Colorado tied it on a fielder’s choice grounder and Familia’s wild pitch.

So, Collins went against his better judgment and used Familia just because the closer said he could pitch. We all know how that turned out in Game 5 of the World Series. But this time the season didn’t end.

Not yet, anyway.

 

 

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

 

UPDATED

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.