Matz staking claim to playoff start

By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/September 18, 2015

As the Mets chase down their first division title since 2006, Steven Matz has suddenly become their wild card.

After a lull in the action against the Marlins, the Mets (84-63) returned to their winning ways with a 5-1 victory over the Yankees in the first of three games in the Subway Series this weekend.

Matz (4-0) has put himself in position to be an October rotation fixture for the Mets. The rookie lefty clamped down after allowing a run in the first, tossing six innings of one-run ball with four strikeouts to notch his fourth win in four career starts.  The Long Island native used an assortment of change-ups, curveballs and a newly developed slider to complement a fastball that touched 97 mph on the radar gun.

The Mets hitters had cooled recently, having been shutout in their last game, albeit with a lineup missing a few regulars.  Lucas Duda got himself back on track with a homer and a double off Masahiro Tanaka on a night the Mets didn’t get much else going against the Yankees starter.

Daniel Murphy broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth with a two-out blast off Tanaka, his 12th of the season.  Juan Uribe homered again to provide insurance while David Wright stayed locked in with two hits.

In addition to Matz stepping up as the postseason approaches, the Mets are going to need Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom to find their second winds if the team wants to be a factor deep into October.  With Harvey’s innings potentially limited in the postseason and deGrom not his dominant self of late, Matz provides cushion if not much more.

He showed against the Yankees he can handle the big moment and the big stage that comes with a pennant race in New York.  After working up a pitch count over the first few innings, Matz settled down and handed the ball to the bullpen after throwing 102 pitches, 67 for strikes.  He lowered his ERA to 1.80.

There was talk recently of Matz being used out of the bullpen in October, but a team needs four starters in the Division Series, and after Friday’s performance the rookie is no worse than fourth in the pecking order.  Bartolo Colon seems to fit best in a long relief role.  His calm-under-pressure demeanor is well-suited to the pressures of entering a game in the early going in a tough spot.

Jonathan Niese was rocked for six runs on eight hits in three innings against the Dodgers on July 24, and cannot be trusted with another start against them.  He could potentially be used out of the bullpen against a lefty.

The rest of that bullpen seems to be getting itself righted after a period of uncertainty regarding the 7th inning role.  Addison Reed has shown flashes of his former self in solidifying that 7th inning and Hansel Robles has stepped up recently to put himself in the mix for important innings.  Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia have been lights out.

Now with an 8-game lead with 15 to play, there was a risk the Mets could fall into a malaise, but the Subway Series and the energy it brings comes at a great time for the club. The weekend series has more meaning than it ever has for the Mets and Yankees, with both teams in position to qualify for the playoffs.

As each day passes, the postseason picture will become a little clearer. The Mets are closing in on their first NL East title since 2006, and the sooner they do it the better.  You want to get some guys a little rest, but at the same time you want to be clicking on all cylinders from the get-go.

Entering play Friday, the Mets trailed the Dodgers by two in the loss column for home field advantage in the NLDS.

Whether they start the series at home or on the road will determine the Mets rotation.  At home for games 1 and 2, they would seemingly go with deGrom and Syndergaard, with Harvey/Matz pitching games 3 and 4 on the road.  Starting the series on the road, deGrom and Harvey would go games 1 and 2 with Syndergaard/Matz pitching games 3 and 4 at home.  deGrom would take the ball for a potential game 5 under either scenario.

The Magic Number is down to 8, and the excitement grows each day in Flushing.

Can Mets sustain success beyond 2015 ?

By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/September 12, 2015

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Mets fans do not get to enjoy seasons like this too often.  Seasons where the team lives up to its talent, and in some cases surpasses expectations, if they had any to begin with.

Starting with the Miracle Mets of 1969, the Mets have made eight playoff appearances in 46 seasons – counting 2015 as a playoff year.  This comes out to one playoff appearance every 5.75 years.  We’ll call it six.  Once every six years, the Mets put together a memorable season, getting into the playoffs and getting up the hopes of a fan base that isn’t quite sure what to think from year-to-year.

The late ’80s Mets did their part in securing a World Championship, but managed only one other playoff appearance, losing the 1988 NLCS to the eventual champion Dodgers.  The late ’90s Mets became the first team in club history to make the playoffs two straight seasons, winning the NL Wild Card in 1999 and 2000.  Those two years ended with Kenny Rogers walking Andruw Jones of the Braves to end the ’99 NLCS in six games and the Yankees winning the Subway Series, 4 games to 1, in 2000.

An even six years passed for the Mets without a postseason appearance, when in 2006, the club won its first NL East Title since 1988 and ended the Braves’ run of 11 straight division titles.  The year culminated with the Endy Chavez catch in Game 7 of the NLCS at Shea Stadium, and reached its brutal conclusion a short time later in the same game.

The team blew late September division leads in ’07 and ’08 and watched the Phillies raise a World Series banner instead.  The 2015 Mets have positioned themselves to end what is now a nine-year playoff drought, and they do so with a mix of pitching and clutch hitting that few teams can match.

It’s nice to make a playoff run every six years, but the Mets have never in their history been able to sustain a prolonged period of contention. It’s time for this franchise to establish a more firm footing in history by winning not just one division title, but several, over the next five to ten seasons.  Along with a World Series banner of its own. How about four playoff appearances in the next six years?

All the big moments this year wont mean as much if the Mets fail to continue surrounding the young arms with a capable offense and reliable relievers.

If the Mets starting pitchers are as good as they are being touted to be, and with Zack Wheeler expected back next summer, why can’t this team be the dominant team of the next decade?  A potential outfield including Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes could be one of the best hitting duos in baseball for five-plus years.

Keeping Cespedes here long term has to be a strong consideration for the front office.  Sandy Alderson has proven to be resourceful and clever in building a roster, both in the short term and the long term.  Terry Collins has done a more than admirable job in steering this year’s team through a slew of injuries and in dealing with a lack of offensive depth for much of the summer.

Whether Collins should be brought back beyond this season is debatable, and how he handles the team in the postseason will largely determine his fate.  Whether Matt Harvey remains a Met beyond 2018 is anyone’s guess.  At least three more seasons of Harvey Day await, unless Harvey is traded at some point.

Daniel Murphy is likely in his final year as a Met, as is Bartolo Colon.  Lucas Duda is eligible for arbitration this offseason and figures to be around a few more years.  Curtis Granderson has two years left beyond 2015 and the Mets have a two-headed monster at the catching position.

The division is getting weaker around them as the Mets continue to get stronger, setting the team up for sustained contention.  Philadelphia and Atlanta are in full rebuild mode, Miami is Miami and Washington has a boatload of players becoming free agents this offseason and next which will force them to consider their direction.  They do have Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer and a few other pieces to build around though.  Unless Harper is unsatisfied with the organization’s approach and chases the biggest contract he can find elsewhere.

It’s great the Mets are all-in on 2015, but will they sustain contention for years to come or will this team become like many of the others before it, making 1-2 playoff appearances without winning anything..

Mets head into weekend Laboring

By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/September 5, 2015

The Nationals have won three straight and gained ground on the division-leading Mets Friday night for the first time in six days, pulling to within five games.  With the teams starting a crucial 3-game series Monday, the Mets would like (and sorta need) to win the next two against Miami to ensure going into Washington with the five-game lead intact.

The Washington bats have begun to heat up recently, and there is too much talent on that ballclub to not believe they have a run left in them, some stretch where they win six straight and 10 of 12 here in September.  The Mets must stem that tide and would very much like to avoid coming into D.C. with just a 4-game lead and giving the Nats a chance to cut it to 3 or even 1.

Things could get dicey very fast if the Mets do not take the next two in Miami and Washington wins their next two.  You have to think the Nationals are looking at each other in the clubhouse thinking, ‘this is our chance, the Mets finally lost on a night we won and we have to keep cutting into the lead.’

The Mets pitching may be showing a chink in its armor at precisely the wrong time.  Jacob deGrom has not pitched like we are used to seeing twice in the last three starts, the bullpen is shaky in the middle innings and the Matt Harvey innings-limit saga has begun to percolate.  Lefty Jonathon Niese also happens to be pitching the biggest game of his life in Washington on Monday.

I tend to agree with Terry’s assertion there.  Not only is it a big game for the Mets, but Niese would like to put himself in the picture should the Mets make the postseason.

The heat is going to be turned up on Collins as well, who has never managed a postseason game and has certainly never managed a New York team in a pennant race.  Every decision he makes at this point will be magnified even further.  Can Terry push the right buttons, or enough of the right ones, to get this team to the finish line?  Which is really just the starting point.

There are plenty of veterans on this team to make sure everyone stays focused on their job, but the pressure could shift back to the Mets if their lead gets trimmed any further this weekend.  At this point, everyone has gotten over the surprise of the Mets being in first this late in the season, and the team has shifted from being the lovable underdog to the hunted ones.

The baseball world would love to see this race get a bit tighter.  What’s more exciting than a final weekend of head-to-head games to determine a division-winner?  With the loser missing out on the postseason entirely.

How they handle that pressure this weekend will go a long way in determining how tight things get later this month.

Mets at Crossroads up the Middle

By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/May 1, 2015


April is in the books.  The Mets turned in a 15-8 mark, which matches the ‘best case’ record I pegged them for a month ago.  The month included a series win over Washington, an 11-game winning streak, a slew of injuries, a PED suspension and a Subway Series defeat to the Yankees.

Where does that leave the Mets exactly? The same place they started – with two major defensive liabilities up the middle in Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy.  We saw first hand last night, a 2-0 lead quickly evaporated when Flores botched a tailor-made 6-4-3 double-play thrown perfectly by Jacob deGrom.  Make no mistake, this type of nonsense permeates the entire team, particularly the pitcher.  We saw what happened after.

As for Murphy, he has shown himself to be a slow-footed, unathletic defender at second.  He is very slow turning the double-play, and couldn’t even slide into second to break it up on Sunday night against the Yankees.  He ran directly into a tag, which had he avoided would have extended the inning.  He is costing the team in ways you cannot always see directly.  I for one, have seen and played enough baseball in my life to know exactly what he is costing the team.

You see Murphy constantly having to reach down for balls that an average second baseman would be in front of, and then have to make spinning, rushed throws to make up for his lack of agility.  These are not ‘sparkling’ plays, as Gary Cohen may have you think, and nothing against Gary.  He is second in the business to only Vin Scully at his job, and that is probably based solely on tenure.  These are the desperate maneuvers by an aging player who was never much good at the position anyway.

In the past, the Mets were not ready to win, and Murphy was a younger player who still had the chance to improve to the adequate level on defense.  At this stage, his defense is capped at what we have seen.  He is not going to improve, but only worsen with age.  You cannot have your pitchers out there worrying about the ball being hit on the ground up the middle.  The pitcher’s job is to get groundballs hit to their middle infielders.  Wally Backman could do no worse than Murphy playing second base right now.  Murphy would have to hit .340 with 45 doubles and 20 homers to make up for what he has and will continue to cost the Mets defensively, and those numbers are unreachable for just about any player.

As for Flores, he started off poorly with his throwing, seemed to have righted the ship a little, started swinging the bat batter, but at this point we have seen enough.  We have seen enough to know that Flores will continue to cost the Mets dearly with his lack of ability at the position.  Can he hit? Yes.  He should be good for close to 20 home runs and 30 doubles, along with a .265 or .270 batting average.  These would be excellent offensive numbers for a shortstop. He is a young player at the very beginning of his career and could still improve defensively.  But it is simply unfair and irresponsible to have this player at shortstop given the type of pitching the Mets boast.

The line-up is missing David Wright and Travis D’Arnaud, who were both off to very nice starts at the plate.  Wright should return around mid-May, D’Arnaud late May to early June.  The Mets cannot afford to squander the start they got off to by giving away games on defense.  It is going to create resentment in the clubhouse and put pitchers in the position of having to overexert themselves by looking for a strikeout in a big spot rather than getting the groundball at the crucial time.

That being said, it was very encouraging to see Sandy Alderson give the promotion to Dilson Herrera after the ugly loss to the Nationals.  The Mets new second baseman was hitting .370 with a .402 on-base percentage in Triple-A, and has the quickness and agility, not to mention the desire, to handle the position defensively.  Murphy will slide over to third base for the time being until Wright returns, which could be in less than two weeks.

This will put Eric Campbell back on the bench, where he is best suited.  That is probably where Murphy is best-suited as well, as a solid hitting option off the bench.  Unless of course Alderson is able to find the right trade for Murphy, who at this stage in his career would make a nice designated hitter in the American League or at third base for a team lacking left-handed hitting.

What about Wilmer?  His situation is a little more tricky, given his youth and offensive upside.  He provides solid righthanded power, and could be a very nice back-up to Wright at third base.  But you need his bat in the line-up to get the power out of him.  Flores could be a very dangerous hitter once the weather warms up.  What I would like to see is the Mets take the next inevitable step, and bring up Matt Reynolds to take over at shortstop.

Reynolds is currently hitting .317 with a .379 on-base percentage at Triple-A.  He lacks the power that Flores has, but with this pitching staff and this home ballpark defense is simply more important.  Reynolds is not going to win a Gold Glove at shortstop, but will make all the routine plays.  It seems the Mets have not completely made up their mind about Flores at shortstop, and I can understand trading him and his offensive upside would be a hard pill to swallow.

Here is how I would comprise the roster once Wright comes back:

1B- Duda

2B – Herrera

SS – Reynolds

3B – Wright

OF – Cuddyer, Lagares, Grandy

C – Plawecki (D’Arnaud takes over once he returns, Plawecki back to Triple-A)

Bench: Murphy/Flores, Mayberry, Tejada, Nieuwenhuis, Recker

* This includes a six man bench, which only allows for six relief pitchers in addition to five starting pitchers.  A six man bench is probably one too many.  This is barring a trade involving Murphy/Flores.  Tejada is the best back-up defender up the middle, with Murphy and Flores providing offense off the bench.  Either Murphy or Flores are going to have to be traded, and Murphy seems like the odd man out. Eric Campbell would return to Triple-A until a bench role opens.  Murphy’s days may very well be numbered with this club, as Flores figures to be Wright’s primary back-up at the hot corner under this scenario.

In addition, lefthander Steven Matz has recently been dominating at Triple-A, and could crack this rotation in the not too distant future.  Noah Syndergaard also dominated in his most recent start and could be in line for a promotion at some point.  Veterans Dillon Gee and Jon Niese have performed admirably, but they can only hold off the kids for so long.  It should be quite an interesting summer in Flushing.

Dillon Gee is a Warrior

By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/April 17, 2015


Dillon Gee is a warrior.  I would go to battle with him, and I hope you would too.

Food for thought:  Before making his Major League debut for the Mets in 2010, Gee compiled a 3.73 ERA in 418 innings over parts of four Minor League seasons.  To be sure, this ERA is not generally one that translates into long-term Major League success.

Gee’s career Major League numbers:  3.97 ERA in 650 innings over parts of six seasons in New York.  Those six seasons have not been winning seasons for the Mets, but that is besides the point.

After putting up a quite pedestrian 4.43 ERA in 27 starts for the big club in 2011, Gee improved to begin 2012, with a 4.10 ERA over 17 starts.  Then, after a July 7 start against the Cubs, Gee began experiencing numbness in the fingers of his throwing arm.  He was hospitalized, and days later diagnosed with a significant blood clot in his right shoulder.  He would miss the remainder of the season, and his career was certainly in jeopardy.

How did Gee respond?  He put on a brave face and recovered from the condition.  The following season was also the best of Gee’s career, as the righty made 32 starts to the tune of a 3.62 ERA with 142 strikeouts over 199 innings, all career highs.  This defines mental toughness, determination and a refusal to quit.

Last season Gee experienced a slight regression, with a 4.00 ERA in 22 starts over 137 innings.  This year, he was not expected to be a part of the Mets’ rotation.  Did he complain? No.  He said he would do whatever the team needed.  When Zack Wheeler was lost for the season, Gee did not pump his fist at the idea of rejoining the rotation.  He got himself ready for the season like a seasoned professional.

He is not projected to remain in the rotation for the entire 2015 season, and his first two starts have resulted in a 7.59 ERA over just 10 2/3 innings.  These numbers are unbecoming of a Major League pitcher, and if Gee were to make 28 more starts this season, it would significantly hamper the Mets chances at postseason contention.

Gee is not going to throw seven shutout innings with double-digit strikeouts, but last night against the Marlins, he exhibited a bend-but-not-break spirit and kept the Mets in the game until the bats took over.  Say what you want about him, but it would be quite unfair to do anything but applaud the man, and loudly at that, for the determination and spirit he has shown the Mets over the years.

When his time here is done, which may come sooner rather than later, I can only hope the Mets young players take good note of what Gee has done and overcome during his time with the Mets.

Temper Expectations…For Now

By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/April 10, 2015

I am not here to rain on anyone’s parade.  I am not looking to turn your half-full glass into a half-empty glass.  Let’s begin with that.

Yes, the Mets went down to D.C. and took 2 of 3 from the defending and preseason NL East Champion Washington Nationals.  This was a statement series, to be sure. The lone defeat was a one-run game the Mets very well could have won.

Opening Day featured a mid-game comeback by the Mets after being no-hit by the $200-million-dollar-man, Max Scherzer, for five frames.  Game two was a pitcher’s duel in which reigning Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom picked up where he left off in September.  Game three was the Harvey Day we have been waiting for since August of 2013, and Matt left nothing to be desired as he whiffed nine Nats through six shutout frames in outdueling Stephen Strasburg.

The Mets offense was opportunistic, to say the least, in taking advantage of yet another fielding blunder by Nationals shortstop and impending free agent, Ian Desmond.  After the game, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper paid homage to Harvey in calling him a future Cy Young winner and the toughest at-bat he’s ever had.  It is quite refreshing to see a ballplayer tipping his cap to his opponent, particularly in defeat.

When talking to reporters after the game, Washington manager Matt Williams tipped his own cap in stating the Nationals were currently ‘chasing the Mets.’  Last season’s Manager of the Year is correct in his assessment. However, both teams are currently ‘chasing the Braves,’ who swept their opening series from Miami.  Beginning Friday night, the Mets and Atlanta Braves will play three games down south to see who is really chasing whom out of the gate.

There are 159 games to play.  For the Mets, the next 13 of those will come against division rivals.  Anything can happen over those baker’s dozen.  Jenrry Mejia has already been knocked out of action for a couple of weeks, prompting a next-man-up within the Mets bullpen.  There are plenty of surprises in store for not just the Mets, but plenty of team’s around the National League.  There aren’t many doormats around to fatten up against and new rivalries are sure to spawn.

Let’s keep our early season optimism at a healthy level and let the Mets play on the field dictate the course of hope.  Enjoy the ride, no matter the destination.

Keepin’ the Faith

By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/April 3, 2015


To be a Mets fan means something different.  It isn’t about bragging – what would there be to brag about?  It isn’t about sporting your Mets cap around town to let everyone know who your team is.  It isn’t about a brand, a logo or front-running.

It is about faith.  Faith.

Faith refers to a belief as it is not based on proof.  Synonyms for faith include hope, trust and belief in a certain outcome, be it rational or irrational.  To be a Mets fan requires the harnessing of all these characteristics, and never, ever letting them get away from you.  Faith.

I was born in 1982 – 13 years after the Mets first and only World Championship at the time.  By the time I was four, the Mets had claimed their second World Championship.  This one required a different sort of miracle.  I don’t have any recollections of that 1986 season, only highlights and Bob Murphy’s forever call, ‘Gets by Buckner…’  I have watched the tapes, read the books and heard the stories.  It has now been 29 years since that ball scooted past Buckner, Shea Stadium exists only in memory, and a new generation of fans will have to carry the baton of faith.  If they have the stomach for it.

Over those three decades, there have been some exciting Mets teams, a few playoff runs and one World Series appearance.  One.  You may be inclined to ask, why would someone continue rooting for a team year after year which has given them nothing in return for their dedication?  The answer is not a simple one, and to be sure, if I was told at the age of four that I would have to wait at least 29 years to see the Mets reach the top of the mountain, I probably would not have signed on the dotted line.  You cannot understand at such a young age.

I’m not sure if faith in the Mets is something you are born with.  You have to plant those seeds of faith, water them, care for them and not expect anything in return.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  How else is faith in a team built?  The best answer I can give, is through experience.

With that in mind, I want to build a story of faith.  How it started, how it continued and where it lies today.

My first memory of being at Shea Stadium was sitting in the upper deck with my mom, dad and two older brothers.  It was around 1988, the Mets were playing the Phillies.  I remember a player named Mackey Sasser being talked about, and there was a huge brawl that night.  I was enthralled.  The Mets lost the LCS to the Dodgers that year, I was six.  We would not sniff the playoffs again until I was 17.

That 1999 postseason, I attended Game 4 of the Division Series against the Diamondbacks.  The Todd Pratt game.  When Steve Finley came down from his leap with an empty glove, a surge of faith shot through Shea Stadium.  Bring on Atlanta, so we thought.  Robin Ventura would etch himself into Mets lore forever with a grand slam single to keep the Mets alive in the LCS. Once again, my faith was restored when it seemed all was lost.  Unfortunately, I watched from my couch as Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to end the Mets season in the next game.

At least the Mets were relevant again.  In 2000, the Mets reached the postseason again, and things set up beautifully when the Cardinals took care of the Braves for us in the Division Series.  I attended Game 5 of the LCS at Shea Stadium.  Words cannot describe the feeling of jubilation when Timo Perez jumped in the air to signal he was about to squeeze a can of corn that would send us to the World Series for what was essentially the first time in my life.

Little did we know who would be waiting for us in the Fall Classic.  I attended the Yankees Series-clinching win at Shea Stadium, watching in horror as the wrong team, the worst of all teams, celebrated on our field.  The highest point of my life as a fan was followed less than two weeks later by the lowest.  Faith was put to the test.

Six more fruitless, faith-testing seasons followed.  In 2006, the Mets finally knocked the Braves from their NL East pedestal with one of the best offenses in baseball.  My brother and I sipped champagne in the living room as David Wright smoked a cigar and high-fived fans out on the field.  This had to be our year. It just had to.  I attended Game 1 of the Division Series at Shea against the Dodgers.  It was a day game.  Shea Stadium had never looked so beautiful. Friends gathered in the the parking lot for a pre-game tailgate, and we would sweep the Dodgers with relative ease to advance.

I attended Game 1 against the Cardinals, a 2-0 win for the Mets.  St. Louis would win 3 of the next 5 games to send the series to a decisive Game 7 at Shea Stadium.  It would be just the second Game 7 in Shea’s history.  The first ended with a ‘Swing and a miss…’

I only secured my tickets for Game 7 the afternoon of the game, taking a long subway ride in Manhattan on my lunch break to grab the tickets from a seller on Craigslist.  I would attend the game with my older brother and a friend.  This was it, we were going to the World Series again, and this time we would be favorites.  When Endy Chavez made the catch of all catches, in the moment of all moments, there was absolutely no chance the Mets were going to lose that game.  Shea was brought to its knees in a way only those in attendance can describe.  The ball was gone off the bat, I put my head down for a moment, and suddenly my ears exploded.  How did he catch that ball?

Somehow, it wasn’t enough.  When the Mets rallied in their final at-bat, many of the fans in the back of the Loge section, where we were seated, left their seats and stood in the aisles behind the Field Level section to make sure they could see everything.  But there wouldn’t be anything else to see. Just a feeling of complete emptiness and utter despair.  The dream season was just that, only a dream.  After the game, it began to rain, and our car would not start in the parking lot.  We went from what could have been one of the most surreal moments as a fan, to crying in a stalled car in a rainy Shea parking lot.  Faith was tested yet again.

It would get even worse the following season, when the Mets would choke away a 7-game NL East lead with just 17 games to play.  Is that even possible?  On the final day of the season, Tom Glavine didnt even give us a chance.  The Mets were down 7-0 before they came to bat.  I grabbed my tickets at the last minute again that day, and watched helplessly as the collapse was complete.  Why did I attend that game?  Faith.

The 2008 season would be the Mets last at Shea, and once again they entered the final day needing a win to keep the season alive.  When Ryan Church skied one to center to close the book on Shea Stadium, we were once again left in utter disbelief.  The out-of-town scoreboard provided the final nail in Shea’s coffin.  It was a slow, long walk out of Shea that day.  All the iconic Mets in attendance could not dry our tears.

Six more seasons have come and gone.  Shea Stadium is gone. One of the franchises all-time best players, Jose Reyes, is gone, playing out his days in Canada.

But there are positive signs beginning to emerge around the Mets.  We still have David Wright, who has become a franchise icon in the years since the Mets last playoff appearance. We have a pitching staff which may rival any in baseball in 2015.  We have a farm system.  Seeds have been planted.  Keep the faith with me, and watch them grow.  Queens has got a winnin’ team..

Mets April Forecast

By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/March 26, 2015


As Mets camp winds down and with the Opening Day starting pitcher saga finally settled, it’s not too early to peak ahead into the first month of the season.  Parity being what it is these days, every game is as important as any other in the standings.  With the first three games of the season in Washington, the Mets had better be ready to go from the moment the curtain is raised.

After those first three in D.C. the Mets play three in Atlanta before their opening homestand of 2015, a season-long 10-game set which features three against the Phillies, four with the Marlins and three more with Atlanta. That is 16 straight games against division opponents to start the year.  Winning three of those first six on the road seems doable, and that could set New York up for a nice month of April.

Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey will each pitch in the opening series against the Nationals, as well as a game each against the Phillies and Marlins at home.  Harvey will have the reigns taken off entirely in April before consideration is given as to how to get him through the entire season. Taking six of ten on the first homestand is not asking too much.

The Mets then make an early-season trip to the Bronx for three games against the Yankees, with deGrom and Harvey set to toe the slab.  That’s followed by a 3-day respite from the cold in Miami to face the Fish again before returning home for one last April tilt against the Nationals.

There are still a few unsettled items heading into April, such as Daniel Murphy’s Opening Day availability and the remaining few bench spots. The fact there is competition for those spots is enough of an indication the bench should be just fine, if not a strength for the club.  If Dillon Gee falters out of the gate, Rafael Montero looks ready to step right in.  Otherwise, Montero strengthens a bullpen which suddenly ‘found’ a lefty in Sean Gilmartin.

The schedule figures to work very well in the Mets favor in April.

Best Case: 15-8

Worst Case: 10-13

Most Likely:13-10

Opportunity Knocks for Young Met Hurlers

By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/March 16, 2015


Does anyone hear that ?  I do.  It’s the sound of opportunity knocking.  Zack Wheeler will not throw a pitch for the Mets this season, and with that opens the door for a member of the team’s pitching stockpile to step forward and seize that opportunity.

The most obvious call would be to slide veteran Dillon Gee into the 5th spot, and move everyone else up one spot.  This may not be the case come April 6.  Sandy Alderson was hesitant to give any clear indication of what the team may do.  Dillon Gee is not going to match what the Mets were going to get from Wheeler, so to immediately place him back into the rotation would represent a significant downgrade.

There are several higher ceiling options available to take a look at.  Rafael Montero has some experience from last year and seems like a logical candidate.  There is also, of course, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, among others.  In fact, it was less than 12 months ago that Jacob deGrom made his Mets debut on May 15, 2014 to replace none other than Dillon Gee, who would miss two months of action with a lat strain.  Did anyone know who the heck Jacob deGrom was on that day?  By the time Gee returned, all the talk was about whether he would fit into the team’s rotation plans going forward.  Well, here we are.  Good ‘ole opportunity.

How many times have we seen an injury in sports present an opportunity to someone who had yet to have that opportunity?  Countless times.  Steve Young quarterbacked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 3-16 record in his 19 starts with the team in 1985-86 before being traded to San Francisco to backup Joe Montana on April 24, 1987.  He performed well in the role, throwing for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in 1989 and becoming an elite rusher.  Then, on January 20, 1991 Leonard Marshall of the New York Giants changed the course of football history with a crushing sack of Montana in the NFC Championship game.  It was the last game Montana would play for the 49ers.

That same season, as a matter of fact, a quarterback named Jeff Hostetler stepped in for an injured Phil Simms to lead the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XXV over the Buffalo Bills.  Hostetler went on to win the starting job from Simms the following season, and would make 79 starts over the next seven seasons for the Giants (21), Raiders (55) and Redskins (3).

Matt Cassel stepped in for an injured Tom Brady in 2008 and parlayed the opportunity into an NFL career which continues today.

During the 2011-12 season, the Knicks suffered injuries to Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis.  Amare Stoudemire was away from the team due to the death of his brother.  This gave an unknown guard out of Harvard named Jeremy Lin a chance to not only play, but make his first career start on February 6, 2012.  Lin put up 28 points and eight assists to lead the Knicks to a home win over the Utah Jazz.  Linsanity ensued and a career was born.

Last season for these same Mets, Bobby Parnell went down with the same injury, and low and behold the Mets found one, if not two capable closers in Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia.  The list goes on with the names of guys who stepped in and stepped up when the opportunity arose.

For the Mets, there’s no time like the present.

The Cream Rises

By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/March 9, 2015


Idiom: Cream rises to the top – a good person or idea cannot go unnoticed for long, just as cream poured in coffee or tea eventually rises to the top.

From  – Taken from the homogenization process of milk; during this process, the lighter fatty portions of the milk rise to the top due to lesser density. These fatty portions are then skimmed and made into a separate product: cream.

As I chatted about the Mets with some buddies recently, we discussed the team’s outlook and its nucleus of young talent, both on the mound and around the diamond, and something struck me as competitively beautiful.

There is a huge amount of competition taking place within this club.  There are jobs to be won, roles to be filled and careers to be resurrected.  Only three games into the Grapefruit League, Met players are showing up to work everyday with the goal of proving they belong in the Show (Reynolds, Plawecki, Syndergaard, Matz) or trying to remain there (Grandy, Gee, Cuddyer).  The hungry kids are giving the cagey vets a run for their proverbial money, and it’s a recipe for success.

Coming into Spring Training, the commonly held belief was that just about every spot in the Mets’ lineup, rotation and bullpen were set.  The only questions were about the lead-off man, the Opening Day starter and the closer.  Then suddenly Terry Collins stated the closer’s job was Parnell’s to lose, even though two capable candidates emerged last season in Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia.  Let me translate this for you:  aside from Bobby, we have two guys who can capably close, so while Bobby will be given every opportunity to regain his job, the job right now belongs to no one. Competition.

Who is going to start Opening Day?  It is essentially meaningless, and the fact that question is being asked tells you a bit.  The Mets have more than one guy capable and worthy of that honor.  The young kids will all get their chance to start an Opening Day at some point, but there is also a little something called seniority when it comes to this, and we’ll have to see how it plays out.  But don’t think for a second that all five Mets pitchers don’t want the Opening Day nod.  Competition.

Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Rafael Montero have got their own little competition brewing, as all three look to be the first name the Mets call when they dip into their pitching reserves.  Then there’s Dillon Gee, who assumes a somewhat awkward role in this group. A quasi starter-turned-reliever (maybe) who isn’t exactly hoping for an injury to one of his mound-mates, but has already stated he would jump at the opportunity to start.  Coupled with the notion that the Mets have thus far been unable to ‘get rid of him’ in a trade, and you bet Gee has a chip on his shoulder this season.  Competition.

Jon Niese battled some shoulder woes early last season and stated recently that it affected him out of the gate in 2014.  He slots into the 4-5 spot as the lone southpaw in the rotation, looking to build upon a strong finish last September which saw him strikeout 27 and walk only two in five starts.  His velocity was up in his first start this spring and the veteran looks strong and focused.  Bartolo Colon is an innings eater who just wants to keep pitching.  Who knows when he’ll quit.

The rest of the diamond is where things heat up, and the question marks begin to surface.  Travis D’Arnaud enters his 2nd full season in the Major Leagues, but he’s already looking over his shoulders at newcomer Kevin Plawecki.  Competition.

At first base, Lucas Duda battled through a stiff ‘competition’ in winning the everyday job from Ike Davis last spring, somewhat by default, then ripped 30 home runs to show everyone his bosses made the right call in keeping him.  Duda will be a free agent next offseason and needs to show 2014 was not a fluke if he wants to grab a lucrative multi-year deal from the Mets or anyone else.

Daniel Murphy’s contract talks were a hot topic until recently, when the Mets stated they were not going to be negotiating an extension with him during the season.  He too will be a free agent next offseason.  It’s good to eliminate distractions and the constant barrage of questions (the same one) from the media before they start.  The incumbent keystoner leaves plenty to be desired defensively, but is good for 35 doubles and miles of clubhouse grit.  He isn’t giving his job over to Dilson Herrera just yet.  A big key for Murphy this year will be health, otherwise he could be caught between a rock and a hard place.

The shortstop position is the focus of the moment.  Wilmer Flores looks like he is capable of handling the job and will continue to improve, both defensively and at the plate.  There also happens to be a middle infielder by the name of Matt Reynolds, who has risen through the Mets system rather quickly and has shown he is a slick defender with pop to boot.  One pitch before hitting a walk-off home run in his first spring at-bat, Reynolds looked bad chasing an off-speed pitch in the dirt.  The kid adjusted from one pitch to the next, and clearly knew what the pitcher was trying to do.

Wilmer has responded by going 5-for-11 out of the gate this spring and has displayed some nifty glove work in short time.  Of his play in the field, Flores said “It is what you’re supposed to do.  A couple of backhand plays and a strong throw and everything went well today.”

To this point, Flores has not been very outspoken.  To hear him speak words of praise about himself is a sign he knows Reynolds is right on his tail and he wants everyone to take note of his play as well.  Oh, and Ruben Tejada is in camp too.  Competition.

David Wright is entering one of the more important seasons of his career.  Was last year’s down year due to an injured shoulder which sapped him of his opposite field power?  Or has he entered an irreversible decline during some expensive years on his contract?  Even if it turns out to be the latter, Wright is being paid as much for his leadership as he is for his play.  If Wright were not here, questions would abound as to who is the Mets leader.  Do the Mets lack on-field leadership?  That question does not exist.  Wright is the unquestioned leader of this group.  He is the only active captain in baseball today.

In the outfield, Gold Glover Juan Lagares will patrol centerfield and may do so for the foreseeable future in Flushing.  His bat will come and he does not seem to have any competition for his job at this point.  Lagares was something of a surprise coming up from the Minors, but he competed and showed everyone his glove plays anywhere.

In the corners, Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer have their spots locked down, but Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt Den Dekker are somewhat interchangeable as the fourth outfielder.  Nieuwenhuis has the better bat, Den Dekker a superior glove.  If Lagares were to miss time, Den Dekker may be the best option to play centerfield everyday for a little bit.  Utility-man extraordinaire Eric Campbell has shown he can swing the stick, and now wants to show he can play just about every position on the field.

Down on the farm, outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are making their way to Queens.  Conforto turned heads with a few hits in his debut this spring, but will spend the entire 2015 season in the Minors.  Nimmo has an outside chance of seeing the big leagues this season, but it will all depend on performance.

For the first time in what seems like a long time with the Mets, performance is the key in not only securing but in keeping a spot in the Major Leagues.  It’s the only way the cream will rise.