Aug 11

Mets Realizing Last Year’s Magic Is Gone

The Mets have had two moments since late July that should have spurred them on a tear, but they failed to capitalize and run with the momentum. Even worse, they failed to win with those games.

The first was Yoenis Cespedes’ titanic game-tying blast, July 27, against St. Louis. That was the night Jeurys Familia blew his first save opportunity after converting 52 straight.

COLLINS: Realizing the futility. (AP)

COLLINS: Realizing the futility. (AP)

The second was last night when Kelly Johnson put it into the upper deck in right to force extra innings against Arizona. With Familia already spent, they lost in 12 innings when Oscar Hernandez homered off Jerry Blevins.

They would have run with those moments last year. In 2015, they faced a multitude of injuries, bad luck, lengthy hitting slumps and bullpen breakdowns, but somehow found a way to overcome.

“We know (know) tough times,’’ manager Terry Collins said after their latest. “But we’re not coming through when we need to as we did a year ago.”

There are even more injuries this season, and today they will put out their 89th different lineup in 114 games; the team’s collective hitting slump seems longer and deeper, and Collins has made several mind-numbing managerial calls.

Never mind getting on a tear, the Mets haven’t won back-to-back games in over a month. They were supposed to own New York after going to the World Series last year, but today have the same record as the Yankees, who have scuttled their season in the hope of the future.

The Mets trail the Nationals by ten games, so that won’t happen. Talk to most people and 87 wins appear to be the magic number for getting in as a wild card. At 57-56, the Mets would have to go 30-19 in their remaining games.

It’s possible, but they would need to capture the same magical spark they did last year. The home runs by Cespedes and Johnson could have been those sparks, but instead of igniting something, they were snuffed.

The proof this isn’t last year.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Loss Sets Up Vital Syndergaard Start

At 23, the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard has pitched in the World Series. However, it might not be a stretch to say Thursday’s start might be one of the most important of his young career.


SYNDERGAARD: Faces big start. (Getty)

SYNDERGAARD: Faces big start. (Getty)

After losing two straight games to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team with the 26th worst record in the major leagues, the Mets are a team struggling to keep from going into a freefall.

Oscar Hernandez’s homer off reliever Jerry Blevins in the 12th inning was the difference in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks to drop the Mets to one game over .500.

This time last year the Mets were vibrant and a team on the rise. There were so many moments when they lifted themselves off the ropes on their drive to the World Series.

“We’ve been through these tough times before,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “But, we’re not coming through like we did a year ago.”

Collins was then asked if he thought the Mets expect to regroup simply because they did so last season.

“I hope not,” Collins said. “You’re not given anything up here. … This is the major leagues. Tonight is over. We have to come back tomorrow. We have to get ready for tomorrow because today is done.”

The seriousness of the Mets’ situation was the most significant storyline of the night. The other two were Kelly Johnson’s big swing in the ninth and another strong outing from Bartolo Colon.

JOHNSON DELIVERS: There might not be a more distinctive sound in sports than the crack of the bat. The Mets had to wait until the ninth before hearing it Wednesday, when Johnson – hitting for Ty Kelly – launched a Jake Barrett deep into the upper deck for a game-tying home run.

Until Johnson unloaded, the Mets’ offense had been silenced, limited to just three singles. With one out, Alejandro De Aza walked to set up Johnson.

Johnson hit homers last week in back-to-back games at the Yankees and Detroit. In fact, he had hits in five straight games, Aug. 3-7, and then was sent to the bench, again.

Sure, I get wanting a bat coming off the bench, but with the way this offense is going, don’t you want that potential three or four times a game?

COLON SUPERB AGAIN: Colon made his second straight strong start, giving up one run in seven innings. He struck out a season-high eight while throwing 110 pitches. Of course, most of them were fastballs, perfectly placed.

A key moment in the game could have been in the first inning when the Diamondbacks put runners on the corners with no outs on a double by Jean Segura and Michael Bourn’s bunt single. However, Segura was caught in a rundown between third and home, and Colon struck out Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb to get out of the inning.

Colon then stranded Diamondbacks in scoring position in the second, fourth and fifth innings.

NOTES: The Mets seemingly traded for Carlos Gomez last year for Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler, but the deal fell through on a medical issue. Earlier in the day, Gomez was designated for assignment by the Astros. The Mets, needing a right-handed hitter and speed, said they would keep an open mind on going after Gomez again. … T.J. Rivera started at third and got his first career hit, a single to center leading off the tenth. … The Diamondbacks stole four more bases and have nine in the two games. … Jeurys Familia pitched two innings for the first time this season. He threw 38 pitches and will likely not be available Thursday. … Neil Walker had two more hits and has 28 in his last 14 games.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 07

What If The Mets Signed Alex Rodriguez In 2000?

Alex Rodriguez’s career has less than a week remaining following today’s announcement he will stop playing Friday to become an adviser/instructor for the team with whom he fought, embarrassed and will pay him $27 million to walk away.

Whatever you think of Rodriguez – he’s a polarizing figure both ways – I will always attach two words to his career: “What if?”

RODRIGUEZ: What if? (AP)

RODRIGUEZ: What if? (AP)

What if he didn’t use PEDs? What if he never left Seattle? What if he went to Boston instead of the Yankees? What if he wasn’t such a distraction off the field? What if he didn’t break down physically at the end?

Regarding the Mets, I wonder “what if Rodriguez signed with them instead of Texas after the 2000 World Series?”

It was the winter of that year and the Mets were among a handful of teams interested in signing Rodriguez. Some had him as the front-runner. The Mets’ GM at the time, Steve Phillips, cited several factors in backing away, including reportedly a refusal to meet Rodriguez’s non-salaried demands of a private plane and luxury box; an office with four employees in Shea Stadium; and a billboard presence.

Phillips made a point of saying he wasn’t going to turn the Mets into a “24-plus-one-roster” and destroy the chemistry of the team. Then, of course, there was his salary. The Mets were willing to go over $120 million, which is what Cleveland’s Manny Ramirez signed for with Boston that year.

However, the Rangers’ ten-year, $252-million contract was beyond comprehension.

What if the Mets were willing to give Rodriguez what he wanted? What if?

The Mets were coming off a World Series appearance and obviously a good team. Adding Rodriguez to a lineup that already included Mike Piazza could have devastated the National League, and it wouldn’t have been hard to envision another World Series. Maybe two. Maybe more.

If that was the case, might Bobby Valentine survived, and in doing so, the Mets avoided the parade of Art Howe, Willie Randolph, Jerry Manuel and now Terry Collins?

Would we have ever seen the Sandy Alderson era?

With Piazza and Rodriguez hitting back-to-back, how many more homers could each have hit having the other for protection?

In 2000, the Mets were nine years away from moving into Citi Field. If they signed Rodriguez, would that have delayed or sped up the plans for Citi Field, which hit the drawing board in December of 2001?

On the field, what would Rodriguez have prevented or enabled the Mets to do?

For one thing, signing Rodriguez would have delayed bringing up Jose Reyes, unless they were intent on playing him at second base. They certainly would have had no use for Kaz Matsui with Rodriguez at shortstop.

Then again, if the Mets’ thinking at the time were to move Reyes to third, would that have delayed the arrival of David Wright?

The Mets went back to the playoffs in 2006, but how far might they have gone with an infield – from third to first – of Wright, Rodriguez, Reyes and Carlos Delgado?

With Rodriguez, would the Mets have been in position to go after Delgado and Carlos Beltran? As pricey as Rodriguez’s contract was, if his presence put the Mets in the playoffs several times, how would this have impacted the Wilpon’s financial situation?

Reyes, Rodriguez, Wright, Delgado and Beltran would have comprised a formidable offense, and if they still added Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, then Johan Santana, could the Mets have been a dynasty in the 2000s?

There are no guarantees in sports, but it’s fun to speculate how different things might have been. Mets’ history and overall baseball history would surely have changed had Rodriguez ended up in Shea Stadium during the winter of 2000.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 03

Three Mets’ Storylines: Cespedes Goes From Golf Course To DL

With how the Mets played Wednesday, it’s as if they fell out of an Ugly Tree and hit every branch on the way down. The thud at the end was the sound of Yoenis Cespedes landing on the disabled list with a strained right quad, a move that should have been made weeks ago.

The Mets were counting on the combination of Cespedes and Jay Bruce jumpstarting their stagnant offense, but they went a combined 1-for-9 with three strikeouts in a 9-5 loss at Yankee Stadium, including 0-for-4 with RISP. The number I don’t have is what Cespedes shot during his 18 holes earlier in the day.

CESPEDES: Goes on DL ... finally. (AP)

CESPEDES: Goes on DL … finally. (AP)

Manager Terry Collins said prior to the game he was OK with Cespedes playing golf the day of a game despite the Mets’ efforts to keep him off his feet and preserve his energy since the All-Star break.

“Was he running on the course or was he walking? Did he ride a cart or was he jogging?” Collins told reporters “I don’t have any problem with it.”

This wasn’t the first time Cespedes’ penchant for golfing had been an issue. Cespedes golfed the day of Game 4 of the NLCS, then left the game with a shoulder injury. Collins didn’t have a problem with it then, either.

Collins and the Mets mishandled Cespedes’ injury from the beginning. The first mistake was playing him out of position in center. The injury occurred in early July when Cespedes misplayed a ball hit over his head and landed awkwardly.

Sure, it could have happened in left, but what happened later is where the Mets blew it. The Mets didn’t put him on the DL at the time and opted to wait until after the All-Star break, but did nothing when it was clear Cespedes was hurting.

The Mets weren’t hitting, but hoped Cespedes would run into a pitch, like he did against St. Louis, but that moment was lost in Jeurys Familia‘s first blown save.

Collins pointed to these five DH games as a chance to use Cespedes’ bat and keep him off the field. So, what did Collins do? He foolishly used him as a pinch-hitter Tuesday and Cespedes aggravated the quad with an awkward swing.

After Tuesday’s game, Cespedes said he felt something, so he did the responsible thing and played golf Wednesday – with the photos on the Internet – and was given a pass by Collins.

Others though different.

“You’re being rested for a reason,” said SNY analyst Nelson Figueroa. “When they are trying to give you time off, you shouldn’t be on a golf course.”

Added Bobby Valentine: “He should be worried about his RBI’s not his handicap. He’s a paid professional in one sport. … He’s in New York, he shouldn’t do it.”

Whether he used a cart or not is irrelevant. When you play 18 holes you’re still spending a lot of time on your feet and your legs get tired. Then to play a baseball game later is draining.

“I think the best option is just rest, about 10 days or so,” Cespedes told reporters through an interpreter. “Because if I continue playing hurt, I’m never going to recover.”

Too bad Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who brought up Brandon Nimmo to replace Cespedes, couldn’t figure that out weeks ago.

Cespedes injury was clearly the story of the night and will continue to be for a long time.

The other storylines were Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira being hit by a Steven Matz pitch to almost ignite a brawl, then getting in the head of reliever Hansel Robles. That came after the news Lucas Duda had a setback in his back rehab and will probably be lost for the rest of the season.

TEIXEIRA vs. METS PITCHERS:  Matz had a rough start, giving up six runs in six innings, including a homer by Teixeira. The damage was done in the first two innings, but Matz regrouped to retire 12 of the final 13 batters he faced.

The one he didn’t was Teixeira, who was plunked on the leg. It was clear Matz wasn’t throwing at Teixeira, because he immediately turned his back to the plate. When a pitcher intentionally hits a batter he doesn’t turn his back because he doesn’t want to give the hitter a free run at him.

Collins said there was no intent.

“We know Steven Matz wasn’t throwing at anybody,” Collins said. “If his command is that good we wouldn’t have been behind 6-3.”

Even so, to Teixeira perception was reality.

“I know Matz is a good kid,” Teixeira said. “`I’ve talked to him a few times. But listen, when you hit a home run and the next pitch is not even close and hits you it just looks bad. So I just told him, I didn’t appreciate it.”

And, Robles didn’t appreciate Teixeira when the Yankees blew open the game in the seventh inning. When Teixeira was on second, Robles became incensed because he thought he was stealing signs. Robles became angrier when Teixeira mocked him, even to the point where he laughed and pretended to give a set of signs.

“I’ve never gotten inside someone’s head by standing there,” Teixeira said. “After three or four pitches, I realize he’s staring at me. I was trying to have some fun with him. If you think I have your signs, then change your signs.”

Collins conceded Teixeira wasn’t doing anything, but Robles was still upset.

“I think he was trying to pick up signs,” Robles said. “That’s not the way you play baseball. … Just play baseball, you don’t need to pick up signs.”

DUDA HAS SETBACK:  Duda, who had been on the DL since May 23 with a stress fracture in his lower back, was still feeling discomfort and was re-examined by Los Angeles-based orthopedic surgeon Robert Watkins, who suggested 30 days rest. After that, figuring another two to three weeks of rehab, then you’re talking the end of the season.

Duda is making $6.75 million this year. There’s a good chance the Mets will non-tender him in December. The clear option is to bring back James Loney next season, but Alderson said it is possible Michael Conforto or Bruce might be tested at first.

Yeah, that will work.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 02

Three Mets’ Storylines: Welcome Jay Bruce

The reception was cordial and polite – reserved actually, as if the crowd was guarded about their expectations – when Jay Bruce went to the plate for the first time Tuesday night in a Mets uniform. You might even say it was business as usual, because after all, the trade that brought him to New York from Cincinnati has been brewing for a long time.

“I feel like I’ve been getting traded to the Mets for over a year now,” Bruce told reporters in his introductory press conference prior to Tuesday’s 7-1 victory over the Yankees. “You never know what’s going to happen until it actually happens. Last year there was some crazy stuff during the deadline. I try not to jump to conclusions or assume anything. So I waited until I got the call.

“And when it happened, I was very, very excited.”

DE AZA: Home run swing. (AP)

DE AZA: Home run swing. (AP)

Bruce joins the Mets as the NL leader in RBI with 80 built on a .360 average with RISP. Conversely, the Mets are last in the majors with a .205 average with RISP. Bruce had an uneventful 0-for-4 as he flied out to left in the first; grounded out to first in the fourth; and struck out looking in the sixth and seventh.

It might have been jitters, but no worries on the night. The trade was the right move and the Mets will be beneficiaries soon enough.

“I know he was nervous, even though he’s an established star in the big leagues and is trying to fit in,” manager Terry Collins said.

As expected, Bruce’s first game was the primary storyline. Here are the other two.

DE AZA SHOULD GET SHOT IN CENTER: When the Mets signed Alejandro De Aza – prior to signing Yoenis Cespedes – they did so with the intent of platooning him with Juan Lagares. But, with Lagares on the DL – where Cespedes should be – why are the Mets still in a funk about who can play center field?

After a slow start and was on the brink of being released, De Aza started getting more playing time and since July is batting .342, including a two-run homer Tuesday night.

“I just want to keep working and help the team win,” De Aza said. “I’ve been working hard in the cages to shorten up my swing.”

THE MYSTERIOUS MIND OF COLLINS: Jacob deGrom was superb, but what I will take out of this game most – outside of Bruce’s debut – was Collins’ decision to pinch-hit Cespedes for De Aza in the seventh.

The Mets were up by five at the time, so why bat for the player who homered and is your best defensive center fielder? Cespedes’ RBI infield single was a moot point and foolish risk.

“I just wanted to get him an at-bat,” said Collins, as if Cespedes would forget how to hit before starting as the DH Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.

“I felt a little discomfort running down the line,” Cespedes said. “But once I got back in the dugout it felt better.”

No, Cespedes didn’t get hurt, but what if he reinjured his strained quad? Why take that chance with the game seemingly out of reach?

Sometimes, Collins makes me scratch my head and wonder. Other times he makes my want to throw a shoe at the TV.

Please follow me on Twitter