Matt Harvey

Season Is On The Brink

On any given day, any of the following would have been the worst thing to happen to the Mets.  First, there was the announcement Noah Syndergaard needed to have his start skipped with bicep issues that radiate up to his pitching shoulder.  Then Matt Harvey goes out in his place, doesn’t have his typical velocity, and he can’t get out of the fifth inning.  Just when you thought things couldn’t go any worse, Yoenis Cespedes had to be helped off the field in the fourth inning after hitting a lead-off double.

Anything else that happened today didn’t matter because the Mets just might’ve seen their season flash before their eyes.  

It doesn’t matter that a poor decision not to throw home in the second inning seemed to finally wake up Jose Reyes who would subsequently nail two runners at home and hit a home run. It doesn’t matter Neil Walker seemed to wake up offensively. It doesn’t even matter that Jay Bruce continues to hit well. 

What matters is the Mets are faced with the very real prospect of losing Syndergaard and Cespedes for a long time. It also matters that Harvey took a big step back from the pitcher who was gradually getting stronger to start the year. Hopefully, there’s nothing wrong with him. The way things are going with the Mets right now, you shouldn’t have much hope. 

Overall, the offense isn’t hitting, and the pitching is getting further compromised. 

With all the talk about how the Mets fleeced the Blue Jays, R.A. Dickey must’ve smiled with this win. Not only was he able to pitch on a game Syndergaard wasn’t, but Travis d’Arnaud was also 0-2 with a strikeout against him. By the way, Wuilmer Becerra is coming off offseason shoulder surgery and has yet to play the field this year. 

Yes, you do that trade 279,684,800,441,574,796 times out of 100, but at least in this game Dickey felt vindicated. He must have felt further vindicated with the Braves leaping the Mets in the standings leaving the Mets in last place. Unless things start to change, it’s hard to argue the Mets won’t stay there for a while. 

Game Notes: Eric O’Flaherty pitched a scoreless inning and has not allowed a hit to the Mets since his first disastrous outing. The Mets have not had a lead in over 56 innings. They have no lost 10 of their last 11. 

Bullpen Needed This Rest

One of the ongoing jokes during yesterday’s rain out was that despite the rain out, Terry Collins had Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas warming up in the bullpen in case the game started on time.  As with most jokes, this one did have a twinge of truth to it.

So far this season, the Mets bullpen has been going on an unsustainable rate.  Mike Marshall holds the single season record for appearances by a reliever with his making 106 appearances for the 1974 Dodgers.  The Mets record for appearances is Pedro Feliciano with 92 appearances in 2010.  This was the reason why Gary Cohen dubbed him Perpetual Pedro.  Interesting enough, Felicano’s record is tied for fourth all-time with Marshall, who had 92 appearances for the 1973 Expos.  Right now, the Mets bullpen is set to challenge these records at an alarming rate.

Blevins is on a pace to make 102 appearances this season.  Hansel Robles is on pace to make 94 appearances this season.  Addison Reed and Salas are on pace to make 85 appearances this season.  Josh Smoker is on pace to make 77 appearances this season. Obviously, this would be career highs for each of these pitchers.

If they are to keep up this pace, Blevins would be second all-time for single season appearances by a reliever, and Robles’ 94 appearances would tie the now standing second place position.  Looking over the record list, no one has made more than 74 appearances in a season over the last five years.  The bullpen’s usage is unprecedented in terms of how many appearances these relievers are making.  It is utterly amazing that the current pace of these relievers would put them at the top five appearances made by a reliever in single season over the past five seasons.

When you combine the appearances with the amount of times these pitchers warm up, they are going to be on fumes.  Certainly, we have seen some diminishing returns already from Salas.  The rest of the bullpen may not be too far behind him.  This bullpen needs a rest and the subsequent rain out helped.  However, they need more help.

They may receive some help now that Jeurys Familia has returned from his suspension.  Certainly, he is the reliever Collins’ trusts most, and he will likely be the one Collins over uses next.  More than Familia, the bullpen can use some length from their starting pitching.

Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Jacob deGrom are the only relievers averaging at least six innings per start.  Zack Wheeler and Robert Gsellman are averaging just over five innings per start.  This means every night the bullpen needs to pick up at least 3-4 innings.  With the Mets having already played four extra inning games to start the season, it has been much more than that.

The relative lack of length from the bullpen is understood.  Harvey and deGrom are coming back from season ending surgeries last season.  Wheeler has not pitched since 2014.  Gsellman has not thrown more than 159.2 innings in a season.  Really, you’re only workhorse right now is Syndergaard.

However, sooner or later something is going to have to give.  The starters are going to have to give more length, or Collins is going to have to trust some of the other guys in the bullpen more.  It’s understandable he hasn’t when Josh Edgin is a LOOGY with a 3.68 ERA, and his former long man, Rafael Montero, managed to get worse.  The long story short here is someone has to step up.  Otherwise, the bullpen may not last very long.

 

Hard Fought Loss Is Still A Loss

As if the Mets weren’t injured enough, the team had a new rash of injuries heading into tonight’s game. 

Wilmer Flores and Lucas Duda went on the disabled list. Travis d’Arnaud and Yoenis Cespedes didn’t, but they couldn’t start. At least d’Arnaud was available to pinch hit. To make matters worse, Asdrubal Cabrera is now dealing with a hamstring injury keeping him out of the lineup, and Jacob deGrom woke up on the wrong side of the bed. 

With deGrom waking up with a stiff neck, he missed tonight’s start, and he probably needs someone to start for him tomorrow. 

With so many people out of the lineup, the Mets needed someone to step up. The Mets had people stepping up all over the place tonight. 

First was Matt Harvey who was the surprise starter. Harvey gave his team a chance to win pitching seven innings. His final line was seven innings, four hits, three runs, three earned, two walks, and two strikeouts. 

Harvey pitched well, but he was tripped up by the long ball. In the first inning, he grooved one to Bryce Harper who launched it for a two run homer. It was a strange site to see when you consider Harper couldn’t get a hit off pre-TOS Harvey. The third run off Harvey came off a Jose Lobaton solo shot in the fifth. 

Despite the two homers and the makeshift lineup, Harvey had a no decision.  

He was first helped by a Michael Conforto first inning blast off Tanner Roark‘s first pitch of the game:

The second and third runs came courtesy of Curtis Granderson. In the fourth, Granderson had a two out RBI single scoring Jay Bruce. He then tied the score in the sixth:

It was a terrific night for Granderson. Coming into the night, he was hitting .143/.197/.214. Just like he’s done in his entire Mets career, Granderson stepped up when the Mets needed him most going 2-4 with a run, two RBI, one walk, and the home run. 

The Mets nearly took the lead in the seventh. Zack Wheeler hit for Harvey and hit a pinch hit double. The Mets would load the bases, and the Nationals would go to Oliver Perez, who got Bruce to line out to end the inning. 

In the ninth, there was some craziness. Rene Rivera earned a lead-off walk off Joe Blanton, and Terry Collins opted to pinch run Robert Gsellman. T.J. Rivera then bunted Gsellman to second. 

Cabrera then pinch hit for Addison Reed and drew a walk. Given his hamstring issues, Collins sent out Kevin Plawecki to pinch run for him. No, it didn’t make sense to do this and force the pitcher’s spot to come up earlier in the lineup, but nothing in this inning made much sense. 

In the long run, Blanton worked his way out of the inning. Another side effect of the inning, Collins’ mechanations led to the pitcher’s spot coming up three spots earlier in the lineup. He did that in a game where the Mets had a short bench. Just an inexcusable move. 

The Mets certainly could’ve benefitted from better managing as the pitcher’s spot did come up in the bottom of the 11th with the Mets down 4-3. 

The Mets were down 4-3 because Jeurys Familia is still rusty. Keep in mind, he only made two relief appearances in the minors before his suspension was over. 

After Josh Smoker allowed a lead-off double to Harper, Murphy was intentionally walked, and Familia entered the game. He threw a wild pitch allowing Harper to go to third. It didn’t matter much as he issued back-to-back walks to Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner to force in a run. Familia settled down after that, but it was too late. The Nationals took the lead. 

Shawn Kelley came on in the 11th and pitched a 1-2-3 inning to earn the save. With that, the Mets fought valiantly, but still lost. They’re now under .500, and who knows who will be healthy enough to play tomorrow. 

Game Notes: Daniel Murphy‘s 19 game hitting streak came to an end. He was 0-4, and he was intentionally walked in the 11th. Apparently, Reed wore the wrong hat during his appearance. 

Please Don’t Mess Around With These Injuries

One of the best things to come out of the past offseason was Major League Baseball shortening the stint on the disabled list from 15 days to 10 day.  Presumably, that change made it easier for teams to place their players on the disabled list to allow them to recover.  Someone should tell that to the Mets.

Last night, with the Lucas Duda injury and Wilmer Flores infection, Jay Bruce was forced to play first base for the first time since he played three games there in 2014.  That also put Juan Lagares in the position of being the team’s lone back-up outfielder and middle infielder.  Lagares was initially signed by the Mets as a shortstop, but he has not played the middle infield since he played six innings for the Single-A Savannah Sand Gnats as a 20 yeard old in 2009.  To put it in perspective how long ago that was, back in 2009, Citi Field just opened, and Daniel Murphy was considered a left fielder.

When Cespedes had to leave the game with a hamstring injury after running the bases in the fifth inning, the Mets were in trouble.  If the game were to go deep into extra innings, the Mets were likely going to have to consider which infield position other than first could Kevin Plawecki handle.  They might have followed through with the plan to put Zack Wheeler at first base like it was contemplated during the 16 inning game.  If things got bad enough, the team might have had to lean on Jacob deGrom‘s experience as a collegiate shortstop.

Simply put, this is unacceptable.  Year-in and year-out the Mets find themselves in this position, and they are more than willing to play with short benches with players not even available to pinch hit.  Worse yet, they ask players to do too much.

Last year, the Mets saw Asdrubal Cabrera deal with a knee injury all season.  From the middle of May until the end of July, he was hobbled and struggling.  Over that stretch, he hit .232/.285/.436.  The Mets finally put him on the disabled list so he could rest his knee.  He responded by becoming the 2015 Yoenis Cespedes and willing the Mets to the postseason hitting .345/.406/.635 over the final 41 games of the season.

Speaking of Cespedes, the Mets were also stubborn about putting him on the disabled list.  On July 8th, he suffered an injured quad.  He would not go on the disabled list, and he would not play in another game until July 17th.  When he did play, he was noticeably hobbled.  From July 17th to August 3rd, Cespedes hit just .205/.302/.318 in 14 games before the Mets finally put him on the disabled list.  When he came back, he hit .259/.335/.490 over the final 38 games of the season.

Then there was Michael Conforto.  We are not quite sure when he was injured, but we do know that he received a cortisone shot in June of last year.  Clearly something was bothering him as Conforto went from the best hitter on the team in April to a guy who hit just .174/.267/.330 for the rest of the year.  Instead of a disabled list stint, the Mets treated him to multiple demotions to Triple-A, where he absolutely raked, and being stuck to the bench for far too long stretches.  Perhaps if the Mets put him on the disabled list, his second season would have gone much differently, and the Bruce trade might not have been necessary.

You would think the Mets would have learned from that, but they clearly haven’t as they are already repeating the same mistakes.

While it is not ideal with six of the next nine games coming against the Nationals, the Mets can definitively get away with Bruce at first with an outfield of Conforto-Lagares-Curtis Granderson from left to right.  While it does not have the offensive punch you would like, that is a really good defensive outfield.  On the infield, the Mets could recall T.J. Rivera, who showed the Mets last year he has a place in the major leagues.  The Mets could even get bold by calling up Gavin Cecchini to play second and moving Neil Walker to third.  At a minimum, it would get a struggling Jose Reyes out of the lineup.  It could also allow the Mets to pick and choose their spots with Reyes to allow him to be an effective pinch hitter or pinch runner in late game situations.

The overriding point is the Mets have talent on the 40 man roster even if Duda and Cespedes went on the disabled list.  With the Mets throwing Noah Syndergaard, deGrom, and Matt Harvey, the Mets can still win a fair share of those games to keep the team afloat until Duda and Cespedes are ready to return to the lineup.  In fact, the team might be better off because you’d rather have two healthy sluggers mashing all season than two injured players trying to find a way to produce to their normal levels.

That is something that didn’t work last year, and we can’t expect it to work this year.  It’s about time the Mets learned how to properly utilize the disabled list and field a team of healthy players.

At Least They Battled

It was a Matt Harvey start, so you knew the Mets offense was not going to produce any runs.  In Sunday’s game, the Mets took it to the next level getting no-hit by Dan Straily and a bunch of exhausted Marlins releivers for 7.2 innings before Neil Walker finally broke up the no-hitter.

With that the Mets once again spoiled a terrific Harvey start.  Over six innings, Harvey allowed seven hits, two runs, one earned, and two walks with five strikeouts.  Better than that, Harvey’s fastball velocity improved yet again.  He was averaging 95 MPH on his fastball, and he was hitting 97 on the gun.  He used his slider more, and it is becoming a weapon for him yet again.

The Marlins would get to Harvey immediately with Dee Gordon bunting his way one and then going to third when Harvey threw away a pickoff throw.  Gordon then scored on a Christian Yelich groundout.  In the sixth, the Marlins would strike again on a Marcell Ozuna RBI double scoring Yelich.  Justin Bour tried to score on the double as well, but Yoenis Cespedes relayed to Jose Reyes to nail him at the plate.  Between Cespedes’ arm and Travis d’Arnaud‘s ability to get down a tag, it’s amazing that anyone scores on a ball hit to left field.

At that point, the 2-0 lead could have been 10-0 for all that mattered with the Mets bats looking lifeless.  Then in the ninth, the Mets bats came to life courtesy of David Phelps.  The rally started with a d’Arnaud one out single and continued with a Wilmer Flores‘ two out single.  With Giancarlo Stanton making an error trying to field the ground ball, d’Arnaud and Flores were able to move into scoring position.

Asdrubal Cabrera then pinch hit for Hansel Robles, and he tied the game with an RBI single.  It was an amazing comeback considering where the Mets were offensively for the first eight innings.  It is a pattern we have seen with the Mets not just in this series, but over the course of the season.  This has been one of the more positive signs from the early season.

Unfortunately, a seemingly innocuous move to begin the top of the ninth set the stage for another disappointing Mets loss at Marlins Park.  The Marlins double-switched J.T. Riddle into the game for Brad Ziegler and had him batting ninth.

Addison Reed came on to pitch in the ninth, and he didn’t have it.  He allowed a lead-off single to Ozuna, who was then cut down at the plate when trying to score on a Miguel Rojas RBI double.  This time it was the relay of Cespedes to Cabrera to d’Arnaud that got him out.  Again, it is amazing that anyone would run on Cespedes in left.

Like the prior two games, the Mets heroics just set them up for heartbreak.  Riddle, who was just substituted into the game to start the ninth, hit a walk-off home run to end the game.  And with that, the Mets have once again suffered a brutal loss to the Marlins.  It’s another walk-off loss at Marlins Park:

Nice to know, the Marlins are once again prepared to be a thorn in the Mets side.  The remaining 12 games promise to be not much fun.

Game Notes: Another hitless game for Reyes who is now hitting .087.  Over his last five games, Jay Bruce is 6-25 with no extra base hits.  Flores got the start with Cabrera getting a day off.  Josh Smoker and Robles each pitched a scoreless inning in their first appearances since going to the whip on Thursday’s 16 inning game.

Enough Excuses, Lock Up These Starters

Looking at this Mets team since 2015, one thing has been perfectly clear: this team is built on pitching, and it will only go as far as the pitching carries them. In 2015, when their starters were healthy and able to last the season, the Mets were able to win the National League Pennant. In 2016, with three of the arms going down, the Mets were still good enough to enter the postseason as the top Wild Card.

The Mets have been fortunate because the pitching has been cheap. It was not until recently that Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom entered their arbitration years. Noah Syndergaard won’t be arbitration eligible until after this season. It is interesting because it is after this season that things begin to become murky. Harvey and Wheeler are scheduled to become free agents after the 2018 season with deGrom becoming a free agent the season after that.

With the Mets success rising and falling on their pitching, it begs the question why haven’t the Mets selected at least one or two pitchers and come to terms on a contract extension. The common refrain among Mets fans is the team should keep Syndergaard and deGrom and join them in a rotation that one day may also feature Robert Gsellman, Justin Dunn, and Thomas Szapucki. For now, even with the clock ticking, the Mets aren’t making a move.

While it may not make sense to most Mets fans, in a report by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the New York Mets have advised why they have not entered into contract extension discussions with any of their young pitching:

1. Injuries

As GM John Ricco explained, “[GM] Sandy [Alderson] has not said let’s be aggressive in that area, and that [injuries] is the biggest reason.”

Fact of the matter is each one of these pitchers have an issue. Harvey, deGrom, Matz, and Wheeler have all had Tommy John surgery. Harvey, deGrom, and Matz all had season ending surgery last year. Even someone healthy like Syndergaard dealt with bone spurs last year. Point is, the Mets pitchers have not been exactly healthy, nor do they inspire confidence they will be healthy going forward. To that end, the Mets relative inactivity has been understandable.

2. Lack of Urgency

As noted in Sherman’s piece, the Mets do not have a pending free agent until the after the 2018 season, and Syndergaard isn’t a free agent until after the 2021 season. Honestly, this reason is a bit disingenuous. With Harvey’s pending free agency many expect this is Harvey’s last season in a Mets uniform as the team does not want to risk him walking in free agency and the team getting nothing in return for him.

3. Pitchers Aren’t Interested In Extensions

According to Ricco, who would know this better than fans, extension discussions are typically begun by the player and his agent. Again, with fans not being in the business, it is hard to challenge him on this. With that said, it is hard to believe the Mets would be willing to let all their pitchers go to free agency without so much as initiating contract disucssions with them. Frankly, it is harder to believe when you consider back in 2012, the Mets pounced on an opportunity to give Jon Niese a five year contract extension.

4. Personalities

As noted in Sherman’s piece, when you give a contract extension to one player, it is going to have ripple effects. As Ricco said, “You would have to manage personalities because if you do [an extension] with one, how does it impact the others?”

Now, this is a bit of an overstatement on Ricco’s part. Entering into contract extensions with the pitchers should be part of an overall plan. For example, when Omar Minaya was the General Manager, he was faced with Jose Reyes pending arbitration in 2006, he agreed with a four year pact with his shortstop. Minaya then quickly moved and locked up David Wright to a six year deal. While Alderson is dealing with more than just two players, Minaya’s actions certainly show if the team has a plan an executes it, there should be no issues.

5. Budget

It is something Mets fans don’t want to hear, but it is a reality. After this season, the Mets will have Reyes, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Addison Reed, and Fernando Salas as free agents. The team will have to decide on options for Jerry Blevins and Asdrubal Cabrera. In addition, all of the Mets marquee starting pitchers will be in arbitration thereby escalating their salaries. Furthermore, Jeurys Familia will also be owed a lot of money in arbitration if he has another stellar year. Long story short, the Mets will have to spend some money this offseason.

In order to do that, the Mets need to have the money. As Ricco explains, “Once you’ve locked in [on an extension], you do limit flexibility in some ways.”

Now, it is easy to say the Mets can plug in Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith next year, but at this point, it is not known if they will be ready to be 2018 Opening Day starters. Putting forth such a plan would be folly, especially for a team that can still compete for a World Series.

Overall, the Mets concerns over not extending their pitchers have some merit, especially when you consider the injury issues. Still, the longer the Mets wait, the more expensive each of these starting pitchers will become. As they become more expensive, the chances of locking up more than one of them significantly decreases. Sooner or later, the Mets are going to have to take a chance on a couple of these pitchers if they have designs of competing for World Series over the next decade. With Harvey being a free agent after next season, the sooner the Mets begin executing a plan, the better.

Cespedes 3 HR, 14 Runs Scored, Mets Offense Is Back

With the Mets offense struggling of late, and with the Phillies throwing at Asdrubal Cabrera last night, the Mets wanted to get out to a fast start. Yoenis Cespedes took care of that:

It was part of a night the Mets offense that just exploded all over Clay Buccholz and the Phillies. Things got so bad that even Jose Reyes got in on the action hitting a double. Not too long thereafter Buchholz left with an apparent elbow injury. 

Now, it should be noted Reyes’ double came from the seventh spot in the lineup. With him scuffling, Terry Collins dropped him down and put Curtis Granderson in his old lead-off spot. 

Whether it was Citizens Bank Park, Buchholz, Cabrera getting thrown at, the randomness of baseball, or this new lineup putting the top OBP guys atop the lineup, the offense clicked. Every position player got at least one hit:

  1. Granderson 1-4, 2 R, 2B, 2 BB
  2. Cabrera 4-6, 3 R, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, BB
  3. Cespedes 4-6, 3 R, 2B, 3 HR, 5 RBI
  4. Bruce 1-6, 2 RBI
  5. Walker 2-5, 2B, BB
  6. Duda 4-6, 2 R, 2B, 2 HR, 2 RBI
  7. Reyes 1-6, R, 2B
  8. d’Arnaud 3-4, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB

As noted above, the lineup hit seven homers with Cespedes becoming the first Met to hit three homers in one game twice:

Cespedes also tied a Mets club record with four extra base hits in one game. 

As impressive as that was, Duda absolutely annihilated a home run to deep center over the batter’s eye in sixth inning:

Duda now has 14 home runs at Citizens Bank Park. That’s the most home runs by a visiting player. 

Another note on Duda, he hit his home run off the left-handed pitcher Adam Morgan. Typically, Duda struggles against left-handed pitching. This year he already has three extra base hits, including two home runs against them. He’s using that up the middle approach that was so successful for him in 2015. This is a good harbinger of things to come.

Another good harbinger was Matt Harvey‘s start. The velocity was there, and the results were mostly there.  He would go 5.2 innings allowing five hits, two runs, two earned, and one walk with six strikeouts. 

The Phillies got the Harvey in the fifth loading the bases with two outs. Harvey then snapped off three nasty curve balls to strike out Odubel Herrera to get out of the inning. Of note, the first two curves were spiked in the dirt, and d’Arnaud gobbled them up keeping the runner at third.

Overall, you knew it was the Mets night when T.J. Rivera pinch hit for Robles and drew a walk. As we know from last year and his minor leader numbers is Rivera never walks. 

The one issue with Harvey is he tweaked his hamstring in the sixth. Collins did the right thing by not chancing anything and going right to Hansel Robles who got the Mets to the eighth. 

Also, if you are prone to overreact, Josh Edgin had his first rough outing allowing two doubles and two runs in the eighth inning. However, the game was a blowout. No one should focus too much on anything when a game gets completely out of hand. 

Conversely, Paul Sewald got into his second game, and he looked more calm and composed even if he walked one. He pitched a scoreless ninth to close it out for the Mets. 

Overall, Cespedes hit three homers. Cabrera, Duda, and d’Arnaud fell just one triple short of the cycle. The seventh inning was the only inning they didn’t score a run. By far, it was the best Mets offensive game this season. 

Naturally, with this being the Mets, we couldn’t exactly enjoy this 14-4 win completely because we have to wait with baited breath about Harvey’s health. 

Game Notes: Mets are now 41-18 in their last 59 games at Citizens Bank Park. The Mets now have 46 homers in their last 21 games at Citizens Bank Park. 

Projecting The 2017 Postseason

With Opening Day already behind us, it is now time to look forward to see how the rest of the 2017 season will progress.  Yes, this is the typically ill-fated projections post.  As with anything else, this will likely be wrong by season’s end, and with any luck, I will be reminded of it come October.

AL East – Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox won the division last year with an MVP caliber season from Mookie Betts, Rick Porcello with a more ways than one surprising Cy Young season, and lots of young talent.  The team will be hurt by the loss of David Ortiz, but they will be helped by the addition of Chris Sale, who should help boost a rotation that has David Price as a question mark.  Considering the rest of the AL East downgraded as well, it it fair to surmise the downgraded Red Sox roster will stay on top.

AL Central – Cleveland Indians

So, the American League Pennant winners add Edwin Encarnacion, get Michael Brantley back, and return Carlos Correa from injury?  That’s the rich getting richer.  This team is poised to not only win the division again, but they should be poised to return to the World Series.

AL West – Texas Rangers

This team is truly going to benefit from a full season of Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate, and they are also going to benefit from a full season from Yu Darvish. Combine that with a good bullpen, an excellent manager in Jeff Banister, and veteran leaders in Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, you have a team that will get the most of its roster and be able to win those close and tight games like they did last year.

AL Wild Card 1 – Houston Astros

The Astros will probably lose the division due to the lack of depth in their starting pitching.  However, with a deep lineup that has George SpringerAlex BregmanJose AltuveCarlos CorreaCarlos Beltran as their top five hitters.  Combine that with Beltran’s leadership and mentoring of young players, and this is a team that will give the Rangers all they can give them.

AL Wild Card 2 – Seattle Mariners

The Mariners fell heartbreakingly short last season, and they have improved the roster with Jerry DiPoto suddenly becoming Trader Jack McKeon.  To name a few, the Mariners added Jean Segura, Yovani Gallardo, and Drew Smyly to what was already a pretty good team with Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager.

NL East – New York Mets

The Nationals are certainly more formidable than they were last year with them having a full year of Trea Turner and with the Adam Eaton acquisition.  However, on the pitching side, they do not have the depth they typically have, and that is an issue with Stephen Strasburg‘s medical history and Max Scherzer having questionable health entering the season.  Ultimately, it is the Mets depth that should carry the team over the Nationals in what promises to be a tight race.

NL Central – Chicago Cubs

They won the World Series last year, and they get Kyle Schwarber back into the lineup everyday and add Wade Davis to the bullpen.  The real question is not whether they win the division, but whether they get to 100 wins again.

NL West – Los Angeles Dodgers

Like with the National League East, the top two teams are very close, and it’s picking hairs to separate them.  If you look at it Clayton Kershaw is better than Madison BumgarnerKenley Jansen is better than Mark MelanconJohnny Cueto is better than another other pitcher the Dodgers have, but the Dodgers have a deeper rotation than the Giants.  The Dodgers also arguably have the deeper lineup.  If it goes in the reverse, no one should be surprised, but ultimately, the Dodgers appear better on paper.

NL Wild Card 1 – San Francisco Giants

When you have Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and two aces atop your rotation, it is hard to believe you are going to miss the postseason in its entirety.

NL Wild Card 2 – Washington Nationals

While the team is not deep and has some issues, there are real strengths.  Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy are as good and as clutch a 3-4 combination as there is.  The bullpen with Koda Glover, Joe Blanton, Shawn Kelley, and Blake Treinen could be dominant.  Again, their only real question is health.

Postseason Series

AL Wild Card Game – Postseason Beltran and the Astros offense overcomes King Felix in his first ever postseason start.

ALDS – In what proves to be a slugfest, the better Astros lineup carries them past the Red Sox.  In the other ALDS matchup, the Indians pitching, including the unleashing of Andrew Miller proves to be too much for the Rangers.

ALCS – The Indians pitching proves to be too much for a hot hitting Astros team leading them to consecutive World Series appearances.

NL Wild Card Game – Pick your reason: (1) Bumgarner; or (2) it’s technically a postseason series.

NLDS – This year, the Giants with an improved bullpen won’t be denied as Cueto and Bumgarner led the Giants past the Cubs.  The Mets and the Dodgers 2015 NLDS matchup is not as intense as the Dodgers only have Kershaw to match the Mets aces leaving the Mets to be able to get past them a little easier this go-round.

NLCS – Bumgarner and Cueto are offset by Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom.  After that, the Mets can pick from Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman, Zack Wheeler, or maybe even Seth Lugo.  You’d probably take any of them over the Giants next best starter Jeff Samardzija.  As such, the Mets pitching outlasts the Giants pitching.

World Series – As painful as this is to say, Terry Francona just manages his way around Terry Collins and brings the Indians their first World Series title since 1948.

Wheels Come Off 

After Matt Harvey‘s terrific start last night, most Mets fans were a little more optimistic about Zack Wheeler‘s first start after missing two years due to his Tommy John surgery. 

That optimism crew to a crescendo after Wheeler’s first inning of work. He was getting it up to 98 MPH. He struck out A.J. Ellis and Christian Yelich to end the inning. 

Wheeler got his lead in the bottom of the first when Curtis Granderson got a two out RBI single off Marlis starter Wei-Yin Chen to score Asdrubal Cabrera. It was already Granderson’s second two out hit with RISP this season. He had four all of last year. 

At this point, the Mets were looking good. It was too soon to say the Mets were in control, but based on the first inning, confidence was building. 

Unfortunately, Wheeler would struggle the rest of the game. In the second, Derek Dietrich hit a two run triple giving the Marlins the lead. He later scored on an Adeiny Hechavarria RBI groundout. 

The third inning saw Yelich hit a two run homer off the right field could pole increasing the Marlins lead to 5-1. Dating back to last season, Yelich has homered in his last four games at Citi Field. 

By the end of the fourth, Wheeler threw 80 pitches, and he was done for the night. His final line was four innings, six hits, five runs, five earned, one walk, and four strikeouts. 

There were plenty of reasons for the struggles; the least of which was Wheeler hasn’t pitched in over two years. It was a cold and very windy night. The outfielders were fighting every fly ball. Wheeler couldn’t get an off speed pitch over the plate.  He seemed to lose his velocity after the first inning.  Another factor was he was supposed to be in Extended Spring Training to work on these things. 

Still, there were some positive signs for Wheeler, and it is something he can build upon. 

Unfortunately, the same thing can’t be said for Josh Smoker who really struggled when he took over for Wheeler in the fifth. By the way, this was the spot for Montero because you’re looking for your long man, but that’s Terry for you. 

Smoker was first done in as Yoenis Cespedes misread a ball hit by Yelich. Smoker followed that by issuing back-to-back walks to Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Bour.  Marcell Ozuna and Dietrich followed with RBI singles. After throwing 27 pitches, Smoker was done leaving the bases loaded with one out. 

Surprisingly, Rafael Montero bailed out Smoker by getting Hechavarria to ground into the 1-2-3 double play. 

If you’re looking for a bright spot on the night, it was definitely Montero. Montero came in and attacked the Marlins hitters. Overall, he pitched 2.2 innings yielding just one hit and two walks while striking out two. This was an important outing for both him and the Mets. He needed this outing considering his previous outing, Wheeler’s struggles, and the injuries to Seth Lugo and Steven Matz

The Mets had a chance to get back in the game with Granderson and Neil Walker hitting consecutive one out singles. Jay Bruce ended the rally grounding into the inning ending 6-4-3 double play. 

It was just one of those nights. Simply put when Montero and Josh Edgin are your best pitchers, it’s not going to be a good night. To be fair, Montero and Edgin were quite good. Offensively, the only highlight was Granderson who was 2-4 with an RBI. 

Well, that and Cespedes homered in the eighth. It was his first of the year. 

This game was the epitome of “you can’t win ’em all.”  The game was so bad, GKR was flipping through baseball cards and discussing pizza toppings. Mets just need to forget about this 7-2 loss and get ready for tomorrow night’s game. 

Game Notes: Jose Reyes went 0-5 tonight putting him at 1-18 on the year. Still, it was Lucas Duda who sat in favor of Wilmer FloresRene Rivera started in place of Travis d’Arnaud because Terry perceived Rivera and Wheeler worked well together and to combat the Marlins running game. Wheeler allowed five runs over four innings, and Dee Gordon stole a base. 

Harvey Making The Pedro Martinez Transformation

Power pitchers always present a conundrum. When they’re young and at their best, they dominate. However, they won’t always have that fastball. The question then becomes what next? Can the pitcher effectively adapt with a diminished fastball to be a quality starter? Can they still be dominant?

As Mets fans, we saw it first-hand with Pedro Martinez. In Boston, Pedro threw in the high 90s, and he put together legendarily great seasons. Towards the end of his Boston run and his time with the Mets, Pedro was in the low 90s forcing him to focus even more on location and movement.

In 2005, Pedro did that better than anyone going 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA, 0.949 WHIP, and an 8.6 K/9. He was an All Star. He was dominant. He could’ve done more if not for foot and shoulder injuries.

Judging from Matt Harvey‘s start last night, we may be watching Harvey try to emulate what Pedro did so well in 2005.

When Harvey burst on the scene in 2013, he was throwing in the high 90s and would hit 100 MPH. After his Tommy John surgery, Harvey again was living in the high 90s even if he wasn’t quite getting it to 100 MPH anymore. After Harvey’s surgery to remove a rib to alleviate the effects of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), his velocity hasn’t quite returned yet. During Spring Training, what velocity he did have wasn’t consistently there.

As a result, Harvey had to adapt. Adapt he did.

Last night, instead of trying to blow his four seamer past batters, Harvey relied almost exclusively on his two seamer. Instead of being in the high 90s, Harvey was hovering around 94 MPH. Instead of trying to rack up the strikeouts, he was relying on movement, location, and pitching to contact.

We saw an economical Harvey who only needing 77 pitches to get through 6.2 innings. Other than two mistakes Matt Kemp turned into long home runs, Harvey mostly yielded week contact. Impressively, Harvey seemed to get stronger as the game went on recording two of his four strikeouts in the seventh. While it wasn’t the typical Harvey start we were used to seeing, it was the same Harvey. He had the swagger on the mound, and he dominated the opposition.

And with that, we have a glimpse of the transformation Harvey is undertaking in the event his velocity never fully returns. With him, we see a pitcher who is knows how to pitch. We see a pitcher able to reinvent himself. We see a pitcher able to dominate in more ways than one.

This is extremely important. The Mets have decisions over the next few years on who to keep and who should go. Essentially, you’re gauging who is going to be Pedro and who is going to be Tim Lincecum. The ones that go the Pedro route are the ones who are worthy of contract extensions. They are going to be the pitchers who will continue to pitch at a high level, and they will help the Mets compete for the World Series year in and year out. While there may have been some doubt Harvey was that type of pitcher, last night, he started to put those concerns to bed.

When Harvey was first called up to the majors, we knew he was special. Seeing him last night, he showed just how special he could be. He could be one of the greats that has the ability to get outs no matter what he has. If that is the case, even though he is represented by Scott Boras, he might just be the first pitcher you want to sign to a contract extension.

However, before we get to that point, let’s just enjoy Harvey for what he is. He’s already gone a long way in calming our concerns about him and the rotation. We can once again dream of the Mets winning a World Series this year with a rotation headlined by him, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard.