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I Still Blame the Offense

This one’s on Noah, no question. Given a four run lead early, Noah Syndergaard could not get anyone out in the third inning and runners were stealing on him and d’Arnaud at will. Was Noah’s elbow bothering him? Who knows but I do know he could have had a bigger lead had Mets hitters come through a bit more than they did. The Mets were only able to score one run in the first, one in the second, and two in the third but it gave Syndergaard a four run lead. However, the Mets left runners on in those innings including Yoenis Cespedes who left the bases loaded in the second inning. Who knows what might have happened had Cespedes come through to give the Mets a bigger lead. However, when the Mets score four runs they are now 29-7 so it’s a bit critical to pick on the offense tonight.

The Nationals scored five runs in the third and four in the fifth inning. You have to go back to the last time the Mets were in Washington when they scored more than three runs in an inning. That’s over a month so it’s hard to overlook the offense even on a night when the scored four and had a young pitcher on the ropes. So while this one is clearly on or at least mostly on Thor, the offense is still struggling and it would help the entire team if the Mets could have a few games where they routinely put up six or seven runs.

The Mets drop to third place now and things might get a lot worse before they get better.

The Hitting Woes Continue

The Mets are .500 against the NL East this today. In fact, they are .500 against every team in the division including the Braves who have beaten the Mets four times in a row. This season is not shaping up to be the way it was intended. However as of right now, the Mets find themselves in a virtual tie for the second wildcard with St. Louis and Miami. And while we can ponder on what has happened to Matt Harvey’s dominance even though he gave up just two runs or Addison Reeds 0-2 pitch that dropped down belt high then found its way over the left field fence to turn yesterday’s game around, ultimately the pitching is not at fault. Neither is the defense as exemplified by Michael Conforto’s catch as he crashed into the wall or his tremendous throw to the plate to complete a double play and keep a run from scoring. No folks, pitching and defense, those two aspects of the game remain the Mets strength. It’s the offense. It continues to confound even though the Mets played small but much better last evening.

Here’s a startling statistic. When the Mets score three runs or less, their record is 10-27 (.270). However, when they have scored four runs or more, their record is off the charts at 28-6 (.824). The Mets level of play which some might say is good to very good could become dominant if they could simply muster, in many cases, just one more run.

The Mets have been shut out seven times this year. In four of those games, they were shut out by scores of 1-0 twice, 2-0, and 3-0. Let’s be conservative and assume a stronger offence might have been able to score at least two runs in these games. Then it’s conceivable the Mets might have won two of these games. If that had happened, we are taking about the Mets being 40-31 today instead of 38-33.

Of the 27 games the Mets lost when scoring three runs or less, seven of them were one run games. Let’s assume the Mets could have scored two additional runs in half those games with a better offensive approach. Since seven is not evenly divisible by two, we’ll be conservative and say what if they scored two more runs in three of those games. Now let’s add three wins to the ledger and the Mets could be at 43-28 today instead of 38-33. It’s only a swing of five games but what a difference it makes. That would put the Mets into first place in the NL East, ahead of the Nationals by a game.

Remember the line from Bull Durham when Crash Davis is explaining the difference between a career minor leaguer and a hall of fame player? “One more hit a week” he said, “a dying quail that falls in, a squib beaten out for a hit” could make all the difference. For today’s Mets it’s adding one more run on average per game. They need to go from 3.65 runs per game to 4.65 or there about. How they do that is not clear. Last evening the Mets came through three times with runners in scoring position. That’s something that they have not done much of this year as the team continues to have the worst RISP in the game. But it was nice to see that on a night when they did not hit a homerun, they managed to lead for most of the night. It was unfortunate what happened to Reed but those things happen.

The Mets offence remains an enigma. When was the last time the Mets scored four or more runs in one inning? I had to look it up it’s been so long. Ah they scored 11 runs against the Pirates last week but alas, their largest single inning output was three runs. But they did manage it three times. Monday May 23rd against the Nationals in Washington, the Mets scored five runs in the third inning. That was twenty-five games ago. That’s pretty bad.

Not sure what the Mets can do. I don’t think resigning Jose Reyes is the answer but I guess it can’t hurt considering they need something and he’s a very cheap solution which would not impact the Mets from making a deal at the trade deadline. But I do think the answer is within. The hitters in the Mets lineup are capable of producing more. And if they can do so, the Mets should begin to improve on their recent play of the last two months.

It’s Okay, Really!

To listen to the talking heads on the radio after Thursday’s win against the Royals, you would have thought a large asteroid was headed for earth with a course set directly for Citi Field. The news of Noah Syndergaard’s and Zach Wheeler’s elbows producing discomfort says more about the state of mental health among Mets fans than it does about any potential injury those two pitching studs might have faced.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I was completely relaxed when hearing the news that Noah Syndergaard left Thursday’s game after six innings because of elbow discomfort. I was alarmed as the next Met fan. However, a rational response after a minute or two of absorbing the news is to wait and see what’s really going on. In fact, there are lots of things that can cause discomfort in the elbow, especially for those who make a living throwing a baseball. However, most of the time, said symptoms does not equate to ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery requiring fifteen months of rehab. Of course I realize that UCL tears have become a pandemic in baseball. In addition to Wheeler, Matt Harvey had the surgery, Jacob deGrom had it, and Steven Matz had it. Ironically the ageless wonder Bartolo Colon never had it. Go figure. (But Colon did have stem cell surgery for a bad elbow and shoulder back in 2009.) So ipso facto, Thor’s turn is coming. Well, could be but not yet and let’s hope it never happens.

According to his exam yesterday with Tommy John Guru surgeon Dr. David Altchek, Syndergaard has no structural damage and was given a Cortisone shot for inflammation. He simply has a sore elbow. The same can be said for Wheeler who was cleared to continue his rehab from Tommy John surgery that he underwent in the spring of 2015.

What I find interesting is the reaction of fans and those in the media. While listening to Pete McCarthy’s reaction on WOR 710AM after the game, I thought for a moment I might be listening to Sean Hannity ranting about liberals taking over the world or something. My point is this… If it had turned out that Syndergaard and Wheeler had season ending injuries, would the world have come to an end? And I am talking about the baseball world, not the real one. The Mets would still be required to finish their schedule and they wouldn’t be packing it in saying wait till next year. If Wheeler was told he had a major setback requiring new surgery or simply would not be able to come back this season…well he’s not been here so far anyway and the Mets are in contention without him. It would have been no reason to give up hope. If Syndergaard were told he needed TJ surgery, the Mets would still have Harvey, deGrom, Matz, and Colon, still a formidable rotation when compared to most clubs. It would have meant that the Mets would need to use Logan Verret, Sean Gilmartin, or perhaps they would promote Gabriel Ynoa to take Thor’s place. It would be a blow if Syndergaard and/or Wheeler went down, no question. But it wouldn’t mean the Mets still could not have a productive and winning season.

It’s amazing to me how Mets fans react. It shows the loyalty and compassion this fan base has for its’ team. It also shows that Mets fans expect the worst. Historically the franchise has been a losing one so with such a passionate fan base, I guess it’s to be expected that the reaction would be one of catastrophe. But winning baseball isn’t just about the starting eight and the starting rotation. It’s about depth. A team expecting to get to the post season must have the depth for when the injuries happen and they will happen. Baseball is such a long season that it must be assumed that players are going to go down. Some will go on the disabled list, some will be day to day, and some will be gone for season. It’s just the nature of the beast. The Texas Rangers are currently the American League’s best team. They have lost three fifths of their starting rotation to injury. Yet, they keep on winning.

Fortunately for the Mets, pitching is a strength. I think the Mets could actually survive even the most unthinkable scenario we were potentially looking at on Thursday. However a loss of offense, such as Yoenis Cespedes who injured his wrist and is day to day, would be more damaging if he were to go down for an extended period of time. The Mets offense has been brutal and that’s an area I would apt to be more concerned about if injuries mounted.

So the good news is everything’s pretty much okay. Syndergaard is okay. Wheeler is okay, and Cespedes is pretty much okay. Hopefully the Mets will be okay. Relax, grab a snack, and enjoy the game.

 

House of Cards

Nine teams were swept over this weekend. The slumping Pirates got swept by the Cubs who never seem to lose anymore. The Cardinals lost three in a row in interleague fashion to the Texas Rangers, the best team in the American League. The lousy Brewers lost three in a row to the Dodgers who have finally moved into wild card territory. The Phillies have reverted to their true colors losing seven in a row, the last four against the Diamondbacks. The Rays got swept by the Giants who look poised to win another every-other-year championship. The Tigers and White Sox were swept by the Royals and Indians respectively in what is turning out to be an AL Central battle. The Miami Marlins swept the Rockies and in doing so moved into second place in the NL East jumping over the Mets. Ah yes, the Mets… the Mets who lost three in a row to the worst team in the National League, the Atlanta Braves.

For the first time this season, the Mets find themselves not in a playoff spot. If the season ended yesterday, today we would be talking about it as one of the great collapses in baseball. Luckily, the Mets still have 94 games left on the schedule.

So what is wrong with the Amazins?

To read comments on Metsblog.com, the simple answer from the fans is to fire Terry Collins and his coaching staff I guess ala George Steinbrenner in his heyday. Once again the Wilpons are being vilified as well as Sandy Alderson who apparently got lucky last season when the Mets made it to the World Series. Surely these remarks are out of anger and who can blame Mets fans for feeling this way? But the reality is, firing the front office is not going to fix the problem currently on the field. And the problem on the field is totally the offense. Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom had bad outings in the three game set against Atlanta. Stephen Matz fared better Saturday night but he allowed the Braves to chip away a 3-0 lead and the bullpen couldn’t stop it either. A bad call to send the runner home who got called out at the plate with no outs in the ninth doused any slim hopes the Mets had to tie the game so fire Tim Teufel too while we’re at it.

It doesn’t take rocket science to see that the problem with the Mets hitters is they collectively are one dimensional. They hit homeruns or they don’t. The Mets score when balls fly out of the park otherwise the runs are very hard to come by. The Mets are right up there at the top of the league in homeruns. They are second in the NL with 90 homeruns. The Washington Nationals, ahead in the NL East by 5.5 games over Miami have 96 dingers. But here’s the glaring difference. The Mets have scored a total of 250 runs (13th in the NL) to the Nats 325 (4th in the NL). The Mets score an average of 3.7 runs per game while the Nats score 4.6 runs a game. So even though the Mets hit lots of homers they don’t have a lot of people on base when they hit them and they rarely score a run when not hitting the long ball. It’s an offensive house of cards that is going to crash down on the Mets if it hasn’t already.

Sandy Alderson did a fine job of putting a lineup together where six of the starters could hit 20 plus homeruns a year. The problem is no one counted on these players not doing what they have done historically. For whatever reason, the offense has become completely one dimensional. It’s homerun derby every night without a coach laying them in there from 45 feet away at 60 mph and Len Berman screaming “back, back, back, back, back… – Oh shut up!

Mets hitters are unable or unwilling to go the opposite way as they did during the 11-1 drubbing of the Pirates last Wednesday evening, clearly the highlight of what has become a dreadful home-stand. What’s interesting is that the Mets hitters had a meeting with their hitting coach Kevin Long prior to that game where he preached using all sides of the field. They did it for a couple of games then starting Friday night against Atlanta, they reverted to their old ways of expanding the strike zone, striking out, and swinging for the fences. Mets hitters hit right into the shift way too often, they strike out way too much (605 times, 4th in the league), and when they do get runners in scoring position, the opposition can relax because for the most part, the Mets simply don’t score in those situations.

The Mets don’t run well either. They are dead last in the NL with stolen bases (13). Their on-base percentage (.307) is the worst among teams that are above .500, only better than the Braves, Reds, Padres, and Phillies, the dregs of the National League. Even the awful Brewers have a better OBP.

So aside from reactionary immediate gratification solutions, what do the Mets do? Do they send down Michael Conforto who appears to have lost his ability to be a gap to gap hitter? Do they try and make a deal? It’s really too early for that and any GM in his right mind is going to ask for one of the stud pitchers as the Mets deal from desperation. They’re not going to fire Collins folks, not after he brought the Mets from a perennial under .500 team to National League champions. Look, his in game moves drive me nuts too but it is not going to happen.

Injuries have played a part, no doubt. No one expected David Wright to play 130 games this year but no one saw him in only 30 games either. Travis d’Arnaud should be back tomorrow night but he’s completely unreliable, always on the DL or at least if feels that way. And prior to being disabled, d’Arnaud wasn’t hitting a lick anyway. Who saw the streaky Lucas Duda’s back problem coming? Not many, that’s for sure.

Now it’s time that we collectively take responsibility and say we were wrong. This includes me, Sandy and his staff, and all Mets fans that were fine with not giving Daniel Murphy what he wanted to stay in New York. Murph is exactly what the Mets are missing. He’s a hitter who always makes contact and can simply flat out hit. His power production got progressively better last year under the tutelage of Kevin Long. He makes contact all of the time and now the Nationals are benefitting from having him, regardless of is occasional mistakes in the field. The Mets do not have a hitter like Murph right now and they sorely need one. Conforto should be that guy. But he’s picked up bad habits from the rest of this lineup and he’s forgotten how to use all fields. When he adjusts to the pitchers that have adjusted to him, we should hopefully see him return to form. And no, I don’t think the Mets should send him down to fix this.

I still think it’s too early to panic. After all, the Mets played well against Pittsburgh and in the course of a long baseball season, there will be a series or two that completely goes south against the worst of teams. It happens. Let’s just hope that’s what happened over the weekend otherwise things will get interesting and not in the way we had all hoped.

It’s That Simple

A broken clock is right twice a day.  A blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut. Even a lousy hitting team enjoys a blowout once in a while.

That could be the take-away from last night’s drubbing of the Pittsburgh Pirates by a score of 11-2. Noah Syndergaard was simply brilliant pitching eight and a third of almost shut out baseball and striking out eleven. Noah came out in the ninth and looked a little too pumped, over throwing, then getting into some trouble before giving up a run. We expect this kind of performance from the Mets ace. Yes folks, with all due respect to the Matt Harvey fan club, Thor is the ace of this staff, even with Harvey looking much like his old self in his last few starts.

So before the game, hitting coach Kevin Long had a little talk with his hitters. I guess he said the usual stuff that hitting coaches say like, don’t expand the strike zone, don’t be afraid to take a walk, or hit the ball the other way.  For whatever reason, Mets hitters must have taken the ear buds out of their ears and listened to Long because they did just that. In fact the Mets scored three runs in the first inning in unusual fashion—for the Mets. They loaded the bases with no one out as I moaned that the Pirates got the Mets just where they want them. Sure enough, Wilmer Flores squibbed one up the third base line but it did score a run. Kelly Johnson, the sequel, popped out as I moaned something like I hate it when I’m always right. But Matt Reynolds came through with a big two out, two run double down the line. Is it shades of things to come or the law of averages that the Mets actually scored with two out and runners in scoring position?

It also dawned on me at that moment that it was the first time the Mets scored three runs in an inning since Friday night, May 27. And to top it off the Mets would score three runs in an inning twice more before the night was through. It was amazing to see Mets hitters actually have productive at bats, especially hitting the other way, neutralizing the shifts. In the fifth, Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores single the other way in a three run uprising. In the seventh Granderson singled to left. Amazing! The run production was the largest since April 29 when the Mets tattooed the Giants 13-1, their most lopsided win of the season.

So the question remains, did the Mets figure something out or was it just a stroke of luck? Was it that Pirates’ pitcher Jeff Locke just wasn’t very good or Mets hitters woke up and started hitting the way they’re supposed to?  Well, we’ll find out tonight when Bartolo Colon attempts to hold the Pirate offense down. The Mets are 2-3 vs. the Bucs this season. Tonight’s game will end the season series but the Mets could face the Pirates again in October but a lot can happen before then.

With the level of pitching the Mets have, last night’s game is just a reminder of how dominant this team could be with some reasonable hitting. The Mets or any team for that matter is not going to score eleven runs every night but if the Mets could score just four or five a night then perhaps they could start picking up some ground on Washington.

If you consider a blowout to be a difference of six or more runs, the Mets have done it seven times this season. Last night’s 11-2 win was the first blowout in the Mets favor since May 23 when they defeated the Nats at DC by a score of 7-1. It was an enjoyable offensive explosion on Wednesday night but realistically with all the injuries, this cannot be expected to become the norm. Hopefully Neil Walker gets back in the lineup tonight. Perhaps Michael Conforto too now that he has had a cortisone shot in his sore wrist. Maybe the Mets DL Juan Lagares due to his re-aggravated thumb and then bring up Brandon Nimmo from triple A to see what he might offer offensively.

The bottom line is this. The pitching is good, a constant. The fielding is also pretty good as well (except for Wilmer Flores at third whose throws are always an adventure). If the Mets hit and score runs, they’ll win. If they don’t, well, they won’t. It’s that simple.

Stuck In Neutral

The Mets finished the season series against a flawed Milwaukee Brewers team with a 5-2 record. However, with better situational hitting, the Mets might have actually swept the season series from the Brewers. The Amazins are still the worst in baseball when it comes to RISP. Thank goodness for the Mets outstanding pitching. If it weren’t for that, who knows where the team would be today?

Of course there are reasons why the Mets are struggling at the plate. For the second season in a row, the starting lineup is not what the design showed it to be over the winter. David Wright (herniated disk in the neck, out for 6 to 8 weeks), Lucas Duda (stress fracture in back) out indefinitely, and Travis d’Arnaud (sore shoulder is finally catching in AA) have not been in the lineup forever. Also Neil Walker finds himself out of the lineup with a sore back. So needless to say, those are four big pieces missing from the offense. Add to this that Michael Conforto has not hit a lick since April. He’s struggling in his first full year in the majors after a torrid April. The pitchers adjusted, now it’s time for Conforto to readjust. It was bound to happen but it’s coming at a bad time. Kevin Plawecki, we have been told, has hit in the organization at every level. Apparently not if we include the Major Leagues as a level. So injuries and underachievement have contributed to the Mets not being able to get better than six to eight games above .500 so far this season.

The Mets would still make the playoffs if the season ended today. They would be the second wild card behind St. Louis who has suddenly gotten hot and have taken over the first wild card spot. The season differs in this respect compared to last season. Last year, the fill-ins for the injured were mostly AAA guys who really had no business donning a major league uniform. At least this season, the Mets have bonafide players to take over. James Loney has done a nice job filling in for Duda. Wilmer Flores, getting yet another opportunity to prove he belongs is also doing well at third for the injured Wright. The same cannot be said for Kevin Plawecki who has been dreadful offensively. In fact, when d’Arnaud returns, the Mets should keep Rene Rivera and send Plawecki down so perhaps he can get some offensive help.

The Mets had a very nice April going 15-7 but since have gone 19-21. They have not scored more than 2 runs in an inning since May 27th when they plated three against the Dodgers in the first inning. You need to go back to May 23rd to find a game when the Mets scored more than three in an inning. On that night in the nation’s capital, the Mets scored five runs in the third inning, ultimately defeating the Nats 7-1. The Mets have not enjoyed a larger margin of victory since. Since May 23rd, the Mets have scored six runs in a game four times winning each one. They scored five in one game, winning that one too. In games when they score four runs or less since then, the Mets are 3-10. Suffice to say, the Mets simply do not score enough runs to support that fantastic pitching staff they have. Scoring four runs a game with that pitching, and it’s a completely different ball game.

And while the Mets have been struggling, the Washington Nationals have now built their lead in the NL East to 4.5 games. Clearly new manager Dusty Baker has the Nats believing in themselves. It also doesn’t hurt that the Nationals acquired former Met Daniel Murphy who has been leading the league in hitting for most of the season. Ouch! But the Mets are not out of it at all. Still, the Mets must do some things better in order to stay close in this race. The often injured d’Arnaud should be back in a couple of weeks barring any setback. It’s not as clear as when Duda will be back and honestly, I don’t think anyone can count on Wright to be back before sometime in August, if then. Still, when healthy and everyone functioning on most cylinders if not all, a lineup of Granderson, Cabrera, Conforto, Cespedes, d’Arnaud, Walker, Duda, and Flores could be very potent. The trick for the Mets is to stay healthy and over the past couple of seasons, that has not been possible.

Notes: Well it takes two to make a good trade. Michael Fulmer, former Mets’ prospect that was traded to the Tigers last summer for Cespedes is pitching lights out in Detroit. Yesterday against the Yankees, Fulmer gave up two hits and no runs in six innings. On the season, Fulmer has a WHIP of 1.137 with 52 strikeouts and 19 walks. Can you imagine a Mets rotation of Syndergaard, Harvey, deGrom, Matz and Fulmer? Oh well, we’ll have to settle for Syndergaard, Harvey, deGrom, Matz, and Wheeler, when he comes back next month and that’s not too shabby. And Colon has been pretty good most of the time too.

Having traded a lot of young pitching in the farm for major league talent the last two seasons, you can see why the Mets went heavy in the draft on pitchers. It’s time to restock. The Mets best pitching prospect that’s close to major league ready is 23 year old Ynoa Gabriel. At Las Vegas, he’s 7-1. Not bad for pitching in the hitting rich Pacific Coast League.

Dreadful Offense

It is 2-1 Pirates in the 5th inning of game 2 of tonight’s doubleheader. The last time the Mets scored three or more runs in an inning was back on Friday, May 27th, against the Dodgers at Citi Field. That’s over a week and a half ago. Since that time the Mets have been able to score only one or two runs in an inning. And as game two continues, the Mets have scored just two runs in their last 23 innings.

I know the Mets have lots of injuries but this offense is wasting some tremendous pitching performances. And it is also wasting some not so great pitching performances too but ones that are good enough to win. Like in tonight’s first game of the doubleheader. Clearly it was not Stephen Matz’s best night but he still only gave up 2 runs.

The Mets’ offense is simply dreadful. Perhaps it’s just a slump but we have seen all season so far that if the Mets are not bashing balls over the fence, they simply do not score runs. It’s great that so many in the lineup have the power to hit them out but it would be nice to have some hitters that can put the ball in play and do the little things necessary to build a run. A three run outburst in the first game could have been enough to propel the Mets to victory. Instead, it was clear from the first inning the Mets were not going to be able to do much against former Met Jonathan Niese.

Game two is not fairing much better. Jacob deGrom just gave up another run so forget this one too. A 3-1 deficit might as well be a 10-1 drubbing they way the Mets are hitting.

I have no solution, just venting. But it appears Sandy Alderson has no solution either.