"I Know the Game Like I'm Reffing It"

Friday, August 14, 2015

Mets Making the Best of a Good Situation

It is stating the obvious to say that the Mets look like a different team since the July 31st trade deadline.

Of course, they are a different squad, after the additions of two ancillary pieces and a borderline superstar to their previously inept lineup. The roster is much deeper, which suddenly creates competition, and Terry Collins now has many more options with which to play.

I worried that options might not necessarily be a good thing for Collins, whose moves often perplexed me, but the 10-3 record the Mets have posted in August has made me look foolish.

Collins deserves credit, but the players deserve the lion’s share.

They have all bought in. 

The two guys who figured to be squeezed the most after the trade deadline were Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores. 

Flores has elevated his play this month, recording one clutch hit after another, one standing ovation after another and earning pretty consistent playing time either at second base or shortstop. 

Lagares’s fate has been more tenuous. He has played sparingly since the trade deadline, either getting a spot start versus lefties or coming in as a late game defensive replacement in center field.

Lagares, an everyday player and Gold Glove winner a season ago, has not hung his head.

“It’s a little hard, I can’t lie and say I don’t care, because you know, what you want is to play. But you can’t do anything about it. Come ready to play every day because you never know,” Lagares said in Spanish after a win over Colorado earlier this week.

“I always speak with everyone, with Grandy, with Cuddyer, we are a team and everyone can go through a bad time. Because baseball is like that, you’re always going to have ups and downs but you try to stay positive and keep working.”

There is, perhaps, no better example of, or to, these current Mets than Michael Cuddyer. 

Strange, I know, since he’s widely been considered a huge disappointment on the field in his first year in Queens.

After inking a 2-year, $21 million contract in the off season, Cuddyer is batting .250 with 8 home runs and 31 RBIs, while suffering through a knee injury that forced him into a DL stint before being reactivated on Monday.

But, upon his return and after realizing that much – including his potential playing time – had changed, Cuddyer’s leadership and attitude has remained a positive.

“There are pros, guys who appreciate the game, that do the things that I think you're supposed to do…in the clubhouse, on the field. Michael Cuddyer fits that category,” Collins said Tuesday night.

Cuddyer sang much the same tune this week while the Mets were sweeping the Rockies.

"Maybe I'm not going to play everyday, I don't know. But, to have that attitude of whatever Terry calls upon you, whatever you need to do to help win the game, that's what we’re onboard to do and I think guys in here are seeing how fun it is to win and enjoying it.”

Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson rejoice after a win over the Colorado Rockies.

10-3 in August is fun for everyone. The only question for fans is whether this fun has legs that can carry the Mets through September and into October.

Juan Uribe, who has been a part of two championship teams, also stuck with the fun theme when asked if this team reminded him of a winner.

“They play together,” Uribe said, sounding like the new member of the team he is. “They play like family. They're happy all game, lose or win, they're happy. Every team wants to be a team like that.”

Whether he realizes it or not, Uribe has played a big part in that attitude in the small amount of  time he's been here.

Since the trade deadline it seems everyone has bought in. They realize that this is their team and if everyone plays their role the team will be successful; and with success comes fun. 

Mets fans can surely attest to that.

Monday, August 3, 2015

What a Difference a Trade Makes

Jay Z and Too Short coined the phrase, “It was all good just a week ago.”

For the Mets, it's all good right now. A week ago? Not so much.

Last Friday’s trade deadline and the weeks leading up to it had to be excruciating for the Mets. The New York media and fans relentlessly voiced their displeasure over the management’s inability, or worse yet, unwillingness to bring in help for the their inept offense.

The Mets - particularly their owners, General Manager Sandy Alderson and the offense - were an embarrassment, according to their critics. Most of the New York sports media labeled Alderson a fraud that talked a good game, but was sure to waste the dominant pitching staff he helped assemble.

Alderson was basically dared not to make a move. 

I started to think that might be the preferred occurrence for fans and media, so the horde could justifiably crucify Alderson, as they were dying to do.

But, then something happened. A trade. Then another one. And then a big one.

The Mets’ low-cost addition of Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Tyler Clippard was a tasty appetizer for the critics. But, after the failed Carlos Gomez trade/Wilmer Flores crying fiasco, the pressure was right back on. Alderson came through just in the knick of time with the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes minutes before the trade deadline.

Yoenis Cespedes
Suddenly, there’s a buzz, a buzz that hasn’t been seen since Citi Field opened in 2009.

The Mets’ average attendance this year is 30,159. On the night that made Wilmer Flores famous, 24,804 people were at Citi Field to witness Flores crying on the field in person.

The Cespedes trade was a game changer on and off the field.

The average attendance for the Nationals series this weekend was 38,178, about 8,000 above the average.

Expect that trend to continue now that management has shown they are serious about building an immediate contender.

Thanks to a single move by the General Manager, Mets fans are back on board for the first time in years and for the first time since their beautiful stadium has been called home.

There’s a saying, “scared money don’t make money,” and Mets’ ownership should heed that advice from here on out. The better the product on the field, the more likely fans are to support the team, both emotionally and financially. 

The fans aren't the only ones excited.

“This is my first experience with a New York crowd and what it’s like here and the energy they bring to the ballpark is unbelievable,”  Terry Collins said after the Mets' 5-2 win and series sweep over the Nationals Sunday night. “If we continue this, they're going to help a great deal to keep this club energized for the next two months.”

Daniel Murphy had similar thoughts.

“It was a treat playing in front of this crowd,” he said. “I feel like we rewarded them with some good baseball.”

It was just a week ago that the Mets looked like a laughing stock.

But, thanks to a trade, it’s a new week, a new team and newly energized fan base. 

It should be fun.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Mets Still Have Questions, But Flores's Storybook Night Provides Hope

When I last wrote about the Mets – during the All-Star break – I cautioned fans and the like to be patient with them. I felt they were primed to stay in the National League East race, that their offense couldn't possibly perform worse than it had in the first half of the season and their pitching would keep them in most games.

Lastly, and toughest to sell, I predicted that General Manager Sandy Alderson would pull the trigger in free agency and add a piece or two to help the team’s dilapidated offense.

Alderson didn't make it look pretty.

But, despite a blood thirsty New York media frenzy that essentially dared Alderson not to make a move and a severely botched non-trade that caused the young Wilmer Flores to shed tears on the infield, the Mets reached yesterday's trade deadline having added four new pieces for the stretch run.

New York strengthened their bench, bullpen and acquired that much needed power bat by adding Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from Atlanta, Tyler Clippard from Oakland and Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit.

Alderson was able to pull it all off without giving up any of their star pitchers, including the rehabbing Zack Wheeler, who was reported to be part of the failed Gomez deal. They also held on to Flores, who has shown promise this year.

The Mets were able to use talent from their suddenly stacked minor league system to complete these much needed deals.

So here we are.

The Mets seem more than equipped to make a realistic run at the solid but unspectacular Nationals, who arrived at Citi Field Friday with a 3-game division lead.

New York now has a deep roster with players who can play multiple positions, some better than others.

Now that the pressure is briefly off Alderson, the likely next person in the line of fire is Manager Terry Collins.

He will have to perform better at his own job if the Mets are going to be true players come September. 

Collins has made curious decisions a habit, whether it be pulling starters too early, leaving them on the mound too long, or lineup decisions. With the added depth and talent on the roster comes more chances for Collins to press the wrong buttons (I won't even mention his proclivity for odd press conference behavior).

He will now have to juggle time between Johnson, Flores and Murphy at second base, Murphy, Uribe and maybe even David Wright at third, and the outfield is suddenly a logjam with Cespedes, Granderson, Conforto, Lagares, Nieuwenhuis, Cuddyer, and even Eric Campbell.

 I dare say, I don’t have the utmost confidence in Collins’s ability to make it all work.

Lets hope I'm wrong. Depth problems are usually described as good problems.

We shall see.

The post trade deadline could not have started more positively Friday.

Though Cespedes could not join his new team in time for yesterday's series opener versus the Nationals, the Mets were set up well for the series with their top three young guns on the mound, Harvey followed by Jacob deGrom, then Noah Syndergaard.

Harvey did his part.

He started the game with five and a third innings of perfect work before giving up a single to Jose Lobaton.

But, the night belonged to, guess who? Flores.

Remember, it was Flores who was put through the wringer two nights ago.

Word spread quickly via Twitter that the Mets and the Brewers had agreed to terms on a trade that would send Carlos Gomez to the Mets for Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores.

The only problem was Flores was currently playing shortstop at Citi Field for the Mets versus the Padres. The deal was confirmed by various media outlets and being talked about on the live game broadcast, but Flores remained in the game, cameras focusing in on his every emotion.

When he stepped to the plate, astonishingly still in the game in the late innings, he received a farewell standing ovation from the New York crowd who seemingly knew more than he did. When he ran out to his shortstop position (still in the game) for the next half inning, cameras again zeroed in on the 23-year-old. He was seen wiping tears away from his face with his fielding arm.

Wilmer Flores was emotional Wednesday night.
You could tell early that yesterday would be a better day for Flores.

In the first inning, he robbed Yunel Escobar of a hit with a diving stop and accurate throw to first  base. The crowd rewarded Flores with a prolonged standing ovation; part appreciation for the play, part appreciation for his refreshing show of emotion two nights earlier, and part apology for jumping the gun.

In the fourth inning, Flores drove in the game’s first run with a single to left. Another standing ovation ensued. That run was enough to keep the Mets ahead until the Nationals finally broke through against Harvey and tied the game in the eight inning.

Flores stepped to the plate again in the bottom of the twelfth with the game tied at 1. This time he lined a shot over the left centerfield fence. He raced around the bases into the mob of teammates waiting at home plate.

One last standing ovation.

What a difference two days make.

If that's not a good sign for the Mets’ stretch run I don't know what is.

But, then again, it's the Mets. So, we shall see.