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Around New York Sports with Mike Lalor

Around MLB: Mets stay hot in Miami, wrapping up from the West Coast, and Yankee trade thoughts

On Thursday night, the first-place New York Mets won an exciting, see-saw matchup 9-8 in 16 innings in Miami against the Marlins. Mets’ C Travis d’Arnaud went 4-for-6 and hit a game-winning HR in the top of the 16th against Miami LHP Adam Conley. It was d’Arnaud’s second HR on the young season, and most impressively, he hit it in the 16th after spending the entire game behind the plate. The Mets’ RHP Hansel Robles (2-0), pitching in his fourth straight game this week, earned the win for his two innings of relief and retired the Marlins’ OF Marcell Ozuna on a deep fly ball that Mets’ CF Juan Lagares ran down on the warning track in left center. That loud out ended a five hour and 38 minute marathon, gave the Mets (7-3) a five-game winning streak, disrupted bullpens on both sides, and Miami’s starting rotation for the remainder of the series.

Miami Manager Don Mattingly elected to use Friday’s scheduled starter, Conley, to start the 16th inning after using seven relievers. As a result, RHP Edinson Volquez will start for the Marlins on Friday night; Volquez will be on full rest. Volquez was scheduled to start Saturday, now leaving a gap in the rotation for Miami. On New York’s side, Manager Terry Collins was very impressed with his team’s resiliency in post-game interviews, and he very well should be. The Mets rallied from down 4-0 after Ozuna hit a grand slam off Met starter RHP Robert Gsellman in the bottom of the first. After scoring four runs in the top of the second, the Mets knocked Miami starter LHP Wei-Yin Chen (3 IPs, 6 ER) out of the box with back-to-back home runs from OF Yoenis Cespedes and IF Wilmer Flores in the top of the third. After Cespedes’ second home run of the game (he has hit five this week, and now had an MLB and NL-leading six), the Mets took a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the fifth. The Marlins rallied against Gsellman (4.2 IPs, 5 hits, 8 ERs) for four runs and took an 8-7 lead that held until the top of the eighth, when the Mets’ Michael Conforto tied the game with a two-out pinch-hit RBI double. The Mets’ bullpen – LHP Josh Edgin, RHP Rafael Montero, LHP Jerry Blevins, RHP Fernando Salas (2 IPs), RHP Addison Reed (2 IPs), LHP Josh Smoker (3 IPs), and Robles threw 11 scoreless innings to secure a remarkable victory.

Let’s look at the way the rest of the weekend sets up in Miami. Here are the Mets-Marlins series notes, 13-17 April:

Mets: To start the week, New York continued its dominance against the Phillies while sweeping Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park. In the series, the Mets outscored the Phillies 23-11, and out-homered the Phils 10-3. Since the beginning of the 2014 season, the Mets are 42-18 against their division rivals from Philadelphia, outscoring them by 129 runs. The Mets have homered 10 times in a three-game series just twice in their 56-year history, and both have come at Citizens Bank Park in the past 13 months. OF Yoenis Cespedes had a night to remember in Tuesday night’s 14-4 whitewashing of the Phillies. Cespedes went 4-for-6 with 3 HRs, a double, and 5 RBIs; he hit his first HR off Philadelphia starter RHP Clay Buchholz (who left with a strained forearm), and the next two off of Phillies’ LHP Adam Morgan. On Wednesday night, Mets’ RHP Zack Wheeler, returning after two years of working his way back from Tommy John surgery, picked up his first victory since 2014, throwing 5.2 IPs, allowing 4 hits, 3 ERs, 1 BB, and 4 Ks.

3B Jose Reyes was out of Thursday night’s starting lineup in Miami after starting the year batting 2-for-37 (.054). He pinch-hit on Thursday night for Met reliever Josh Edgin in the sixth, and picked up his third hit of the year. Hopefully, this will jump start Reyes, who had been dropped down in the lineup earlier in the week by Manager Terry Collins.

The Mets activated OF Juan Lagares from the 10-day DL before Thursday’s game. Lagares had been out after straining an oblique at the end of spring training; he entered Thursday night’s marathon, played the last six innings and went 0-for-3. In a corresponding move, the Mets sent RHP Paul Sewald to AAA Las Vegas. This move gave Manager Terry Collins more bench to work with, and flexibility for his lineups and late game moves. The Mets had carried 13 pitchers (5 starters/8 relievers) since the start of the season, but for a night, carried 12 pitchers (5 starters/7 relievers) with 13 position players.

To address their tired bullpen on Friday, the Mets re-called LHP Sean Gilmartin from AAA Las Vegas, optioning IF/OF T.J. Rivera to the 51’s. After working through this weekend and a tired bullpen, look for GM Sandy Alderson to try and regain a more optimized pitcher (12)/position player (13) balance on the 25-man roster in the weeks ahead.

Mets’ ace RHP Noah Syndergaard will start for New York on Friday night. Syndergaard beat the Marlins last Sunday night throwing a dominant 7 IPs, allowing 1 ER, and notching 9 Ks. Syndergaard’s personal catcher, Rene Rivera will be behind the plate for New York, giving d’Arnaud a well-deserved night off.

Marlins: Like the Mets’ Travis d’Arnaud, Miami’s A.J. Ellis caught all 16 innings on Thursday night. Marlins’ starting C J.T. Realmuto will be back behind the plate on Friday night; Realmuto is off to a fast start, and has hit safely in six of his seven starts. With a taxed bullpen, the Marlins re-called LHP Jarlin Garcia from AA Jacksonville on Friday, and optioned RHP Nick Wittgren to AAA New Orleans. Garcia is ranked as the Marlins’ fourth-best prospect by MLB Pipeline.

Here’s how the schedule and pitching matchups look for the upcoming weekend against Miami (all times Eastern):

14 April at Miami, 7:10 pm: RHP Noah Syndergaard vs. RHP Edinson Volquez

15 April at Miami, 7:10 pm: RHP Jacob deGrom vs. TBD

16 April at Miami, 1:10 pm: RHP Matt Harvey vs. RHP Dan Straily

After the Easter Sunday game in Miami, the Mets are off on Monday, and return home for a nine-game home stand at Citi Field against NL-East rivals Philadelphia, Washington, and Atlanta. The Mets play an astounding 32 consecutive games against the NL East to start the season. The Mets do not play a team outside of the NL East until Monday, May 8th at Citi Field against the San Francisco Giants. Here’s the week ahead:

18 April vs. Philadelphia, 7:10 pm

19 April vs. Philadelphia, 7:10 pm

20 April vs. Philadelphia, 7:10 pm

21 April vs. Washington, 7:10 pm

22 April vs. Washington, 4:05 pm

23 April vs. Washington, 8:00 pm

This week in Mets’ history:

April 15, 1968: The Mets and Astros battle for 23 consecutive scoreless innings before Houston pushes across a run in the 24th inning to nip the Mets, 1-0, at the Astrodome. At the time, this was the longest night game (in terms of innings) and the longest game played to a decision in National League history. Met shortstop Al Weis’ error allowed the winning run to score, ending the contest at 1:37 a.m. local time. The Mets used a then-club record eight pitchers and Ofs Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda both went 0-for-10.

April 15, 1997: A sold out Shea Stadium crowd watches history as President Bill Clinton addresses the nation on Jackie Robinson Day. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, standing with Jackie’s widow, Rachel, declares that Major League Baseball is retiring No. 42 in tribute to Robinson’s great achievements: “No. 42 will never again be issued by a Major League club to any player or other on-field personnel, other than those who are currently wearing it.”

April 16, 1964: One day before its official opening, the Mets’ new stadium is dedicated in a ceremony presided over by its namesake: attorney William A. Shea. Mr. Shea empties the contents of two bottles of water — one from the Harlem River and one from the Gowanus Canal — over the infield.

April 17, 1964: Shea Stadium opens its doors for the first time as 48,736 fans watch Pittsburgh edge the Mets, 4-3. Pirate Willie Stargell’s home run off Mets’ RHP Jack Fisher in the second inning is the first hit recorded at the stadium. Tim Harkness collects the first Mets hit at Shea with a third-inning single. Ron Hunt scores the first Mets run at Shea.

April 17, 2010: The Mets beat the Cardinals, 2-1, in 20 innings in St. Louis. It is the Mets’ fourth-longest game by innings and the first time the Mets win a game lasting 20 innings or longer.

April 19, 1989: Mets’ SS Kevin Elster breaks the then-Major League record with his 73rd straight errorless game at shortstop.

April 20, 1965: Mets’ LHP Warren Spahn hurls a brilliant complete-game, 3-2 victory over the Dodgers. It is his first win as Met; the Hall-of-Fame pitcher only plays part of one season for the Mets. Spahn strikes out John Kennedy with the tying run on third for the final out. The Mets release Spahn, the winningest left-handed pitcher of all time (363 wins), in July. He is signed by the San Francisco Giants and retires at the end of the season.

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Around MLB:

Wrapping up thoughts from the West Coast trip. After a great tour through the West last week, visiting Arizona and California, it is clear for me that Angels’ OF Mike Trout is currently the best player in baseball. Trout simply does it all – he can hit, hit for power, throw, run and steal bases, and defend his position without peer. Trout earned his second career American League Most Valuable Player award in 2016 (he also won the award in 2012). Last Saturday night in Anaheim, the Angels presented their 25-year old CF with the 2016 MVP hardware prior to the game. And later, true to form, Trout hammered a go-ahead, game winning, two run HR off Seattle RHP Evan Scribner in the seventh inning to lift the Halos to a 5-4 win over the Mariners. Trout has led the American League in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) during the first five years of his career. The only player to ever lead his league in WAR six years in a row? Babe Ruth, from 1926-1931.

For me, it’s Trout and then Baltimore 3B Manny Machado…and after that, everyone else.

Mets outfield. With Juan Lagares’ return, Manager Terry Collins now has five outfielders and, for sure, the deepest bench he has had in his seven years piloting the team. There will be a lot of discussion in the weeks and months ahead about Michael Conforto, and whether he is blocked with the current alignment, and should the Mets move Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce via trade, both of who are in the last year of their contracts. The Mets should not do anything here, and I do not expect GM Sandy Alderson to make a move anytime this soon, or this season. Here’s why: Yoenis Cespedes (31), Granderson (36), and Bruce (30) will all need days off, and will all have ups and downs across a long season. Lagares is the team’s only true CF, provides important late-game defensive insurance and there are plenty of at-bats for Conforto as Collins rotates his players to keep them fresh and healthy. The Mets should embrace their depth – and this position of strength – in the Citi Field outfield.

Yankees – potential trade assets. After a 1-4 start, the Yankees swept Tampa at the Stadium have won four in a row to lift their record above .500 (5-4) for the first time in 2017. The Yankees avoided a potential serious injury on Wednesday afternoon, when LF Brett Gardner collided with Tampa’s Rickie Weeks at first base in the bottom of the sixth inning of an 8-4 Yankee victory. Gardner sustained a bruised jaw and a strained neck in the violent impact with Weeks, but felt better Thursday, and was back in the starting lineup for the Yankees on Friday night at the Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Gardner is off to a fast start, and along with CF Jacoby Ellsbury, is noticeably running more and placing pressure on the opposing defense. Gardner already has five stolen bases, while Ellsbury has two. Entering Friday’s games, the Yankees – yes, the New York Yankees – are second in the American League in stolen bases, with eight. Yes, it’s early, but there’s a conscious effort on the part of the Yankees to be more aggressive on the base paths in 2017.

That’s important for a couple of reasons. One, the Yankees need to use their improved athleticism to generate offense. The baseball is more exciting, the style is more productive in this high strike out, home run-reliant era, and it’s a welcome sight for Yankee fans who have watched their team rely heavily on power, with a very plodding station-to-station offensive approach during this decade, and most notably since 2013. Secondly, Gardner is one of the Yankees’ best and most tradeable assets. He is under contract this year for $12.5M, in 2018 for $11.5M, with a $12.5M team option in 2019. At 33, he is still capable of batting at the top of a lineup, stealing bases, and playing excellent outfield defense.

Now, it’s only the second week of the season and the Yankees may have a terrific season ahead. That would be great. However, this is still a team, and franchise, in transition, and it will take the next two years (2017-2018) to develop some of their top positional talent at the major league level. Plus, the Yankees will certainly be big players in the much anticipated free agent class (Baltimore’s Machado, Washington’s Bryce Harper) in the 2018-2019 offseason. The Yankees lack starting pitching in the upper echelons of their minor league season, and that was further amplified by this week’s announcement that 2015 first-round draft pick, RHP James Kaprelian (UCLA), will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. Kaprelian, 23, was a good candidate to make his debut in the Bronx this season; now he’ll be out of action well into the 2018 season.

At some point, GM Brian Cashman will need to acquire young starting pitching under team control. He knows it, there are no secrets here, and it’s one of his goals. He has a few assets at the major league level to work with, and if the team falls out of the race in 2017, Gardner is valuable commodity that will be interesting for a contending team. Other tradeable Yankee major league assets are SS Didi Gregorious, 27, and RHP Dellin Betances, 29. Both are under team control through 2019, and they play positions and serve in roles that are strengths in the Yankee system. Gregorius has Gleyber Torres (acquired from the Cubs last July for Aroldis Chapman) and Jorge Mateo close behind him in the Yankee system, and the Yankees have long been able to build strong, powerful bullpens using arms from within their system. Stay tuned, and something to watch as the season unfolds in the south Bronx.

About the Author:

Michael Lalor serves as an MLB and NY sports analyst, covering the New York Mets and more for the Spadora On Sports radio program across Sports Byline USA stations. He can be reached at spadoraonsports.com.

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