MLB’s second half set to start

The second half of the baseball season begins in just a few hours.

I had some MLB stories in the paper earlier this week. Here are the links.

Column: Mets face long road to playoffs

Five questions for the second half: Mets

Column: Time for the Yankees to sell

Five questions for the second half: Yankees

With the trade deadline looming – it’ll be 4 p.m. on August 1 this year as July 31 is a Sunday – let’s take a look at the upcoming schedules for both local teams.

Yankees

  • 3 games at home vs. Red Sox
  • 4 games at home vs. Orioles
  • 3 games at home vs. Giants
  • 3 games on road at Astros
  • Day off
  • 3 games on road at Tampa Bay

If the Yankees have any hope of being a playoff team this year, they’re going to have to gain some ground on Baltimore, Boston and Toronto, currently 1-2-3, respectively, in the AL East. So these first seven games at home will be key. Say the Yankees go 5-2 over that span and they’d be 49-44 heading into a series with San Francisco, which has the best record in baseball.

Houston has come back to life after a sluggish start, so that won’t be an easy series either. So even with a good record here against division opponents, 3-3 against the Astros and Giants seems realistic. That puts the Yankees are 52-47 a few days before the deadline. Sitting five games over might leave the Yankees feeling better about their second half chances and could dampen the club’s likelihood of selling any players at the deadline.

But that’s the best-case scenario. So it will be interesting to watch. The Yankees won’t have any lack of suitors for Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, so they can wait until August 1 to make any trades. This stretch of games, including those final three in Tampa Bay, could determine the course of the franchise moving forward.

Mets

  • 3 games on road at Phillies
  • 3 games on road at Cubs
  • Day off
  • 3 games on road at Marlins
  • 3 games at home vs. Cardinals
  • 4 games at home vs. Rockies

The Mets are tied for second in the NL East with the Marlins at 47-41, six games behind Washington.

The good news for the team is that the second-half schedule opens in Philly. The Mets have always played well in Citizens Bank Ballpark, so at least two wins in that series are a must. Then it’s three games in Chicago against a Cubs team looking to get back on track, but the Mets have won eight straight against the Cubbies dating back to the 2015 NLCS. After a day off, it’s three big games against the Marlins as the Mets look to create a bit of separation in the NL East.

As far as the trade market, the Mets don’t have any obvious holes at the moment outside of the bullpen. A significant injury to Steven Matz or Noah Syndergaard over the next few weeks, however, might have the Mets looking at a thin starting pitching market.

Really, these next few weeks are all about keeping pace with Washington.

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Harvey to DL; shoulder problem feared

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey throws during the second inning of the baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Monday, July 4, 2016 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Mets placed Matt Harvey on the 15-day disabled list this afternoon and he will visit Dr. Robert Thompson in St. Louis on Thursday. Thompson is the director of the Washington University Center for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

It is yet unclear whether Harvey is suffering from TOS at this point. Thursday’s visit will likely provide an answer.

TOS happens when excess pressure is placed on a neurovascular bundle near the collarbone and shoulder. In layman’s terms, there are a bunch of nerves and arteries and veins that pass between bones and muscle and can get pinched from repetitive strain.

A number of pitchers have been diagnosed with TOS in the past, including Chris Carpenter, Josh Beckett, Chris Young and Matt Harrison. Surgery is sometimes required to relieve the problem and some pitchers, Young, most notably, have returned and pitched well.

So we will see how  Harvey fares tomorrow. If he is diagnosed with TOS, surgery could be in the future and his return to the majors could be delayed. On the other hand, a DL stint could be all Harvey needs to get back on track. Harvey is 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts this season. After a rough start, Harvey had five consecutive solid starts between May 30 and June 23, going at least six innings in each outing. He has gone just 3 2/3 innings in each of his last two starts and has just one double-digit strikeout performance this season.

The club announced Seth Lugo would be recalled from Triple-A.

Starting pitching depth figured to be one of the Mets’ strengths in 2016 but if Harvey is out for any significant amount of time – with Zack Wheeler still working on coming back from Tommy John surgery – the staff will be a bit thin heading into the second half.

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Reyes returns to Mets; Yankees nearing buy-sell decision

Jose Reyes takes ground balls at third base, Tuesday, July 5, 2016, in New York. Reyes, a former New York Mets shortstop, was signed by the Mets after the Colorado Rockies released him. Reyes served a 51-game suspension under Major League Baseball's new domestic violence policy. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Jose Reyes makes his return to Citi Field tonight, as the former Mets’ shortstop will play third base and lead off against Miami.

Reyes, released by the Colorado Rockies last month, will play in the majors for the first time this season. He had been suspended 52 games at the start of the 2016 season for a domestic violence incident involving his wife this past offseason.

Reyes spent nine years with the Mets, capping his career with a National League batting title in 2011 before leaving via free agency for Miami in 2012. Miami then traded Reyes to Toronto in a megadeal following the 2012 campaign. Reyes spent two and a half injury plagued seasons with the Blue Jays before he was flipped to Colorado in the Troy Tulowitzki trade last summer.

Reyes has played 20 games in the minor leagues this season with the Rockies and Mets, hitting .239 with two home runs and four RBI. With David Wright out for the season, the Mets do need some backup at third base and they’re hoping Reyes still has what it takes to be an offensive force at the big league level.

Speed was always Reyes’ biggest skill during his heyday with the Mets but that appears to be gone now at age 33. He’s hit 20 triples since leaving the Mets, a far cry from the 19 triples he hit in the 2008 season alone. Reyes led the National League in steals from 2005-07 (60, 64, 78) but stole just 54 bags between 2014-15. He’s never played a single inning at third base in the majors, so he’ll have some defensive adjustments to make.

Yet this is a low-risk move for the Mets. One, Reyes has apologized for his off-field actions. That doesn’t erase what Reyes did, but the Mets seem willing to give him a second chance. Two, the Rockies ate the remainder of his contract when he was released, so this doesn’t cost the Mets very much. If Reyes doesn’t pan out, the Mets can dump him at any time. If he does, it provides the team with some infield depth an a top-of-the-order hitter.

Just over the halfway point of the season, the Yankees are two games under .500 at 40-42. Baltimore (47 wins), Boston (45) and Toronto (46) have pretty significant leads in the AL East and the Yankees are 4 and 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card standings.

The Yankees finish up the first half of the season with two games against the White Sox in Chicago and four games in Cleveland before the All-Star break.

Even if the Yankees were to win six straight, 46-42 isn’t a position in which this team normally finds itself in mid-July.

So do the Yankees become sellers?

Increasingly, the answer looks like yes. If so, there are two players that the Yankees have to move before the trade deadline.

Carlos Beltran, a free agent at season’s end, is having a tremendous year and could be a major help to AL clubs in need of a designated hitter. Beltran has a long history as a postseason performer and would likely accept an opportunity to make another October run. With Alex Rodriguez a DH only at this point in his career, trading Beltran would free up some much-needed space on the Yankees’ 25-man roster. Outfield prospect Aaron Judge could get a chance to prove himself at the major league level over the final 75 games of the regular season. The Yankees could conceivably get a close-to-ready starting pitching prospect in return for Beltran, which would benefit the team greatly in 2017.

One other player the Yankees have to seriously consider dealing is Aroldis Chapman. A team going nowhere doesn’t need a great closer – never mind three – and Chapman, like Beltran, is a free agent after this season. The Yankees could offer Chapman a qualifying offer and get a pick at the end of the first round of the 2017 draft when Chapman signs elsewhere. The Yankees could also get much more value for Chapman in a July trade, including players who are closer to the majors. A left-handed closer who throws 100 miles per hour is going to fetch quite a haul on the trade market and the Yankees would be foolish not to entertain offers from contenders over the next few weeks. If this team is serious about rebuilding for 2017, a Chapman trade could net the Yankees a player or two who could be contributors in a hurry.

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Sanchez gets the call

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez prepares to catch the ball in the bullpen during a spring training workout Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. Photo Credit: AP / Chris O’Meara

With the Yankees’ offense sputtering and some lineup regulars out with injuries, the team has called up catching prospect Gary Sanchez for this weekend’s series against the White Sox.

With Brian McCann being one of the most durable catchers in the game, it is surprising to see Sanchez called up this early in the season with McCann at full strength. The Yankees will start Sanchez at designated hitter on Friday with White Sox southpaw Chris Sale on the mound.

It could be a short stint in the Bronx for Sanchez. Another lefty, Jose Quintana, starts on Saturday. Perhaps the Yankees call up Rob Refsnyder after that. Or Sanchez could stick around as the DH until Alex Rodriguez returns from the disabled list.

Sanchez made his major league debut at the end of 2015 and got two at-bats. He played 27 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, hitting .288 with 11 doubles, five home runs and 21 RBI. The 23-year-old catcher has displayed a good bat throughout his seven seasons in the minor leagues, hitting .275 with 94 home runs and a .339 on-base percentage in 2,518 MiLB plate appearances.

McCann is signed through the 2019 season and would seem to block Sanchez’s path to a regular job. It also doesn’t make sense to have a talented young player resigned to a backup role where he plays once a week. So perhaps Sanchez’s future in the Bronx is as a DH – or in some part-time role with McCann between the two positions.

He will get a tough test against Sale tonight but it will be interesting to see how Sanchez fares at the big league level. The Yankees sure could use a bat like his.

The Wall Street Journal recently did a story on the Mets and how the team has relied heavily upon the home run this season. Click here to read it.

Does that sound familiar, Yankees’ fans?

Entering Wednesday’s game in Los Angeles, the Mets had scored 77 of 139 runs via the home run. That’s ahead of the record pace of 53.1 percent of runs via homers set by the Blue Jays in 2010. Tampa Bay (56.5 percent), the Mets (55.4), Baltimore (53.2) and Seattle (51.4) are scoring the majority of runs via the long ball this season.

The Mets will certainly take runs any way they can get them. The question is, can the team sustain this homer-happy pace?

Yoenis Cespedes leads the team with 11 home runs. Neil Walker is second with nine and is followed by Lucas Duda (7) and Curtis Granderson (6). Noah Sydergaard (2) and Bartolo Colon (1!) have also contributed.

Walker almost certainly won’t keep up his power hitting. He’s on pace for 45.6 home runs yet his career high is 23, which he set playing in 137 games in 2014.

Cespedes is on track for 59.4 homers. His career high is 35, which he set last year between Detroit and New York.

The Mets are tied with the Cardinals with 51 home runs for first place in the majors. Mets’ hitters rank 16th with 57 doubles. So expect some of those home runs to turn into doubles and balance things out for the offense in the weeks and months to come. As long as the Mets are still getting runners on base, those doubles are still going to result in runs.

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Yankees to call up Ben Gamel

New York Yankees' Ben Gamel and Minnesota Twins' John Ryan Murphy watche Gamel's hit to right during a spring training baseball game against the Minnesota Twins on , Sunday, March 20, 2016, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

With Alex Rodriguez recently landing on the DL – pitcher James Pazos took his spot on the 25-man roster – and Brett Gardner dealing with a sore elbow, the Yankees have called up Triple-A outfielder Ben Gamel.

Gamel, who turns 24 later this month, was a 10th round pick in the 2010 draft out of Bishop Kenney, a Jacksonville, Fla. high school. Darren O’Day and Jonathan Papelbon are also Bishop Kenney grads.

In seven seasons in the minors, the left-handed hitting Gamel is a .284 hitter with 21 home runs and 269 RBI. He can play all three outfield spots, but has primarily played in left and center. He’s also drawn a decent amount of walks in his career, as his .341 on-base percentage attests.

So Gamel isn’t going to save the Yankees’ offense but he gives the team a pretty good Brett Gardner clone in the meantime. He had a solid 2015 season in Scranton, hitting .300 with 28 doubles, 14 triples and 10 homers over 129 games. He was batting .286 with one double, one triple and one homer through 23 games this season at Triple-A.

There’s no indication yet who the Yankees will swap off the roster to make this move. They could send down Pazos or another pitcher or he could plug in for Gardner should he land on the disabled list as well. The Yankees could also use this opportunity to use a Gamel-Ellsbury-Hicks outfield and use Carlos Beltran as DH until Rodriguez returns.

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Meet El Duque at a Rockland Boulders game

The Rockland Boulders host the Cuban National team for a three-game series this June and former Yankees pitcher Orlando Hernandez – “El Duque” – will be on hand for the June 24 game.

Hernandez will throw out the game’s first pitch. Fans may also purchase an El Duque premium pack for $99 that includes a ticket to the game, food and drinks and a private meet and greet with Hernandez.

Rockland opens the season on Thursday, May 19 with a 7 p.m. game against the Sussex County Miners.

Visit RocklandBoulders.com or call 845-364-0009 for more information.

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What’s wrong with the Yankees’ offense?

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, right, has a word with home plate umpire Alan Porter (64) after a called strike as Boston Red Sox's Christian Vazquez, center, throws back to the mound during the first inning of a baseball game in Boston, Sunday, May 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Through May 1 games, the Yankees are 8-15 and sit six games back in the AL East cellar.

Since April 12, the team has scored more than four runs in a game just twice – a 6-3 win on April 22 and last night in an 8-7 loss at Fenway Park.

What’s wrong with the Yankees’ offense?

Let’s take a quick look at some American League team batting stats.

The Yankees are second-to-last in runs scored with 81. Second-to-last in hits with 179. 12th out of 15 teams with a .305 on-base percentage.

Second-best with 166 strikeouts. (The Angels are first with 129).

League-average in walks drawn, double plays hit into and at-bats per home run.

The Yankees are dead last in the AL East with 51 extra base hits and a .365 team slugging percentage.

That’s your problem right there.

Through 23 games, the Yankees have hit 23 home runs, which is behind last year’s pace but right on track with seasons before that.

It’s the 25 doubles that have to be troubling to the Yankees.

The team has gotten runners on base and haven’t been able to get those big hits to bring runners home. With a relatively slow lineup, especially in the middle with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, extra base hits are the way to get those guys across the plate.

Pitching hasn’t been the team’s problem so far. Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda have allowed too many homers and CC Sabbathia isn’t the strikeout machine he once was, but the arms have been fine for the most part.

Will this team start finding those clutch hits soon? The Yankees open a three-game series in hitter-friendly Oriole Park on Tuesday and that could be a spark. The lineup will certainly have to score some runs to keep up with a hard-hitting Baltimore lineup.

The Mets had a pretty great offseason by most accounts, adding Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera to the middle infield and resigning outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

If there was one question about the Mets’ lineup heading into 2016 it was probably Michael Conforto. His postseason heroics aside, how was the young outfielder going to handle a full-time starting job?

Pretty well.

Through his first 23 games, Conforto is hitting .342 with 11 doubles, four homers and 18 RBI. He’s also drawn nine walks and struck out 18 times for a .418 on-base percentage. His offensive runs above replacement level so far is 10, which is highest on the team. Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker have 9 oRAR so far.

There is still plenty of season left to play and Conforto has really yet to hit against lefties at the big league level but Mets fans have to be pleased with the play of their young left fielder. He was a very bright spot in a month full of them so far for the Mets.

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Local family sends Robinson artifact to Cooperstown

The Baseball Hall of Fame recently posted an interesting item to its website. Here’s the link.

Jackie Robinson was a guest speaker for a trade group event in Kerhonkson in Sept. 1972, just a month before his death.

The Late Al Lonstein of Ellenville had a tape recording of a brief interview with Robinson and his family donated the tape to the Hall of Fame.

Check out the link for more on a great story.

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A rough day for Yankees, Pineda

New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda reacts during the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, April 24, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

I was driving back from the Kingston Classic today and could only hear about Michael Pineda‘s dreadful start on the radio.

That was more than enough to paint a picture of the lowest point of the Yankees’ already low 2016 season.

After recording two quick outs in the top of the first, Pineda ran into trouble against a weak-hitting Tampa Bay Rays lineup. Double, homer, single, double, homer and double in order gave the Rays an early five-run lead and that turned into an 8-1 Tampa Bay win.

Pineda wound up lasting five innings – the Yankees head out on a Texas-Boston-Baltimore road trip and didn’t want to kill the bullpen – but he gave up four home runs in the loss. The right-hander came to New York with such promise after his 2014 debut in pinstripes but has battled some injuries ever since. Now it seems he’s battling himself to stop throwing pitches over the plate that are getting hammered all over the place.

According to BrooksBaseball.net, Pineda threw 45 fastballs today and only 24 of those went for strikes. The velocity is there – he maxed out at 95.6 MPH – but the location was not. When he wasn’t missing the strike zone, he was throwing meatballs over the heart of the plate that didn’t fool the Rays one bit. He got only four whiffs on his fastball and couldn’t find the corners in a loss that drops the Yankees to 7-10 and bottom in the AL East.

It’s far from over but this is a tricky start to the season for a team that figured to score a bunch of runs and rely on its bullpen to lock things down in the late innings. Instead, the offense can’t produce runs and the starting pitching has been awfully suspect. Things won’t get any easier in the interim as the team takes on AL East-leader Baltimore and AL West-leader Texas in six of its next nine games.

If the pitching performance wasn’t enough, the Yankees scored one measly run as the offense continues to sputter.

Designated hitter Alex Rodriguez left the game with left oblique stiffness and will go for an MRI. His status will be determined after the test.

The Yankees were already playing with a 24-man roster as outfielder Aaron Hicks is out after injuring his left shoulder on Friday. Hicks hopes to return without needing a stint on the disabled list, but A-Rod’s status may force the Yankees to make a transaction before a tough road trip begins Monday in Texas.

A-Road was hitting .132 with two home runs and five RBI coming into Sunday’s game.

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Syndergaard’s remarkable start

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard. (AP photo)

Noah Syndergaard struck out eight and walked one, holding Philadelphia to five hits over seven innings last night in a 5-2 win for the Mets.

In three starts this season, he’s 2-0 with 0.99 ERA and has struck out 29 and walked four over 20 innings.

As the Mets wait for Steven Matz and Matt Harvey to settle down and for Jacob deGrom to return, Syndergaard has been every bit the ace the club hoped he would be when they acquired him in a trade from Toronto.

What sets Syndergaard apart from the pack is his ridiculous velocity. In last night’s game, Snydergaard threw 12 pitches that hit 100 MPH or more on the radar gun. Seven MLB teams have had fewer 100 MPH pitches since the start of the 2008 season.

According to the Pitch f/x data at BrooksBaseball.net, Syndergaard averages 98.73 MPH on his fastball, 98.89 on his sinker and 92.73 on his slider. Most pitchers lose five or six miles per hour from their fastball to their slider and Syndergaard is no different. But when his fastball sits near 100 MPH, a 92-93 MPH slider with some sideways movement becomes darn near impossible to hit. Syndergaard got six swings-and-misses on the slider last night and that, probably more than anything else, will be key to his success the rest of the season.

The Yankees, 5-6 after the first two weeks of the season, start a three-game series against Oakland at the Stadium tonight.

It’s been a season of highs and lows for the Yankees so far. The bullpen has been fantastic but the starting pitching, aside from Masahiro Tanaka, has been sub-par.

The lineup has some really right spots in Brian McCann, Starlin Castro, Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran and some other players who are off to a sluggish start: Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury and Alex Rodriguez.

Joe Girardi has tweaked the lineup around recently and it will be interesting to watch to see this week if he can find a combination that clicks.

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