Tagged: Steven Matz

Mets Dream Of Undefeated Season Dashed Again, Suffer First Loss, 5-1

By Paul DiSclafani

And just like that, the dream of going 162-0 is dead.

The Mets (2-1) will not complete the first undefeated season in baseball history as they fall to the Cardinals, 5-1.  However, they did win the series against a good St. Louis team (1-2).  Even with the loss on Sunday, the Mets hit the ball well, only to find a lot of leather for outs.

Steven Matz (L, 0-1) took the loss as the Cardinals avoided the opening weekend sweep thanks to Paul DeJong’s first multi-home run game of his career.  Luke Weaver (W, 1-0) held the Mets to one run over his five innings and the bullpen did the rest.  DeJong, who’s a life-time 1.000 hitter against Matz (3-3), took him deep in the second inning to give the Cardinals their first lead of the weekend, 1-0.  It was the second home run that DeJong has hit against Matz in three AB’s.  DeJong went deep against Jacob Rhame (making his Mets debut) again in the 8th.

Matz struggled in the first two innings, throwing 51 pitches, walking two and striking out three.  But after Ahmed Rosario tied the game for the Mets with another 2-out RBI in the second, Matz surrendered a run scoring, 2-out double to Marcel Ozuna after getting ahead in the count 0-2.  Ozuna started the season 0-9 before delivering that RBI double.  He followed it up with a run scoring single in the 5th and finished the day with three hits.

Weaver, who won seven straight starts for the Cardinals as a rookie last year, worked in and out of trouble in his five innings, including a 27-pitch first inning that the Mets failed to capitalize on.  The Mets managed five hits against Weaver in his five innings and just two more the rest of the way.

Matt Harvey takes the hill to start a three-game series against the Phillies (1-2) tomorrow, who a rare Sunday off after being hammered by the Braves n Saturday, 15-2.  New manager Gabe Kapler made a huge boner when he removed starter Vince Velasquez without any pitcher warming up in the bullpen.  Hoby Milner jumped up and threw a handful of pitches in the pen before jogging to the mound.  When umpire Jerry Lane (the crew chief) allowed Milner a few extra throws on the mound, Braves manager Brian Skitner came out to argue about the delay and was then tossed from the game.  Lane would later file a report with Major League Baseball, explaining his decision.

“For whatever reason the pitcher wasn’t even getting ready,” Layne told a pool reporter. “Who got crossed up, I’m not placing blame on anybody because I don’t know. He just wasn’t ready. Hadn’t thrown a pitch. … The last thing I want to do is get somebody hurt. It’s already a messed-up situation.”

Lane did the right thing for the player, but there should be some sort of punishment for Kapler.

POSITIVES:  Juan Lagares, playing for a second straight game because Brandon Nimmo had flu-like symptoms, had three hits … Jay Bruce had his first XBH of the year, a double … Jacob Rhame, whom the Mets got in the Curtis Granderson deal from the Dodgers last year, made his Mets debut … Third straight game without an error and the defense turned two double plays … AJ Ramos pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with a strikeout … Jason Vargas threw a bullpen session on Saturday and is scheduled to throw a simulated game on Monday … Michael Conforto is scheduled to rejoin the Mets on Monday and could be in the lineup as early as Thursday … Mets pitchers have recorded 35 strikeouts in the first three games, breaking the franchise record of 32 that was set in 2005.

NEGATIVES:  Todd Frazier was 0-3 with 2K and is hitting just .200 … Roasrio got picked off first after driving home the Mets only run … Jerry Blevins made his first appearance of the season, but walked two before getting the final out of the 8th inning, facing only 3 batters … Anthony Swarzak will be evaluated after leaving the game on Saturday with a strained oblique muscle.

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

Mets Complete 7-4 Home Stand, So Why Doesn’t It Feel Good?

By Paul DiSclafani:

Mets and Steven Matz wondering what is going on... AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Mets and Steven Matz wondering what is going on…
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

On Wednesday evening, June 29th, the Nationals completed a sweep of the Mets in Washington to take a season high six game lead in the NL East.  Licking their wounds and losers of four straight, the Mets and their fans opened one eye to peek at the remaining schedule before the All-Star break and saw an 11-game home stand on the horizon that included four games against the best team in the league, three more against the team directly behind them and four more against these same Nationals.  I think the word most fans were looking for was, “Sheesh!”

With injuries beginning to mount as two of their star pitchers, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, announced that they are experiencing elbow discomfort and have bone chips in their elbows, the Mets got even more bad news. While Sundergaard and Matz would continue to pitch through the pain, Matt Harvey’s puzzling season came to an abrupt halt with something that nobody had ever heard of, “Thoracic Outlet Syndrome”.

Not enough for you? How about Yoenis Cespedes straining a quad making a diving catch in the outfield that will put him on the shelf for about a week and cost him his starting role in the All Star game?

Need more? How about Syndergaard throwing three consecutive fastballs that went from 96 to 94 to 91 and then having to come out of the game with “fatigue”?  Not to worry, he has no pain in his shoulder or his bone chip filled elbow.  “His arm went dead,” manager Terry Collins said.  “He’s got a tired arm and (his) stuff went away”.

Where did it go?

His missing “stuff” cost Syndergaard his first ever All Star appearance. “It’s disappointing,” Syndergaard said about not being able to pitch in the All Star game, “But there will be a lot more.  It’s a long season, you put a lot of wear and tear on your body, just right now I think I need a little break.”

Through all of this, the Mets had to play 11 games against the Cubs, Marlins and Nationals before they get five days off. And they won seven of them.

That’s right, seven of them.  Shouldn’t Mets fans be happy?

They swept all four against the Cubs (hitting 11 home runs) and took two of three from the Marlins, then came back from a 6-0 deficit (the last game Harvey will pitch this season) to beat the Nationals, 9-7 and cut their lead in the NL East to just three games.

Then the bottom fell out when the team found out about Harvey’s TOS and both Cespedes and Syndergaard left the game within 10 minutes of each other. You think that had an effect on the last three games before the All Star break, at least mentally?

Give me a show of hands – how many Mets fans, on Thursday morning June 30th, would have taken a 4-7 record on this 11-game home stand?  How about even 5-6?  If you are still raising your hand when I get to 7-4, you are not being honest.

With all that has happened to this team in the last two weeks, they are exactly where they were 11 days ago. Granted, a home stand that started out 7-1 and finished with three straight stinkers is not giving you any confidence going into the All-Star break, but what’s the alternative?

Once again, the Nationals are tearing it up against the Mets (9-4 with 6 games left, all in September). However, if you take the seven games against the Mets (6-1) out of the equation for the Nats these last two weeks, they are just 5-10 in 15 other games that included the Padres (2-2), Dodgers (0-3), Brewers (1-3) and Reds (3-1).

Baseball is a funny game and it plays out over six months, not six days. Although six days may not be able to change the course of the season, but it can certainly change the mindset of the fan base.  Think about where Mets fans (and the media) were coming into this home stand and where they were after sweeping the Cubs and taking two of three against the Marlins?  Now just four games later, it’s gloom and doom again?

Welcome to baseball again, Mets fans. We don’t have a lot of experience with the ups and downs of a baseball season and maybe we panic and celebrate too quickly.

Let’s take a break this week and just try and catch our breath, shall we?

Jose Reyes hit two home runs in today’s 3-2 loss, Wilmer Flores has begun to heat up and we won’t have to see (or hear about) Daniel Murphy until football season starts. Maybe our expectations of dominance were a tad too high?  Maybe our reliance on starting pitching without regard to offense will come back to bite us in the butt?  We lost our Captain and third baseman for the season and no one has seen or heard from our first baseman in six weeks.

But we have an All Star closer and Bartolo Colon, the ageless wonder. Our pitching hasn’t been dominant, but they have been pretty darn good.  And where would we be without Cabrera and Walker?

I don’t think any Mets fan (including this one) is “happy” with being just six games over .500 at 47-41 after getting to the World Series last year, but let’s be honest – with all the injuries, it could be much, much worse.

Take a deep breath and exhale with me. Then we’ll see where we are on August 1st

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

Cubs Finding Out About Nimmo as Mets Snap Four Game Skid

By Paul DiSclafani:

Brandon Nimmo celebrates his first Major League RBI in Mets 4-3 win over the Cubs AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Brandon Nimmo celebrates his first Major League RBI in Mets 4-3 win over the Cubs
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

The Mets (41-37) snapped a nine game regular season losing streak against the Cubs (51-27) with a come from behind 4-3 win, scoring three times in the seventh inning and holding their breath as the Cubs threatened in the ninth inning. Jeuurys Familia worked out of a jam as the Cubs put runners on second and third with no outs.

Trailing 3-0 in the sixth and being held to just two hits by Cubs starter John Lackey, the Mets seemed well on their way to their fifth straight loss when lightning struck in the form of Yoenis Cespedes.

After getting Neil Walker to foul out to first to start the sixth inning, Lackey fell behind Cespedes 2-0 before the Cuban launched a moon shot into the third deck in left field (section 436 to be exact) to put the Mets on the board and cut the lead to 3-1. Nobody has ever hit a home run into the third deck in Citi Field since the park opened in 2009, but Cespedes was among a handful of players that did it during the 2013 Home Run Derby.

The homerun energized not only the crowd but the Mets as the bench erupted.

Mets starter Steven Matz, who was pitching with an extra day’s rest, put them in a 2-0 hole after just five pitches when Kris Bryant followed Ben Zobrist’s leadoff single with a home run. He later gave up a solo home run to Javier Baez in the sixth.  Matz pitched just 5 1/3 and issued three walks and seven hits to go along with six strikeouts.

Eric Goddel (W, 1-0), who relieved Matz in the sixth and got the final two outs, threw just 10 pitches to finish the seventh inning when the Mets offense went back to work.

With Lackey still on the mound, Travis d’Arnaud singled to left with one out after Wilmer Flores opened the inning with a line drive out to center. That was it for Lackey, who was replaced by Joel Peralta.  Peralta got ahead of pinch hitter Alejandro De Aza 1-2, but eventually lost him, putting runners on first and second.

Rookie Brandon Nimmo, making only his fifth start for the Mets, also fell behind Peralta 1-2, but he kept battling, fouling off three straight before singling up the middle and collecting his first major league RBI as d’Arnaud scored to make it 3-2. With De Aza racing to third, center fielder Albert Almora threw to third late and Nimmo alertly took second on the throw.

“I’m just trying to stay calm, act like nobody is on base,” Nimmo said about his RBI single. “… I was absolutely ecstatic. It is hard to put into words because this is just something I dreamed about ever since I was a kid. To be able to come through and help the team win, you always need it, but tonight was really, really big. To just be able to help the team somehow and be able to come up here, it feels good to contribute.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon then summoned Pedro Strop to pitch to Walker and decided to play the infield in to try to cut down the tying run at the plate. Strop got ahead of Walker 1-2 and he grounded it slowly to second base.  Even with the infield in, Baez had no play at home, so he fired to third to get Nimmo as he tried to advance.  But Bryant, who was also playing in at third, didn’t get back to the bag in time and the throw went off his glove and into foul territory, allowing Nimmo to score along with De Aza and the Mets took a 4-3 lead.

Now it was up to the bullpen to hold the lead and get the Mets a win they desperately needed. But the Cubbies were not going to go quietly into the night.

Wilson Contreras greeted Addison Reed with a single to lead off the eighth and moved to second on a wild pitch. Reed struck out Baez and Chris Coghlan, but then walked Addison Russell and Terry Collins brought in Jerry Blevins to face pinch hitter Jason Heyward.  Why not bring in Familia for a four out save in that situation?  Blevins got behind Heyward 2-1, but got him to ground one back to the mound and the Mets were out of the inning, still clinging to a 4-3 lead.

That set the stage for Familia as he tried to nail down his 27th save of the season and 43rd in a row.  After getting ahead of pinch hitter Miguel Montero 0-2, he walked him on four straight pitches, then gave up a booming double to Zobrist over Nimmo’s head in right field and the Cubs were in business with second and third and no outs and Bryant coming up.

“I’ve been in that situation before”, Familia said, “I try to calm down a little bit, don’t get too high, control my emotions and make my pitch.”

Familia pounded Bryant with splitters out of the strike zone and struck him out for the first out. After intentionally walking Anthony Rizzo, Familia pounded Countreras the same was as Bryant, getting him swinging for the second out.  He then got Baez to pop up an 0-2 pitch to end the game.

If there was ever a “must” win game for the Mets this season, this was it. Coming off a moribund 2-5 road trip in which they had more injuries than runs scored, facing the best team in baseball for a four game set was not what they had in mind.  Even though the Mets swept the Cubs in the NLCS, the Cubs were much improved and the Mets were not.

“It sure came at the right time, to come back against that team the first game of this 11-game homestand,” Collins said. “I think it’s huge for us. It lifted the spirits of everybody in there that they could come back and win a game, which we haven’t done in a while.”

As the Mets say good-bye to a miserable June, Jacob deGrom (3-4, 2.67) faces off against Jason Hammel (7-4, 2.58) on Friday night. DeGrom is 0-4 in his last 10 starts and hasn’t won a game since April 30th.  Hammel has never beaten the Mets in five starts (0-3).

POSITIVES: Familia leads all of baseball with 27 saves … Mets had lost nine straight to the Cubs dating back to 2014 … Cespedes has 19 home runs … Mets had just six hits, but d’Arnaud had two of them …

NEGATIVES: Granderson was out of the lineup after an MRI revealed a mild strain of his left calf.  He may miss a couple of games, but Juan Lagares is ready to come off the DL.

Mets Roll Boxcars In The Third Inning And Beat The “Craps” Out Of Giants, 13-1

By Paul DiSclafani:

Cespedes greeted by Wright, Conforto and Granderson after drigin them all home with his Grand Slam. AP Photo / Julie Jacobson

Cespedes greeted by Wright, Conforto and Granderson after driving them all home with his Grand Slam. AP Photo / Julie Jacobson

When the 13-7 Mets completed their second consecutive series sweep on Wednesday to win their seventh straight game, the NY newspapers could only talk about the quality of the teams they had beaten – the Phillies and the Reds.

“Wait until the Giants come to town”, they said. “Now they are getting into the tough part of their schedule”, they cried, “Let’s see how they respond.”

Respond they did.

The Mets (14-7) set a franchise record by scoring 12 runs in the third inning, highlighted by a Grand Slam from Yoenis Cespedes to turn an 8-0 nail biter into a 12-0 laugher and win their eight straight game, 13-1 over the San Francisco Giants (12-12). The Mets sent 15 batters to the plate in the third and registered eight hits and four walks, chasing San Francisco starter Jake Peavey (L, 1-2) before he even got an out (6 ER, 5W, 2 INN) and beating up on reliever Mike Broadway (6R, 5H, 1W, 1 INN), splitting the 12 runs between them.  Peavey, a former Cy Young winner, saw his ERA balloon to 8.61.  Broadway recovered nicely to get eight straight, but the damage was done.

Michael Conforto had two hits in the inning, driving in three runs, but it was Cespedes who put the icing on the cake. Cespedes had singled earlier in the inning to drive in two runs, giving the Mets a 3-0 lead, and when he came up with the bases loaded about 20 minutes later, it was already 8-0 and there was still only one out.  Like he did on Tuesday night with a pinch hit 3-run home run, Cespedes hit a laser just beyond the left field fence on the first pitch he saw, only this time it was a Grand Slam giving him 6 RBI in the inning.  Cespedes now has seven home runs on the year and 23 RBI.  He even set a franchise record with an extra base hit in nine consecutive games.

The lucky recipient of all those runs was Steven Matz (W, 3-1), who pitched six shutout innings, striking out four and scattering seven hits. Since losing his first outing of the year on April 11 and lasting just five outs while being charged with 7 earned runs, Matz has won three straight and given up just two runs in 19.1 innings (0.96 ERA), striking out 21 and lowering his ERA to 3.86.  The Mets have scored 27 runs during his streak.

Jacob deGrom (2-0, 1.54) takes on Matt Cain (0-2, 6.43) in the late afternoon (a 4:05 start) as the Mets go for their eighth straight win.

POSITIVES:  Cespedes broke Butch Huskey’s 1998 team record with six RBI in the third inning and is the first player to do it in the majors since 2012 … First eight Met batters reached base in the third inning until Matz fouled out on a third strike bunt attempt … Mets had 12 hits and six walks … Matz had an ERA of 37.80 after his first start of the year and now it sits at 3.86 … Mets were an incredible 9-16 w/RISP … Conforto, Neil Walker, Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera had two hits each … Conforto is now hitting .343.  Cespedes (.313), Cabrera (.312) and Walker (.306) are all hitting over .300 …

NEGATIVES:  Peavey and Broadway combined for 66 pitches in the third inning … Broadway’s ERA is now over 18 … Lucas Duda was the only regular not to get a hit, but he walked twice and scored a run … Antonio Bastardo pitched a scoreless ninth, but he walked two more batters and has surrendered five walks and nine hits in his 10.1 innings.  He also has 16 strikeouts.

Thanks for reading!  You can read other articles from me on “Around The Horn Talk

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!