After April

The Mets are 15-8 this season. That’s exactly where the Amazins were one year ago following the same number of games. The difference in one year however is where they are in the standings. Last year at the end of play on April 30th, the Mets were 4.5 games ahead and never looked back. The Washington Nationals were 10-13. This season, the 15-8 Mets are 1.5 games behind the 17-7 Nats. That spells out a completely different scenario than the early 2015 season.

Here’s something else that’s different. The Phillies are 15-10 (same number of wins as the Mets) just 2.5 out of first. What’s up with that? Last season at this time, they were in last place 8-15, 7.0 games behind the Mets. It’s hard to believe the Phils will be able to maintain this success but give them credit. Their young players including some very good pitchers have stepped up.

So many things change in one year. The good news is that after a rough start the Mets appear to have picked up right where they have left off last season. Neil Walker has done an outstanding job for the Mets replacing Daniel Murphy’s offense with more power and more solid defensive play. The Mets are more stable at short as well with the addition of Asdrubal Cabrera. He and Walker have provided the Mets stellar pitching staff with much more solid middle infield defense than a year ago. Wilmer Flores now becomes a nice option to have off the bench filling in for Cabrera, David Wright, and Lucas Duda when necessary.

So the Mets appear good again but so does the rest of the division. The Nats are out to prove last year was a fluke. They are ten games above .500 getting solid pitching and their offense is outstanding with Murphy playing well at second and hitting like he can. Washington is not going anywhere.

Just as the Mets had their eight game streak stopped yesterday by Madison Bumgarner and the Giants, the Marlins had their seven game winning streak snapped by Milwaukee. The Fish are a much improved team as well with a healthy Jose Fernandez heading up the rotation and Giancarlo Stanton hitting monstrous home runs.

The Mets have a great opportunity this week with the one bad team in the division coming to town for their first visit, the Braves. Bartolo Colon, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz get the starts before the Mets head out for what will be a major test in the form of an eleven game road trip. The Mets will head to San Diego (4), Los Angeles (4) and Colorado (3). Now is not the time for a letdown against Atlanta.

The first month is over and now it’s on to May. Last May, the Mets struggled (13-15) having lost a bunch of players to the disabled list. The Mets have fared much better this season as far as health goes, only losing Travis d’Arnaud to the DL so far (no surprise there unfortunately).

In other news it was the annual “have the Mets taken back New York?” conversation the other day during one of the Mets pregame shows. When is the Mets media going to learn to stop with this? As bad as the Yankees have been this year, the Mets still have a long way to go to have the bragging rights the Bombers do. Something about two world championships to 27 comes to mind. Yes for the month of April the Mets have played great while the Yankees have shown their age. To me, it’s not something I think about. Let the Yankees fans worry about their troubles. One bad start to the season does not sink the Yanks. Even last year when they were predicted to finish below .500, the Yankees made the playoffs although just for one game.

How much would it cost to put a retractable roof over Citi Field? Not one that seals in the heat but like the one they have in Seattle, a roof that keeps the rain and snow out. The weather in the northeast in April and much of May has been dreadful the last few years. It doesn’t make seeing games in person much fun with cold rain pelting down on the stands. A roof would help keep the wind down too making for a much more pleasant experience. Alas, doubtful that could happen financially or architecturally.

Some Food For Thought On A Friday

The Mets find themselves just a half game behind the Nationals heading into tonight’s action. Surprisingly that has a lot to do with the Philadelphia Phillies who managed to sweep a three game set from the Nats this week. The Phills actually shut out Washington in games two and three by identical scores of 3-0. What’s up with that? Are the Phillies going to be a bit of a surprise this season?

And how about Don Mattingly going back to Los Angeles and sweeping his former Dodger team in a four game series? As much as I don’t want to see the Marlins get too good too soon, that had to be sweet for Donnie Baseball. And speaking of the Dodgers, this is Vin Scully’s last season broadcasting Dodgers games. He began his career at Ebbets Field in 1951. That is an absolutely absurd fact.

Think about this. Vince Scully has been doing Dodger games for 65 years. His broadcasting career is eligible for Medicare. That spans the Dodgers first ever world championship against the Yankees in 1955, the Dodger’s move to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale,  Mr. Ed running around the diamond at Dodger Stadium. This guy has seen it all. What a remarkable career. It really is a treat to listen to Scully do a Dodger game. The MLB Network will usually show the Dodger broadcast when televising Dodger games. It’s old school broadcasting. Scully doesn’t bombard you with stats-abet soup the entire game. Scully will be missed when he retires.

As far as our Amazins go, they have a good test in this weekend series against the Giants. They are a much better team than what who the Mets have faced recently. The Giants are currently tied with LA for first with a 12-11 record and they just swept San Diego in a three game set. The matchups are Peavey vs. Matz, Cain vs. deGrom, and Sunday’s marquee matchup of staff aces, Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard. That should be a good one.

This just in, Marlins Dee Gordon was suspended for 80 games, caught with two performance enhancing drugs in his system. That’s got to hurt a Marlins team looking to rebound this season. When are players going to learn to only use performance enhancing medicines condoned by the AMA. You know cortisone, blood platelet therapy, UCL reconstruction. Don’t get me started.

Are There Omens in Baseball?

The Mets have won eight of their last ten games. They are hitting home runs at an absurd pace. In fact, the Mets seem to score all their runs on homeruns as they did last evening in their win over Cincinnati.  Michael Conforto’s solo shot, Lucas Duda’s two run dinger, and Neil Walker’s two run blast accounted for all five Mets runs. It’s been an incredible streak of power since the Mets hit the road the second week of April. The Mets are now 11-7, three games behind the division leading Washington Nationals. But the Mets could have been just two games back if magic didn’t happen on Sunday in the nation’s capital.

The difference between the Mets and Nationals right now is the starts both teams got off to this season. The Mets struggled out of the gate going 2-5 in their first seven games. But the Nats got off to a torrid start going 6-1. And since then Washington has remained hot going 8-3 while the Mets have picked up steam and have gone 9-2. But if there is anything to omens, then as a Mets fan I have to be concerned with what happened in DC on Sunday afternoon.

The Nats were looking to sweep the lowly Minnesota Twins on Sunday. The Twins were leading the Nationals 4-1 heading to the bottom of the eighth inning.  But Wilson Ramos doubled in two to make it a one run game. Then in the last of the ninth the reincarnation of Babe Ruth, known as Bryce Harper, homered to tie the game and send it into extra innings. The game trudged on into the 15th inning with either side not mounting much of a threat. But in the top of the 15th, the twins mustered a run when Miguel Sano singled to drive in Eduardo Nunez.

Now with the Twins leading 5-4 in the bottom of the 15th, the first two National hitters made out. The Twins had one out to go to secure just their fifth victory as well as cut the Nats lead over the Mets to 2.5 games. But Twins pitcher Brian O’Rourke walked Danny Espinosa. Nats manager Dusty Baker had no one left to pinch hit. His entire bench had been used up. He was forced to let pitcher Oliver Perez hit. Yes, that Oliver Perez, the same Oliver Perez who helped to seal Mets GM Omar Minaya’s fate. If you were unaware, Ollie is a reliever for the Washington Nationals. A team with such aspirations after failing so miserably last season has Oliver Perez as part of their bullpen. It’s simply surreal.

Okay, so let’s recap. The Twins are up by a run. There are two outs and Oliver Perez is up. It’s in the bag. The Mets will be just two games out, right? Well… Espinosa steals second. Then with two strikes, Perez drops down a bunt, an improbable bunt down the third base line that may have gone foul had Twins catcher John Ryan Murphy let it go. Instead Murphy picked up the ball then threw past first baseman Joe Mauer. Espinosa scored the tying run. Turn off your sets folks. If a pitcher cannot get out Oliver Perez with two strikes to the end the game, do you honestly think that team will?

Sure enough, in the bottom of the sixteenth the Nats walked off when Daniel Murphy hit a home run. Okay, I made that part up. I figured that’s how it would end but in fact Chris Heisey hit the home run. But you get the point. The Nationals are on a mission. As well as the Mets have played the last couple of weeks, it appears they will have their hands full this season with Washington. Both are solid teams. Both have great offenses, solid defenses, and outstanding pitching. It should be an exciting season but nerve wracking as well. The Mets will not face the Nationals until May 17th at Citi Field. Hopefully by then the Mets will have caught up and created a little magic of their own.

Causes for Concern

It’s early so let’s get that part out of the way. At 7-7, the Mets have gotten off to a ho-hum start. The good news is that after going 2-5 in their first seven games, the Mets have gone 5-2 in their last seven.  But last night’s sputtering offensive performance reminds us that this particular version of the Mets has yet to settled in.

The Mets have hit a bunch of home runs lately but in two very homer friendly ballparks. Unfortunately the Mets will not play at Progressive Field any more this season and will not return to Citizen’s Bank Park until July 15th.

While it’s great to see this power explosion especially after looking so anemic the first seven games, what concerns me is the situational hitting is lacking to say the least. Last evening, I found myself waiting for that two or three run bomb to break the game open. It just never happened. And really a base hit here or there would have been more than enough to seal the sweep. It just never happened.

Mets hitters struck out seventeen times in the series finale and went 2-14 with runners in scoring position. In fact the Mets scored two of their four runs last night with the help of the umpires when they overturned Asdrubal Cabrera’s three homerun. That turned it into a double that scored the runner from second. If it wasn’t for that review, the last eighteen runs the Mets scored would have been all from homeruns. Prior to the Cabrera’s overturned homer, the Mets scored fourteen runs in a row all from homeruns. I know it sounds strange to say that the Mets hit too many homers but I would say they rely too much on four baggers. This current homer barrage is not going to continue. Mets hitters had better figure out a way to get runners home when the homerun well goes dry.

Perhaps just as troubling was the fact that after homeruns did come to the rescue in the form of back to back ones from Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda, Addison Reed was not able to stop the Phillies from tying it up. So far in one run games this season, the Mets are 2-4. A team must be able to win the one run games consistently in order to succeed.

Note: The 1986 Mets, 2006 Mets, and 2015 Mets all have something in common. They started the season 11-3 after fourteen games and made the post season. This year, the Washington Nationals have an 11-3 record after 14 games. Just sayin…

Some Thoughts

Noah Syndergaard remains the ace of the Mets pitching staff. There should be no doubt about that so far in this early season. He is 2-0 with an ERA of 0.90 and has struck out 29 batters in 20 innings. He’s a beast and looks to be the Mets ace now and of the future as he dominated the Phillies last evening. Of course nothing like this can be said without the caveat of the Tommy John plague that exits in the sport these days. So let me restate what I said. Providing Noah remains healthy he looks to be the Mets ace for now and the future.

I know many will say that Matt Harvey is the ace. So far this season, he is not. Harvey is 0-3 with an ERA of 5.71. Pitching Coach Dan Warthen claims he has found the flaw that has embattled the Dark Knight early on. Time will tell if Warthen is correct or not.

The highest ERA on the staff right now belongs to Steven Matz. But that’s only because he had such a miserable first start when he lasted just one and two thirds of an inning. He pitched brilliantly on Sunday and earned points toward being the staff ace. The other starters are doing fine as well. Logan Verrett, designated spot starter, goes tonight after pitching very well last week against the Marlins. Verrett pitched seven strong innings giving up just one run. The never aging Bartolo Colon is at 2.13 with one win and won loss. And Jacob deGrom in one start so far this season has a 1.50 ERA giving up just one run in six innings. So isn’t it ironic that the one guy who is really struggling is Matt Harvey? I have a feeling this will change in a short while.

Here’s something interesting. Over the weekend the Mets played the Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Since interleague play began in 1997, the Mets have a 10-5 record facing the Tribe. But what I find interesting is the venue. In the five three game sets the Mets have played against Cleveland, four have been at Progressive Field. The first time was back in 2002 when the Mets played the Indians for the first time (in what then was known as Jacobs Field).  In 2004, the Indians came to Flushing for a series at Shea Stadium. Since then the Mets have played at Progressive Field three more times, once in 2010, again in 2013 and finally this past weekend. It just another weird thing from the scheduling group, that keeps me scratching my head.  In most other interleague matchups, it’s pretty much even where the Mets have hosted at Shea/Citi then the next time played away.

Why must every time David Wright is brought up in conversation, do we have to hear about his back? I get it, he has chronic back problem called Spinal Stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. It’s not going away. Wright will always have this. He is working very hard to minimize its effect and is resting appropriately. Wright hit two opposite field home runs last night so obviously he is able to function as a productive major league player. The fact is he will have to put more work in each day to get ready to play compared to other players. The fact is he may need more days off than in the past. The fact is he may even need a stint or two on the DL during the long course of the baseball season.  It’s really unnecessary however to speak of his medical condition every time Wright does something good or bad. Good God, now I’m doing it.

An Inauspicious Beginning

The young players on the Mets can be excused for failing so far this season. They went on a hell of a ride last year. No one even expected the New York Mets of 2015 to climb as far as they did, taking the Royals to the fifth game of the World Series. So when we heard how they were satisfied to be league champions and were going to work hard to take that next step, who would have doubted them? But so far, and it’s only a few games, the Mets are not handling the new found expectations that have been thrust upon them.

Last season, there was no pressure to win. This year there is. There stellar and inspired play of a year ago raised the bar and early on they are finding these new expectations difficult to live up to. The pitching has been very good so far and so has David Wright in spite of the respective media narratives that Harvey is not yet Harvey and David will never get away from his bad back. Geez, it’s brought up constantly has if there is nothing else to talk about.

The problem has been the offense. The hitting has been dreadful. Curtis Granderson is off to his typical horrible April. Michael Conforto has been disappointing so far as the everyday left fielder.  Travis d’Arnaud has been awful as well. As a team the Mets have the lowest batting average (.194) and OBP/SLG/OPS (.285/.250/.535) in the major leagues—even worse than the 0-9 Braves. The shame of it is the Mets are wasting some pretty good pitching.

At 3-5, the Mets are already 3.5 games behind Daniel Murphy’s 7-1 Washington Nationals. You have to think he’s enjoying feeding some crow to his former club right now. It’s early as everyone says but each game the Mets lose in the standings is going to be tougher to make up as the season progresses.

There were signs of a struggling offense in spring training but as always, the common reaction is who cares, its spring training. After all the Orioles started out in the spring going 0-9 then began the regular season winning seven in an row. But sometimes perhaps, maybe the things we see in the spring are indicative about what’s to come when April commences.

Certainly it is a long way to go. It would be hard to believe the Mets will continue to flounder offensively the way they have so far. But it’s interesting to say the least that an almost completely different offensive team compared to last April is looking like the same struggling lineup that meandered their way to the trade deadline last July when everything changed.

But let’s take away some positives. The pitching has looked as advertised despite the fact that Harvey has not been as stellar as the media would like. The one glaring glitch was Steven Matz’s first start Monday night but hey, he’s still a kid and he’s still learning. The bullpen has looked good despite Terry Collins’ penchant for wearing out a handful of relievers as he does every season. This is something that perplexes me. Why after Jim Henderson threw 35 pitches Tuesday night did Collins bring him in again on Wednesday afternoon only to watch him load the bases? Folks, this is a guy coming off of shoulder surgery. I have to believe GM Sandy Alderson was cringing at this decision. Terry admitted he desperately wanted to win that game on Thursday. That tells me the manager is feeling the heat very early on. Not so sure the best thing to do was wear out Henderson and give Jeurys Familia a five out save regardless of the circumstances.

The defense with the acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker already looks much more dependable up the middle than any time last season. And Wilmer Flores at first on Wednesday looked exceptional making all the plays with good footwork around the bag as he filled in for the once again struggling Lucas Duda. So it’s not all bad but…

Is it Panic City again?

Well it could be. Look, management can throw all the excuses out there that they want. The weather and the scheduled off days the first week can only go so far. The opposition played in the same cold weather too. Look at the Cubs who need to prove something. They’re 8-1 already. No excuses there. The Royals, back to back World Series participants, they’re off to a 7-2 start. The aforementioned Nats are already 7-1. The Cardinals got off to a bad start too but they are now 5-4 as they right their ship. So enough already with the excuses. Excuses are for losers, what the Mets are right now.

As we have seen in recent years in baseball. It is very difficult to repeat and the odds are the Mets will not get back to the World Series. Just because the Royals got to two World Series in a row doesn’t mean the Mets will. But getting back to the playoffs with this pitching staff is something that should happen. Mets hitters need to focus on getting some hits and making things happen. They need to stop trying to hit a five run homerun every time up. Take a walk. Move a runner over. Do the little things to build a run or two. Put pressure on the other team. But so far watching the Mets’ turns at bat is like watching paint dry. Wake me up when it’s over.

The Mets begin a nine game road trip to Cleveland (3), Philadelphia (3) and Atlanta (3). Cleveland is not a bad team and the Phillies and Braves are predicted to be the worst in the NL East. The Braves are proving that so far while the Phillies are playing above their heads early. The point is the Mets need to make some progress on the road and get home in good shape for a nine game home stand at the end of the month. Otherwise we may be looking at last season as an aberration instead of the norm.

Somewhat Alarmed

So what were you expecting? The Mets have already won in this decade. Yep the Mets win once a decade but they did win twice in the 80s. The 1960’s had the ’69 World Championship Mets. The 1970’s had the ’73 pennant winning Mets. The 80s had the ’86 Mets and the ’88 division winners. The 90’s had the 2000 NL champ Mets. Yes, 2000 was the last year of the 1990s, the last year of the twentieth century. Look it up. The 2000s had the 2006 Eastern Division champ Mets and the 2000-teens had last year’s NL champs. So don’t get all Yankee greedy thinking the Mets are going to win every year. It’s just not in their DNA. But what is going on with a team with such outstanding pitching and projected by many to at least repeat to win the division?

I know that spring training doesn’t count and no one should be alarmed by a team’s fortunes or lack thereof during the grapefruit league but consider this sobering fact. Since St. Patrick’s Day, the Mets record including spring training games and the first seven games of the regular season is 3-17. Again, pre-season games don’t matter but it’s the pattern that has become somewhat alarming.  Consider that the Mets have scored nine runs in the five games they have lost in the regular season. That’s less than two runs per game. And in one of the two games they won the Mets only scored two runs. If the Mets could have managed to score three runs a game in those they lost, their record would be 4-3 instead of 2-5. And yet so much of the media’s attention is paid to the pitching.

Last night way too much time was spent on what happened to Jim Henderson in the eighth inning. This guy has been light’s out and he only gave up one run and that was helped out by an outstanding sixteen pitch at bat by Dee Gordon.  Jerry Blevins gives up the sacrifice fly and the pitching has suddenly been the problem. IT’S NOT THE PITCHING! THIS TEAM CAN’T FRIGGEN HIT!!

No one should panic even though I am a bit perturbed today. However, Terry Collins cannot just keep writing out the same lineup day in and day out. I love Michael Conforto but he has yet to earn being in the lineup every day especially the way he has not been hitting. How about putting Juan Lagares in center for a few days with Cespedes in left? Let’s see if that shakes things up.

Maybe the shenanigans at the beginning of spring training with the fancy cars and horses was a telltale sign that this team was not as focused as the words suggested. When the Royals lost the 2014 World Series, they went camp the following spring with heads down and focused. It was a testament to the Royal’s organization for them to get back to the World Series let alone win it the following year. Even the San Francisco Giants who incredibly won three World Series in five years were unable to get there in back to back seasons.

I like the moves that Sandy Alderson made over the winter. Perhaps it’s just going to take a little more time for the Mets’ offense to gel and get things going. But let’s stop with the excuses that there were too many days off and the weather has been bad. I didn’t see the wind stop blowing and the temperature rise ten degrees every time the Marlins came up to bat last evening. The opposition, the Phillies and Marlins, had to play in the same crappy conditions. And the Mets have played games in five consecutive days losing four in a row now. Stop with the excuses and start winning. The Nationals keep winning and the hole the Mets find themselves in now is going to get deeper and deeper if they don’t figure a way out.

The Mets have wasted four terrific starts already—last night’s effort by Noah Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon’s on Saturday night, and the two by Matt Harvey regardless of the media’s narrative that Harvey has just not been Harvey. His starts were good enough to win with an average offense, something the Mets do not have right now.

Yes it’s a long season and I promised myself I would not become an alarmist if the Mets got off to a bad start. But each evening I have been expecting the Mets to start playing the way they are capable of and so far it’s the same boring offense. I admit it. I am becoming somewhat alarmed.