The Mets’ Terry Collins and most of his players were baptized into playoff baseball last night in Los Angeles. From Collins to deGrom to Murphy to Familia, playoff virgins made successful debuts. But it was playoff veteran David Wright who showed us the blueprint with his first at-bat, a 12-pitch walk. The Mets were going to make Kershaw work. Wright later delivered the big blow as well, but playoff rookies will need to continue to contribute, and that includes Terry Collins.
Collins and his coaches deserve credit for a solid game plan, which was executed as well as could be expected. They got Kershaw out of the game and Wright made the pen pay. Collins also deserves credit for letting deGrom throw 121 pitches to get through 7 innings. Collins revealed in his post-game interview exactly what we knew was going through his head in the heat of battle – deGrom is throwing too many pitches. Still, he overcame the urge to baby his ace and managed like it’s the playoffs, not the regular season. Phew.
Game 1 went about as well as could be expected with the Mets on the road and facing one of the best pitchers on the planet. The Mets will certainly face more adversity in their playoff run and even in game 1 there were hiccups that begged for Terry Collins to show he can transition his own game from regular season to playoffs. So how did TC do?
The handling of deGrom is an encouraging sign. Watching Jake Arrieta go the distance against the Pirates in the wild card game, or seeing Collin McHugh come back out after a rain delay for Houston, you see managers adapting their game management for the playoffs. Can Terry Collins continue to make the same adjustments from batter to batter and game to game?
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Michael Cuddyer presents Collins with just such a challenge. Cuddyer doesn’t appear to have the athleticism or sense of direction to play left field. He needed to stop and ask the ball boy evacuating with his folding chair for directions while botching his second fly ball, as Met fans loudly called for Michael Conforto. It’s easy to second-guess the decision to start Cuddyer over Conforto, but more importantly Collins now has to address the situation in front of him.
Collins needs to manage with urgency, and not let stubborn loyalty to a veteran or adherence to the traditional lefty-righty dynamic cloud his judgment. Conforto has to be the choice in left field. Juan Lagares is also an option, but likely more valuable as a defense replacement in either left or center as he has been down the stretch.
Cuddyer is a career .355 pinch hitter, .306 in 2015. That should be his role for the remainder of the NLDS. He’s a right-handed bat off the bench, but his defense otherwise limits his role. Collins might have been wise to make the move earlier in game 1, but he certainly has to make it starting with game 2 and moving forward.
Tyler Clippard presents another challenge to Collins’ traditional ways. Clippard looks like a veteran who is trying everything he can to adapt his game and be effective with whatever stuff he has left at the end of a long season. The Mets don’t have the luxury of letting him do that on the fly. Addison Reed was more effective down the stretch, is also more effective against lefties than righties and deserves to get a chance.
Clippard will still have to contribute in these playoffs given the lack of bullpen depth, and it’s certainly possible he pulls it together, but Collins has to go with the hot hand in his pen. Clippard has had some great moments for the Mets, but it’s obvious that he’s scuffling right now and right now is all that matters. Collins should not hesitate to turn to Reed or even the precocious Hansel Robles.
Looking ahead to a possible game four, Steven Matz will apparently make his post-season debut. Matz has shown flashes of brilliance, but he’s also a rookie who has had ailments slow him down, most recently back issues. His leash should be short. Bartolo Colon is on the roster as a reliever, but should be viewed as a pseudo-starter for game 4. Matz should not be allowed to work through any issues. If he falters, Collins should give him the hook, even if that happens in the first or second inning.
The early signs are positive for Terry Collins. He let deGrom go deep and he was rewarded. On the other hand, he took a shot with Cuddyer and it didn’t work, but he went to his bench in game 1 and has a chance to right the Cuddyer wrong going forward.
Not every move is going to work, but Collins has to limit the damage when they do backfire. Much has been made of the Mets depth after their second half moves, but it’s only an asset if Collins doesn’t hesitate to use it. Everything in the playoffs speeds up, including the in-game decisions a manager has to make. Manage with urgency, Terry.