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Dining in the Desert

The ballpark in Arizona, call it BankOne Ballpark, Chase Field, or banking services company + synonym for stadium (CitiField isn't finished; I can still make that joke), has been very kind to the Mets of late: the Flushing squad is 8-0 there since 2005.

The thin air inside the retractable-roof stadium has created Mets lore during the past years, as Mike Jacobs posted a .467/.579/1.133 line there in 4 games in 2005, turning the youngster into a legend while he jacked three homers in four games.

David Wright is a .469/.528/.875 hitter there.

Carlos Beltran has a fairly nuts line there, too: .368/.432/.921.

Perhaps this trip to Chase Field can provide the Mets with a slumpbuster: last year all four games weren't even close, as the Metsies ran the D-Backs over in short order: 7-1, 10-6, 5-0, 15-2. It was part of the "greatest road trip ever," where the Mets took a tour of National League teams on their way down, en route to posting a 9-1 record. Even Alay Soler and El Duque threw shutouts.

Here's something to look at: the Mets wreaked similar havoc in the desert in 2005. The scores there were 4-1, 14-1, 18-4, and 3-1. Victor Zambrano was nasty, Pedro had that odd start, where he had been charged up on some sort of electronic machine to counteract an injury, and carried a no-hitter through four or five despite having absolutely no control over where his pitches were going.

This Mets team is in a different circumstance, as are the Diamondbacks. The Mets are narrowly behind Atlanta in the all-important NL East race, and the Diamondbacks, despite having to cope with garish new uniforms, are only a game and a half behind the once-hot Dodgers.

This is a totally rebuilt Arizona team: gone are the relics of that 2001 World Series team (save for the pitcher formerly known as Randy Johnson) and in their stead are the young products of a top-notch farm system. Arizona's unloaded their veterans, like Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez.

Arizona has been led on offense by second baseman Orlando Hudson, and his uncharacteristic .348/.412/.500 line. Eric Byrnes and Chad Tracy have done pretty well, and the Diamondbacks have a young nucleus that will undoubtedly contribute at some point during the season.

One could look at shortstop Stephen Drew, centerfielder Chris Young, outfielder Carlos Quentin, catcher Miguel Montero, and utility man Alberto Callaspo as signs that this team is up-and-coming.

Their pitching isn't bad either: reigning Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb is once again the ace of the staff, and the chaff (Russ Ortiz, Claudio Vargas, Miguel Batista) that allowed the Mets to tee off in past years is gone.
Offseason acquisition Doug Davis (left, 2.25 ERA in 6 starts) has done well, as has the Mets' old friend Livan Hernandez (3.55 ERA in 6 starts). Micah Owings, who will be facing the Mets tonight (9:40 PM, SNY), pitched well in three starts before an arm injury.

Best of all, though, has been the Diamondbacks' lights-out bullpen, anchored by closer Jose Valverde (10 SV, 1.64 ERA, more than a strikeout per inning), who is supported by righties like the mercurial Juan Cruz, youngster Dustin Nippert, the out-of-nowhere Tony Pena (16.1 innings, 1.65 ERA) and southpaw Doug Slaten, who has held lefties to a .167 batting average against.

I'm not sure that these Diamondback teams will be pushovers, though any team playing in that stadium gives the Mets an opportunity to win. Let's do it. Let's see that slumpbuster.

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Ah, how punny. The Mets lose to the Marlins and Ricky Nolasco, who entered the game 0-3 with a 19.73 ERA career against us, and I can still make light of it with a terribly clever pun.

Well, not exactly. Last night's game wasn't all bad: after all, our golden boy did hit his first home run of the year (on the same night that the perenially-overrated $136 million man Alfonso Soriano hit his), and the Mets didn't play awfully. David Wright went 3-for-4 with a double as well.

Pelf didn't pitch badly, aside from a poor first inning (three walks and a triple, positively Parkesque), and the Mets' rookie wunderkind Joe Smith still hasn't given up a run on the season.

Regrettably, Stinky Heilman was exactly his name, serving up a two-run job to ice it in the eighth. He put it out of reach: a deficit of one run became three during his fine stint on the mound.

I don't know what to do about him: one would hope his filthy change will soon return, and moreover that he won't go all Brad Lidge on us.

Lidge, coincidentally (or not?), like Heilman closed games for Notre Dame, and melted down precipitously after serving up a home run, coincidentally (or not?), to a Puerto Rican player on the Cardinals while pitching in his home ballpark during the NLCS. The comparisons are eerie.

Lidge's meltdown didn't cost his Astros a spot in the World Series. After all, the Cardinals had disposed of the Astros during the 2004 NLCS, and 2005 presented the Astros with an opportunity to go to the Series. They were swept, with Lidge boasting an 0-2 record in only three games of work.

After that postseason, questions emerged about Lidge's confidence. Would he be okay? The overwhelming opinion was that the embattled closer would weather the storm. Not exactly: he posted a 1-5 record with a Trachselian 5.28 ERA. His WXRL, a metric for measuring relievers, dropped from 8.1 in 2004, to 4.7 in 2005, and an embarrassing 0.8 in 2006.

Lidge has a 5.73 ERA and a ghastly 2.36 WHIP this season, and was recently bumped from the closer's role in Houston in favor of former Met long man Dan Wheeler.

Enter Heilman. He served up a shot of Jack to Molina during Game 7: we all unfortunately can remember. Heilman's numbers this year haven't quite been Lidgely, though he is undoubtedly vying with Ambiorix Burgos for the weak link in the Mets' pen, with two losses and a 4.09 ERA on the young season while working as the primary setup man.

Perhaps Willie should consider lengthening the leashes of Schoeneweis (who has a whopping 8 walks in slightly more than nine innings) and Joe Smith, though I am not entirely sure that's a good idea. Maybe the Mets would benefit from the promotion of Jorge Sosa, who has been impressive at New Orleans, and has worked as a reliever before.

Maybe it was shortsighted to unload four of our young relievers this offseason to net Ben Johnson, Adam Bostick, Jason Vargas, and Jon Adkins. I don't see any of them contributing to the Flushing squad, while Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom have combined for 26.2 innings of 2.40 ERA ball for the Marlins and Heath Bell has a 0.54 ERA in 16.2 innings of work for the Padres.

Bell (left, pumped to be a Padre) probably had very little to offer the big club, though I would disagree with similar assessments about Ring, Owens, and Lindstrom. Maybe the Sanchez and Padilla injuries are responsible for this, perhaps the Mota suspension as well, though all of these were pretty much known quantities when Minaya made the questionable deals with Florida and San Diego (read my first impulse, which turned out to be pretty much right).

The bullpen needs to get better, and a little more late-inning production from the offense wouldn't exactly hurt. You can't exactly expect the Mets to win when they score two solitary runs.


The Mets are tied 1-1 with Florida now, with Perez on the hill. Follow it at MLB Gameday. Ruben Gotay drove in the tying run.

And finally, how about those Rangers? I think Briere's last second shot probably was a goal, so we caught a break, but it's not like the refs have been awfully kind to us this season. Shanahan's goal was beautiful, and King Henrik was outstanding.

I made a mistake handicapping the series in my post yesterday: the NHL series format is 2-2-1-1-1, not 2-3-1. Game 5 is therefore in Buffalo, and we'll see you on Friday night with a chance to take the lead.

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Why Can't I Be Wrong?

I hoped against hope that my prognostication of Chan Ho Park's sucking would be wrong. I am not Metstradamus. Unfortunately, I'm not stupid either.

The wretched thing that is the Mets starting rotation (save for the farm boy, and Glavine) took another turn for the worse as Tsing-Tao Park spirited us away to our third loss in the last five games. I know... that's hardly Yankee proportions of late, but it still is something to be concerned about.

Why, take note of this stat: in the past week, the Mets have put up a paltry .258/.325/.378 line, on par with the career numbers of the dearly departed Joe McUseless: .251/.302/.355. You know that when you're slumping to an extent where McEwing would be a productive offensive player, you're in trouble (see New York Mets from 2002-04).

And it is high time to worry about David Wright and Carlos Delgado. These two composed half of the Mets Core Four from last year (Reyes and Beltran are the others) and it's difficult to see them playing poorly and the Mets winning.

The worst part is that Wright is a player, who, at this point in his career, you would like to see a progression from him, in both hitting for average and for power. He's 24 and a half, and yet that 6-year, $55 million deal looks like we bought ourselves an above-average singles and doubles hitter.

Maybe it was my mistake to bash Wes Helms: his .244 EqA is hardly that much worse than Wright's .263 clip. Even better, we're forced to watch the best 3Bs in the National League frequently; Miguel Cabrera and Larry Jones. Perhaps we might have all been carried away with Wright, though he just looks absolutely lost at the plate.

Worst of all, David is hearing boo-birds at Shea. He deserves them, undoubtedly, his 0 HR and 6 RBI aren't going to win the Mets any championships. Perhaps Willie should rest him... I hear that David Newhan's swinging a hot bat (2 for 13, no XBH on the year). The other David (Wright) hasn't had an extra-base hit since April 12.

There's nobody there to push Delgado and Wright: the players who would assume their positions are not only decidedly inferior, they are both on the downside of their careers. Sorry, Julio, but you just aren't cut out for everyday work.

Where does this team go from here? The Mets are lost, wandering, without much of a home (as evidenced by their 6-6 record at Shea), and in mild but present danger of losing ground in the division to Atlanta.

Factor in that Jose Valentin followed El Duque to the DL (perhaps the clubhouse oat bran was tainted), and that Moises was awfully banged up in last night's game, and that Mike Pelfrey, our top pitching prospect, and his 0-2 record and 7.90 ERA are heading to the hill, and it makes it a great night for playoff hockey.

Rangers-Sabres, 7 p.m., on your local VERSUS channel. ::Collective groan from league offices::.
Seriously, this is probably a must-win for the Blueshirts, unless they plan on going back to Buffalo down 3-2 or getting eliminated on home ice Game 5.

Maybe Michal Rozsival will do something impressive, so all the local tabs can do their best Ethel Merman impression in tomorrow's headlines.

One final thing: Ruben Gotay (!) was called up to replace Jose Valentin. If Anderson Hernandez or Fernando Tatis makes the trip up north from New Orleans, I might consider rooting for the Red Sox. They're good.

Edit: Vote in the new poll.

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Frying the Fish

Hm. This would have been a good post title, if not for the news, just breaking, that one of our magnificent starters, Orlando "I did it all for the Duque" Hernandez, will be scratched from his start tonight, placed on the DL, and replaced in the starting rotation by Chan Ho Pork.

While our newest starter's name may actually be Chan Ho (can we say that in the blogosphere anymore?) Park, I'm going to call him Pork, for the most part because a ham could probably throw a better game than he does. Although if you watch towards the end of this YouTube video, you'll see Chan Ho's mad Kung Fu skills. The picture is also on this post.

I don't like Chan Ho Park. My dislike of him is rooted in so many things, but mostly the fact that he was a royal bum after signing a Darren Dreifort-esque 5-year, $65 million pact with the Texas Rangers. Park, in his three and a half years with the Team at the Ballpark at Arlington, won 22 games.

Last year he pitched for San Diego, where he racked up an impressive 7-7 record with a 4.81 ERA. His 8.0 VORP wasn't even a third of Pedro Feliciano's tally. And Pork was making upwards of 15-million dollars, cruising in Southern California, on an aircraft carrier he bought wth spare change between his couch cushions.

The highly-sought after Park entered into free agency, and reached a deal with the Mets, ensuring that he would bring his mediocrity to Shea Stadium when we least desired it. Maybe I was wrong on that front.

Chan H* will take the mound tonight, against the Florida Fish, primed for an embarrassing showing. He's 4-2 against Florida, with a 4.39 ERA, for his career, and the Mets don't need another Jose Lima.

The worst part about Park is that he doesn't even qualify on the Lima level. Lima was crazy, it was always Lima Time (even when Dontrelle Willis smashed that grand slam past the International Date Line) and we looked forward to his showings. Jeremi Geremi Gonzalez is more an accurate comparison for Park, minus of course that then-record contract.

Let's pray that El Duque's shipment of medical cream is on it's way, and that he keeps taking his Centrum Silver and Metamucil. That bursitis isn't going to cure itself. Onward and upward, folks. How long until Omar has to ask John Maine to fill two spots in the starting rotation? Hell, I'd take lefty Pedro. As long as he's one arm to his name, he'll be better than Chan Ho and his incredibly dexterous legs.


P.S. Michal Rozsival is the man.

And the Mets will lose two of three to the Fish. What is going wrong? Thankfully this series will be followed by a trip to Arizona. The Mets are 8-0 there the last two years.

Crosstown Rivals is sponsored by JustGreatTickets.com, your home for Chicago White Sox Tickets.