Monday, June 23, 2008

Trouble.


The weekend series in Colorado was nice, there's no denying that, and overall the Mets as a team are playing a more inspired, motivated brand of baseball since the regime change some 7 days ago.

But right now, the Mets trail baseball's worst team, record-wise, 5-0 in the 5th inning with their ace on the hill.

I'm not gonna sit here and sweat the fact that they're losing to the Mariners; that is what it is, any team can lose to any other team, and will do so frequently over the course of a long season, but the issue is Johan Santana, who is looking a lot shakier than someone deserving the moniker "best pitcher in baseball" should look.

Santana, coming into tonight's game in which he and the Mets are now trailing 5-1, is 7-5, while the team is 9-6 in games he has started. That ain't dominant, and while I don't generally give much credence to a pitcher's win-loss totals, much of that being based on luck, a pitcher of his supposed caliber should be winning more games, period.

His ERA is respectable at 3.04, his WHIP not terrible, due to the low number of walks he issues, at 1.21.

On the flipside, he is allowing nearly a hit per inning, and has just given up his 14th HR of the season, a Grand Slam hit by Felix Hernandez on the first pitch he saw, which oh by the way was the first home run a Mariners pitcher has ever hit. That number of home runs surrendered is good for 9th in the NL, and all but one of the pitchers above him in that category pitch in Philly, Cincinnati, Colorado or Houston. In case that doesn't mean anything to you, those 4 cities' baseball teams play home games in ballparks only slightly larger than the bed on my pickup truck.

I understand his pattern in the past, and am hopeful that it will follow this season as well: he generally comes out of the gate sluggishly, and then goes on an absolute tear for the rest of the season, particularly midsummer. Thing is, the season is nearly, incredibly, half over, and now's about the time that that absolute tear should get going. I though that Keith (or Ron, I'm not 100% sure who said it) nailed it on the head during tonight's broadcast when he talked about the time for theatre; tonight was supposed to be the night that Johan's dominance reared its head, but not quite.

I'm not gonna call for Johan's head here. I don't think he doesn't care, and I don't care how much money he makes. I'm sure anyone would happily accept that contract.

Nor am I gonna start questioning the deal to acquire him. Anyone, anytime, anywhere, makes that deal, end of story.

But if this team has a run in them, he needs to go out and be that guy, that's all there is to it, and Saturday against the Yankees would be a hell of a time to get on a roll.

Hey, if this were fantasy baseball, the Mets would be winning, the runs being unearned.

Now let's go beat the piss out of the Starbucks Mermen the rest of this series.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dan Warthen is My Hero.

Continuing on the headline for my last post, things are, simply put, surreal.

Dan Warthen is our pitching coach. There isn't a single picture of Dan Warthen on the internet, not that I could find, nor does he have a Wikipedia entry. And there he was, in the dugout 2 nights in a row, walking out to the mound and saying something to a couple of pitchers. Whether it was, "work him offspeed on the outer edge" or "hi, I'm Dan, your pitching coach", I'm not sure, but hey. I swear that for whatever reason, my buddy and I laughed hysterically for about 10 straight minutes when SNY kept cutting to him in the dugout, partially because he's a little funny looking, and partially from being punchdrunk by the sudden disappearance of familiarity, replaced with a couple old people.

And where is HoJo in all of this? I swear I haven't heard his named uttered, not once, while meanwhile the entire coaching staff has been uprooted, via firing, promotion of demotion. I haven't seen him, either. Is he hiding?

Wednesday night was iffy, but Wednesday day was iffy, and it just followed. Lackey pitched well, Johan didn't, it is what it is, but they win, and win so improbably I still don't really buy it, on Thursday: a late-inning comeback?! Against K-Rod??!! It truly was a nice win, for a team that has been woefully lacking in comebacks of any sort. Walking into the 9th, while I cursed myself for losing sleep to watch another west coast loss, the Met offense had to face a closer who hadn't blown a save in 25 attempts, whose slider doesn't deserve to be called a slider because it transcends sliding, the same Met offense that has negated my need for a barber, and they got to him, tie ballgame! Then I start thinking, of course, they do this, and they blow it, perfect. But Damion Easley, Mr. 2 Legit 2 Quit himself, steps up and yaks one. I can't believe it.

Oliver Perez needs to invest in some kind of a "get out of inning free" card.

Great to see David Wright start to come around, and can we stop bashing Delgado yet, who has quietly been in '06 form for a little while now?

And with that win they've won a couple series in a row, and have improved to 6-2 against the AL, which regardless of what people were saying about the NL catching up, is clearly still the superior league. Point is, the New York Mets can hang with the best teams in the game when they play their best baseball. Nights like 5 of the last 8 nights reinforce my confidence in that statement, and maybe, just maybe, they're starting to play their best. Is it Jerry Manuel and co? I don't know; maybe they broke out of their hole on Sunday and Willie or no Willie they'll be hot from here on out, or maybe they won't, Willie or no Willie.

I've seen/heard/read a lot of initial similar reactions to the new regime. Seems like a lot of folks want to anoint Jerry Manuel as the savior after one extra-inning win, which is really indicative of how starved we've been, but let's give this thing some time before we judge it one way or another. They're good, and he might be good. If he is good, then there's a chance those characters can get it together and make a run yet. ('03 Marlins, Torbor fired, McKeon comes in, anyone?)

Out to Denver, where thankfully it's only June, not Rocktober.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What?


My assumption is that no one is reading this, seeing as I've completely s**t the bed as far as blogging goes for a couple of months now. To be fair, I've been relocated from my home in NY down the chop-country, ATL, GA, started a new job packed full of hours, and moved into a new house with an infant, so getting the time to write can be tough, even though I've kept watching all of the games, no matter what.

That being said, I've been waiting for the right moment to kick things off again, and I just can't keep my mouth shut about this, so let the floodgates open, I shall blog again.

To tell you the truth, I may be in the minority, but I really didn't want to see Willie go, and I find the whole thing to be rather sad. Perhaps it's sentimentality rather than reason speaking, but to me this was Willie's team, and that feeling has only been intensified with him now suddenly gone, something I found out about, by the way, at about 6:45am as I pulled into work with a phone call from my father in NY. Having gone to bed with a 4-3 Met lead in the 5th, I almost assumed they would blow it, the way things have been going, and when I woke up and checked the boxscore on my phone I was very pleased, and got a little wave of optimism. Then the phone call, and all day all I could think was, damn.

To me, Willie Randolph represents the man at the helm of the ship when this franchise rocketed back to relevance in a way unseen since the '80's, and I'm not forgetting 1999-2000. The way he guided that team in '05 and '06 was really perfect, he was the right man for the job, and a bad finish to 2007 plus a third of '08 isn't enough to cancel that out. The core of the great '06 team is still here, and more than anything, all of us Met fans really just want that team back, or something like it. That was his team. This feels like his team. I just don't think he deserved to get the boot mid-season.

Plus, I genuinely like him, and if you saw the brief initial interview with Willie as he left the hotel in Anaheim, I don't know how you could call it anything but downright heartbreaking.

Maybe this just feels like the end of an era that once seemed like an empire that would never die; Willie, David, Jose, Pedro, Wags and the Carloses looked like a sure dynasty, and while many of the members of that list may yet see glory, it is now set in stone that things will never happen they way we thought and hoped they would. Jerry Manuel may go on to win us a bundle of championships, and I'm sure that would be as sweet as anything, but for now, things are just off; we were naive in '06 to think that it would all just keep going, the way sports are today, and this is reality. It's the day you and your highschool sweetheart realize you're both going to college.

And I don't want to get in to whether Willie motivated Reyes enough, whether he double-switched appropriately, or any of that. I just feel how I do.

But anyway...
In spite of all that, I'm not quite on board with every sportswriter and their respective mothers with the perception that the Mets handled the whole thing in a "gutless", "classless", "cruel" or "amateur" way. The list could go on, and they're dumping it all on. Initially I thought about it that way, but I actually bought Omar's logic in the press conference, particularly because he seemed very sincere. I can see how he would want him out at the very instant the decision is made for a variety of reason: the risk of leaks, which Omar pounded home a lot, the risk of a manager who nows he's done managing a game, and really, I can see the problem with the mere idea of allowing someone who you've resolved to fire to manage a ballgame. Did the whole thing drag out a bit too publicly over the last couple of weeks? Yes. But to be fair, Omar seemed to take his shots for that, and it is New York. If the thing had been approached the same way in Atlanta, no one would have blinked an eye, which is why it's tough to compare organizations in that way.

I though Omar was pretty darn direct today, and I give him credit for it. I don't think it was all handled splendidly, and obviously I don't agree with the decision at its base, but I'm not gonna linger on the 3:15et/12:15pt am issue.

And whether I think his predecessor should be gone or not, I really liked Jerry Manuel in his portion of the press conference, and apparently, based on what I've read in the various online forums, most Met fans agree with me. I thought he seemed very intelligent, very personable, and most impressively very smooth and comfortable in what was a very uncomfortable situation. His resume isn't incredible, but neither was Joe Torre's, or Terry Francona's. Who knows?

I do agree that if you're gonna bag Willie, someone with a different angle had better come in, but I don't see the whole Manuel is just Willie version 2.0 thing. Why? Because he's a nice, calm, black guy? (And trust me, I'm not playing any race card, I'd be the last person on earth to get PC on you) That's silly; Jerry Manuel struck me as having a very different presence from Willie Randolph, and from what he said, he has a different approach to the subtleties of managing a baseball team.

To sum it all up, I moved 1000 miles away form home, I'm sorry I dissapeared from the blog, I'm sorry Willie's gone, I hope I'm wrong about that, I don't think Omar's evil, I like Manuel even though I wanted Willie to stay, and I hope I'm right about him.

Now go beat the Angels. Let's Go Mets. Geez.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Felt Like '06...

IMAGE: ANTDEROSA FROM FLICKR



I haven't heard the postgame responses form tonight on the radio, or read them on the internet, and I don't really care how the fickle mood of the conspiracy theorist Met fans who behave like Yankee fans has been swayed one way or the other, but I can tell you plain and simple: that was the kind of game that just made you feel really good.

It not only made you feel good, but it put a lot of things in perspective after what in my mind was one of the single greatest days of fan overreaction in the history of sports. Maybe some of that negativity coming from the fans trickled in to the clubhouse, or was already present, and lit a fire under them, but that's not my feeling. My feeling is that this is a really good team that's going to amass a hefty sum of wins, and this was one of them, as the 6 losses were 6 of the 60-70 some games any 90-100 win team will lose.

So much for Reyes being done, huh? My expectation was that the slump would ease its way out, possibly beginning with a nice 2-4 game with a SB, and then maybe a 1-4 with a double and an RBI, but the leadoff man, after 2 1/2 days off, returned with quite a bang, going 4-5. Reyes singled, doubled and tripled in succession, and the whole park smelled cycle, but alas hit #4 was a mere single again. All of his hits were hard, and all of them were well-timed. Bravo, Jose. It's just impossible to convey, or rather, to put into words what the effect on this entire team is when Reyes is on his game. All that tension, all of the bad taste that you have in your mouth through collapses and slow starts, it's all gone. When Reyes is on, it just feels like everything's going to be OK.

Not to short David Wright, who homered in his 3rd consecutive game, barely clearing the fence in right center (right center? left center? my memory is escaping me...), doubled twice, and drove in 5 runs,
5 runs. Not a bad night to have David Wright on 4 different fantasy teams. The Captain apparent is now back to .300, and has knocked in a total of 15 runs, tying him with Mark Reynolds for the NL lead.

Beltran knocked one in. Pagan kept his hitting going. Church looked good in the 2-spot, where he was inserted today, notching 1 hit, 1 BB, scoring 2 runs, and successfully bunting Reyes to 3rd in the bottom of the 1st. I haven't seen any signs of late that Luis Castillo is capable of such tasks. Brian Schneider was unimpressive with the bat against his old squad, but looked great gunning Milledge on a caught stealing at 3rd.

Speaking of the Great Lastings Milledge, I liked him when he was here, and I still like him. I wore my custom #44 "Stings" Jersey from last year today, and I'll wear it tomorrow. You can count me out of the Milledge Boo-Birds. To me, he's an exciting player with a ton of potential which he may or may not fulfill, and all of his alleged off-the-field issues were totally overblown. In contrast with the DUI's, assault charges, weapons charges, domestic abuse, tax fraud, and steroid usage that is rampant in all of sports, I was never too offended by Lastings choosing to give high-fives to some fans and recording a rap album. I wasn't, and still aren't gonna listen to it, and probably disagree with some of its content, but that doesn;t influence my interpretation of Lastings Milledge the outfielder too much. I'll cheer for him tomorrow.

Duca, on the other hand, who didn't play today but should be in the lineup for DC tomorrow...
That's really tough, and I may just have to sit it out, not boo or cheer. The guy was a favorite of mine, but was not only
on the Mitchell Report, he was very prominently featured, and probably introduced a good number of other players to the juice. He also wrote checks to buy drugs, which is just dumb as all hell. Come on, Paulie.
But I loved him, really did, as much as any ballplayer...
Gonna have to sit down and be silent.

To the issue at hand again, all guns clicked last night, Tuesday night, offensively. The leadoff man led-off, the #2 man got him over, the #3 man got 'em in, and the rest of 'em helped. Pelfrey was truly impressive, picthing 7 shutout innings, though not peril-free, and the bullpen was quick and done. Heilman got some boos after issuing a 4-pitch walk in the 8th, but no harm was done, SO STOP BOOING EVERYTHING, MET FANS! ESPECIALLY BEFORE ANY DAMAGE IS DONE! IT'S NOT GONNA HELP WHEN A GUY IS STILL IN THERE TO BOO HIM!

And who pitched the 9th? An indescribably welcome sight in Duaner Sanchez. He gave up one hit, but was locating well and K'd one batter in his one inning of scoreless work. It has to be remembered that he is working his way back to full strength, so if he gives up some hits now and tops off at 92, that isn't necessarily a permanent thing. Anyhow it was great to see him at all, and great to see him have a good inning; you forget just how dominant he was 2 years ago before in between Heilman and Wags.

Mets Win, 6-0. Solid score, no drama. They're the far superior team of the two, and they showed it. I was never worried, just enjoying myself.

Elsewhere, the Braves got blanked by former standout Scott Olsen in Miami, but the Jose Valverde and the 'Stros really blew it for us, giving up 4 runs in the bottom of the 9th in Philly and dropping a game which they led 3-0 going into that inning. That was an annoying score to see updated on the scoreboard. I'm sure Pedro Feliz is very happy with himself. Ugh.

Tomorrow/tonight, whenever it is, Maine will be facing Matt Chico, who is winless on the year, and should remain so.

It will also be my final game at Shea before I have to move to Atlanta, Georgia, (yes, I know. No, I'm not going to become a Braves fan, we've covered this) although certainly not my final game at Shea. They have things called airplanes and I have something called an obsession and something else called season tickets which I am not relinquishing. Gimme a bye for now win, guys.




Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gabe the Babe.

IMAGE: METSGRRL.COM FROM FLICKR


When Oliver Perez hits the first batter he faces, you know that nothing good is coming. It's either Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, and today it was Mr. Hyde. Ollie's line today: 4.1 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 1 HBP. Yech. The highlight of his day? Backing up an ill-advised errant throw home by Carlos Delgado. Jorge Sosa didn't help him much, giving up 2 runs of his own, but the rest of the pen actually looked very good.

Gabe Kapler has completely forgotten that he is a replacement level player, going 3-4 with a homer, a double and 3 RBI's on the days, bringing his average up to .423 with 4 HR's. Maybe he'll start against righties now, too. Both of these losses to Milwaukee are probably wins without Kapler's timely hits.

So how do you rack up 14 hits and still lose a ballgame? You hit in to double plays in 5 CONSECUTIVE INNINGS. I've never seen anything like that, and to be honest, I was very *ahem* unsure about a couple of those out calls at first, particularly the ones on Church and Schneider, but I haven't seen a highlight, so who knows. To be fair, my seats at Shea aren't far from first base, and are in line with the 1B umpire's view, and they looked safe.

That doesn't, however, mean that there is any excuse for hitting ground balls right at infielders with men on first and less than 2 outs in 5 consecutive innings, and can somebody tell me why Brady Clark was running on contact from 3rd with no one out in the bottom of the 8th? If he holds up there, worst-case scenario is men on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out for David Wright, and after Delgado flied out to end that 8th inning rally, Clark's being thrown out at home proved the dagger for the Mets.

Some other bones to pick, though they didn't end up hurting the Mets in the game:

1. Why did Delgado make that throw home in the 1st? If you don't recall the situation, Carlos caught a pop up in foul territory not far from first, and as usual the runner at 3rd bluffed that he was going. Rather than run the ball in, like any highschool player would do, Delgado flings the ball in to Schneider, and it gets away. If Ollie isn't perfectly positioned to back that ball up, a run scores. It's just another example among many in the early days of this season of something far less than fundamental baseball.

2. What in the world was Willie thinking with his pitching changes today? He brought Scott Schoenweis in to start the 7th, (who for whatever reason I've come to like) and Show got the pinch-hitter Joe Dillon out on 2 pitches. Instead of letting him stay in to face Jason Kendall, who hit .242 last year and has hit 4 home runs in the last 3 seasons, who Ned Yost bats 9th, behind the pitcher, Willie goes and gets Joe Smith. Look, you can like Schoenweis or not, but when you're chasing 3 runs, as they were at the time, how do you go to your 3rd reliever in the 7th inning after the guy you have in there has thrown 2 pitches? If it were Ryan Braun up, maybe, but it was Jason Kendall.

So Smith finishes the 7th, giving up 1 unearned run because David Wright can't throw a baseball (even though Delgado got the error officially) and Feliciano comes in to pitch the 7th. Feliciano retires Fielder, and whaddaya know, that's it for Pedro. Wilie wants Heilman after Feliciano has faced 1 batter. Was he tired? Doubtful, as he had only pitched 2 innings all year. Heilman comes in, and the pitcher's spot is due to leadoff the bottom of the inning, so Willie double-switches in Brady Clark, when anyone in their right mind knew that a righty would be coming in to pitch the 8th for Milwaukee; the Brewers have burned their only lefty RP. As it happened Clark got a hit, but I always want Marlon Anderson facing a righty over Clark. So now we're in the 8th inning, and Willie has just used his 5th relief pitcher, now chasing 2 runs, and his hot-hitting 6 hitter in right field, Church, is out of the game for the pitcher's spot.

That all to me just reeked of horrible mismanagement, and while it didn't eventually hurt us today, other than having Anderson bat instead of Church in the 9th, those kind of moves will lose you games. Mind you, I've never been a Willie hater, but I have questioned his ability to handle pitching changes and double switches.

On a brighter note, congrats to David Wright on his 100th career home run in the 1st inning today, his 2nd in as many at-bats.

Off day tomorrow, and we can only hope to beat up on the Nats, hopefully with Reyes back and Duaner Sanchez on board, and come out of this homestand over .500.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Johan Gets the Sheets Pulled Out From Underneath Him

IMAGE: JOHNCRIMMINGS FROM FLICKR


Maybe it shoulda rained...

Johan Santana is a hell of a pitcher, make no mistake, but it looks like his propensity to give up the longball isn't out of his system. It really comes with the territory with a pitcher who lives on a changeup: when the change doesn't fool a hitter it can be hit very, very far, and Gabe Kapler knew it was coming in the 7th inning. Funny to think a guy who was managing the Greenville Drive last year can take Santana deep.

To put it in perspective, Johan has a career ERA just over 4 in April and May, and his second half ERA is under 3. He does come from a country that hugs the equator, so one could understand how pitching in NY for the first time in April, hot as it may seem to us, could be initially discomforting. Point is, he'll be fine, and I
can't believe that I heard boos as he left the game today. Come on.

Sheets was iffy in the 1st, giving up two runs, but he was simply untouchable after that all the way up until David Wright took him out to left field too little too late.

I felt hopeful when Eric Gagne came in, cuz if anyone can pull a Benitez these days, it's him, but he was very efficient, getting the Mets 1-2-3 in the 9th.


Ollie pitches tomorrow against our old friend Jeff Suppan; initial word is that Reyes will not play, though his MRI was negative.

Manny Ramirez just doubled in two runs off of Moose to give Boston a 3-2 lead in the 6th. Hold on, fellas. Let's go Sox.

The Tigers can't win a game, nearly being no-hit by GAVIN FLOYD, and eventually losing 7-0, dropping to 2-9 on the year.

Smoltz looks as if there never was an injury, as he gave up only 1 run over 6, dropping his ERA to 0.82 in a 10-2 Braves W over the Nats. Jeff Francoeur went 3-5 and hit 2 homers. He has caught fire.

Philly plays later, pitting Cole Hamels against the Cubbies and Ted Lilly at CBP. Hopefully the lefty shuts the Philly big boys down.

Let's Go Mets.

How to Solve your Corner Outfield Woes: Go to Church and Seek the Help of Angels

IMAGE: MICHAEL G. BARON FROM FLICKR


Boy, has it ever been a while since we had a win streak...

My baseball week started on a very sour note, after waiting all April to see the Mets in person, I finally drove out to Turner Field, as I happened to be in Atlanta, last Friday, and what did we get? A rainout. Oh well, I thought, we'll get 'em on Saturday and Sunday. Not so much. 2 swings by Kelly Johnson and Mark Teixeira and it's Tomahawk Chops galore.

Oh well, I again think, I'll be back in Brooklyn tomorrow and on Tuesday we'll turn it around at Shea. And again, not so much with the second part of that arrangement. To be fair, I'll always be grateful to have been at the last opener at Shea, especially with my father close to his birthday, but on the baseball end of things the game was ugly and the second out #27 was recorded all the baseball Seventh-Day Adventists of the message board and talk radio world stuck their heads out and cried, "the end is near!" I'll admit, while the more rational and optimistic end of me was rife with self-reminders of the insignificance of week 1 records, they were accompanied with some foreboding.

And then the bats went off on Wednesday, led by, of course, Angel Pagan, with a good deal of help from the Philly defense, and Pelfrey gave us one of his better Major League showings. Eric Bruntlett is officially my all-time favorite Philly.

Thursday Maine looked very good, surrendering one run over six, and he had enough help to win it, but Heilman indulged himself in that one nasty habit of his, that is giving up bombs, and there were those phightins, right back in it. In extras the bats looked weak, they looked not so much with the clutch, and you were just waiting for the ball to drop with the bullpen.

As a side note, I understand completely why going in to Thursday night, any Met fan would have been sour on Scott Schoenweis, and why they would have booed him as he exited his prior appearance, but to me it seems counterintuitive to sit at a relatively important baseball game into extra innings and boo your own pitcher coming in in the 11th. I mean you want him to succeed, don't you? Boo him after he fails, or boo him if the situation doesn't matter, but in a tie game in the 11th, with 2 men on and Philly's best hitter at the plate, do you really want to shake Schoenweis' already shaky psyche?
And hey, he got the job done.

But the ball did not drop with the bullpen; the only ball that dropped was a line drive off the bat of the shortstop right in between Werth and Jenkins. Reyes stood at 2nd, and WHO ELSE BUT ANGEL PAGAN, 3 for 5 on the night overall, provided the winning base hit. Who knows if Reyes scored? It counted.

Friday, we had a feel-good story that will be hard to top. Brooklyn's own (And this time the player in question actually grew up here, rather than Paul LoDuca who quickly fled to AZ after birth) Nelson Figueroa pitched his ass off if you don't mind me saying, allowing 2 runs over 6, and the bullpen was nearly perfect behind him, Joe Smith allowing the only baserunner on a walk to Rickie Weeks. Delgado contributed to the runs, as he has been doing, Easley gave us one, even Raul Casanova managed to get away from the ladies for a moment to knock one in. And who roped a key, late RBI single? ANGEL F'IN PAGAN! Mets beat the Brewers, the Brooklyn boy shines, Heilman gives up no bombs, Wagner gets save numero uno, there's the first 3-game win streak of the year.

The bad news? Reyes leaves with a hammy strain, said not to be serious. There are many rumblings that perhaps it's more than they're letting on, but methinks something else might be brewing. What has been the single loudest whine about Reyes since last summer? "Someone needs to give him a good talkin' to!" I think Willie might have done just that. Physically he has looked fine, but his approach has stunk. He had the one highlight scoring the run on Thu. night, but otherwise he has swung early and made no good contact. He just hasn't gotten on base, and it seems to be a bad combination of simultaneous cockiness and subtle lack of confidence. That's a long, presumptuous way of saying he's pressing, and I really believe that with a lead in the game and the bullpen set to go according to the late-inning plan, Willie sat Jose down. I think he did this, and I think he figured that with Santana going on Sunday and some unlikely characters producing well, he could really make a point by giving Jose a day on the bench and a Monday off to think. Why not?

And why not bat Castillo 8th once him and Reyes are back? Let Pagan swing the bat, baby. Moises Alou is a distant memory. Here's to a fine discovery in left field. Right now I want no one else up in the big spot. Well, maybe that guy who plays third.

Tomorrow we get to see our Ace live and in person at Shea, and I can't sleep. Oh by the way, he's facing a pitcher in Ben Sheets who hasn't allowed a run this year in 15 1/3 IP. This is a good game waiting to happen. My hope is that Castillo can play tomorrow so he can bat leadoff with Pagan #2, but that may be unlikely. Pick a lineup, any lineup, if Castillo isn't ready.

One more sad note. I have made a business decision to move right in to the belly of the beast, to the town where a Larry Jones jersey is a common sight. As such, this homestand is my Shea Stadium farewell tour, sort of...
Hell, no I'm not giving up my seasons! My job in Atlanta will be right next to the airport and guess what ballpark's right next to LaGuardia? I could get off work at 5 and still see half of 7:00 game!
I'll miss NY, namely Brooklyn, my hometown and the greatest little big city in the world.

Let's Go Johan.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Santana and the Mets Shine in Miami; Everyone Else Loses

IMAGE: ALPINEINC FROM FLICKR


So it's only April, yeah, and it's only April 1st, but that being said I couldn't have asked for much more to kick-start the 2008 season and completely bury 2007.

Johan had no opening day butterflies, and was simply brilliant, making one mistake to the Hammer, Josh Willingham, after getting squeezed for a walk the previous batter, hence the two runs. Aside from that blemish, Johan gave all the elements of a well-pitched game that you could ask for. He fanned 8 in 7 IP, at one point downing 4 consecutively, but also mixed up his outs, getting fly balls when it was easy to do so and ground balls, less so, when required. He made a couple of solid plays with the glove, and when he got into trouble, he got out of it. For me, the highlight of his performance was the full-count strikeout of Hanley Ramirez, leaving two runners stranded for the Marlins in their only real shot at a rally.

And then we had
our rally...

And as an aside, yes, I will loosely refer to the Mets as
us, though some folks turn their nose up at it. I will not follow a team day in and day out, on season and off, buy merchandise and buy seats all year, and refer to them as some alien entity with which I have no identifiable connection. They're Us.

But anyhow,
when was the last time we had a rally like that? My guess would be August? Everyone got involved, and the big guys led the way. That is how an offense of this caliber is supposed to function, not scattering hits and relying on the longball, but looking to Wright and Reyes and Beltran to get things churning or finish them off, while the lesser hitters just keep it going in between. Again, this was only day one, but it's all we've got, and I can't think of a better way to get it going. Let me reiterate, too, as always, David Wright was huge, and needs to be the Captain of this team,

Pagan, at least for a day, really earned his spot on this roster, while Ruben Gotay was busy striking out in one pinch-hit AB in a braves uni.

Which leads me to the other news of the day. I have been in Atlanta for over a week now for family/business reasons, and am staying through this weekend to see the Mets come in to town, hitting a peak on Sunday with Santana v. Smoltz. But yesterday, I watched the Met game, happily, and then turned the Braves on. Noticing plenty of empty seats, I decided what the heck, why not go, and sure enough, not only was Turner Field NOT sold out on opening NIGHT, I mean you can't even say you had to go to work, but I got in there, complete in a Mets hat, jersey and '86 starter jacket, for FREE. Some guy just gave me his extra ticket as I walked up to go buy one. What I got was more than I expected. I expected to go antagonize some rednecks, which I did, but what I got was an epic game, with the Braves scoring 5 in the 9th to force extra frames, the last two runs plated on an error on a pop-fly, only to be defeated by good 'ol Xavier Nady, the X-man himself, who belted a 3-run game winning shot about 10 feet away from me in the 12th inning, and also went 4 for 7 with 4 RBI on the night. I wanted to get some angry rednecks and maybe see the Braves lose to a sorry team, and what I got was angry, drunk, tired, heartbroken rednecks and a disgrace of a loss for the Braves. All I can say is This.

Did I mention that Flash Gordon got absolutely Mota'd in the 9th down in Philly? 5 runs on 4 hits in the 9th=it's gonna be Mets-Nats on top all year. (Ok, well...) The Phils still hit like they do, but their criminal of an ace, their hero Brett Myers, was very unspectacular, yielding 4 runs over 5 innings to a weak offense. Day One in the NL East could not have been scripted better.

Elsewhere, the spanks' final opening day at the toilet party was ruined by rain, the Injuns beat the ChiSox in a good one in 10 innings after a horrible interference call that prevented a Chicago run scoring in the 9th. Ozzie Guillen, not so much with the happy.

The Cubbies and Brew Crew duked it out for 8 innings without scoring once, as Sheets and Zambrano were both excellent, and then it got real interesting: Milwaukee scored thrice in the top of the 9th, setting the stage for Eric "le drug buddy de Paul LoDuca" Gagne to walk two batters on 9 pitches to start the bottom half of the 9th. Then stepped in the new guy, Kosuke Fukudome, already 2 for 2 with a walk on the day, who proceeded to take Gagne's 3-1 over the Ivy and outta here. That Japanese guy, he's good. But oh wait a minute...Kerry Wood can't hold the tie in the 10th, Brewers win anyhow, oh well.

Rocktober has clearly come to an end, as the Rox hot finish last year was cooled with a 7-1 thrashing from the RedBirds. Eric Bedard was pretty good in his Mariners debut, Webb outdueled Harang for a Dbacks W, and Peavy did the same to Oswalt as the most boring team in the majors that doesn't play in Oakland won their opener and stayed classy in SD.

The scrappy Royals spoiled the Tigers opener with an unlikely rally, Tampa downed the O's, Barry Zito still ain't worth all that cash, and apparently the Twins will not go winless without Johan or Torii Hunter, the latter of whom got a standing O in Minnesota yesterday, then went 0-4 in a Twins win. And that's that.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

SEASON PREVIEW PART 3: AL East

IMAGE: WALLYG FROM FLICKR



I've been traveling and not so able to get the gusto up for posting, but I think it's fair to get the last editions of previews out there during the first week of play, right?

So we go now to the venerated AL East, home of the great rivalry that's gotten so high up on the ladder of national awareness you'd forget there were three other teams that had combined for 5 world titles, two of whom could make some noise this year, or not.

Boston Red Sox
Prediction: 1st Place, 94-68
The champs are the champs, and while they haven't added much, they haven't lost much, nor have their foes 200 miles south added much. What they will lose in half a year of Schilling will presumably be made up for with a full year of contributions from youngsters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Plus, the major adjustments demanded of Daisuke Matsuzaka last season cannot be understated, from the actual ball itself, to the strike zone,to the media environment in Boston. He was pretty successful last year, and his raw stuff combined with an increased comfortability in his surroundings would suggest a real breakout. And who knows what could come from Bartolo Colon?
The Bullpen is anchored still by arguably the best current closer in the game in Jonathan Papelbon, and he is backed up by lights out setup man Hideki Okajima, and a nice collection of arms after that.
The lineup is exactly the same, save for Ellsbury's inheritance of CF from the much maligned Coco Crisp. Everyone gets a little older, but the core of the lineup is made up of great, professional hitters, and no one gets on base the way they do, which wears opposing pitchers down and racks up the runs.
What else is scary about Boston? Depth. Their system is loaded with ML-ready talent in case of injury either to come up to the bigs, or to deal off for replacements and filling holes.
I don't see the Red Sox being challenged in the East.
Fantasy Pick: Manny Ramirez. No this is no sleeper, but the way he came on in October combined with an early spring appearance and a contract season just gives me a feeling about #24 being worth more than a 3rd or 4th rounder, which is where he's been going.

New York Yankees
Prediction: 2nd Place, 89-73
I just don't think the Yankees are that good. Look, I'm biased here; I'm a Met fan and a Red Sox fan, let's be clear, but every year for the last decade or so, I've gone into the season with a healthy fear of the Yankees, wanting to pick against them, sometimes doing so, but doing so with great apprehension. This year, I just don't feel that way. They finished in 2nd last year and were knocked out of the playoffs in round 1. The Red Sox are just as good as they were, the Blue Jays may be better, the Rays are certainly on their way, and the rest of the AL is stronger. The Yankees can no longer sit atop a mountainand cruise through.
The rotation appears to be highly suspect. Wang is a nice pitcher, but he's no shutdown ace, and Boston kills him. Pettitte is now 35, and coming off a hectic winter, what with the Mitchell report (who knows, maybe he won't pitch so well without the help...). Mussina has shown all the signs of a pitcher that is flirting with "done", and Hughes and Kennedy remain still simply unproven. Hughes has a lot of hype behind him, but so did Greg Miller, and Kennedy is, to me, unimpressive. Don't get me wrong here, either could prove to be a fine pitcher, but a lot rests on them considering the iffy state of the top of the rotation.
The bullpen is dicey as well; obviously Mariano Rivera will go down as the best there ever was at what he does, and he well should, and though every year we see small signs of wear on him, there's no reason to expect him to be anything but very effective. Joba behind him should excel in the role he shined in last season, but let's not forget that before we crown him king, he only has 24 major league innings on his resume. The problems come after those two: Kyle Farnsworth is just an angry dope with a hard fastball that gets hit very long distances, and LaTroy Hawkins could experience a good deal of adversity jumping from the NL West to the AL East. Joba is probably the key here. If he does what he did last year, this will be a very good 'pen, but if not, or if he has to jump to the rotation, there are issues.
The Yankee lineup is the Yankee lineup. They will score boatloads of runs a lot of the time; that's hardly worth delving into. The only issues arises at 1B, where Giambi is about as mobile as my grandfather, so you're left with Shelley Duncan, Morgan Ensberg and Wilson Betemit, not traditional Yankee lineup material. In my mind it hardly matters, and they should put the best glove out there.
I just can't trust that pitching staff against the other loaded staffs in this division, and I'm not convinced that Joe Girardi isn't a major tool that could drown himself in the NY media. Yanks miss the playoffs.
Fantasy Pick: I'm going unconventional here, and telling you who NOT to pick. Joba Chamberlain. He may be an amazing pitcher, but for now, he's a setup man that's getting drafted in the middle rounds. That's just silly.

Toronto Blue Jays
Prediction: 3rd Place, 84-78
I've been hearing the "here come the Blue Jays" chatter before every season for about 3 years now, and it's translated to a mid-80's win team every time. They are a team with a very nice lineup and a very nice staff in a league that has teams rife with the same things of slightly higher grades.
On the rotation end, they have Halladay and Burnett on top, and collectively they should figure to miss about 3 months at least. When they're in they're fine pitchers, and if they were healthy all year the jays could make a lot of noise, but does anyone remember that mantra in years past, "the Cubs will be great if Wood and Prior can stay healthy!". How'd that go?
Dustin MacGowan is a very good young pitcher, and at times I expect he will be counted on to carry this rotation. He could very well be the Carlos Zambrano to Halladay and Burnett's Wood and Prior. Beyond him there is certainly some depth in Marcum, Litsch, Janssen and Chacin, so the Blue Jays will never have to trot any Brian Lawrences out there. It's a solis staff that can range from elite to average.
The lineup is mostly comprised of aging stars, from Vernon Wells to Frank Thomas, to Lyle Overbay, to Scott Rolen, to Matt stairs, and it goes on. The notable exceptions are Alex Rios, who has potential to be Carlos Beltran with a better average, and 26 year-old 2B Aaron Hill, who very quietly hit .291 with 17 bombs at a weak offensive position. Again, the lineup is similar to the rotation. When all the old guys are healthy and producing, it's a great lineup. When not, it's alright.
The bullpen remains a strong point for the Jays, solely due to the endless depth they have, especially if B.J. Ryan is back consistently this year. There are 9 RP on the Blue Jays 25-man roster, and they're all pitchers you could throw in to almost anyone's bullpen. You'll never get a junk inning from Toronto's staff.
The Jays are probably 2 years away from contention or implosion, depending on how the aging players are replaced. This ain't the year.
Fantasy Pick: Aaron Hill. See Above.

Tampa Bay Rays
Prediction: 4th Place, 75-87
I'm impressed with the team they're building in Tampa, and thus have already given them a 9-win improvement on last season, and think they could even prove us all wrong and finish ahead of Toronto.
At any rate, they'll at last be a fun team to watch, not only for their talent, but for the fact that you no longer have to look at those horrific old Devil Ray jerseys.
Matt Garza's arrival, coupled with a speedy recovery for Scott *ahem* K__mir and continued success form James Shields will give them a very nice 1-2-3, with Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine rounding out a 5-man unit in Tampa that can finally be called a rotation, probably for the first time in their history.
The lineup is very strong, and full of young upside in B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, Dioner Navarro, and potentially national consensus #1 prospect Evan Longoria. Carl Crawford is a verifiable star now, if not the superstar he might have been, and good old Cliff Floyd adds some experience to the crowded RF/DH mix. Yes, Rocco Baldelli is already injured.
The bullpen isn't great, but it adds some depth and a new closer in Troy Percival, and should probably be better than last year's edition.
Things are looking up in Tampa, and within a few years they could be a perennial....3rd place team. Yeah, there's those two teams up north with about 500mil to spend between them.
Fantasy Pick: Carlos Pena. A lot of folks don't believe he can repeat what he did last season. I do.

Baltimore Orioles
Prediction: 5th Place, 62-100
Yep, I picked 'em to lose 100, and I'll be glad to see it happen. I don't really know why, but something about the Orioles has always bothered me. I just find them boring, and now no one will notice them enough for them to even qualify as such. Bedard is gone, Tejada is gone, Roberts may be next. Oh, and Steve Trachsel is a key component in their rotation. They added some nice building blocks in the Bedard and Tejada trades, which they needed to do, and consequently have an interesting young OF of Markakis, Adam Jones and Luke Scott, but Markakis is the only star left on this team. It'll be a long year of Yankee and Red Sox hats at Camden Yards.
Fantasy Pick: Markakis, just because he's really the only Oriole worth owning. Take a peek and see who else knows that George Sherrill is a closer in your league...

So that wraps up the AL Preview, leaving you with a predicted playoff bracket that looks like this:

ALDS:
Detroit Tigers, 95-67, Central Champs
defeat
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 91-71, West Champs
3 games to 1

Boston Red Sox, 94-68, East Champs
defeat
Cleveland Indians, 92-70, WC Champs
3 games to 2

ALCS:
Detroit Tigers defeat Boston Red Sox, 4 games to 3

Tigers represent the AL in the World Series against....?


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring Training Mid-Term Report Card

IMAGE: MICHAEL G. BARON FROM FLICKR


I have elected not to go with the frequent spring updates so far, mostly due to other life obligations, although I fully intend to submit game by game posts come the regular season.

Spring Training is about halfway through, at least the part of Spring Training that I feel you can really put any kind of stock in, that being March. I've grouped all of the players invited to PS Lucie that are worth mentioning into categories according to grade.

HONOR ROLL: Angel Pagan--Hitting to a line of .377/.400/.528, Pagan has been the surprise star of spring so far, and has made an argument for consideration in the absence of Moises Alou.
John Maine--The Maine Man has struck out 14 batters in 13 1/3 innings pitched while only walking 3, and in the mean time dropped his spring ERA to 2.63 during a streak of 10 scoreless innings. Maine's continued growth could give the Mets a historically good 1-2-3 in the rotation. I am higher than high on him, and expect a fantastic year.
The Bullpen--There are a few notable exceptions, but for the most part expected core of the 2008 bullpen has been outstanding. Wagner, Heilman, Feliciano, Wise, Schoenweis, Sanchez, Register and Sosa have combined for 55 innings and only surrendered 9 total earned runs. Of the bunch, Sanchez remains the major question mark, with only 3 IP logged to date as he works towards getting his strength back. All in all, there's a lot of depth to this pen, and it could turn out to be a major point of strength on this team.

A: Fernando Martinez--The jewel of the farm system is hitting .357 in 39 spring AB's, and while plan A would have him tuning his skills in the minors, OF injuries could see him up at the big club this year. Lest I forget, he's racked up a few web gems in the OF.
Robinson Cancel--Though he is 32 years of age, the Puerto Rican catcher only has a small chunk of one season in the majors on his resume. With Castro and Schneider both battling injuries, Cancel's .286/.400/.524 line is encouraging for some insurance.
Raul Casanova--Casanova is another name in the mix for depth at catcher, and has had a solid spring as well, hitting .294 with a homer. Not sure how much stock you can give this, as the 36 year old has never performed well at the major league level.
Argenis Reyes--25 year old OF has spent his career in the Indians farm system to this point, and performed passably well as high as AA. Hitting .481/.481/.703 in 27 spring AB's.
Pedro Martinez--Granted, Pedro has only one start (today) under his belt this spring, but in that start he went 4 innings, striking out 4, only walking 1, and giving up no runs on 4 hits. One of those hits was a broken bat single, and another an infield single. This start coupled with all of the positive reports about the kind of shape he's in gives me a lot of confidence in the greatest pitcher who ever lived, in my eyes.

B:Brady Clark--Let's throw in as many hats as we can in this OF pot, can we? The veteran has played pretty well so far, hitting just over .270 and playing a solid OF.
Johan Santana--The superstar acquisition has 4 games behind him, 2 not so good, 2 very good, at times has looked shaky and at times has looked his dominant self. He's only just really starting to throw now, and until I see him trying to win a game that counts I ain't sweatin'. His K/BB is right where it should be, as is his velocity and stamina. Johan will be Johan.
Nelson Figueroa--We like him over here at the harbor, as he's a Brooklyn native. He's given up 5 ER over 13 1/3 IP and looked very good at times. He'll add some nice insurance for the pitching staff down in AAA.

C:
Jose Reyes--Reyes has hit only slightly under .250 so far, but has scattered in a couple XBH and his approach has looked fine. Evaluating spring training for everyday players, especially stars, is pretty tough anyhow, but is hardly relevant in until late March.
David Wright--Ditto. Not hitting much, but he's David Wright.
Mike Pelfrey--Pelf has a not so nice 5.54 ERA this spring, but to be fair 7 of his 8 allowed runs came in one rough start. Otherwise he's looked very good. His role this year is entirely contingent on El Duque.

D/F:Anderson Hernandez--Continues to prove he just can't hit Major League pitching.
Oliver Perez--Looked good a couple days ago in his most recent start, but was knocked around hard in the two starts prior. Right now OP sits with a 7.27 ERA, but he is certainly the sort of pitcher who will go through March growing pains.
Endy Chavez--Only hitting .227 so far. As always, has played well defensively.

I (for Incomplete and Injured): Carlos Delgado--The latest twist in his injury saga came today, when after roping an RBI double the other way Delgado too a broken bat to the forearm and began gushing blood. One would assume this injury isn't too bad, and in the last couple games he's seemed to be rediscovering his stroke, with two opposite field XBH.
Carlos Beltran--If I was advanced enough as a programmer, I'd have a "Beltran's health %" meter on the blog. His legs are starting to get there, though he looked ugly in CF yesterday and hasn't hit much yet.
The Catchers--Schneider has been MIA all spring almost, but is reportedly almost ready and maybe will play Wednesday. Castro hasn't played very well, but has an ongoing hammy problem.
Ryan Church and Marlon Anderson--I put them together because they have both missed significant time due to the same collision. Church has looked up and down when he's been in there, and Marlon just doesn't have enough of a sample size to discuss.
Luis Castillo--Has looked pretty decent in only a couple of games.
Damion Easley--The Sleaze hasn't really hit anything, but only has 16 AB's behind him. Hopefully he's healthy, as the only real insurance to Jose Reyes, who figures to get some more rest this season.
Ruben Gotay--Big Fly Gotay is hitting .309 this spring, but has yet to fully recover from an ankle injury. He's day-to-day.
Moises Alou--Out at least 4-6 weeks, and with Alou, the assumption always leans toward the long side of things. How this OF question will be dealt with has been the subject for a lot of speculation. Internal or External? Trade or Free Agent? My guess is Omar, Willie and Co. wait out the rest of spring, and if no one emerges as a real passable option in LF, they try to make a move then. I'd love to see Nady back, but for what? This was the one caveat with the Santana trade: if any holes open up, there's not much left to deal.

The most telling weeks of spring are the two left to come. We'll see all the regulars play a lot more, the pitchers will go deeper and actually pitch, rather than throw, more, and, knock on wood, many of the injured players will be back in action. To me the biggest story this spring has been how great the bullpen has looked, and in today's game, that is HUGE.

Friday, March 7, 2008

SEASON PREVIEW PART 2: AL Central

IMAGE: ERCY FROM FLICKR


The AL Central looks to be one of baseball's best, again, and, personal bias and northeast baseball chauvinism aside, it's probably the most intriguing division around. You have in it a team that went to the classic two seasons ago and added two big stars in the winter, a team that won 96 games last year, two teams stacked with youth, and a team managed by Ozzie Guillen. It'll be a nice ride in the American Midwest.


Detroit Tigers
Prediction: 1st Place, 95-67
This is who I expect to see in the World Series if our Mets were lucky enough to get there. I know, being high on the Tigers is the thing to do these days, but there's good reason for it. The Detroit offense has a chance to be simply prolific, 1-9, adding Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria (who hit .332 last year) to an already explosive lineup. Granderson on top showed that he was the real thing last year, and has MVP-type potential in his future; he should only get better. Lineup aside, the rotation, at least on paper, is better than it was for last year's 88 win campaign. Dontrelle Willis may not be the ace we thought he might be a couple years back, but he definitely has talent and drive, and is a hell of a 3rd/4th starter. More importantly his presence leaves no questions in the rotation with K-Rog (ugh) allegedly healthy. Bonderman and Robertson are coming off down years and I would assume at least marginal improvement. Their bullpen is a question mark, with Joel Zumaya out until summer with another non-baseball-related injury, (Todd Jones has to lose that closer job someday) and the bench is less than spectacular, but this team had some bad luck last year, still won 88 games, and added a lot of talent. That to me pushes the to the next level.
Fantasy Pick: Willis, being drafted very low.


Cleveland Indians
Prediction: 2nd Place, 92-70
The Indians really didn't change much this winter other than losing Kenny Lofton again, and signing the former hot-dog eating champion out of Japan. They came within a game of the World Series, and had three shots at it, but this wasn't enough to make them go out and add talent. Sizemore is an elite young CF, though he strikes out too much, VMart is probably the best hitting catcher since Mikey P in his prime, and Pronk is Pronk. Ryan Garko emerged as a force last season, and Jhonny Peralta came back after a terrible '06. The rotation is anchored by a 1-2 that could possibly hang with the likes of Johan-Pedro with Sabathia and Carmona, and is solid through 5. I kinda wonder if Cliff Lee could reappear as a good pitcher? The bullpen is probably a little better with the Japanese reinforcement and a full year of Rafael Perez, and the bench suffers a bit with Nixon/Lofton gone, but this is essentially the same team as last year. So why would they finish worse? They might have played a few games over their head last year, and Detroit just got a lot better.
Fantasy Pick: Ryan Garko


Chicago White Sox
Prediction: 3rd Place, 76-86
This is the kind of team that could prove me horribly wrong and make this division even heavier, or it could win even less than 76 games. They are another AL central team with a fine lineup, although getting an base has been a problem. Enter Nick Swisher, who could break out and hit 40 bombs in US Cellular Field, or could have had his heyday and start having his OPS catch up with his AVG. I expect him to be a nice addition. Orlando Cabrera is the other major newcomer, displacing Juan Uribe, having come over in exchange for Jon Garland. Cabrera is a great glove at SS, and a nice enough bat, but his offense has shown some decline. The big guys stay in the heart of the order, Thome, Dye, Konerko, though none of them are getting any younger. Expect some decline for all three. Third base is a real controversy, with Josh Fields slated to start and Joe Crede likely to be traded, although there are rumblings of the two sharing the corners with Konerko being sent off in a larger deal. The rotation looks like a potential problem. Buehrle, despite the no-no, is not a true ace, and Contreras is about 77. I do like Javier Vasquez a lot; he has gone from being one of the most overrated SP's in the game to being one of the most underrated, having quietly won 15 games with a 3.74 ERA in a tough division while K'ing 213 batters. Trouble is, John Danks and Gavin Floyd also figure into the SP mix, and they would have trouble making many MLB rosters. Bullpen is just OK. Bobby Jenks is fairly solid in the 9th, but it's old and iffy after him. The big boys in the Central should beat up on them, so their additions equal only 4 more wins than last year: 76.
Fantasy Pick: Javier Vasquez


Kansas City Royals
Prediction: 4th Place, 74-88
Give Dayton Moore and the team with the nicest ballpark anywhere a couple more years, and you might finally have a good squad again. The Royals added the obligatory mediocre former pseudo-stars in Jose Guillen and Miguel Olivo, but also shedded the a bunch of the same sort, though KC should be sad to see longtime Royal masher Mike Sweeney, one of my favorite players, go. David DeJesus, Mark Teahan, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are all very young and have very high ceilings on the offensive side, and the pitching staff houses promising starters Zach Greinke, Kyle Davies, *ahem* Brian Bannister *ahem*, and closer Joakim Soria. Without delving too far in to the rest of the team, that's a long, impressive list of prospects, and you'd expect some of them will turn in to big stars. I say more power to 'em. They got nice hats, too.
Fantasy Pick: Billy Butler, Brian Bannister


Minnesota Twins
Prediction: 5th Place, 70-92
They lost this pitcher guy.
Fantasy Pick: Scott Baker


In Mets news, it's just more spring W's and more injuries. Maybe if the Mets sign 162 players and kill one of them every day from Apr-Oct, they'll go undefeated...


Let 'em Drop Now...

IMAGE: MZMULLERZ FROM FLICKR


I have a lot of respect for Moises Alou. At times last year he was the lynchpin that held the Mets together, at times he was THE guy you wanted up at the end of the game. He is a uniquely experienced and remarkably proficient hitter, and also happens to be my wife's favorite Met, oddly enough, but in spite of all this, I'm not sobbing over his injury.

The timing of it is brilliant. One has to have accepted the inevitability that at some point this season, at least once, Alou would hit the DL, most likely for an extended vacation.

Imagine this happened in June, and in the motions of the season a serviceable replacement wasn't attainable. All of a sudden, after building up a small division lead in early June, a reliable bat in the lineup disappears, Endy Chavez just can't produce runs on an everyday basis, and Philly gets hot. Alou returns in late August, the Phillies have established a 6-game lead, and Alou is never quite back to form. We drop the NL east by a game, again.

Or if it happened after the trade deadline, and there were absolutely no question of outside help not named Sammy Sosa. Maybe F-Mart has had a hammy problem by this point and the team wants to shut him down so as not to risk a recurring injury.

Or maybe whenever he went on his DL trip it wouldn't make that much of a difference, who knows?

The point is that NOW, in Alou's case, there is a lot of room to maneuver. Rather than scrambling to deal midseason or ending up with Endy Chavez playing every day and hurting himself and our lineup in the process, or having to see the name Easley in the 7 spot on the lineup card on a consistent basis, now the F.O. has to face up to the fact that Moises Alou, while still a fine player when he's around, is not a very viable option in left field; not an option that can be counted on, anyhow. It's just not acceptable to me for a big-market contender to go in to a season with a guy saying "this is our left fielder, our #6 hitter" and not have any clue when he'll actually be there. Of course, any player comes with a certain risk of getting hurt, but most don't come with a guarantee. There are so-called "high-risk, high-reward" players, but they are never handed an assumed key role.


Now, management has to come up with some better options in the outfield, whether that means continuing to evaluate Pagan (who knew I'd be saying that, but he's just ripping it up so far in ST) and F-Mart, or acquiring one of the many names floating around, the Thameses and the Nadys and the Murtons of the world. It would seem that the best approach would be picking up one of these players that costs little to nothing to get, and letting them duke it out with whoever wins the F-Mart/Pagan March sweepstakes; give yourself some options. It seems unrealistic that Omar would be able to bring in a real impact OF, even a guy like Nady, via trade. This is the price we paid for Johan.

I just really believe that having a solid LF plan to start the year off that isn't at all contingent on Alou is a better way to operate, and this facilitates that.

Otherwise, the rest of the injuries seem like the sort that would heal in plenty of time, and we all know the deal with Beltran and his percentage points. The two that are somewhat troubling are Delgado and Church. It isn't so far from the realm of possibility that this hip thing could cause a season-long, if not rest of career-long issue for Carlos, and some rumblings from baseball folks has suggested as much. With Church, it's encouraging that he has spent his time still in PSL, and not in a hospital, but there has to remain some level of concern when a concussion is lingering...

Just gotta cross our fingers and hope all pans out at the end of the day, let the kinks be worked out in March, not September, right?

But I kinda hope I'm wrong about not getting Nady back.

Friday, February 29, 2008

PANIC! SANTANA'S WASHED UP! THE METS CAN'T BEAT UMICH!

IMAGE: CDOGZILLA FROM FLICKR


And we finally get our first visual taste of the possibility that is the 2008 New York Metropolitans. The first few games in this first week always come across somehow as unreal; we paddle through, or rather, shovel through months of winter, unceasingly awaiting the arrival of Spring. Every columnist and amateur blogger makes allusions to the beaten down metaphor of the real world's natural cycles as it couples with the going and coming of baseball, and then SPRING HITS, BASEBALL IS PLAYED, and no one really notices for a week or so. So it goes.

I woke up today looking forward to the early highlight of my day being Johan Santana's Met debut, and indeed it was the highlight, Juan-gone homer or not. The first inning was shaky, as our ace allowed two iffy singles and then a deep fly to the sprightly Juan Gonzalez, but the second went by without any bumps, and for anyone who is concerned about the first inning, let it be. Johan went out there today to work his arm up. How do you do that? Throw some fastballs, not too hard. If anything, it's a good sign that Johan's heater is lively enough to stir up a home run out of the old man's bat, right? The whole experience of the two innings was fantastic, just to see #57 in uniform.

Additionally, Reyes did a little swinging and a little scampering, picking up 2 hits and a RBI. Wright and Alou each knocked one in to boot. F-Mart, the favorite son Omar worked so hard to keep, made a web gem of a catch on a foul ball late in the game, Ryan Church lined a hard single against a lefty and Duaner Sanchez got in the game and looked OK, despite getting taken very deep by Albert Pujols leading off the 6th. Final score: 5-4 Cards, who I have picked as 75-game winners. It's just nice to see some baseball, eh?

Oh, and the forums are full of people ready to dive off of the Verrazano based on Santana's 3 ER and the Mets' 0-3-1 ST record so far. Especially because that one tie was to a college team. OH NO! WE'RE ALREADY TWO GAMES BEHIND PHILLY! THEY MUST BE THE TEAM TO BEAT! But I doubt anyone will actually jump, because anyone who takes February baseball results seriously hasn't followed the sport enough to care that deeply.

And lest I forget, today marked the triumphant return of none other than Joselo Diaz...crickets...the other piece in the, ahem, K*zmir deal, who pitched a flawless inning. Always nice to see AAAA middle relievers. Speaking of that, what little respect I ever had for the Redbirds is now gone, as I have discovered that they let mediocre RP Brian Falkenborg go to the Dodgers. Late at night last September 18, my friend Scott and I watched, huddled together, on MLB.TV as Falkenborg hurled 2 heroic scoreless frames for the Cards in extra innings against the Phillies, who we obviously wanted to see lose. Despite the herculean efforts of Brian Falkenborg, Philly pulled the victory out after he left the game, but he left us with an inside joke that will never die. You gotta admit that "Falkenborg" sounds like some sort of Transformer... If only everybody pitched like him, we coulda had a one-game playoff down in Philly last year...

Anyone see Torre in Dodger Blue against Larry and the Bravos? Strange. He's a lot easier to like, though.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SEASON PREVIEW PART 1: AL West

IMAGE: ANGELSWINDOTCOM FROM FLICKR


Now that spring training is finally upon us, I figure it's time to start some season previews. I intend to do separate division by division previews with brief comments on each team, with individual team by team previews for the NL East. I'm starting with the AL West, being the division probably farthest from the Met fan's consciousness, although we do play Texas, LAA, and Seattle in June interleague series.

LA Angels of Anaheim
Prediction: 1st Place, 91-71
The Angels get a bat behind Vlad at last. While it ain't Manny Ramirez or another truly elite slugger, Torii Hunter is a fine addition, though he came at a price. They also add Jon Garland, a 2-time 18 game winner that probably doesn't deserve to be a 2-time 18 game winner, while waving goodbye to Bartolo Colon and the OC, Orlando Cabrera. Erick Aybar will start the year in OC's place, but if his bat proves to be as anemic as it seems, former #1 pick and power bat Brandon Wood is waiting in the wings. The big loss for the Angels comes not through trade or free agency, but through injury to Kelvim Escobar, who stood out as a great #2 to Lackey last year. He isn't expected back until at least May. All that aside, the Angels are a perennial playoff team. They have an incredible bench, a great bullpen, a solid staff and a better lineup than in years past. They shouldn't have trouble repeating as AL West champs. Lest I forget, Howie Kendrick is healthy, and I along with many others LOVE Kendrick. He to me is Chase Utley minus some power and plus some average in the making, and a stalwart of my fantasy teams. :)
Fantasy Pick: Kendrick

Seattle Mariners
Projection: 2nd Place, 88-74

The Mariners surprised a lot of folks winning 88 games last year, and while their offseason dealings may hurt them in the long run, it shouldn't affect this year negatively. I would agree that they played somewhat over their heads last season, probably having been a mid to low 80 win team rather than 88, so the improvements this year should equate to a similar finish. The obvious big move is Erik Bedard, who with Felix Hernandez brings in a lethal 1-2, but their lineup is only getting older, with Jose Lopez as the only regular under 30. Carlos Silva gives their rotation more depth, but boy what a contract. I shiver to think what that means for Oliver Perez. Their bullpen remains strong with J.J. Putz in the 9th, but after him it falls off sharply, George Sherill now gone in the Bedard deal. Their rotation can now hang with the Angels, but the rest of the team just got older and weaker. Maybe they catch fire and sneak in to the playoffs. Probably not a bad Vegas bet for the AL pennant, with the big potential payoff, but I doubt it...
Fantasy Pick: Felix Hernandez

Texas Rangers
Projection: 76-86, 3rd Place
Things always seem to change yet stay the same in Texas. Nolan Ryan's on board as team prez, which is nice, but he can't pitch anymore. I like the fact that they appear to be building something up, with the acquisition of Saltalamacchia last year and Josh Hamilton over the winter, but the rotation is the same old hodge-podge of discarded starters from elsewhere, this year's edition being Jason Jennings. You just can't find a starter that wants to pitch for a bad team in a bandbox. They should have a fun lineup to watch, with Salty, Hamilton, Kinsler and Young, and having brought on Hamilton and Milton Bradley they may escape the endless OF merry-go-round they've been on, but maybe not. It's football country, and until the Rangers get a pitcher who can hang with their new team president, it will remain football country. How bout them Cowboys? Ha.
Fantasy Pick: Ian Kinsler

Oakland Athletics
Projection: 4th Place, 70-92
The A's will have a new ballpark in 2 years, and that's probably how long it will take for them to be relevant again. Billy Beane has gone all out with rebuilding, and Joe Blanton is likely the next one to go. The direction of the team is probably the right one, as they weren't going anywhere even with Swisher, Haren and Blanton, but again, it will take time. This is another team with interesting raw players in Denorfia, Barton, Buck and Cust, but it stops at interesting. Keith Foulke's back for another round. Expect surliness. Personally, I'll be glad to see them out of contention; they've bored the hell out of me since the early 90's and then you had to hate them. See you in a few years, A's.
Fantasy Pick: Daric Barton

So there you have it for the west. No big upset picks here, although I'd like to be wrong about the Angels/Mariners. I'm not the biggest fan of the Seattle the place, but they have good fans, and you gotta root against Orange County.

In Mets news, Duaner Sanchez pitched successfully today, which is great to see; I really expect a strong bullpen this year, which would give us no major weaknesses anywhere if all goes well.

The Citi Field logo has been released, and while I don't hate it as much as Brooklyn Met Fan, it doesn't do much for me. What can you expect from a bank?

PS- Happy to see that the Blog got a hit from Port St. Lucie! It's almost baseball.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mound KO's Lidge in 1; Duque Brings Bunions to Camp

IMAGE: NELEE100 FROM FLICKR


The injury bugs are buzzing already. Apparently Brad Lidge has more to contend with than the small ballpark already. He may have trouble getting through a full season as Philly's closer when one pitch is more than he can handle from the get-go. Initial word is that the injury is minor, but we're talking about the same knee that the brittle closer had surgery on just a few months back. This is certainly not a good sign for the big offseason acquisition in Philadelphia. Darn...

EDIT: So the injury, as I initially suspected, wasn't so minor after all. Lidge will now have surgery in the knee, and is expected to be out for 3-6 weeks. The assumption is that he will not be ready for Opening Day.

A lot of Met fans seem disappointed by this, missing the opportunity to come out swinging against an unabridged Phillies roster, but my point of view is that this is what they had coming to 'em. You know what you're stepping in to with Brad Lidge, just like we know from Moises Alou or El Duque. If we take the field at the Cit some time this year and there's no Utley, Rollins or Howard on the other side, then we're playing a Phillies team with a short deck, but I fully expected Lidge to go down the moment they traded for him. To be clear, I expected it before the trade, my point is that the deal never concerned me, I have never seen it as an impact move; if it isn't his head it's his knee, or vice versa.

Similarly, Mike Pelfrey's bid at the 5th spot may be coming early, as El Duque, who nearly ran me over on my way out of Shea one night last year, is experiencing some discomfort with what else? A bunion. Ho, hum. I don't mind it all that much; I was impressed with Pelfrey late last year, and with the depth and talent the rest of the rotation brings, why not see how much of that upside the Big Pelf can reach?

Found this article over at the Boston Globe website. Sad to see Julie Donaldson go, I'll miss the "soft hands, smooth plays" bit on the jumbotron...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Philly is a Disgusting Hole.

IMAGE: FEN BRANKLIN FROM FLICKR

All the credit in the world to Adam at Brooklyn Met Fan, one of my favorite blogs, for picking up on this story:

Apparently some of those brainless morons from the city of manly love have a cute little Facebook group planning a takeover of Shea Stadium on Sep. 6th this season. Usually I wouldn't gank another blog's material, but this is a get the word out kinda deal, so please, all you Met fans or just citizens of New York that don't want to see us upstaged by that greasepit 90 miles south, SHOW UP AT SHEA ON SEPTEMBER 6TH! BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW! AND JOIN ME AND MANY OTHERS IN BUYING THE &^%*$ OUT OF TICKETS TO ALL THE MET GAMES AT CITIZENS BANK PARK THIS YEAR, FURTHERING A LONG STANDING TRADITION OF HUMILIATING THEIR SPINELESS PHANBASE!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How Carlos Got His Swagger Back

IMAGE: NATSTURNER FROM FLICKR


If Carlos Beltran's tongue in cheek shot at J-Roll accomplishes nothing else, it certainly got me excited:

"...tell Jimmy Rollins we're the team to beat."

Beltran, for many, was the perfect embodiment of the perceived laxidasical attitude in the Mets' clubhouse last season, and right out of left field, or center, he comes out with this! I'm sorry but I love it. Refocus, scoop up the best pitcher on the planet, and get a little swagger. This is gonna be a fun year..

And while we're on the subject of the Phillies, anyone think this t-shirt might become a hit at Philly gay bars this season?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Petey Comes through Again

IMAGE: ALPINEINC FROM FLICKR

So Barry Bonds failed a drug test back in '01.

I haven't posted in a few days, mostly because I'm bored as hell with all of the 'roid stuff.

I watched the entire congressional when Mark McGwire got amnesia and Sammy Sosa flunked ESL, and have followed suit with every other major happening in the whole saga, including the Clemens show two days ago, and it's really gotten old.

The last hearing, in my eyes, didn't accomplish much beyond what we already knew, and I doubt at this point that Clemens will be further prosecuted. The overall summation: Clemens is lying, McNamee isn't the greatest guy on earth, and Pettitte is right there with them. It really frustrates me that Pettitte appears to be getting such a pass on all of this, as there is really no reason to assume that what he has already conceded to doing isn't just the tip of the iceberg. He was deeply immersed in a group of characters that were all clearly juicers, and went from initially saying he never used, to saying he did one time, to admitting one MORE time. Why on earth shouldn't anyone think he was doing it just as much as the rest of them, the whole time? Even if "Mac" doesn't recall other juicing by Pettitte, Andy could have easily acquired the stuff elsewhere. It looks like selective judgment by a bunch of people who don't want to group a "true Yankee" in with the mercenary Clemens and the yippy Knoblauch.

Anyhow, a lot of guys did this, they'll never catch all of them, and it is what it is, but what struck me today were the comments of Pedro Martinez, proud to have notched such slimmed-down ERA's in such a beefed-up era. More power to Petey for coming out and saying that, and it's certainly worth recognizing. He is in my book the best we've seen in decades and the best we will see for a long time, which leads me to a larger point:

The zeitgeist of the day has dictated that the bulk of the 1990's and the early 2000's be labeled the "Steroid Era", and I think that's unfair. Take the other major "eras" that have been labeled in baseball history. There is the dead-ball era vs. the post-dead-ball era, and there is the modern era vs. the era between dead-ball and the lowering of the pitcher's mound. There is the integration era, the expansion era, and the post-free agency era. Now, folks want add the steroid era to that list, but it is decidedly different. In the dead-ball era, the strategy of play was universally more geared towards small ball. The material of the ball itself was less live, and the same ball would be used for nearly an entire game. At most one would see 4-5 balls in 9 innings, creating dirty, lumpy balls that severely handicapped hitters. Thus, this effects of this era were ubiquitous, affecting all players and teams. The same can be said for the periods before and after the lowering of the mound, and further for the rest of the periods I listed above.

The "steroid era" is different because it was NOT universal, and that is why I see the term itself to be wholly unfair. It is unfair because while so many cheated, so many did not. The lead example is Pedro Martinez, but the list goes on: The entire Braves pitching staff during their run, Griffey, Gwynn, Puckett, I would hope Piazza, and on and on. Heck, I'll even give credit to someone I truly can't stand, Captain Smug himself, Derek Jeter. The whole strech of time can't have a vernacular asterisk attached, because it does not apply to so many who deserve appreciation in their own rite. some would say let the good ones be held up as becaons of light in the overall dark era, but I watched too much great baseball in that time to cast it away and make exceptions. Let the users be blacklisted, but let the rest of the game stay, I say.

After all of this, however, we have pitchers and catchers in Port St. Lucie, and I'll be thrilled to get past the reruns of baseball Law & Order and back to live, old-fashioned ball. I want to hate the Phillies, not criminals.

Next up: Preseason previews/picks.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday is Johan Day and Truck Day

IMAGE: MICHAEL G. BARON FROM FLICKR









I'm currently watching Johan Santana, in a Mets hat and jersey, sandwiched between Mike Francesa and Chris Russo, which is pretty entertaining. Little bit of a back and forth battle between Johan's stock answers and Mike and Dog's prodding, which isn't yielding much.

Basically, what can be drawn from this whole press conference is that Johan is pleased to be here, and is polite, articulate and comfortable. Nothing really groundbreaking came out of anyone's mouth.

Hell of a sight, though, Johan in that jersey. Our generation, the Mets fans in their mid-20's and under, finally have our Seaver, our Doc.

David Wright is clearly very excited, although the last two times I've seen him on camera he looks as if he's just gotten out of a jar of Krisco.

Otherwise, it's truck day, the first real hint of the oncoming baseball season. In under a fortnight pitchers and catchers will report (Johan to Schneider, anyone?) and then it all gets going. Hardly ever have I approached a season with such longing and anticipation. Not since last year, anyhow.

I'll put out my season previews/predictions in the coming weeks, team by team.

Oh, that Giant parade? Got there two hours early, couldn't get in anywhere on the route, walked in circles for four hours. Ugh...


Monday, February 4, 2008

ARIZONA DREAM!

WOW. The New York Football Giants have won the Super Bowl.

No it's not baseball, but this one warrants a quick post.

When I was 8 years old, I watched the Giants play in their first postseason game of my fully conscious lifetime (having been 1 in 1986 and 5 in 1990). I got crazed with excitement as they beat the Minnesota Vikings in the wild card round in a tight one, 17-10, only to watch the 49ers trounce them, 44-3 in the next round. From there on it was further heartbreak, from futile early playoff exits, to losing teams with quarterback controversies featuring Dave Brown and Kent Graham, to the ugliest Super Bowl I've ever seen (a Ravens trouncing, witnessed live by my father and I in Tampa) to this, in the most unlikely of all years. And this time again my dad sat next to me, holding my young son in his arms.

In the first three weeks of the child's life, an unlikely playoff run has occured, the Mets have acquired the best pitcher of our generation, and the Giants have won the Super Bowl. Someone gets ice cream once he's old enough to eat it.

And don't count me in as one of these Patriot haters. As always, after my initial NY allegiance from my father and my birthplace, my grandfather has shared his love of Boston teams with me, so I fully respect these Patriots, have always loved that team, and am proud our Giants beat them.

This is especially fulfilling as I have been an Eli supporter through thick and thin. Eli Manning has arrived, looking like a young Favre against all odds last night.

Now how bout these '08 Mets get out there and upstage the G-men this October...

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Let's Get Physical

From Metsblog: The Mets have announced that Johan Santana has passed his physical, meaning that all hurdles have been cleared. Next stop, press conference. Very good.

Some afterthoughts, some of which I put up on Cerrone's site in the last couple days:

There has been a varying amount of fuss surrounding a possible Santana decline in the second half of last year. He finished 2007 at 15-13 (which you can throw out based on the team he played for)giving up 16 hr after the All-Star break and posting a 3.60 in August and a 4.94 in June. Additionally, some scouts have speculated that his velocity has fallen off somewhat.

To begin with, the sample size for Santana’s alleged regression is small enough that it's hard to take it too seriously. Walter Johnson had an off-year in 1921. Seaver lost 9 of his first 11 in 1974 and still won 22 games the next year. Curt Schilling's mid-to-late 20's were hardly spectacular, but his greatest success followed. My point is that when elite pitchers show any signs of normalcy people can overreact, and generally it's unecessary. His track record alone would quell my concern, but coupled with the consensus that he was unhappy last season playing for a bad team that was bound to trade him it all fits together.


Also, while it’s nice that he’s logged more innings than anyone in the last 5 years, part of that is due to the Twins total reliance on him, something the Mets should not be as guilty of, and in turn should provide him with more rest.
Not to mention the no-DH, the pitcher’s park, and the tendency for NL pitchers to exit games sooner for PH’s.

When a pitcher posts a 3.33 in the AL, K's 235 batters, and wins 15 games on a weak team and people get worried, that pitcher is something truly special.

On a completely different note, every time I look at this season’s probable lineup, which doesn't have much room for give, I can’t help but think that there’s no good reason for this team not to sign Kevin Mench. He has consistently destroyed lefties, (Career OPS vs. LHP: .979) despite not being of much use otherwise. That would give you this lineup vs. LHP (Each player listed w/ career OPS vs. LHP):
Reyes .710
Castillo .829 IMAGE:COMPUJERAMEY
Wright .962 FROMFLICKR
Beltran .855
Alou .946
Delgado .819
Mench .979
Castro .736
Pitcher

That is a truly formidable lineup against a leftie, lacking a serious weak link, as Reyes' lower OPS does not convey the diversity of his play, and Castro's limited PA's don't fully communicate his level of comfortability with lefties. Delgado is what pops out. His career numbers are not in line with what he did last year against southpaws, which was zilch, but perhaps a contract year and a healed wrist will help that...

Kind of a limb to go out on with the initial idea of signing Kevin Mench... The overall thought here is that any backup OF with a propensity to hit lefties, be it Mench or someone else, to spell Church about 20% of the time, could provide a lethal little lineup.

Oh, that's me in the picture with my new Santana jersey that I had made 5 minutes after the trade was announced. As I left the store with it and looked at it on the street, a guy walked by me and said that he saw on ESPN that Johan failed the physical. He kept with it long enough to get me for a second, and then laughed. Phew.