Tagged: Bartolo Colon

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!

Mets Sunday Brunch 2/14/16: Pitchers And Catchers In 3 Days, The Winter of Sandy Alderson and Questions, Questions, Questions

By Paul DiSclafani

mets sunday brunch2Good riddance to bad rubbish. Jenrry Mejia threw it all away and for some strange reason, I just don’t care anymore. And neither should you.  We’ve got much nicer things to talk about today!

On Wednesday morning, the National League Champion New York Mets – my Mets, our Mets – will begin the defense of their NL East Division Title as pitcher and catchers report to Spring Training in Port St. Lucie. How great does that sound when the temperature here in NY is in the single digits?

In case anyone has forgotten, General Manager Sandy Alderson has been a busy little beaver since the end of the World Series and for the first time in recent memories, the Mets are reporting to Spring Training with not a lot of holes to fill. Usually Tradition Field is the site of many question marks.  Who’s going to be the shortstop?  Can this veteran return to form?  Can this pitcher return from surgery? Who is going to be the bridge to the closer?

The offseason saw both sadness and joy for Mets fans.  Trying to reconcile the loss in the World Series to the KC Royals when we had the lead in every game was a tough nut to crack.  Then, Mike Piazza finally gets elected to the Hall of Fame and a few weeks later, Cespedes is back in the Blue and Orange.

My articles:  YA GOTTA BEREAVE    PIAZZA HOF   CESPEDES

The 2016 season has a completely different line of questioning. The question is no longer CAN the Mets get to the playoffs, now it’s WILL the Mets get to the playoffs.  It’s just a slight difference, but it means everything.  For the first time in a long time, it’s the Mets that have a target on their back.

Of course, Mets history always haunts us the year after making the post season. Did you know that the only time the Mets went to the post season in consecutive years was 1999-2000?  Remember the “Dynasty” of the 1986 team?  Just one other playoff appearances before it all fell apart, a 1988 loss to the Dodgers.  How about the strength of that 2006 team that came within one strike of the World Series?  I’m not even going to get into that disaster.

Although the 2015 Mets went all the way to the World Series, the club reporting to Spring Training is significantly better in a lot of ways. Let’s take a look at some of the key factors as we start dreaming of wearing T-Shirts and shorts outside again…

The Daniel Murphy Factor – Of course this was a difficult decision. Murphy was one of our best, if not the best hitter we had, hands down.  He was an emotional player and in most cases the heart of the team.  I was (and still am) a big Daniel Murphy fan.  But I had learned to come to grips with his limitations.  Can we all be honest here?  He was a liability without a bat in his hands.  He makes poor decisions in the field with his glove, with his arm and with his legs.  I know, he hit 50 home runs in the post season, but let’s be realistic, shall we?  I don’t know what Daniel Murphy that was and I don’t ever expect to see that Daniel Murphy again.  But I am quite sure the Washington Nationals are expecting to see THAT Daniel Murphy.  And when they don’t, he is going to be one very unhappy muchacho until 2019.  He should have taken the Mets offer.

My article:  WHY DANIEL MURPHY SHOULD HAVE TAKEN THE DEAL

The Jonathan Niese Factor – Have you ever seen a pitcher with such mediocre talent that didn’t know which side of his bread was buttered? Niese was a malcontent that saw the writing on the wall with all of these young guns, and instead of embracing the future of this team and learning to become part of it, he whined and cried like a little baby.  He complained every time someone made an error.  If he got into trouble on the mound, he didn’t have the ability to get out of it.  Then, when he was traded to Pittsburgh, the first thing he said was he was happy to go to a team that played good defense.  Guess he didn’t know the Pirates led the National League in errors last year.  Good luck with that, Jonathan.  This was addition by subtraction for Alderson and the Mets.

The Remaking of the Middle Infield – Part of the Niese trade was bringing in second baseman Neil Walker from the Pirates. Walker is certainly an upgrade defensively over Murphy (who isn’t?) and is a pretty good hitter himself.  At the very least, this is a slight upgrade.  But Alderson went one better and signed shortstop Asrubal Cabrera for two years ($18.5m) a few hours later.  Now Wilmer Flores can become the super utility player the Mets have lacked for a long time.  And with David Wright’s back still a part of the great unknown, we are going to need a couple of guys that can play third.  This also gives Terry Collins a middle infield combination that he can pencil in almost every day.  This is a huge upgrade for the Mets.

My articles on NEIL WALKER and ASRUBAL CABRERA deals

The Bartolo Colon Show Returns – Was there any other Met that made you smile every time you saw him on the field? When he was standing on the mound, flipping the ball up and down, when he was strolling to the plate with a bat in his hand?  Bartolo Colon is like Bruce Springsteen on stage – he is thoroughly enjoying himself and getting the job done.  For $7 Million, Colon will easily be able to bridge the gap while Zack Wheeler rehabs from Tommy John surgery.

More Help For The Bullpen – Tyler Clippard is gone (thank goodness), but Jerry Blevins and Addison Reed will be back. Then for good measure, Alderson inked Antonio Bastardo, the lefty specialist the Mets were looking for all year.  Lefties hit just .178 against him last year while he was with the Pirates.  That is a pretty good three-man bridge to Familia.  With this starting pitching staff, the Mets are going to have a lot of 6 and 7 inning games from their starters.  That’s where these guys are going to earn their money.  With no more innings limits to worry about, the guys won’t have to start warming up in the 4th inning anymore.  Mets long relievers should already have a new nickname, “The Maytag Men”.  (You kiddies won’t get that one, sorry.  Google it)

The Big Bat We All Know We Wanted – The Mets and Yoenis Cespedes danced the entire off season, causing the fan base to lose their mind. Of course we needed Cespedes, but it turns out he needed us too.  Some teams offered him more money, others more security.  But when you get right down to it, the other teams couldn’t offer him what the Mets had – a stud pitching staff ready to take them to the next level.  The Mets fans showed him the love he needed to see after four teams in five years, but I think it really came down to NOT wanting to face these pitchers 18 times a year – especially if he signed with Washington.  Cespedes was able to see firsthand what NY was like in the postseason.  Not a lot of free agents get that on the tour, you know.

Now for some outstanding questions – Shall the nitpicking begin, then?

  • Is Lucas Duda an everyday first baseman?  If not, is the answer really Wilmer Flores?  This guy hits a lot of home runs, but they always seem to come in bunches.  He may not be as big a mental case as Ike Davis was, but it’s all in his head.  Maybe he can finally relax now that Cespedes will be hitting in front of him.  Let’s hope so.  Not a lot of talent in the minors to play 1B.  Why do you think they asked Plawecki and d’Arnaud to invest in first baseman gloves?
  • Will the Mets have the lowest stolen base total in baseball history?  Not going to be a lot of RBI doubles with a man on first this season, my friends.
  • Can our catchers throw anyone out?  To answer this I just say, oh yeah?  YOU try throwing down to second after five innings of catching 98 MPH heaters all the time, every day.
  • Is there any doubt that one or more of our stud pitchers is going to come down with what will initially be diagnosed as “arm fatigue” that turns into full blown Tommy John reconstructive surgery?  I really hope not, but these are MY Mets, after all…
  • Are Steven Matz and Michael Conforto ready for everyday duty at the Major League level?  Matz needs to show he can stay on the field and Conforto needs to show he can play against left-handed pitching.  This smells of “sophomore Jinx: all over the place.
  • What will Zack Wheeler be able to deliver when (if) he returns in July?  When Matt Harvey returned to Spring Training last season, he had almost 18 months without having to face a batter.  He left in August of 2013 and rehabbed the entire 2014 season making him very ready to return in 2015.  If you are going to have TJ surgery, looks like August is the best time.  But Wheeler is just a year out of surgery and even though he will not be pitching competitively until May or June, let’s just hope the Mets don’t “need” him in July because of an injury or something else.  We kind of got spoiled with Harvey’s return, you know.
  • Will both Wild-Cards come out of the Central again?  That’s a tough division to start with and the Cubs have gotten better.  Looks like the Mets will need to win the East again.
  • There’s another baseball team in this town?  Talk about role reversal!  The Yankees were very quiet in the Free-Agent market, but they seem to be building a great bullpen.  Did you know they led the league in runs scored last year until September?  But without that run production this year and suspect starting pitching, that bullpen is going to lead the league in “holds” while the Yankees scramble to score runs.  And I bet they wished Tanaka had that TJ surgery when he had the chance, don’t they?  And good for CC Sabathia in getting his life back together.  Not gonna matter, baseball fans.  This will be another banner-less year in the Bronx as their aging lineup has to start acting their age without the benefits of steroids.

Now that the Super Bowl closed out the NFL Season, it’s time to dust off that Mets cap and get ready for what is going to be one of the most anticipated springs in Mets history. After each one of our previous World Series appearances, there were lots of question marks and concerns.  Not this year.  We are coming back as Defending National League Champions and for the first time, we are even better.

I can’t wait, and I am sure you, my faithful readers, can’t wait either!

Mets on the Brink, Turn To Matt Harvey To Save Season

By Paul DiSclafani

murphy WS Game 4And now it’s up to The Dark Knight to save Gotham City.

After blowing two leads in Game 1 and falling in extra innings to the Kansas City Royals, the Mets wasted two home runs by rookie Michael Conforto and blew leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in Game 4 now finding themselves on the brink of elimination in the World Series.

Postseason hero Daniel Murphy’s error in the eighth allowed the Royals to tie the game after Tyler Clippard was unable to protect a 3-2 lead, getting the first out and then walking the next two batters. Jeurys Familia relieved Clippard and got a ground ball from Eric Hosmer, but the slow roller went under Murphy’s glove and into right field, allowing Ben Zobrits to score from second to tie the game.  Mike Moustakas singled on the next pitch, just past the diving Murphy, scoring Lorenzo Cain to give the Royals the first and only lead they would need for the night, 4-3.  Salvador Perez took care of the insurance run, following with another RBI hit to right, plating Hosmer and it was 5-3.

“There’s no way to describe it. It hurts when you feel like you got a direct hand in a ballgame,” Murphy said. “I didn’t do the job. That’s the most frustrating thing.”

As the Royals celebrated their 5-3 win at Citi Field after escaping the bottom of the ninth by doubling Yoenis Cespedes off first to end the game with the tying runs on base, Mets fans were shaking their heads at how they could be in this position. In a game that seemed to be leading up to the Mets tying the series with Matt Harvey on the mound for a pivotal Game 5, they imploded, allowing the Royals back into it and eventually handing Game 4 to them.

The Royals, who set a major league record with their sixth comeback win of the postseason from at least two runs, are now just one win away from their second World Series title.

“There’s just a belief amongst the guys that it doesn’t matter what the score is, what the lead is, what the deficit is. The guys just believe that they’re going to find a way to get it done,” Kansas City starter Chris Young said.

“What they did tonight is what they’ve been doing the whole playoffs,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s a group of guys that have the utmost confidence in themselves. I don’t think at any point these guys thought that they were going to lose tonight.”

Mets manager Terry Collins could not disagree. “They truly don’t ever stop.”

This game was filled with strange plays and misplays almost from the start. Rookie left-hander Steven Matz, making only his tenth start in the major leagues, allowed a leadoff single to Alcides Escobar to start the game, but on a 1-2 pitch, struck out Zobrist swinging.  Escobar was running on the pitch and easily stole second, but was called out when Zobrist interfered with catcher Travis d’Arnaud on his follow-through, preventing him from making a throw and Escobar was called out also.

Conforto led off the third for the Mets with a monster home run into the Pepsi Porch (376 feet) just inside the foul pole to give the Mets their first lead of this Halloween night, 1-0. When Wilmer Flores followed with a single on the next pitch, it seemed like the Mets might have starter Young on the ropes.  Young had set down the first six before Conforto’s blast.

Then he bounced a 55-foot curveball, moving Flores to second and he got to third on a Matz sacrifice. With one out, Curtis Granderson lifted a lazy fly ball to right.  With the slow-footed Flores on third, there was going to be a play at the plate.  But Alex Rios settled under the ball and initially thought it was the third out.  A split second later with centerfielder Lorenzo Cain shouting at him, Rios fired the ball home, but Flores scored standing up to make it 2-0 Mets.

“It’s a mental mistake,” Rios said. “But what do you do? You can’t just put your head down. You have to compete. If you put your head down, you’re done.”

The Royals broke through in the fifth for a run to make it 2-1, but Conforto launched another moon shot to center in the Mets half (400 feet) to give the Mets another two run cushion, 3-1 and energizing the crowd.

Matz had held the Royals to a run on five hits to that point, but his night was about to end very quickly. Zobrist doubled to center on the first pitch and Cain followed two pitches later with a single to center, scoring Zobrist to make it 3-2 and ending Matz’ night.  Jonathan Niese and Bartolo Colon got the Mets out of the mess after Cain stole second and went to third when Colon tried to pick him off.  Colon stranded him there winning an 11-pitch battle with Perez, striking him out to end the inning.

Addison Reed pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, but you had the feeling that three runs was not going to be enough in this game against this team.

After the eighth inning debacle and now trailing 5-3, the Mets still had two shots at getting back in the game, but Royals closer Wade Davis would have none of it. Wade set them down 1-2-3 in the eighth setting up the Mets fans for more disappointment in the ninth.

The fans seemed to overcome their shock in the ninth, coming to life after Murphy and the Cespedes singled following a David Wright strikeout to start the inning. With the tying runs on base and the winning run in the form of Lucas Duda at the plate, the fans were once again up and screaming.  Duda hit a soft liner to third that Moustakas grabbed at his shoe-tops, then easily doubled off Cespedes at first who was half-way to second at the time.

And just like that, the Royals take a stranglehold on the series and the Mets will need to turn to their Dark Knight, Matt Harvey, to save their season and punch their ticket back to Kansas City.

Game 5 is the last baseball game of the season at Citi Field win or lose. The Mets and their fans hope there are two more games to play.

 

Game Four Preview – Royals and Mets Prepare for Pivotal Game Four

By: Joe Botana

Steven Matz

Photo credit: Newsday

“Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!”  – The little boy. “The sky is falling!” – Chicken Little

Excessive use of any phrase makes it lose meaning when it really matters. The phrase “must-win game” is one that is often used and abused. Accordingly, we won’t use it to describe tonight’s game four in the context of either team, as it really does not really apply. After tonight, the World Series will either stand at a 3-1 advantage for the Royals, or the Mets will have fought back to a 2-2 tie, and the teams will find themselves in a two out of three playoff. In either case, both teams will still be in a relatively viable position from which to secure the ultimate triumph.

That is not to say that tonight’s game is not pivotal; far from it. For the Mets, it is an opportunity to continue the reversal of momentum they achieved last night, when they sent a clear “we are still here and very much alive” message to the Royals right from the very first high inside pitch from Noah “Thor” Syndergaard to leadoff batter and spark plug Alcides Escobar. A win tonight would give the Mets the edge in momentum and confidence going into game five.

For the Royals, it would be a chance to respond last night’s message with something akin to “yeah, whatever.” They would have reversed the momentum yet again, and would find themselves in a position from which winning just one of the next three games, two of which would be back home at Kauffman Stadium, would secure the Crown which eluded their grasp last year after it was so tantalizingly close, and which they have been single mindedly pursuing ever since.

The Mets will send Chris Young (11-6 / 3.06 ERA) to the mound. Young pitched three innings in relief in the fourteen inning opener and was brilliant, earning the win. In post season, he owns a career 1.45 ERA over four appearances, including two starts. Royals’ manager Ned Yost stated that the 53 pitches Young threw on Tuesday, three days ago, does not affect his plans to use him as the game four starter. It will be interesting to see if something happens tonight that causes this decision to be second guessed. Given the Royals’ dominant bullpen, Yost may be happy to get another effective “half-start” of four or five innings from Young.

Opposing Young will be the much younger Steven Matz (4-0 / 2.27 ERA) who is the newest member of the Mets rotation. In his last appearance, he was pulled by Terry Collins after 4 2/3rd innings, so he did not get credit for the win in the NLCS clincher against the Cubs, but he was sharp and struck out four Cubs batters during that stretch. He took a tough loss against the Dodgers in the NLDS, and sports a post season record of 9 2/3rd innings in two appearances with an 0-1 record and a 3.77 ERA. It will be interesting to see if Mets manager Terry Collins elects to pull his young starter early again tonight and throw a “change-up” from the steady diet of fire ballers they’ve seen so far from his starters in the person of Bartolo Colon.

Why is this game pivotal? The Royals will clearly recall that they held a 2-1 lead last years against the Giants, only to lose that series in seven games. They may also realize that eight of the last twelve World Series teams who evened the series at 2-2 after being down 2-0 went on to win the series. The Mets understand the same historical statistics, and realize that while teams facing a 2-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series, only twenty-nine percent go on to win the series, and only eleven of the twenty-nine teams in the same predicament in the World Series (38%) claimed the crown, they were one of those teams in 1986. Last night was “Go Time” for the Mets, and so it still remains.

The keys to winning are crystal clear for both teams. The Mets will need to keep hitting and scoring runs like they did in game three while preventing the Royals from stretching innings and stringing together hits to produce multiple RBI frames. The fact that there won’t be a designated hitter and Royals pitchers will have to bat gives them a slight edge up in that regard. For the Royals, they will have to get another dominant pitching performance from their starter and bullpen, return to playing solid defense, and show the Mets once again, since they probably forgot after last night, why they had the highest batting average against pitchers who throw over 95 mph.

It is not “must win” – but it is pivotal. And it happens tonight. Don’t miss it!

Making The Case For The DH In The National League

By Mike Moosbrugger

Michael Conforto of the NY Mets could benefit from the DH being in use in the first two games of the World Series in Kansas City.

Michael Conforto and the NY Mets could benefit from the DH being in use in the first two games of the World Series in Kansas City.

Recently MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark indicated that there will be renewed discussions with the league, owners etc. with regards to implementing the Designated Hitter in the National League. The National League is the only league remaining in the world that does not use a DH. You might be shocked to know that nearly all the minor leagues in the National League use a DH. I have long held the position that the DH should have been implemented in the National League back in 1973 when it became a rule in the American League. Contrary to popular belief by the baseball “traditionalist” out there the DH was first proposed in the National League as early as 1891. William Chase Temple, the co-owner of the Pirates first proposed the idea to the National League rules committee. In 1928 the National League president John Heydler also took a swing at it without getting anywhere. The league, owners and managers recognized very early on that the majority of pitchers were simply not competitive at the plate.

There are many reasons at the MLB level that I feel it should be used in both leagues. Making the case for the DH goes far deeper then what is happening at the MLB level. However, I will mention a few of those reasons first and then go into the much deeper ones.

Inter-league and World Series: The use or non-use of the DH creates a disadvantage for  American League teams that spend nearly an entire season playing the game one way and then have to change.  Where are all the supporters of the “integrity of the game” issues now?

A better product to watch: Sorry National League fans but when I see 7, 8 and 9 coming up in the order in your league it is time to go get a beer or hit the men’s room. Pitchers are generally automatic outs and when they get a hit the announcers laugh and the players in the dugout laugh. What does that tell you? It tells me that a pitcher hitting is not taken seriously in any way shape or form at the MLB level. In over 5000 at bats in 2014 the pitchers hit for a combined average of .124. I am pretty sure that I can do better than that!

Lack of strategy in the game: Don’t you dare try to even use this argument. Nobody spends money on high ticket prices then jumps in their car, heads out to the stadium for several hours and says “boy oh boy, I can’t wait to see Matt Harvey sacrifice bunt in the 7th inning”. People do not watch baseball to see if a pitcher can get a bunt down or to see if a manager will pinch hit for somebody. If that is what you are into then I think checkers should be a spectator sport for you.

I could go on and on with many more reasons related to the playing and watching of Major League games and why the National League should have the DH. However there are more far reaching reasons why this makes sense to finally stop the madness.

I am 50 years old but I can remember my high school and college baseball days pretty well. The pitchers, generally speaking, did not hit in the batting order and that was in the mid 1980’s.  The transformation at those levels was probably already well in place by that time. Even the worst pitcher in the majors was likely a star pitcher early on in his life. So as is the case with star pitchers that by the time they get to junior high the emphasis became more on the pitching and not the hitting. As I previously stated this was going on when I was playing high school and college ball over 30 years ago. Unless the pitcher was just an incredible hitter most coaches preferred to keep his star pitcher off the base paths and out of the batter’s box. The coach got the piece of mind that his pitcher had less risk of an injury as well as keeping the legs fresh for the pitching. In addition to that the coach got the flexibility of getting another player on the field in the form of a DH. Right or wrong this is what started 35+ years ago in high school, college and summer leagues all over this country. The results of this change in how games are managed at the lowest of levels has translated into pitchers that are worse hitters today than in 1891 when the subject was first broached by the Pirates owner in the National League.

The Royals will be at a disadvantage when the World Series returns to Citi Field for game 3. Kendrys Morales is the Royals biggest run producer at .290, 22 HR's and 106 RBI's and he will be on the bench.

The Royals will be at a disadvantage when the World Series returns to Citi Field for Game 3. Kendrys Morales is the Royals biggest run producer at .290, 22 HR’s and 106 RBI’s and he will be on the bench.

We have created a scenario where the results could only and have only become increasingly bad. The future MLB pitcher stops hitting regularly at about age 14. Let’s say he arrives in the majors at age 24. To get to that point of high level play you can bet your bottom dollar that the pitcher spent all his time working on pitching and not hitting. Now you are asking that pitcher to pick up a bat and face Clayton Kershaw 3 or 4 times in a game and have some success when the guy has not swung a bat in 10 years. To add insult to injury now you are asking that same pitcher to hit in a game once every 5 or 6 days and be successful at it. This does not make a whole lot of sense now does it ? It is hard enough for back up catchers and the fifth outfielder on a team to do well once a week and they have been hitting there entire lives. Not to mention they take BP every day to hone their skills which pitchers do not do.

It is far past the time for the DH to make its National League debut. I don’t think it is a question of if anymore but a question of when. I think it will be in place in less than 3 years. So get your last final looks at Bartolo Colon taking his hacks folks. All the fans that don’t want the DH should jump out of your seat as much as possible, while you still can, when you watch your pitcher foul off the third strike on a bunt attempt . Soon these non competitive embarrassing at bats will become a thing of the past. It has long past the time for this to happen.