Tagged: Kansas City Royals

The I-70 Challenge! Four Games-Two Cities-To Quote Little Orphan Annie, “It’s a Hard Knock Life!”

By:  Jim Tsapelas

Jim McIssac/Getty Images North America

In a split four game Inter-League series, two games in Kansas City and two games in St. Louis, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals faced off in what could have proved to be a costly series to both Missouri franchises.

The series featured two of the better catchers in MLB, today; Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina.  Perez has gone on record of speaking of his admiration and respect for Molina. Molina and Perez have appeared to foster a bonding, a friendship, that transcends the game of baseball and values all that which is good in the human spirit.

In Kansas City, the Royals and the Redbirds split the short two game home stand; with Kansas City taking the first game of the two game set.

Monday’s contest was highlighted for Royals’ fans with a six to two Kansas City win. Tuesday produced an eight to four win for the Birds on the Bat.  Royals right-fielder Lorenzo Cain sustained an injury as he attempted to leg out a ground ball in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s contest.  This was horrific news for the Royals, with Mike Moustakas, out for the season, and with Alex Gordon just completing a stint on the DL, the uncertainty of Cain’s injury loomed rather large.

Another by-product of the Cain injury was the reality that Kendrys Morales would start Wednesday for Cain as the series moved east to St. Louis; and the reality of no Designated Hitter in the National League park; Busch Stadium.

On Wednesday a MRI confirmed Cain with a strained left hamstring; and he was placed on the MLB Fifteen Day Disabled List.

Now playing right-field, Kendrys Morales“.  Morales had experience playing right-field, but that was quite some time and a broken leg ago.  In fact, Morales had played the right-field position a total of seventy-six times at the MLB level; the last being in 2008!

One of the hallmarks of the Royals this season has been their success in putting on the field a defensive oriented line up. You may remember Morales broke his left-lower leg on March 29, 2010-when as a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he engaged in a celebratory jump into home plate to punctuate his Grand Slam Home Run to give the Angeles a five to one win over the Seattle Mariners.  Since that time, Morales arguably one of the slower base runners in MLB, today, had only served as a Designated Hitter and a first-baseman.  To say Morales was an unknown defensive risk prior to Wednesday’s contest would be quite an understatement!  Defensively on Wednesday, Morales was brilliant in right-field and went three for four at the plate.

Wednesday’s contest in St. Louis was a twelve inning win for the visiting Kansas City Royals. The Royals featured a one to nothing lead in the eighth inning.  In the bottom of the ninth, Cardinals third-baseman, Jhonny Peralta, singled scoring Greg Garcia, knotting the game at one.  In the tenth, the Royals’ Whit Merrifield reached base on a fielding error; scoring Cheslor Cuthbert.  In the bottom of the tenth, the Redbirds’ Stephen Piscotty went yard with his ninth home run of the 2016 season.  In the top of the twelfth, Alcides Escobar doubled in the go ahead and winning run in the person of Merrifield.  St. Louis was unable to win in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the inning as the Royals’ Chien-Ming Wang enjoyed a one, two, three, inning striking out Tommy Pham and retiring Piscotty and Matt Adams.

Of possible concern for St. Louis on Wednesday, was an injury to Cardinal right-fielder Piscotty on a play where he made a long run ending in an attempted sliding catch.  Piscotty failed in what would had been a highlight reel catch; the ball bounced off his glove and wound up in foul territory.

Piscotty reported swelling in his knee and pain in his ankle.  Unlike the injury to Cain on Tuesday, Piscotty will most probably not spend time on the DL.  An injury to Piscotty would have been as costly to the Cardinals as the injury to Cain is to the Royals.  Piscotty was not in the Cardinals’ line-up on Thursday, as a precautionary measure.  Baseball is a hard knock life!

Thursday’s contest was another hard fought battle for the Baseball Bragging Rights of Missouri in this edition of the I-70 Series.  The Royals took the series with a four to two win.

The Royals have a stellar bullpen.  The Cardinals appear to collectively be a bullpen struggling, as of late, to affirm their identity.  Of concern to Cardinals’ fans is the reality the Birds committed ten errors in the four game set, to the Royals one error.

It doesn’t take a baseball genius to understand that errors contribute directly to a loss, as well as extending an inning; thus forcing a pitcher to throw extra pitches.

To be honest, the Cardinals for what ever reasons are simply not playing their best baseball in 2016, at home. For the 2016 season the Cardinals are 15-23 at home.

The Royals began their hosting duties against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals enjoying the best home record in the American League.  The Cardinals went to “The K” with the best road record in the National League.

To be competitive in the Wild Card Race the Cardinals need to find the magic formula to begin a winning record at home.

With the loss on Thursday, the Redbirds have lost seven consecutive games at home.  This has been the longest Cardinal home losing streak since 1983.

In a post game interview following the loss on Thursday, manager Mike Matheny said it was a game of, “Missed opportunities.”  It is my opinion this series as well as this season has been one, thus far, of missed opportunities.  I continue to believe the Cardinals have a good team.  An issue I identified is the Cardinals, at times, fail to win as a whole unit.  The offense has at times, put up good to monster numbers, only to have another aspect of the game fail the team.  The pitching has been outstanding at times, only to not get support from the bullpen, defensive plays, etc. One departmentalized aspect of the team cannot sustain a winning reality.  It takes all parts of the team, starting pitching, the bullpen, the offense, and the defense to all be in tune with one another to grind out a victory.

Of Note:  Kendrys Morales banged out twelve hits in the four game set, including a home run.  Going yard for the Cards in the series were Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, Stephen Piscotty, Jhonny Peralta, and Brandon Moss.  The Moss home run was measured at four hundred and seventy-three feet and is the longest home run ever hit at Busch Stadium III!

Thanks for reading!

Jim Tsapelas 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 Take Two From Royals, But Syndergaard and Cespedes Leave With Injuries; Familia Notches 40 Straight Saves

By Paul DiSclafani:

AP Photo / Kathy Williens

AP Photo / Kathy Williens

Fresh off putting together back to back wins against the Royals, the Mets (38-32) and their fans couldn’t even enjoy the moment. Both Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes were forced to leave today’s game with injuries.

With everything going on around them, all the bad news of injuries, all the talk about a possible Jose Reyes reunion and a workout scheduled for Free Agent Cuban star Yulieski Gourriel, the Mets managed to shake it off and win two against the defending World Series Champions.

The Mets bullpen, which was largely responsible for the World Series collapse considering they led in every game at one point, was spot on in these two games. After Colon got hurt on Tuesday after the first batter, they were called on to get the final 26 outs in a 2-1 win.

Today, after Syndergaard was unable to come out for the seventh inning after throwing just 91 pitches, they protected the 4-3 lead with three innings of one-hit ball. Jeurys Familia, who was charged with three blown saves in the World Series against the Royals, finished each game for his 23rd and 24th save of the season.  He now has saved a club record 40 consecutive regular season games.

With Juan Lagares already on the DL with a thumb injury and Steven Matz having elbow tightness, the Mets then found out that Zack Wheeler is experiencing tightness in his TJ elbow.

And now this…

Noah Syndergaard, one of the few Mets pitchers who has NOT had Tommy John Surgery, is experiencing tightness in his elbow. Sheesh.

Yoenis Cespedes, who is hitting .290, hit his 18th home run yesterday and had two hits in the game, left with a wrist injury.  “I don’t know what the issue is”, manager Terry Collins said about Cespedes after the game, “But I am certainly concerned about it.  He had a similar problem last fall with that left hand and he ended up tearing up the National league for a while.”

The Mets that could play, came to play today. Asdrubal Cabrera hit a home run, made a fantastic play behind second base, flipping a backhand throw to second for a force out and then scoring the first run of the game by avoiding a tag at the plate with a great inside slide, giving the Mets a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning.

Syndergaard (W, 8-2) has won six straight decisions, but he allowed a home run to Cheslor Cuthbert in the fifth to tie the game and the Royals scored again on a single, a sacrifice and two out single to take a 2-1 lead.

The Mets got that one back and more in their half of the fifth when Cabrera hit a two run home run to center, giving the Mets a 3-2 lead. Not to be outdone, KC came right back the next inning with another two out hit as Paulo Orlando drove in Salvador Perez, who had doubled.  Tie game again.  But not for long.

Matt Reynolds, making his major league debut in the outfield, hit his first home run in the majors off Joakim Soria, giving the Mets the lead again, 4-3. When asked why he would put Reynolds into the outfield when he had never played there before, Collins said, “He’s making the most of every opportunity.  He’s never played the outfield in the big leagues.  He’s a baseball player.  There are those guys who will do whatever you ask.  He handled himself just fine.”

With Syndergaard unable to come out for the seventh inning, Jerry Blevins and Addison Reed did their job (2 innings, one hit) setting up for Familia.

Thursday is an off day as the Mets look for revenge in a weekend set in Atlanta.

POSITIVES: Blevins has now gone 21 straight appearances (13 innings) without giving up a run …Colon is still scheduled to make his next start ,,, James Loney RBI single in the fourth snapped the Mets 0-28 futility with Runners in Scoring Position.  Loney is hitting .289 … Cespedes was 4-6 with a HR and RBI against KC … Syndergaard beat KC in the second game of the season and had the only win for the Mets in the World Series, so he is 3-0 lifetime against them.

NEGATIVES: Rene Rivera is hitting just .180 … Wilmer Flores is just 1-14 since getting hit by a pitch on the wrist …

And Now It Begins – Mets and Royals Pick Up Where They Left Off

By Paul DiSclafani

wright-cespedesThe beauty of Opening Day is that everyone gets to start at 0-0. Both the Mets and Royals are looking to put 2015 in the rear view mirror.  Well, the Mets more than the Royals.

The Royals are primed to celebrate their first World Series Title in 30 years with a flag raising ceremony in front on their home crowd on Opening night, followed by receiving their Championship rings two days later. Both ceremonies will take place front and center, with the Mets watching (or not watching) from the visitor’s dugout.

Captain David Wright addressed the mood of his team and how it will feel on Opening Night as the Royals open up old wounds as they celebrate with their fans.

“It’s impossible to simulate World Series atmospheres,” Wright said, “but with them getting their rings and raising the banner and things like that, I think it would give a little bit of motivation. But I also think they deserved it. They outplayed us during the World Series, no question.”

The Mets have had all offseason to lament their performance in the World Series, falling to a far superior Royals team. Although they had a lead in every one of the five games, they managed to win only once.  But the theme of both training camps seemed to be that it’s time to turn the page.

”A lot of guys here were not in the World Series. At some point, you turn the page and get ready for 2016, and for us that was this spring,” Wright said. ”It stinks to fall a little bit short, but it was a heck of a run. We just can’t keep talking about last year.”

Even KC manager Ned Yost, who has guided his Royals to two consecutive World Series appearances, cautioned that it is not as easy as it looks. The last time a team made it to the World Series three consecutive years was the Yankees (1998-2000) and before that, the Oakland A’s (1972-74).

”It’s extremely difficult to maintain that, and just to get there,” Yost said. ”Our focus in spring training was getting off to a good start, and at the end of the year, having an opportunity to fight our way back. Because it is, it’s a fight. Everyone starts the year with those aspirations and dreams of making it to a World Series, but it’s very difficult to do.”

For the first time in baseball history, the two teams that met in the World Series will meet again on Opening Day.

If the Mets want to learn from their mistakes in the 2015 season and win the World Series for the first time in 30 years, all they have to do is look across the field at the Royals and follow their lead. The Mets road back to the World Series begins right where it left off in 2015.

THE SERIES:

The Mets (90-72) and the Royals (95-67) meet for two games on Sunday Night and Tuesday afternoon at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City.   The Mets finished 2015 with a 41-40 road record, while the Royals were an impressive 51-30 at Home.

THE STARTERS:

Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71) will start Opening night for the Mets against Edison Volquez (13-9, 3.55). Harvey had a medical scare earlier in the week with a blood clot in his bladder, but he has been cleared to make this start.  Volquez and Harvey met in Game 1 of the World Series, but didn’t factor in the decision as the Royals prevailed in 14 innings.  Both gave up three earned runs in their six innings.  They hooked up again in Game 5, another extra inning game that they Royals won, this time to take the World Series Crown.  Harvey was brilliant for 8 shutout innings and Volquez was poised to be on the losing end, having surrendered just two runs, one earned.

Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24) was set to face the newest KC starter, Ian Kennedy (9-15, 4.28 with San Diego), but a hamstring injury may force former Met Chris Young (11-6, 3.06) to start instead. Syndergaard was the only Mets pitcher to win in the 2015 Fall Classic, winning Game 3 of the series.  Syndergaard started the game by throwing the first pitch over the head over leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar and the Mets responded with two home runs in a 9-3 win.

WHAT TO EXPECT:

Nobody really knows. The Royals are the World Champions, playing in front of their home crowd for the first time since winning the World Series almost 1,200 miles away in Citi Field.  Obviously, there will be plenty of emotion and pride as they raise their banner and receive their Championship rings.  The Mets have had a difficult spring as far as results on the field are concerned, failing to win in 14 straight “games” at the end of the Spring and although everyone insist that they don’t count (and they don’t), there were a couple of red flags.

Understanding 100% that the “results” of the games in the Spring are bogus, individual performances over the course of an entire Spring need to at least be considered.

Consider this: The Mets hit just 17 home runs in 25 Grapefruit League games, seven of them from players who didn’t make the Opening Day roster and one  came from the backup catcher.  David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda hit one each – and they played a combined 45 games and had 125 AB’s.  Add in Michael Conforto, who hit two HR in 49 AB’s, and that’s just 5 HR in 174 AB’s.  Not exactly the type of numbers that will light up the Mets Home Run Apple.

A little more concerning are the relief pitching individual numbers. Antonio Bastardo pitched nine Spring innings, but gave up 8 runs (7 earned) and 10 hits.  Remember, relief pitchers are only charged with runners they put on base that scored.  Addison Reed surrendered 9 hits in his 8.2 innings (3 earned runs) and Jeurys Familia 8 hits in his 7.1 innings (also 3 earned runs).  Granted, pitchers admit to “working on things” during the Spring, but it is still a little disconcerting.

So what can we expect for this Opening Series between the best teams from 2015 in each league? Both teams think they have a lot to prove after their success / failures in the postseason and both teams want to get out of the gate quickly, but frankly, who doesn’t?  Both teams are all saying the right things and the Royals backtracked on their supposed “revenge” on Syndergaard’s opening pitch of Game 3, but one thing remains…

The 2016 Mets want to be the 2015 KC Royals, a team that returned to the World Series and finished the job. The 2015 Royals started last season sweeping the Chicago White Sox at home and went on to win their first seven games, making a statement to everyone in the American League that their 2014 appearance in the World Series was no fluke.  Let’s see what the Mets can do behind Harvey and Syndergaard now that everything “counts” again.

You can also read my full 2016 Mets preview: Final Observations and Predictions or my compact season preview: Opening Day Countdown.

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!

“Never Give Up! Never Surrender!”

By: Paul DiSclafani

galaxy quest 1The 2015 New York Mets need to invoke the rallying cry from the 1999 comedy “Galaxy Quest” that followed the adventures of a group of actors from a fictional TV series (think Star Trek) who get put back together and have to fight real aliens to defend a race of Thermians, who think the TV show was real.

I know, it sounds ridiculous, but the movie was such a hit it has been included in the top 100 comedies of all time.

And now Commander Peter Taggert (Tim Allen) and the crew from the NESA Protector have five simple words for the Mets and their fans.  Stand up, make a fist with your right hand and cover your heart: “Never give up, Never Surrender”.

Trailing the World Series three games to one, the Mets have no margin for error. Tonight, Matt Harvey will try to send the Mets back to Kansas City for a Game 6 where they will throw Jacob deGrom and a Game 7, where they will throw Noah Syndergaard.

Other than Game 2, which they were outplayed and stymied by Johnny Cuerto, the Mets let Games 1 and 4 slip away, losing leads late. In their eyes, they should be up three games to one.

But baseball is a game of 27 outs – you need to get all of them to win. All other sports use time clocks to determine when a game ends.  You get a lead in those other sports, you can win a game by managing the clock to your advantage and just stalling until the time literally runs out on your opponent.  Not baseball.  There’s no place to hide.

These Kansas City Royals just don’t quit. They are like little gnats, or cockroaches. Maybe more like vampires.  This postseason alone, they have manufactured six comeback victories from at least two runs down.  Nobody has done that in almost 20 years.  The Royals have scored an incredible 44 runs in the seventh inning or later, the most ever in the postseason.

The mantra of these Royals and coach Dale Sveum is to just “keep the line moving”. They are not cracking game winning 3-run home runs, they are keeping at-bats alive and putting runners on base.  Their station-to-station philosophy has them just one win away from their first World Championship since 1985.

They have hit just one ball over the fence – and that was the game tying home run by Alex Gordon in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs. The Royals are finding a way.  They stole a game against David Price and the Blue Jays in Toronto in the ALCS and in Game 4 against the Mets, they sent seven men to the plate and scored three times.

They have struck out only 26 times in the first four games of this series against the Mets vaunted starters.

Want some more gloom and doom? Of the 80 best of seven series that went into Game 5 three games to one, only 17 teams have come back to win and 39 of those teams with the lead closed the series out in Game 5.  The last time a team did that on the road was the 2004 Boston Red Sox.  The last team to do that on the road?  Why, it was these same Kansas City Royals, who came back from a three games to one deficit to win their last World Series Title in 1985.

Never give up!  Never Surrender!

Forget the gloom and doom – how about these numbers?

  • The Mets have had the lead in every game in the World Series in the fifth inning.
  • Tonight’s Royals starter Edinson Volquez, who tragically lost his Dad just prior to Game 1, has not recorded an out in the seventh inning all postseason.
  • Matt Harvey is pitching on his customary four days rest
  • Manager Need Yost was forced to go to his bullpen early and often in Games 3 and 4.  In Game 4, he used closer Wade Davis for six outs and 27 pitches. He has never pitched on consecutive days after throwing 25 pitches.
  • Ryan Madson, Luke Hochevar and Danny Duffy all pitched in Games 3 and 4 and both Madson and Hocheaver missed 2013 because of injuries and have not pitched three consecutive days all season. Duffy, who was just moved to the bullpen in September, had never pitched on consecutive days until Games 3 and 4.

Never give up!  Never Surrender!

galaxy quest 2The Mets need to get to Volquez early and often to have any shot. Harvey needs to go deep in this game to give his own bullpen a break.  It’s his last start of the year, so there is nothing to save for.

Before this series started, most baseball fans would have agreed with the following premise: The Mets split in Kansas City and the Royals get one in NY, setting up a Game 6 in Kansas City.  Most Mets fans would take that Game 6 in Kansas City right now.

The Royals know firsthand that coming back from a 3-1 deficit is possible. They also know that they have been far from dominant in this series.  They have relied on late inning rallies once they got into the Mets bullpen.  They have made the best use of their 27 outs.  But they also know that they need to end this now.

A loss tonight pushes them into a Game 6 and the prospect of facing a fairly annoyed Jacob deGrom, who has recorded all three of his postseason wins on the road. It also raises the possibility of the Royals having to face Noah Syndergaard again in this series, in a winner-take-all Game 7.

The series has not been the mismatch that the final results, so far, seem to indicate. A team up three games to one has usually dominated the opponent.  But gnats don’t dominate anyone.  They annoy you, but you don’t pack your bags and go home.  You slap them off and after a while, you can just ignore them.

Never give up!  Never Surrender!

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.

 

Syndergaard and Mets Knock Down Royals To Get Back Into The Series

By: Paul DiSclafani

Al Bello / Getty Images

Al Bello / Getty Images

Welcome to the World Series, Mets fans!

After giving away Game 1 to the Kansas City Royals and being totally outplayed in Game 2, the Mets returned home to a raucous Citi Field as they tried to make their way out of their 0-2 hole in the World Series. The Mets got two-run home runs from David Wright and Curtis Granderson and put up a four-spot in the sixth inning to ice the game and get back into the Series with a 9-3 win.

Playing a home World Series game for the first time in 15 years, rookie Noah Syndergaard set the tone for the Mets and their anxious, yet enthusiastic crowd, when he launched a 98 mph fastball over the head of Royals leadoff batter Alcides Escobar, dropping him to the ground on his rear end with his legs splayed as he stayed there for a few seconds, contemplating what had just happened. The start to the game had the Royals up in arms and they were shouting at Syndergaard from the dugout for the first few winnings.

“I didn’t like it one bit. He was saying yesterday that he had a plan against my aggressiveness. If that’s the plan, I think that’s a stupid plan,” Escobar said. “I cannot fathom a pitcher would throw to the head a 98 mph pitch on the first pitch of the game.”

“I think the whole team was pretty upset. The first pitch of the game goes whizzing by our leadoff man’s head,” Mike Moustakas said. “I think all 25 guys in that dugout were pretty fired up.”

If that fired up the Royals, they weren’t able to completely channel it onto the field. Escobar got up, dusted himself off and proceeded to flail at a 1-2 fastball as the crowd exploded.  After 34 two-strike counts in Game 2 that the Royals made contact on 31 times, Syndergaard put a stop to that with the first batter.  The Royals as 12 “swings and misses” against Syndergaard in Game 3 after having just 19 in the first two games combined.

After the game, both Terry Collins and catcher Travis d’Arnaud said all the right things, avoiding fanning the flames in the KC clubhouse and being coy about Syndergaard’s intent. But Syndergaard wasn’t coy at all.

“I feel like it really made a statement to start the game off, that you guys can’t dig in and get too aggressive because I’ll come in there,” said Syndergaard, who alluded Thursday to having “a few tricks” up his sleeve for the leadoff man.  “My intent on that pitch was to make them uncomfortable, and I feel like I did just that. I know that for the past, I think every postseason game that Escobar has played in, he’s swung at the first-pitch fastball, and I didn’t think he would want to swing at that one.”

But Syndergaard wasn’t done yet. “I mean, I certainly wasn’t trying to hit the guy, that’s for sure. I just didn’t want him getting too comfortable,” he said before issuing a challenge that made every Met fan’s heart sing, “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.”

But the Royals nicked Syndergaard and the Mets for a run in the first inning, when they failed to turn a 3-6-1 double play with a man on third, taking a 1-0 lead and taking a bite out of the Citi Field crowd for the moment. But it didn’t take long to get it back.

With Yordano Venruta on the mound for the Royals, Granderson led off the Mets first with a single and Wright, who was batting just .182, launched a long home run (392 feet) into the left field stands and the Mets had the lead, 2-1. Fans and the media were calling for Wright to be dropped in the batting order, but the Captain delivered in his first home World Series appearance.

But the euphoria faded again as the Royals scored twice in the second to retake the lead with three straight singles, but Alex Gordon got greedy on Alex Rios’ RBI single and tried to go from first to third on the base hit to left. Michael Conforto, shaded into left center, got to the ball quickly and fired a strike to Wright at third, but Gordon was called safe.  Wright immediately signaled for the Mets to challenge the call and he was right.  Gordon was called out on review and instead of a tie game with runners on second and third with no outs, the Mets had their first out.  After Ventura sacrificed Rios to third for the second out, d’Arnaud got crossed up, allowing a passed ball and giving the Royals a 3-2 lead.

Once again, the air was sucked out of the building. This was Game 1 and Game 2 rolled into each other all over again.  As sharp as Syndergaard was and as good as the Mets offense looked in the first inning, they found themselves behind.  Again.

What the Mets needed was a couple of shutdown innings from Syndergaard to catch their breath and get the crowd back on their side. They got that and more.  Syndergaard got a 1-2-3 third inning and the Mets got the lead back.

Syndergaard led off the Mets half of the third with a solid single, fighting off an 0-2 pitch for the first time all year. Syndergaard was 0-14 with 14 strikeouts in the regular season when he was down 0-2 in the count.  Four pitches later, he was trotting around the bases in front of Granderson as he pulled one right down the line and into the first row in right field to give the Mets a 4-3 lead.  Not only had the Mets comeback again, so had the crowd.  And this time, they wouldn’t leave again.

The Mets put runners on second and third with no outs in the 4th after d’Arnaud followed a Lucas Duda single with a double, Royals manager Ned Yost had his the infield playing back for some reason.  When Michael Conforto hit a gounder to first, he beat Hosmer to the bag, scoring Duda and it was 5-3.  Ventura then got Wilmer Flores to pop up, but his night was done.  David Duffy came in to finish off the Mets and keep it a 2-run game.

Syndergaard continued to do his job, getting the next 12 Royals in a row, striking out Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer swinging to start the 6th inning.  But Moustakas put one up the middle that Daniel Murphy was able to smother, but could not make a throw on to reach first.  Syndergaard then walked Salvador Perez to put two runners on.  He then walked Gordon on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases and raise the anxiety level of the fans to 10.  Collins decided to roll the dice with Syndergaard, who got Rios to ground out to Flores to end last threat the Royals would have.

With the Mets into the vaunted Royals bullpen, this was shaping up to be a nail biter. Franklin Morales got the first out of the sixth, but then ran into trouble after Juan Lagares singled.  He hit Flores in the foot to put runners on first and second, bringing up Juan Uribe to pinch hit for Syndergaard.  Uribe was put on the WS Roster, but had not appeared in a game since September 25th.  Uribe came through with a base hit, scoring the flying Lagares to make it 6-3.  Granderson then bounced one back to the mound that Morales snagged, but he had a brain freeze and looked at every base before finally throwing it almost into centerfield.  Now the bases were loaded for Wright and Morales was finished as Kelvin Hererra came in.

Wright wasted no time, jumping on Hererra’s first pitch and depositing it into center, scoring Flores and Uribe to make it 8-3. Later in the inning, Yoenis Cespedes finished things off with a sacrifice fly to make it 9-3.

The Mets bullpen of Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeruys Familia finished off the final three innings 1-2-3 and just like that, the Mets are back in the World Series, trailing 2-1.

Rookie Steven Matz will try to get the Mets even in Game 4 and turn things over to Matt Harvey on Sunday night for Game 5 and the final baseball game at Citi Field this year. The Mets are very familiar with Royals starter Chris Young, who played for them in 2011 and 2011.  Young was the winning pitcher in Game 1, shutting down the Mets in three innings of relief.

It’s going to be interesting…