As Mets fans have come to realize, Jeurys Familia has a habit of making the ninth inning a little too interesting. Baseball’s resident escape artist has been sidestepping and ducking for cover all season, narrowly avoiding disaster at each turn. Though often stressful, Familia’s seat-of-his-pants approach to closing games has mostly worked in the Mets’ favor this year. The 26-year-old entered Wednesday’s action having converted 52 consecutive saves, the third-longest streak in MLB history behind Tom Gordon (54 games) and Eric Gagne (84).
But as life has taught us, all good things must come to an end. To quote the wise baseball philosopher Kenny Powers from HBO’s Eastbound and Down, “sometimes when you bring the thunder, you get lost in the storm.” Familia’s high-wire act finally went awry Wednesday against the Cardinals, resulting in his first blown save (not including the postseason) since July 30 of last season. Instead of hopping back on the horse Thursday against the Rockies, the implosion continued as Familia dropped his second straight save.
Thursday’s meltdown was even more cringe-worthy than Wednesday’s debacle. Familia allowed the first three hitters to reach on a walk and two singles. The second single came on a bunt from Daniel Descalso that miraculously stayed fair. It looked like Familia might get out of it after fanning Tony Wolters for the first out of the frame. But those hopes were quickly dashed when Cristhian Adames reached on a rare fielding error by first baseman James Loney. Now tasked with preserving a 1-1 tie, Familia’s bad luck continued with a wild pitch to Charlie Blackmon. David Dahl, who was playing in just his third major league game, came across to give Colorado a 2-1 advantage. Familia intentionally walked Blackmon and was soon lifted for right-hander Hansel (not that Hansel) Robles.
If Thursday wasn’t rock bottom for Familia, he can’t be too far from it. Over the last 48 hours, the right-hander has watched his ERA soar from 2.47 to 3.14 while letting his WHIP balloon to 1.36. It’s safe to assume Familia won’t be called upon if the Mets enter Friday’s game with a lead in the ninth inning. The All-Star closer has thrown 69 pitches over the last three days including 26 in Thursday’s collapse.
Hindsight is 20/20 but truthfully, Familia shouldn’t have even been available for Thursday’s contest. Eager to correct his mistakes from Wednesday, Familia talked his way into pitching for a third consecutive day. It’s not the first time manager Terry Collins has been coerced into letting a star pitcher go past the point of no return. In Game 5 of the World Series last year, Matt Harvey begged to go out for the ninth inning. That’s when the wheels fell off for Harvey as the Royals mounted a furious comeback that culminated in Kansas City’s first World Series title in 30 years.
Putting the game in Familia’s tired hands was a questionable tactic. So was Collins’ decision to pinch-hit for Jacob deGrom in the seventh inning. DeGrom had been thoroughly dominating the Rockies all afternoon and was only at 97 pitches when Collins pulled him for Yoenis Cespedes. With runners on second and third and no outs, it was obvious the Rockies were going to intentionally walk Cespedes (which they did), essentially wasting the Mets’ best hitter while also taking deGrom out of the equation. It’s not Collins’ fault the Mets weren’t able to score with no outs and the bases loaded, but it’s easy to wonder how the game would have played out had deGrom stayed in for another inning.
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It may feel like the Mets are in trouble—they’ve plunged to third in the NL East and are only five games over .500—but they’re actually one game ahead of their pace from last season. Of course, the Mets exploded over the last two months of 2015, riding Cespedes and his scorching hot bat to a division title. Acquiring Cespedes from Detroit at the trade deadline was the boost New York needed to make a postseason push. That quick fix might not exist in this year’s trade market but that won’t stop GM Sandy Alderson from examining every possibility.
One player the Mets have been linked to and are still discussing is Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. With a roster full of spare parts and limited talent, the Brewers would be wise to follow the Padres’ lead and begin the rebuilding process. The Padres have made everyone available except Wil Myers and have already dealt away Drew Pomeranz, James Shields, Fernando Rodney and Melvin Upton while landing several top-shelf prospects.
The Brewers have similar trade assets (Ryan Braun and Will Smith to name a couple), though Lucroy’s name has come up the most frequently. Teams are always looking for catchers who can hit and Lucroy has been the best in the business this year with 13 HR, 50 RBI and a .300 batting average. The Astros, Indians, Mets, Rangers and Red Sox are just a few of the many teams that have kept tabs on Lucroy throughout the season.
The Mets have kept an open dialogue with Milwaukee and even made them an offer last week. New York proposed a trade that would send Lucroy to the Mets for Travis d’Arnaud, which the Brewers rightfully scoffed at. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said the sides were still talking on Thursday, though no deal is imminent.
Cleveland has emerged as the Mets’ main competitor in the Lucroy sweepstakes. The Indians are looking to fill the void left by Yan Gomes, who is tending to a separated shoulder that could sideline him through the regular season. Gomes wasn’t giving Cleveland much before his injury (.165 AVG in 249 at-bats), so perhaps the Indians feel they can get by with Chris Gimenez and Roberto Perez behind the plate. But if the Indians want to cement themselves as legitimate World Series contenders, acquiring the best offensive catcher in baseball wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
Lucroy is the priority but the Mets might also want to see what outfielders are available. Brandon Nimmo was called up from Triple-A Las Vegas on Thursday in anticipation of Juan Lagares’ return to the disabled list. Lagares has been playing through a torn ligament in his left thumb but his play has suffered (.170 AVG this month) and it’s clear that he’s in pain. At this point, surgery might be his best option. Meanwhile Cespedes is still nursing a quad injury and has been limited to playing left field when healthy. Even Jose Reyes, who has been filling in for David Wright (neck surgery) at third base, is banged up. He missed Thursday’s game with a strained intercostal muscle and could eventually join Lagares on the disabled list.
The Mets are still only six and a half games behind Washington for first place in the NL East. But with injuries mounting, the team might need a life preserver to stay afloat.
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AL Quick Hits: Chris Sale returned to the mound Thursday following a five-game suspension for destroying the team’s uncomfortable (Sale’s words, not mine) throwback jerseys last Saturday. The left-hander scattered six hits and two runs over six innings in a loss to the Cubs … This will wrinkle your brain. Thursday’s pitching matchup featured Sale against John Lackey. Before Thursday, both pitchers had thrown exactly 2,016 pitches this year, which also happens to be 2016 … Craig Kimbrel (knee) is scheduled to make a minor league rehab appearance on Saturday. If that goes well, he’ll return to the Red Sox bullpen on Monday. Brad Ziegler has been filling in at closer for Boston … The Angels protested Wednesday’s game against Kansas City while complaining that Raul Mondesi should have been out for interference on a play at first base. MLB reviewed the play and promptly denied the Angels’ protest … Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker is generating some trade interest. A number of scouts will be on hand for his bullpen session Friday at Wrigley Field. Walker is on the disabled list with right foot tendinitis but should be back in about a week or so … Luke Hochevar is battling symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome. Matt Harvey needed season-ending surgery to combat his TOS symptoms and Hochevar could be headed down the same road. He’ll visit Texas-based Dr. George Pearl to map out a treatment plan … Josh Hamilton expects to be fully recovered from knee surgery by the start of spring training next year. Injuries have limited the former MVP to 139 games since the start of 2014.
NL Quick Hits: The Giants beefed up their infield by acquiring All-Star shortstop Eduardo Nunez from Minnesota on Thursday night. The Twins are getting left-hander Adalberto Mejia, who was No. 91 in Baseball America’s latest prospect rankings … Joe Panik returned to the Giants’ lineup Thursday after missing a month with a concussion. He went 0-for-4 while batting third for the first time all season … Hunter Pence (hamstring) could return to the Giants’ lineup as soon as Saturday. It looks like he’s ready to go after homering in three of his last five rehab appearances … The Marlins are determined to acquire at least one starting pitcher before Monday’s trade deadline. They’ve reportedly checked in on Andrew Cashner, Jeremy Hellickson and Wade Miley and appear to be in the lead for Cashner along with the Rangers, who are also pursuing a starting pitcher … Ichiro Suzuki doubled in a pinch-hitting appearance Thursday against the Cardinals. He’s now just two hits away from 3,000 … Dee Gordon returned to the Marlins’ lineup Thursday following an 80-game PED suspension. He went 0-for-4 with a walk … Aledmys Diaz and Jose Fernandez were neighbors growing up on 8th Street in Santa Clara, Cuba. Thursday marked their first big league encounter. Diaz won the battle by ripping a home run off Fernandez in the third inning … Julio Teheran felt good after his side session and is now on track to pitch Saturday against the Phillies. Teheran had his start pushed back after suffering a strained lat about a week ago … Homer Bailey (Tommy John surgery) was activated from the disabled list on Thursday. He’ll make his season debut Sunday against the Padres.