David Berg has been following the Mets since 1990, and counts himself as a "die hard fan" -- the agonies have been numerous and arduous, but he's still watching every game he can, determined to "earn" the satisfaction when the Mets eventually win it all. In his non-spare time, David is a designer of graphics, web sites, and games. See his work at Shrike Design
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Recent history suggests this week is crucial for Mets

2010-2012 Mets

 

Do you remember the 2010 Mets?

Through 90 games, the offense offered a lot to like: Jose Reyes leading off, David Wright having regained his power stroke, hotshot rookie Ike Davis impressing at the plate and in the field, and Angel Pagan seemingly coming into his own at age 28. On the mound, Johan Santana was still more or less Johan Santana, a new splitter had suddenly made Mike Pelfrey great again, 23-year-old lefty Jon Niese was more than holding his own, and R.A. Dickey was a revelation. Francisco Rodriguez was closing out wins, Pedro Feliciano was retiring a lefty or two every single day, and Hisanori Takahashi was the best swing man in the league.

The team’s record: 48-42.

Over the next 10 games, they went 3-7, effectively ending their playoff hopes, and beginning a spiral down below .500.

Carlos Beltran came off the DL but couldn’t play defense, Pagan shifted over to RF, hurting the team defensively at two positions, and neither guy hit down the stretch. Santana tired, K-Rod punched his father-in-law, Reyes pulled an oblique, and it was a sad September in Queens.

Do you remember the 2011 Mets?

Through 90 games, they were clutching out, keeping postseason hopes alive despite an underwhelming roster. With Santana and Ike Davis injured and Wright playing poorly through pain, the Mets nevertheless managed to string their hits together, taking quality AB after quality AB in big spots. They scored runs despite mediocre batting stats, and many were praising Dave Hudgens as a genius. With Jose Reyes putting up an MVP-type year, Lucas Duda getting a full-time job after crushing AAA Buffalo with a 1.011 OPS, and three apparent breakouts in progress (Bobby Parnell, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy), the Mets had hope that if their starting pitching could just perform to their abilities, they’d have a chance.

The team’s record: 46-44.

Over the next 10 games, they went 4-6, effectively ending their playoff hopes, and beginning a spiral down below .500.

A 4-6 stretch is hardly ever the end of the world, but 50-50 is too mediocre a record too late in the season to come back from. Especially when none of the starters turn it around, Wright doesn’t heal, Parnell regresses, Murphy gets hurt, and Duda can’t play RF.

Do you remember the 2012 Mets?

Through 90 games, Wright was raking, Scott Hairston was raking, Dickey was throwing one-hitters, Ike Davis was on his way back after finding himself in the minors, and a finally-healthy Murphy was still teasing us with .300 promise. The futures of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Ruben Tejada still looked promising, and there was Matt Harvey to look forward to. Optimism abounded for how the second half would be better than the first.

The team’s record: 46-44.

Over the next 10 games, they went 2-8, effectively ending their playoff hopes, and beginning a spiral down below .500.

Wright couldn’t keep it up. Tejada and Murphy and Captain Kirk didn’t live up to the big expectations. Dickey willed himself to 20 wins, and Ike and Harvey put up numbers, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Are you worried about the 2016 Mets?

Through 90 games, there have been ups and downs. There have been great performances and disappointments. There is a lot of hope for a playoff run, but much of it rests on things improving — hurt players getting healthy, slumping players turning it around, hyped players living up to the hype. I’m finding it uncomfortably familiar.

The team’s record: 48-42.

Over the next 10 games, what will they do (so far they’re 2-2)? The answer may well decide their season. This upcoming series against the Marlins is big.

What will give the 2016 Mets the best chance to finish strong? If history is any guide, juggling outfielders and betting on improved health is not it.

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Is this 2016 or 2012?

Dickey Syndergaard

Do you remember the 2012 Mets? If you’ve chosen to forget, that’s understandable. Outside of a certain knuckleballer, it was a dark time for the organization, just part of a years-long spiral deeper and deeper into laughingstock status. The 97-win run of 2006 was followed by two straight choke jobs, a plague of injuries, a regime change, and a wishy-washy rebuild through a pretender 2011. In 2012, a slightly improved roster got off to a very respectable start, spending their first 93 games over .500 and giving fans hope that if they could overcome an awful bullpen, they might make a wild card run. Most fans wanted the Mets to either acquire relief help and make a run, or commit fully to 2014 and beyond by cashing in on Scott Hairston, Bobby Parnell and others at the trade deadline. Mets GM Sandy Alderson did neither, and stood pat. Before long, Mets news was once again the news of disgust and dithering and Ponzi schemes and LOLs.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2016, and the word was that everything had changed in the Mets’ universe. After a wheel-spinning 2013 and a promising 2014, 2015 brought us Yoenis Cespedes, a healthy Matt Harvey, a rebounding Curtis Granderson, an improved Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia, an emerging Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto, and a run to the World Series. With Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, and Juan Lagares already on board, and with Steven Matz and Asdrubal Cabrera expected to provide further improvements, the 2016 Mets looked miles away from their 2012 counterparts.

Do they still look that way today?

Similar Records

Both the 2012 and 2016 teams started off 8-7.
Both teams then put together some win streaks to get to 31-23.
Both teams then played under .500, achieving records of 39-33 and 40-36.

The 2012 Mets then won 6 of 9 to get to 46-39 before utterly collapsing with a 28-49 finish to a 74-88 season.

Are the 2016 Mets at risk of a similar fate? Unfortunately, I see a disturbing number of parallels in the player roster.

Similar Performances

Let’s look back at who did what in the first half of 2012, who’s doing the same so far in 2016, and how it panned out in each case in 2012.

David Wright: The 2012 team’s best player put up an MVP-level first half.
2016 version: Yoenis Cespedes
In the end: Wright regressed to his career norms in the second half. After the season, the fan favorite signed a huge contract for his 30s, which would currently be crippling the team if not for insurance provisions.

R.A. Dickey: Took a jump from good to great, establishing himself as a Cy Young contender.
2016 version: Noah Syndergaard
In the end: Dickey didn’t quite keep it up in the second half, but was still excellent and took home the award (from a much easier field than the 2016 NL).

Johan Santana: Former dominator showed brief flashes of his former self.
2016 version: Matt Harvey
In the end: Fell apart amid much speculation (ankle? workload?). Turned up a serious injury in the second half.

Ike Davis: First-round slugger who scouts saw as a middle of the order bat. After a great rookie year, things went downhill. Was it the foot injury that derailed his career, or was it the Valley Fever, or was it a high-maintenance swing? After a brutal first half, was sent to the minors.
2016 version: Michael Conforto and his sprained wrist cartilage
In the end: Ike ran into some homeruns in the second half of 2012 but was otherwise done as a productive player.

Andres Torres: Great attitude and effort but not enough talent to warrant the everyday job he was handed. His previous great season wound up looking like a fluke.
2016 version: Curtis Granderson
In the end: Torres was consistent, playing the same mediocre baseball in both halves of 2012.

Jordany Valdespin: An enticing talent with good pop but OBP issues and no true position, Valdespin elicited both hope and caution. Evaluators spoke of his chance to be something more than a utility guy, but he was basically used as a utility guy.
2016 version: Wilmer Flores
In the end: Valdespin had a nice power spike in July, but never really made permanent gains. He’s since established himself as a classic AAAA player, getting chances when someone on an MLB roster gets hurt.

Jason Bay: Once counted on to be a middle of the order force, but couldn’t stay healthy. His high-maintenance swing made him ill-suited to playing in fits and starts.
2016 version: Travis d’Arnaud
In the end: Bay got healthier in the second half, but the injuries and missed time had taken their toll, and he was terrible.

Josh Thole: A bat-first catcher who showed great contact skills in the minors. Power and defense were question marks, but everyone expected him to spray line drives. His first half wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad enough to completely dispel all hope.
2016 version: Kevin Plawecki
In the end: His one contribution, batting average, eventually declined, leaving Thole as a minor leaguer (well, if not for R.A. Dickey).

Daniel Murphy: A capable hitter holding down a demanding defensive position, Murphy was cause for much debate. Was he a major asset, or were his deficiencies hurting the team as much as his bat was helping it?
2016 version: Asdrubal Cabrera and his limited range
In the end: Murphy spent 2012-2015 as basically the same guy throughout, averaging 1.7 WAR. Not the team’s biggest problem, but not a significant asset either.

Lucas Duda: Lucas Duda.
2016 version: Lucas Duda
In the end: Lucas Duda.

Scott Hairston: Veteran having a career year on the homerun front.
2016 version: Neil Walker
In the end: Kept it up! Nothing after 2012, though.

Chris Young: Crafty veteran confusing hitters with unusual fastballs.
2016 version: Bartolo Colon
In the end: Young eventually got hurt, which has been the norm for him. What Mets fans forget is that, before joining the Mets, Colon was ranked #1 on a list of pitchers most likely to suffer injury, based on his age and past injury history.

Dillon Gee: Second-year pitcher with great peripherals but a few too many blow-ups. Looked like a fixture before shoulder discomfort turned into an aneurysm.
2016 version: Steven Matz and his bone chips and elbow pain
In the end: Gee missed the entire second half after surgery for the aneurysm.

There are also some parallels between Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Juan Lagares (great athletes with holes at the plate and trouble staying healthy), Jon Niese and Jacob deGrom (third-year pitchers seeing declines in stuff and strikeouts), Justin Turner and Matt Reynolds (solid base of skills but not great at anything), and Ruben Tejada and Dilson Herrera‘s scouting reports (precocious young guys whose physique and athleticism limits their ceilings).

None of these situations are exactly equivalent — Flores doesn’t have an attitude problem like Valdespin, d’Arnaud isn’t in his 30s like Bay, Niese was never half the pitcher deGrom was in 2015 — but the overall picture I’m seeing looks eerily familiar.

Cause for concern?

Is this similarity between the 2012 and 2016 teams real, or an illusion? Are the Mets still in great shape heading forward, or have a few flops and injuries changed their whole future landscape? Even if we can’t predict the distant future, should we expect a better or worse second half from the current squad?

Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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Do the Mets need to try less situational hitting?

On Wednesday afternoon, Asdrubal Cabrera came to bat with Curtis Granderson on first. Batting second, with a dangerous power hitter behind him, Cabrera’s “job” could be interpreted as “try to work a walk or poke a single to bring Yoenis Cespedes up with two men on.” Some Baseball People would consider that the “professional” or “situational” approach. Fortunately for the Mets, Cabrera ignored that wisdom and took a big rip, hitting a two-run homer to turn a deficit into a lead.

Is that what the Mets need?

This team has been an utter abomination in clutch hitting situations. When the #2 homerun hitting team in the National League is also the #13 team in scoring (well behind #12), it’s obvious that something is wrong. A .207 team batting average with RISP (runners in scoring position) is pretty obvious too. What’s less obvious is how we got here. Are Mets hitters nervous? Playing tight? Lacking confidence? Pressing? Is it a spiral where a little bit of bad clutch hitting becomes contagious and spirals out of control?

I have a theory. When Gary, Keith and Ron talk about situational hitting, they talk about hitting to the opposite field, about putting the ball in play, about not swinging for the fences, about advancing runners, and on and on in that vein. Terry Collins and Kevin Long don’t have three hours of air time to fill every night, but they sometimes (occasionally to the media, who knows how often to the players) talk about situational hitting too, and I’m guessing they’re talking about the same things. In doing so, however, they might be getting in the way of what their roster does best. These are Alderson players. They draw a few walks and hit a bunch of homeruns. Attempting situational hitting, which they aren’t good at (see that .207 AVG), just interferes with their strengths.

Here are the Mets’ rates of hitting homeruns, drawing unintentional walks, and striking out, by situation:

SplitHR %UIBB %K %
No RISP4.4 %8.3 %26.0 %
0/1 Out RISP3.4 %5.6 %27.7 %
2 Outs, RISP1.8 %8.8 %32.1 %

So maybe the 2016 Mets would be better served following the model of other Alderson-style offenses: take your walks, swing for the fences, and don’t ever change that.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

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Let’s leave safety up to the players (even Utley)

I much prefer when there’s an explicit agreement between players, umps, and MLB that players police the game themselves.

In that circumstance, most players choose to act with integrity, and those who don’t are punished as per the culture of their time. Chase Utley absolutely violated the unspoken rules about how one is supposed to go about taking out a DP pivot man, hitting the ground way too late in pursuit of Ruben Tejada. The culture of the game that Utley grew up in says that he should get drilled in the ribs and yelled at as a result. That would be both “old school” and efficient.

Instead, MLB has decided (and the umps have clearly followed their lead) that everything worth caring about in baseball must have a rule attached. This leads the players (as it has in every other sport) to abandon any subjective notions of right and wrong and simply do whatever they can get away with. With cameras everywhere, “what they can get away with” is very little, and if replay expands enough, one day it will get down to “nothing”, where A.J. Ellis will no longer be able to fool the umpire by firing away a foul tip as if he’d caught it for strike three, as he did on Sunday night. With a good set of rules and the right penalties for infractions, this is probably the surest way to make baseball safe… and slow.

If I were a player, maybe I’d take that trade-off.

As a fan, I hate it. The occasional injury is worth having a game that moves along at a decent pace with a lot of personality and room for individual accountability. The “did the catcher give the runner a sliding lane?” replay is too high a price to pay for the fact that Buster Posey pivoted incorrectly when Scott Cousins came to wreck him. Baseball is entertainment, and thrives on contrast and emergent narratives — a version of baseball which forces Chase Utley and Manny Ramirez to play the same way doesn’t make for many interesting stories.

If Utley were on my team, and he and I and everyone else agreed that the penalty for a late slide was a fastball to the ribs and some angry words, and he chose to pay that price to win a playoff game, then I would be all in favor of that choice, and question the dedication of any player who didn’t make the same choice (as some certainly wouldn’t).

But there’s no agreement at all.

Some players interpret the unwritten rules as, “Don’t do dangerous plays, even if they would win a playoff game.” Some umpires interpret via precedent, others by the rulebook (which has always included ample provisions for calling Utley for obstruction on the Tejada play; they’ve just never been enforced). There’s a similar split among fans. So instead of being clearly identified as a determined but dangerous player (which he is) and getting drilled (which he can take), Chase Utley has been called everything from an old-school hero to a violent, cheating thug. It’s madness, and lots and lots of sour grapes.

I respect Noah Syndergaard for trying to handle things the way they used to be handled, and I respect Utley for not having a problem with that. The guy I can’t stand is umpire Adam Hamari, or whatever boss or supervisor encouraged him to act like that (perhaps discipline czar Joe Torre?). But maybe theirs is the way of the future, and I’m thinking like a caveman, and one day baseball will be completely free from injury and subjectivity and dramatic physical contests of any sort.

Here’s a novel idea: let’s leave it up to players who are actually risking injury.

If Alex Torres doesn’t want to get drilled by comebackers, he can wear the padded hat. If John Olerud doesn’t want to expose his surgically repaired skull, he can wear a helmet in the field. If Barry Bonds wants to hang his front elbow an inch from home plate, he can wrap it in armor. If Ruben Tejada wants to turn DPs where he can’t see the runner because of a horrible feed, he can wrap his legs in enough padding to look like the Michelin Man. If Buster Posey wants to spin into the path of a runner with his feet underneath him, let him coat his feet in lubricant so they slide instead of sticking. Let these men do whatever they want to protect themselves — and then, when they don’t, accept that as their choice.

If pitchers would rather risk brain damage than wear a silly-looking hat, then it’s not the rules that need fixing the next time a liner finds a guy’s head. If hitters eschew hand and elbow guards, then no one gets to moan about pitchers throwing inside the next time someone breaks an arm. If Tejada wants to wear his regular pants in a big spot wherein he’d attempt a blind play, then baseball is still baseball if it doesn’t work out for him.

Again, if I were a player, maybe I’d feel differently. Maybe “risk your body for the fans’ entertainment” is no more appealing on the field than it is at the steroid “clinic”. Maybe all those players telling the media “I don’t need to be coddled” are just trying to sound tough and would secretly love to be coddled. I don’t know. I’m just a fan. And as a fan, I say to Adam Hamari and Joe Torre and every other quick-trigger reactionary authority in MLB: please butt out.

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Biggest Surprises of the first Quarter

Now that the Mets are one quarter of the way through their 2016 schedule, what have we learned? Who has been better than expected? Who has disappointed? Here are my top 15 surprises so far. Chime in to the comments and let us know what’s surprised you!

The good:

Hitting homeruns

The Mets lead the National League with 60 HRs!

Asdrubal Cabrera‘s defense

I didn’t figure a shortstop with limited range could be that much of an asset. Cabrera’s been stellar on every slow-developing play, though, and his reliability (up until Thursday night) is a truly stark contrast to the Mets’ previous options at the position.

Michael Conforto seizing the #3 spot

Conforto allowed us to dream of an MVP candidate before proving himself to be as vulnerable to slumps as the next guy. Even with some inconsistency, he looks prepared for a spectacular sophomore season, hitting third for a contender. It’s still to be determined whether he can hit MLB lefties, however.

Yoenis Cespedes‘s patience

Ever since the Mets’ first homestand, Cespedes has been chasing fewer really bad pitches than in the past. With plenty of respectable hitters behind him, even a fair walk rate will help score the team some extra runs.

Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz

Thor’s stayed healthy and added weapons, while Matz has been tough for batters to square up despite inconsistent secondary stuff. It’s not a surprise that both youngsters continue to improve, but their rate of improvement has to be seen as great news.

Antonio Bastardo

After looking awful in March, and despite diminished velocity, Bastardo has been fantastic in most of his outings, getting back to his bread and butter: a fastball with the most vertical rise in MLB.

Addison Reed

94 mph and a decent-to-good slider is nothing special in today’s relief pitching. Yet Reed has racked up a ton of whiffs and gotten a bunch of late-inning leads to Familia.

Stellar relief pitching in general

Out of a group like Reed, Bastardo, Robles, Blevins, Henderson and Verrett, you expect some ups and downs. At any given moment, some will be hot, and some will be cold. Well, not so to begin 2016! In addition to Familia’s expected effectiveness, every single member of his supporting cast has been good, giving the Mets the deepest ‘pen in the league.

The bad:

Not hitting except for homeruns

The Mets are hitting .235, tied for second-worst in the NL. Their hitting with runners in scoring position is dead last at .208, and their Clutch WPA stat is 35% worse than any other team in baseball outside of Houston. We’ve seen a high number of HRs, an average number of walks, and a whole lot of choking.

Matt Harvey

Except for 6 innings against the Padres and his first 2 innings against the Reds, the guy wearing the Matt Harvey jersey has shown nothing in common with the guy who wore it in 2013 and 2015. Velocity down, command erratic, and no idea where the ball is going in the strike zone. We didn’t know it was even possible for him to be this bad with his right arm still attached.

Jacob deGrom

He’s gone from elite at 95 to merely effective at 92. This team might need him to be elite.

Wilmer Flores

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that a young player playing sporadically would struggle, but .180 with 2 RBI and bad defense is bad enough to make me wonder if he’s better off developing in the minors.

Alejandro De Aza

With that little playing time, I guess even veteran bench guys can struggle.

Travis d’Arnaud

His body can’t even survive a routine thing like throwing? It’s looking more and more like he’s too fragile for this sport. It doesn’t help his stock that the Mets’ pitch-calling and basestealer-catching improved dramatically once Travis went down.

The impossible:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Bartolo Colon steps to the plate…

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Most Important Mets of 2016: No. 3-1

After reading the replies to a recent article here on MetsToday (Who are 2016’s Ten Most Important Mets?), I’ve come up with final rankings for this exercise, which I’ll proceed through in countdown fashion. For each player, I’ll list my subjective predictions, based on watching nearly every inning and every plate appearance over the last few years. I’ll do my best to identify something that I think the national experts and pundits have missed.

First installment: Mets No. 10-7
Second installment: Mets No. 6-4

The table data below is pulled from FanGraphs. Steamer and ZiPS are two player projection systems with as good a track record as any.

 

Prelude

MetsToday voters overwhelmingly picked Yoenis Cespedes as the Mets’ most important position player, and five young arms as the team’s most important players overall. The feeling here in March seemed to be that the 2016 Mets would go as far as Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Jeurys Familia would take them.

Here on May 18, the Mets are on a pace for 94 wins, but things haven’t exactly gone as planned. Familia hasn’t blown a save, but also hasn’t dominated the way he did for most of 2015. DeGrom hasn’t been sharp and hasn’t been able to throw hard, seeing his whiff rate cut nearly in half. Harvey’s been awful. The two pitchers with the least experience, Matz and Syndergaard, have been leading the way. Are they better than Harvey and deGrom? Are they just hot right now? Are some of the Mets’ ace hopefuls on the upswing of their careers, while others, still only in their 20s, are already on the downswing? Are Harvey and deGrom, purportedly healthy, going to find it tomorrow and return to their 2013 and 2015 selves, respectively? Or are Matz and Syndergaard destined to decline soon too, from throwing too hard for seasons that run too long?

To provide some perspective on these questions, I’d like to look back 18 years to one of the great untold stories of pitching greatness, and the decline thereof, during my time as a baseball fan. I’d like to talk about Greg Maddux.

Best Pitcher Ever?
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Most Important Mets of 2016: No. 6-4

After reading the replies to a recent article here on MetsToday (Who are 2016’s Ten Most Important Mets?), I’ve come up with final rankings for this exercise, which I’ll proceed through in countdown fashion. For each player, I’ll list my subjective predictions, based on watching nearly every inning and every plate appearance over the last few years. I’ll do my best to identify something that I think the national experts and pundits have missed.

First installment: Mets No. 10-7
Third installment: Mets No. 3-1

The table data below is pulled from FanGraphs. Steamer and ZiPS are two player projection systems with as good a track record as any.

 

#6. Yoenis Cespedes

SourceGAVGOBPSLGOffDefWAR
Steamer129.256.303.4597.91.62.9
ZiPS140.270.314.50016.02.53.9

Was 2015 the beginning of a new level of performance, or a career year? I’ll guess the latter. At the time he caught fire for the Mets, Cespedes was 29 with roughly 2000 MLB plate appearances under his belt, and it’s unusual for hitters to make big improvements at that stage. We also saw his flaws in late September and October, as his free-swinging ways were more costly once his timing was no longer perfect. This is who he’d always been, and this is who I think he’ll be going forward: an extra-base hit machine who makes way too many outs. It’s nice to know how much damage he can do when he’s hot, but when he’s not, you can forget the “lineup presence” narrative. Pitchers are not scared of a guy they can get to chase pitches above and below the zone.

On the positive side, the Mets’ deep lineup and leadoff walk machine (Granderson) should help make Cespedes’s doubles and homers extremely productive. 100 RBI from Yoenis would not surprise me, and that’s saying something in today’s game.

Beyond that, I expect him to play more than the projection systems do (I don’t see any particular injury vulnerabilities, he generally plays under control), but I expect his defensive value to take a hit with more time in his less-adept position, center field.

My prediction:

GAVGOBPSLGWAR
150.267.311.4693.6

 
 

#5. Steven Matz

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Mets Game 7: Loss to Marlins

Marlins 2 Mets 1

Noah Syndergaard was utterly dominant, but the Mets again didn’t hit, and the Marlins did a better job of executing when they had to.

Mets game notes

A friend of mine was irate over the 8th inning match-up between Jerry Blevins and Martin Prado, which Prado won with a lead-grabbing sac fly. Personally, I don’t think Terry Collins botched that one — the likely alternative was Addison Reed vs Justin Bour, which I don’t like any better.

The mistakes I saw were elsewhere:

Mistake 1

By the time he’d retired Marcell Ozuna for the first out of the 8th inning, Jim Henderson had nothing left. However he might normally match up against Yelich and Stanton, Collins would have been wise to ignore that, as Henderson could no longer finish his pitches, with everything sailing up and away. Maybe that wasn’t obvious until a few pitches into the Yelich AB, but what was obvious was the health risk. 33-year-old guy coming off shoulder surgery throwing max effort in the cold and showing obvious fatigue? It wouldn’t surprise me if his Mets career is done before it even gets started.

Health risks aside, you certainly had to see the walk to Stanton coming, which pushed the winning run to 3rd. Better to have a pitcher (even a lesser one) who isn’t totally gassed in that spot.

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