By Mike Lalor, Contributing Writer
The New York Mets (23-18, 3rd NL East) defeated the Milwaukee Brewers (18-24, 4th NL Central), 3-2 at Citi Field on Friday night, in the opening game of their three-game weekend set. For the Mets, it was a much-needed win, after being swept in Colorado last weekend to close out a disappointing 4-7 Western swing, and then dropping two out of three to the first-place Washington Nationals upon returning home to Queens. On Friday night, the Mets were led by LHP Steven Matz and LF Michael Conforto. Matz, who missed last Saturday’s start in Colorado due to elbow and forearm soreness, showed little rust in throwing seven strong innings, allowing just three hits and two runs, while striking out eight Brewers. Trailing 2-1 to RHP Wily Peralta (who entered the game with a dreadful 7.30 ERA and 1.99 WHIP), Conforto hit a sixth inning opposite-field home run to put New York ahead at 3-2, propelling the Mets to their fourth comeback win of the young season. Closer Jeurys Familia locked down the 9th inning for his 14th Save in 14 opportunities.
Hoping for decent and the playable weather, the Mets and Brewers are scheduled to continue their weekend series on Saturday afternoon. Here are the pitching matchups at Citi Field(all times Eastern):
Sat, 21 May: RHP Jacob deGrom (3-1, 2.50 ERA) vs. RHP Zach Davies (1-3, 5.58 ERA), 4:10 pm
Sun, 22 May: RHP Noah Syndergaard (4-2, 2.19 ERA) vs. RHP Chase Anderson (2-5, 5.32 ERA), 1:10 pm
Brewers Notes: At the beginning of a long-term rebuilding project under General Manager David Stearns, Milwaukee was expected to struggle and finish in the second division. To that end, the Brewers have not disappointed. However, Manager Craig Counsell’s squad has played progressively better after a very poor start. The Brewers come into Citi Field after taking two out of three from the Chicago Cubs; the Cubs were 28-11 entering Friday’s play, with the best record in MLB.
The Brewers have some high-end caliber position players, including: LF Ryan Braun (.364, 7 HRs, and 28 RBIs in 35 games), C Jonathan Lucroy (.304, 6 HRs, 16 RBIs), SS Jonathan Villar (.284/.388 OBP and 13 SBs), and 1B Chris Carter (.245, 12 HRs, 29 RBIs, and .580 SLG). Braun did not play on Friday night, and he has now missed the last three games due to lower back stiffness; Braun underwent back surgery during the offseason. With Milwaukee in rebuilding mode, both Braun and Lucroy will receive heavy interest from playoff contenders in the two-month stretch from Memorial Day to the July 31st trade deadline. Braun is in the first year of a 5-year / $105M extension that he signed during his 2011 NL MVP season (prior to his failed drug test and subsequent PED-use disclosure). Lucroy is under Milwaukee’s control through the 2017 season; the Brewers have a market-friendly $5.25M team option on Lucroy in 2017, the final year of an extension he signed back in 2012.
Former Met Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.278, 2 HRs, 14 RBIs in 79 At-Bats) has landed in CF with Milwaukee and works in a platoon with OF Ramon Flores. And, Nieuwenhuis is not the only Met playing for the Brew Crew. RHP Carlos Torres is working out of the Milwaukee bullpen. Both Nieuwenhuis and Torres received their 2015 National League Championship rings in a pre-game ceremony on Friday night. LHP Chris Capuano – a Met in 2011, and most recently a Yankee – also works out of the Milwaukee bullpen; he appeared in relief during Friday night’s contest.
Milwaukee’s pitching is its great weakness. The Brewers entered Friday with a 4.87 team ERA, 13th in the 15-team NL. The Brewer staff is last in the league with 287 Ks (7Ks per 9 innings). As mentioned earlier, Peralta – the Crew’s Opening Day starter – had only two quality starts in eight rotation turns entering Friday. He pitched better on Friday night against New York, going 5 2/3 IPs, permitting 6 hits and 3 runs while striking out 6, but that does not qualify for a quality start (QS = 6 IP, with 3 or less ER), and his record fell to 2-5. Rookie RHP Zach Davies, who will start on Saturday afternoon, was traded from Baltimore to Milwaukee prior to the July 2015 trade deadline for OF Gerardo Parra (now with Colorado). RHP Chase Anderson, who will start for Milwaukee on Sunday, came over with 2B Aaron Hill in an offseason trade that sent SS Jean Segura to Arizona. Anderson took a no-hit bid into the 8th inning on Tuesday against the Cubs, before surrendering a leadoff double to INF/OF Ben Zobrist. However, in his previous 5 starts, Anderson had registered an abysmal 8.88 ERA.
Mets Notes: Hall of Fame Oriole Manager Earl Weaver would love the Mets. If you remember, Weaver was a big proponent of pitching, defense, and the 3-run HR. In a nutshell, that is the 2016 Mets’ attack. Entering Friday, the Mets are 3rd in the NL with a 3.18 ERA, 1st in the NL with 56 HRs, and 3rd in the NL in team defense (17 errors). However, of late, the Mets are not hitting many HRs – and thus, are not scoring much. Including Friday night’s game, the Mets have only scored 16 runs in the last 8 games. At the outset of the weekend, the Mets have a paltry .235 team batting average (11th in the NL), and more importantly, a low .313 OBP (10th in the NL). The Mets do not run (only 10 SBs, 14th in the NL) and are reliant on the long ball. With their recent problems scoring runs, it is not surprising that, even with Friday night’s victory, the Mets are only 8-11 in May.
RHP Matt Harvey (3-6, 5.77 ERA) will make his next start – in Washington, next Tuesday (24 May). There was significant debate whether that would happen after Harvey’s tough outing on Thursday (2.2 IPs, 8 hits, 9 runs, 6 ER, 2 BB, 2 Ks, 1 HR allowed), but Manager Terry Collins silenced much of the discussion on Friday. Harvey, who has surrendered 65 hits in 48.1 IPs, appears to have plenty of velocity (although slightly diminished from last season and prior to his Tommy John surgery), but lacks both command and control (43 Ks and 15 BBs). He is still getting swings and misses, but his slider continues to lack location and gets routinely hammered. Harvey is going through the first truly performance-based rough patch in his young career. Is he tipping his pitches due to a mechanical flaw? Did last year’s high volume regular and post-season inning work load take its toll? These are all challenges for Harvey, Collins, and Pitching Coach Dan Warthen. I do subscribe to the high work load theory, but there’s more at work here, and I think there’s something mechanically off the tracks with the “Dark Knight”.
Thor. RHP Noah Syndergaard will take the hill on Sunday coming off a strong outing on Tuesday against the Nationals. Syndergaard outpitched Nationals’ RHP Max Scherzer in the 2-0 New York win, throwing 7 scoreless innings with 10Ks…and 0 BBs. Syndergaard has only received one total run of offensive support from the Mets in his two losses.
Injury Front. INF Wilmer Flores remains on the 15-day DL with a strained left hamstring. C Travis d’Arnaud (shoulder) is also on the 15-day DL, and has gone home to rehabilitate that shoulder in his home state of California; he will not return anytime soon.
- Mets’ RHP Jim Henderson pitched for the Brewers from 2012-2014, recording 28 SVs as the Milwaukee closer in 2013.
- OF Yoenis Cespedes hit a HR on Thursday night, his 30th as a Met. Cespedes hit his 30th Met HR in only 92 total games, far exceeding the previous mark of 111 games, held by 1B/OF Dave Kingman (1975-1977; 1981-1983).
- Upcoming schedule: 23-25 May at Washington; 27-29 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (including 30th year anniversary celebration of the 1986 World Champions), 30 May – 1 June vs. Chicago White Sox
This weekend in Mets’ History:
- May 20, 1962. For the second time in eight days, the expansion Mets sweep a doubleheader from the Milwaukee Braves. In this most recent episode, New York wins, 7-6, after scoring four runs in the ninth and again, 9-5, behind seventh inning home runs from Felix Mantilla, Frank Thomas and Charlie Neal. The Mets would not win for another 17 days.
- May 20, 1968. 3B Ed Charles, “The Glider”, hits two HRs and rookie LHP Jerry Koosman beats the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-1.
- May 20, 1975. 3B/1B Joe Torre gets 4 hits, including his first HR as a Met, in a win at Cincinnati.
- May 20, 1979. 3B Richie Hebner’s three-run, 10th-inning HR ties the game and Frank Taveras’ 11th-inning single wins it as New York rallies to beat St. Louis, 8-7, at Shea Stadium. Met reliever Neil Allen posts his first Major League victory in the contest.
- May 21, 1962. The Mets begin a 17-game losing streak by losing to the Houston Colt .45s, 3-2.
- May 21, 1969. After Tom Seaver shuts out the Atlanta Braves 5-0, allowing only 3 hits, the Mets are at .500 (18-18) at the latest date in club history.
- May 21, 1972. OF Willie Mays hits his second game-winning HR of the week in a 4-3 win over Philadelphia. The Mets’ 11th consecutive win puts them at 25-7, the club’s best start ever.
- May 21, 2000. Super utility man Joe McEwing hits two doubles and a HR off Arizona’s Randy Johnson in a 7-6 win over the Diamondbacks.
- May 22, 1963. 1B Gil Hodges leaves the Mets as a player and becomes the Manager of the Washington Senators, replacing Mickey Vernon.
- May 22, 1976. New York records its 1,000th win in franchise history as Jerry Koosman hurls the Mets past the Montreal Expos, 4-1.
- May 22, 1984. OF George Foster steal home against San Francisco. It is the Mets’ first steal of home in 14 years.
- May 22, 1993. RHP Dwight Gooden cracks his 6th career HR, tying Tom Seaver’s club record for pitchers, in a 6-1 win over the Atlanta Braves.
- May 22, 1998. The Mets acquire C Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins for OF Preston Wilson, LHP Ed Yarnall, and LHP Geoff Goetz.
New York Knickcoaching search: nearing completion
As of Friday evening, the New York Knicks – under the direction of President of Basketball Operation Phil Jackson and General Manager Steve Mills – were in negotiations with Jeff Hornacek and his agent on a deal that would make Hornacek the team’s next head coach. Hornacek, who most recently coached the Phoenix Suns for the 2 ½ years, played 14 years in the NBA with Phoenix, the Philadelphia 76ers, and Utah Jazz, averaging 14.5 pts/game as a sharp-shooting guard. Reaching a deal with Hornacek would conclude a coaching search that seemed mired in neutral, centered on interim-coach Kurt Rambis and former Cleveland Cavalier head coach, David Blatt.
On the surface, Phil Jackson’s choice of Hornacek to lead his franchise may seem surprising, or even odd. However, after further review and analysis, it makes more and more sense and should generate optimism. First, Jeff Hornacek was a very successful NBA-player, respected for his skill, work ethic, and determination. Second, as a graduate of Iowa State, Hornacek’s NBA pedigree is furthered by his time as an assistant coach in Utah and his first head coaching job in Phoenix. Hornacek, 53, led the 2013-2014 guard-centric Suns to an unexpectedly pleasant 48-34 record, missing the playoffs by one game in a then-deep Western Conference. His Suns team, with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, played a fast-paced style consistent with today’s modern offenses, with spacing and emphasis on 3-point shooting. More importantly, Hornacek worked well with the talent he had, designing and implementing an offense to their strengths – not a particular system.
This may be one of his most attractive traits as a coach, especially for Jackson. Closely associated with the Triangle offense that his championship teams ran in Chicago and Los Angeles, Jackson has continually stated that he is most interested a team approach where all five players on the floor are involved. Contrary to what many fans and analysts believe, that does not necessarily equate to a dogmatic application of the Triangle. It actually betters aligns with the championship New York Knick teams of the early 1970s (1970 and 1973) that Jackson played for under Hall of Fame coach Red Holzman.
Now, there are connections between Jeff Hornacek and the Triangle going back to his time with the Suns in the late 1980s and early 1990s, under coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons ran the Triangle as a college coach with Kansas State in the late 1960s and then in his first stint as the head coach of the Suns in the early 1970s, under then-GM Jerry Colangelo. And, it may have been Colangelo who connected Jackson to Hornacek.
Ultimately though, the connection with Hornacek likely centers on a cerebral approach to the game, his ability to communicate with his players, and an ability to modify his approach to the talent he has. Those are the most important qualities that Hornacek can bring to a New York Knick franchise that has only appeared four times in the playoffs over the last 15 season, winning only one playoff series. Pending the final contract details, Hornacek will take the job – not as the biggest name on the market – but maybe as the best fit. Welcome aboard, Coach.
Mike Lalor can be heard talking New York sports on the Spadora on Sports radio program. You can find his blog at www.spadoraonsports.com.