Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Too Much Sense

Yeah, I know, the Mets traded for Tyler Clippard earlier on Monday, which is a helpful move to shore up the bullpen and more evidence that the Mets aren't just going to sit idly by and let a huge opportunity go to waste.

But then came this late night, out-of-nowhere blockbuster trade between the Blue Jays and the Colorados. After months, or perhaps years of speculation, the Colorados finally dealt Troy Tulowitzki to the Toronto Blue Jays, along with old friend LaTroy Hawkins, and in return received what I can only assume is a hefty load of prospects, as well as one Mr. Jose Reyes.

For the Colorados, a team that's clearly in rebuild mode, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for them to deal away Tulo's massive contract and then take on the similarly hefty price tag Reyes carries.

So what, then, does this have to do with the Mets?

Well, Slapenfield, quite a bit. The Tulo-to-the-Mets talk was going on all offseason until it finally died down. But apparently it heated up again somewhere over the last few days, until it once again became apparent that there just wasn't a match to be had. Tulo's contract right now is probably a bit much for the Mets to bear, seeing as how he's still signed through 2020 (with an option for 2021) and owed upward of $90 million with no opt-out in sight. Moreover, the haul Colorado probably wanted in return was more than the Mets were willing to give up, which is probably the real reason a deal like this didn't happen in the offseason, and it didn't happen again now, because Colorado probably never came off of their asking price. And the Mets were probably right to not meet that price since it likely would have meant dealing a pitcher that they shouldn't be dealing at this point in time.

HOWEVER...Jose Reyes, while still owed quite a bit of money, is due about half of what Tulowitzki is owed, with a deal that expires after the 2017 season, which seemed so far away when he left to sign his "Godfather" deal with Jeffrey Loria and instead ended up with a dead fish in his locker. So to that end, it's not as onerous a contract to take on now that it's more than halfway complete. What's more important is that while Reyes will probably command a prospect of some acclaim in return, he does not command the mother lode that it would have taken to acquire Tulowitzki.

So maybe I'm reading between the lines too much, but this seems to be more than just a little coincidental. Mets need a SS. Colorados are trying to deal their SS. Mets and Colorado cannot agree on mutual terms as Colorado is asking too much. Colorados then deal said SS to another team to pick up a talented, but less expensive SS that they have little to no intention of keeping. Colorado and the Mets re-open discussions? The prodigal son returns home when the Mets need him the most?

This now stands to be a very interesting next few days.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Power of Professionalism

Within the span of about 45 minutes, a totally deflating afternoon turned into a victory snatched from the jaws of imminent disaster. Juan Uribe (It will take no less than the remainder of the regular season for me to get over the propensity to call him Jose Uribe) became the second New Met in as many days to pick up his official "WELCOME TO NEW YORK!" moment, as his 10th Inning RBI double plated the winning run in a 3-2 Mets victory. After playing two completely unwatchable games against the Dodgers and looking every bit like they were going to get blasted back into the late 1970s, the Mets got their acts together and won the final two games of the series and somehow earned themselves a split.

This isn't the first time the Mets have surprisingly split a series against a team that more often than not looked like they were in another league. The Mets did this against the Cardinals back in May, thanks to an outing of massive importance from Jacob deGrom on a Thursday afternoon after the Mets had been outscored 44-0 the last two nights. It should be of no surprise, then, that deGrom was on the mound on Sunday afternoon, putting forth a similar outing of massive importance. It was certainly a pitching matchup worth circling, as deGrom, who's rode the wave of his All Star Game dominance to further acclaim, matched up against Zack Greinke and his shutout streak that had reached 44 innings entering the game. So if you needed cannon fodder, this was it. If Greinke was mowing down everyone in sight, how would the punchless Mets have a prayer? In fact, he'd already done it to them once earlier this month. 

Well, sometimes you just have to stone up and hit the damn ball. And that's what the Mets did against Greinke, getting hits from Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Kevin Plawecki and taking advantage of Joc Pederson pulling his "L.A. Cool Dude" act and yakking on Plawecki's ball, allowing Nieuwenhuis to reach 3rd with no outs. A man on 3rd and no outs isn't exactly a winning proposition for the Mets, and lord knows that's a joke I've had to recycle far too many times for it to be funny anymore. But deGrom followed by hitting a well-placed ground ball at in the general vicinity of Adrian Gonzalez, and rather than take what was probably a sure Double Play, he tried to be a hero and throw home, but too late to get Nieuwenhuis. And that, my friends, is how you break Mr. Tough Guy's inning streak.

The Mets furthered their lead later on when Greinke lost the plate in the 6th, intentionally walkEd Murphy, Unintentionally walked Duda and then hit Michael Conforto with a pitch. It's actually nice to see that the Mets now finally have a hitter who's not afraid to hang over the plate and dare the pitcher to come inside, and then not make any sort of effort to get out of the way when he does. Conforto has reaffirmed my assertion that he might be kind of a competitive dick, and pulling a Chase Utley act like that to get his team a run only serves to endear him to everyone.

The 2 runs was all the Mets would get against Greinke, but that was OK because Greinke was getting totally skunked by deGrom. deGrom allowed the Dodgers 2 singles, 2 walks and that's about it. It's not often that you can say a pitcher got the best of Greinke but on this day, deGrom totally outdueled him, working 7.2 innings, striking out 8 batters and bridging the game directly to Jeurys Familia.

Unfortunately, Familia picked this particular game to fall flat on his face. Since the All Star Break, Familia's blown both of his Save opportunities, but then again that's two opportunities in now 10 games since the break, indicative of the fact that things have been going less than well for the Mets. He's also appeared in a pair of non-Save situations and looked fine. But what is disconcerting is that these are good, Playoff caliber teams that are beating him so it bears some raised eyebrows when Familia has the kind of 9th inning that he did yesterday. He got the first out fine, but then came a pair of rocket doubles from Gonzalez and Turner, and then a poke-job single by Yasmani Grandal, and before you could blink, the game was tied and deGrom got yet another no-decision hung on his head.

Coming off of Parnell's gag job on Wednesday, this had all the makings of an even more deflating loss. You could see a game like this dragging out into the 13th inning before someone annoying like Yasiel Puig or Pederson hit a 2-run Home Run off of Gilmartin and backflipped around the bases.

Fortunately, it didn't get that far. The Mets did nothing in their half of the 9th, and Jenrry Mejia performed some magic to get out of the 10th, including striking out Pederson with a runner on 3rd and 1 out. The Mets then created their own opportunity when Curtis Granderson, who all of a sudden has turned into Mr. Sparkplug, singled and then went to 2nd when Andre Ethier went after the ball like he was walking his dog. Following a botched sacrifice by Tejada and an intentional walk to Murphy, Don Mattingly made the curious decision to go to his closer Kenley Jansen right then and there to face Juan Uribe. And, of course, we know what happened, as Uribe took an 0-2 pitch and whacked it off the fence for the winning hit.

See? This is what happens when you have real, Major League hitters on your team. They come up against good pitchers and get big hits to help your team win games! A novel idea, no doubt, but you tell me if you think Eric Campbell would have gotten that hit. Or Johnny Monell. Or John Mayberry Jr. Or Danny Muno. Or anyone else of that particular ilk. This trade wasn't an earth-shattering move for the Mets but in two games you've already seen it pay off, if for no other reason than it gives the Mets actual viable options with their lineup, instead of the same old dreck that goes 0-for-4 every night and find it challenging to lay down a sacrifice bunt. It's nice, isn't it.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

That Old Joke

I'd been out most of the day on Saturday and the game was well underway by time I arrived home, by which point the Mets had already run out to a lead and from there didn't look back. The Mets ended up hitting 4 Home Runs, knocking 21 hits and scoring 15 runs, and I was reminded of the old story from 1964 when the Mets won a game in Chicago, 19-1, and a fan called up a sports desk, saying "I heard the Mets scored 19 runs today." "Yes, that's right," replied the Operator. "But did they win?" queried the caller.

It's sort of been that way for the Mets recently, although you'd be hard pressed to find a day in which their pitching staff might get tagged for so many runs, a 15-run explosion for the Mets just seems unheard of. But that's what happened. They attacked hapless Dodger rookie Zach Lee for 4 runs in the 1st inning and went from there. Usually, when Matt Harvey pitches and wins, he's the story of the game. Matt Harvey does the job and the rest of the team just sort of does the minimum necessary, or Harvey gets fed up and drives in his own runs. Last night, Matt Harvey gave up a pair of Home Runs, probably because he was temporarily stunned from pitching with a big lead. Michael Conforto went 4-for-4 with a walk and scored 4 runs in his second Major League game. Kirk Nieuwenhuis also went 4-for-4 with 4 RBI. Lucas Duda hit a pair of Home Runs. Daniel Murphy hit a Home Run, probably the first thing he's done right in weeks. Kelly Johnson provided himself a nice "WELCOME TO NEW YORK!" moment with a Home Run of his own. Not to be outdone, Harvey himself drove in a pair of runs, the third consecutive game in which he's managed to do so.

Basically, everything clicked last night for the Mets in a way it hadn't, basically since the middle of April. You would like to think that it didn't take Terry Collins Terry Collins-puts-players-on-notice-hit-or-sit">basically threatening the hitters to start hitting to produce results like this but that's how it broke out. There are only so many ways you can get people's asses in gear and sometimes it takes going over the top to get the results you need. I highly doubt the Mets will now turn into some demented version of the Anaheim Angels, but with some new hitters who might actually hit on the roster now, perhaps it's pushed some of the borderline starters. Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores were benched outright with Conforto and Johnson now in town, and you can expect that Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy might find themselves shifted around as well.

It's Conforto who stole the show with his 4-hit charge, probably because that's exactly what you sort of blindly hope for when a hotshot Rookie hits the big stage. Much like the Mets won't score 15 runs again for a while, I think its safe to assume that Conforto won't bang out 4 hits every game. He shouldn't have to if the Mets actually turn this into something. What would be more helpful is if Johnson and Juan Uribe make their contributions count because they both come from winner's backgrounds. Uribe's only been on 2 World Series Champions, and he's contributed heavily to those causes and others once the calendar flips to October. Johnson has been a Met Killer for years and we've seen up close what he can do many times. The guys they're pushing are all players that just need to get the memo that they're blowing a really good chance to do something big.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Loser Either Way

I was supposed to be at Thursday night's game, but I exchanged my tickets for Friday night based on scheduling and pitching matchups. Based on the results, either decision would have been the wrong one.

The Mets played a game on Thursday night that was so lifeless I couldn't even be bothered to write a post about it. Granted, the Mets are hardly the first team to get steamrolled by Clayton Kershaw, but the Mets nearly turned it into an art form, as Kershaw had a Perfect Game into the 7th and certainly looked good—and the Mets bad—enough to finish the deal. Since I've already seen the Mets get No-hit this season, I'd had my fill of such games. Fortunately, the Mets managed 3 hits, but no runs and ran their train-wreck of a post-All-Star Break record to 2-5.

Tonight, I was expecting a matchup of Zack Greinke and Jon Niese, hardly a more favorable matchup for the Mets, but at least Niese has been in a really good groove lately, so he might at least keep it competitive. Colon kept the game on Thursday night competitive, too, in contrast to his prior start when the Cardinals beat his brains in. Greinke, however, was expecting himself, and thus was scratched from Friday's game in order to be with his wife. So, instead, I got Niese and Ian Thomas, whom I believe I saw earlier this season with the Braves.

Then, of course, earlier in the day came the news that Michael Cuddyer was going on the DL and the much-hyped prospect Michael Conforto was being called up. Conforto, with but a whisper of Minor League time on his resume, probably wasn't going to fix the offense by himself, but if nothing else some new blood is never a bad thing when you're going as badly as the Mets have. You try to find a balance, and if it means giving a kid a shot, well, give the kid a shot. What else is there to lose?

There was a palpable buzz in the air at Citi Field on this particular Friday, partially because of the lure of Free Shirt Friday, partially because of the Major League Debut for Conforto, and also because of the word flying around that the Mets were finally about to make a trade and get some more new faces in here. Granted, the trade was for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, not exactly headliners, but hardly schlubs, either. For a team that's been trotting unabashed dreck off the bench for weeks, getting two real, professional players is a big deal. Uribe and Johnson on the bench, or in the lineup, means no more Danny Muno, no more John Mayberry, Jr, no more Johnny Monell, or whoever they decide to jettison. The last piece of news, which filtered out just as the game was about to start, was that like Greinke, Niese was also expecting, but opted to pitch the game.

Unfortunately, the way Niese pitched, he would have probably saved us all quite a bit of misery had he just gotten on a plane to Ohio instead. The Dodgers attacked Niese early and often, with old friend Justin Turner leading the charge, red hair flying all over the place and baseballs flying into gaps and into the seats. Turner drove home a 1st inning run, which got me thinking that the Mets would just have to come back, no big deal. In the 2nd, Niese got Thomas to ground into a DP with the bases loaded, to score a 2nd run, but rather then buckling down, he gave up another double to Joc Pederson to score a 3rd LA run. In the 3rd, Turner homered, then Yasiel Puig homered and given the way the Mets were going, this game was toast. Niese was out of the game following the 3rd, mercifully, and Carlos Torres took over. Predictably, he threw 3 shutout innings. Had Niese left, well, maybe Torres would have taken the start and maybe we'd be writing a different story here tonight.

When it's 6-0 and you want to just leave, well, you start looking for reasons to stick around. On this night, Conforto was everyone's reason. His first at bat came with 2 outs and Juan Lagares on 1st, facing Thomas, a lefty. Undaunted, Conforto hacked at the first pitch and hit a screaming line drive which unfortunately found Scott Van Slyke's glove. Had 1st been unoccupied, this ball would likely have been in the corner. Conforto later hit in the 5th, with Lucas Duda on 3rd and 1 out. He grounded out to 2nd, but if nothing else the grounder got Duda home, giving Conforto his first career RBI. In the 7th, Conforto grounded out again. At 0-for-3, not an overwhelming debut, but at least Conforto looks the part of a professional hitter. He wasn't content to just swing at sucker pitches or hit pop flies, he was swinging like he meant it. I know most of the Mets do, but you sense that Conforto has an approach that lives up to his hype.

More than that, however, Conforto looks the part of a Joc Pederson or Baseball Jesus. He doesn't have the ink they're getting yet, but you can see there's that swagger to him. He's got that kind of cocky, weasel-y sort of look to him. You could see him walking into an opposing team's stadium, ripping 3 doubles and strutting around with this smug smirk on his face while the opposing fans seethe. He has attitude. The only players on the Mets you can say that about right now are all Pitchers. The offense needs a guy like that. Hopefully he sticks around.

So, basically, the pieces of the game were more interesting than the game itself, and it's unfortunate that that's not the first time I've had to say that this season. But maybe these new faces will help to fix that a little bit. Again, these players aren't going to turn the whole thing around by themselves. But you want to at least try to change something and finally something's being changed. Washington refuses to get out of their own way, so the Mets have every opportunity to wreak some havoc. Now they just have to get wreaking.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Stupid Strikes Again

The Mets played a game on Wednesday afternoon that was rather specifically reminiscent of a few games they played way back in 2008, which just so happens to be the last time the team was this relevant this late in the season. I somehow maintain that 2008 was one of the more poignant seasons in Mets history because of everything that was at stake and how it all came down to the last two innings of the season. It feels like a lifetime ago, so on the one hand maybe it's good that the Mets can now once again lose games that feel as exasperating as this particular loss did. On the other hand, I think we're all sick and tired of these such exasperating losses no matter where the Mets are in the standings.

The problem in 2008 was that the Mets bullpen was so embarrassingly bad that teams, no matter how terrible they were, always kept playing extra hard against the Mets because they knew they could come back if they could get into the bullpen. The script is different now in 2015, because teams continue to play hard against the Mets knowing that if they can somehow catch a Pitcher on an off day, they can come back and grab a lead knowing that the Mets offense is so embarrassingly bad that they can't get off the mat.

This, unfortunately, is what happened on Wednesday afternoon. Noah Syndergaard gritted his way through 5 innings with less than his best stuff, but he was still good enough to depart with a 3-1 lead. The Mets offense had their 3-run spurt in a 4th inning rally, but could not tack on anything more from there. But after Hansel Robles got through the 6th and Jenrry Mejia the 7th, you had to feel pretty good about the way things were going. Bobby Parnell was reborn and pitching great, and he'd get the Mets through the 8th, and Jeurys Familia would bring it home from there, awesome win, .500 road trip, series win against fierce rival and 1 game out of 1st coming home.

But nooooooooo. That was too easy. Parnell, for the first time since his return, didn't have it. Although from what I saw on Gamecast he was throwing 96-97mph for the first time in a long time, he allowed a hit, and then a walk, and although he was 1 strike away from putting away Michael Taylor, the Nationals' 15-year old Center fielder, everything collapsed in the span of two pitches The first pitch was wild and allowed the runners to move up. The second pitch was bounced up the middle for a hit that scored both runs and tied the game. And if that wasn't bad enough, Danny Espinosa, who no longer sports the mutant Sal Fasano moustachio that he had earlier in the season, then drilled a double to left to score the 15-year old Center Fielder and give Washington the lead.

True to form, the Mets had no recourse to come back from this. Drew Støren came in and struck out the side in the 9th, and the Mets had one of those games that made me want to mash my head into my desk at work and what appeared like a golden opportunity to make a statement was flushed down the proverbial toilet.

But, this is what happens sometimes. A reliever doesn't have his best stuff every game and good teams will take advantage of that. Terry Collins put the blame on himself but should it really have come to this? Were the Mets of more offensive fortitude, they probably would have taken Jordan Zimmermann behind the woodshed because he was plenty hittable early in the game, but the Mets couldn't extend their lead like they did on Tuesday night. A few more runs in the bank and they're able to absorb a bad outing by Parnell and Collins can get Familia in the game sooner and everything is probably hunky dory. But this is what happens when you can't hit. So, for as much as you'd like to pin this loss on Parnell, or Terry Collins would like to pin the loss on himself, the reality remains that it always comes back to the fact that you can't win games if you don't hit enough. Only now has it cost the Mets a game that they really should have won and screwed them out of a really good opportunity.

Now they can come home off of a really deflating loss and have the high pleasure of facing Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on back-to-back days and everything is terrible.