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Around NY Sports:  Mets update…struggling Yanks “core”…NHL/NBA Conference Finals picks

Around NY Sports: Mets update…struggling Yanks “core”…NHL/NBA Conference Finals picks

By Mike Lalor, Contributing Writer

The first-place New York Mets (21-13, T-1st NL East) travel to the Mile High City this weekend to take on the Colorado Rockies (16-18, 3rd place in the NL West) in a three-game series.  The Mets are 4-3 on this trip out west, after splitting last weekend’s 4-game series in San Diego and taking two out of three from the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this week.  The Mets are unbeaten in their last 8 series (7-0-1) and have won 19 of their last 26 games entering Friday night’s action.  Heading into the weekend, the Mets have won 11 straight against the Rockies.  Here are the upcoming pitching matchups at Coors Field (all times Eastern):

Fri, 13 May:  RHP Matt Harvey (3-4, 4.50 ERA) vs. RHP Jon Gray (0-1, 5.40 ERA), 8:40 pm

Sat, 14 May:  RHP Logan Verrett (3-0, 1.27 ERA) vs. RHP Eddie Butler (1-1, 3.86 ERA), 8:10 pm

Sun, 15 May:  RHP Jacob deGrom (3-1, 2.12 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Chatwood (4-3, 3.09 ERA), 4:10 pm

Rockies Notes:  Colorado has unusually struggled at home this season, as their young starting pitchers work through the challenges of pitching at elevation in Coors Field.  The Rockies defeated Arizona 8-7 at home on Wednesday to stop a 7-game losing streak at Coors, while salvaging the final game of their three-game set against the Diamondbacks.  With the win, the Rockies improved to 5-10 at home; they are 11-8 on the road.  Led by 3B Nolan Arenado and rookie SS Trevor Story, Colorado has a potent offense and ranks 2nd in the NL in runs scored.  Arenado, arguably one of the game’s best at 3B along with Toronto’s Josh Donaldson and Baltimore’s Manny Machado, leads the NL in home runs with 13.  Since the start of 2015, Arenado leads MLB in RBIs with 161; Donaldson is second with 144.  Meanwhile, Story started his MLB career with a bang in April, hammering 10 home runs and winning the NL’s Rookie of the Month award.  Story has already struck out an NL-high 50 times in his first 139 At-Bats of the season, but shows tremendous upside as an offensive player and is solid defensively.

Story has already made most Colorado fans forget about SS Jose Reyes, who, on Friday, was suspended through 31 May by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.  Reyes’ suspension will run retroactive to February 23rd, when he was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of MLB’s investigation.  Effectively, Reyes will be suspended for 51 games in violation of MLB’s Domestic Violence policy, stemming from an alleged incident with his wife that occurred last October in Hawaii.  Reyes was not prosecuted by authorities in Hawaii since his wife would not cooperate with the criminal investigation.  Reyes, now 32, is under contract with Colorado through both 2016 and 2017, at $22M per season.  His contract includes a $22M team option in 2018, with a $4M buyout.  He’ll begin a minor league assignment on 1 June, and upon his return, lacks a clear role in Colorado with Story’s emergence and the All-Star play of 3B Arenado and 2B D.J. LeMahieu.  With a dearth of quality SS play around MLB, it will be interesting to see if Reyes draws trade interest after finishing his extended spring training.  The Rockies certainly hope so, as he no longer appears to have a future in Colorado and has been in decline both offensively and defensively in recent years.

Back on the field, Colorado’s young pitchers will look to improve at home in this upcoming series against the Mets.  As a team, Colorado has a 5.12 ERA, ranking 13th in the NL.  Friday night’s starter, RHP Jon Gray, has 10 career no-decisions in his first 13 major league starts.  At San Francisco last Saturday, Gray pitched very well in another no-decision, throwing 7 scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and two walks.  He has an 11.42 ERA at home to start the season, and a 1.38 ERA on the road.  Sunday’s starter, RHP Tyler Chatwood has also struggled at home, sporting a 7.88 ERA at Coors and a 0.33 ERA away from Colorado.  Chatwood is a good example of determination and perseverance, having battled through two Tommy John surgeries in his young career; he missed all of 2015 at the major league-level while in rehabilitation.

Mets Notes:  The Mets are dealing with some injury concerns with their young starting pitchers right now.  Coming off an excellent performance and win against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, LHP Steven Matz was placed on the 15-day DL with a forearm soreness.  RHP Logan Verrett will take Matz’s turn in the rotation on Saturday.  Last August 23rd, while filling in for RHP Matt Harvey, Verrett pitched brilliantly at Coors Field, notching a win after throwing 8 innings and allowing only one run on four hits.  Saturday will be Verrett’s third start in 2016; Logan replaced RHP Jacob deGrom in the rotation earlier in April and threw 12 scoreless innings over two starts.

Following his dominant performance against the Dodgers on Wednesday, Mets Manager Terry Collins announced that RHP Noah Syndergaard had recently complained of right elbow discomfort.  Apparently, Syndergaard was examined by the Mets team doctor, Dr. David Altcheck and received a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test about 10 days ago – Syndergaard has pitched twice since, without incident.  That threw a damper over an otherwise out-of-this-world effort by “Thor” against the Dodgers.  Syndergaard matched a career-high with 8 innings (over 31 starts), only allowing two runs on 6 hits, while striking out 6.  However, it was his bat that made all the news.  Syndergaard blasted two home runs against Dodger RHP Kenta Maeda…in his first two At-Bats of the game, driving in all of New York’s runs, in a 4-3 win.  Syndergaard became the first MLB pitcher to hit two homers in the same game since Arizona RHP Micah Owings accomplished the feat on August 18, 2007.  He tied teammate Steven Matz for the most RBIs for a Mets pitcher in one game (4) and became the first Met pitcher to hit two HRs in a game since RHP Walt Terrell cracked two HRs at Wrigley Field on August 6, 1983, against Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins and the Chicago Cubs.  Jim Tobin of the old Boston Braves hold the MLB mark for pitchers with 3 HRs in a game also against the Cubs, on May 13, 1942.

Syndergaard’s two HRs raised the Mets’ season total to 51, tops in the NL.  The Mets have 51 HRs in 33 games, and 49 HRs over their last 25.  They also lead the NL in HRs on the road with 35, entering Friday’s contest.  And, of course, one of those home runs belongs to RHP Bartolo Colon, who at age 42, memorably hit his first career HR in San Diego last Saturday night.

Injury Front.  On Thursday, the Mets placed INF Wilmer Flores on the 15-day DL with a strained left hamstring.  To fill Flores’ roster spot, the Mets recalled LHP Sean Gilmartin from AAA Las Vegas.  The Mets will face the Rockies with only 4 bench players, and no one to backup SS Asdrubal Cabrera.  INF Eric Campbell would serve as the emergency SS, if necessary.  The Mets already have C Travis d’Arnaud (shoulder) on the DL.

For consideration:

  • This weekend and the bullpen. The Mets would be well-served to navigate through this weekend at Coors Field without wearing out their bullpen.  That is no easy task against Colorado, but with their next series against rival Washington, the Mets will want to enter at, or near, full pitching strength and capability.  Harvey, Verrett, and deGrom need to battle and get the Mets into at least the 6th inning, preventing a barn-burner, bullpen-wrecking type of Coors Field game.

 

  • The outfield. Is it time for Manager Terry Collins to consider a re-alignment of the outfield?  RF Curtis Granderson, 35, is off to a slow start with a .206 batting average and .297 on-base percentage.  While he has hit 6 HRs with 11 RBIs, Granderson is not hitting righties or lefties in the first 6 weeks of the season, and from a defensive perspective, Curtis is not New York’s best option in RF.  The Mets best OF moving forward would truly be Yoenis Cespedes (.288, 11 HRs, 31 RBIs) in left, Juan Lagares (.255, 13-for-51) in center, and Michael Conforto (.286, 5 HRs, and 19 RBIs) in right field.  Cespedes’ best spot in the outfield is in LF – that’s where he has played the most during his 5-year MLB careers and where is best suited.  Lagares, back to an appropriate weight, looks like his 2014 Gold Glove-self in CF and can certainly hit right-handers if given an extended look.  And, Conforto – quite simply – is the team’s best hitter.  Even with a .167 average against lefties thus far, Conforto is the future and the present of this team…and it is better for his development, and the team’s chances, if he is in the lineup against left-handers, vice Granderson.

 

  • Next series: 17-19 May vs. Washington.  The Nationals, tied with the Mets for 1st in the NL East entering Friday, are also 21-13 and playing very well under new Manager Dusty Baker.  RHP Max Scherzer became the 4th pitcher in MLB history to record 20Ks in one game on Wednesday, as he defeated his previous team, the Detroit Tigers in a 3-2 complete game win.  Scherzer joined Roger Clemens (who did it twice for the Red Sox, in 1986 and 1996), Kerry Wood (1998 for the Cubs) and Randy Johnson (2001 for the Diamondbacks) as pitchers who have struck out 20 batters in one game.  Scherzer was the first pitcher to have an opportunity to record a 21st strikeout, but Tiger C James McCann grounded to third to end the game.  Scherzer will pitch against the Mets at Citi Field on Tuesday night.  The last time Scherzer pitched at Citi Field, last October 3rd, he pitched a no-hitter, his second no-hitter of the 2015 season.  Former Met 2B Daniel Murphy, hitting over .400 for the Nationals entering the weekend, will make his return to Citi Field after last season’s memorable post-season run.  The Mets will face the Nationals in DC during the following week, from 23-25 May.

 

This weekend in Mets’ History:

  • May 13, 1970. Mets’ RHP Gary Gentry throws 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in a 4-0 New York win.  The Cubs record only one hit on the afternoon, on an 8th inning Ernie Banks fly-ball that LF Dave Marshall could not hold onto after a long run.  The official scorer ruled Banks’ fly-ball a hit.
  • May 14, 1968. Mets’ RHP Nolan Ryan, age 21, sets a then-team record with 14 Ks against the Cincinnati Reds.
  • May 14, 1972. On Mother’s Day, newly-acquired Willie Mays, in his first game as a Met, hits a game-winning HR against Don Carrithers, as New York defeats Mays’ longtime team, the San Francisco Giants, 5-4 at Shea Stadium.
  • May 14, 1985. Mets’ reliever Roger McDowell retires all 14 batters he faces, and records his first career win in a 3-1 victory at Atlanta against the Braves.
  • May 15, 1970. Met ace Tom Seaver strikes out 15 batters and allows only one hit in a 4-0 win over Philadelphia.  It was the Mets’ third one-hitter in less than a month.
  • May 15, 1985. Met OF Mookie Wilson swipes his 200th career stolen base in the top of the 5th innings against Houston in the Astrodome.

The struggling Yankees.

After falling 7-1 to LHP Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox on Friday night, the Yankees record stands at 14-20.  The Yankees are in last place in the AL East, 8 games behind division-leading Baltimore.  The Yankees are 5-3 so far during this ten-game home stand, with series wins over Boston and Kansas City.  While the team has actually played better of late, after an abysmal 9-17 start, there are plenty of questions and concerns surrounding the perennially contending Yanks.

Although DH Alex Rodriguez (.194, 5 HRs, 12 RBIs, currently on the 15-day DL), 1B Mark Teixeira (.194, 3 HRs, 11 RBIs), and RF Carlos Beltran (.256, 7 HRs, 15 RBIs) bear the burden of the team’s impotent offense, the core of this dysfunction lies with four players:  OF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Brett Gardner, C Brian McCann, and 3B Chase Headley.  Ellsbury (.260, 1 HR, 9 RBIs, .321 OBP) and Gardner (.229, 4 HRs, 9 RBIs, .367 OBP) are not generating the pressure required to ignite the attack.  Only 32 years old, these two players are key cogs in the roster assembled by General Manager Brian Cashman.  Ellsbury and Gardner are routinely hampered by nagging ailments and have worn down over the course of the last two seasons.  Ellsbury has not played since Friday (6 May) against Boston with a sore hip, but is expected to return this weekend against the White Sox.

3B Chase Headley has hit HRs in the last two games (Thursday vs. KC and Friday vs. CHW) – these were Headley’s first extra base hits of the 2016 season.  Also 32, Headley is hitting below .200 with 2 HRs and 7 RBIs.  McCann, also 32, is hitting a deceptive .276 with 4 HRs and 16 RBIs entering Friday.  It is deceptive because McCann is no-longer the offensive force he was with the Atlanta Braves.  He is extremely streaky and has become excessively “pull-happy” in Yankee Stadium.  At one point bridging late-April and early-May, McCann failed to drive in a run for 15 straight games…his offense comes in bunches and in games that are one-sided in either direction.

While many will complain about the notable, big-name Yankees (A-Rod, Tex, Beltran) who are under-producing in comparison to their lofty career standards, Yankee fans need to take a harder look at the “core” of this team in Ellsbury, Gardner, McCann, and Headley.  These are the four players that were signed in

an effort to bridge the Yankees from their previous dynasty to their future roster of 1B Greg Bird, OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, and SS/2B Jorge Mateo.  This group is all 32 years old, all signed through 2017 (Ellsbury through 2020), and all under-performing, much to the detriment of this team’s performance…and potential.  The year is still young, but they need to pick it up…and fast.

NHL Conference Finals – my picks.

Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh, 4-2.  Tampa Bay is experienced, resilient, and determined to get back to the Finals after last year’s loss to the Chicago Black Hawks.  They won a hard-fought series with the Islanders with late-game execution and a persistent offensive attack.  Tampa Bay may get C Steven Stamkos (shoulder/blood clot) and D Anton Stralman (broken left fibula) back in their deep lineup before the end of this series.  Even with starting goalie Ben Bishop’s Game 1 injury, backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is capable of taking the Lightning where they want to go.

San Jose over St. Louis, 4-3.  This series will be worth staying up late for.  It’s very evenly matched, with good goalie play (St. Louis’ Brian Elliot and San Jose’s Martin Jones), and talented players all over the ice.  Something just tells me that Captain Joe Pavelski, C Joe Thornton, and LW Patrick Marleau are just not going to be denied this time.  The Sharks seem headed toward the Cup Finals for the first time in their history.  If St. Louis win, it will be that franchise’s first Finals appearance since a 1970 loss to Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and the Big Bad Bruins.

NBA Conference Finals – my picks.

Cleveland over Miami/Toronto, 4-1.  Miami and Toronto are locked in non-aesthetically pleasing seven-gamer.  All they are going to do is wear themselves out and serve as “Banta Fodder” for the Cavaliers.  LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving are playing their best since joining forces in 2014 and they are going back to the Finals.

Golden State over Oklahoma City, 4-2.  Golden State is going to have its hands full with the Thunder, and it is non-inconceivable that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pull the upset here.  Oklahoma City’s talent and athleticism wore down San Antonio, and although the Thunder lost their matchups in the regular season wit

h the Warriors, the games were all closely contested.  It just seems like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are focused on the defending their title, setting up a Finals rematch with Cleveland.

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

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