Be Wary of the Phillies

Back on September 25, 2004, everyone was reminded how the bottom division clubs love to play spoiler, and how the teams that seemingly have nothing to play for are the most dangerous of all.

Entering the final week of the regular season, the reigning National League Central Division Champs, the Dusty Baker led Chicago Cubs, had a two game lead in the Wild Card standings and a fairly easy schedule in front of them to close it out.  First, it was the 90 loss Mets followed by the 90 loss Reds, and then finally a Braves team that would have clinched and have nothing to play for in the final week of the season.

That 2004 Mets team simply wasn’t good.  It was a mixture of players like Mike Piazza, who was past his prime, and players like David Wright, who were not quite ready to become the stars they would eventually become.  They were lead by a manager in Art Howe, who had become a lame duck manager that was going to be fired at the end of the season.  However, that didn’t mean that 2004 Mets team didn’t have anything to play for in the final days of the regular season.

Naturally, you would have expected the Cubs to roll over this Mets team because the Cubs had everything to play for, and this Mets team was playing out the string.  That certainly seemed true as the Cubs carried a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth against the Mets.  At that point, the Mets who had something to play for began to go to work.  Eric Valent and Jason Phillips, both of whom were trying to show they could be everyday major league players drew walks against Ryan Dempster necessitating Dusty Baker to bring on his closer LaTroy Hawkins.  Hawkins was rudely greeted by Chicago native, Victor Diaz, who was a Cubs fan growing up.

The Mets had acquired Diaz in 2003 in the Jeromy Burnitz trade. The Mets organization was understandably excited about player that was nicknamed “Baby Manny” after Manny Ramirez.  On this day, Diaz would show everyone how he got that nickname as he launced a game tying three run opposite field homer off Hawkins.  In the bottom of the 11th, the Mets would again shock the Cubs when Craig Brazell, an interesting power hitting first base prospect, hit a walk off home run against Kent Merker.

That Mets win would begin a Cubs downward spiral that saw them finish the year 2-7 and two games behind the Giants for the Wild Card.  The Cubs were beat by a group of Mets players that still had something to play for in what was a lost Mets season.  This is a good reminder for a Mets team heading into Philadelphia to face what could be a dangerous Phillies team.

The Phillies are already talking tough with catcher Cameron Rupp saying, “his is the last time all these guys in this clubhouse will be together.  Just go out and finish hard. A lot can happen in four days. We can ruin somebody else’s season.”  (Philly.com).

The Phillies have the right mindset showing they can be a dangerous team this weekend.  They’re going to start young pitchers with something to prove in Alec Asher and Jerod Eickoff.  They have Ryan Howard who continuously hits long home runs against the Mets.  They even have Tyler Goeddel, who would probably love to stick it to his older brother Erik Goeddel.  Lastly, the Phillies have a manger in Peter Mackanin, who is trying to make a case that he should continue to be the Phillies manager.

Believe it or not, the Phillies have lot to play for this weekend.  The Mets cannot take them lightly.  Starting with Bartolo Colon, the Mets have to go out there and just crush what Rupp has indicated could be a feisty Phillies team.  The Mets are better, and they just need to take care of business.  If they don’t, they may fall victim to their own Diaz and Brazell homers, and they still could find themselves on the outside looking in come this postseason.

Fixing End of Game Replay

Last night, Yadier Molina hit a game winning walk-off double scoring Matt Carpenter from first base to keep the Cardinals Wild Card hopes alive and well.  There was just one teensy little problem.  The umpires blew the call.  Molina’s double hopped the bench and hit the back wall meaning the umpires should have ruled it a ground rule double and ordered Carpenter to go back to third base.  Now, this is exactly the type of play that should be reversed on replay.  It wasn’t, and we learned about a number of issues related to replay.

Understandably, the Major League Replay Rule states, “A challenge to a play that ends the game must be invoked immediately upon the conclusion of the play, and both Clubs shall remain in their dugouts until the Replay Official issues his decision.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it?  If the play is going to end the game, why do you need to wait to hear from your team’s replay official to challenge the play?  You shouldn’t.  If your team is definitively going to lose on that play, you, as the manager, have to get out there and challenge the play.  There is no disincentive for asking for the replay in that spot.  It is managerial malpractice not to immediately ask for replay in that spot.

As an aside, with the replay rule, we have lost some of the fire and brimstone fans loved from their managers.  When there was a bad call like that, before the play was over, you would see managers like Earl Weaver and Lou Piniella, jumping out from the dugout and hopping mad.  They knew the play was wrong, and the umpires were going to have to hear about it IMMEDIATELY!  Now, with replay, managers are more timid and reserved.  They can’t just act out of pure emotion.  They have to be measured and get word from their replay team as to whether or not a challenge would be successful.

But that’s the culture that has been created, and that’s exactly what Bryan Price was doing in that situation.  Like Pavlov’s Dog, his inclination on a play that was questionable was to reach for the phone rather than pop out of the dugout.  It was regrettable because, under the rules, he needed to challenge the play immediately.  He didn’t, and by the time he figured out he should challenge, the umpires had already left the field.  Keep in mind, the umpires left the field, thereby making the call stand and ending the game, despite getting the call wrong on the field.  At the end of the day, the timing aspect of the replay rules were subservient to the spirit of the replay rules, which is to get the call right so a bad call doesn’t change the outcome of the game.

When the spirit of the rule is violated by a technicality of the rule, it is time to seek out solutions on how to balance the two.  Here, the solution is simple.  Since a challenge for the last play of the game is required to be immediate, why not just automatically review the final play of every game?

On the Molina play, the replay officials could have been reviewing the play right away, and they could have alerted the umpires that the call should have been overturned.  The call would have been right, and a game that had far reaching implications in the National League Wild Card race wouldn’t have been decided on a technicality.  Again, the purpose of replay is to get the call right, not to get the call right only if it is challenged by a certain time.

In fact, like the NFL with touchdowns and turnovers, the immediate replay rule should be further expanded.  Major League Baseball should institute an automatic replay on every home run and end of game situation.  Like the NFL, the home plate umpire can be given a buzzer that goes off alerting them to the fact that the play is under review sending the umpires to the the phones.  If done properly, this will actually reduce the amount of time wasted on replays.  If done properly, the calls will be right rather than subjecting everyone to hand-wringing over whether the challenge was actually done in a timely fashion.

By the way, it will also save managers like Price, and Terry Collins from earlier in the season, from having egg on their faces when they didn’t challenge a call that automatically ended the game.

Trivia Friday: Starting Lineup the Last Time the Mets Went to Two Consecutive Postseasons

Tonight, Bartolo Colon will take the mound for the Mets with an opportunity to send the Mets to the postseason for a second consecutive year.  This will mark only the second time that has happened in the Mets 54 year history.  Can you name the players that were in the lineup the last time the Mets clinched a second consecutive postseason appearance?  Good luck!


As a bonus quiz for today, can you name the teams the Mets have beaten to clinch a postseason berth? Good luck!


Timo Perez, Derek Bell, Darryl Hamilton, Edgardo Alfonzo, Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile, Jay Payton, Mike Bordick, Rick Reed, Lenny Harris, Armando Benitez, Gary Gentry, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Al Leiter, Steve Trachsel, Matt Harvey

Ground Rules: No Replay on Yadier Molina Double

After Seung-hwan Oh blew a save tying the game at 3-3, the Cardinals rallied to win with Yadier Molina hitting a walk off double scoring Matt Carpenter from first base. The only problem was the umpires got the call wrong. 

Molina’s ball bounced over the wall and hit the back wall. It should’ve been a ground rule double with Carpenter being sent back to first base, and Stephen Piscotty should have been at the plate with an opportunity to knock in the game winning run. However, that never happened.  The reason is that by the time Bryan Price determined he wanted to challenge the play, the umpires had already left the field. It should be noted the Cardinals did as well. 

As per Derrick Goold, the umpires advised they left the field because the Reds gave no indication within 10 seconds they had the intention of requesting a replay within the 30 second requirement. According to Major League Baseball Rule Replay Review Rule II. D. 1., the 10/30 replay rule does not apply to the last play of the game. In those situations, an immediate replay request is required. 

It does make sense that an immediate request is required because there is absolutely no reason why a manager would wait for word from the team’s replay officials. If you do not request a replay, you lose automatically. With that in mind, a team should want to request a replay immediately. 

Price didn’t mention why he failed to challenge it immediately in his post-game interview. Rather, he discussed how the loud noise prevented them from complying with the 10/30 rule. What is absolutely bizarre is that Price was willing to lose a game on a technicality because he needed to hear from his replay official. 

Even more bizarre and inexcusable was the umpires not knowing the replay review rules. 

The natural reaction is to call for the Reds to protest the game. Pursuant to the protest rules, the Reds have until noon tomorrow to protest as the basis for the protest was the last play of the game. Protests will only be upheld if: (1) the call had an adverse impact on the outcome of the game; and (2) the rules were misapplied. Another way of stating the second part of the rule is judgment decisions made by an umpire are not a sufficient basis to uphold a protest. 

Accordingly, a protest would not be upheld. First, the Reds did not challenge immediately. Second, whether a ball is deemed out of play or not is an umpire’s judgment. As such, by rule, the protest would not be upheld despite the call being patently wrong and it having a profound impact on the Wild Card race. 

With the Cardinals winning, the Mets magic number to clinch a Wild Card spot is still two, and the Giants have a one game lead over the Cardinals in the loss column pending the outcome of their game against the Rockies. 

It should be noted, the Cardinals still could’ve won this game, but the optics are very bad for baseball, especially with Umpire Bill Miller admitting after the game, the umpires got the call wrong. (C. Trent Rosecrans).  

The only solution going forward is baseball adopting an NFL style rule where all scoring plays and turnovers are automatically reviewed. From now on, baseball needs to implement a rule that all walk off runs need to go to replay immediately. It’s the only way to prevent something like this from happening again. 

Unfortunately, changing the rule won’t overturn the call in this game that may have far reaching ramifications in the Wild Card race. 

Pitch Review

When I first heard about the show Pitch, I have to admit I was rooting for the show to succeed.  I’m a baseball junkie, and I like everything about baseball.  While I don’t have an overt interest in the sport’s popularity, anything that helps increase the profile of the sport and draws more fans to it is a good thing.  When I found out Zack Morris was going to star in the show, I really wanted the show to succeed.  After hearing some negative reviews, I watched the first episode with some trepidation.

For starters, let’s note that this show has a greater chance to succeed because it is on Fox.  Due to Fox’s relationship with MLB, you get to have more bells and whistles than other shows.  Additionally, with their Fox Sports Network personalities, you get to have real sports talkers offer sports opinions like they would on their own shows.  It’s also called cross-promotion.  Right off the bat, we get snippets from Colin Cowherd and Katie Nolan giving their monologues about Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury).  Reactions to her first start would be woven through the show.

With it being on Fox, you also get John Buck and John Smoltz announcing her first ever game.  One thing I noted, aside from Buck’s and Smoltz’s reactions being really forced, wasthis seemed like an unusually subdued Fox coverage of the game.  As someone who watches baseball incessantly, I was expecting to see Kevin Burkhardt leading MLB Whiparound with Frank Thomas and Dontrelle Willis.  I expected to see Ken Rosenthal with a pink bowtie (fundraising for breast cancer) interviewing the manager Al Luongo (Dan Lauria) or the All Star catcher, face of the franchise Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar).  I understand this is a TV show, but if you want the hardcore fan like me to buy it as a baseball show, these are the bells and whistles that are expected.  In reality, this show isn’t for the diehard baseball fan.  This show really uses baseball and having the first female in a men’s professional sport as a vehicle to draw people to watch a drama.

That really became clear when you saw Baker throw her first pitch.  Her pitching ability was vastly similar to Tony Danza in Angels in the Outfield or Gary Busey in Rookie of the Year; that is, it wasn’t good.  The difference between those movies and this series was the baseball is supposed to be believable.  With her rotation, it just wasn’t.

You can normally brush that aside, but they really went out of their way to make it believable.  There was Fox rolling out Buck and Smoltz to do the broadcast.  There was a scene with her father telling her she needed to learn the screwball because no woman could compete with men without learning a trick pitch.  Most baseball fans would have assumed a woman would need to throw a knuckleball, but having watched John Franco‘s career, I could buy a woman succeeding in the majors with a screwball.  What I couldn’t buy was someone with her pitching motion succeeding in the major leagues.

That means that ultimately this show is going to rise or fall as a drama.  That was a mixed bag.

Instead of an agent, we see Baker going with a publicist (played by Ali Larter) over a superagent like a Scott Boras.  First off, this was another hit to the credibility of the show.  Secondly, the interactions Larter had with team brass and the like seemed slightly over the top.  As did the flirting between her and the general manager (Mark Consuelos).

Where the show settled in was the baseball interactions.  There was a funny exchange with Lawson regarding whether or not a teammate can slap her on the butt like they would any other teammate.  There was the team owner giving Baker the number 43 because it was one higher than Jackie Robinson‘s 42.  There was the discussion among the manager and the front office about this being a sideshow.  There was also the discussion in the clubhouse about not letting Baker’s call-up be a distraction and letting the team go out there and win some games.  Finally, there was the Bull Durham type moment between Baker and Lawson on the mound in her second start.  Overall, while the baseball part of the show failed, the talk surrounding the baseball played worked well.

Where the show truly worked was the interactions between Baker and her father (Michael Beach).  Like most Dads, he wants to see his son become a professional athlete.  With him having failed in the minors as a pitcher, he wants his son to be a big leaguer.  When he quickly realizes his son doesn’t have it, he pours all of his attention into making his daughter a major league pitcher.  You see flashbacks with him fighting to get her a shot and with him driving her to become a better athlete.  Watching the show reminded me of the interactions Mike Piazza described having with his dad growing up in his autobiography Long Shot.

In sum, Pitch worked as a drama using baseball as a vehicle so long as you did not have to watch any of the baseball being played.  Ultimately, while I was disappointed with different aspects of the show, there was enough there to justify tuning in for the second episode.  Hopefully, it will go as well as Baker’s second effort did against the Giants.

With the Mets off tonight, it might be a good opportunity to catch Pitch as its second episode airs tonight at 9:00 on Fox. 

Projected Wild Card Game Roster

One of the quirks of the Wild Card Game is a team is able to create a standalone 25 man roster just for that game.  After the completion of the Wild Card Game, the winning team is able to reset its roster for the Division Series.  With that in mind, when the Mets construct their roster, they really have no need to carry extra starting pitchers.  Instead, they can carry an extra reliever or two, and they can add a couple of bats on the bench for pinch hitting and running opportunities.  With that in mind, here is how I would construct the roster.

Catchers (2)Travis d’Arnaud and Rene Rivera

With the Wild Card Game starting pitcher likely to be either Syndergaard or Lugo, it seems that Rivera will be Terry Collins choice as the starting catcher.  If the Mets fall behind early, he may very well go to d’Arnaud for offense.  However, for now, Rivera seems the likely starter.

First Base (2) – Lucas Duda and James Loney

The only variable we don’t know right now is whether Duda can play everyday during a postseason run.  However, we have seen him play effectively here and there as he gets more playing time.  If Duda is ready to go, he has to start.  If not, Loney can start with Duda being the power bat off the bench.  If Duda does start, Loney is there for insurance for Duda’s back, and he can hit right-handed pitching reaosnably well in the event the Mets need an extra pinch hitter.

Second Base (2) – Kelly Johnson and T.J. Rivera

If the Mets face the Giants and Madison Bumgarner, it is likely Rivera gets the start.  If the Mets face the Cardinals and Carlos Martinez, it is likely Johnson gets the start.  No matter which one gets the start, we know that the other one will be the best pinch hitting option when the Mets need a bit hit.

Third Base (1)Jose Reyes

At this point, barring something unusual happening, Reyes is the team’s everyday third baseman and leadoff hitter.  He also serves as a backup shortstop in the event something happens to Cabrera

Shortstop (1) – Asdrubal Cabrera

Cabrera is the best hitter in the major leagues during the month of September, and while he has two injured knees, he is able to effectively handle all the balls that come within the vicinity of shortstop.

Outfield – (5) Jay Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Alejandro De Aza, Curtis Granderson

Given how Bruce’s bat has come alive the past few games and with the way Conforto has been adapting to being a pinch hitter, both players should find themselves on the Wild Card Game roster.  What will be curious is whether it is Bruce or De Aza that finds themselves in the outfield with Cespedes and Granderson.  In a winner-take-all situation, Collins just might be inclined to go with the defense over the bat.

Starting Pitchers (3) – Bartolo Colon, Seth Lugo, and Noah Syndergaard

Whether or not Syndergaard pitches on Sunday, he has to be on the roster.  You cannot go down without the ability to throw your best pitcher, even if it is for one inning.  Same goes for your second best pitcher, which is why Colon should be on the roster.  As for Lugo, he should make the roster because: 1) he has experience as a short reliever; and 2) it is his turn in the rotation, so he can give you as many innings as you need.

Bullpen (5) – Jerry Blevins, Jeurys Familia, Addison Reed, Hansel Robles, Fernando Salas and Josh Smoker

If things go to plan, it is likely the Mets are not going to need more than Reed and Familia.  If the starter is able to go six, Reed can pitch the seventh and Familia can get the final two innings like he did in the NLDS clincher last year.  In the event things don’t go as smoothly, this bullpen can effectively mix and match.  Smoker seems like a given to make the roster because it gives the Mets an extra lefty in the pen, one with reverse splits, that can get a big strikeout when the Mets are in a jam.

Bubble –

If the Mets were to go with this group of players, and it seems likely they would that leaves the team with 22 players on the roster with decisions to make for the final four spots.  Here is a case for each of the potential bubble players:

Position Players

UT Eric Campbell  – As we saw when the Mets faced Adam Conley and the Marlins, Collins has fallen back in the habit of using Campbell as his right-handed first baseman.  In the event the Mets face the Giants, Campbell may well find himself getting a postseason start.  If not, he has shown the ability to be a very effective pinch hitter in tight games.

UT Ty KellyCollins has liked using as a pinch runner towards the back-end of the season.  Even though he is much better hitting right-handed in his short major league career, Kelly’s switch hitting ability does have some usefulness in neutralizing an opposing manager’s ability to go to a lefty/righty in a big spot for multiple outs.

CF Juan LagaresLagares just started to swing the bat, but we still don’t know if he can do it multiple times in a game if necessary.  However, with the Mets not needing to carry as many pitchers, Lagares could be kept on the roster to bunt, pinch run, and play defense in the late innings.

C Kevin Plawecki – Plawecki has not done much of anything offensively this season.  However, he remains a good defensive catcher, and his presence on the team would permit Collins to be aggressive in bringing in d’Arnaud for offense with full knowledge that the Mets have other catcher on the bench.

SS Matt ReynoldsEspecially given Cabrera’s injuries further limiting his range, Reynolds could very well be the Mets best defensive shortstop.  Should Cabrera have to leave the game with an injury, Reynolds could step right in defensively.  Additionally, in the event Collins needs to start double switching people in and out of the game to keep a pitcher in longer, Reynolds’ ability to competently play second, third, short, and left make him a versatile and valuable bench piece.

Bullpen

LHP Josh Edgin – His chances of making the roster increase if the Mets play the Giants given the presence of Denard Span and Brandon Belt.  In that event, the Mets may want that one extra lefty to have multiple matchup opportunities.  Against the Cardinals, the need for the extra left-hander won’t be as great.

RHP Erik GoeddelEven if it has been mostly in mop-up duty, Goeddel has pitched much better in September than he has all season.  Unlike Edgin or Henderson (below), Goedell has also shown the ability to go multiple innings lately thereby increasing his usefulness out of the pen.

RHP Robert Gsellman – Gsellman could make the team as a long reliever with Collins then using Lugo as a one inning reliever who can let it fly for one or two innings.  Additionally, with Gsellman’s sinker, Collins could elect to go with him in a situation in which the Mets need to get a double play.

RHP Jim HendersonHenderson hasn’t been the same since coming back from the disabled list.  With that said, he’s still striking out 10.6 per nine, and so far this month, he has seven scoreless appearances.  More than any of the above, he has the biggest upside.  However, when he loses with 95+ MPH fastball, and it happens without a moment’s notice, he’s going to get hit around.

Prediction

Who the Mets carry for the final three spots will be largely based upon the opponent.  In the event that the Mets face the Giants, the odds of Campbell and Edgin making the roster go up significantly.  If the Mets face the Cardinals, who have multiple effective lefties out of the pen, someone like Kelly with his switch hitting ability could see his chances of making the roster increase.

Overall, considering how the Mets have handled the catching situation late in the season, the Mets should probably carry Plawecki as a third catcher.  Doing so will permit Collins to switch out Rivera for d’Arnaud if the Mets fall behind early or if the Mets need a right-handed pinch hitter.

If the Mets face the Giants, it is likely that Campbell will make the roster as the starting first baseman.  If the Mets face the Cardinals, the Mets will then likely carry Kelly as a pinch runner/pinch hitter or Reynolds.  Given how the concerns over Cabrera’s knees, and the need to double switch late in games, and because Reynolds has some extra pop in his bat than Kelly, Reynolds should be the choice.

The last spot becomes dicey.  As the Mets bullpen is constituted, the team has multiple pitchers who can go multiple innings thereby negating the need to carry an eighth reliever.  This choice here will likely be and should be opponent driven.  If the Mets face the Giants, Edgin should be the choice so the Mets can get multiple lefty/lefty matchups late in games.  If the Mets face the Cardinals, the team should probably carry both Reynolds and Kelly.  This would help the Mets neutralize the Cardinals unleashing their left-handed relievers against the Mets late in the game.

Of course, if Lagares is truly healthy enough to swing the bat, as he has done the past few games, he definitely needs to be on the roster.  He had a good postseason last year, and he’s the team’s best defensive outfielder.

There are a number of interesting decisions ahead, and ultimately it will depend on the opponent and whether the Cardinals keep enough heat on the Giants so Bumgarner had to pitch on Sunday.

Editor’s Note: this was also published on Mets Merized Online

Terry Collins Is a Leader of Men

During this three game series with the Miami Marlins, Terry Collins yet again showed everyone why he is a good human being and a leader of men.  The Mets were in a terrible spot after the Jose Fernandez death.  The team had to get up for the three game set while also showing proper reverence to a team that lost a teammate and a friend.  The task was more complicated by the fact that players like Yoenis Cespedes were personally affected by the death.  Travis d’Arnaud admitted to crying on the field.  As Bob Klapisch would report, one Mets official said, “We felt sorry for them. We felt guilty trying to beat them.”

With that backdrop, Collins struck the proper tone with his team helping guide them to a series victory over the Marlins while reducing the Mets magic number to clinch one of the Wild Card spots to two.  Collins and the Mets did more than that.

Before the first game of the series, the Mets players went out and embraced the devastated Marlins players.  They shared in the pain and comforted the opposition to let them know the loss of a life was bigger than this rivalry.  As Dee Gordon would say after the game, “I want to say ‘thank you’ to the Mets – they are first class.  Coming in and showing their gratitude to us, being there for us in a time of need. That was just amazing.”  (USA Today).

It didn’t stop there.  Several of the Mets players made sure they attended Fernandez’s funeral before Wednesday’s game.  When asked about the Mets attendance at the game, Collins would say, “I thought it was important to be there to honor Jose.  I think it was important to have our people out there, we had several guys out there today. You know this is a very large fraternity. It’s an exclusive fraternity, it’s hard to get in, when you lose somebody I just think you need the representation of everybody else. We were represented very well today. I was very proud.”  (NY Daily News).

The Mets should feel well with how they comported themselves in the wake of Fernandez’s death.  There was there consoling the Marlins players.  They all signed the Fernandez Mets jersey they had and gave it as a gift to the Marlins players and organization.  In an important three game set, they did nothing to show up an emotionally battered and already defeated opponent.  Finally, after the series was over, the Mets team, lead by Collins, made sure to embrace the Marlins one last time.

We all, myself especially, get on Collins for his deficiencies as a manager.  He probably costs his team more games than not with the decisions he makes.  However, that is just part of who a manager is.  A manager is someone who has to deal with 25 (now 39) guys in a clubhouse.  He has to keep them on an even keel during the highest of highs and during this week which was the lowest of lows.  As we saw last season, baseball is at its most fun when you not only have a team that wins, but also when you have a group of players that you are emotionally invested.  It’s better when you get to root for a team that you genuinely like.  As the manager of the Mets, Collins has created a culture in that clubhouse that does both.

This isn’t the first time we have seen this with Collins.  There was him hand-writing a letter to a grieving family, or his gathering the team during Spring Training workouts to take a picture with a child who just had heart transplant surgery.  At his core, Collins is a good man, who has done a fine job representing this organization.  While we sometime lose that when he makes head-scratching decisions, we are again reminded of that again this past week as he showed himself to be a leader and a good human being.

Editor’s Note: this was also published on Mets Merized Online

Mets Need to Clinch As Soon As Possible

With the Mets beating the Marlins, and the Reds beating the Cardinals, the Mets magic number to claim one of the two Wild Card spots is two. This means the Mets can claim a Wild Card spot as early as Friday or as late as Saturday. It would behoove the Mets to clinch as soon as possible for many reasons. 

For starters, there is the issue of their starting pitcher. As it stands right now, Noah Syndergaard is slated to pitch on the regular season finale. In the event the Mets have not wrapped up the Wild Card by then, Terry Collins will have little choice but to throw Syndergaard. You do not want the Mets to miss out on the postseason because you held your ace back for a game that was not yet guaranteed. If the Mets are forced to pitch Syndergaard on Sunday, the Mets choices for the Wild Card Game will be either Bartolo Colon, who has an injured tendon in his right foot, on short rest or the unproven rookies Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. In reality, there is only one pitcher the Mets can trust right now in a winner-take-all game and that is Syndergaard.

Another important reason the Mets need to clinch early is some of their better players need some rest. Asdrubal Cabrera has been the best hitter in all of major league baseball in September.  He is also dealing with two knee problems.  He has really been dealing with a left knee issue all season and just the other day, he fouled a ball off his right knee.  As a result of these injuries, Cabrera has taken up the habit of sliding whenever possible to stop his momentum to keep pressure off his knees.  With that in mind, he can certainly use an extra couple of days off.  The Mets should want to get them for him too considering how well he has hit since coming off the disabled list.

There is also the issue of Yoenis Cespedes and his injured quad.  While he has been much healthier and hitting better than he was while he was hobbled, he has not been the same hot hitting Cespedes Mets fans have grown to love.  Since coming off the disabled list he is “only hitting” .269/.346/.522 with nine homers and 26 RBI.  These are for sure terrific numbers, but they are not the numbers the Mets have come to expect from Cespedes.  An extra couple of days should help him recuperate a little more and get some more of his power back.

The Mets bullpen can also use some time off as well.  Right now, Addison Reed has made the third most appearances in the major leagues.  The 77 appearances is already a career high for him as are the 74.2 innings pitched.  Jeurys Familia has pitched in more games and thrown more innings than any other closer in baseball.  Throw in Fernando Salas heavy September workload, and you have a tired 7-8-9 trio heading into the postseason.  A couple of days off will certainly do each of these pitchers a lot of good.

Additionally, clinching early will allow the Mets to give an older player like Curtis Granderson a few days of rest before the postseason.  It will also allow the Mets to see if Lucas Duda is ready to fully takeover for James Loney at first base.  Furthermore, it allows the Mets to play Michael Conforto to get him going to permit him to be as effective a pinch hitter off the bench as possible this postseason.

One or two days may not seem like much to accomplish all of these goals, but it really is. Those days permit the Mets to set up Syndergaard to be ready to pitch, and it gives Cabrera and Cespedes, the Mets two most important hitters right now, time off their feet to be as fresh as possible. As long as the Mets have that, they will not only have a good shot at winning the Wild Card Game, but it will also improve their chances of making a deep run in the postseason. 

Seth Lugo and the Mets Take Care of Business

That’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from a Seth Lugo start. He’s not going to give up more than two earned runs. He’s going to bear down and be at his best when there are runners on base. Most importantly, he’s going to give the Mets a chance to win. 

In the first, Lugo navigated his way out of a jam after a Martin Prado two run homer. Lugo would intentionally walk Justin Bour after a Giancarlo Stanton two out double to get to Jeff Mathis. Lugo struck out Mathis to get out of the inning. 

In the third, the Marlins would have runners at first and second with one out and Stanton walking to the plate. Lugo got Stanton to foul out, and then he got Bour to groundout to end the inning. 

In the sixth, Collins wouldn’t let Lugo get out if the “jam.”  After a Bour one out single, Collins lifted Lugo at 82 pitches so face the same Mathis who Lugo struck out to get out of the first. Hansel Robles would justify Collins decision by striking out Mathis and then inducing an Adeiny Hechavarria grounder to end the inning. 

That set up the Fernando SalasAddison ReedJeurys Familia 7-8-9 tandem to close out the 5-2 win. 

Once again, the Mets scored their runs off the long ball. 

In the second, James Loney, who was starting in place of Lucas Duda and his sore back, hit a two run homer off Jose Urena to tie the score. 

In the fourth, Lugo started a rally with a two out double. He then came around to score on a Jose Reyes double. 

In the fifth, Jay Bruce continued his hit hitting with a two run homer scoring Curtis Granderson. Over Bruce’s last five games, Bruce has gone 7-16 with three homers and five RBI. That accounts for roughly 40% of Bruce’s homers and RBI as a Met. 

With that, the Mets magic number to win the Wild Card now stands at three with three games left in the season. The Mets control their own destiny, and as long as they put together three more games like this, they will certainly return to the postseason. 

Game Notes: Granderson was 4-4 with a walk. He has now reached on eight straight plate appearances. Asdrubal Cabrera somehow went 0-5. Juan Lagares came on for Bruce for defense, and he was 0-1 at the plate. Familia recorded his 50th save of the season surpassing Francisco Cordero and Jose Valverde for the most saves by a Dominican born pitcher in a season. 

Seth Lugo’s Last Start Is Just the Beginning

Tonight marks Seth Lugo‘s last start in what has been an already incredible season for him.  More than any other pitcher in the Mets organization, it was unlikely that Lugo would find himself in this position.

After 14 starts and a 6.93 ERA for AAA Las Vegas, the Mets organization decided Lugo should not be a starting pitcher.  It was certainly understandable.  The Mets major league team was flush with young starting pitching with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven MatzZack Wheeler was supposed to join them soon as he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.  If the Mets needed a spot starter, there was Logan Verrett, who did the job quite admirably last year, and Sean Gilmartin, who pitched well in the majors last season.  When you also consider the Mets had well regarded pitching prospects in Gabriel Ynoa and Robert Gsellman, it was seemingly time to move Lugo to the bullpen.  At 26 years old, it was probably his best chance to make it to the majors.

Lo and behold, that’s exactly how he would make it to the bigs.  In his first major league appearance, he unleashed what was then the best curveball ever thrown in the Statcast Era.  The pitch fooled Anthony Rizzo, a player who finished in the top four in MVP voting last year, is a three time All Star, and is hitting .305/.395/.579 with 23 homers and 72 RBI off right-handed pitching.  Right then and there Lugo not only showed that his curveball may be the best pitch in the entire Mets system, but that he belongs in the major leagues.

Lugo would continue to show he was a major leauger in his next nine appearances.  In those appearances, he pitched 17.0 innings with a 2.65 ERA and a 0.941 WHIP.  In those appearances, he limited batters to a .185/.273/.222 batting line.

Then disaster struck – not to Lugo, but to the Mets starting rotation.  With Lugo pitching well out of the bullpen, he soon found himself in the one place no one thought he was ever going to be.  The starting rotation.  In his first start, Lugo was much better than anyone ever imagined pitching 6.2 innings against the Giants.  He was able to be economical with his pitches thereby allowing him to go deep into the game despite it being his first start in two months.

From there, Lugo has shown he belongs in the rotation.  In Lugo’s seven starts, he is 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA and a 1.104 WHIP.  When there are runners in scoring position, Lugo has shown the ability to bear down (some would call it luck) adding a few extra MPH to his fastball and relying a little more heavily on a curveball that generates both swings and misses as well as groundballs.  As a result, batters are only hitting .163/.259/.233 off of him in those situations.

That’s where Lugo finds himself on his last start of the regular season.  He’s taking the mound against the Marlins in the hopes of dropping the Mets magic number to clinch one of the Wild Card spots from four to three or two.  He’s also making his case that he should pitch the Wild Card Game in the event Syndergaard has to pitch in the regular season finale on Sunday.  He’s also making the case he should be the third starter over Gsellman this postseason.

He’s also making the case that he belongs in the long term plans of the New York Mets.  He’s already done a terrific job of doing that so far.  Another strong start here and a good postseason, it’ll be a guarantee.