Zack Wheeler

Sandy Better Get To Work

Yesterday, Odell Beckham, Jr. broke his leg as the Giants lost to go to 0-5.  It doesn’t matter how optimistic a Giants fan you are, the season is over.

The Rangers still have a talented group, but they got off to a 1-2 start.  One of the “highlights” of the young season is Alain Vigneault benching promising young player Filip Chytil for no other reason than he’s a young player.  There is still reason to believe the Rangers can make a run, but any excitement you would have is tempered by Terry Collins, sorry, AV, leading the way.

The Knicks, well, they are the Knicks.

If things continue this way, it promises to be a long winter until Spring Training begins.

Unless Sandy Alderson gets to work, it’s going to be a full year without hope.  He needs to build a bullpen beyond AJ Ramos and Jeurys Familia.  There needs to be more on the infield than Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario.  There needs to be more starting pitching depth due to the injury histories of Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler.

There’s a lot to do here.  Hopefully Sandy does it.  If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a long year in the New York sports scene.

One Positive Aspect Of The Mets Season

The one thing we never got to see with Generation K was Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, and Paul Wilson in the same rotation.  In fact, we have never seen them all in the same pitching staff.  That never happened because of all the injuries they suffered.  Then we saw Isringhausen and Wilson traded in successive years to help the Mets chances of winning a World Series instead of them pitching the Mets to the World Series.

Whatever you want to call the group of Mets young starters (most seemed to like the Five Aces), they never appeared in the same rotation.  The closest we got was seeing Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz in the same rotation in 2015.  Coincidentally, that was also the year the Mets went to the World Series on the strength of their pitching.

The reason Zack Wheeler was not a part of that group that went to the postseason was because he suffered an injury in Spring Training.  In fact, Wheeler would be gone for two years rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.  For a moment, it seemed as fait accompli the group would never pitch in the same rotation because Wheeler was almost traded to the Brewers with Wilmer Flores for Carlos Gomez.  In fact, if not for Gomez’s hip, the dream would have died there.

Still to this day, we have never seen the five in the same rotation.  However, we have seen them all pitch in the same season in the rotation.  It may not seem like much, but it’s something.  It’s also a step closer to seeing them all in the same rotation.  It may finally happen next year.

Matz should be ready for Opening Day after the surgery to repair his ulnar nerve.  This was the same surgery deGrom had last season, and he was able to last the entire season injury free.  Both Harvey and Syndergaard were able to return and pitch before the season was over.  Like in 2015 and 2016, the only question is Wheeler.

In the end, the Mets are a step closer to having all five of their proverbial aces in the rotation.  At a minimum, they are a step closer to seeing them all on the same pitching staff.  If it does happen, one of the open wounds Mets fans have suffered will close a bit.  Howeve,r that wound will not fully heal until we see this group pitch the Mets to a World Series title.

Mets Fans Have Been Watching An Eclipse All Season

Right around this time, the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun bringing darkness across the country . . . or as Mets fans like to call it, the perfect euphemism for the 2017 season.

We’ve seen Noah Syndergaard go down for the season, and we are not sure when Jeurys Familia can come back.  Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler were mishandled coming back from their injuries.  Steven Matz had another injury plagued year.  We never did get to see David Wright play this season, and we do not know if we will ever get to see him play again.

With the poor season the Mets are having, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Rene Rivera, and Neil Walker have been moved and are now playing for teams with an actual shot at the postseason.  The moves didn’t bring back much, and there were rumors the Mets were more interested in salary relief than anything causing fans to go back to a dark place they resided at the inception of the Madoff scandal.

The thing is, the eclipse today will last just a brief time.  Sandy Alderson has an entire offseason to get to work.  If ownership lets him spend the money, and with a little help on the health front, the Mets dark period will last just for the 2017 season.  If it is business as usual, this isn’t an eclipse – we’re back to the Dark Ages.

Good Luck and Thank You Curtis Granderson

The Mets organization is worse off today because it traded away Curtis Granderson. Simply put, you do not lose a human being the caliber of Granderson and are better off for it.

There’s a reason why he won the Roberto Clemente Award last year. He’s dedicated himself to helping others.

His Grand Kids Foundation has helped educate children in New York and Chicago and get them interested in baseball. To that end, he donated $5 million of his money to his alma mater, the University of Illinois, to build a ballpark where both the college and city kids could play baseball.

In addition to this, he’s an International Ambassador of Major League Baseball, a former ambassador for the Let’s Move! campaign, and is a spokesperson for the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Drink Up water initiative.

Long story short, Granderson is a great human being. Perhaps the only thing that could challenge Granderson the man was Granderson the ball player.

During Granderson’s three plus year tenure, Granderson established himself as one of the best free agent signings in Mets history. He was certainly one of the most important.

While Yoenis Cespedes got all the glory, Granderson was the most important player on that 2015 team.

For much of that season, Granderson was the only credible bat in that lineup. Between his offense, defense, and leadership, he helped keep the Mets afloat until the team for healthy and could make trades to make that run to the World Series possible.

When the Mets got there, Granderson was the best player in that series. In that series, he tied Don Clendenon, the 1969 World Series MVP, with the most World Series homers in Mets history. Each one of those homers by Granderson either tied the game or gave the Mets a lead.

On a personal note, Granderson’s home run is one of my favorite memories. It’s not just because I got to see it at Citi Field, it with my father and brother, it’s because of how my son reacted at home:

The 2016 season didn’t go as smoothly for Granderson, but there he was again when the Mets needed him most.

As the Mets were scratching and clawing to get back to the postseason, Granderson hit .302/.414/.615 with four doubles, a triple, eight homers, and 21 RBI over the final month of the season.

Behind Granderson’s play and leadership, the Mets did return to the postseason. In the Wild Card Game, his amazing diving catch robbed Brandon Belt of a go-ahead sixth inning RBI extra-base hit. That catch kept hope alive.

Hope was something Mets fans were allowed to have once Granderson came to the Mets as a free agent in 2014.

The Mets had a plan to build around all this pitching with only Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler being the only ones to make their debut. The question was really who was going to play behind all this pitching.

As it turns out, Granderson was the first one to sign on to be a part of all of this. He was going to be the guy to join forces with the pitching and David Wright to win that World Series. And the Mets were so close too.

They were close because Granderson did whatever was asked of him. One minute he was a clean-up hitter, and the next, he was a lead-off hitter. He would play all three outfield positions. This year, he willingly moved into more of a fourth outfielder, which allowed the Mets to give Michael Conforto more playing time.

To that end, Conforto seemed moved by the trade. He spoke highly of Granderson, and he made specific mention about how Granderson helped all the young guys on the team. What Conforto was describing was a true leader.

That’s the same leader Lucas Duda talked about in his Player’s Tribune article. Specifically, he stated, “Then when Curtis came over, that just made everything even better.”  Duda went on to say, “I owe so much to Curtis and the other guys because they really helped me to grow up.”

The sheer mention of Duda should also elicit memories of the We Follow Lucas Duda Instagram account. The account was hilarious, and it always left fans smiling. That’s another area where the Mets will miss Granderson.

From the very minute he signed with the Mets, he endeared himself to the fans saying, ““A lot of the people that I have met in New York have always said that true New Yorkers are Mets fans, so I’m excited to get a chance to see them all.” (New York Post).

And Granderson really was excited to see Mets fans. If you’ve attended games, you see him doing more than any other player in baseball to interact with the fans. He took time to sign autographs and take pictures with fans. Occasionally, while in the on deck circle, he’d greet a fan or two.

Even before he packed his bags to head to LA to join the current World Series favorites, he took time to send a message to Mets fans:

In every sense of the word, Curtis Granderson is a class act. If anyone deserves the opportunity to win a World Series ring, it’s him. Here’s hoping he gets it.

Thank you for all that you were and for the ride. The entire Mets organization was better for you being here, and you will be sorely missed by the fans. Hopefully with you being a free agent, you find your way back to the Mets.

If not, hitting a grand slam in your final at-bat is quite a way to end your Mets career:

Good luck and thanks for the ride Curtis Granderson.

Future Starts Tonight With Chris Flexen

While many Mets fans wanted Amed Rosario or Dominic Smith to be the first major call-up of the 2017 season, with Zack Wheeler‘s potentially season ending injury, that honor is going to go to Mets right-handed pitcher Chris Flexen.

Heading into the 2017 season, Flexen was added to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and Mets Minors rated him the Mets 20th best prospect.  As noted in the prospect analysis, Flexen had all the tools to be a good starting pitcher.  His fastball is the mid to upper 90s.  His curveball was a devastating out pitch.  What was holding him back was the refinement of his change-up, and his delivery.

With his working with both Marc Valdes in St. Lucie and Glenn Abbott in Binghamton, he has largely address those issues.  The results have been astounding.

In 10 starts this year, Flexen is 6-1 with two complete games, a 1.76 ERA, 0.815 WHIP, and a 9.2 K/9.  For a pitcher that spent much of his professional career struggling with control he has dropped his BB/9 from 3.4 last year to 1.5 this year.  Opposing batters are hitting just .183/.217/.260 against him.  Put simply, Flexen has been a dominant starting pitcher this year who has certainly earned a call to the major leagues.

When he toes the rubber on a major league mound for the first time tonight, Flexen brings not just his big right arm, but he also brings hope in what has been an otherwise dismal 2018 season.

He brings the hope Matt Harvey did when he went from a start in 2012 to starting the 2013 All Star Game.  He brings the hope we saw when Jacob deGrom took an unexpected opportunity and became the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year.  Noah Syndergaard and his 100 MPH gave you hope the 2015 Mets could win a World Series, and he did his part being the only Mets pitcher to win a World Series Game at Citi Field.  We also had hope that hot June afternoon when Steven Matz and his grandfather become beloved figures.

All four of these pitchers turned that hope into a National League Pennant in 2015.  It has been a rough road since, but the Mets are not far away from returning to that point.  Seeing Flexen toe the rubber tonight, we can once again have hope and dream the Mets can return to the World Series.

Flexen has a big arm, and he has been dominating the minor leagues.  He is joining a pitching staff who very well know what it is like to dominate hitters.  He’s joining a pitching staff that wants to get back to that point.  If he pitches well enough tonight and for the rest of the season, he may very well be a member of that rotation in 2018.

That’s what Flexen’s start tonight is.  It’s hope.  Hope that the 2017 season was just a one year blip.  Hope the Mets have another big arm who can complete the rotation.  Hope the Mets can win the World Series as soon as next year.

Flores Walks Off An Game That Seemed Off The Wheeler

The problem with Zack Wheeler is we don’t know why he is struggling so mightily.  Is it because he hadn’t pitched in over two years due to his Tommy John surgery?  Is it because there is some injury he and/or the Mets are hiding?  Is this just him being the same pitcher he has always been in his career?

The right-hander has not won a game since May 20th losing his last five decisions.  He has not pitched past the sixth inning since June 7th.  No matter what you want to look at, he just hasn’t been good.

Tonight would be no exception.  On the second pitch of the game, Matthew Joyce would hit a homer to give the Athletics a 1-0 lead.  When Wheeler then walked Marcus Semien, you knew it was going to be a rough night for Wheeler.

In that poor first 36 pitch first inning, Wheeler allowed four runs on three hits and four walks.  He allowed the aforementioned homer and a double to Bruce Maxwell.  He put his team well behind the eight ball, and he put them further behind as he grooved a 92 MPH fastball over the heart of the plate to Matt Chapman, who hit a long home run.

Not to belabor the point, but if Wheeler is throwing 92 MPH fastballs, something is wrong here.  Something’s really wrong when you’re walking an American League pitcher.  With this diminished stuff and his continued control issues, he didn’t give the Mets much of a chance.  His final line was five innings, seven hits, five runs, five earned, four walks, and six strikeouts.  He needed 1oo pitches to just get through the fifth.

The Mets looked dead in the water, but fortunately for once their bullpen kept them in the game.  The Mets would get a scoreless inning from Josh Smoker and two scoreless from Josh Edgin.  It didn’t look like this work would matter much as A’s starter Sean Manaea was straight dealing.

That was until the sixth inning.  After a Wilmer Flores double, Jay Bruce would put the Mets on the board:

Unlike the old adage, the homer did not kill the rally.  Jose Reyes tripled, and Travis d’Arnaud brought him home with an RBI single.  Curtis Granderson then came into the game as a pinch hitter.  Granderson hit a grounder that would normally have been an inning ending double play.  Because the A’s had the shift on, it gave Granderson an opportunity to beat the throw to first.  That would allow d’Arnaud to score the third run of the inning, and it would give Michael Conforto an RBI opportunity.

Since Conforto was called-up to the majors, he was given little chance to prove he could hit left-handed pitching.  For some reason, he was benched against them until it almost became a self fulfilling prophecy.  However, with all the injuries, the Mets have not had the same ability to bench him against lefties. During this season, Conforto has proven those previous decisions to be just plain silly, and he did it again tonight.

On the night, Conforto would go 2-5 with a double and one RBI.  That double and RBI came in this sixth inning at-bat when he hit an opposite field double scoring Granderson from first pulling the Mets to within 5-4.

The Mets would then get a chance in the eighth.  After a T.J. Rivera lead-off single, it looked as if the Mets had things cooking with Reyes at the plate.  Reyes has been hitting well of late, and he was great in tonight’s game.  Overall, he was 2-4 with two triples and a run.  This at-bat was not one of those two triples as he hit into a double play.

d’Arnaud, who was having a great game of his own going 3-3 on the night, got the two out double over the head of A’s center fielder Rajai Davis.  The Mets then announced Lucas Duda as a pinch hitter, and the A’s countered with the left-hander Daniel Coulombe.  Duda stayed in on the pitch, and he hit a single up the middle easily scoring d’Arnaud and tying the game.

After a Hansel Robles scoreless ninth, it set the stage for another Flores tears of joy moment:

The last time Flores hit a walkoff homer, it helped propel the Mets into the National League East title.  This homer the Mets have a four game winning streak, but it may still be too little too late.  Still, that does not mean we should enjoy this 6-5 win any less.

Game Notes: With the trade rumors swirling, Asdrubal Cabrera started the game at third base.  This was Robles’ second win in as many days.

Casey Struck Out, Cespedes GIDP

Despite all of the Mets problems coming to surface in this game, they still had a chance to win this game. 

Like most of his career, Zack Wheeler was cruising until he suddenly lost the strike zone. He kept dodging trouble when the game was scoreless, but once he got a 1-0 lead courtesy of a Michael Conforto homer, he and the Mets pitching fell apart in the sixth inning. 

New Mets killer Paul DeJong hit a two run homer giving the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. The rally continued with Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright hit an RBI double giving the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. 

Terry Collins brought on Josh Edgin to get Matt Carpenter. Instead, Edgin walked him leading to Collins bringing in newly recalled Hansel Robles. Robles promptly gave up a three run homer to Tommy Pham. Yes, Robles briefly pointed:

Believe it or not, there was still hope for the Mets. That hope started with Lucas Duda crushing a homer:

Jose Reyes followed with a Little League homer as Magnerius Sierra first booted the Reyes double and then threw it away. The rally ended with Cardinals pitcher Tyler Lyons somehow grabbing a Conforto liner up the middle. 
Even with the frustrating play, the Mets had a chance to tie things in the ninth. 

Curtis Granderson worked out a leadoff pinch hit walk against Cardinals lefty Kevin SiegristMike Matheny responded by going to Brett Cecil. This is the same Cecil who just blew a save yesterday. 
He started out shaky giving up a one out single to Asdrubal Cabrera. This brought up Cespedes as the tying run. Cecil would go to 3-0 to Cespedes, and the unthinkable happened. Whereas Cespedes swung and grounded into the game ending 6-4-3 double. Game over. 

There was much criticism of Cespedes swinging there. It was largely unfounded and based on the result. Cespedes could’ve tied the game on one swing. Based upon what we saw in 2015, we all saw how he can be a game changer. 

But this isn’t Cespedes of 2015. This is a 31 year old outfielder is a shell of himself with all the leg injuries. With all that said, of course he grounded into the game ending double play. A day after failing to sweep the Cubs, the Mets blew a chance to beat the Cardinals. 

Game Recap: With his homer, Duda tied Todd Hundley on the all-time M home run 

Mets Whimper Into The Break

After the Mets pulled out a 6-4 win over the Cardinals, there was hope for the team to at least take the series and leap over one team ahead of them in the race for the second Wild Card.  As Noah Syndergaard will tell you, the Mets are the second half team.  If you wanted a glimmer of hope, here it was.

On Saturday, there was hope.  Zach Wheeler turned his season around allowing just two earned over six innings.  When Jay Bruce homered to start the seventh inning, and the Mets knocked Adam Wainwright out of the game, there was a chance.  Then Fernando Salas came into the game.  He was dreadful as usual, and the relievers that followed weren’t much better.  A one run deficit became a three run lead too much for the Mets to overcome.

From there, things fell apart.  For the first time all season, Steven Matz just didn’t have it allowing five runs over 4.1 inning.  The Mets offense could only muster three hits off of Lance Lynn.  With that, the momentum from Friday night’s victory was gone.  Quite possibly, hope for the Mets making any sort of run in the second half of the season.

Heading into the break, the Mets are 39-47 getting outscored by their opponents by 47 runs.  They are 12 games behind the Nationals in the National League East.  The team is 10.5 games behind the second Wild Card.  Worse than that, the Mets are 5-21 against teams with a winning record.

Every time you want hope, the Mets make sure to take it away.  Perhaps, it is better this way.  It is time for everyone to admit this team is going nowhere.  It is time to sell.  It is time for Dominic Smith, Gavin Cecchini, and Amed Rosario to show the Mets what they are capable of doing.  With them playing everyday, it is possible we can all begin to hope again.

Not A Minor Issue: Planck And Szapucki Hurt

For those that don’t follow the Mets minor league system closely, Thursday was about as bad a day as one organization could possibly have.

The day began with the Mets announcing Cameron Planck, last year’s 11th round draft pick, is going to undergo season ending shoulder surgery. Planck is undergoing shoulder surgery before ever throwing a pitch as a professional.

Ironically, the Mets didn’t pitch him last year to protect his arm. The Mets invested heavily in the high school arm paying him $1,000,001 to keep him from going to the University of Louisville.

Before the surgery, Planck had a mid-90s fastball, a terrific change, and a developing knuckle curve. Hopefully, he can not only be this pitcher once again, but also fulfill the destiny he had as a potential front line starter.

Another potential front line starter in the Mets organization is Thomas Szapucki.

Last year, Szapucki was 4-3 with a 1.38 ERA, 0.885 WHIP, and a 14.9 WHIP in nine starts between Kingsport and Brooklyn. The 21 year old lefty has a mid to high 90s fastball and a curveball that baffled both right-handed and left-handed batters alike.

Things have not gone as well for him this year. His 2017 season was delayed due to a shoulder impingement in his pitching arm. After five good starts, Szapucki left Thursday’s game.

Initially, it was believed he left the game in relation to his getting hit with a line drive. No such luck. As it turns out, Szapucki left the game with left forearm discomfort. Many times a pitcher’s complaints of forearm discomfort is a precursor to Tommy John surgery.

If that’s the case, on one day, the Mets may have lost two pitchers who were on the path to one day being top of the rotation starters for the major league club.

While we rightly focus on the issues the major league rotation has had staying healthy, there needs to be focus on the Mets inability to keep their minor league pitchers healthy. If the past few seasons is any example, the Mets NEED a strong group of minor league starters when the major leaguers get hurt.

More than that, Matt HarveyZack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom are not that far off from free agency. Should any of them depart, the Mets need someone to take their place.

Szapucki and Planck should be front and center among internal candidates. Hopefully, Thursday will not stand in the way of that happening.

Rain Can’t Wash Away This Win

This is a game the Mets don’t win this year. They blew the lead twice. They fell behind after a bullpen meltdown.  The rain coming was almost an allegory for their season being washed out. Lost in all of that, this team still has some fight it them. 

The Mets 1-0 lead on a Jose Reyes double went away with the help of a pair of fourth inning errors. 

The Phillies loaded the bases on a T.J. Rivera and a pair of walks issued by Zack Wheeler. Ty Kelly grounded to Lucas Duda on easy should’ve been an inning ending double play. Instead, Wheeler missed the return throw from Reyes allowing two runs to score. 

After a Cameron Rupp single, Wheeler was done for the day. In his first start since his brief stint on the Disabled List, Wheeler reminded you of how frustrating he can be. He was unable to put batters away. He walked batters at inopportune times. He didn’t last long in the game. 

Erik Goeddel came on and bailed him out. He also gave the Mets the chance to win. 
The Mets picked themselves off the mat in the bottom of the inning starting with an Asdrubal Cabrera leadoff double off Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson. He’d then score on a Jay Bruce RBI ground out. Duda then untied it:

Goeddel couldn’t hold that lead. He’d issue a two out walk to Aaron Altherr, and before you could blink Altherr was on third base as Travis d’Arnaud threw it away on Altherr’s stolen base attempt. The whole course of events might have been rendered moot as Tommy Joseph doubled him home. 

This put the game in Fernando Salas‘ hands. Outside the first couple of weeks when Terry Collins went to him again and again, Salas has been terrible. For proof of that, look no further than his 5.88 ERA or his 1.693 WHIP. 

Two singles and a Joseph homer later, and the Mets were down 6-3. With the rains coming, it was possible that could’ve been enough to win the game. In fact, a lengthy enough delay after the seventh, and that game is over. With that, the Mets season might’ve been washed away as well.

Then T.J. would jolt everyone alive with a home run to lead off the inning. The home run sparked the Mets offense. d’Arnaud would hit a one out double off Pat Neshek, and he would score on a Wilmer Flores RBI single. 

Then, with two outs, against the team that led to the home run which inspired the day’s bobble head, Cabrera struck again:

7-6

That doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing. There would be a rain delay and a couple of false starts by the Phillies. 

With a 57 minute rain delay with two outs in the eighth, Paul Sewald had to come out of the game putting Addison Reed in a position where he had to get a four out save. 

To lead off the ninth, Altherr hit one to deep center just missing a home run. Reed buckled down, and he made sure to strand Altherr at second to pick up his seventh straight save attempt and his third in as many days. 

With the win, the rejuvenated Mets are now just 8.5 games behind the suddenly reeling Nationals. The Mets have a chance to make things interesting. 

Game Notes: Michael Conforto went to the Disabled List with a bone bruise in his left hand. Wheeler was activated off the Disabled List to make the start.