Looking Completely Lost

The Mets looked as if they didn’t belong on the field with the Washington Nationals this weekend.  We can sight all the injuries as an excuse but the fact is this team is flawed and it has been so for two seasons now.

I was the first one to say last season that the Mets did an outstanding job getting to the post season considering all the injuries.  I will not change my opinion regarding the 2016 campaign.  However, we cannot expect that every year will go the way it did season last.  When the Mets do not hit homeruns, they don’t score and they don’t win.  Even when they do hit homeruns like last night, lately they don’t win.  Look at the scoring this weekend.   The Mets scored just seven runs in three games.  Four of the seven scored via the long ball.  In fairness they did score 2 runs on Friday evening and one run in that miserable weather on Saturday without the long ball.  But where are the rallies?  When was the last time the Mets scored three of four runs in an inning to demoralize the other team?  Except for the two run homer off the bat of Neil Walker last night, the Mets scored no more than one run an inning the rest of the weekend.

In Thursday night’s loss to the suddenly surging Philadelphia Phillies, Neil Walker’s three run homer accounted for their largest outburst of runs in a long while.  Jay Bruce’s two homer one man show accounted for the only offense in the Mets’ last win that seems like eons ago (last Wednesday).  The last time the Mets scored more than one run in an inning without the benefit of the homerun was a week ago today when Bruce singled in Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes scored on a wild pitch.  That was a game the Mets lost because they couldn’t score another run for the next nine innings (Phillies scored 4 in the 10th).  In that game, as well as the ones in Miami where the Mets lost three of four, Lucas Duda, Cespedes, and Travis d’Arnaud were in the lineup.  So let’s stop hiding behind the fact that the Mets injuries are causing their current state of losing the last eight out of nine games.

The last time the Mets scored more than three runs in an inning was back on April 13 when they plated four in the second inning.  This was the game that eventually went 16 innings before the Mets won it when d’Arnaud hit a monsterous homerun that resulted in a 9-8 victory.  At that point, the Mets were 7-3 and in first place having won their fifth game in a row and who couldn’t have thought this was going to be a special year.  Since then the club has gone 1-8 and are mired in fourth place behind the Phillies.

You have to wonder when Sandy Alderson is in his office during quiet moments if he rethinks his strategy behind letting Daniel Murphy go.  While Neil Walker is a very nice player, and a more solid defender than Murph, the Mets miss that type of hitter in the lineup.   Murphy was the perfect hitter for Citi Field, a gap to gap guy that could also pull the ball into the right field corner and has the power to hit it out anywhere as demonstrated by his first inning grand slam last night.  But that’s water under the bridge.  The Mets need to get their offense going and take the pressure off the pitching.  Man does this sound familiar.

How long before the drums start beating in regards to Terry Collins?  After two straight seasons in the playoffs, this was supposed to be the Mets year.  If the Mets are still playing this way at the end of June expect a change to be made at the helm.  Of course it’s still very early.  There are 143 games to go but the Mets look lost right now.  A 7-3 start has turned into a 1-8 stretch that looks like there is no end to it.  But baseball is a funny game and when everything looks bleak, things turn around.  Against the Braves and Phillies the Mets are 6-3 but against the Marlins and Nats, they are 2-8.  That’s not a good start when the primary goal is to win the division.  And right now the Phillies at 9-9 are better than the Mets.

The Mets host the Braves this week, the second time in three weeks. Plus they have a four game set next week at spanking new Sun Trust Park in suburban Atlanta.  That’s seven games the Mets need to get healthy on, both literally and figuratively.  They also have three this weekend in Washington and host the Marlins the following weekend before this marathon run against the NL East ends.  By then we’ll have a better idea of what we have here and so will Terry.

Quite A Mess Early On

This is not what we had in mind for the 2017 season.  After 16 games, the Mets find themselves at .500, having just lost a series to the Phillies.  It’s the first time in a very long time the Mets lost a series to the Phillies.  Add to this that the red hot Washington Nationals are coming into town for the weekend.  Had enough?  No?  Well then there are the injuries.  Lucas Duda is out yet again, this time with a hyperextended elbow.  Travis d’Arnaud is day to day with a wrist contusion.  And last night, Yoenis Cespedes may have pulled a ham string running to second base.  MRI results will determine if Cespedes will head to the disabled list or not.  Well at least Michael Conforto will get some playing time.  I’m trying to keep a positive attitude.

I can’t emphasize enough that it is still early.  It was good to see Jeurys Familia back even if he did look a bit rusty.  Sending out Rafael Montero and Sean Gilmartin is addition by subtraction so hopefully these moves will help solidify the bullpen.  Jay Bruce and Asdrubal Cabrera’s throwing errors gave the Phillies a couple of earned runs.  It didn’t help that Noah Syndergaard threw a wild pitch and hit a batter either.  Had the Phillies only acquired the three earned runs they deserved, maybe it’s a different story today.

The Mets are simply misfiring on multiple fronts.  Their defense is not crisp, their leadoff hitter, whoever it might be on a given evening, is not getting on base enough and too many hitters are swinging for the fences much like last year.  Last night Curtis Granderson led off and went 0 for 5.  Folks, that’s called not getting it done.  You can’t win when the leadoff hitter does not get on base.  Granderson is a team favorite, respected in the clubhouse, the media, and the fans love him.  However at what point does he need to sit down.  I understand that Cespedes may miss some time now but I think the Mets would be better off with an outfield of Conforto, Juan Lagares, and Jay Bruce until Cespedes returns.  And while we’re at it, I’d sit down Jose Reyes too.  Unfortunately however, now Wilmer Flores will miss a few days because of an infection in his knee.  Who plays third if Reyes doesn’t and who plays first now?  What a mess.

The Mets remain 0-6 when scoring less than three runs. And when scoring four or more they are 8-2.  Two things, the Mets need to score more runs to win and they need a better bullpen to win games when they score few.  Ok, I’m not saying anything you don’t already know.

The Mets are now under .500 at home, another bad sign.  One good piece of news is that Neil Walker hit a three run homer that at least got the Mets close last night.  With all the problems that Granderson and Reyes have had, I hardly noticed that Walker has not done much of late either.

So the Mets have had a five game winning streak and a four game losing streak within the first sixteen games of the season.  That suggests that the 2017 edition of the Mets is going to be a streaky team.  If the Mets do not want to fall too far behind, they had better start another streak tonight, preferably a winning one.

Bruce Saves the Day

Just where would the Mets be without Jay Bruce?  This was the player the Mets were trying to trade all winter long.  I guess the front office just can’t get enough of Curtis Granderson who takes two months or more every season to get going.  I mean if you are going to move an outfielder, you’d pick Bruce over the popular Grandy?  Why would you do that with Bruce’s track record?

Bruce’s two laser beam shots to right field accounted for all five of the Mets runs. And they needed all five as the Phillies scratched out four and again the bullpen was unable to protect a slim lead for a starter that did yeoman’s work.

Last night it was Robert Gsellman who turned in a much improved performance over his first two starts of the season.  After leaving the game with the Mets ahead by a score of 3-2, Jerry Blevins gave up the tying run.  Now to be fair, the hit given up by Blevins was a bloop popup that Yoenis Cespedes made a valiant effort to grab in no-man’s land.

Much like last season, the Mets rely on the homerun.  That’s always problematic when Mets hitters are slumping and not hitting the long ball.  The Mets are not a station to station team.  Although last night Asdrubal Cabrera singled then Cespedes worked out a walk before Bruce erased the 2-0 deficit with his first mash to right.  Terry Collins actually allowed Gsellman to start the eighth inning.  Good for him, that’s what he should have done.  Unfortunately Gsellman paid his manager back by allowing Aaron Altherr to hit a ground rule double, immediately putting the lead in jeopardy.  Blevins came in and got two outs before the dunker that tied it up.   But Gsellman deserved to start the eighth and had Jacob deGrom been given the opportunity to start the eighth inning last Saturday night in Miami, maybe that game has a different outcome.

I’m glad the Mets won but I’m not getting all giddy.  Without Bruce, the Mets lose their fifth in a row.  And two often injured players are injured again.  Lucas Duda left the game with a hyperextended left elbow and Travis d’Arnaud had to sit early when he bashed his hand against Odubel Herrera’s bat on an attempted pickoff throw.  Are you shocked?  I’m not.  These two are the DL poster boys in recent seasons.

If the Mets take winning serious, they need to do two things right now.  Put Wilmer Flores at third every day and sit Jose Reyes.  Put Michael Conforto in center and sit Granderson.  Let’s do this for five games in a row regardless of who’s pitching and let’s see what happens.  A lineup of Conforto, Cabrera, Cespedes, Bruce, Walker, Duda, Flores, and d’Arnaud would produce better than the current lineup that includes Granderson and Reyes.  If Duda and d’Arnaud need a stay on the DL then of course, that throws a monkey wrench into the cogs.  Maybe Bruce gets a shot at first with Conforto going to center.  But I would put Juan Lagares in Center, not Granderson.

It’s interesting that the Mets, 8-7, are in good company.  There are thirteen teams in the Major Leagues that are at .500 or a game over or under.  The best record so far is Baltimore at 9-4 with the worse being Toronto’s dreadful 3-11 mark.  Its early folks and a lot can change.  I would hope though that the Mets don’t wait too long and let this season get out of control.  They are already trailing Washington who looks like they are going to pick it up right where they left off last season.  And after the Phillies leave tonight, guess who’s coming for the weekend?

At .500 Just What Do We Have Here?

A week ago tomorrow, the Mets were flying high having won five in a row and leading the eastern division of the National League.   Four losses in a row and the club find themselves at the .500 mark looking up at the Marlins and Nationals.  What is wrong with this team?

Manager Terry Collins likes to point to Thursday night’s sixteen inning marathon after the team did not arrive to their hotels until 3:30AM.  The players were tired but they did win the game scoring nine runs to do so.  Okay, I can cut the Mets  some slack for losing the next night when they lost in the ninth inning 3-2.  However, I still say Jacob deGrom should have been given the opportunity to start the 8th inning in Saturday night’s game for two reasons.  One, he was cruising and getting stronger and two, the bullpen was exhausted.  But the almighty pitch count came into play and ultimately the bullpen, namely a tired Fernando Salas gave up three runs and the game.

Sunday the Mets offense didn’t show up until the top of the ninth when they dramatically tied the game at 2 with two out.  But that moral victory was short lived once Addison Read gave up a two run homer for the Marlin walk-off.   Now we arrive at last night’s terribly played game that saw the Mets incapable of protecting a one run lead late in the game thanks to a little league bone head play by Jose Reyes.  So what’s the excuse now? The Mets were tired after a day off?   No, there is more here than meets the eye.

Reyes better realize the Mets have other options.  T. J. Rivera is a plane flight away and can play third base.  He can also offer at least the offense that Reyes has provided so far and likely better.  To put it bluntly, that catch has to be made.  In my opinion it’s inexcusable and Reyes should sit a few days to get his head out of his ass.  What we are seeing in Reyes right now is the reason Sandy Alderson never gave him that long term contract to begin with after he won the batting title in New York.  The Mets got good without Reyes they can stay good without him too.

Enough venting on Reyes, there are many others to blame—the offense for one.  During this losing streak of four games now, the Mets have scored a mere ten runs.  That’s 2.5 runs per game.  The Mets 2017 record so far when scoring three runs or less in a game is 0-6.  They are 7-1 when scoring four or more runs.  The big question mark coming out of spring training was and remains the bullpen and now we see why.  Hopefully when Jeurys Familia returns, things will stabilize but the Mets need to give up on Rafael Montero.  Maybe he’s simply a pitcher made to be a starter because as a reliever, he’s awful.

The bright spot and to no surprise is the starting staff.  Except for a couple of choppy outings from Robert Gsellman and Wheeler’s first start of the season, the rotation has been awesome.  It’s difficult to put any blame on the starting staff so far in 2017.

Here’s a breakdown of the Mets loses.

April 5th – deGrom pitches six solid innings allowing no runs on 2 hits, striking out 6 and walking one.   He leaves the game with the Mets leading 1-0.  Hansel Robles gives up the tying run in the 7th then Montero gives up 2 in the twelfth. Mets lose to Braves 3-1.  Bullpen blew it and give an assist to the offense that couldn’t muster a run since the fifth inning.

April 7th – Wheeler was completely ineffective giving up five runs in three innings.  Smoker added a couple more out of the pen and the Mets offense was asleep. Marlins win 7-2.

April 8th – The next night Gsellman didn’t pitch bad but gave up a run in each of the first three innings.  The Mets offense was still asleep from the night before and the bullpen gave up five more runs collectively, two more from Montero.  Marlins win 8-1

So early on you, many of the problems we see in this current losing streak were already evident.

April 14th – Syndergaard gives up one earned run (2 overall) in six innings of work.  But the Mets offense, lethargic from 16 innings the night before can only score two runs total and Josh Edgin gives up the winning run in the 9th.  Marlins win 3-2.

April 15th – The Mets offense rebounds from a 2-1 deficit to take a 4-2 lead.   deGrom stuck out 13 but was pulled because of pitch count.  I guess games later in the season count more in the standings and they want deGrom to be fresh.  It’s no way to run an airline folks.  Salas implodes in the eighth giving up back to back jacks.  Mets lose to Marlins 5-4.

April 16th – Harvey pitched very well allowing just an unearned run (2 overall) with the Mets offense still wondering how to score runs.  In the top of the ninth, the Mets offense makes a dramatic comeback tying the game with two out.  Then Addison Reed becomes part of the horror show and gives up a two run homer, Marlins win 4-2.

Last Night – Clinging to 2-1 lead, Fernando Salas, the goat of Saturday night induces a popup to get the Mets out of a tough eighth inning.  Perfect opportunity for Reyes to relive our little league nightmares.  He drops a pop up extending the inning and allowing the Phillies to tie the game.  Montero comes in the 10th inning and further proved why he needs to be gone from the 25 man roster.  Mets lose 6-2.

So after 14 games the pattern is clear.  The starting pitching is consistently good.  When the Mets’ offense thumps, the Mets win, plain and simple.  But close games have been extremely problematic so far.  Teams hoping to go deep into the post season cannot be losing close games.  The Mets bullpen must improve.  Familia returning tomorrow is a start.  But the other thing that must happen is better management of the pen.  Collins’s effort to protect the starting pitching by monitoring pitch counts is wearing out the bullpen.  These guys cannot pitch night after night, especially this early in the season.  Plus some of the relievers are just not very good, most notably Montero.   If the Mets make no move before tonight’s game regarding the pen, I would be surprised.

The good news is the season is still very young.  There are a lot of teams with high hopes this season that are also struggling early on.  The Indians, Cubs, Pirates, Cardinals, Giants, and Dodgers are all supposed to contend and like the Mets all are sitting at or below .500.  Certainly it’s not time to panic but it would be nice to see the Mets begin to perform on all cylinders.

Three Heartbreak Streak

There are going to be a series like this through the course of the long season.  But that doesn’t make it feel any better.  Today’s disappointment was the icing on the cake of three consecutive heartbreak losses.

After winning a marathon 16 inning affair Thursday night, the Mets suffered their first walk-off loss of the season Friday night by a score of 3-2.  Last night after fighting back from a 2-1 deficit, the Mets took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth only to see Fernando Salas blow the lead with two outs and nobody on base.  I question why Terry Collins removed Jacob deGrom from the game when he was pitching so brilliantly and had gotten stronger as the game went on.  I get it, they have to protect these pitchers that have come off of surgery and watch their pitch counts carefully. It’s easy to be an arm chair quarterback, however, I would have at least liked to have seen deGrom start the eighth especially considering how many pitches Salas had thrown recently.  Then today’s heart breaker with the Mets having come back with two outs in the ninth to tie the game just to see it go up in smoke in the bottom of the 9th.  Addison Reed couldn’t solve J. T. Riddle (get it) as he hit his first major league home run with a runner on.

So the Mets drop behind both Miami and Washington who also won today.  I know it’s a long season but I was hoping the Mets could have gotten off to a little better start than 7-6 in their first 13 games.  In these last three games, the Mets had a legitimate shot of winning all three yet they couldn’t win one.  Had they had done so they could have flown home in first place with an 8-5 record as opposed to sitting in third with a 7-6 record.

Miami could be the Mets nemesis this season.  They appear to have the hitters that do well against the Mets pitching, at least the bullpen.  The Fish only managed 2 runs off of Harvey (1 earned), 2 runs off deGrom last night, and 2 runs (1 earned) off of Noah Syndergaard Friday night so the starters are doing their job.  But as in the past, Terry Collins questionable handling* of the bullpen and the Mets offense not living up to their part of the bargain are wasting some brilliant starting pitching.

The Mets are going to get a well deserved day off tomorrow and hopefully will rest up for the Philadelphia series that begins Tuesday night at Citi Field.  They need to get their winning mojo back because the Nats come in Friday night and they had the Mets number last year and during spring training (not that those games count).

*I just feel that Terry goes to the same guys way too often.  I know it’s somewhat unfair because everyone got used Thursday night but never the less there are too many pitchers called on to pitch in three, four consecutive days.  That can’t continue or the pen is going to get flat out warn out.

Marathon Men

Yesterday I wrote about Hansel Robles and his penchant for inconsistency.  After pitching three days in a row, Terry Collins was not going to use Robles last night by hook or crook.  Shows you what can happen in baseball and why it’s like no other professional sport in the world.  There’s no clock. A game could be played in as little as two hours or theoretically go on forever.  Last night was a close example of the latter as the game stretched to close to 1:00AM and sixteen innings.

There were many heroes.  After falling behind quickly by the score of 4-0 after a first inning grand slam from the bat of Marcell Ozuna, the Mets bounced back in the top of the second.  After loading the bases, Travis d’Arnaud tripled down the right field line clearing the sacks making it a one run game.  So hero number one is d’Arnaud who has got his bat going now.  Curtis Granderson singled in d’Arnaud from third tying the game at 4.  The Mets offense answered the call erasing a four run deficit giving beleaguered Mets starter Robert Gsellman another shot.

Gsellman did settle down.  And while he did, Yoenis Cespedes and Wilmer Flores hit back to back jacks then Cespedes hit another bomb two innings later to give the Mets 1 7-4 lead.  But Gsellman fell apart and gave up four runs and the lead in the fifth, blowing his shot at his first win of the season.  So far we have a hero in Cespedes, d’Arnaud, and Flores but not Gsellman.  In this story, Gsellman was the antagonist.

Michael Conforto, who earlier in the day was not sent to AAA Las Vegas to make room for Juan Lagares, got into the act in the eighth inning and doubled to right center to score d’Arnaud with the tying run.  With score tied 8-8, it became the battle of the bullpens.  After Josh Edgin let in two inherited runners closing the books on Gsellman, he managed to get the final outs of the fifth inning.  From that point forward the bullpen was magnificent.  Rafael Montero (1.1 innings), Jerry Blevins (.2 innings), Fernando Salas (2 innings), Addison Reed (2 innings), and then Josh Smoker (3 innings) kept the score tied through the fourteenth inning.

So what was Terry to do? The only pitchers he had left were his starters and Robles.  Collins was forced to go against his wishes and bring in Robles who had to be tired from his previous outings.  Right off the bat you had to feel jittery as Robles gave up a single to the leadoff hitter Miguel Rojas.  But after Rojas was sacrificed to second, Robles got Dee Gorden to fly out and then struck out A. J. Ellis. Very impressive!

Then finally in the top of the sixteenth, Travis d’Arnaud ended the scoring drought by both teams by crushing a lead off fast ball to the moon (or was it deep left field).  It was Robles’ game now to win or lose.  Collins had no one left and was not willing to bring in a starter.  (Paul Sewald had been sent down earlier in the day to make room for Lagares.)

Robles walked Christian Yelich to start the sixteenth.  A pain in the pit of the stomach began.  But Robles got the very frightening Giancarlo Stanton on a well hit line drive to right before striking out the struggling Justin Bour.  That brought up Met killer Marcell Ozuna.  On Robles’ first pitch, Ozuna cracked it to deep center where Lagares corralled it on the warning track to end the marathon.  Had Ozuna hit that ball to left or right, there would have been no happy recap.

SNY votes Travis d’Arnaud the hero and why not?  He had four hits including a bases loaded triple and the game winning home run.  He also scored the tying run way back in the 8th inning.  So yes it’s hard to argue who the hero was.  But for me, I’d give it to Robles.  He’s proven that he can get big outs and is not afraid to try.  Great for him.  Great win.  Great night for the Mets!

Will the Real Hansel Robles Please Stand Up

This guy scares the hell out of me when he comes into a game, especially in a tough situation.  Last night after Zach Wheeler began to tire, he loaded the bases in the 6th inning.  Manager Terry Collins removed Wheeler and summoned Hansel Robles who took no more than one pitch to turn a five run lead into a one run lead.  As Gary Cohen pointed out in the telecast, Robles became the first pitcher in two years to give up a grand slam homerun on the first pitch he threw.  Robles grooved one right down the middle of the plate that Phillie’s third baseman Maikel Franco launched into the left center field seats to draw within a run.

Fortunately after walking Michael Saunders, Robles settled down and got Daniel Nava to ground out to first and end the inning.  Robles recorded out number one in the seventh inning before giving way to Jerry Blevins, Fernando Salas, and Addison Reed to protect the one run lead and a three game sweep of the Phillies.

So what’s the story with Robles?  Sometimes he looks unbeatable and other times he’s so reminiscent of the proverbial deer in the headlights.  Robles is 11-7 in his career with 150 strikeouts in 136.2 innings pitched so no question, the guy has talent.  This season Robles stole the opening day win being the pitcher of record when the Mets scored 6 runs in the seventh inning after Noah Syndergaard left the game after pitching six brilliant innings.  Well rules is rules and Robles pitched a perfect seventh striking out 1 to earn the victory.  Then two days later, he blew the Mets slim 1-0 lead against Atlanta giving up 2 hits, hitting a batter and walking a batter in a third inning of work.  Also Robles walked two and gave up a hit and a run against the Marlins on April 8th.  Then Robles pitched two perfect innings collectively over a two game span against the Phillies on Monday and Tuesday, striking out two in the latter appearance.  Then comes last night’s four runs on one pitch that turned a potential blow out into a close game.

Could it be that Collins doesn’t know how to manage Robles?  Maybe three nights in a row is just too much for the 26 year old hurler.  Or is it that Robles loses focus or just struggles when coming into a crucial situation with runners in scoring position.  Does he lack confidence?  The kid has good stuff and should be a huge asset in the bullpen and for the most part he has been this season.  To be fair, none of his guffaws has cost the Mets a game, well at least ultimately.  In the season’s game 2, while giving up the tying run, the offense could never muster another and it was Rafael Montero who blew the game in the 12th inning.  The Mets were already losing 3-1 to the Marlins when he gave up a run making it 4-1.  The Mets eventually lost that game 8-1 with the offense never showing up.

There is a pattern to Robles and it’s disturbing.  A couple outings he’s good then he takes a step or two back.  Of course pitchers go into slumps, even the best ones do.  It’s the inconstancy that’s puzzling about Robles and he’s not a young prospect any longer.  At 26 years of age, Robles needs to establish himself as a sought after reliever or he could become a forgotten journeyman before long.