While some folks tortured themselves watching a political carnival in Cleveland, the Mets’ defense was a circus in Chicago. Rene Rivera and Jeurys Familia played ringmaster. Mets 2, Cubs 1.
Discussion and Analysis
On August 2, 2015, Yoenis Cespedes told Terry Collins that he prefers playing center field to a corner spot. Less than a year later, Cespedes told Collins that he’d prefer playing left field going forward because of his injured quad. It’s admirable that Cespedes wants to get back in the lineup after missing time around the All-Star break, but he’s clearly compromised; Cespedes wasn’t close to catching a second-inning fly ball hit to left center with an obscene amount of hang time. Cespedes’s newly-expressed preference has detrimental cascade effects on the rest of the Mets’ outfield.
The repercussions are striking, especially against a dominant right-handed pitcher like Jake Arrieta. Terry rarely starts Juan Lagares and his career .289 OBP against righties, so last night center field was manned by Curtis Granderson. In the first inning, Granderson took a step back on a first-inning line drive that dropped in front of him (and that Lagares catches so often it’s his signature play). Granderson in right field is a plus defender — albeit with a poor arm. In center field, he’s overmatched. And that leads to Michael Conforto in right, making his first start since his June demotion to Las Vegas and his first-ever career start on that side of the outfield.
In the third inning, Cubs rookie Willson Contreras hit a line drive to right-center. It was the kind of hit Curtis Granderson cuts off before it rolls to the wall. Conforto took a strange angle and couldn’t get there in time, so Contreras reached second. Against the next batter, Jason Heyward, Noah Syndergaard threw a 59-foot slider that Rene Rivera blocked but did not smother. When Contreras took off for third, Rivera picked up the ball, spun and threw a frozen rope into left field. Contreras walked home with the first run of the game. And thus Syndergaard suffered an unearned run — his only run allowed in the game — because Yoenis Cespedes is in the starting lineup at less than 100%.
Giving credit where it’s due, Conforto and Rivera combined for a key play to keep the Cubs at one run in the fourth inning. After a two-out Jake Arrieta double, Tommy La Stella singled to right field. Conforto fielded the ball cleanly and came up with a strong throw to the plate. The home plate umpire called Arrieta safe, but replay showed that Rivera made a sweet swipe to tag Arrieta. Good defense giveth…
…And it taketh away. In the ninth inning, after Jeurys Familia had walked the first two Cubs batters on eight consecutive balls, the Cubs sent up Javier Baez to sacrifice. Baez chopped a bunt along the third-base line. The ball was slicing foul, but Jose Reyes barehanded the ball and tried to get Baez at first. It was a terrible decision even if Reyes’ throw had been accurate enough to get Baez. It wasn’t, and the bases were loaded.
Familia got the Cubs’ next batter, Matt Sczur, to ground into a fielder’s choice, Loney to Rivera. Kris Bryant then hit a hot shot right at Reyes, who sidearmed a bullet to second. Neil Walker executed a brilliant pivot, and James Loney made yet another obscene scoop to complete the double play. Yes, Familia escaped a bases-loaded, no-out situation of his own creation to keep his saves streak intact. Crazy game.
The Mets broke through against Arrieta in the sixth inning when Jose Reyes turned on a fastball, pulling it past Kris Bryant all the way to the right field wall. Reyes ran as hard as he could out of the batter’s box, thinking triple all the way. Vintage 2006 Reyes might have had a standing triple. 2016 Reyes barely beat the throw, but it was still a leadoff triple. Curtis Granderson drove him home with a sacrifice fly.
In addition to preserving the tie with his swipe tag at the plate, Rene Rivera was also the Mets’ hitting hero. He singled three times, the last of which drove in the go-ahead run in the ninth off Cubs closer Hector Rondon.
Pitching for the first time in 11 days, Syndergaard survived his team’s lack of defensive support by throwing 105 pitches over 5 2/3 innings, allowing seven “hits” and striking out seven, including the last man he faced. Hansel Robles threw two innings of one-hit ball, as he is wont to do, and earned the pitcher-win.
Hansel Robles to pitch all future #Mets innings until further notice.
— Scott D. Simon (@scottdsimon) July 20, 2016
“It’s a pitcher’s wind.” — Gary
“The feet of Syndergaard are getting better and better.” — Ron, commenting on Thor’s pickoff move.
“Tonight, the Mets’ outfield defense is about as compromised as it could possibly be.” — Gary
The Mets’ barely overcame their plan of playing as many guys out of position as possible. Today’s matinee features Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ best pitcher (by ERA) taking on Bartolo Colon, the Mets’ best pitcher (by age, weight, circumference, etc.).
Photo Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports