After a miserable start to the week, which saw the Washington Nationals (49-32, 1st NL East) sweep the New York Mets (41-37, 2nd NL East) in Washington, D.C., the Mets returned home for a crucial stretch of games prior to the All-Star break. Heading into the series, the Mets anemic offense had scored only 8 runs in their previous 5 games. However, New York’s dormant offense came to life on Thursday night (30 June) against the Chicago Cubs, ignited by OF Yoenis Cespedes’ left field upper deck blast, a timely base hit by rookie OF Brandon Nimmo, and a raucous Citi Field home crowd. The Mets rallied from a 3-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead, and closer Jeurys Familia worked out of second-and-third with 0 out situation to lock down the victory. Familia struck out Cubs’ 3B Kris Bryant, issued an intentional pass to 1B Anthony Rizzo, and then finished his walk across the tight rope by fanning rookie C Willson Contreras and INF/OF Javier Baez to end the game, and open an 11-game homestand that includes contest against the Cubs, Nationals, and Miami Marlins.
New York carried that momentum into Friday night (1 July). The Mets hit five home runs off Cub pitching, and four off starter RHP Jason Hammel, highlighted by OF Brandon Nimmo’s first career long ball, a 3-run blast in the 4th inning. Nimmo, recalled from AAA Las Vegas early this week when OF Michael Conforto was sent down, was the Mets’ #1 pick in the 2011 MLB Draft (13th overall). In his first two games, he has provided the Met offense with some energy and much-needed life. 1B James Loney (4), SS Asdrubal Cabrera (9,10), and Cespedes (20) also homered, providing Met starter RHP Jacob deGrom (4-4) with the run support he has so often lacked this season. Even a 1 hour, 59 minute rain delay could not dampen the spirits of the Met faithful, and New York stayed within 6 games of the Nationals with a 10-2 victory.
Here’s the Mets’ schedule prior to the All-Star Game:
• 30 June-3 July: Chicago Cubs
• 4-6 July: vs. Miami
• 7-10 July: vs. Washington
• 12 July: All-Star Game at San Diego
Here are the remaining matchups – marquee matchups — this weekend against the NL Central-leading Cubs (all times Eastern):
Sat, 2 July: RHP Bartolo Colon (6-4, 2.86 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Arrieta (12-2, 2.10 ERA), 7:15 pm
Sun, 3 July: RHP Noah Syndergaard (8-3, 2.49 ERA) vs. LHP Jon Lester (9-3, 2.03 ERA), 1:10 pm
Cubs Notes: The Cubs, now 51-28, notched their 50th win of the season in Game 76. It was the earliest a Cub team had reached 50 wins since 1918, when the Northsiders started at 50-21.
INF/OF Kris Bryant leads the NL with 23 home runs through 1 July. Bryant’s versatility is extremely important to the Cubs and Manager Joe Maddon. Through the team’s first 78 games, Bryant had started 45 games at 3B, 22 in LF, 6 games in RF, and 3 games at 1B. That flexibility has enabled the Cubs to carry 3 catchers on their roster, with Miguel Montero, David Ross, and rookie Willson Contreras.
INF/OF Ben Zobrist signed with Cubs as a Free Agent in the offseason for 4 years / $56M after turning down a similarly, competitive offer from the Mets. Zobrist, who played parts of 10 season in Tampa Bay and won a World Series with Kansas City in 2015 after being moved at last year’s trade deadline, has primarily played 2B this year and not been utilized in his traditional “super-sub” role. That role has now shifted to the versatile Bryant. Zobrist is hitting .299, 10 HRs, and 42 RBIs, and may wind up on the NL All-Star squad in San Diego.
Pitchers in the outfield? On Tuesday night in Cincinnati, Cub Manager Joe Maddon used 3 different pitchers – RHP Spencer Patton, LHP Travis Wood, and RHP Pedro Strop – in Left Field (!) during the last three frames of a memorable 15-inning victory. In three innings, Maddon used three pitchers in LF. In contrast, the Yankees have only employed two different LFs all season. According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, there is no record of three pitchers playing in the field in the same game – outfield or anywhere else – dating back to 1913; and prior to 1913 the record keeping is not complete. The Cubs had not used three pitchers at different positions in the field — in an entire season, since 1904. Pretty entertaining and original.
Mets Notes: Both LHP Steven Matz and RHP Noah Syndergaard are pitching with bone spurs in their elbows. Matz, given an extra day of rest prior to his start, went 5 1/3 innings against the Cubs on Thursday night, allowing 7 hits (including 2 HRs) and 3 ERs. Matz struck out 6 and threw 104 total pitches. He will likely need surgery at the end of the season, and it will be interesting to see if he can navigate his way through the bone spurs and stay in the Mets rotation for the remainder of the season. Syndergaard, who starts on Saturday, has yet to acknowledge his bone spur diagnosis in his media engagements — Go “Thor”. Two different personalities, two different approaches. The Mets will certainly manage both of their young starters closely.
INF Jose Reyes is working his way back to the majors. After starting in Class A Port St. Lucie in the Florida State League, Reyes has since moved to AA Binghamton. Through mid-week, he was only 1-for-13. Reyes is working at 3B – and in the OF – down in Binghamton, in an effort to provide options to Mets’ Manager Terry Collins in advance of his eventual promotion to New York. OF Juan Lagares is also working his way back to New York down in Binghamton. Lagares, who has a partially torn ligament in his left thumb, is trying to play through the injury, which will likely require off-season surgery. He will likely be activated on either Saturday or Sunday, after going 6-for-18 with a triple and 2 RBIs in Binghamton.
3B/Captain David Wright made an appearance at Citi Field prior to the start of Friday night’s game. Wright stated that he will play again, but acknowledged that his chances of playing again this season were extremely low. Wright, 33, who underwent neck surgery for what he called a “significant disk rupture”, will watch future games this season from the bullpen. Since his range of motion is limited and he is to avoid contact is to facilitate healing, Wright, in his current state, would be nearly defenseless in the dugout.
Annual Bobby Bonilla Day. On July 1st, the Mets made their annual $1.9M payment to former OF Bobby Bonilla. Bonilla, who signed a deal with the Florida Marlins following the 1996 season, was later traded to the Mets in 1999 (for his second tour of duty with New York; his first was 1992-1995). When the Mets bought out his contract following the 1999 season, he was owed $5.9M for the last year of the deal. The Mets elected to pay him deferred money starting in 2011, with money accruing since late 1999 at an 8% interest rate. The Mets will continue to pay him through 2035. Meanwhile, as a result of his first Met contract, a 5-year deal signed in the fall of 1991, Bonilla still receives deferred money from both the Mets and Baltimore Orioles — $500K per year, with the Mets paying slightly more than half of that total – each year. That will continue through 2028. Bonilla should thank his agent on those deals, former sports agent Dennis Gilbert, every…single…day.
This weekend in Mets’ History:
• July 1, 1976. The “Hammer”, 1B John Milner hits his second grand slam in 6 days, as the Mets clobber the St. Louis Cardinals, 13-0
• July 1, 1993. RHP Dwight Gooden hits his seventh career home run at Florida, surpassing RHP Tom Seaver’s previous franchise mark for hurlers.
• July 2, 1969. 2B Ken Boswell’s RBI single, and 3B Wayne Garrett’s bases-loaded walk provide New York the game-winning margin during a 14-inning win at St. Louis. LHP Tug McGraw throws six scoreless innings in relief for the win.
• July 2, 1987. RHP Terry Leach tosses a two-hit, 5-0 shutout at Cincinnati.
• July 3, 1990. LHP Frank Viola throws a five-hit, 12-0 shutout vs. Houston at Shea Stadium.
• July 3, 1996. OF Alex Ochoa hits for the cycle in a 10-6 victory vs. Philadelphia.
• July 4, 1976. C Jerry Grote strokes a two-out, two-run walk-off home run in the ninth inning off Philadelphia’s Tug McGraw to lift the Mets to a 4-3 victory over the Phillies.
• July 4, 1978. OF Lee Mazzilli cracks a grand slam and RHP Pat Zachry twirls a two-hit shutout as New York beats Philadelphia, 4-0.
• July 4, 1985. The Legendary 4th of July game in Atlanta. The Mets beat the Braves, 16-13, in 19 innings at Atlanta. 1B Keith Hernandez hits for the cycle during the marathon and the Braves’ Rick Camp, statistically the Majors’ worst hitter, cracks a two-run home run in the 18th inning to tie the game. Met RHP Ron Darling picks up the win as New York plates five runs in the 19th and holds on for the victory. The game ends at 3:55 a.m., and the holiday fireworks follow at the “Launching Pad”.
Mike Lalor can be heard talking New York sports on the Spadora on Sports Radio Program. His blog can be found at www.spadoraonsports.com.