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8.22.2008

Smooth(ish) Sailing

So it may take an ersatz five-for-five night for Carlos Delgado to sweep the Braves at Shea, but it apparently takes more than that to put together a blog post, and I'm quite sorry.

But, hey, don't you already have enough to be happy about, what with the 9-1 record in the last ten and the incredible starting pitching? You don't need my whining about Nick Evans' inability to take a walk, Carlos Beltran's power slump, and Duaner Sanchez's drop in velocity.

When Anderson Hernandez and Lastings Milledge are putting the heat on Philly in Philly, while Jimmy "THE UNDISPUTED MVP" Rollins is putting the heat on himself in the very same, how can things get better?

How about two errors for the Holy Father of Shea Jones alongside a handful of balls he and fellow disliked Brave Kelly Johnson just couldn't quite reach?

Dayenu, it would have been enough, but the Yankees make it even sweeter! They lost 14-3 to the Blue Jays, they're double digits behind the division-leading Rays, and running six games back in the Wild Card.

Do things get any better right now for the Mets fan dabbling in schadenfreude?

Ryan Church comes back tonight, and Johan Santana is taking the hill. Now there's something to get excited about.

8.09.2008

SNY, Knowing AL West Baseball Since... Never

Perhaps this doesn't fall under my purview, but from tonight's broadcast, your AFLAC Trivia Question:

What [sic] is the last team to have an infield with each player hitting 20+ HR in the same season?


The answer, which, admittedly, I did not know, is the 2005 Texas Rangers. If I recall correctly, they weren't much of a pitching ballclub, but they could hit.

In any event, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling attempted to guess those infielders with the sterling accolades:

Ron: Teixeira.
Gary: Teixeira. Young. Kinsler.
Ron: A-Rod.
Gary: He would be good.
Ron: Blalock.

Let's sort this out.

Mark Teixeira is correct - he is good at hitting home runs. He had 43 of them for the 2005 Rangers while playing first base.

Michael Young, the Texas shortstop not renowned for his power, would also be correct - he had 24 taters.

Hank Blalock, the recently injury-riddled third baseman, did hit 25 home runs for that team as well.

Now here's where it gets interesting:

Ian Kinsler, currently the Rangers' second baseman, made his major league debut in 2006, a full year after this powerful infield's prominence, and in that year he hit only 14 home runs. He hit 20 in 2007.

A-Rod is a great guess - after all, he won the MVP in 2005! Surely he must have hit 20 homers! In fact, he hit 48, playing for the New York Yankees, for his second year. Anyone who followed baseball might have remembered the 2004 ALCS, which happened to feature A-Rod. So, yeah, Ron, about two years late on that one. It's not like you're a baseball analyst for a New York team, or even make appearances as an analyst on national TV.

And, of course, you guys strangely agreed on an infield of five men, only three of whom played for the Texas Rangers in 2005 – you might have left out that homer-hungry former Hiroshima Carp legend Alfonso Soriano, who walloped 36 dingers in his second and final season in Texas.

Hey, it wasn't like Soriano was traded to a team in the Mets' division right before 2005 - and Ron Darling certainly wasn't the Nationals' analyst before becoming getting the SNY gig, or anything.

Keep up the good work, guys.

8.05.2008

We're Moving Into The 21st Century!!

We now have a mobile site:

http://crosstownrivals.mofuse.mobi

for those of you who need a fix at all hours of the day.

(Though judging by the Mets lately, if you have a fix, I'd say rehab is a stop in your future.)

7.31.2008

Move Along, Nothing to See Here

The Mets didn't do anything today. They did less than the Yankees, even, who after acquiring one beloved former Met (the X-Man), were hungry for another (last graph, obvs).

Instead, the sellers had this club in a holding pattern, asking the Mets for hard-throwing lefty Jon Niese or human tool-shed Fernando Martinez in exchange for crummy used goods, like Raul Ibanez.

The Mets couldn't acquire a difference-maker for the corner outfield spots or for the bullpen without surrendering serious talent, it seems. And, hell, they couldn't even acquire a non-difference maker without surrendering something substantial.

Desperate times call for desperate measures: Omar even tried to grab Luis Ayala, in hopes of reassembling his Expos squad in Flushing.

ASIDE: How has no one pointed this out yet? As Mets GM, Omar has acquired Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, Endy Chavez, El Duque, Fernando Tatis, Claudio Vargas, Tony Armas, Ron Calloway, Wil Cordero, and Val Pascucci, all of whom were his subjects at one point when he was master of the most useless domain in baseball?

Today, he tried to acquire Luis Ayala! The same Luis Ayala of the 5.54 ERA and 1.49 WHIP! He is actually trying to recapture the glory of those Expos days, when Matt Loughlin would eat french fries with cheese curd (it's called poutine!; right) and Fran Healy and Ted Robinson would lull us to sleep telling us how sneaky-delicious those fries were, while Eric Valent hit for the cycle.

Good times - who knew they were being reassembled beneath our nose at Shea? If it's any luck, Brad Wilkerson will soon be patrolling a corner outfield spot. Or maybe Peter Bergeron will. On second thought, Bergeron will probably be running the poutine stand at ShittyField. I'm sure there will be one.

--END OF ASIDE--

In any event, we Mets fans should be mildly pleased that the team made no moves.

While Manny would have been a welcome addition, the Mets have no prospects, outside of Martinez, who would be capable of even carrying Andy LaRoche's jockstrap. And while LaRoche (and the heretofore unheralded Bryan Morris) may seem to be quite a mild price for a masher of Manny's caliber, there always exists the possibility that Jeff Kent will be dead at Ramirez's hand by the end of the season.

I've already reserved FreeManny.com to secure funds for his legal defense.* (Actually, this is not true. Please don't register this website. You will have stolen my idea - consider investing in KentHadItComing.com)

In any event, there really wasn't that much out there for the Mets. Considering that Griffey wouldn't have waived any clause to come here (and he's only a minimal upgrade anyway), and that the price for Bay was so high, it looks like the Mets did the right thing by standing pat.

Placidity was a theme in the NL East today, as the Marlins acquired but Arthur Rhodes, while the Phillies only have that Blanton deal to go on. While both teams had previously been mentioned as potential homes for ManRam, his incurable psychosis (if he's on your team, this may be called "Manny Being Manny," or, alternatively, fun-loving attitude) may have scared them away.

In fact, it makes sense that the Dodgers' Ned Colletti was the only GM in baseball ultimately able to swing a trade for Manny - Colletti's methodology for acquiring players involves a simple set of questions:

1) Was he good five years ago?
2) If you answered yes to the first question, acquire him. If no, could he be described as either "gritty" or "a gamer"?
3) If you answered yes to the second question, acquire him. If no, did he ever play for the Devil Rays?
4) If you answered yes to the third question, acquire him. If no, is he Ramon Martinez?

The Dodgers have done everything possible to take at-bats away from James Loney, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp in that outfield – and by everything possible, I mean Andruw Jones' 218 PA of .167/.268/.250 and Juan Pierre's 311 PA of .279/.325/.316 baseball out of a corner outfield position.

Angel Berroa is also logging time at short with a line of .204/.260/.247, but hey, he won Rookie of the Year only a few years back!

While it won't take much to win the NL West, I'm still terribly excited for the pissing match that will ensue over the next couple months. Even though the Dodgers have Manny, that team is still managed by veteran-loving Joe Torre with Colletti calling the roster shots upstairs. Here's to hoping Manny rides pine for the rest of the year after refusing to cut his braids and Casey Blake grinds out his career 106 OPS+ in a corner outfield spot opposite Juan Pierre.

In any event, the Mets didn't bite on any offers and still have Fernando Martinez, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, Dan Murphy, Nick Evans, Mike Carp and Raul Casanova (wouldn't have been able to cope had we traded him.)

What's nice is that this team is no less equipped to win tomorrow than it was yesterday, even if that game didn't turn out so well. It wasn't like trading Nady for Bert, Kazmir for VZ, or doing anything that would give Luis Castillo a larger share of the team's at-bats. The Mets haven't changed, for better or for worse.

7.29.2008

Playing With Fire

Sure, it was crushing.

But this game, unfortunately, was lost on Saturday night.

Sure, one might say that the Mets squandered the lead twice in this game – and that it's hard to lambaste the team when the starting pitcher went fewer than five innings because of an injury – but this one was really over Saturday night.

You might remember Saturday night's - well, maybe Sunday morning's - Mets game, a 14-inning thriller chock full of comebacks, contributions from journeymen, and guys on base (even if the Mets couldn't drive them in.) They lost, 10-8, to the Cardinals, when a dog-tired Aaron Heilman served up a two-run shot in the top of the 14th to Albert Pujols. He's good.

That game, in which the starter, Brandon Knight, only went five innings, really set the tone for tonight's matchup. For, you see, that game taxed the Mets' most effective reliever of late, oddly enough Aaron Heilman (in fact, this space hammered him for an almost identical incident last year).

Heilman, with Duaner Sanchez's arm acting like it's in a Miami cab, Pedro Feliciano turning into a rancid pumpkin (in July, batters have been hitting .409 against him, and he's already served up more homers this year than he has in either of the past two), and Joe Smith and Scott Schoeneweis only ROOGY and LOOGY at their bests, and Carlos Muniz and Willie Collazo being Carlos Muniz and Willie Collazo is now this pen's non-Wagner ace, or N.W.A. (I am sure I am the only one who finds this joke funny.)

Heilman, though, was treated on Saturday like Darren Oliver in 2006, or Aaron Sele of 2007 - he was the LONG MAN. And as the LONG MAN, one takes a pounding, knowing that he will not be called upon to pitch night after night. This individual may even have more than a week between appearances - which is not a bad thing, given that the infrequency of work for a long man means that starters are going deep into ballgames and that the Mets are taking care of things in regulation.

It's not hard to notice, though, that this bullpen, under Jerry Manuel, has contained no such figure. There are two situational pitchers, a closer with an iffy shoulder who occasionally has trouble controlling his slider and his mouth, a righty who spent more than a year out of baseball and is trying to find his gas, a lefty who appears to have hit some sort of wall after two years of nonstop contributions, and the warm body who knows the MSY (N'Awlins Airport) to LGA flight quite well. There is no once-great (or, well, for Sele and Oliver, once-average) starter who occasionally will be asked to make a pseudo-start if the game goes into extras or a starter can't give the team much.

Let me reiterate: this team has no long reliever.

Now, I titled this missive "Playing With Fire" because I do not believe this has to be the case. Jerry Manuel could, quite easily, designate Carlos Muniz his long man. Muniz would not make brief appearances early in ballgames, as he has been doing of late, only to give back leads. I know it hurts, Carlos, but it's something vaguely resembling the truth.

But would you believe me if I told you that Muniz, who has allegedly been the long man this season, has made no appearances of more than two innings? Not one.

Jorge Sosa, who was supposed to fill that role - before being released, made only one such appearance, in the second game of the season! Tony Armas, who might have been that player, made two appearances of less than two innings before being placed on the DL. Claudio Vargas, who was something of a long man, made two appearances of more than two innings - including one of great success after Ollie Perez's meltdown in San Fran. He, along with Nelson Figueroa - another potential longman, currently toils at AAA. Maybe Willie Collazo, currently on the roster due to Pedro Martinez's bereavement leave, could even be a long man.

Although not one of these men would likely contribute in the way that Oliver did while filling that role in 2006, any one of them would be an upgrade over "Oh, shit - this game's going into extras. We've used everyone but this guy, because we were trying to rest him after working plenty on consecutive days. Well, what choice do we have? Let's throw him out there!"

Hell, maybe the Mets could even trade for Manny or Teixeira - I hear they're available - and make one of them the long man. Even if they couldn't pitch well, it would still be nice to designate someone in that role.

Look at the number of relievers the Mets have used in their recent contests excluding Santana's (ill-advised) complete game:

7/22: 4
7/23: 3
7/24: 2
7/25: 4
7/26: 7
7/28: 5

Keeping in mind that there are only seven relievers on a team, how is this kind of usage pattern sustainable? That question becomes even tougher in road games, when a manager will not use his closer without a lead.

Manuel is more aggressive than Randolph; we knew that when he was coming in. But his aggression with the bullpen cost the Mets this game – if one only makes the conservative assumption that a well-rested Aaron Heilman would have been better than Muniz, Smith, Schoeneweis and Co.

Recall this game, last year. The Mets still had Billy Wagner ready to go to slam the door in the 17th! Against the Cardinals on Saturday, Oliver Perez was warming up in the 14th.

Certainly, the Mets' bullpen is going through tough times right now. Smith is hitting a wall, perhaps, as is Sanchez, and Feliciano hasn't been able to get anyone out for over a month. Carlos Muniz is not a capable major league pitcher, and Billy Wagner won't be pitching eighth innings because no one else can.

The problem is not that starters aren't going deep into games (ARGH, THESE BABIES WITH THEIR PITCH COUNTS! SATCHEL PAIGE DIDN'T EVEN KNOW HIS OWN BIRTHDATE! MORDECAI BROWN HAD THREE FINGERS! OLD HOSS RADBOURN THREW 678 INNINGS IN A SEASON!), but that the bullpen isn't getting anyone out (and is giving up plenty of runs), and Manuel is managing aggressively to keep the Mets in these games.

Problem is, managing aggressively means you sometimes have to pitch Aaron Heilman until his arm falls off, even though you know it will hurt the team.

Managing while paying due attention to the bullpen wouldn't be all that difficult, though - it means getting lots of innings out of Carlos Muniz (or whoever the long man will be) and perhaps in the process conceding a less important game and saving the bullpen for the next contest, or, if the game is still definitely within reach, charging ahead with all hands on deck.

But the Mets can't have it both ways.

ADDENDA: This is the second straight post within which I have spoken about debunking the philosophy of the Met manager. I love Jerry, just so you're sure. But I will depart from the discussion of baseball philosophy to plead for a few things:

1) Scott Schoeneweis is a situational lefty. Lefties are hitting .149 against him; righties .309. In his inning of work tonight, he faced one left-handed batter (whom he should have retired if not for David Wright's premature sprint to third), out of seven total. I know there were pinch hitters and the like, but he is not on this team to face right-handed batters (again, this speaks to the problem of a short-handed bullpen, but I'll move on.)

2) Schoeneweis is a better situational left-handed reliever than Pedro Feliciano. We knew that going into the season, provided we believed that Schoeneweis was truly injured last year and for that reason he pitched poorly. However, Pedro Feliciano was expected to do well against left-handed and right-handed batters, as he had both last year and the year before. That has not been the case. Pedro has been unable to retire righties of late - which might explain this news that the Tigers have been looking into snagging Schoeneweis. If this is the real Feliciano, then the two cannot peacefully coexist in that bullpen. There is only enough room for one situational lefty. Although your author would prefer Schoeneweis be the one to stay, his value is probably greater to interested teams.

3) Cannot the Mets acquire a reliever? Moreso than an outfield bat, a set-up man would be a welcome acquisition, it appears. While your author fondly remembers previous midseason relief acquisitions that have proved a little less than fruitful (Mel Rojas, Steve Reed - for Jason Bay, Billy Taylor - for Jason Isringhausen, Roberto Hernandez's Act II - the lacking success of which I forecasted correctly here, save for the Perez stuff), this corps simply cannot be trusted. Perhaps relief (intended, obvs.) comes from within: in the form of Jon Niese or Bobby Parnell, power arms that could be converted to bullpen help for the stretch. The Mets have Eddie Kunz, too, a former college closer ready to contribute. Maybe former Philly legend Eude Brito brings some help. But this bullpen, in its current state, ain't goin' nowhere.

4) What is up with this three catchers thing? I presume Manuel's still carrying three catchers because either Castro or Cancel is a better pinch-hitting option than Chris Aguila or Val "I'll be honest. Who is he?" Pascucci. But Castro has had four at-bats as a pinch-hitter this year. 4. Sure, he's probably been double-switched in a few times - and therefore not technically a pinch-hitter, but the fact remains that Manuel isn't using his third catcher to give Castro at-bats off the bench... he's using Castro as a third catcher (on days when he's not starting) to get Robinson Cancel at-bats! Cancel has 8 pinch-hit ABs, despite having been on the roster quite a lot less than Castro has. I'm not going to make an argument that Castro should be the everyday catcher - he's in too poor shape for it to ever happen. But, Jerry, let me plead: if the Mets are to carry three catchers (thereby hamstringing the rest of the bench), can it at least be designed to give ol' BigHead some extra at-bats, and not SlightlySmallerHead Cancel some plate appearances to write a fairytale?

5) Manny? I think Manny would be a good fit - I really do. And for the first time ever on WFAN, I even heard an intriguing potentially feasible trade proposal: Manny and Jacoby Ellsbury to the Mets for Carlos Beltran. The Mets would probably be asked for a little more in that hypothetical deal, but I digress. Its feasibility gives me pause. To get Manny, this would not be a simple trade - regardless of how much of a clubhouse cancer the slugger is, and despite the boatload of money still owed to him (including two option years he might want the new team to pick up) – the Red Sox have hopes of repeating as World Series champs and would need a player of Beltran's caliber in return. Prospects would be of no use to them. My gut would tell me that Beltran, who has a full no-trade clause, would not want to go to Boston. And if giving up Beltran seems a tough pill to swallow, imagine losing the only other comparables: Wright, or Reyes. The Mets wouldn't benefit on the field from trading either one (and it would be an off-field nightmare), and moving Beltran would be only slightly better. While this author has a sneaking suspicion that other potential tradebait (ie Fernando Martinez) is tremendously overhyped and will not be an elite major leaguer, the Red Sox should not be interested in prospects at all. So we must wait. Perhaps he comes here as a free agent this offseason, though your author would prefer another lumbering free-agent left fielder: Patrick Brian Burrell.

END OF ADDENDA

On the whole, though, there's a lot to like about this team. Despite two blown ones from the bullpen out of the last three, first place is still theirs - at least until tomorrow.

Tuesday night's matchup: Oliver Perez (6-6, 4.15 ERA) goes against Scott Olsen (6-5, 4.07 ERA), in the Dolphin Tank in front of a few thousand fishmongers. 7:10 p.m. is your start. If you have an unaddressed fetish for mercurial (read: immature) lefthanders, this is a must-watch game. This author hopes the two will have been in fisticuffs by the third inning.

7.28.2008

Symbalta

The Mets' acquisition of Johan Santana was largely symbolic.

Sure, there was that whole acquiring arguably the best pitcher in baseball thing - but in looking at how the Santana trade was viewed by Mets fans and pressfolk - it was a symbolic trade.

Johan going to the Mets, rather than the Red Sox or Yankees? Symbolic - there's a new sheriff in town.

Omar Minaya nabbing Johan with dogged persistence, and doing so without giving up Fernando Martinez or Mike Pelfrey? Symbolic - in him we had lost confidence after fumbling away Brian Bannister and an entire relief corps; now, it was In Omar We Trust all over again.

The Mets managing to get a negotiating window with Santana, and then signing him to that big deal? Symbolic - big-money signings since the Minaya regime came into power notwithstanding, there were still some who complained that the Wilpons were not willing to open up their checkbook, and there they were inking an elite pitcher to a big money, long term deal.

So, why, then, is Johan still treated like a symbol?

Sure, I know they won (handily), and everything, making them 15-4 in their last 19 and giving them some momentum heading into the Dolphin Tank, but there was something not to like about Johan today.

He pitched great, having exceptional pitch economy while limiting hits for the first chunk of the ballgame. It looked, for a while, like he would have more hits than he gave up.

But then Santana started to run out of gas in the seventh - the Mets were up by plenty, and he served up a near homer to Ryan Ludwick before serving up an actual homer to Phat Albert. It was fine, he set the Cardinals down in the eighth. His day should have been over.

What is that, you say? Contrarianism? How dare you?

Johan Santana went out and pitched the ninth inning. He finished it, gave up some hits in that inning, and gathered his final out on the 118th pitch of the day. He had retired 27 batters in one game, the highest total posted since Oliver Perez's immortal second-half of a doubleheader showing against Atlanta in September 2006. (Dave Williams had started the first game. He was better than Ollie then.)

But he threw too many pitches doing it. It's one thing to ask someone to throw that many pitches in a playoff game, or even in a close game, where the gassed starter is a much better option than the reliever likely to get the call.

It's quite another when the Mets have six and a half more years of Santana, at a steep price, and are up by seven runs on the Cardinals in bad weather. Willie Collazo, no matter how much he is Willie Collazo, easily could have pitched the ninth en route to a painless victory.

This victory won't be painless, though. Johan's more likely to be injured now than he was before this start, and it doesn't help that his velocity dropped after a non-taxing season in Minnesota last year. Sure, his number of pitches per start is roughly the same as it has been for the last few years, but that, according to most research done on the topic, isn't the health risk.

Johan has thrown or exceeded 110 pitches in a start eight times this season.

In his previous full seasons as a starter, he has done the same this many times:

2007: 6
2006: 4
2005: 6
2004: 7

We're not even into August, and Santana has extended himself more in starts than ever before. Today, the reason for doing this was wholly symbolic. The game was won, and the taxed bullpen had relief, even if it happened to come in the form of Willie Collazo (though the bullpen would have preferred a suppository.)

Baseball Prospectus found Johan Santana to be the 26th most-abused starter in baseball, measured by total Pitcher Abuse Points. Imagine what happens in the wake of this effort.

The Mets aren't stupid - Santana, in fact, is the only Met pitcher in the top 30, while noted crusty ol' baseball men like Lou Piniella and Charlie Manuel each have two pitchers in the top 15 (is it any wonder Carlos Zambrano always seems to have a DL stint and Brett Myers is out of gas? They're both up there. Good news, too - Cole Hamels is #7... just wait until his arm falls off.)

So why do they kowtow to goofy WFAN hosts/callers, and this woman (left) (writing here), and other idiots from the peanut gallery?

She wrote a book about Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, which apparently makes her qualified to determine the physiology of pitching.

I wrote a book about the Prague Spring, and yet I don't claim to know anything about women's tennis.

Ed.: Yes, he does. And Kundera's lawyers, please look away.

The Mets lost on Tuesday not because of Johan Santana, but because of an inept cast of characters who toil in the Shea bullpen. That is obvious. The fact that Santana did not pitch the ninth has nothing to do with Sanchez, Feliciano, Smith & Co.'s inability to retire anyone.

The argument for Johan to finish that game could have been made thusly: he's the team's best pitcher - and his inning, regardless of how many pitches he's thrown, would be better than the bullpen's; we want to avoid using Wagner; Feliciano's been struggling lately; something like that.

Nowhere in arguing for Santana to pitch that ninth would one bring up the following things:
1) He's getting paid $137.5 million.
2) He has a seven-year contract.
3) He's thrown 105 pitches.

And yet, those were the hindsight crew's points about why he should have pitched the ninth! He's getting paid all of this money - he should be out there pitching every day! He's got seven years of salary coming to him - he should earn his damn keep! He's thrown 105 pitches - come on! Juan Marichal threw 220-something to beat Warren Spahn! Or was that Pedro Astacio...?

The money spent on Santana is an investment, and the seven years granted in his deal are a reflection on the Mets' hope that he will keep up his current pace. Johan should not be treated like a rag doll just because of his contract.

And all of this thinking about Tuesday and its wake brings me to today, when Johan Santana willingly engaged in that which shall be called "arm harm."

Jerry's Kids gave into all of this hot air spewed from the media this week, and Johan first among them. Manuel and Warthen asked him if he was okay to throw all of those pitches, and he said yes. And while this blogger does not doubt that Santana felt confident in the instant of throwing those pitches (after all, he uses J.R. Watkins Apothecary Liniment), it is certain that the Mets just absorbed plenty of risk for zero reward.

What does the team gain from the CG next to Santana's name on the box score? Momentum? Ha!

Earl Weaver said, "Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher." It's John Maine, facing Ricky Nolasco, by the way.

Does one really believe that had Santana left after eight innings, and Willie Collazo done all he could have not to surrender seven runs, that the Mets would have a better chance of winning on Monday in Florida?

Can one honestly think that John Maine is going to pitch especially well tomorrow, now that Johan's gone deep into the game?

In fact, Maine's last especially good start really generated plenty of momentum for the next day's pitcher. Look at that line: 7 2/3 innings, one hit, no runs, 14 strikeouts.

If momentum exists, think about the kind of show that the next day's starting pitcher put on.

(I'm quite sorry I had to bring this up, by the way. Devastated, in fact. I know that I'm a Mets fan first, and a stathead second, but the overwhelming contention that some intangible effect of Santana's abuse would help this team has driven me to crazy things.)

Simply put, Johan Santana did The Job Of An Ace™ today, but there was no need to extend him through the ninth, especially after all of the times he's been extended earlier this year. He does not have a rubber arm, and whatever rubbery things exist in his arm will wear down on the Mets' dime if the team continues to batter him like they have so far.

When the Mets acquired Johan, it meant a lot of different things. It helped turn the tide for this team after an embarrassing collapse in 2007.

But he's here now. When all's said and done, he will most likely have made more starts as a Met than as a Twin, where he fashioned two Cy Young Awards and collected the bulk of his now 101 career victories.

Mets fans are smart enough to know that Johan Santana is right now way more than a symbol, way more than a device. He's ours, for the long haul. Let's treat him like it.

LINK: This article on Pitcher Abuse Points might be useful to you.

7.15.2008

Was There Any Doubt?

It's the bottom of the eighth inning in the All-Star Game. Home field advantage is at stake.

Was there any doubt who would give back the NL lead?

None whatsoever.

Billy "Big-Game" Wagner is your once and future culprit. Get used to this, if you weren't already.

7.08.2008

"They Win the Fuckin' Thing!"

In the words of Bob Murphy... wait, did I mishear him?

7.07.2008

Pedro

Pedro Martinez isn't the Mets' ace, anymore. That title, for the foreseeable future, belongs to Johan Santana, although an old friend is making waves across town.

But he can pitch like it tonight.

Pedro was really only the Mets' ace for that woefully underrated 2005 season, where he wowed stat folks (a ridiculous .949 WHIP) and goofy old traditionalists (4 complete games) in the way only he could. By 2006, his hip was cranky, and then his shoulder exploded - and we grew to love an aceless club.

2007 was lost, for the most part, and 2008 has been Pedro's worst showing to date, with really very few mitigating factors. He's not striking anyone out, he's walking well more than usual, giving up more hits, and more home runs than ever before.

Really, the only thing that could make us have any faith in Pedro is that he's been throwing hard - harder than last year, certainly, and harder than much of his brief 2006 work.
And, well, that he's Pedro. Armed with freakishly long fingers, and at various times a (now deceased) pint-sized Dominican horror film actor, at left, a Jheri-curl, and roosters to cockfight with Juan Marichal - he has managed to be perhaps the most dominant pitcher in the history of baseball, leading everyone in ERA+ (a park-adjusted, league-adjusted figure).

Now, tonight, he takes the hill for the Mets in what, regrettably, is a very serious game. We don't like playing serious games this early in the season, but when a team has been as disappointing as this club has, sometimes it's necessary.

Pedro has a checkered past in these matches: one might remember his six no-hit relief innings to clinch the 1999 ALDS, or perhaps his start in early April 2005, with the Mets 0-5 and facing John Smoltz in Atlanta: 9 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 9 strikeouts.

But an anti-Pedro pundit might offer his eighth-inning meltdown against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS - although it's primarily blamed on Grady Little, Pedro gave back a three-run lead with a chance to clinch a World Series spot for the Sox.

And hell, Pedro is now physically nowhere near the pitcher he was in any of those games. His stuff has changed, too: more cutters, more sliders, fewer curveballs. And Pedro's cutter has recently appeared to be a special variety: the meatball cutter.

But then again, he's Pedro. He still has the ability to power this team, due to his still quite good repertoire, and his fearlessness on the mound. Tonight will be his first test - as this game is far more important than a rainy affair against the Cardinals. The Cardinals don't matter. They won't be an obstacle to the Mets' postseason chances (though given their 2006 comeback and Joel Pineiro's 2007 stunner, maybe I'll eat my words), while the Phillies, moreso than any other club, ought to be.

Tonight, Pedro, slayer of demons, faces Adam Eaton, slayer of Mets. Eaton is 5-0 career against the Mets, with an ERA against them a run and a half below his career average.

The Mets won with Eaton on the hill in April, in a twelve-inning affair, but lost to him a few weeks later (despite his poor performance: 4 runs in 5 innings).

It may appear to be just another early-July game against the Phillies, one that the Mets can lose and still split the series, but we all know it's far more pivotal than that. The Mets, with a win, can push themselves over .500. And, sure, momentum might be overrated, but who wouldn't want to be winners of three straight with the Rockies and Giants coming to town before the break? Those teams are a combined thirty games under .500.

So here's to Pedro being Pedro. We all know what he can do - now it's time to see it.

-------------

Some Notes/Links:

7.06.2008

The Players Can Suck It

All-Star Voting really isn't meaningful. I know that. And the Mets have been the beneficiary of some generous fan voting in recent years.

But the most recent selections are a disgusting travesty. And the guys to the right are pissed off (or should be).

Not only are Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano starting outfielders (Soriano ranks ninth among NL left fielders! in VORP, and Fukudome ranks seventh among NL right fielders! in VORP), but Miguel Tejada (8th among all NL shortstops in VORP) is making an appearance on the team as a reserve over the much more deserving Jose Reyes, Rafael Furcal, and (DARE I SAY IT!) Jimmy Rollins.

Aramis Ramirez ranks third at third in the NL in VORP, but some Met who ranks second by a wide margin (both in front of Ramirez and behind Larry Jones) has to make the team via the fan vote.

Ryan Ludwick, who, as we recently saw him in St. Louis, is now in an outfield platoon, made the team over a much more deserving Pat Burrell, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady. (what's in that water in Pittsburgh?) And, yes, I could talk about Cristian Guzman making the team, but as the only National, we'll cut him some slack.

And onto the pitching staff, where more travesties abound.

Some fellow named Johan Santana ranks ninth among NL starting pitchers in VORP (better than Ryan Dempster, who's 13th, but still on the team, and the sixteenth-ranked Brandon Webb, who's been struggling mightily lately.) Non-pick Tim Hudson ranks seventh and also has a legitimate gripe.

In the relief pitcher selection, the Mets were unnecessarily rewarded - Wagner should not have been selected as the token Met. He ranks 26th among NL relievers in WXRL, a stat measuring how many wins a reliever is worth over a replacement level player, smack-dab between Tyler Walker and the equally overrated Jose Valverde.

EDIT (7:47 PM): He also really, really, really sucks. Like, a lot. He really sucks.

Brad Lidge ranks first, and made the team. San Fran's Brian Wilson ranks second, and also joined the club. Kerry Wood? Well, he ranks 22nd.

If one knows me at all, it's pretty easy to discern that I'm not a huge fan of the Cubs, how their players perpetually receive undue adulation. That's the case again this year. The team is good - but the individual players that comprise it really aren't all that great.

The Cubs win because the team lacks a great weakness - replacement level hacks are by and large no longer eating up plenty of innings (Ronny Cedeno, anyone?) – and not because of all their stellar individual contributors.

So the MLB players who voted for all of those Cubs? They can suck it. Clint Hurdle can suck it too. (Unless, of course, he brings some Mets onto the team as replacements.)

7.05.2008

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

This blog is mostly used for whining about the Mets. And it's July, and there's plenty to whine about.

But allow me to say goodbye to Jaromir Jagr, easily one of the most important players in the history of the New York Rangers, an Original Six team lacking a recent dynasty or long list of elite players.

More importantly for me, too young to be aware of the 1994 Cup, I rooted for the Rangers despite the fact that they were nearly the Yankees of hockey, minus the postseason success. Beginning with Gretzky's penultimate season, the team didn't make a playoff appearance for seven straight years, despite all of the great stars appearing on Broadway (limited run only!): John Muckler (behind the bench), Pat LaFontaine, Mike Knuble, Mathieu Schneider, Petr Nedved, Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamensky, Alexandre Daigle, Mark Messier (Part II), Eric Lindros, Vladimir Malakhov, Bryan Berard, Pavel Bure, Martin Rucinsky, Tom Poti, Bobby Holik, Alex Kovaley (Part II), Greg De Vries, Boris Mironov and Anson Carter.

I list Carter last, because on January 24, 2004, the Rangers acquired Jaromir Jagr and cash from the Capitals in exchange for Carter, and that's where the Rangers' luck began to change.

The acquisition of Jagr seemed somewhat predictable for the Rangers, a team that had tried to add as many talented players as possible, no matter the chemistry between them, no matter their disinclination to play defense, no matter their large salaries – and failed to attend to the pressing matters of defense and goaltending (Mike Dunham was the netminder for that '03-'04 team; Dale Purinton managed to log 40 games).

But Jagr was different. All of the players the Rangers had previously acquired were a notch below elite, had some mitigating factor that made them so easy to acquire: Lindros' concussions, Fleury's love of drugs, Bure's knees. And there were, it seems, some knocks on Jagr - he was a bit of a diva, perhaps had some gambling problems, and had seemed to quit while Washington aggressively tried to trade him.

But he came to the Rangers, soon to be coached by Tom Renney (after Glen Sather decided he didn't want the bench), and the fallen superstar seemed to find his way. Nearly the entire team was shipped off within a few months (save for Messier and Holik), but Jagr still managed some sort of success in that lost season: 15 goals and 14 assists in 31 games.

And with that, the team took to the lockout, and Jagr became acquainted with a lovely little Siberian outlet named Avangard Omsk, after 17 games with the Czech team Kladno, owned by his father (Jaromir Sr.), where he posted 28 points in 17 games.

Omsk GM Anatoly Bardin, who I imagine looks like this fellow on my right, would become a central figure in engineering Jagr's departure from New York, using a mixture of dogged pursuit, Alexei Cherepanov, and (I imagine) polonium to eventually lure the erstwhile superstar to the permafrost.

But Jagr's departure is certainly not the most important element of his Rangers tenure.

What was, though, was the post-lockout season. The Rangers had been reshaped, but at the same time, evidently decimated. They were heading into the season with Jagr as the lone star - flanked only by veterans Martin Straka and Michael Nylander, who had become the team's top pivot after Bobby Holik was bought out. The rest of the forward corps included Marian Hossa's little brother, Marcel, Steve Rucchin, Martin Rucinsky, Ville Nieminen, Jasons Ward and Strudwick, and the Hollweg-Moore-Ortmeyer unit.

The team was to be backstopped by Kevin Weekes.

I remember opening night 2005. Even though I was at school in Massachusetts, I tuned into the game - hoping to see what the new OLN coverage was like, and trying to see the first game of what would undoubtedly be an 0-82 season. Where were the stars? Where was the scoring? Where was the defense?

The Rangers were playing the Flyers, armed with their new post-lockout star Peter Forsberg, who would have been heavily sought after by the pre-lockout Rangers. The Rangers were down 3-2 going into the third period. And then Jagr scored a power play goal. They had tied the game.

Then he scored another. The Rangers went on to win, 5-3, setting a tone for the season: the league would have more penalties, therefore more power plays, and therefore more stretches in which other teams would have to fear the force that was Jaromir Jagr.

Jagr, too, was backed by a bevy of Czechs: newcomers Prucha, Straka, Marek Malik and Michal Rozsival, and midseason acquisition Petr Sykora.

Some other defining games that season: Marek Malik's between-the-legs shoot-out goal, Jagr's hat-trick in a 6-1 win at Pittsburgh, the 5-4 overtime win in St. Louis, and Petr Prucha making a name for himself by beating Martin Brodeur in the shoot-out.

The Rangers that season witnessed an exceptional performance from Jagr (54 G, 69 A - creating team records in goals and points), and the birth of King Henrik. But unfortunately that team's storyline must be its pre- and post-Olympic performances. During the Olympics, the King backstopped Sweden to a championship and Jarkko Ruutu drove Jagr's face into the boards.

The team had won six straight in February going into the games in Torino, but went 1-6 immediately after the Games. Lundqvist looked low on gas. Jagr had slowed as well. Weekes soon had to take some goaltending duty from the King, and the team lost five straight heading into the playoffs.

Nevertheless, the feelings were good - after all, the Rangers had plenty of good moments that season. The team would have time to regroup itself before the playoffs. All would be good.

Instead, they were embarrassed in a sweep by the Devils that really was over after Game 1, a 6-1 romp in which the team allowed five power play goals and Jagr dislocated his shoulder trying to punch Scott Gomez. Without Jagr, the Rangers were powerless. Also, they had Sandis Ozolinsh, who scored at least five own goals - after consuming well more than five shots - during that series.

So the offseason came. We were suddenly worried about Jagr. Whither his shoulder?

In a word, not really. His point production was down by 27, despite adding weapons on the power-play (Brendan Shanahan, Matt Cullen), and even though he was scoring fewer goals and appeared slightly averse to shooting, his passing was as crisp as ever. Nylander had an 83-point campaign and Straka had 29 goals.

Henrik, despite some fleeting hiccups, had a stellar sophomore campaign, and the Rangers, buoyed by the deadline acquisition of Sean Avery, went on a late-season run into the playoffs, during the first round of which they swept the Atlanta Thrashers, putting their previous failures behind themselves. Against Buffalo, the team faltered, though, delivering a crushing mix of hope and despair.

Funnily enough, the chief culprit in that series was Chris Drury, marking consecutive years in which Gomez and Drury shattered Ranger fans' playoff hopes.

So, logically, come July 1, the two were both Rangers (at Nylander's expense, despite his great postseason), and Jagr's stewardship of the club was clearly beginning to come to a close.

The 2007-08 season was more bitter than sweet for number 68, who failed to mesh with Gomez or Drury on the ice. Not only was Jagr not scoring (he had only 25 goals, the lowest total of his career - even including the work-stoppage-shortened 1994-95 season, and his lowest point total since that season), the team wasn't scoring.

Moreover, Jagr's inability to score meant that his pre-lockout contract would terminate at the end of the year. The Rangers had scored a sweet deal, with the Capitals footing a large part of the bill on the rolled-back contract. But that deal would come to an end when Jagr failed to score 84 points, meaning that his presence on the Rangers in 2008-09 would no longer be a sure thing.

The team scored exactly 2.5 goals per game, sixth to last in the league. Henrik was great again, so the lack of scoring couldn't ultimately doom the club, but the cracks in the post-lockout Rangers were starting to show. Jagr was no longer feared, but instead debated. Was he pacing himself? Was he giving his all?

Jagr was eventually working on a line with Brandon Dubinsky and Sean Avery, reminding Ranger fans of the previous season, when he would occasionally work with Marcel Hossa and Brad Isbister. The problem, though, with the aforementioned line, was that it was the Rangers' first line. Come season's end, Drury was grinding on a unit with Ryan Callahan and Brendan Shanahan was banging bodies on the fourth line. Like it or not, the captain's style was, by necessity, the Rangers' style, and if he couldn't work with either seven-million dollar center, they'd stick him with a kid (left) who looks like he's fourteen.

We didn't have an answer until the playoffs, when the Rangers were assigned their familiar foes to the South. The Rangers, as you may recall, beat the Devils in five games, with Jagr getting angry. Jay Pandolfo? Pandolwho?

Even when the Rangers lost in five to Pittsburgh, where their lack of team defense (and Sean Avery's importance to the team) became apparent as ever, Jagr was a tremendous force. He drew three penalties in the final game, despite referees calling the series overwhelmingly in the Penguins' favor.

And when Marian Hossa netted the goal that beat the Rangers in overtime, we didn't know who was more likely to be the Rangers' top right wing when this season rolled around. It could be Jagr or Hossa.

And as we all know now, it would be neither. (I think it's Nikolai Zherdev. Who knows, maybe it'll be Colton Orr?)

***


Evidently, this post has evolved as a post-mortem of the Jagr era rather than an essay on what he has meant to the Rangers. But the two are one and the same: this team evolved the way it did because of Jaromir Jagr's presence. He was the captain for the final two post-lockout years, and, despite being well past his physical prime, led the Rangers to three straight playoff appearances, after seven straight misses, and even won two series during that span.

Even though he will go down as the inferior player of the three, the aged Jagr did what Gretzky and Messier (Part II) couldn't in their tours on Broadway. Sure, he was younger when he took the team to the playoffs, but it would have been quite easy for Jagr to coast here. The team had been a failure, the fans had agitated for Glen Sather's ouster, and they still had failed to develop players from within. (Brief tangent: the dearth of forwards on next year's team means the Hugh Jessiman era might be upon us! He had 18 goals in Hartford last year!)

But Jagr, no matter the knocks that dogged him throughout his career, didn't quit. He, Tom Renney, and Henrik Lundqvist changed the tone of Rangers hockey in their three brief years as figureheads of this team. But not only did they change the team's tone, they made it pretty fun to watch. They were fast and furious, and Jagr (and, well, the dear departed Avery, right) were always there to provide a splash of wit.

Hell, Jagr left town telling former Islanders GM and now NBC hockey analyst Mike Millbury to "kiss my ass."

They de-Dolaned the Dolan Garden (large free-agent signings Gomez, Drury and Redden notwithstanding and still pending), and played with heart (think of all the fan-favorites born in the past few years, compared with only a few enemies: Poti, Malik and Aaron Ward), something that eludes some of their co-tenants - the Liberty play a tight game, though.

I'm not sure where the Rangers will go from here - the Redden signing is already scaring me, and I generally trust Sather - and Zherdev is far from a sure thing. Gomez and Drury are supposed to have bigger and better years, but there's no guarantee of that. Markus Naslund, too, would be lucky to have a season like Jagr's last campaign, an alleged disappointment.

But when I saw that Jagr's time with the Rangers was officially over, my feeling was not so much to think about what's ahead, but rather to think about what's not ahead. Jagr will not be a Ranger lifer, aging gracefully on Broadway until he's set enough records to make himself happy. I know he said he was headed to Kladno in two years anyway, but that he will spending those next two years in Siberia and not in New York makes me worry.

This feels distinctly different than Mike Piazza's final go-round with the Mets. Despite Piazza being longer-tenured on the Mets than Jagr on the Rangers, his departure felt right. Even if we were briefly melancholy, it was evident that Mike was washed up. Piazza was a three-win player (based on WARP) on those 2005 Mets, a far cry from his career peaks. The team was getting younger; Mike was not. And in order for that team to get better, the team had to take on a new catcher, and a new identity.

With Jagr, it doesn't feel like that. Sure, he posted his worst season in years, but was still by far the best player (excepting Henrik) on the team. He carried them during the playoffs. Moreover, Jagr stunned on the ice, not shooting like he did in 2005-06, but backchecking aggressively for the first time in his career, and still making exceptional moves only he could. No offense meant to the current Rangers squad, but not a single one of these players can perform as well Jagr did last year. There's no superstar on this team, and the biggest building block they have is Marc Staal - their offensive weapons are few and far between.

Jagr was not desperate for offers (Omsk was always offering him boatloads of Russian oil money, and Edmonton had a multi-year deal on the table), and Sather was not really desperate to bring Jagr back into the fray. After all, Sather must have reasoned, what use was there making sure he kept together the core of a team that had managed to finish middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference despite being touted as cup contenders for two straight preseasons? And Jagr figured, I'm sure, that there was no point returning to New York when the Rangers were taking strides toward a new direction and Anatoly Bardin was all over him like Madonna on A-Rod.

But perhaps, for all intents and purposes, that afternoon in Pittsburgh was The Last Night of the Ranger Dynasty - Buster Olney, eat your heart out. Sure, a stretch of three straight playoff appearances without an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, let alone the Eastern Conference finals, doesn't seem like much of a dynasty. But how exactly do the Rangers plan to build around this new group of guys? [Insert Hugh Jessiman joke here. Oh, wait, we already used that one? How about an Al Montoya joke, then?]

I know I'm young and naive, and, according to ESPN, Jagr's deal with Omsk contains no out clauses – he must play the first two years of his deal there, without a doubt - but Sather did say in his farewell to Jagr conference, "... iIf things don't work out for him in Russia that he could call us back and we'll see what we can do." Wouldn't it be great to see him back on this team, at some point? I know I would welcome him back - and I'm sure the city would as well.

***


I guess the more apt comparison from Metland is that of this year's farewell to Shea Stadium. Like Jagr, it has its flaws, and at various points it hasn't served me very well. But there's something comfortable about being there. The Mets have won at Shea - maybe they haven't been tremendously successful there, but this team can play there. I can go see a game there. CitiField is unfamiliar. It's corporate, too - and don't believe what you might hear about naming rights potentially defraying costs.

Saying goodbye to Shea will be difficult, just as difficult as figuring out what to do now with my JAGR 68 jersey. I'll still wear it to games, but will it still hold the same significance? I played on an intramural ultimate frisbee team at school this year, and in an important game, despite the weather conditions nor the necessary range of motion being all that conducive to wearing a hockey jersey, I wore it anyway. It was the playoffs, and I had to channel Jagr, who against all odds was doing what I needed to do in that game. I had my best game of the season.

Maybe you couldn't tell it, but I love Jaromir Jagr. I wrote a European History paper on the Prague Spring, because I had heard that that was why Jagr wore number 68. I needed to learn more about it. Even better, Jagr, according to a 1992 Sports Illustrated article, kept a picture of Ronald Reagan in his notebook as a student, simply because he so admired Reagan and his anti-Communist policies. Thumbs up, Jags.

I've defended Jagr in every arena possible (and by that I mean at MSG and the TDBanknorth Garden, as well as in conversations with plenty of people), and it will most likely be tough for anyone to alienate me from my support of him.

He's gone now, and it will be tough for me to come to grips with that.

But hey, we'll always have Vancouver.

7.04.2008

Opportunity

The Mets had plenty of opportunities tonight, in what seemed to be an unfortunate redux of various parts of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons.

You can take Willie Randolph out of the clubhouse, but it still doesn't mean the Mets can hit a rookie left-hander. J.A. Happ didn't pitch all that well tonight, but one would not have been surprised to see the name "Kuo" on the back of his jersey.

But unlike previous clashes with the untested - and therefore, in Metland, dominant - rookie lefthanders, the Mets had Johan Santana on the mound, who this year has been a living testament to the irrelevance of wins and losses as a pitching statistic.

Santana pitched well. He pitched like Johan Santana was supposed to pitch, cruising through the Phillies' lineup, save for an unfortunate sixth inning (it happens).

The one gripe about Santana comes from the Mets' fifth - the big inning by the wayside. The Mets had the bases loaded, no one out, when Johan, he of the .200/.224/.308 career line (it's better than Marlon Anderson's 2008 campaign), came up to the plate. Johan's bat would be the Mets' secret weapon, allegedly, acquired in the trade with the Twins.

And he looked pretty good - working a 2-0 count from Happ, with nowhere to be put. Then he swung at a bad pitch, probably a ball. Then he swung at another bad pitch. 2-2. Then he popped it up in foul ground.

This was disappointing. While it came from a pitcher, the Mets ought to know that if the previous batter just walked, and the count is 2-0, one ought to take a pitch. Maybe even another.

So up came Reyes, he of the first inning appearance at third base with less than two outs (but not scoring), and he grounded out, earning the team a solitary run. Then Endy walked, and then Wright walked, driving in a run.

And then in came the scariest force of them all: Chad Durbin. No, not J.D. Durbin, who pitched for the Phillies last year (and beat Brian Lawrence in a fateful clash in August) but Chad Durbin, he of the 5.38 career ERA, and no relation to J.D.

The Mets, as they did last year, forced us to durb our enthusiasm. Beltran whiffed, Santana gave the lead back in the sixth, after Durbin struck out the side in the top of the inning and then two of three in the next frame.

Chad Durbin's line: 2.1 innings pitched, seven batters faced, six strikeouts, no hits or walks allowed.

Santana held the Phillies down for the seventh and eighth, while Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge did the same to Mets hitters in the eighth and ninth (a five-pitch inning for Lidge!). And we all know what Duaner did.

This game was not a crushing loss, as far as walk-offs go. The Mets lost with their set-up man on the hill, not Wagner. They weren't beaten by Rollins, Howard, or Burrell, but by Pedro Feliz and the Flyin' Hawaiian.

More than crushing, it was frustrating. The Mets' big, scary bats (Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Delgado) were on base twice: Wright walked once, as did Reyes. Beltran and Delgado combined for nothing but five strikeouts. Who knows, maybe it was an act of silent protest for Puerto Rican independence while Americans in the fifty states set off enough explosives to carpetbomb Greenland.

But this game was frustrating, as this team has been. Losing to the Cardinals with Carlos Muniz on the mound was frustrating, as was this. The Mets are playing seemingly sound baseball, and are winning almost every other game. But what's astonishing is that their wins lately have been romps, not nailbiters - while their two most recent losses have been via the walk-off.

Save for Maine's dead-arm loss to the Cardinals on Monday, the Mets have lost every loss in the last week by one run. Maybe it's a small sample size, but it's indicative of this team's inability to cash in on their opportunities, however limited they may be.

Against the Mariners, in that 8-2 win, they capitalized. In the 15-6 slaughter of the Yankees, they capitalized. In the 7-4 victory against St. Louis, they capitalized - and yesterday, against the same Cardinals, they capitalized.

Their flaws are not uniquely Metropolitan, that's for sure, but look at Santana's recent inability to win games - it has nothing to do with the way he's pitched.

While I'm sure everyone in the clubhouse is thinking this now, Jerry Manuel's Mets must start cashing in, must avoid affairs like this - ones that won't be remembered for the pain they delivered to the fans, but may be remembered should this team nearly miss success like their 2007 predecessors.

Once this series with the Phillies is over, the scheduling gods have granted to the Mets a reprieve - six games against the Giants and the Rockies. Yummy.

But for now, I hope the players are lamenting all of the fireworks they missed. I may have set off a few before and after Pedro Feliz crossed the plate, but I sure missed them too.

7.03.2008

Ouch

You know Troy Glaus and Rick Ankiel - at least one of whom is pictured to the right - used steroids, right?

I think that's all I have to say.

And, oh, wait a second - was CARLOS MUĂ‘IZ pitching the ninth inning of a tie ballgame?

Yes, I believe he was, with a predictable result.

Now that's all I have to say.

6.25.2008

Fertilizer

I really wanted to write a wrap-up of last night's game. Something scathing.

But, the Mets lost to a pitcher named Dickey (perhaps my relative), and started a team (with the highest payroll in the National League) that included Trot Nixon, Endy Chavez, Fernando Tatis and noted stiff in '08 Oliver Perez. This is the baseball equivalent of an NFL Europa team.

And to be fair, I don't much care for that Castillo fellow. He really plays poor baseball. Maybe it's the injuries, but it seems like he's just surly, has the ego of a great player, and doesn't really play like one.

Good thing he's gone at the end of the year – oh, wait, 2009 – no, sorry, 2010 – scratch that, he'll be off our hands come 2011.

But I guess what possesses me today are the fires stoked by The Worst Beat Reporter in Town, Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post, and his fixation on Jerry Manuel's fertilizer comment.

As a fan of metaphor, my instinct was to applaud Manuel. His point was that booing can be good for growth – makes sense – and, unfortunately, like fertilizer, it stinks. Fertilizer is not a pleasant thing - but it's ultimately essential in growth.

That was his point.

Hubbuch, though, takes a strange series of potshots on his blog today, and calls out Daily News counterpart Adam Rubin as well as bloggers.

Normally, I enjoy the curmudgeonly Post-folk. The hockey fan in me finds all of Larry Brooks' stuff, despite his incredibly dour demeanor, must-read, while the same goes for Peter Vecsey's basketball work and Phil Mushnick's writing on sports media. All these guys do is bitch and moan – just look at their pictures, for the sake of a snap judgment –







but their content is pretty good.

Hubbuch, however, seems to have taken the Post's sports journalism, which, unlike its news content, had been palatable (bordering on informative!), to a new low. Perhaps the press would be right in cracking jokes about Manuel's fertilizer comment, reminding him of it every so often, making a few feces punch lines in the press.

Instead, Hubbuch, perhaps full of sulfites, dumped a boatload of nitrates on his readership. Or, for those of you without doctorates in chemistry, a truckload of shit.

So, I'll say this again, in the wake of last night's amusing ejection, I love Jerry Manuel. I'm not sure if this AAA team will be able to play well under him – my guess is they can, and probably will – but he's said more interesting things in his week here than Willie did in his entire tenure – though his comment about Shingo Takatsu bringing the funk to Miguel Cabrera (to the tune of Parliament's "A Three-Run Double) will always warm my heart.

Hubbuch, on the other hand, should know his place – can we get him in touch with Jared Paul Stern and Ian Spiegelman? I imagine they could write some mean sports gossip together.

Some other notes:

  • I'm sure you all heard, but Claudio Vargas was demoted for Carlos Muniz after last night's game. That's funny – I was going to call him the Mets' worst long man since Aaron Sele.

  • John Maine goes tonight against Miguel Batista, 7:10 p.m. your start, as usual. If we're taking odds on this one, Maine will throw 145 pitches in 5 innings, and Batista will throw 45 in a complete game shutout.
  • 6.19.2008

    Renaissance

    It's been a while since I've written down my thoughts about this team. It's been a while, really, since I took the time to sit down and think about this team, for whatever reason. In between laughing about how Moises can't stay healthy for six innings straight and then laughing some more about how six innings is, oh, infinity times better than what El Duque has pitched this year, it's hard to really reflect on what has been plaguing the Mets.

    And in sitting and reflecting, wouldn't I be vindicating their effort this year (I know it's baseball, where intangibles and hustle are made-up terms to make David Eckstein an All-Star and Derek Jeter the best player ever, but come on) by proffering more time to their failures than they have?

    But that was until the renaissance. Maybe it's too early to dub the Jerry Manuel era the renaissance – after all, one could have called the Victor Zambrano era a great success by the second game of his Mets career (he went seven innings, didn't allow an earned run, and was buoyed by an offense that featured Ice Williams leading off, Joe McEwing in the two hole, and Todd Zeile batting third – laugh with me), but I'm going to do it anyway.

    Already, in two days, Manuel has endeared himself to me much more than Willie did in his two plus years here, what with his references to "cutting" Jose Reyes on the field, and his shouting match with home plate umpire Doug Eddings tonight. Willie was a product of the Yankee system (mostly Torre's tutelage), and was stoic, afraid to ruffle any feathers and often bordering on dour in his news conferences.

    Jerry Manuel, on the other hand, brings the renaissance. Sure, there was Tuesday night's game (I might call it Wednesday morning's, but Omar Minaya would, in broken phrase, tell me that that was just a matter of perception), which was an abomination of the highest degree, but the team was tired – probably spent the entire night partying because Willie was gone – and just didn't have it.

    Tonight, however, they were anything but exhausted. Reyes looked like the kid we remembered in 2006 – sprinting his way around the bases, scoring three of the Mets' five runs (and he simply couldn't have scored the others, because they were solo homers). Delgado woke up and crushed a ball for his tenth homer of the year – after the news broke that a veteran player, wonder who it could be, told Willie earlier this year that he would outlast the manager – maybe Manuel is capable of waking him up.

    And most importantly, they came back. Oliver Perez, as per usual, was bitten by a bad inning, but unlike the usual, pitched well enough to survive, and keep the Mets in the game. Before I finish – a tangent, if you would indulge me. Why is it that people, including our SNY broadcasters, consistently praise this Angels style of baseball? Sure, taking an extra base once in a while is all well and good, but they scored four runs in the inning before this doozy of a double play: 5-2-4-6-5. The play was relatively simple: there was one out, with men on the corners, and Robb Quinlan hit a bouncing ball to third. Making a play at second would have been difficult for Wright (with the moderately speedy Torii Hunter at first) and throwing to first, across the diamond and across his body, would have been similarly difficult.

    Instead, the now slow-footed Vladimir Guerrero breaks home, and Wright throws him out, and then Hunter, hoping to catch Castro napping (I know he's on the West Coast and has trouble with his time zones, but he won't often be napping during a night game) breaks for third, where he is forced out after a string of throws.

    So instead of possibly having the bases loaded with one out, which, according to the Run Expectancy matrix, ought to generate about 1.5 runs, there were three out, and no one scored. Wouldn't 1.5 runs been a nice cushion for K-Rod, before he blew it in the ninth?

    I understand the importance of hustle, and following Jose Reyes since his promotion has convinced me of the importance of speed in baseball, but how on Earth can one say that grabbing an extra base once in a while is a reasonable trade-off for horrendous gaffes like these?

    And more importantly, while I'm attacking the logic of our SNY crew, how could they present that graphic showing the Angels as a hacking team (fewest P/PA in MLB since 2002) and then showing their successful record and saying that since they see few pitches, and they win, their strategy must be working?

    Including 2002, the Angels' pitching has ranked in RA/G: first, fifth, second, second, fourth, fifth, and this year fifth as well. In terms of runs scored per game, they have ranked, including 2002: fourth, eleventh, seventh, seventh, eleventh, fourth, and this year eleventh.

    So, count it, there was exactly one year, 2007, where the offense outperformed the pitching, relative to competition. Just one year. So my kudos to Mike Scoscia on winning and all – but I beg of SNY to acknowledge the viewers' collective intelligence and talk about the killer Anaheim (or Los Angeles of Anaheim) pitching over that timespan, and not about how this great "let's hustle, take the extra base, and not look at any pitches ever" approach works for scoring runs.

    ==END OF TANGENT==

    So, Perez's effort to control the damage would have also gone to waste, if not for the stellar bullpen work: four innings of one-hit ball after he left the game. Joe Smith pitched well, Schoeneweis pitched well, and Sanchez and Wagner, dare I say it, reminded me of 2006 with their lockdown work in the ninth and tenth.

    While the game ball tonight will go to Jose Reyes, an awful lot of praise must be heaped upon David Wright and Damion Easley. Easley, reprising his role as hero (and resident righty power bat) from the 2007 campaign derailed by injury, hammered a Justin Speier slider over the left-field fence to put the Mets ahead to stay.

    And Wright, who, it appears, has not hit a ball solidly since Willie Randolph had some semblance job security, managed to beat K-Rod (once upon a time, my favorite non-Met) on a nasty slider to tie the game in the ninth. Reyes chugged home, and didn't even throw his helmet.

    All in all, a happy day in Metland. Just you wait – I hear Minaya's on the hot seat, and Fred and JeffTM are considering replacing him with either Tony Bernazard, Paul DePodesta or Petrarch. Then the real renaissance begins.

    Other thoughts:

    -The Mets will have a much-needed off-day tomorrow before facing the Rockies at Coors on Thursday, where the disappointing John Maine will face off against ten-game winner Aaron Cook.
  • Just thought I'd share that with you. Not really a point to it: but, fun fact, Cook is second only to Brandon Webb in the NL in wins, and Edinson Volquez leads in strikeouts and ERA. If you'd have told me that that would be true midway through June, I would have laughed and said, "oh, yeah, right, and Robinson Cancel will have a game-winning hit for the Mets. And Raul Casanova will have had more at-bats than Ramon Castro by that point! And Angel Pagan, who's been out for more than a month with an injury, will have had more playing time in left field than any other Met! And next you'll tell me, that at this point in the season, Nelson Figueroa's ERA will be lower than Pedro's. And sure, Jorge Sosa, despite having been released, will have more wins than Pelfrey! And Moises Alou will have had some bullshit injury, take two months to heal, come back and reinjure himself after six innings! Ha!"


  • -Can we now anoint Omar Minaya the new worst press conduit in the Mets' history? Sure, Mike Piazza held a press conference to announce that he wasn't gay (by the way, Alomar was the gay one, if you haven't figured it out already), and Bobby Valentine did an impression of a hitter batting while stoned after the Mets' core players (Mark Corey and Tony Tarasco, dontcha know?) were accused of smuggling weed into the clubhouse in peanut butter jars, but Minaya just did them all one worse.

    That's all I've got for you today, but I wholeheartedly assure you: the Renaissance means I'm back.

    3.31.2008

    Some Picks on Opening Day

    Hi there.

    While substantiation is being constantly thought up, I wanted to get my season picks on record, right here, right now.

    NL East: Mets
    NL Central: Reds
    NL West: Diamondbacks

    Wild Card: Phillies

    AL East: Red Sox
    AL Central: Indians
    AL West: Mariners

    Wild Card: Tigers

    WORLD SERIES: Indians over Mets

    AL MVP: Manny Ramirez
    NL MVP: David Wright

    AL Cy Young: Erik Bedard
    NL Cy Young: Johan Santana

    3.26.2008

    It's Back

    I doubt anyone reads this thing anymore. Why would they? I haven't written since the Mitchell Report came out – and in that time, we watched, as expected, the vindication of Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds, all of whom have now been fully exonerated of any wrongdoing and have graced us extensively with their presence on the baseball diamond during Spring Training.

    For the record, Andy Pettitte's made three starts. That's it. Last we've heard of Clemens and Bonds was on Capitol Hill and the ongoing BALCO trial, respectively. But I'm not here to talk about the past – all the things I've missed, like the Mets' trade for Johan Santana or the rise of Angel Pagan (previously dubbed, in this space, Oxymoron-in-Chief).

    No, I don't want to talk about Brian Register and Steve Stokes, Jon Parnell and Bobby Niese, or Ivan Figueroa and Nelson Maldonaldo. Or is it the other way around?

    Yes, it's Spring, where those numbers we're used to seeing affixed to the backs of mediocre Jets make their way onto the baseball diamond, now on the backs of kids who live the glamorous lives of minor league pro athletes – taking buses from Binghamton to other cities in the Northeast and staying in motels there. Cities like Akron, Altoona, Harrisburg, New Britain, somebody stop me before I drop my computer and head for the most exciting road trip of my life.

    Even though we're not here to talk about the past, the past has somehow made an appearance on the Mets, as Omar Minaya's attempt to assemble a 1998 All-Star Team has broken down, thanks to your usual sports injuries, like hernias and bunions. Just kidding about the All-Star Team – 1998 was El Duque's rookie season, weirdly his best in the major leagues, though perhaps not weirdly, since he celebrated his 39th birthday on the raft to the Bronx. But hey, think about the Mets that were All-Stars during that season. Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Damion Easley. And had the Mets not so rudely cast them off after last season, Tom Glavine and Aaron Sele would be on that list!

    This team is pretty old. But not the good old, where you talk about all of the rings and whatnot they've amassed, where the elderly provide sagelike wisdom and key advice on the way to championships – all hail Luis Sojo – but rather these are the cranky veterans, who do things like pee on their hands, arbitrarily refuse to join the bullpen and bring years of a winning tradition to Flushing – think about Blue Jays stalwart Carlos Delgado, Tiger legend Easley, and career Expo/Nat Brian Schneider.

    Sure, maybe the Mets are on the hunt for talent blackballed because of the age of the body in which it resides, but when we hear that Moises Alou is out with a strained prostate come the pennant race, one would hope that strategy is reconsidered for future years.

    But there is something charmingly old and decrepit about this Mets club. They're playing the final season ever in Shea Stadium. This is especially significant for El Duque, whose son was one of the lead architects on the project during its construction in 1963.

    This is Shea's last chance, in a way. Two World Series have been won on its grounds, but it has seen far more playoff hearts broken by the likes of Yadier Molina, and, well, yes, Luis Sojo than it has great triumphs. This isn't just the last go-round for Shea, it's the last chance for folks like Moises, El Duque, Easley, Jose Valentin and maybe even Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado, both battle-worn and signed to contracts expiring after this year. Oliver Perez is a free agent after this year, and is represented by Scott Boras – thanks for your service, bud. It might be the last chance for Willie Randolph, who has quickly appeared something of a failure at motivating his club, if he can't win this year.

    Yes, it's Spring, the time of rebirth, but this entire Mets season will have to be about rebirth for this team to win. The dead bats of the elderly must be reborn, the dead arms of John Maine, Oliver Perez and Billy Wagner must be reborn for the full season, and we need to see the rebirth of Jose Reyes' interest in playing good baseball. The rebirth of Luis Castillo's hamstrings wouldn't hurt, but I'm not holding my breath.

    But I hate to sound pessimistic about this season. They've got Santana, Wright, Beltran and the rest of the gang. So what if Ryan Church, Brian Schneider and the punchless Castillo are in the everyday lineup? This team will be reborn; they've got no choice.

    And that's my major concern this season, not the fifth starter or the 25th man. So it's easy for me not to worry right now, when Nelson Figueroa and Joe Smith, both of whom are still in the running to make this team, combined to allow six runs in two innings against the Marlins. I can't worry about that. Both allowed homers. Yeesh. Still can't worry.

    As a corollary to not worrying about the last pitcher in the pen or in the rotation, I won't reflect on the fact that Brady Clark and Fernando Tatis are feasible options to join the Mets opening week in Florida – and not in Port St. Lucie. Although, chuckling, I ought to remind you of Tatis' 1999 season in St. Louis where he posted a .298/.404/.553 line with 31 doubles, 34 homers, 107 RBI, and 21 steals. And he wasn't even named in the Mitchell Report!

    But I'm not here to talk about the past; I'm here to talk about the future. And, I bet, so is Fernando Tatis. It's March 26. The Mets are losing to the Marlins. Do I care? No.

    Give me five more days.