Mets manager, Terry Collins, is a baseball lifer currently enjoying the magic carpet ride that has led him to his first World Series in over 40 years of being involved in the game. You have to respect that. The man put in his time, worked and finally got to the granddaddy of ’em all. That’s a feel-good story.
He’s also done it with a group of players that – up until the July 31st trade deadline – most outsiders would have pegged as a second division team who were only in the playoff hunt due to an even better than expected starting rotation and the underperformance of other teams like the heavily-favored Washington Nationals and the expected-to-be-not-even-remotely-as-shitty-as-they-were Miami Marlins.
Although Collins got some reinforcements at the deadline, he still had to push some of the right buttons to keep the team afloat until that point and to keep them in the right direction heading down the stretch and into the postseason. Most would say he’s done a damn fine job of leading the team with some publications even anointing him their NL Manager of the Year.
I’ve had problems with Collins all season, however. Actually, even longer than that. Those can all be found and outlined in prior writings over at DOINow.com (which is now pretty exclusively a New York Rangers blog forcing the creating of this wonderful web home you’re currently reading), but all of Terry’s deficiencies were on full display last night in the most important game of his career.
For starters, his starting lineup left a lot to be desired. Collins chose to start utility-man Kelly Johnson, in the DH spot in lieu of rookie, Michael Conforto. Conforto did get the start in left field which meant that Yoenis Cespedes would play center and the best defender on the team, Juan Lagares, was relegated to the bench in a ballpark that plays big against a team that is known for putting the ball in play.
We can argue about how good or bad a defender Conforto is, but the fact of the matter is that he’s on this team for his bat and the Mets are better defensively with Lagares in center and Cespedes in left. It was a no-brainer that the manager chose to pass on and it blew up in his face on the very first pitch when Alcides Escobar hit what should have been a routine fly ball that Cespedes and Conforto both laid off and turned into a game-opening inside-the-park home run. It’s a play easily made by Lagares who has terrific range and is not shy about taking charge and calling of his other fielders when he knows he has a play.
Lagares did end up getting into the game after the Mets had gone up 3-1 and had a fine game offensively with a couple hits, a stolen base and being single-handedly responsible for the Mets fourth run that put them in a position to win the game in regulation.
But that wouldn’t be Collins’ only miscue. Throughout his tenure with the team, he’s shown a favoring hand to his veterans. He’s done this at the expense of developing young players and at the expense of playing better players. Last night was hopefully the last we see in this series of Michael Cuddyer.
Cuddyer has had an incredibly solid major-league career that could have been even better if not for a series of long injuries causing him to miss extensive periods of time, but at this point in his career, it’s hard justifying his spot on the World Series roster.
He looks old, slow and broken. In game one of the NLDS against the Dodgers, he misplayed two fly balls into hits for LA that cost Jacob deGrom somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 extra pitches in the game. In addition to his lack of mobility in the field, his bat speed has completely gone the way of that ET Atari game that ended up buried in a New Mexico landfill.
With Juan Uribe returning to the roster, the Mets elected to remove Matt Reynolds who had replaced Ruben Tejada after the collision with Chase Utley in the NLDS. Reynolds has yet to get any time in a Major League game, but he is a legitimate shortstop and would have been the replacement should anything happen to Wilmer Flores or for late-inning defensive replacements.
After watching Cuddyer strike out three times in embarrassing fashion, you have to wonder about how smart it was to leave your only real backup shortstop option at home while “Cadaver” continues to bury himself.
Which brings us back to Uribe. If he’s healthy, he needs to be here and on this roster and plugged in when needed. He’s got energy, he’s a proven winner and things seem to happen around him. Which is why you have to question why it wasn’t Uribe used in that spot instead of Cuddyer last night. Cuddyer has not looked like anything more than washed-up in months now. Is Uribe not fully healthy? Because if not, Reynolds should still have been here. But if he is, then he’s the one who should have been getting those at-bats against lefty, Danny Duffy.
Even so, with both Lagares and Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the roster, the need for Cuddyer is non-existent. The need for a late-inning defensive replacement at shortstop against a Kansas City team that is proficient at putting the ball in play should have taken precedence over a show of respect to an aging veteran who offers nothing to the team at this point.
Did either of these moves win or lose the game? On the singular level, we don’t know. And we never will. But this is far from the time to be giving pity at-bats to someone who doesn’t deserve them.
In 1986, Boston Red Sox manager, John McNamara, replaced his aging first-baseman all season late in the game to insert Dave Stapleton a solid backup who provided added mobility and defensive skill at that point. In game six of the World Series, McNamara went away from what had worked all season because he wanted his veteran first-baseman to be able to celebrate on the field when the Sox clinched the Series title. Bill Buckner did indeed get to stay on the field, but he’s still waiting to celebrate that championship.
The Mets haven’t face a team as complete as this Royals team during the postseason and the manager and coaching staff need to realize that they have to be able to catch and run and hit instead of relying on the starters to strike out a dozen a game and waiting for Daniel Murphy to hit a home run.
The game had changed, but for Terry Collins, the gameplan remained very much the same in game one and it may have cost him a run or two. And that run or two may have been the game.
At the end of the day, players need to play and Collins didn’t make Familia’s pitch to Alex Gordon come in fat and flat, nor did he tell Matt Harvey to blow a two-run lead in the sixth, but in what is now a short season, you have to maximize your earnings when the opportunities arise and Collins failed to do so in the opener.