Tagged: Bartolo Colon

Big Sexy Returns and Mets Fall in 12 Innings To Braves

By Paul DiSclafani

With all the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day in the rear-view mirror, the Mets and their fans were looking forward to welcoming back one of their most popular players in recent years, the one they call “Big Sexy”, the ageless Bartolo Colon.  Unfortunately, they didn’t anticipate having to wait through eight pitchers and 12 innings as the Mets (1-1) lose their first game of the year, 3-1 to the Braves.

Rafael Montero (L, 0-1), the seventh pitcher for the Mets, continues to defy logic as he just simply can’t get out major league hitters.  Montero, once the jewel of the Mets minor league pitching arms, has not proven he can pitch at this level.  Time and again, Montero dominates in AAA, only to fail here in the majors.

He worked out of trouble in the 11th, getting a double play with the go-ahead run on third, but couldn’t wiggle his way out of a bases loaded jam in the 12th.  Matt Kemp laced his third double of the night, knocking home two runs as the Braves beat them Mets, 3-1.

But this night started out as a love-fest between the fans, players and Colon.

As usual, Colon did not disappoint.  He pitched six shutout innings and held the Mets to just two hits, just like we figured he would.  Colon, who had been the virtual anchor of the Mets pitching staff in his three seasons in the Orange and Blue, leading the team in innings pitched every season.  He won 44 games.  Colon, who turns 44 in May, said that the Mets never offered him a contract in the off-season, so he signed a 1-year, $12M deal with the Braves.

Lost in the Colon hype was Jacob deGrom’s first start since September 1st of last season.  DeGrom was equally effective, striking out in the first three innings and giving up just two hits, but threw too many pitches and was gone after six shutout innings

While deGrom and Colon were dealing zeroes from the mound, everyone was anticipating Colon’s first at bat, which came in the third inning.  With a runner on second, Colon strode to the plate to a standing ovation from the Citi Field faithful.  DeGrom joked before the game about facing Colon as a batter, “I’m not going to buzz him or anything, I just don’t want him to get a hit off me.”  Although he did foul a pitch off, deGrom struck out his former teammate looking.  Colon did get a little bit of revenge in the sixth, making contact, but grounding out to shortstop.

Bruce got things going in the fifth with the Mets first home run of the year, bouncing a 2-2 pitch from Colon off the top railing of the right field fence and giving the Mets a 1-0 lead.

While deGrom continued to put up goose eggs, he had to bow out after six innings after throwing 95 pitches, departing with a 1-0 lead.  Hansel Robles, who pitched a scoreless inning on Opening Day and benefited from the Mets scoring six runs as he was the winning pitcher, just didn’t have it.  After getting Matt Kemp to tap a ball just two feet for the first out, Nick Markakis drilled a ball past Bruce in right center for a triple.  He then walked Brandon Phillips on four pitches and fell behind Adonis Garcia 1-0 before Garcia lined a double over Bruce’s head, tying the game 1-1 and putting runners on second and third.  With first base open, Robles hit Kurt Suzuki, the #8 hitter to load the bases.

That brought out Terry Collins, who called for Jerry Blevins to get them out of the jam.

Emilio Bonifacio then pinch hit for Colon, ending Big Sexy’s night with at least a no-decision.  Bonifacio worked Blevins to a full count, then struck out on a fastball for the second out.  Ender Inciarte then grounded out to Lucas Duda to end the threat and keep the game tied at 1-1.

Mets threatened in the bottom of the 10th after Bruce doubled and Lucas Duda was issued a no-pitch intentional walk, but reliever Jose Ramirez struck out Travis d’Arnaud and pinch hitter TY Kelly.

After Montero gave up two runs in the 12th to give the Braves the lead, Jimmie Johnson (W, 1-0) got the Mets to go quietly in their half of the 12th with his second scoreless inning of relief.  After handing the Mets the game on Opening Day, the Braves bullpen backed up Colon’s gem with six scoreless innings.

Matt Harvey makes his season debut on Thursday (weather permitting), returning from his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery against Jamie Garcia and the Braves in the rubber game.

POSITIVES:  Jay Bruce had three hits and with three walks on Opening Day has been in base six times in two games … Yoenis Cespedes was on base twice against Colon, a walk and a single … Travis d’Arnaud had one of the Mets hits … Lucas Duda received the Mets first “no-pitch” intentional walk in the 10th inning.  There were three no-pitch intentional walks in the game … In-between Robles and Monero, the bullpen put up four shutout innings with just two hits … Colon was 4-1 against the Mets in his career with a 2.81 ERA in five starts

NEGATIVES:  Pitchers hit .351 against deGrom last season … Jose Reyes was charged with the Mets first error of the year … d’Arnaud took a call strike three right down the middle of the plate in the 10th inning with Bruce on second and one out … Mets struck out 12 times …

Paul DiSclafani is a featured writer on “A View From The Bench”, which has been recognized by Major League baseball as one of the top 100 blog sites.

 

Mets Continue Opening Day Dominance, Beat Braves 6-0

By Paul DiSclafani

AP Photo / Julie Jacobson

The Mets continued to be the most successful franchise in baseball’s storied history as they beat the Braves 6-0, improving their record to an astounding 36-20 after Game 1 of their 56 seasons.  And would you believe they started 0-8 on Opening Day?  I’ll do the math for you, that’s 36-12 since 1970.  They have also won 21 of their last 24 Home Openers.

The Mets scored six times in the seventh inning on the Atlanta bullpen, specifically former Met Eric O’Flaherty.

In a season that is starting with a lot of hope, Noah Syndergaard took the mound for his first ever Opening Day start and promptly threw the first pitch of the season at 98 miles per hour, eventually striking out the leadoff batter, Ender Inciarte on three pitches.  Welcome to 2017, Mets fans.

Syndergaard was outstanding, striking out seven in his six innings, including five with his slider, which averaged 94.3 mph.  He scattered five hits and didn’t walk anyone, but left after 86 pitches with a blister which will cause the Mets to hold him back a day, making his next start Sunday.

“The blister popped during the last inning”, said manager Terry Collins, “He will dry it out in the next couple of days and be ready to go on Sunday.”

But while Syndergaard was putting up zeroes, so was Atlanta Ace Julio Teheran, keeping the Mets off the scoreboard, matching Syndergaard inning for inning.  Teheran has only allowed three earned runs to the Mets in 48 innings against them.

In the seventh, with the game still scoreless, the difference between the teams became apparent.  The Mets sent out Hansel Robles (W, 1-0), who needed only 13 pitches to get a 1-2-3 seventh.  The Braves sent out Ian Krol (L, 0-1), who could only get one out.

Syndergaard’s personal catcher, Rene Rivera, singled to open the inning, then Krol got an out when Wilmer Flores (batting for Syndergaard) grounded into a fielder’s choice to bring up the top of the order.  Flores then stole second and Krol walked Jose Reyes, his second walk of the game.  Asdrubal Cabrera then laced his third single of the game into center field, allowing Flores a chance to score.

Inciarte’s throw was in time to nail Flores, but catcher Tyler Flowers took the throw behind the plate and had to reach to tag Flores, who was ruled out by umpire Jeff Kellog.  Collins challenged the play and it was overruled as replay confirmed that Flores got his cleat on the plate before the tag.  Last year, Flores fractured a finger when he tried to score head first at the plate., learning his lesson and coming in feet first.  The Mets had the first run of the game, 1-0.

That was it for Krol, who was replaced by Chaz Roe, who promptly walked Yoenis Cespedes (0-4, 1W), loading the bases and got the quick hook, bringing former Met O’Flaherty to the mound.  And just as he did as a Met, O’Flaherty couldn’t get the job done.  Curtis Granderson greeted O’Flaherty with a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Reyes and giving the Mets a 2-0 lead.

After a wild-pitch moved Cabrera and Cespedes up a base, O’Flaherty walked Neil Walker to load the bases and followed that up with a five pitch walk to Jay Bruce (who walked three times) to force in a run, giving the Mets a 3-0 lead.  Time for another pitcher?  Not yet.

O’Flaherty got ahead of Lucas Duda 0-1, but Duda laced a bases clearing double over Inciarte’s head in center and the Mets had broken the game open, 6-0.  It took the Braves 35 minutes to get three outs in the seventh inning.

Starting the season at 1-0 is something that the Mets seem to have a good handle on.  Let’s see what happens in Game 2.

With an off-day tomorrow, former Met Bartolo Colon will make his first start for the Braves on Wednesday, facing Jacob deGrom.  DeGrom was shut down in September, having surgery to reposition the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow.  He is 3-3 lifetime with a 1.90 ERA in eight career starts against Atlanta.

POSITIVES:  Opening Day crowd was 44,384 … Braves had won six straight at Citi Field, sweeping the last two series in Queens … Mets fans gave Bartolo Colon a big ovation during the Opening Day ceremonies … Cabrera had three hits and scored a run … Bruce walked three times and scored a run … #5 starter Robert Gsellman struggled in the ninth inning, but got out of it as the Mets pulled off a strange double play to end the game … Met pitchers struck out 11 … Fernando Salas struck out two in his one inning of work in the eighth, giving the bullpen 3.0 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits and 4K … Braves had seven baserunners and didn’t steal a base

NEGATIVES:  Collins said that after an evaluation, P-Seth Lugo will miss a couple of weeks … Guess the speed up rules didn’t apply, a game that was 0-0 after six innings still took 3:13 to finish 8 ½ innings …

Mets Sunday Brunch 11/13/16: Thanks for Everything, Big Sexy! Now Let’s Go Out and Get Back Yo…

By Paul DiSclafani:

mets sunday brunch2Big Sexy is headed to Atlanta to try to win 11 more games so he can have the record for the most wins by a Dominican-born player (244). And if he can eke out two more and get to 13 wins, he can best Dennis Martinez with the most wins by a Latin born player (246). I understand and respect that.  And if the rebuilding Braves want to invest $12.5 million in the 43 (going on 44) year old Colon, so be it.

For everything that Colon is and was to the Mets these past three years, they were never going to pay him $12 million dollars for one more year of it. In 2016, he was more than a temporary starter, more than an insurance policy and more than the plucky comic relief.  He was a player that made a difference on this team.

He was the heart and soul of the Mets in 2016. While all else was collapsing around him, Bartolo leaned over and offered his teammates a ride on his back.  He would lead them through the muck and mire and get them into the Wild Card game.

Even if Colon accepted less money to return to the Mets, he could see the writing on the wall. Not because his career is dwindling – hell, he won 15 games – but because the Mets pitching depth was not going to offer him a starting position for the entire season.  The emergence of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman sealed his role on this pitching staff for 2017 to a spot starter and long reliever.

With Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom all poised to rejoin Noah Syndergaard in the rotation come February, where would that leave Bart now that Lugo and Gsellman proved they are ready to step in if there is a need?

Lugo (5-2, 2.67 ERA in 17 appearances and 8 starts) and Gsellman (4-2, 2.42 in 8 appearances and 7 starts) stepped into the major leagues in the middle of a pennant race, proving they have the chops and deserve to be on a major league mound in New York, unlike Rafael Montero.  We keep hearing things about Montero that just doesn’t translate to the Major Leagues.  Montero is 43-29 in the minors with a 3.29 ERA, but just 1-5 during three seasons with the big club and pitching to a 5.15 ERA.

The Human Highlight Reel may be gone to the Braves, but during his three seasons here in New York, his statistics were largely ignored because of his entertainment value. He was one of us, he even looked like one of us.  Yet year after year, he performed over expectations and was the steady hand that calmed the ship.  And yeah, he made us smile all the time.  Maybe that was because he was smiling all the time.  He made baseball fun again.

And if you are lucky enough to have tickets to Opening Day in 2017 on April 3rd at Citi Field, make sure you get there early so you can thank Bartolo Colon, who will be wearing an Atlanta Braves jersey, during the pre-game ceremonies.  I can’t think of any Mets player more deserving than Big Sexy.

MORE METS CONNECTIONS FOR THE BRAVES

The Braves continue to snatch up former Met pitchers as R.A. Dickey lands in Atlanta. One day before announcing they were going to sign the Bartolo Colon, the Braves added the former CY Young winning knuckleballer.  They now have the two oldest starters in the major leagues with Dickey (42) and Colon (43).  Only one other team in major league history has ever had two pitchers at least 42 years old make a start; the 1981 Atlanta Braves, with Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry.

Both Dickey (with the Mets in 2012) and Colon (with the Angels in 2005) are former CY Young winners.

YO, JUST PAY THE MAN

Now that the Mets trimmed Colon’s $7.25M salary and Neil Walker is not expected to accept the Mets $17.2M qualifying offer, why not use that money and go out and sign Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $125M contract? Those savings alone just about get you the first year of Yo for free, doesn’t it?  Throw in the $13M you will get back when you trade Jay Bruce somewhere (anywhere) and the insurance money from David Wright’s back injury (he’s not coming back, folks, let’s face it) and this deal is a no brainer.

But is it going to be enough? What if the Yankees drop $150 for four or $175 for five years, or someone else approaches the $200M plateau for six or seven years?

Sandy Alderson and the front office need to grab Cespedes right now and give them their best offer, no fooling around. No offering three years and $90M and asking them to come back to the table if they get a better offer.

Of course they are going to get a better offer. That’s why they need to let Cespedes know how much he means to them and how they are going to invest in him because they believe in him.  He is going to get his money no matter what, so he needs to know that the Mets need and love him.

Last year, the Mets were concerned that they hadn’t seen enough of Cespedes to know what type of player he really is and were reluctant to offer him a long-term deal.  Now they know – he is a game changer, he plays hurt and he makes everyone around him play better.

Since he joined the Mets on August 1, 2015, the Mets are 32 games over .500 when he is in the lineup (106-74) and just 18-23 when he isn’t. Need I say more?

REBUILD THE BULLPEN

Jeurys Familia is going to face a long suspension for domestic abuse, and rightfully so. It doesn’t matter if his spouse decides against pressing charges.  There is no place for that kind of behavior in Major League Baseball, period.

That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve his day in court (if that ever come to fruition) and he should return to his job when his suspension is over, why not? He is a flawed human being, just like you and me, but he crossed a line.

So what does that mean to the Mets bullpen? Looks like they will have to wait and see about Cespedes to see if there is enough money to make a run at Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon.  What about Aroldis Chapman, you say?  Not a chance.  Could you imagine the backlash with three of the top domestic abusers in the game in the same clubhouse in Reyes, Familia and Chapman?

Both the Cubs and Indians gave the rest of baseball the blueprint to playoff success in how they used their bullpens. Looks like it is time for the Mets to go out and get themselves another closer so they don’t have to burn one out by the middle of July.

CUBS WIN, CUBS WIN!

I can’t say I was rooting for the Cubs to break their streak. Misery loves company, right?  But the night they beat the Dodgers in the NLCS changed everything for me.

With a five run lead going into the ninth inning, the story was no longer on the field, it was in the stands. As the cameras were panning around and trying to capture the feel for what was going on as the fans anticipated that final out, you got a chance to look into their eyes and their souls.

You could feel the emotion through their tears. There was absolute joy and maybe disbelief that this was not only possible, but was actually happening.  The thought of how many of those fans were not only thinking about that moment, but also thinking about their fathers or their grandfathers and wishing they could share that moment with them.

As Mets fans, I believe we share a common bond with these long-suffering fans. Winning is not a birth right with us, it is a joy to behold and a true treasure.  I’ve always told my kids that the Mets don’t win a lot of the time, but when they do – ho boy!  It means something and it is true joy.

That’s what I saw that night in the faces of those Chicago Cubs fans, pure joy and a sense of relief.

So congratulations to the Cubbies and their fans. Enjoy this moment because as we both know, nothing in baseball is ever guaranteed year after year.

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at “A View From the Bench”, an official affiliate of MLB.com.  “A View from the Bench” is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

They’re Back! Mets Clinch NL Wild Card With 27-12 Finish

Paul DiSclafani:

AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson

AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson

Come on, raise your hand if you thought this was even possible in the middle of August?

The Mets (87-74) get a chance to defend their National League Championship crown after beating the Phillies 5-3 and clinching the top Wild Card spot. They will now host the Wild-Card game on Wednesday night at Citi Field against either the St. Louis Cardinals or the San Francisco Giants.  The Wild-Card winner will head to Chicago to play the 100+ win Cubs in the best of five National League Divisional Series.

On August 20th, the Mets were sitting at 60-62 and had just lost the first two games of a four game series against the Giants in San Francisco.  They were 4.5 games behind the Cardinals for the final Wild-Card spot and both the Pirates and Marlins were ahead of them.  They were 7.5 games behind the Giants (68-55), who were in First Place in the NL West at the time, ahead of the Dodgers by a game.

Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard won the final two games to split the Giants series, then the Mets went into St. Louis and won two out of three. The Mets went on to win 9 of 11 to close out what started out to be a miserable August, then posted a 17-10 September.  They only needed one win in October to make up almost eight games in the standings.  They had a major league best 27-12 over that period of time.

Now they Mets face a one game playoff for the right to play in the NLDS, setting up a rematch with the Cubs, whom they swept in the NLCS last year.

This is only the second time in franchise history that the Mets were able to get to the post season in consecutive seasons. In 1999 and 2000, they lost in the NLCS to the Braves in 1999, then lost to the Yankees in the 2000 World Series.

Bartolo Colon (15-8) gets the clinching win, allowing just two runs and five hits in his five innings. Colon struck out four of the first eight Phillies he faced and will finish with the most wins on the team this season.

When asked about being the winning pitcher in the clincher, the 43 year-old Colon said, “This is very meaningful for me. It’s hard for me to believe I’m here at this age.”

Should the Mets advance to the NLDS against Chicago, Colon will most likely start the series. Colon was used exclusively out of the bullpen in the 2015 post season as Matt Harvey, Syndergard,  Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz made all the starts.  Now if the Mets expect to go deep into this post season, it will be Colon and Syndergaard sharing the bulk of the load.

James Loney put the Mets ahead for good with his 9th home run, a two-run shot in the 6th inning to make it 4-2.

Jeurys Familia got his franchise record 51st save of the season.

Sunday’s regular season finale will see most of the regulars getting the day off including Wednesday’s starter, Noah Syndergaard. There was talk Syndergaard might pitch a few innings, but that is not going to happen.

POSITIVES: Mets Bullpen put up 22 2/3 scoreless innings until Darin Ruf hit a home run in the 8th inning … Curtis Granderson is 12-23 this week …  Addison Reed got his 40th “hold” and finished the regular season with a 1.97 ERA …

NEGATIVES: Nah, not today!

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at “A View From the Bench”, an official affiliate of MLB.com.  “A View from the Bench” is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

Colon Outduels Arrieta as Mets Beat Cubs Again, 4-3

By Paul DiSclafani:

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

What is going on out there in Flushing?

The Mets (43-37) got to Chicago ace Jake Arrieta early and held on for their third straight win against the NL Central leaders, 4-3. Unbelievably, the Mets go for the sweep on Sunday afternoon.

When the Mets limped home from Washington DC after being swept by the Nationals on Wednesday, they were facing an 11 game home stand starting with four games against the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs. In third place and now six games behind the Nationals, fans on Social Media were jumping off the bandwagon and already looking forward to the opening of NFL training camps.

Instead of throwing in the towel against the formidable Cubs, who not only had beaten the Mets nine straight since 2014 but had a chip on their shoulder and something to prove after being swept by the Mets in the NLCS, they regrouped and circled the wagons.

“You can believe you can compete, but then when you go out and do it, it means a lot,” manager Terry Collins said about the importance of playing well in this series against the Cubs. Thursday they managed a comeback 4-3 win, Friday they hit five home runs in a 10-2 drubbing and tonight they beat Chicago’s Ace, who was 12-2.

“The confidence that it sends throughout the clubhouse, there is no other way to do it except to go out there and beat one of the real good teams and we’ve done that and we want to finish it off tomorrow.”

Just as they did in Game 2 of the NLCS, the Mets got a first inning, 2-run home run from their second baseman just inside the right field foul pole, only this time it was Neil Walker giving the Mets an early 2-0 lead with his 15th home run of the year.  Arrieta then gave up a double to Yoenis Cespedes, then settled down to get the next 10 in a row.

Starter Bartolo Colon cruised through the first three innings without allowing a hit, but Kris Bryant led off the fourth with a single right before Anthony Rizzo launched a 423 foot shot to center field to tie the game at 2-2.

In the Mets half of the fourth with one out, Asdrubal Cabrera broke through the shift with a base hit and after Wilmer Flores popped out, Arrieta walked Alejandro Del Aza, moving Cabrera to second with two outs. That brought up Travis d’Arnaud who took a strike, then blooped the next pitch into nowhere man’s land over second base and just out of the reach of second baseman Javier Baez.  De Aza scored all the way from first behind Cabrera to give the Mets a 4-2 lead.

Colon (W, 7-4) was magnificent the rest of the way, allowing just two more hits and departing in the sixth with the 4-2 lead. “Sometimes he escapes words,” said Collins after the game about Colon.  “He just never ceases to amaze you.”  Of course, the Cubs were not going to go quietly.

Eric Goeddel got the first two outs in the seventh, but Ben Zobrist made it 4-3 on the first pitch he saw with a home run to right. That brought in Jerry Blevins who got ahead of Jason Heyward 0-2, then walked him, prompting Collins to go to Addison Reed a little early to face Kris Bryant.

“I have all the confidence in the world in Addison,” Collins said about bringing Reed in before the eighth inning. “You just gotta trust him.  You trust guys that can throw strikes, because hitting is hard.  If you can locate and you can make your pitch and a guy gets a hit, you tip your hat.  And that’s what Addison has done ever since he’s been here.  He just makes pitches.  There is a certain stage in the game where you think, ‘Hey, this is where we are going to win the game or lose the game’, and I thought we needed to get Bryant out and I thought Addy was the guy to do it.”

Reed got ahead of Bryant 1-2, but a wild pitch moved Heyward into scoring position. Reed then bore down and got Bryant swinging to end the inning.  Back in his more familiar position in the eighth, Reed allowed a leadoff single to Rizzo, then struck out the next three – Wilson Contreras, Miguel Montero and Addison Russell, all flailing at strike three.

That set up Jeurys Familia to try and nail down the save. Unlike Friday night when the Cubs loaded the bases, Familia needed just nine pitches to secure his 28th save of the season and his 44th consecutive regular season save.

Arrieta (L, 12-3) had won his first 12 decisions this year and has now lost three of his last six starts. He allowed four earned runs and eight hits in just 5 1/3 innings and struggled with a 35-pitch first inning. Arrieta, the reigning CY Young Award winner in the NL, had not lost a game on the road since May of last year (19-0 in 24 starts).

Noah Syndergaard (8-3) goes for the sweep on Sunday against Jon Lester (9-3). Matt Harvey beat Lester in the NLCS Opener last year and Syndergaard beat Arrieta in Game 2.

POSITIVES: Loney made a nice 3-3-6 DP in the third … Walker with 15 home runs, is just one shy of his total for all of 2015 … Colon has not given up more than 2 earned runs in a game since May 18 … Juan Lagares got into the game, but hit into a double play in the sixth … Curtis Granderson could return to the lineup on Sunday … Brandon Nimmo led off again with a walk and another hit … d’Arnaud was 2-3 with 2 RBI.

NEGATIVES: Mets had eight hits against Arrieta, but failed to get a base runner after he left them game with one out in the sixth … Loney and Flores were both 0-4

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at “A View From the Bench”, an official affiliate of MLB.com.  “A View from the Bench” is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

Mets Pound Gio And The Nats 7-1; Duda to the DL – Could Miss Six Weeks

By Paul DiSclafani:

Cespedes launches number 15 AP Photo / Alex Brandon

Cespedes launches number 15
AP Photo / Alex Brandon

The Mets (26-18) hit three home runs off Nats starter Gio Gonzalez to win their fourth straight game and pull to just one-half game of Washington, 7-1. The Nationals (27-18) took two of three last week at Citi Field as Gonzalez threw seven shutout innings in a 7-1 win over Bartolo Colon.  What a difference a week makes.

This time it was Colon (W, 4-3) who was the master, following up his miserable performance last week where he walked five and hit a batter with seven innings of five hit ball, walking just two.

Gonzalez (L, 3-2), who had gone 44 consecutive starts without giving up more than one home run, was  tagged for three dingers and charged with all seven runs.  He had a microscopic 0.97 ERA against the Mets in his last four starts. Gonzalez gave up a 3-run home run to David Wright in the third inning, when the Mets strung together six consecutive base runners to put up a five spot and erase a 1-0 deficit.  Then in the fifth, Yoenis Cespedes launched his 15th to right center followed two pitches later by Neil Walker’s 11th of the year.  It’s the seventh time the Mets have gone back-to-back this year already.

DUDA TO THE DL

Fresh off their weekend sweep of the Brewers, the Mets needed to make a statement against Washington. With all the talk about Matt Harvey’s confidence being shot, Jacob deGrom’s velocity being down and Colon being rocked in his last two starts, the Mets got more bad news when they learned Lucas Duda would miss significant time with a stress fracture in his lower back.  He could miss as much as six weeks.

“There’s no real timetable,” Manager Terry Collins said. “It’ll be a while. I guess there are some exercises he can do, but nothing baseball related for a while. We’re looking at a fairly long period before he’s going to be able to get back and do some baseball stuff.”

David Wright had a similar injury in 2011 and tried to play through it before it was diagnosed properly and he missed two months. He had words of encouragement for Duda, but didn’t sugarcoat it.

“You have to be conservative with it. You have to take your time with it,” Wright said. “You have to make sure that you’re meticulous with your rehab. It’s something where you’re talking about a bone being damaged. There’s going to be a time, if it was anything like mine, where you can’t do anything. You have to be very aware of your movements on a daily basis. You have to do things that keep that area stabilized so the bone can heal itself. And then, after that, is when the rehab comes into play. That’s when you really have to stay on top of it. It’s pretty boring. It’s a little long. It’s monotonous. But you have to stick with it because, as me being somewhat of a case study now, these things can kind of creep on you later in your career. And I felt like I did my rehab as good as I possibly could have.”

WHO’S ON FIRST?

So what is Plan B for the Mets? Eric Campbell made the start on Monday and Wilmer Flores is eligible to come off the disabled list on Friday.  The Mets are exploring other options, including using Michael Conforto and David Wright.  Conforto never played first base in a game, but has taken ground balls there in college.

“They always had me taking ground balls,” Conforto said about college. “They always had me make sure I was available in case there was an emergency situation, or if something wasn’t working out with one of our infielders. I was always taking ground balls at third, shortstop, first base. So I’ve been in there. I’ve practiced there. Just not a whole lot of game experience. … I’ll give it my best. I’ll do what I can to prepare myself for that if that becomes an option.”

Collins said he even approached The Captain, who of course agreed to do whatever is best for the team.

“I said that my entire career: Whatever this organization, whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll be on board as long as I can do it and can help,” Wright said. “With that being said, besides the handful of times that we played the shift, that’s about as many groundballs as I’ve ever taken on that side of the infield.”

Mets brought up career minor leaguer Ty Kelly, who has spent more than seven seasons in the minors, but whose .391 average at AAA is the best in all of professional baseball. Kelly plays all positions (except pitcher and catcher) and worked as a first baseman after being drafted by the Orioles in 2009.  Mets indicated that 2013 first round pick Dominic Smith, a 20-year old who was drafted out of high school and has only been at AA for two months, is not ready for the majors.

Bet the Mets wish they still had Kelly Johnson …

UP NEXT: The soap opera that is Matt Harvey will debut another chapter tomorrow as The Dark Knight tries to find himself after two straight disappointing starts, including the worst outing of his career last time against Steven Strasburg, when he gave up nine runs while recording just eight outs.  Harvey spoke about his frustration with ESPN, but he is not going to miss a start.  “For me, taking time off isn’t going to do anything.  I’m not a quitter.  I’m not going to just quit and put the ball down.”

Terry Collins poo-poo’d the notion of skipping Harvey against the Nationals tomorrow.

Nobody is more frustrated than him. He said, ‘I’m not backing away from this.’ A lot of guys would have taken that out. He had a shot to. He could have said, ‘I need to get away from this.’ But he didn’t. He just said, ‘I’ve got to get back out there and I’ve got to pitch. That’s the only way I’m going to get through this.’ I thought that was the most impressive part of it.”

POSITIVES: Six Mets had two hits each – Granderson, Lagares, Cespedes, Walker and Cabrera .. Colon turns 43 tomorrow – Happy Birthday, Big Sexy! … Wright’s home run in the third inning was the 86th of his career that put the Mets in the lead and his 240th as a Met.  He is just 12 behind Darryl Strawberry for the franchise record … Cespedes’ home run was his 32nd since he joined the Mets on 7/31/15, Matching Chris Davis and Khris Davis for the most in the majors since then …

“The Impossible Has Happened” – Bartolo Colon Goes Deep in San Diego

By Paul DiSclafani

bartolo home run appleNo single home run in baseball history has generated the Social Media buzz that Bartolo Colon’s did on May 7th, 2016.  This event may one day be remembered in infamy.

This video combines all four memorable calls:  Gary Cohen (the Mets TV announcer), Howie Rose (the Mets Radio Announcer), the Mets Spanish Broadcast team and the San Diego Padres announcers.  But MLB has put together the video so that each call stands alone with a different video angle associated with it, making it even more memorable.  You can see it on the Mets Facebook page (unless you don’t have a Facebook account).

SEE THE MLB VIDEO HERE

Talk about, as President George Bush once put it, “Shock and Awe”, this was not only all of that, but brought a smile to everyone’s face.  And that is what Bartolo Colon has done for not only baseball, but all sports, bring a smile to the face of his teammates and, more importantly, the fans.

Colon always seems like he is out there having a good time, and 17 days shy of his 43rd birthday, why shouldn’t he?  He plays the game the way any true baseball fan would – with enthusiasm and enjoyment.  That’s why every Mets fan loves him.  He is one of us.  He even looks like most of us.  That’s why his nickname of “Big Sexy” is so perfect for him.

Terry Collins was the only Met in the dugout when Colon completed his record 30.6 second trot around the bases.  Curtis Granderson, walking to the plate as the next hitter and David Wright, in the on-deck circle, didn’t know all their teammates had vacated the dugout into the tunnel as if they were five year-olds at a surprise birthday party when the birthday boy arrived.

When asked about his first thought when the ball landed 365 feet and over the left field fence, Collins simply said, “Oh My God, he hit a home run.” We all know he’s an entertaining guy at home plate.  So to have him ambush something like that and hit a homer, it’s pretty special.”

Colon himself could hardly put it into words – even through his interpreter.  “I don’t even know how to explain it,” Colon told a group of reporters after the game. “Once I hit it, I knew it was gone.”

He added: “I think right now, this is the biggest moment of my career.” “Any time I see a fastball, I swing hard because I’m not a curveball hitter,” he said, disbelief coloring his words. “Once I hit it, I knew it was gone.”

When told that he was the oldest MLB player to hit his first home run, Colon said “It means a lot, and it’s something that I still can’t believe until now.  It means a lot.”

The players and coaches all know how hard Colon has worked on his hitting and although the lasting image of a Bartolo Colon At Bat is him swinging himself out from under his batting helmet, Colon takes hitting seriously, as do all of the Mets pitchers.  As a group, the Mets starters all can handle the bat.  After all, there is not DH, so they have to be productive and be able to help themselves.  There was talk in Spring Training that Colon had hit a batting practice home run, but no video evidence to back up his claim.  But his teammates all agree that he takes BP seriously and has hit a few in major league ballparks.

Kevin Plaweski, the Mets backup catcher, was on second base ahead of the Colon home run.  “I almost missed third base, I was so excited,” Plawecki said.  “We all had a hunch that if he were to run into one, it was going to go.  “I was just kind of in awe about the whole thing.”

“It’s one of those things where you come to the ballpark never knowing what you’re going to see,” Captain David Wright said after the game. “And you saw it.”

The Wall Street Journal, that bastion of Sports journalism, said in an article by Andrew Beaton:  “This wasn’t a dream. Or an elaborate Internet hoax. It really happened.  Bartolo Colon, the 42-year-old folk hero pitcher for the New York Mets, hit a home run.”

There were many famous radio / TV calls in sports history.  Jack Buck’s call of Dodger Kirk Gibson’s “Limp-Off” Home run in the World Series, “I can’t believe what I just saw!”; Howard Cosell’s famous “Down goes Frazier, Down goes Frazier”; Bob Murphy’s “It get’s by Buckner!”; Russ Hodges, “The Giants win the Pennant!”; Al Michael’s “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”.  The list goes on and on.

Maybe Gary Cohen’s call should be on the list.  The sheer amazement in his description as the ball left the bat (He drives one, deep left field.  Back goes Upton, back near the wall..) and the crack in his voice as it lands in the stands during is signature “It’s outta here” home run.  Even the giggle from Ron Darling in the background is classic as he tries to stay professional and not step on Cohen’s call.  “Bartolo has done it!  The impossible has happened!!”

After throwing the pitch that led to hitting the Colon home run, Padres pitcher James Shields, who will be forever linked to Colon as the answer to a trivia question (like Braves pitcher Tom House catching Hank Aaron’s 715th home run in the Atlanta bullpen – now you know how old I am) would not make the same mistake twice, respecting Big Sexy enough to strike him out on a curve ball.  After all, Colon did say he can’t hit a curveball.

Now opposing pitchers have a book on how to pitch to Bartolo Colon.  Imagine that…

Mets Ready to Raise Their NL Championship Flag as Phillies Come Into Town

By Paul DiSclafani

Citi fieldThe Mets (1-1) take on the Philadelphia Phillies (0-3) in the opener of the three-game series beginning on Friday night at Citi Field, where they will celebrate their 2015 National League Championship season with the raising of the NL Pennant and receiving their NL Championship rings.

With a rare two days off following Noah Syndergaard’s dominant performance against the Royals (6 innings, 2 hits, 9K, 0 runs) on Tuesday afternoon, helping them gain a split against the World Champs, the Mets take on a Phillie squad that got swept by the Cincinnati Reds in their opening series. The Reds (64 wins) and the Phillies (63 wins) posted the two worst records in all of baseball in 2015.

The Mets went 14-5 against the Phillies in 2015 and scored the most runs against them (111) than any other team. The Mets averaged almost 6 runs per game against the Phils (5.84).

With all the pomp and circumstance expected for the Mets 55th Opening Day on Friday afternoon, the Mets have compiled a league best 33-21 in home openers, including a 2-0 win over the Phillies last year.

PITCHING MATCHUPS:

With the impending birth of pitcher Jacob deGrom’s first child hanging in the air, the Mets rotation is a little in flux. Manager Terry Collins announced that if deGrom is unavailable Bartolo Colon will get the start against Jerad Eickhoff (3-3, 2.65).  Eickhoff (part of the Cole Hamel trade last July) started 8 games for the Phillies in his rookie season in 2015 and struck out 49, walking 13 in his 51 innings.

DeGrom (14-8, 2.54), the 2014 NL Rookie Of The Year, had 205 K in his career high 191 innings last year. He did not have his best stuff against the Phillies in 2015, pitching just 16 innings in his three starts (1-0) and surrendering 21 hits and 8 earned runs.  He will be at Citi Field on Friday, but should he get the call from his wife, he will depart and head down to Florida for a few days.

The veteran Colon (14-13, 4.16) is penciled in as the fifth starter, and won on Opening Day last year in Washington, but he made a relief appearance in Kansas City on Sunday night. The 43 year-old Colon has always feasted on the Phillies, going 4-1 against them last year with a 2.81 ERA.

That leaves Matz for game 2 on Saturday night. Matz (4-0, 2.27) made just six starts for the Mets in 2015 regular season due to injuries (34K in 35 inn), but made three post season starts (one in each series) with mixed results.

Matt Harvey, the Opening Day starter in Kansas City on Sunday, would then start the series finale on Sunday afternoon.

The Phillies are scheduled to throw Vince Velasquez in Game 2. Velzaquez came over from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade in the off season.  The rookie started 7 games for the Astros last year (1-1, 4.37) and struck out 58 in 55.2 innings.

Jeremy Hellickson (0-0) started on Opening Day for the Phillies, throwing six innings with just three hits and one unearned run. He will start the series finale on Sunday afternoon.  Hellickson was 9-12 for the Diamondbacks in 27 starts last year.

WHO’S HOT

You couldn’t really use the word “hot” to describe any of the Mets batters after just two games. They managed just 13 hits against the Royals in the opening series and just two of them were for extra bases.  Michael Conforto drilled a double and Neil Walker hit the Mets lone Home Run.  Walker leads the team with 3 RBI and David Wright was on base four times (3 walks and a hit).

The Phils weren’t much better at the plate against the Reds in their 3-game disaster. They managed just 11 hits and four runs in the three games.  Freddy Galvis and rookie Maikel Franco each hit a HR and drove in 2 runs.

WHO’S NOT

Travis d’Arnaud is the only regular still looking for his first hit, going 0-6 against the Royals. Curtis Granderson is not that far behind him, going 1-8 and four strikeouts.

The Phils Odubel Herrera (1-6) and Peter Bourjos (0-7) helped the team to a .175 batting average coming into the series.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Looks like the best day, weather wise, might be on Sunday. The home opener will be cloudy and windy.  But it is Opening Day and that is usually a good day for the Mets.  You know, they did lose their first six opening day games and then eight of their first nine.  That means they are 31-13 since 1971.  This will be their 10th home Opener against the Phillies, the most against any franchise, breaking the tie against the Cardinals.  The Mets are 8-1 in home openers against the Phillies.

Want some more numbers? In home openers, the Mets are 10-6 in 1-run games and thrown 10 shutouts (including last year against the Phils) while being shut out just 3 times.

Mets are honoring long-time broadcaster Ralph Kiner with a pre-game tribute and unveil a Kiner logo on the left-field wall. I guess that now makes it a real Kiner’s Korner.  John Franco, Rusty Staub and Edgardo Alfonzo will be part of the NL Pennant banner raising ceremony and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will throw out the first pitch.

Mets Sunday Brunch 3/27/16: Spring Training is Way Too Long; Final Observations and Predictions

By Paul DiSclafani

mets sunday brunch2Remember how excited we were six weeks ago when we were counting down the days until pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training? Now we can’t wait for it to end.

After a long, cold winter, we here in the East are looking forward to short sleeves and sunshine. And when things started in Port St. Lucie for the Mets, that was what we got.  Only that was all we got.

We couldn’t find “games” on TV, and when they were televised, the recognizable names played just a few innings. Why was Jeurys Familia pitching in the fourth inning?

Of course, that’s what spring training is for, to get ready for the regular season. But I think that times have changed dramatically for baseball and to some degree most sports, when it comes to spring training / training camp / exhibition season.

Do we really need seven weeks of spring training in 2016? Maybe in 1952 when players had to work in the fields and dig ditches (do people still dig ditches by hand?) in the off-season, they needed seven weeks of spring training to get back into baseball shape.  But in 2016?

Aren’t players that report to training camp already in-shape? Other than the Giant Behemoth in Boston, Pablo Sandoval, what players need Spring Training to actually get into physical shape?  Don’t they work out all year?  Did they all ditch their personal trainers to avoid steroid temptation?

I understand they need to “get their legs” and work on their control and timing, but Spring Training in baseball is starting to look like pre-season NFL football – almost unwatchable. Most of the times, players are being “protected”, or just trying not to get hurt.  It’s more like a showcase for the minor league players.

When exhibition games require a three-hour bus ride (oh, heavens!), most veterans stay home. What’s the point of playing 25-30 games and keeping track of the standings, when the players and coaches don’t take it seriously?  I understand the need to compile statistics so you can get a read on how an individual player may be performing.  But keeping standings on ESPN, including winning streaks and home / away records?  Isn’t everyone away?

How many times have you read that a pitcher was “just working on things”? And who are these guys wearing uniform numbers in the 80’s and 90’s that aren’t Turk Wendell?  Did you even know that the Mets have a kid outfielder named Travis Taijeron who has played in 17 games this spring (34 AB’s) and leads the team in RBI (10)?  Of course not, why would you?

The Mets have hit just 9 home runs as a team in their 20 games so far, and they came from nine different players, none of which wear #52. Does that really matter?  Maybe to fantasy players, but in the overall scheme of things, other than injuries, does anything that happens in spring training matter?  Exactly.

Remember how the Mets used to end their Spring training schedule? It used to be a game or two up the East Coast on their way home to NY. Or a few games at Shea Stadium before the season started.  Not anymore.

The Mets complete their Grapefruit schedule this week with 3 games in Florida, and then head out West on Thursday to play their final two games against the Cubbies, one in Arizona on Thursday and then the Spring finale on Friday in Las Vegas, before getting Saturday off.  Then another plane ride up to Kansas City for the season opener on Sunday night.

In a bizarre quirk to the schedule, the Mets and Royals have an off-day on Monday before concluding the season opening 2-game series, but the Mets are off on Wednesday and Thursday before the home opener against the Phillies on Friday. So the Mets will have three off-days before they have played three games.

While the pitchers are targeting their last appearance as their “final tune-up” before the season starts, I think we could have gotten away with just two weeks of games instead of four weeks. You know, if the veterans aren’t playing the entire game anyway, what good are you getting out of it by having minor-leaguers play against minor-leaguers in a major league game?

We were all waiting with bated breath for pitchers and catchers to begin reporting in the middle of February so we could begin washing the sour taste out of our mouths after losing the World Series to Kansas City in November. I’m over it by now, what about you?

SPRING TRAINING OBSERVATIONS:

Just a little concerned over the lack of power the Mets have shown in their 20 or so games. Not enough to raise any red flags, but Maikel Franco on the Phillies has 8 home runs on his own – and he has only 16 hits.  The Mets have hit only nine home runs as a team all spring … Other than Jenrry Mejia getting re-re-re-suspended, it has been a quiet camp … For those of you that care about this sort of thing, Daniel Murphy is hitting .243 this spring with the Nationals (9 for 37) and no home runs …Like what we’ve been hearing about Noah Syndergaard.  Can’t wait to see him in Game 2 of the season against the Royals.  Actually, can’t wait for the first pitch … Sorry to see Reuben Tejada go.  Looks like Matt Reynolds or (heaven forbid) Eric Campbell will take his spot on the roster.  Tejada is still staying in his hotel at Port St. Lucie (with his girlfriend and 9 month-old daughter)  and driving the 40-odd miles to the Cardinals training camp.  Looked odd in Cardinals red this week against the Mets, but he did make an error at short … The supposed fifth Beatle, I mean outfielder, Michael De Aza, is hitting over .400 so far in the spring with Cespedes not far behind at .394 …Hope that David Wright can thrive in the 2-hole this year and not worry about hitting 25 home runs anymore.  Also hope he is smart enough to understand that it is one thing to be able to play through the pain, but another thing to perform at a very high level on a team that is trying to get back to the World Series.  The Yankees never took Derek Jeter out of the lineup in his final year and maybe they should have.  Let’s hope we never have to make that decision with our Captain.

SOME PREDICTIONS FOR 2016:

Mets win 96 games and the NL East again. The Cubs and Dodgers crash and burn and don’t even make it back to the postseason.  Mets and Giants play in the NLCS, but Mets take it in seven and go on to face the Blue Jays.  Mets are World Champions, 4 games to two … Noah Syndergaard is the Cy Young award winner … The Yankees fail to make the post season and finish last in the AL East … Clayton Kershaw is a disaster for the Dodgers and the Nationals finish third behind the Marlins … Bartolo Colon hits a home run over the fence in Philadelphia … David Wright goes on the DL in July and never returns … Steven Matz is sent to the minors when Zack Wheeler returns because Colon is 12-2 … Cespedes breaks Mets team record of 41 home runs in a year, but still decides to opt-out of his contract …

See my complete 2016 Mets Preview by clicking here: Looking Ahead To The New Season

Mets Sunday Brunch 3/20/16 – Looking Ahead to The New Season

By Paul DiSclafani

mets sunday brunch2

It’s been a long time since that dreadful Monday morning, November 2nd, when we Mets fans woke up to the realization that the 2015 season was really over.  We still may not be over it, but I’m ready to move on.

On April 2nd,  we will be getting ready to defend our National League Championship pennant against those pesky Kansas City Royals, where our players will have to stand quietly while the Royals and their fans celebrate the raising of the 2015 World Championship banner in their gold and blue colors. Let’s hope that scene inspires the Mets to imagine what that will look and feel like in April of 2017, when the colors on that flag are orange and blue.

So with the full understanding that the result of these spring training games don’t mean a hill of beans, let’s take a deep breath and get ready for the 2016 season…

THE 2016 NEW YORK METS

The Mets are in a position coming into 2016 they don’t have a lot of experience in, being talked about as a front-runner. When they were World Champions in 1969, it was more of a joke than anything else and they certainly weren’t expected to even make it back to the playoffs.  It took 17 years to get another Championship, but the foundation for that dominant 1986 team was laid by the 1984 and 1985 teams.

Based on the domination of 1986, there was talk of a Dynasty in the spring of 1987 with veterans like Keith Hernandez and Gary Cater and young studs like Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, this team was going to dominate until the end of the decade. Of course, that team followed every other successful postseason Mets team before them, failing to make it back the next year.

And although the Mets had much success in the late 90’s with Bobby Valentine and Mike Piazza, making the postseason in consecutive years for the first time ever, they just couldn’t get over the hump and disappeared after losing the 2000 World Series to the Yankees.

Can we not even talk about Carlos Beltran taking that called third strike in 2006?

This spring somehow feels different, doesn’t it? There is a quiet confidence about this team, a low-key air of optimism that we’ve never experienced before.  For the first time in franchise history, the Mets don’t need to read their press clippings to find out how good they are.  They know.  The challenge for the Mets in 2016 though, is that everyone else knows it too.

The 1986 team that reported to Spring Training had a target on their back, but that was because everyone hated them and their arrogance. The target on the back of the 2016 Mets is out of respect.

STARTING ROTATION

If there is a better starting rotation in baseball, more power to them. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are top 10 pitchers in most baseball rankings and all three of them take the hill in Flushing.  No team this season is going to “miss” seeing one of them every series.  How many other teams can say that?

matt harvey 100615Although all had wonderful years in 2015, they are all going to be even batter.  Harvey now has a full year under his belt following his Tommy John surgery and has got his slider back.  He no longer has any doubt in his mind that “his next pitch might be his last” that most pitchers coming back from surgery experience.

DeGrom was dominant in 2015 before running out of gas in October, but he showed something in how he was able to pitch in the postseason without his best stuff. That might be more important than developing a “new” pitch or finding your fastball.  DeGrom showed that even at a young age, he can be a pitcher.

Charles Wenzelberg / NY Post

Charles Wenzelberg / NY Post

Syndergaard threw the only pitch that mattered in the World Series, throwing the first pitch of Game 3 at 98 MPH and right over the head of Alcides Escobar. It was the only game that the Mets won in the World Series.  After the game, he said:

“My intent on that pitch was to make them uncomfortable, and I feel like I did just that. I think in every postseason game that Escobar has played in, he’s swung at the first-pitch fastball. I didn’t think he would want to swing at that one. I mean, I certainly wasn’t trying to hit the guy, that’s for sure. I just didn’t want him getting too comfortable. If they have a problem with me throwing inside, then they can meet me 60 feet, 6 inches away. I’ve got no problem with that.”

He is not only being taught how to pitch, he is beginning to understand how to pitch. He may have the best pure stuff in baseball.

What about rookie Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon at the back-end of the rotation? Colon, at 43, will continue to put up quality starts and make everyone smile when he puts on a batting helmet.  And Matz has as much potential as anyone if he stays healthy.  And don’t forget Zack Wheeler is looming in the background, targeting a July return.

BULLPEN

familia 073015Nobody was counting on Jenrry Mejia anyway, so good-bye to bad rubbish. Jeurys Familia owned the ninth inning last year.  The problem was getting a lead to him.  Gone are the guys who made you roll your eyes, like Tyler Clippard, Eric O’Flaherty and Buddy Carlyle.  The Mets signed Antonio Bastardo as a left-handed specialist to share the late innings with Addison Reed.  Remember Jerry Blevins?  He missed almost all of last year with not one, but two broken left arms – but he didn’t give up a hit in his 7 appearances before getting hurt.  Hansel Robles and Logan Verrett may get more work as spot starters than long relief.

Talk all you want about the big three in the Yankees bullpen, this Mets bullpen is going to be solid.

Now all we need is some runs….

THE CORNERS

Lucas Duda had a 7 game stretch in May where he hit 6 HR's and had 9 RBI's.

Probably the biggest question marks on this team are on the corners. Which Lucas Duda is going to show up for most of the season and how much of the season will David Wright be able to play – and how effectively?  Duda will most likely get to his 30 HR mark, but although he hit 27 of them last year, he hit 10 of them during a 7 game stretch last season.  He missed some time in August with an injury and played only 135 games, but that means he hit the other 17 over the course of 128 games.

Of course Wright will tough it out and play as much as he can, but what is more concerning is that Sandy Alderson didn’t really do anything to shore up that position if (when) Wright can’t go, or is ineffective. With this type of spinal injury, the body might be willing and able to play, but can the player perform at the level a team with Championship aspiration needs the player to perform?  The playing field is littered players who have had their careers derailed by back injuries.  Let’s hope that Wright still has a few more productive years left, but we should be prepared (and not surprised) if he doesn’t.  Wilmer Flores (hitting .440 this spring) is learning another position this year, after spending last spring learning second base and at this point is the only viable option.

MIDDLE INFIELDERS

Was there anything more frustrating than watching the Mets NOT be able to turn a double play when they really needed it? Regardless of the quality of your pitching staff, you can’t give teams more than 27 outs and although the Mets didn’t lead the NL in errors (the Pirates did), they certainly led the league in bone head plays and poor decision-making once they caught the ball.  Enter Sandy Alderson.

daniel murphyAfter making the decision to make a $13.5M qualifying offer to arguably our best hitter Daniel Murphy – that he turned down – , and losing out on the Ben Zobrist sweepstakes (he went to the Cubbies), Alderson made two moves less than five hours apart that tightened the Mets up-the-middle defense that was the bane of their existence in 2015.

Remember the search for a shortstop in the spring of 2015? Then remember how awful we all thought Flores was early in the season, when he made 11 errors in the first two months of the season?  For the first time in a long time, the Mets are solid up the middle in the infield.

2B-Neil Walker came over from the Pirates for the always dour Jonathan Niese to hold down the fort until Dilson Herrera is ready for the majors. Walker is a much-needed defensive upgrade at 2B over the departed but highly popular Murphy and he’s has some pop with at least 16 HR in each of his last three seasons.  Then Alderson signed Asdrubal Cabrera to play SS, which is more of an upgrade in offense than defense over Reuben Tejada.

Both of these guys are switch-hitters and there won’t be this three-headed monster to deal with every game with Tejada/Flores/Murphy depending on who the pitcher is or what inning it is.

OUTFIELD

cespedes NLDS 101215No more crying about not signing Yoenis Cespedis, ok? No more worrying about his opt-out contract or the $27M he will be making or the cars he drives or any of the other nonsense that we have been bombarded with since before Christmas.  He is here and, barring injury, will be in the middle of the lineup and patrolling Center Field.  Where that leaves Juan Lagares, nobody knows.  But he isn’t Cespedes – nobody is.  If Michael Conforto continues to improve against lefties (like he is showing this Spring), Lagares may not be happy or comfortable in a reserve, 4th outfielder role.  Just look at this particular Mets lineup without Cespedes in it somewhere.  End of story.

Curtis Granderson is still the leadoff hitter and in the postseason, he got every one of the rallies started. He made me a believer after wondering early in 2015 if Terry Collins had lost his mind.  Power and ability to drive the ball as a leadoff hitter turned out to be a great idea in the end.

CATCHING

No one doubts that Travis d’Arnaud is a good major league hitter and that this valuable pitching staff enjoys throwing to him and has confidence that he can call a good game. But over the last two seasons he has only played 175 games.  He was on the DL three times last season alone.  That type of past requires a solid Plan B to a contending team.  The concern about Kevin Plawecki is:  What do you do with him when d’Arnaud is healthy?  He might be a better defensive catcher than d’Arnaud, but he struggled at the plate, hitting just .219 last year.  The scuttlebutt is that the Mets might come north without Plawecki so he can play every day in Las Vegas at the AAA level, and let Johnny Monell ride the bench and spell d’Arnaud early on.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Is this a 100 win team in 2016? Probably not.  Not because they aren’t going to be better than last year, but because there are a lot of good teams in the National League.  They are going to have to play almost 40 games against the Nationals and the much improved Miami Marlins.  Then there are 21 games against the three-headed monster in the National League Central, the “St. Louis Pirate-Cubs”.  This Mets team won 90 games last year, but won most of them over the final two months of the season.

The pitching is way too good to fail them this year. This is not the touted, but unproven “Generation K” that fizzled and died a quick death after Opening Day in Chicago way back in 1995.  These guys are solid and will just continue to get better.  Let’s not talk about how long they will be together or how Free Agency will cause them to take different paths in the future.  Just concentrate on 2016.

The difference between this Mets team and most Mets teams we have lived through might be something as simple as this:

In the fifth inning, with the Mets nursing a 1-run lead or trailing by a run, this team is going to step up and get the runs they need to win the game. They are going to make the defensive play they need to prevent a 1-run deficit from becoming a 3-run deficit.  They are going to get that strikeout to prevent a run from scoring.

That seemingly innocuous 2-run home run by Cespedes in the third inning to make it 3-0 is going to look like 8-0 when the other team sees Syndergaard stride to the hill for the top of the fourth.

That’s what is going to be different about this Mets team. They are not going to need the dramatics of late inning home runs or walk-off wins.  Don’t get me wrong, they are going to have their share of them.  But teams that make it through the grueling regular season and the pressure of the playoffs to get to the World Series don’t win the Series because they are lucky.  Maybe you get there because you are lucky, but you win because you are the better team.

The Mets realized in late October that the Kansas City Royals were the better team – even though the Mets had a lead in every one of the World Series games. And next Sunday night, when that blue and gold banner is being raised inside Kaufman Stadium and the Royals and their fans are celebrating their 2015 accomplishment, the Mets will be front and center to see it all.  And they will lament that the colors on that flag are not blue and orange, and they will lament that they may have wasted a golden opportunity last October.  But they better not dwell on it.

Matt Harvey will be on the hill to start the 2016 season for them and 2015 will be just a memory.

Fasten your seatbelts Mets fans and enjoy the ride!