Looking over the Mets infield, there are two things that squarely stand-out. The first is that this is an aging group of players coming off significant injuries. The second is this infield is not a particularly good defensive infield.
John Dewan of Acta Sports, and Fielding Bible fame, projected the Mets to have the worst defense up the middle in 2017. The projection calls for Neil Walker to be a -1 DRS next season, which is what he has averaged over the past three seasons. Asdrubal Cabrera is projected to post a -9 DRS, which is worse than the -7 DRS he has averaged over the past two seasons. While you would certainly want both Walker’s and Cabrera’s bats in the game, certainly, the Mets would benefit by having a better glove in the game when there is a lead late in the game.
That is exactly what the Mets have done with Juan Lagares. After the team acquired Yoenis Cespedes at the 2015 trade deadline, Lagares has served as a defensive replacement late in games. The Mets doing this has served two important purposes. First, it has helped the Mets preserve leads by putting their best defense on the field. Second, it helps save some innings, and by extent wear and tear, on players like Cespedes and Curtis Granderson. It is a large reason why the Mets will be returning Lagares to the same role in 2017.
It is something the Mets should consider for their infield. The issue is the Mets do not have the bench to do it.
Jose Reyes has averaged a -9 DRS at shortstop over the past three years, which would indicate he’s a downgrade from Cabrera. Wilmer Flores had a -10 DRS as the starting shortstop in 2015, and he has a -6 DRS as a second baseman in 576.0 major league innings. The other options being considered for the bench, T.J. Rivera and Ty Kelly, are hardly terrific defenders in their own right. Certainly, you are not taking the steady handed Walker and Cabrera off the field for them.
No, the only good defensive player who is a realistic option to make the Opening Day roster is Matt Reynolds.
Reynolds is not a gold glover in the middle infield. However, he does have the same steady hands Walker and Cabrera have while having better range at the position. He certainly has the arm to play second, short, and third. That also makes him an option to take some innings away from David Wright at third. Overall, Reynolds is most likely the best defensive infielder the Mets not named Amed Rosario. The fact that he is also capable of serving as the team’s fifth outfielder makes him an all the more enticing roster option.
What is going to hurt his chances of making the team is his bat. He hit .225/.266/.416 in 47 games with the Mets last year. He has played 254 games in the hitter’s haven that is the Pacific Coast League, Reynolds has only hit .284/.342/.411. Overall, he’s not a great hitter. It’s quite possible that even with him putting in extra time with Kevin Long he will never develop into a good hitter.
But the Mets don’t need hitters. They have plenty of them on this team. What they need are good defenders. With Lagares, they have that in the outfield. With Reynolds, they would have that in the infield as well.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online
Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise David Wright is not going to be ready for Opening Day. No one realistically knows when Wright is going to be ready to play this year. With that in mind, the Mets now have an open roster spot on the Opening Day roster. On the 40 man roster, the Mets have T.J. Rivera and Matt Reynolds. Ty Kelly would also be an option should the Mets be willing to make a 40 man roster move, which could include putting Wright on the 60 day disabled list.
The argument for Kelly would be the fact that his switch hitting ability would present the Mets with a left-handed hitting option for a team that promises to have a completely right-handed bench. His versatility in the field may also prove to be important. With that said, if you are willing to make an important roster move for Kelly, why not go ALL-IN and bring back Kelly Johnson.
Over the past two seasons, Johnson has hit .260/.319/.441 with 14 homers and 37 RBI in 131 games. Over those 131 games, Johnson has played every position for the Mets except pitcher, catcher, and center field. He could prove to be a very important player for the Mets.
Fact is, Johnson has been vitally important to the Mets over the past two seasons. In 2015, he was able to serve as an everyday player until the team got healthy. In 2016, he worked diligently to become a better hitter with him hitting .268/.328/.459. When Neil Walker went down, he and Wilmer Flores joined to make an extremely effective platoon at second base. As we’ve seen, he’s also capable of playing third, which just became an important issue again with Wright being unable to play on Opening Day.
Frankly, it is surprising that it would come to this for the Mets to make a move to add Johnson. This is the same player the Mets have traded prospect after prospect for in successive years. The ultimate reason these trades were necessary was because the Mets had built flawed, if not weak, benches heading into the 2015 and 2016 seasons. While the Mets bench in 2017 promises to be deeper than year’s past, it is still flawed for the aforementioned reasons. The addition of Kelly Johnson would go a long way in resolving the issues the bench currently has.
Right now, the Mets have a need for another bench player. There is a veteran who has not only played well coming off the bench, but he has also played well in New York. Both are more difficult than many believe, and that is why a player like Johnson is important. Realistically speaking, with Sandy Alderson already telling the media, the Mets are “all-in” this year, he should put his money where he mouth is and re-sign Johnson.
That’s what teams who are all-in do when a need arises.
It would take a minor miracle if the Mets Opening Day lineup lasts the full season. It is very likely that one of Lucas Duda (back), Neil Walker (back), David Wright (body), or Asdrubal Cabrera (knee) doesn’t have a stint on the disabled list. With that in mind, the Mets infield depth is going to be more important than ever. Fortunately, they seem to have more choices than they have ever had in the past:
2016 Stats: 60 G, 279 PA, 255 AB, 45 R, 68 H, 13 2B, 4 3B, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 9 SB, 2 CS, .267/.326/.443
In many ways, it was the Reyes of old last year with the electricity on the basepaths which created a buzz in both the dugout and the stands. There are two areas of caution with Reyes. He had a poor .326 OBP which is not an outlier as Reyes’ OBP over the past three seasons is .321. The other issue is he struggled against right-handed pitchers hitting .239/.293/.371 off of them last year. With that said, Reyes does seem rejuvenated being in a Mets uniform, and he can now completely focus on baseball giving hope for much better results.
2016 Stats: 103 G, 335 PA, 307 AB, 38 R, 82 H, 14 2B, 16 HR, 49 RBI, SB, CS, .267/.319/.469
Simply put, Flores mashes left-handed pitching having hit .340/.383/.710 with 11 of his 16 home runs off of them. While fans have soured on him as a shortstop, he still can capably handle all four infield positions. Based on the numbers, when there is a left-handed pitcher on the mound, the Mets needs to find a way to get him in the lineup. When there’s a right-handed pitcher, the Mets would be better off looking in another direction.
2016 Stats: 33 G, 113 PA, 105 AB, 10 R, 35 H, 4 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 16 RBI, .333/.345/.476
In September, we saw that Rivera can not only hold down a position due to injuries. More importantly, we know he can rise to the occasion. While he may not walk enough to justify putting him in the everyday lineup, his ability to hit can justify his presence on a major league roster. Those justifications are only enhanced when you consider he is also capable of playing all four infield positions.
2016 Stats: 47 G, 96 PA, 89 AB, 11 R, 20 H, 8 2B, 3 HR, CS, .225/.266/.416
Whereas the aforementioned players primarily rely on their bats, Reynolds is a terrific defensive player. In one game last year, he surprised us all not by playing a representative left field, despite never playing there previously, but also by hitting a monster home run to give the Mets a lead.
2016 Stats: 4 G, 7 PA, 6 AB, 2 R, 2 H, 2 2B, 2 RBI, .333/.429/.667
Cecchini is a promising hitter who should be able to hit for more power as he ages. Despite having all the tools, he has struggled as a shortstop. Those struggles along with the rise of Rosario, Cecchini should find himself playing second base next year. With the increased versatility, he should be able to help the Mets at either second or short if the need arises.
2016 MiLB Stats: 120 G, 527 PA, 479 AB, 65 R, 155 H, 24 2B, 13 3B, 5 HR, 71 RBI, 19 SB, 8 CS, .324/.374/.459
With Rosario it is just a matter of time before the shortstop of the future becomes the Mets everyday shortstop. With a little more seasoning, he may become a superstar. There’s no limit to his talent. He just needs a little more seasoning in Las Vegas. Depending on when or if someone goes down, the Mets may want to call up their best prospect to the majors. Once he gets called up, the Mets are going to have a hard time justifying sending him back down.
As seen above, the Mets are much deeper in the infield than they have been in year’s past when players like Eric Campbell were making the Opening Day roster. In the case of Cecchini and Rosario, one injury may just open the door for them to claim the position not just for 2017 but for years to come.
While the Mets have a terrific Opening Day infield on paper, the infield that may materialize later on into the season may be even better.
Last season, other than Wilmer Flores, Terry Collins showed an unwillingness to move players out of their natural position. With the Mets returning four infielders who each had significant injuries last year requiring stints on the disabled list, Collins may not have the same luxury. To that end, the Mets appear prepared to better handle to withstand injuries next season.
As the Mets report to camp, it appears that each player has come ready to either learn how to play another position or become more proficient at a position they have played in the past.
For starters, Jose Reyes comes into the season having already played shortstop and third base. In addition to those responsibilities, Reyes is going to spend time in Spring Training learning how to play the outfield. As Mets fans remember, Reyes once played second base. Certainly, he can play there in a pinch if needed.
Last year, the Mets were unwilling to move Neil Walker off of second base. This year might be a different story. As Walker reported to Spring Training, he brought a third base and a first baseman’s glove with him. Depending on not only the health of his teammates, but his own health, it is very possible Walker finds himself playing some games away from second.
His double play partner Asdrubal Cabrera has been working away from shortstop this offseason. During Winter Ball, Cabrera played both shortstop and third base. Before Carlos Guillen surprisingly left him off the roster, Cabrera was set to play short and third for Venezuela. Previously when he was a member of the Washington Nationals, Cabrera had played second in addition to short.
While each of these players have infield experience, the Mets are looking to gain some versatility with their outfielders as well. While Collins has largely shot down rumors of Michael Conforto trying first base, it appears Jay Bruce will get some exposure there during Spring Training. This move makes sense for both the team and the player. The added versatility should help the Mets replace Lucas Duda‘s power at first should he suffer another back injury, and the added versatility should help Bruce as he plays his last season before becoming a free agent.
In addition to the aforementioned players, we know that Ty Kelly, T.J. Rivera, and Matt Reynolds can play a multitude of positions as well as left field. Top to bottom, the Mets promise to have a versatile roster.
The versatility helps because it will allow the Mets to keep the best remaining bats in the lineup in case of injury, but it also can clear room for Gavin Cecchini, Amed Rosario, or possibly Dominic Smith to play everyday when/if they are ready. Overall, the Mets are in the best possible situation to withstand injuries now. All that is left is Collins’ willingness to play people outside of their main positions.
That remains to be seen.
While most are focused on the bullpen, this Mets team has some other areas it needs to address prior to the start of the 2017 season. One of the main issues facing this team is which player is going to get the last spot on the bench?
At first blush, this may not seem like it is a major issue. If any of the infielders with an injury history go down, it is expected that Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes can more than capably handle any one of the four infield spots. If two were to go down, we have seen enough from both Flores and Reyes to know that they can at least be a good stop gap option at a position. However, lost in the confidence you would have in Flores or Reyes is the fact that once they are moved to a starting position, the player who is the last man on the roster will begin to take on a larger role on the team.
Last year, that player was Eric Campbell. While Campbell may have had his positive attributes, he was certainly not capable of playing everyday. And yet, when Lucas Duda and David Wright went down that was the position Campbell found himself. In 2017, there is no reason to believe that Duda or Wright could last a full season. Same goes for Neil Walker, who just had season ending back surgery, and Asdrubal Cabrera, who played with a knee injury for the entirety of the 2016 season. The long story short here is the Mets need a deep bench for the 2017 season to prevent a player of Campbell’s caliber being a starter for two or more weeks.
For the past two seasons, the Mets have made trades to obtain Kelly Johnson to serve as a bench player. He has proven himself to be a useful player who has hit .260/.319/.441 over two brief stints with the Mets. Last year, he was clutch as a pinch hitter hitting four pinch hit home runs. He is versatile in his ability to play second, third, and both corner outfield positions. In 2015, we saw him play shortstop in a game. If given Spring Training to work on it, he could add first base to his repertoire. The main issue facing Johnson is he remains unsigned, and at this point, it is questionable whether the Mets have interest in him with the team already espousing that they need to cut payroll entering the 2017 season.
The next in line would likely be Terry Collins‘ favorite Ty Kelly. Like Johnson, Kelly is versatile in his ability to play across the infield and his ability to play the corner outfield positions. While he is a switch hitter, Kelly showed he was a better hitter against left-handed pitching in what was a very small sample size. Late in the season, Collins used Kelly as a pinch runner late in games. Overall, while Kelly does nothing outstanding, and is clearly best suited to being a bench player at the major league level, Collins has shown that he appreciates what Kelly can bring to the table.
In addition to Kelly, T.J. Rivera was the other standout 27 year old Mets rookie during the 2016 season. Late in the season with the injuries to Walker and Flores, Rivera grabbed a hold of the second base job and hit .333/.346/.476 in 33 games. Unlike Johnson and Kelly, Rivera has played a fair amount of games at shortstop. With that said, there is a reason why the Mets began transitioning him away from short beginning in AA. With that said, RIvera can legitimately play all four infield positions. When he was passed over for promotion to the majors, he began working in LF in AAA meaning it is possible he can play the outfield if necessary. The main sticking point with Rivera is the fact that he is an aggressive hitter that rarely draws a walk.
Last, but certainly not least, is Matt Reynolds. Unlike the aforementioned players, Reynolds is a legitimate shortstop who quite possibly has the best range out of all the major league options the Mets have at the position. For one glorious day game, Reynolds showed he can play left field, and he can get that clutch hit to help the Mets win the game. On the downside, Reynolds is the worst hitter of the bunch. In his 47 games with the Mets last year, he only hit .255/.266/.416. In the hitter’s haven that in the Pacific Coast League, he was only a .264/.336/.357 hitter last year. Ultimately, Reynolds is the guy you want out there defensively, but he is not the guy you want at the plate.
Unless the Mets sign Johnson, it looks like the fight will be between Kelly, Rivera, and Reynolds for the last spot on the bench. IN those three players, the Mets have three intriguing if not flawed players. Ultimately, that is your best bet when looking to round out your major league bench. The good news for the Mets is if one should falter, there are two more behind them that can pick up the slack. If the Mets face a number of injuries like they did in 2015 and 2016, the Mets have a couple of options that have proven they can be useful major league players. With that, it seems the Mets bench should not be a problem for the first time in a good number of years . . . at least that’s the hope.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online
Throughout the season, I attempted to grade the different Mets players performances for each month of the season. In determining the year end grades, the aggregate of the monthly grades given was considered, but it wasn’t conclusive. For example, one player’s awful month could be more than offset by having an incredible month. Also, those decisions were made in the heat of the moment. There has been a cooling off period in giving these finals grades, and with that, there is time for reflection. It should also be noted the Wild Card Game did have some impact on these grades as that game was part of the story of the 2016 Mets. Overall, the final grades assessed considered the monthly grades, but also took into account that player(s) overall impact on the Mets season (good or bad). For the fourth set of grades, here are the Mets utility players:
Early on in the season, Flores mostly struggled with getting limited playing time. It was difficult cracking into the starting lineup when Neil Walker, David Wright, and Asdrubal Cabrera playing well in April. As the season progressed, and the Mets became more and more injured, notably Wright and Lucas Duda, Flores was needed, and he really stepped up.
Where Flores really thrived was being used as a platoon option against left-handed pitching. Against lefties, Flores would hit an astounding .340/.383/.710 with four doubles, 11 homers, and 28 RBI. If you extrapolated those numbers of the course of a full 162 game season, Flores would’ve hit 36 homers and 93 RBI. That would have made him the best hitter in the Mets lineup this season. However, Flores’ numbers were nowhere near that as he struggled against right-handed pitching hitting .232/.289/.353 with 10 doubles, five homers, and 21 RBI. It should be noted Flores had 107 plate appearances against lefties and 228 plate appearances against righties.
For the season, Flores hit .267/.319/.469 with 14 doubles, 16 homers, and 49 RBI. Flores’ numbers were an upgrade over his 2015 numbers. Given how he has progressed each year over his career, and the fact that he is only 25 years old, we should see an improved Flores at the plate in 2017.
Even with some optimism, there is some doubt. Despite his improvement at the plate, he still didn’t walk enough, and he doesn’t hit right-handed pitching enough to play everyday. While he made marked improvements at shortstop as the 2015 season progressed, Flores regressed there defensively in 2016. In fact, Flores did not play all that well defensively at any position; although, he did show some promise at first base.
Part of the reason for Flores foibles could be he’s prone to the occasional gaffe (similar to Daniel Murphy). It could be him trying to do too much, it could be him having more faith in his abilities than he probably should, it could be his high effort level, or it could be something different altogether. Whatever it is, it was front and center when Tim Teufel made the baffling decision to send Flores home during that September 10th game against the Braves. It was absolutely a bad send, but it quite have possibly been a worse slide. Flores going in head first against a catcher like A.J. Pierzynski lead to his season-ending injury which required surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone in the offseason.
The best thing you can say about Flores in the 2016 season was he was missed. During the Wild Card Game, the Mets were one bat short against Madison Bumgarner. With Flores’ stats against left-handed pitching, he could have gotten that one key hit the Mets needed to win that game. Except, he was injured and unable to play. The hope is he learns from this experience and comes back a better player in 2017.
After Ruben Tejada was released on the eve of the season, Campbell was a surprise member of the 25 man roster. Unfortunately, Campbell was not up to the task as he regressed yet another season. In 40 games, Campbell hit .173/.284/.227 with one double, one homer, and nine RBI. While the Mets organization was high on him to start the year (at least higher on him than most people), he didn’t do enough to justify their faith in him. It was his play that forced the Mets to go out and get James Loney to play first base after Duda’s injury.
Despite the fans apparent hatred of him, he still has use as minor league depth, and if used in small doses, he could have some benefit to a major league team as a pinch hitter and very part time player. Simply put, he was asked to do too much in 2016. That was one of the reasons he was removed from the 40 man roster, and it is why he is a minor league free agent at the moment.
Reynolds numbers during the 2016 season were lackluster. In 47 games, he only hit .255/.266/.416 with eight doubles, three homers, and 13 RBI. Still, it is hard to call Reynolds first 47 games in the major leagues disappointing because he did show some promise.
In his limited duty, Reynolds did show himself to be the Mets best major league ready defensive shortstop in the entire Mets organization. He also played well at second, third, and left field despite his playing a vast majority of his professional career at shortstop. In fact, the first ever game Reynolds played in left field was at the major league level. All Reynolds did in that game was play a representative left field and hit the game winning home run.
In 2016, Reynolds showed he could potentially be a major league bench player. As a former second round pick, many might have wanted more from Reynolds than what he has shown. That is not entirely fair at this point because he’s only played 47 games as a major leaguer, and in those 47 games, he showed he deserves another shot to be a major leaguer. With that in mind, despite his numbers being disappointing, Reynolds did have a succesful 2016 season, and we should look forward to what he can contribute in 2017 and beyond.
Ty Kelly C+
Just making it to the major leagues after his long odyssey in the minor leagues was a major accomplishment. And even though he made it to the majors as a result of a rash of injuries, he did earn his way to the majors with his hot hitting in Las Vegas. While he initially struggled, Terry Collins finally figured out what he was, and Kelly began to thrive.
Despite his being a switch hitter, Kelly was really best suited to facing left-handed pitching. While the sample size is really too small to derive a definitive conclusion, it should be noted Kelly put together much better at-bats from the right-hand side of the plate than he did from the left. As he faced more left-handed pitching, Kelly’s numbers improved, and he finished the season hitting .241/.352/.345 with a double, a triple, a homer, and seven RBI in 39 games.
In the field, while Kelly was used all over the place, and he performed better than anticipated. His best positions were probably third and left field. Unfortunately, Kelly did not demonstrate sufficient power to play at either of those positions. It should be noted that Kelly isn’t going to be a regular at the major league level. Rather, he is a bench player, so it is quite possible, his relative lack of power may not be as big an issue for him.
Ultimately, Kelly was rewarded for his hard work and resilence. He was rewarded not just with getting called-up to the majors, but also by being put on the Wild Card Game roster. In a season with a number of highlights for him, his seventh inning pinch hit single certainly has to rank well up there.
Editor’s Note: the grades for April, May, June, July, August, and September/October can be found by clicking the links. If you want to see the prior entries, here is the link for catchers, and here is the link for middle infielders.
It is highly doubtful that 30 games played in an Instructional League in the month of October will have a far reaching impact on a player’s career. Still, Gavin Cecchini‘s time in the Arizona Fall League appears to be a bit of a missed opportunity.
It became very apparent this year that Cecchini’s future with the New York Mets will be at second base.
That first became apparent because Cecchini has struggled defensively at the position. While fielding percentage can be an overrated and flawed stat, Cecchini’s .933 fielding percentage in AAA, and his minor league career .944 fielding percentage cannot be ignored. His stats show he’s not capable of playing short. It is strange because he has the tools to be a good defender there, but he just can’t put it together.
This begs the question why do the Mets want him to put it together? With Amed Rosario having established himself as the much better defensive shortstop, the much better prospect, and arguably the better offensive player, Rosario, not Cecchini, is the shortstop of the future. If you still like Cecchini as a player, and you believe he is a major league caliber player, he needs to transition to second base.
And the process has begun. He worked on second base on the side during the AAA season. He even got into two games there before being called-up to the Mets. Given the fact that the transition presumably began, it has been surprising to see Cecchini play so much shortstop in the Arizona Fall League. It’s shocking when Mets first base coach, Tom Goodwin, is Cecchini’s manager. It’s downright stupefying when the Scorpions are carrying one second baseman and three shortstops on their roster.
It leads one to search for some logic behind what seems to be an illogical decision. Upon further review, there appears to be a couple of good reasons why the Mets have Cecchini playing a lot of shortstop in the Arizona Fall League.
The first and obvious answer is this is all much ado about nothing. While it would be preferable for Cecchini to play second base, it is more important for him to play everyday to see how he stacks up against the best prospects in the game. The Mets may just want him to focus on his hitting to see if his bat could translate against some of the better pitching prospects in baseball. Note, in a 30 game context, this does not just mean results, it also is his approach and whether or not he appears over-matched. If Cecchini does prove he can hit better pitching, his future would be further solidified with the Mets.
Second, there may be a real issue going forward with Asdrubal Cabrera and his knees (even with him not needing knee surgery). While Terry Collins’ first choice would be to move Jose Reyes to short in Cabrera’s absence, he may not have that luxury as Reyes may be playing third base for David Wright, or Reyes could start next season as the starting second baseman depending on what the Mets are able to do this offseason. Also keep in mind that Reyes has proven himself to be an injury prone player at times in his career.
If any of the aforementioned players are injured, the options at short would be Cecchini or Matt Reynolds. In the short term, the Mets may go to Reynolds who has played in the major leagues, is the better defender, and has had some success at the big league level. Moreover, Reynolds has been transitioning to being a utility player meaning he may be more accustomed to not playing everyday. In the event there is an injury that will require someone to take over for a month or so, Cecchini might get the call. While the Mets may be loathed to use him for a two week stretch, they may be inclined to run him out there everyday for a month or so to see how the better regarded prospect can handle being an everyday player.
Finally, the Mets may not be moving Cecchini from shortstop because you can never have too much depth. Rosario could regress, suffer an injury, or the Mets could be presented with a trade offer where they would include their untouchable prospect. In any of these scenarios, the Mets are going to need another shortstop. That shortstop should be Cecchini as he is currently the best non-Rosario middle infield prospect.
There may be other reasons why the Mets are playing Cecchini at shortstop in the Arizona Fall League rather than capitalizing on an opportunity to transition one of their best prospects to the position he is destined to play. Whatever the case, the hope needs to be the Mets are making decisions based upon sound principles that are in both their own and Cecchini’s best interests.
Editor’s Note: Cecchini left last week’s Arizona Fall League game after fouling a ball off his foot. Despite the injury, he is hitting .258/.359/.419 with two doubles, a homer, and six RBI in nine games. He is part of fan voting to select the final two players for the Arizona Fall League roster.
As we head to the Wild Card Game, we already know that we are going to see an epic pitching matchup between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard. Presumably, this game is going to be won and lost on which pitcher blinks first and allows a run. It is going to be a daunting task for both offenses.
In Bumgarner’s career, he has made six starts against the Mets going 5-0 with a 1.86 ERA and a 1.025 WHIP. In four starts at Citi Field, Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA and a 0.828 WHIP. Bumgarner faced the Mets twice this year with very different results.
On a May 1st game at Citi Field, Bumgarner earned the win pitching six shutout innings allowing six hits and three walks while striking out seven. On an August 18th game at AT&T Park, in what was supposed to be a pitcher’s duel against Jacob deGrom, both pitchers struggled. Bumgarner still got the win despite allowing six hits, four runs, four earned, and three walks with six strikeouts over just five innings.
With that in mind, looking at the recent history, the Mets do have something to build their confidence against Bumgarner as they head into Wednesday’s game. There’s reason for confidence because the healthy Mets on the 40 man roster have actually fared well against Bumgarner:
Presumable Starting Lineup
- Jose Reyes 3-9
- Asdrubal Cabrera 3-7, 2 RBI, K
- Yoenis Cespedes 3-10, 2B, RBI, 3 BB, 3 K
- Curtis Granderson 0-3, BB, K
- Jay Bruce 3-23, HR, 4 RBI, 6 K
- T.J. Rivera 2-3
- Lucas Duda 0-1
- Rene Rivera 2-3, 2B, HR, 5 RBI
- Noah Syndergaard 0-2, K
- Eric Campbell 1-5, BB, 3 K
- Michael Conforto 0-3, 2 K
- Travis d’Arnaud 0-4, 2 BB, 3 K
- Kelly Johnson 7-20, 5 K
- Ty Kelly 1-2, BB
- Juan Lagares 1-9, K
- James Loney 2-13, 2B, RBI, BB, 5 K
- Kevin Plawecki 1-3
Have Never Faced Bumgarner (2016 against LHP):
- Gavin Cecchini 1-3, 2B, RBI
- Alejandro De Aza 8-41, 3 2B, RBI, 5 BB, 13 K
- Brandon Nimmo 2-7, BB, K
- Matt Reynolds 8-27, 6 2B, HR, 6 RBI, BB, 6 K
Look, anytime you face Bumgarner in an elimination game, you should not feel comfortable. In the 2014 Wild Card Game, Bumgarner pitched a complete game, four hit, one walk, 10 strikeout shutout. In Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, Bumgarner came out of the bullpen on two days rest to throw five shutout innings to give the Giants their third World Series title in five years.
Once again, this is an even numbered year, and the Giants are once again sending Bumgarner out to the mound to begin the run to another World Series. Standing in his way is 60’6″ postseason Syndergaard and a collection of Mets bats that have hit him well. The Mets have a good chance to win this game.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online.
With the addition of John Olerud and the emergence of Rick Reed, the 1997 Mets made a tremendous leap forward going 88-74 to be a factor in the Wild Card race. However, they would eventually lose out to a Florida Marlins team that was literally built to win the World Series that one season.
After that season, the Marlins disbanded because, as we were first learning out, that’s what the Marlins do when they win. The Mets were one of the main beneficiaries of the the offseason sell-off with them obtaining Al Leiter and Dennis Cook. Then the real boon came when the Marlins had swung a deal with the Dodgers to obtain Mike Piazza to unload a bunch of big contracts. With the Mets struggling, due in large part to Todd Hundley‘s elbow injury, the Mets moved quickly and added Piazza. With a week left in the season, the Mets won to go to 88-68. All the Mets needed to do in the final week of the season was to win one more game to at least force a playoff with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs for the Wild Card. They didn’t. Once again, finishing the year 88-74 was not good enough for the Wild Card.
Entering the final game of the 2016 season, with the Mets having already clinched the Wild Card, the Mets needed just one more win to finish the year at 88-74.
There was a version of me 20 years younger that wanted to see the Mets get that win to erase some of the bad feelings that an 88-74 record created. It was going to be a difficult task because the Mets objective wasn’t to win this game. The sole objective was to just get through it with everybody healthy so as not to compromise the team for the winner-take-all Wild Card Game this Wednesday at Citi Field.
For starters, it was Gabriel Ynoa who took the mound instead of Noah Syndergaard. Terry Collins would also give an at-bat a piece to Curtis Granderson, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Yoenis Cespedes. Jay Bruce would get two. T.J. Rivera, Jose Reyes, Rene Rivera, and Travis d’Arnaud would not play. This was a full-on keep people fresh and don’t get anyone injured operation.
Ynoa would acquit himself well even if he couldn’t go five. He would only throw 52 pitches in 4.2 innings allowing five hits, one run, one earned, and one walk with two strikeouts. Collins would lift him for Jerry Blevins, who is probably the one Mets reliever who could’ve used some work, to get out of the fifth. At that point, the Phillies were only up 1-0 on a third inning Maikel Franco RBI single.
The Mets would eventually go ahead in this game making the 88-74 season a reality. In the sixth, Matt Reynolds doubled, and he would score on an Alejandro De Aza RBI singles. In the seventh, Kelly Johnson hit a leadoff single, and he would score on a Kevin Plawecki two out RBI double.
The lead would not last long as the Phillies went to work against Erik Goeddel in the bottom of the seventh. After an Andres Blanco single, an Aaron Altherr walk, and a Lucas Duda throwing error, the Phillies loaded the bases with no outs. Cesar Hernandez brought home the first two runs on an RBI single, and then Jimmy Paredes knocked in the third run of the inning with a sacrifice fly. That Paerdes sacrifice fly was an extra base hit if anyone other than Juan Lagares was manning center field. Lagares once again reminded everyone that he is the best fielding center fielder in baseball, and that if he can at least manage one at-bat per game, he needs to be on the postseason roster.
The Phillies then added a run in the eighth off Jim Henderson to make the game 5-2. That would be the final score of a game where both teams reached their primary objective. The Phillies were able to provide a fitting send-off for Ryan Howard removing him from the game in the eighth so he could leave to a standing ovation. The Mets just got through the game without suffering any injuries, and also got much needed reps for Duda and Lagares.
The Mets weren’t able to get that final win to erase the angst of the past when 88 wins just wasn’t good enough for the postseason. Ironically, 87 was good enough this year. With those 87 wins, the Mets put the capper on a mostly frustrating season. However, in the end, they were able to go to make consecutive postseason appearances for only the second time in their history. When viewed through that prism, this was a successful and enjoyable season.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Kelly – Collins 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 Lagares – Lagares 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 Reynolds – Especially 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.
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 Goeddel – Even 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 Henderson – Henderson 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.
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