Month: August 2019

New York Giants Get Down to 53, Cutting Quarterback Kyle Lauletta

By Scott Mandel,

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Thirty-two players were released (including seven who were waived/injured) and five players were placed on injured reserve today as the Giants reduced their roster from 89 to the NFL regular-season limit of 53 players.

Those waived included second-year quarterback Kyle Lauletta and one of the team’s 2019 draft choices, defensive tackle Chris Slayton, who was selected in the seventh round. 

Also released were running back Jon Hilliman; wide receivers TJ Jones and Reggie White, Jr.; tight ends C.J. Conrad and Jake Powell; offensive linemen Paul Adams, Evan Brown, Malcolm Bunche and James O’Hagan; defensive linemen Freedom Akinmoladun, Jake Ceresna, John Jenkins; linebackers Joey Alfieri, Jake Carlock, Terrence Fede, Avery Moss and Josiah Tauaefa; defensive backs Tenny Adewusi and Terrell Sinkfield, Jr.; punter Johnny Townsend; and long snapper Taybor Pepper.

Waived/injured were: linebacker Keion Adams (knee), defensive back Kenny Ladler (hamstring), tackle Victor Salako (shoulder), defensive back Henre’ Toliver (ankle), wide receiver Alex Wesley (foot/ankle), tackle Chad Wheeler (back) and defensive back Ronald Zamort (ankle).

Defensive back Kamrin Moore, who did not count against the 89, was waived off the commissioner’s exempt list.

NFL: Preseason-New York Giants at New England Patriots
Lauletta, Dave Gettleman’s fourth round draft pick in 2018, was cut today

Those placed on injured reserve were linebacker Jonathan Anderson (knee), tackle (2019 seventh-round draft choice) George Asafo-Adjei (concussion), wide receiver Brittan Golden (calf), tight end Scott Simonson (ankle) and running back Rod Smith (adductor).

In addition, wide receiver Golden Tate III has begun serving his four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances. He is eligible to return to the team on Sept. 30.

“We are in the second year of building the kind of team we all want,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “The process never stops. The communication between (general manager) Dave (Gettleman) and I and our coaches and Dave’s staff is really good. The group of 90 that was with us through the spring and summer bought into what we are building here and created the kind of competition that makes for tough decisions.

“For the players who were released today, we thank them for their effort and commitment, and we told them to stay ready because you never know when your next opportunity will come, either here or somewhere else.”

Because of the position he plays, perhaps the most prominent released player is Lauletta, a fourth-round draft choice last year who threw the game-winning touchdown pass as time expired in the preseason finale in New England Thursday night. He played in two games and threw five passes as a rookie. The Giants currently have three quarterbacks: starter Eli Manning, first-round draft choice Daniel Jones and four-year veteran Alex Tanney, who was with the team the entire 2018 season, though he didn’t play in a game.

“I said it last week, it’s a credit to Kyle the way he came in here every day and worked to get better and competed after we drafted Daniel,” Shurmur said. “Not every guy would respond that way, and Kyle improved as a result. So there was a lot to consider in that decision, but ultimately we decided to go with Tanney.”

The roster today – which could well change as soon as tomorrow – includes 25 players on both offense and defense, and three on special teams.

Eight of the team’s 10 selections from the 2019 draft are on the current roster: Jones; defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence; defensive backs DeAndre Baker, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine; linebackers Oshane Ximines and Ryan Connelly; and wide receiver Darius Slayton.

The other newcomers to the team include safeties Antoine Bethea and Jabrill Peppers; defensive lineman Olsen Pierre; linebacker Markus Golden; and offensive linemen Chad Slade and Nick Gates (who spent his entire 2018 rookie season on injured reserve).

Not one rookie free agent is on the current roster.

Notable among the players who are not on the 53 are Wheeler, who started 14 games at right tackle last season and 19 in his two years with the team and Moss, a fifth-round draft choice in 2017 who spent all of last season on the practice squad both of whom were waived. As well as two of the players on injured reserve: Simonson, who played in every game with four starts in 2018 and caught nine passes, including his first career touchdown and Smith, who rushed for 359 yards and five touchdowns the previous two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Giants’ roster following the moves today:

Offense (25)

QB (3): Eli Manning, Daniel Jones (R), Alex Tanney

RB (4): Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Jr., Paul Perkins, Eli Penny

WR: (6): Sterling Shepard, Bennie Fowler III, Russell Shepard, Cody Latimer, Darius Slayton (R), Alonzo Russell

TE (3): Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Garrett Dickerson

C/G (4): Will Hernandez, Kevin Zeitler, Jon Halapio, Spencer Pulley

T (5): Nate Solder, Mike Remmers, Nick Gates, Chad Slade, Brian Mihalik

Defense (25)

DL (5): Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, Dexter Lawrence II (R), Olsen Pierre, RJ McIntosh

OLB (4): Kareem Martin, Lorenzo Carter, Markus Golden, Oshane Ximines (R)

ILB (5): Alec Ogletree, Tae Davis, Ryan Connelly (R), B.J. Goodson, Nate Stupar

DB (11) Janoris Jenkins, DeAndre Baker (R), Jabrill Peppers, Antoine Bethea, Grant Haley, Antonio Hamilton, Michael Thomas, Julian Love (R), Corey Ballentine (R), Sean Chandler, Sam Beal

Special Teams (3)

K: Aldrick Rosas

P: Riley Dixon

S: Zak DeOssie

Mets’ Tease of a Season Was Great While It Lasted

By Scott Mandel,

This is a baseball obituary we are filing today. Obituaries are usually sad as we say goodbye to those who have left us but also, they can be happy remembrances of what was or used to be.

This will be a happy remembrance of the 2019 New York Mets. Of what was, during a four week stretch when, like our favorite uncle, the Mets made us smile and laugh and cheer with funny quips or jokes. And, we looked forward to more of the same.

Mets Success was short-lived

The Mets weren’t funny or a joke, but, like Uncle Joe, they teased and tickled us till we cried uncle. Yet, we wanted more teasing and tickling because it was fun. We knew, eventually, Uncle Joe would be putting on his coat and going back to wherever he lived, but, we enjoyed our five minutes of sheer fun with him.

That was the 2019 New York Mets. Uncle Joe.

Last night’s loss to the Chicago Cubs, their third in a row at Citi Field to the one team they could least afford to lose to, was not quite the final nail in the coffin. But, together with the previous three-game sweep they suffered at the hands of their division rivals Atlanta Braves, this current six-game home losing streak has brought Uncle, er, the Mets to the precipice of it being time to put on their coats and go home.

The next time we’ll get to see our teasing, funny Uncle Joe will be in November, at family Thanksgiving. The next time we see the Mets, with that fun-loving, teasing look in their eye will be two months after Thanksgiving, in the spring of 2020 down in Florida. We hope everyone shows up at our next family gathering in the sun but there always seems to be a missing cousin or aunt, or, even a third baseman, a pitcher, or, a manager from the gang. And, though we always miss them, we realize we must move on.

Change is inevitable, within fun-loving, teasing families and also within ballclubs. Someone always moves far away and just can’t get back for our traditional family events we so look forward to every winter.

Related image
Joe Maddon is in final year of contract with the Cubs. Rumors are flying he will be fired if they don’t make deep playoff run

Potential New Additions to 2020

Who knows? Maybe, this winter, we will meet new friends and family. In the case of the teasing Mets, we may even rediscover new members with names like Cespedes, or Jed Lawrie, or Joe Girardi or even Joe Madden (if Girardi decides he can’t afford the trip down to Florida). In the case of the two Joes, we’ll really have an Uncle Joe to hang out with, won’t we?

Invariably, at the tail end of our northern winter season, Mother Nature can be just like the Mets and Uncle Joe, teasing us when she dumps another foot of snow on our cities in February or March. And, like the Mets 2019 season, all we can say is, “would you look at that, another tease.”

Teasing seems to be a repetitive fact of life as well as in sports.

RIP, 2019 New York Mets.

Predicting NFL’s Next Superstars

Running back: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Replacing: Todd GurleyLos Angeles Rams

We don’t need Barry Sanders to tell us that Barkley has “potential for all-time greatness.” The NFL’s most physically gifted tailback forced 71 missed tackles last season, per Pro Football Focus. No other player at his position forced more than 60. On his best days, Barkley seems to combine Bo Jackson’s speed, Walter Payton’s determination, Marshawn Lynch‘s power and Marshall Faulk’s receiving ability. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft accounted for 33.5 percent of his team’s yards from scrimmage, second only to Ezekiel Elliott‘s figure of 34.2. In Barkley’s case, that number stands to rise with an improved offensive line and the absence of ultra-productive wideout Odell Beckham Jr. Speaking of whom …

Will Daniel Jones supplant Eli Manning on Giants

Wide receiver: Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns

Replacing: Tyreek HillKansas City Chiefs

After spending a half-decade concealing the blemishes of Eli Manning‘s decline phase, Beckham landed in Cleveland with the quarterback of his dreams. Whereas Manning’s diminishing deep ball has too often limited the Giants‘ aerial attack to a series of slants and screens over the past few years, Baker Mayfield broke the rookie record for touchdown passes by burning opposing secondaries with pinpoint downfield strikes. From the time Freddie Kitchens took over play-calling duties in Week 9 through the end of the regular season, Mayfield led all NFL quarterbacks in completion rate (55.9), yards per attempt (19.3) and touchdowns (7) on deep passes (20-plus yards), according to Next Gen Stats. Meanwhile, Beckham’s average of 2.6 yards of separation from the nearest defender leads all receivers since 2016. In other words, this is a match made in heaven — perhaps even of 2007 Tom Brady-Randy Moss proportions. We have the most talented big-play receiver in football joining forces with an exceptionally accurate, strong-armed passer with the aggressiveness to carpet-bomb the furthest reaches of the field.

Edge rusher: Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns

Replacing: J.J. WattHouston Texans

The formerly downtrodden Browns are suddenly awash in blue-chip talent. A textbook havoc-wreaking 4-3 defensive end, Garrett won his play-to-play battles to the tune of 66 QB pressures, per Next Gen Stats, behind only Aaron Donald (73) and Dee Ford (69) last season. Now that blockers have to contend with Olivier Vernon on the other end and Sheldon Richardson alongside earth-mover Larry Ogunjobi in the middle, Garrett figures to face fewer double-teams. From Garrett’s rookie year to his second go-around, his sacks-per-game percentage increased from 63.6 to 84.4. A similar spike this season could see him making a serious run at Aaron Donald‘s sack crown.

Cornerback: Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars

Replacing: Kyle FullerChicago Bears

Ramsey was never right last season, bickering with the press in training camp and battling through ankle and knee injuries once the games began. Hall of Fame careers are not always ascendant. The year before, Ramsey was arguably the most complete corner in football, teaming with A.J. Bouye in a shutdown secondary. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2016 draft appeared to be on his way to a Patrick Peterson-like string of All-Pro selections and perennial contention for Defensive Player of the Year honors. Now that Jacksonville has added promising rookie Josh Allen to an already-formidable front four, Ramsey’s job should be easier than ever in a bounce-back season.

Safety: Jamal Adams, New York Jets

Replacing: Derwin JamesLos Angeles Chargers

Already the leader of Gang Green’s defense entering his third season, Adams earned one of the starting safety spots on my 2018 eye-test All-Pro squad. Now that versatile Chargers star Derwin James is sidelined following foot surgery, Adams is the natural choice to force his way onto The AP’s official list. Rivaling James as a terror at the line of scrimmage, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2017 draft led all safeties with 22 combined sacks, hits and hurries, per Pro Football Focus. Considering new coordinator Gregg Williams’ history as a blitz-happy button-pusher, Adams will be wrecking more backfields in 2019.

Defensive back: Earl Thomas, Baltimore Ravens

Replacing: Desmond KingLos Angeles Chargers

Three years ago, the Ravens signed 31-year-old Eric Weddle to stabilize their secondary. The longtime Chargers stalwart went on to earn three consecutive Pro Bowl berths before Baltimore opted for an upgrade. Counting on lightning to strike twice with a savvy veteran safety, the Ravens brought in the best of his generation in 30-year-old Earl Thomas, who earned first-team All-Pro honors in three straight seasons from 2012 through ’14. On pace for career highs in interceptions and passes defensed, Thomas proved he had plenty of playmaking ability left in the tank before breaking his leg in Week 4. If Ravens coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale still has the top combination of scheme and talent in the league, as CBS analyst Tony Romo opined in Week 13 of last season, Thomas will be the centerpiece of the defense.

Interior defensive lineman: Shelby Harris, Denver Broncos

Replacing: Fletcher CoxPhiladelphia Eagles

Sometimes the million-to-one shot pays off. This projection is a considerable reach, a flight of fancy based on Harris’ flashes of dominance, Vic Fangio’s defensive brilliance and Pro Bowl defensive lineman Akiem Hicks‘ epiphany in Chicago. Hicks showed his own flashes of disruption with the Saints and Patriots before Fangio helped flip the switch that transformed him into one of the most productive interior defenders in the league. Albeit in part-time duty, Harris jumped off the film as a menace against the run as well as the pass in 2018. He picked up where he left off last season in the Broncos‘ “Monday Night Football” preseason Week 2 clash with 49ers, batting down a pass on each of the first two series. If Fangio turns him loose and doubles his snap count with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb bringing constant heat off the edge, this could be a fearsome trio at the heart of a rejuvenated Denver defense.

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Mets Needed Thor to Come Up Big, Now Tonight is a Must-Win Game

By Scott Mandel –

Mets’ Noah Syndergaard on nightmarish start: ‘When you get your s— kicked in like that, it gives you a different perspective’

Noah reflects on bad start00:01:40Noah Syndergaard reflected on the 10-7 loss and said he let the team down and got his “S— kicked in”.

The Mets needed Noah Syndergaard at his best on Wednesday in a crucial game against the Cubs, but the right-hander’s outing was nothing but disastrous. 

Syndergaard, who had dazzled in his eight second half starts, was the victim of some poor defense and poor luck in the Cubs’ six-run first, but he also left hittable pitches in the zone. 

Jason Heyward went down swinging to start the inning, but things quickly went downhill from there. After Nicholas Castellanos was hit by a pitch and Kris Bryantsingled, Javier Baez grounded a slow-roller to short that Amed Rosario underhanded into shallow center field, allowing the first run to score.

Then, after a Kyle Schwarber RBI double, Addison Russell blooped a perfectly placed single into right, scoring two more. Ian Happ then provided the final two runs of the inning with an opposite-field two run homer.

Things didn’t get any better for Syndergaard in the second. Bryant lifted what should have been an easy out to shallow left, but miscommunication between Rosario and J.D. Davis allowed the ball to drop in for a double.

Two batters later, Schwarber slammed the Cubs’ second home run of the night, extending the Cubs’ lead to 8-1.

Through the first two innings, Syndergaard allowed eight runs (seven earned), on seven hits. He walked three and struck out two.

“They capitalized on every mistake that I made, and it just seemed like tonight when it rains it pours,” Syndergaard said after the game. “When you get your sh-t kicked in like that, it gives you a different perspective on things. Definitely a terrible feeling. I’m disappointed in myself. I had the opportunity to go out there and do something big tonight, and I let the team down.”

Mickey Callaway stuck with Syndergaard in the third, but with two away, Castellanos blasted the Cubs’ third home run, ballooning the lead to 10-1. The Mets did battle back to make things interesting, but they ultimately lost the game 10-7, dropping further back in the Wild Card race.

“Obviously a few plays weren’t made,” said Callaway afterwards. “He battled, left some pitches middle, they made him pay. They didn’t miss the ones that were big mistakes. Some of the credit has to go to their offense. It’s still hard to hit even when a Noah Syndergaard makes mistakes. But he just couldn’t get into rhythm. Off night for him. He’s been pitching so well, and we know that our rotation is one of our strengths. Just an off night for one of our starters.”

Syndergaard’s night ended after three innings, allowing a career-worst 10 runs (nine earned) on nine hits. It was the first time in his career that he allowed three home runs in a start. 

NFL Avoiding the Crisis Violence of Football Has Created, Fullback Le’Ron McClain Goes Public

by Scott Mandel (and various wire services)

The NFL thought coming up with a $1 billion dollar cash kitty in response to a class action suit by NFL players suffering debilitating and even, suicidal mental conditions as a result of playing the sport would make this all go away.

Or, at the least, take it off the back pages of newspapers and the front pages of online outlets.

Except, more and more former players, all admittedly knowing what they were getting into when they became football players, are coming out of the woodwork to let the public know how serious their mental and physical problems have become.

At this moment in time, when star quarterback, Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts suddenly retired yesterday, at age 29, because of the constant pain he is in after six years in the league and when Tim Green, the former star defensive lineman with the Atlanta Falcons appeared on 60 Minutes last night, as a victim of advancing Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), the sport of football is at a crisis stage that will not go away or get better by paying off victims and their families.

After years of the lords of football denying the sport had anything to do with multiple suicides and post-career mental illness, enough studies have been completed of the brains of deceased NFL players to know there is now a direct link between participating in football at the highest levels of the sport and debilitated lives, thereafter.

Now, former Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain has gone public, complaining of head issues related to football and asking the league for help in a series of tweets since Saturday.

“I have to get my head checked. Playing fullback since high school. Its takes too f—ing much to do anything. My brain is f—ing tired,” he tweeted from @LeRon_McClain33. “@NFL i need some help with this s—. Dark times and its showing. F—ing help me please!! They dont care I had to get lawyers man!”

McClain played for the Ravens, Chiefs and Chargers in a seven-year NFL career. He made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and ’09 while with Baltimore. Also playing running back in 2008, he rushed for a career-high 902 yards with 10 touchdowns.

McClain, 34, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Ravens in 2007 out of Alabama.

On Saturday, he also tweeted: “Need to tell my story of how my head is crazy and how football did it…. Please someone help me get this out the @NFL puts paperwork in out faces and thats it. Yes its programs f— all that I need help now I need a plan….. F— Man. They dont f—ing get it man.”

McClain’s complaints come after a federal judge overseeing the $1 billion NFL concussion settlement terminated three of four lawyers serving as class counsel in May.

The order came just weeks after a hearing to air complaints about new rules that limit the doctors who can evaluate retired players for dementia and other brain injuries. Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody said she imposed the 150-miles-from-home rule to thwart doctor shopping and potential fraud alleged by the NFL as the more than $1 billion settlement fund is disbursed.

She named New York lawyer Christopher Seeger as the only attorney left who can handle issues on behalf of the 20,000-member class.

Outgoing class counsel Gene Locks told The Associated Press the order “extinguishes any remaining hope” that clients will be protected as they move through the contentious medical testing and award process. He told Brody at a hearing this month that there aren’t enough qualified neurologists, neuropsychologists and subspecialists taking part in the program to meet the close-to-home rule.

Seeger, in a statement, vowed to “continue to fight on behalf of former players and their families to ensure that they receive every benefit they deserve under the settlement.”

The players’ lawsuits had alleged the NFL long hid what it knew about the neurological risks of playing after concussions. The fund is meant to last for 65 years. The awards in the first two years of payouts alone reached $500 million this month, while another $160 million in awards has been approved but not yet paid.

The plan offers retired players baseline testing and compensation of up to $5 million for the most serious illnesses linked to football concussions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and deaths involving chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Of the 872 awards paid to date, the average payout is just under $575,000, according to a claims administrator’s report this month.

McClain argued that his position was also holding him back from getting help.

“Watch how fast they come to aid if I was som3 QB or anything but no I was f—ing fullback that did it all,” he tweeted Saturday. “@NFL I need help and i need the process to speed the f— up Im about to crash out and its paperwork I dont wanna hear it. F— man im done…. Im out.”

A number of high-profile cases have brought attention to NFL head injuries and CTE. Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau died by a self-inflicted gunshot, as did former Bears great Dave Duerson. After being convicted of murder and hanging himself in prison, former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was found to have CTE in a postmortem exam.

After people reached out on Twitter expressing concern for McClain, he tweeted: “Man had a moment but just know Imma fight this thing and block it like im blocking 60 Pwr on the goaline. We gonna score!!!! I got this. Its just LiFE. #AlphaMental…. Thank you to my biscuit lol. Control what I control.”

But then Monday morning he expressed discomfort again: “Nights like this are the worst….. I cannot sleep… My anxiety is up… real talk im a f—ing mess. Like whats wrong with me man. Come on bro!!!! Smh…… Please just Pray for me! GodWinz GodWinz!!!!!!!”

Mets Lose to Braves As Alonso Ties Franchise Homer Record

By Scott Mandel

When Pete Alonso, the Mets precocious rookie first baseman drove the Atlanta Braves’ starter, Max Fried’s fastball 451 feet into the deepest part of center-field, it put the Mets ahead, 5-4 after having trailed the entire game.

One sensed the momentum change, replete with awakening a quiet home crowd into delirium, would take the Mets to a win over their division rivals. Alas, it didn’t happen for the home town team as the Braves, clearly a better team, took the lead back and went on to beat the Mets, 9-5.

The one positive from the loss was Alonso, who continues to be an offensive force in the National League in his maiden season.

The bomb he hit to the center field black in the fifth inning was his 41st home run of the year to tie the Mets’ franchise home run record. Alonso now shares that record with Carlos Beltran (2006) and Todd Hundley (1996). His next homer will give him sole possession of the franchise home run record.

“As soon as the ball left the bat, I knew it,” Alonso said. “The fans went absolutely nuts. It’s something you dream about as a kid. It was surreal. It was a hell of an environment tonight. That moment was incredibly special.”

The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder tipped his cap to the Citi Field crowd on his way as he took first base in the top of the sixth inning. The nearly packed house (38,300) gave him a loud, long standing ovation.

“I don’t get chills much, but that gave me the chills a little bit,” Zack Wheeler said, who gave up five runs (four earned) over six innings Saturday. “The atmosphere, the timing of the home run and how big it was. That guy is special. Hopefully it can continue. We’re riding him right now.”

The rest of the Mets’ lineup was ineffectual during a critical game. The offense struggled to string together runs in every inning besides the fifth, when Juan Lagares sparked a four-run rally with his second double of the night and Alonso cashed in three runs with his historic homer.

The Braves immediately answered the Mets and tied the game at 5-5 in the top of the sixth by taking advantage of Todd Frazier’s fielding error at third base. The Mets had their best chance to reclaim the lead when Jeff McNeil, hitting for the first time since his 10-day IL-stint, led off the seventh inning with a double to right field.

This was Zack Wheeler’s third straight poor outing but it wasn’t all his fault. There was also poor baserunning and bad defense, and, of course, more long balls given up by the Mets most important off-season acquisition, closer, Edwin Diaz.

Diaz’s nightmare season continued when he gave up a solo homer to Freddie Freeman and left the game two batters later after being seen on the mound by the trainer. The problem, not yet officially reported, appeared to be with pain in his trapezius area, aka the “trap.”

Wheeler, who said he intended to make some adjustments after a pair of bad outings, didn’t show much improvement.

He struggled with the strike zone, allowing four earned runs by the end of the third inning and couldn’t quite find a rhythm throughout his six innings on the mound.

He ended up with a no-decision, but gave up five hits — two of them homers — and four walks.

“Out of the stretch I was a little off today, but nothing really changed from the bullpen to the game,” Wheeler said. “Just trying to throw more four-seams, arm-side, and that just wasn’t there in the first few innings, so I kind of said screw it and started throwing two-seam, because I knew it was going to be there.

“Fell behind a lot of guys, a lot of deep counts and kind of setting guys up for a fastball. I just need to do a better job getting ahead of guys, makes it a lot easier and I’ve had my success when I do get ahead of guys. I think that’s one of the bigger things, I just need to pound the zone and just go after guys.”

The right-hander has now followed up the two gems he tossed in his first games after the trade deadline passed and he stayed in Queens, with three clunkers at the most important juncture of the season.

“He battled,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “The state of our bullpen tonight, he had to get to his pitch count. He did that and got through six. It wasn’t his best outing, the two walks in the second inning probably were the thing that hurt him the most, but he continued to battle.

“He’s been better, he’s been worse, but he battled for us.”

Diaz was removed from game after giving up home run

It makes one wonder if a pitcher with Wheeler’s arsenal and velocity is feeling the pressure of the moment, in this, a playoff push in the biggest city. This place is the greatest city to play in if you rise to the occasion but, if you cannot overcome the pressure of a pennant race, the fans in New York are relentless in their criticism and open derision.

Wheeler, the native of Smyrna, Georgia, will have to possibly adjust more than his delivery and pitching style if he is to be counted on down the stretch.

Chest Bumping Mets Sweep Indians, Now Within 1 1/2 of Wild Card

By Scott Mandel

In this, the Mets’ magical mystery second half tour of the season, even when it rains, really pours, the Mets are winning games. This team seems like a juggernaut now, that even nature can’t stop.

In a rain-shortened game, the Mets finished their sweep of a very solid Cleveland Indians team, riding Noah Syndergaard and the bullpen to a 2-0 win. The game was called in the bottom of the eighth inning with the Mets up at bat, after a second rain delay.

Tonight, both starting pitchers, Aaron Civale and Syndergaard, were mowing down the opposing lineups through the first three innings without allowing a base runner. The way they were throwing, you sensed we were going to have a tight, well-played game by two good teams fighting to make the playoffs.

In the bottom of the fourth, Civale cracked. Joe Panik, proving to be a very good mid-season pickup by the Mets, hit a line drive single to right field. After Pete Alonso flied out, Michael Conforto sent a long fly ball down the left field line that landed just inside the chalk, bouncing into the stands for a ground-rule double.

Wilson Ramos followed with an opposite-field double, a hard-hit line drive down the line. Both Panik and Conforto came in, and Syndergaard had his lead.

Syndergaard retired the first 16 hitters, allowing only two hits over six dominant innings before the heavy storm interrupted him. The Mets starter continued his perfect game mastery until the sixth when, with one out, Tyler Naquin broke up the no-no with a soft-liner to centerfield that fell just short of Mets centerfielder Juan Lagares’ glove, with a short hop scoop.

“You see him good a lot, but tonight was really good,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said.

The Citi Field crowd, which is getting used to watching solid baseball, gave Syndergaard a long ovation for his 5 1/3 perfect innings.

After Naquin’s hit, Francisco Lindor lined another single and all of a sudden, Syndergaard had to bare down against Indians leadoff hitter, Greg Allen. On a 3-2 count, Allen slapped a hard grounder to Alonso’s backhand. He dove for it, knocked it down, and threw a bullet to Syndergaard, covering first to nip Allen by a half-step. The best part of the sequence? As Allen was slamming his helmet to the ground, Alonso and Syndergaard were chest bumping each other. It’s not an act you see often on a baseball field but these Mets seem to be enjoying the heck out of being in a race for the post-season.

With the win, the Mets climbed to within 1 1/2 games of the second wild card spot, and within three games of the Nationals for the first wild card (and home field advantage for the “play-in” game).

They certainly are not shrinking from the pressure of these games, this Mets mixture of young and veteran players making up Brodie Van Waggenen’s roster. On the contrary, in fact, as their 26-10 record, best in the game since the All-Star break, would indicate.

by Scott Mandel

The Mets are for real.

The naysayers were saying a couple of weeks ago, when the Mets were on their hot streak after the All-Star break that this team would come back to earth when the schedule became “challenging,” The naysayers said the Mets are cleaning up against the dregs of the National League but wait till they have to play the Braves in Atlanta, and the Indians.

Last night at Citi Field, the Mets, who are 25-10 since the All-Star game was played, faced a Cleveland team that has been streaking up the American League Central division, to within two games of the Minnesota Twins. They are also managed by Terry Francona, considered by many to be the best in the game at his job. Francona’s teams are always prepared and play to their talent level, often times, above it.

“It’s August, but playoffs started today,” J.D. Davis said after the Mets started a critical nine-game homestand in style with a 9-2 win over the Indians on Tuesday at Citi Field.

But, last night, it was the Mets, considered sellers just a month ago as their season had spiraled out of control as they fell 11 games out of a wild card playoff slot, dominated the Francona-led Indians in ways they are not used to being dominated.

In front of a wildly excited home crowd, Davis and Michael Conforto hit home runs, Steven Matz spun another solid start into the seventh inning giving up just three hits to a potent lineup, and Joe Panic and Todd Frazier chipped in as the veteran role players they are to lead the Mets to a 9-2 win, beating Indians ace, Shane Bieber.

The Mets are playing the game on all cylinders, right now, with their entire roster contributing to this playoff push.

“To beat Shane Bieber in the first game to start off this homestand, to energize the fans, put ourselves in a good position to win a series against these guys is what we set out to do today,” Conforto said.

“They’re relentless,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said, referring to the Mets hitters. “Timely hitting, a key big hit usually starts it — Conforto’s homer — and then you get to their lesser pitchers and you add on. That’s what good teams do.”

Matz continued his metamorphosis since he was banished to the bullpen in June for 10 days. He’s been a different pitcher. In 16 starts, he had a 4.95 ERA and was 5-6 before his temporary stint in the bullpen. In his last seven starts, he has a 2.81 ERA and a 3-1 record. Not bad for a fifth starter.

“You just learn from your mistakes early on,” Matz said. “It’s not anything crazy. Instead of trying to feel for what I have out there, it’s being a little more aggressive in the first inning, and that’s helped.”

The Mets moved to a season-high five games over .500, at 65-60, and closed to within two games of the Chicago Cubs for the second wild card position. They remain three games behind the Nationals for the first wild card.

The season schedule favors the Mets in a big way. Of their remaining 37 games, 25 are home games. The Mets, with the second best home record in baseball at 35-21, have more home games remaining than any other team in the sport. They like their chances to use these games to make the post-season.

“We have to have that playoff mentality, that playoff atmosphere that every game counts,” J.D. Davis said. “Especially [with] the hole that we dug ourselves into. I think the elephant in the room is we got a lot of home games, but a lot of games against playoff teams. This is our playoff time. We have to play well and we have to come out ready to play.”

Say it, Mets fans. Your team is officially in a pennant race, with 37 games left to the season. Who woulda thunk it, just a month ago?

Redskins’ Case Keenum is battling for the quarterback job. At this point, it’s all he knows

Washington Post

Late Thursday night, standing in a small room below the stadium in Cleveland, Redskins quarterback Case Keenum scoffed.

It’s easy to suggest that little has been fair for Keenum since Denver traded him to Washington in March. After all, he nearly took the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl in 2017, and he signed the following offseason to be the Broncos’ starting quarterback. Then, just weeks after the Redskins acquired him, they drafted the player who is almost certain to be the franchise’s quarterback of the future, leaving Keenum to fight for the right to be what amounts to a placeholder starter until Dwayne Haskins is ready.

Given his first chance to prove the job should be his, in Washington’s preseason opener Thursday against the Browns, Keenum started the game with second- and third-team players. They faced a defense that featured most of the Browns’ starters, including star pass rusher Myles Garrett.

Yet asked about the unfairness of it all, after he was left exposed as the Cleveland pass rush rolled in, Keenum just shook his head. Unfair? He has been fighting for an NFL job for eight years. Nothing seems unfair anymore.

“It’s not tough,” the 31-year-old said. “I’ve been in this long enough for me to know we’re going to play with different combinations of offensive line guys all year long. So you get 11 guys out there, and everyone is being coached up and is here for a reason. You take that and continue to do your job and get first downs and score touchdowns.”

Keenum’s NFL career has included more than his fair share of unfair. He left the University of Houston as the NCAA’s all-time leader in total offense and touchdown passes, among other records. But he went undrafted in 2012 and had to scramble for a spot on the Houston Texans’ roster, then bounced among the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, Texans, Vikings and Broncos over the next six years. He started at least two games every year from 2013 to 2018, helped Minnesota to the NFC title game in 2017 and went 6-10 as the starter for Denver last year. But each season brought some kind of scramble, and nothing seemed easy.

Given Colt McCoy’s injury issues and Haskins’s inexperience, Keenum has seemed more and more like the logical choice to begin the season as the Redskins’ starting quarterback. But Coach Jay Gruden has yet to declare him the leader in the competition.

“I don’t want to come to any conclusions right now,” Gruden said. “It’s silly to. There’s still a lot of ball left to be played, lot of passes, lot of things, lot of situational work we still have to do … [and] three [preseason] games left. There’s more work to be had.”

Keenum played three possessions of Thursday’s 30-10 loss. While facing an aggressive pass rush, he completed 4 of 9 passes for 60 yards. His most impressive plays were a 10-yard scramble for a first down, a third-and-nine pass to Robert Davis that turned into a 43-yard pass interference penalty and a 46-yard touchdown toss to Davis three plays later.

“I was impressed,” Gruden said.

Veteran QB Keenum is fighting for his career with the Redskins

Keenum completed 4 of 9 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown in three series Thursday night. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Gruden hasn’t revealed how he will use his quarterbacks in Thursday’s preseason game against visiting Cincinnati. McCoy, who missed the Cleveland game after limping off the practice field earlier in the week, practiced Saturday and is likely to play. If that’s the case, Keenum again might not get more than a couple of series.

He hasn’t complained about his circumstances; any questions about the quarterback battle have drawn quiet nods. After all of the other QB competitions in Keenum’s past, this is just another fight.

“I’ve competed in this league for a long time,” he said earlier in training camp. “I’ve had to share reps everywhere I go. Do I want them all? Yeah, I want to take all the reps. I know I have to stand behind [the others in practice] and I’ve got to pretend that I’m in the rep. I’ve been at places where I was competing for the backup [role] and I traded days. I had a day off, and then I got the backup reps the next day, and I didn’t like that at all.

“So the fact that every day we are getting out there and competing and getting reps — not just mental reps where I’m watching but actually in it, too — it’s been good.”

Right now, it’s the best chance he’s going to get.

Q and A With New York Giants Owner, John Mara

by Scott Mandel

Q: Does this feel like 2004 at all, bringing in a young quarterback and looking ahead?
A: I guess you can make that comparison, yeah. We weren’t quite sure when that was all going to take place and how it would all kind of work out, but yeah, there’s a certain similarity to it. I like to think that we have a better team than we had in 2004, but we’ll see about that.

Q: What have you seen from Daniel (Jones) so far?
A: So far, so good. He’s everything that we thought he would be. He’s been terrific on the practice field, did a good job the other night. I think people need to temper their enthusiasm a little bit. It’s one preseason game, one series, but so far, so good.

Q: When you look at Daniel and praise him and think of things about him, does any part of you also drift toward Eli (Manning), and when you would have that whole dynamic come and go?
A: Yeah, a little bit, but Eli is our starting quarterback and will start the season. He’s obviously been a great representative of our franchise for a lot of years, and will continue to be, so we’ll just have to see how that one unfolds.

Q: Ideally, how would you like it to unfold this season for Eli?
A: I hope Eli has a great year and Daniel never sees the field. That would be an ideal world. You’d like to see that. Again, at the end of the day, it’s going to be a decision by the head coach as to when or if Daniel ends up playing this year.

Q: Is that true, really? Obviously, you want the team to win a lot of games and make the playoffs, but if Daniel doesn’t play one snap as a rookie, you’d be okay with that?
A: I’d be very happy about that because it means that we’re having a great year and Eli’s having a great year.

Q: Do you think that’s possible?
A: Sure, why not?

Q: John, what do you think that would mean for next year if that’s the case?
A: Let’s worry about next year next year, seeing that we’ve got to get through this season first.

Q: John, you said that the 2004 team was not as talented as this team. What do you see from this team?
A: Well, I think we’ve done a pretty good job in the draft the last couple years and we’ve got some good, young talent on both sides of the ball. I think our offensive line is better than it’s been, so I think there’s reason for some optimism there, but until we start playing some games and winning some games, that’s all it is right now. I also like the feel of the locker room, so we’ll see.

Q: You said you’ll worry about next year next year. You’re fine with holding off on anything with Eli, because obviously he’s in the last year of a contract, until after the season? 
A: I think we’re in a one year at a time mode right now. 

Q: Do you imagine that if and when a decision comes on the quarterback situation this season that you’ll have to approve it?
A: Well, I’d like to be informed of it before I read it from you guys. But, at the end of the day, just like it was in ’04, it was Tom’s (Coughlin) decision back then, and it will be Pat’s (Shurmur) decision this time. Again, hopefully, it’s a decision he doesn’t have to make until way in the future.

Q: You mentioned the locker room. Was the locker room an issue last year?
A: I think it was not as strong as it could have been. I think there’s just a different feel to it this year. I think some players have commented about that, too, so we’ll see. A lot of times, I think that gets taken out of proportion. At the end of the day, if you start winning some games, it builds some enthusiasm, it builds some good feelings, some positive vibes, and I think that’s what we need to do more than anything else. Right now, it feels pretty good.

Q: At this point, what has given you faith in Eli? It’s obviously been a few years since he had the type of success he had earlier in his career.
A: I think he’s played well when the protection has been there in front of him, when he has confidence in the protection. I thought that the second half of last year he played much better, our protection got a little bit better, and obviously Saquon (Barkley) was having a big year. So, I think our offensive line is better this year than it has been, and he’s had a terrific camp so far.

Q: John, Eli’s the longest tenured player in franchise history. How much thought has been given to how hard it might be when you have to say goodbye to him?
A: It’ll be a very difficult, emotional moment, to be sure, but I’m not thinking about that just yet. He’s still the starting quarterback. 

Q: Around the league, Dave Gettleman has taken a lot of heat for the moves he has made, for his attitude, for a lot of things. People are taking a lot of shots at him. Has any of your confidence wavered at all throughout this whole process?
A: Not at all. I think the best thing for me about Dave is he makes decisions that he feels are in the best interest of the franchise and he doesn’t give a damn what people think about it, be it the media, or be it fans, or anybody. He has the courage of his convictions, and you have to have that. He’s set about to try and rebuild this team and change the culture a bit in the locker room. I think, as I said before, our last two draft classes were pretty strong, and that’s what gives me confidence going forward. I think we’re moving in the right direction. Again, until we start winning games, it’s hard to sell people on that notion, but that’s what I believe. 

Q: Did he give you pause at any time about all the talent that went out the door? Not just Odell (Beckham Jr.), but Landon (Collins), (Olivier) Vernon, a lot of guys.
A: I wouldn’t say I had any—there was never any doubt in Dave’s ability or in what his motivation was, or what his skill level was. You don’t like to see all that talent go out the door, but let’s face it, we had one winning season in ’16 and the other five or six years, nothing, not since we won the last Super Bowl, so we needed some drastic changes. Again, he had the courage of his convictions, he knew they would be unpopular moves, but he went and made them anyway. 

Q: What do you need to see this season to consider it a success, or a step forward?
A: We need to win some games. I want to feel like at the end of the season we’re moving in the right direction. I’m not going to say it has to be a minimum number of games that we have to win, or we have to make the playoffs. I want to feel when I’m walking off the field after the last game of the season, whenever that is, that this franchise is headed in the right direction. That’s, to me, the most important thing.

Q: What is your overall patience? Obviously guys don’t last very long if they don’t win?
A: I’m not very patient, I take the losses pretty hard, but I understand that you have to make decisions that are in the best interests of your team in the long run and not worry about the short term as much. It doesn’t make it any easier when you are losing these games, but I understand what he is doing. I think he has us headed in the right direction.

Q: You have a big investment in your future with Daniel Jones. Are your coach and GM tied in with that?
A: Absolutely. I heard something the other day, I forget who the commentator was, that the coach was not crazy about our first-round pick. Nothing can be further from the truth and what sold me on (Daniel) was Dave, Pat and our scouts, Mike Shula, everybody was sold on this kid. That’s what made it easier for me to okay. Pat’s been a huge advocate right from the draft. Everything he’s done so far has been what we expected and what we hoped for. 

Q: What was your role in the whole decision to draft Daniel?
A: I just had the final approval, on all decisions like that. For me, if the general manager and the head coach have a conviction, then I’m going to let them go with it.

Q: Did you watch any college tape of Daniel?
A: I watched a little bit. One of the first questions I asked him when I met him was: do you have thick skin. Then after we drafted him, I asked him: do you understand why I asked you that question. He smiled, he can handle it, he can handle being the quarterback of the New York Giants.

Q: Did it give you pause because of the Eli dynamic?
A: Not really. When you have a conviction about a player, particularly at that position, you better go ahead and take him. So, there was no pause.

Q: Do you see a lot of similarities between Daniel and Eli the way other people do?
A: When I first sat down with Daniel, it was eerie to me how similar. It was like talking to a 22-year-old Eli, which is a good thing.

Q: Are you satisfied with the job Pat Shurmur has done? The team only won five games last season.
A: I’m not satisfied with winning five games, but I think he has us headed in the right direction. I think the players believe in him and we have a lot of confidence in him.