Some Hard Thinking For The Mets

(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)

On Opening Day in Washington, journeyman reliever Buddy Carlyle recorded the save for the Mets and the final two outs in the game as then-closer, Jenrry Mejia, was unavailable due to elbow stiffness. Ten days ago in Washington, castaway Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a game-winning homer off Jonathan Papelbon. That’s the kind of year it has been for the Mets. They have been propelled to first-place and a 83-63 record not only because of the greatness of Yoenis Cespedes, even if it may seem that way, but thanks to a large contributing cast of characters.

There are some guys who haven’t contributed much of any good, such as relievers Bobby Parnell and Eric O’Flaherty and part-timers Eric Campbell and Anthony Recker. There are guys like Carlyle, Jerry Blevins, Rafael Montero and Jack Leathersich, who helped earlier in the year but are now watching from the sidelines with injures. There are even guys like Alex Torres and Dillon Gee, who were exiled to Triple-A Vegas. And then, of course, there’s Mejia, who contributed 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball before showing the world how dumb some humans can be.

When a team gets contributions from so many different players good things usually happen. Plenty of good things have happened for Terry Collins’ ballclub and with 16 games left to play his team has a comfortable 8 game lead over the Washington Nationals. While some people are still weary of a last gasp push by the Nationals, they shouldn’t be. Instead, the only worry right now should be about trying to secure home-field advantage over the Dodgers and sorting out the team’s playoff roster.

The four man rotation alignment will largely be dictated by whether or not the Mets will open the Division Series in Queens or Los Angeles. Noah Syndergaard has struggled away from the friendly confines of Citi Field, where he is 7-1 with a 2.15 ERA. On the road, the 23-year old rookie is 1-5 with a 4.47 ERA. If the Mets open at home, they likely would go with Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard and Matt Harvey in succession. If the first two games are at Chavez Ravine, the preference would be to flip-flop Syndergaard and Harvey.

Bartolo Colon, Jonathon Niese and Steve Matz are all options for the fourth spot, but as of now the 42-year old Colon seems to be the favorite. The ageless Colon has pitched much better over the last few weeks after looking all but cooked in June and July. Since the start of August, Colon is 5-2 with a 2.60 ERA. However, this recent hot stretch could simply be looked at as a mirage. Of those five victories, two have come against the Phillies and Marlins, while he also collected one against the lowly Braves. Meanwhile, after a strong June and July, Niese has been awful since the calendar flipped to August. In 45 2/3 innings spanning across seven starts, the southpaw has allowed a whopping 53 hits and 31 earned runs.

Don’t rule out the Mets starting Matz if they trust him enough and want a lefty in the rotation. In that case, Colon would serve as insurance in long relief. This then begs the question of whether or not Niese can be an asset out of the bullpen. This season righties are hitting .279 against him, however, lefties are hitting .289 against him. Starting pitchers are creatures of habit, and it’s no guarantee that Niese could adjust to a LOOGY role.

In the bullpen, the shoo-ins are Jeurys Familia, Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed, who has emerged as a dependable 7th inning option since arriving in a waiver deal with Arizona in late August. Then there’s hard throwing 23-year old Hansel Robles, who has showed enough promise and velocity to earn a spot. Fellow rookie, Sean Gilmartin has showed his worth this season after being plucked from the Rule 5 draft, but he doesn’t seem to be needed in a playoff series as his best work has come in the longman role, not as a short-inning guy or lefty specialist.

Perhaps the 24-year old Matz could become the lefty specialist that the team has been so desperately seeking since Blevins broke his arm in April. Somebody is going to have to get the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Joc Pederson, Chase Utley and Corey Seager out. If say, the Mets leave Niese and Gilmartin off the playoff roster that would leave two more bullpen spots if the team decides to carry 11 pitchers.

Those two spots would come down to Erik Goeddel, Carlos Torres, Logan Verrett and Dario Alvarez. The 26-year old Goeddel seems most likely to secure a spot. He has pitched to a tune of a 2.70 ERA in 30 appearances and has earned more trust over recent weeks. If Torres is healthy, he is also probably in line for one of the final bullpen openings mostly due to the inexperience of Verrett and Alvarez.

It’s not known yet whether or not the Mets will carry 10 or 11 pitches, but say they carry 11 – which I think is what they will do, the team would have room for 14 position players. When they face a righty such as Zack Greinke a possible lineup could be Curtis Granderson-Cespedes-Daniel Murphy-David Wright-Lucas Duda-Travis d’Arnaud-Michael Conforto and either Wilmer Flores or Ruben Tejada at shortstop, which is another big question of debate. It likely will be a combination of both players, but Tejada may see more time because of his glove.

That leaves room for five bench players, which is where some more decisions have to be made. Firstly, the team needs a backup catcher and I would imagine that impressive rookie Kevin Plawecki will make the roster over Anthony Recker. Then there’s the veteran duo of Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe who will make the squad. That leaves two spots for Michael Cuddyer, Juan Lagares and Eric Young Jr, whom the Mets recently reacquired nine months after they declined to tender him a contract for 2015.

Adding the blazing fast Young could mean sacrificing a reliever (Torres or Goeddel) and going with six in the bullpen instead of seven. Recent history shows that Young could swing a game or two come October. Just last year, the Kansas City Royals put a little-known outfielder named Terrance Gore on their roster for the American League wild-card game and all three subsequent playoff rounds. He appeared in six playoff games exclusively as a pinch runner, never batting or playing an inning in the field. But he stole three bases in as many attempts and scored two runs as the Royals went all the way to the World Series.

These are some of the things that Alderson has to consider over the next few weeks and that’s not a bad problem to have.


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