Monday, July 30, 2007

Moves (Deadline and Otherwise)

I'm happy to finally announce something that has been in the works for a little while now. I will now be part of the writing team at Take The 7 Train, MVN's Mets site. The past year-plus that I've spent writing this blog has been a great experience, and I hope that the wonderful readers who have commented on my work here will follow me over to my new "home." I look forward to continuing to share my perspective on my favorite team with a receptive audience.

Stay tuned - my first post at Take The 7 Train will be about the deal the Mets made today, and in the near future I'll be recounting my experience at a recent Brooklyn Cyclones game and perhaps tackling a question that has probably crossed the minds of many Mets fans over the past couple of weeks.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How The Other Half Lives

So, what have I been up to over the past week? Well, for one, I was working on this article for Mets Geek (go check it out - it's a nice mixture of number-crunching and awesome moments from the first half, if I do say so myself). I was also suffering through the West Coast road trip. I can't argue with the outcome - as I said last week, the Mets needed to win 4 of 7, which is exactly what they did (of course, I wasn't expecting that to result in the division lead increasing by 2 games, with the Braves facing the Reds and Cardinals at home). However, every 10 PM (or later - Friday's game started at 10:40, for crying out loud!) start time reminded me that while seeing out-of-division teams more than 6 times a year might be nice in theory, in practice 1 road series against each NL West team is more than enough. There were poundings of aces and struggles against mediocrities, comebacks squandered, thwarted, and thrillingly realized, there was Duque at his best, Glavine at his worst, and Wagner at his craziest (but crazy like a fox). It was as exciting and exasperating as any other stretch of games might be, but considerably more exhausting, with the lack of sleep affecting me more and more as the week wore on (by the end of the week, my sleep patterns had been thrown completely out of whack and I was such a zombie in the morning that I would be at work by the time I realized that the shirt and skirt I was wearing didn't match). Maybe I was just overly sensitive to the break from the norm this time around - the previous West Coast trips this season took place before I started my summer job and had to wake up early in the morning - but when the games end so late that the morning paper can't tell you how they unfolded, you start to wonder who could possibly enjoy those 10 PM starts.

I'm sure that fans of West Coast teams have similar gripes about the East Coast trips, where the night games start when fans of the visiting team are still at work and getaway days start just in time for breakfast, but what about the Mets fans located in the Pacific time zone? My uncle, a lifelong Mets fan who moved to Los Angeles in 2005 and kept his Saturday plan at Shea, doesn't seem to be bothered all that much by the time differences. While he only gets to see the Mets in person when they go out West or when he's able to coordinate a necessary business trip to New York with a Mets homestand, with the help of things like Extra Innings and MLB.TV and satellite radio he can follow the games pretty much as he could back when he lived in Queens. Night games? He TiVos, then fast-forwards through the commercials when he gets home from work. Sunday starts at 1 PM Eastern? According to him, Mets games go great with Sunday breakfast. The one area where out-of-market fans really get the short end of the stick is Saturday afternoon, when everything except the Fox game is blacked out until 7 Eastern/4 Pacific (even if, for example, it's a Mets game that ends before the Fox games are scheduled to start).

The way my uncle describes it, being a Mets fan on the West Coast is a pretty sweet deal. If I didn't love New York so much, I might try it myself (that, and the whole not-having-a-driver's-license thing - I don't think someone who can't drive would survive out there for more than a week.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

History In The Making

As much as there is a tendency to focus on the "now" (and not necessarily in the ESPN sense of the term), I feel that as a Mets fan, and as a baseball fan in general, it is both rewarding and important to study the history of the game. After all, how can we put into perspective the feats we see today without knowing what came before them? How can we debate the Hall of Fame candidacies of current stars without an awareness of the careers of those already enshrined? How can we understand the wacky plays, unexpected games, and improbable seasons from the years before we were born without the helpful recollections of those who were there for it all?

As Mets fans, we are fortunate to have Ralph Kiner, to be able to look forward to his visits to the booth, occasions on which he shares stories about the Mets teams he has covered since the beginning of the franchise's existence and about the guys he played with and against during his own storied playing career. Not only does he have a remarkably sharp mind for a man in his 80s, he is usually able to find in his memory bank of anecdotes a few that fit well with the game unfolding on the field. When Ralph talks about his contemporaries, he does so in a way that makes you understand what they were like in a way that you wouldn't be able to do just from their career numbers.

When I saw that the Mets were having a Ralph Kiner Night, I knew that I had to go. While I may not have grown up listening to Kiner in the same way that older fans did, I've learned a lot and laughed a lot from his stories even if he only gets to tell them once a homestand or so these days. The Mets did a wonderful job in honoring Ralph, bringing together some beloved Mets figures and all-time greats for the ceremonies, showing footage from some classic Kiner's Korner interviews before the game, and showing some taped messages of congratulations from the likes of Vin Scully and Hary Kalas between innings. Just about the only thing that could have been improved upon was the car in which Ralph and his wife drove around the field. After all, home run hitters drive Cadillacs ;-)

The game itself on Saturday was fantastic in its own right. Glavine more than bounced back from a subpar first half, pitching what was easily his best game of the year and a candidate for one of the best outings by a Mets starter this season. There is dominant, and then there is facing one batter over the minimum in 8 innings of work. Despite some frustrating moments by the offense (when you get 11 hits and go down 1-2-3 in only one inning all game, you should be scoring a lot more than 2 runs), Lastings Milledge eventually provided the spark the Mets needed.

The Mets also won today, the offense taking more advantage of its opportunities than it did last night and Oliver Perez pitching well in his return from the DL. The Mets had to take this series against a bad team, and they did so with the bats apparently waking up just in time for a very tough road trip against the Padres and Dodgers in which they desperately need to win at least 4 of the 7 games.

Observations/Odds & Ends:
  • The Reds seem to remove Adam Dunn for defensive purposes in the late innings fairly often, so I was surprised they didn't do so on Saturday (especially after he batted in the 8th and would have been due up 7th in the 9th), and not all that surprised that the decision came back to bite them in the ass. Dunn is a damn good hitter (and while his home-run totals are boosted by playing in Cincinnatti's bandbox, he has the power to break the scoreboard even at Shea), but he seems like he'd be better off as a 1st baseman than as an outfielder.
  • I'm still trying to figure out why Fox showed the Astros-Cubs game here in New York yesterday afternoon. While the Cubs do have a national following, wouldn't it have made more sense to show the Cardinals-Phillies game, since that one featured a division rival of the hometown team?
  • That play Reyes made in yesterday's game - the one right after Gotay made that nice catch - is something I'm still in awe of. The ball was past David Wright, and Jose had both the presence of mind to be there backing up the play and the arm strength to make the throw practically from 3rd base.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Shaking Things Up

Since my last post, the Mets have fired Rick Down, moved Howard Johnson to Down's former position as hitting coach, hired Rickey Henderson to take over as first-base coach, and designated Julio Franco for assignment in order to make room for Lastings Milledge. While it's too soon to really see any results from these moves, I like what the Mets are doing. While it would be foolish to blame Down for all of the team's offensive woes this season, the aggressive approach at the plate that he advocated just wasn't getting the job done. I think one of the most telling statistics regarding the Mets offense this season is how often they were unable to drive up the opposing starter's pitch count and knock him out of the game early. The following is a list of starting pitchers who have gone at least 7 innings in a start against the Mets this year:

Adam Eaton, Shawn Hill, Tim Hudson, Aaron Cook (twice), Josh Fogg, Jason Bergmann, Randy Johnson, Livan Hernandez, Matt Cain (twice), Matt Morris, Carlos Zambrano, Andy Pettitte, Kyle Davies, John Smoltz, Sergio Mitre, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Brandon Webb, Doug Davis, Jamie Moyer, Cole Hamels, Chad Durbin, Hong-Chih Kuo, Brad Penny, Chien-Ming Wang, Johan Santana, Joe Blanton, Mike Maroth, Wandy Rodriguez, Woody Williams, Roy Oswalt, and Bronson Arroyo. (Honorable mention goes to Jason Hirsh, who had thrown just 62 pitches in 6 shutout innings before suffering an injury on the basepaths.)

Yes, the Mets did win some of those games and yes, there are some future Hall of Famers, current Cy Young candidates, and innings-eaters on that list. However, some of those names are downright embarrassing and a pretty damning indictment of the lack of patience the Mets have shown too often this season. I'm not expecting Rickey to come in and be a miracle worker, but his work with Jose Reyes has certainly helped El Profesor to live up to his potential, and having the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of Major League Baseball around to give Mets players helpful hints on baserunning and plate discipline seems like a great idea to me.

As for Franco, he was an affordable luxury last year, but in a tight pennant race there are much better uses for a roster spot than a guy who is pretty much limited to pinch-hitting at this point in his career and who had one extra-base hit in 61 plate appearances this year. When you take into account that he was apparently unhappy with his lack of playing time and that he didn't run out a ground ball in a far more crucial game situation than the one that led to Jose Reyes getting a benching and a talking-to, it was time for him to go.

Now that all of that is out of the way, on to the past two games. I didn't get to see Thursday night's victory (I finally got to see Spring Awakening on Broadway - if you're not easily offended and can tolerate less-than-stellar choreography, I highly recommend it as the music is fantastic and the cast is extremely talented), but judging by the highlights I later saw on ESPN, it was quite a game (back-to-back leadoff homers? Check. Blazing speed? Check. Taking advantage of opposing team's mistakes? Check.) I went to last night's game, and well, hey, at least I'm now the proud owner of an Endy Chavez bobblehead (I wish they would have had Endy out there on the field prior to the game, though - the crowd would have gone wild). John Maine had his worst outing of the year and possibly his worst outing as a Met (this one comes to mind as the other possible contender for that title). It was what I call a sucky/unlucky start, one in which the pitcher doesn't pitch all that well but isn't exactly helped by the defense behind him, and one in which it was obvious pretty early on that Maine was going to have a rough time. In the first inning, I felt like he got himself into trouble by paying too much attention to the baserunners and not focusing on just getting the batter out (especially when the baserunner is Norris Hopper and the batter is Ken Griffey Jr.) While there were occasional rallies after that, and while the Mets were able to chase Aaron Harang fairly early, that 4-run 1st inning was just too much to overcome.

I'll be going to tonight's game as well. I'm looking forward to the ceremony honoring Ralph Kiner, and I hope that the Mets win one for Ralph.

Observations/Odds & Ends:
  • I hope that Brandon Phillips never finds his way onto an NL East team, because he's a certified Met-killer (I was there when he ruined the Reyes cycle game, too). 9 games is a pretty small sample size, but .353/.395/.559 is no joke.
  • I was surprised to see Pelfrey enter the game out of the bullpen. If he's not going to be starting once Sosa comes back from his hamstring injury, I want him to go back to AAA where he can at least pitch on a regular schedule.
  • Idiot of the Day honors go to the guy on the 7 train after the game bitching about how he's "tired of Milledge's bullshit" - about 30 seconds after declaring that even after reading Game of Shadows, he still loves Barry Bonds
  • Not Mets-related, but can anyone explain to me why David Wells got a 7 game suspension for arguing with an umpire? That's 2 more games than fellow Padres starter Chris Young got for drilling -and trading punches with - Derrek Lee. Since when is bitching about the strike zone worse than inciting a bench-clearing brawl?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Maybe They Should Target That "This Time It Counts" Campaign Towards The Managers

Ah, the All-Star Game. A chance to see the "best" players in baseball (or more accurately, the players either most popular with fans/other players or the one guy on each of the crappy teams that the All-Star manager likes best) in a fun exhibition game, showing off their skills. Even with some of the things that have diluted its impact (interleague play, the constant movement of star players from one team to another and across the leagues, the conflict between the fun exhibition aspect and the idea that it should determine home-field advantage in the World Series), there's still something pretty awesome about players from every team coming together for a friendly competition in the middle of the season.

It's even more awesome when your favorite team is well-represented at the game. All 3 Mets in the starting lineup got at least one hit, combining for 5 of the NL's 9 hits in the game. I was especially happy for Jose Reyes, since he was unable to play in last year's All-Star Game. Not only did he go 3-for-4, steal a base, and score the game's first run, but he was the player given the tremendous honor of catching the ceremonial first pitch from Willie Mays in that beautiful pre-game ceremony in Mays's honor. Jose has come so far over the past couple of years, and as a Mets fan it just makes me so proud to see him on the field with his peers and taking part in the celebration of one of the game's legends.

The only Met who really had a bad night at the game was Billy Wagner, who provided the AL with what proved to be a crucial pair of insurance runs. Of course, he wasn't the only lights-out closer to serve up a 2-run bomb last night, and if this was Billy getting a bad outing out of the way in a game that doesn't affect the NL East race I'm not particularly upset, but given the way the bottom of the 9th went down, Wagner should be happy that all of the heat is on Tony La Russa.

La Russa made some questionable decisions earlier in the game (not having any of the starting pitchers go more than 1 innings, pulling Russell Martin when Takashi Saito was brought in to pitch, putting Freddy Sanchez in the game at all), but the bottom of the 9th was some inexcusably bad managing that should once and for all convince people that he is not a "genius." After a late rally against two of the best closers in baseball, the NL was down by a run with 2 outs and the bases loaded. There was exactly one position player left on the NL bench: Albert Pujols. Aaron Rowand was scheduled to bat. Now, Rowand had a good first half (.310/.385/.478) that's better than his overall career numbers, but Pujols is a far superior hitter - this is perhaps the worst season of his career so far, and he's hitting .310/.411/.516 at the All-Star break! Given that either an out or a base hit would end the game right there, I cannot for the life of me understand why La Russa was saving the best weapon he had in case the game went into extras (because K-Rod was totally going to walk a 3rd consecutive batter/throw a wild pitch/balk and then get the 3rd out, right?). Rowand flied out, the AL took home-field advantage yet again, and while that's probably not going to affect La Russa given that his team is below .500 and 7 1/2 games out in the worst division in baseball, alienating his star player probably isn't going to make for a pleasant second half in St. Louis. It's enough to make me wish for a rule change - perhaps from now on the honor of managing the All-Star teams should go to the previous season's Manager of the Year winners instead of the pennant winners. Joe Girardi is far from perfect, but I doubt he would have left Pujols on the bench last night.

Observations/Odds & Ends:
  • Just about the only thing worse than Fox's usual stable of broadcasters (thanks, Tim McCarver, for reminding us all of Game 7 as Beltran hit a triple last night, and props to Joe Buck for showing us all how hip he is with those Entourage and Wedding Crashers references) is their belief that the viewing public thinks Eric Byrnes is entertaining. Having him in the studio for the playoffs last year was bad enough; did anyone really want to see/hear him reporting live from a kayak with his dog?
  • I've never been a fan of the whole "God Bless America" in the 7th inning stretch phenomenon (really, would you expect a nonobservant Jew who thinks "America The Beautiful" should be the national anthem to like that?), but the extended technical difficulties and Paula Cole's subpar performance would have merited a thumbs-down even if I liked the idea of that song being performed at that time. The only saving grace it had over the similarly disastrous "This Is Our Country" performance before a World Series game last year is that there was no car commercial shoehorned into it.
  • I thought it was pretty awesome that the San Francisco crowd loudly booed all 3 Dodgers during player introductions, and I thought it was even more awesome that Penny, Saito, and Martin all responded by tipping their caps. Rivalries don't subside during the offseason, so why should they during the All-Star break?
  • Yeah, it's been said before, but it's worth repeating: Derek Jeter has the range of a garden gnome. I don't know how a shortstop doesn't get to Griffey's RBI single in the 1st.
  • The MVP presentation just cracked me up. Why the hell did Jeanne Zelasko announce that Ichiro will be a free agent soon when Ken Rosenthal reported during the game that Ichiro was close to signing a 5-year extension with the Mariners?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Actual Score of Last Night's Game: Beltran 2, Houston 0

I don't know how either team can be expected to do anything other than sleepwalk through this afternoon's game after the marathon that took place last night. I'm still exhausted just from watching it, from holding my breath every time the Astros put a runner or two on against one of the Mets' less-reliable relievers who was out there because the "book" says not to put your closer into a tie game on the road (even when that results in things like Guillermo Mota facing the heart of the order with no margin for error), from crossing my fingers that the Mets would just get that one.big.hit every time someone reached base, from despair as the ball left Luke Scott's bat and was destined to drop in and end the game that turned to joy because holyfuckingshitbeltranflewupthehillandmadethecatch (after all of the plays Scott made in the first two games of the series to rob the Mets of hits, it was only fitting that he was the victim of the WebGem of the Year in such a crucial situation), from the adrenaline rush that didn't subside until quite a while after the game was over.

It's funny, I didn't really watch much of the early part of the game - I was busy flipping back and forth between the various channels covering the Live Earth concerts, and by the time I switched over to SNY it was the 9th inning. Little did I know that things were just getting started, that the bullpen that had gotten its teeth kicked in just a few days earlier in Colorado would deliver 10 scoreless innings with everyone pitching in, that Beltran would be the hero with his glove in the 14th and his bat in the 17th, that before the game was over Keith Hernandez would be attempting to feed Fritos to a teddy bear (for those who were stuck with the Houston feed, that took place right around when Gotay went up to the plate in the 17th). I don't know what kind of lineup is going to go out there this afternoon - Lo Duca obviously isn't going to play, and it would be good to get the All-Stars some rest if possible, but Oswalt versus the "A-minus" lineup is not likely to be a pretty sight. I just hope that Dave Williams can go at least 7 innings, because I don't know what the Mets will do if he can't.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

This Post Is Brought To You By The Number 7

No, this is not about Sesame Street (although come to think of it, Big Bird would be a pretty damn good pitcher, and Oscar could use the lid of his trashcan as a catcher's mitt, and...). I just figured that with all of the hoopla about it being 07/07/07, I'd make a list of 7 things I feel like talking about. Here goes...
  1. I have to discuss the events last night surrounding our #7. In case you've been living under a rock for the past 24 hours or changed the channel before it happened, Jose Reyes hit a ball down the 3rd-base line in the top of the 8th that he must have thought was going to go foul. He stood there at home plate, the ball stayed fair, the Astros 3rd baseman jogged halfway to 1st like a pitcher after fielding a comebacker, and threw Reyes out as he was still standing by home plate. When the Mets took the field for the bottom half of the inning, Jose found himself on the bench. That's fine with me - Reyes had a pretty significant brainfart, and Willie needed to send a message about the unacceptability of that kind of behavior. However, the news that some teammates think Reyes should be benched tonight, and that Julio Franco (yes, the same Julio Franco who jogged to 1st base in the 9th inning on Sunday when running hard might have meant the difference between game over and Reyes coming to the plate with the tying runs on base) plans to give him a talking-to, is somewhat disturbing to me. What Reyes did on Tuesday in Colorado might have been lack of hustle, but this was just a stupid mistake, and one he's already been punished for. I don't see what pointing fingers at a guy who's been one of the best players on this team all year is going to accomplish, and benching him to prove a point seems incredibly shortsighted, especially given the slim division lead.
  2. Mike Pelfrey fell to 0-7 on the year, but just like in his start against Philadelphia last Sunday, I was encouraged by what I saw from him in terms of stuff and plan of attack, and once again he had one bad inning in which he was victimized by some sloppy defense from David Wright (who tagged out Brad Ausmus's imaginary friend trying to steal 3rd base, but missed Ausmus) and a home run that was a product of its environment (between that ridiculously short porch in left field and the flagpole-clad hill in center, Minute Maid Park has to be the poster child for ill-advised manufactured quirks in the new breed of ballparks). While he hasn't pitched well overall in his time in the major leagues this year (of his 8 starts for the Mets this year, last night's was only the 2nd in which he struck out more batters than he walked), he's had very little in the way of run support (the Mets have scored 3 runs or less in 7 of his 8 starts). If the Mets had managed to score at their normal levels in a couple of his starts and had been able to get him a win, I think fans would be a lot less panic-stricken about his performance thus far.
  3. Left field is position #7 on the scorecard, and thus far the Mets have started 7 different players in left this year, more than at any other non-pitcher position. The 3 who have started there most frequently - Moises Alou, Endy Chavez, and Carlos Gomez - are all currently out with injuries, Ben Johnson appeared overmatched in his brief call-up, Damion Easley is an infielder, and the less said about David Newhan and Ricky Ledee, the better. Now that Lastings Milledge is back playing in the minors after missing 2 months with a foot injury, he needs to be called up as soon as possible.
  4. Tonight's starting pitcher for the Astros, Woody Williams, could fall to 7 games below .500 for the year if the Mets beat him. I'm really not sure what the Astros were thinking when they gave him a 2-year, $12.5 million deal this offseason. Not only is he enough of a flyball pitcher that he gave up 1.3 home runs per 9 innings in each of the last 2 seasons despite pitching his home games at Petco, he's also had a reverse platoon split throughout his career. A flyball pitcher who is worse against righties than lefties in a ballpark where it's just 315 feet down the left-field line? Now that's a brilliant idea if I've ever heard one!
  5. The Braves have won 7 of their last 10 games. I do not like this at all.
  6. While the All-Star rosters are far from perfect, I feel that the managers are getting more blame than they deserve, as there's not much they can do. Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland each got to pick just 7 players, had to pick exactly 4 position players and 3 pitchers, and had to make sure that every team had at least one representative (in other words, some of their 7 picks had to go to players on teams that didn't get anyone in on the fan or player ballots). La Russa does deserve every bit of criticism he's getting for picking Freddy Sanchez as the Pirates representative instead of Ian Snell, and a roster with Snell and Hanley Ramirez would be better than one with Sanchez and Jose Valverde. However, he made sure that 2 of the best relievers in baseball were on the roster (and I don't really get the complaints about the NL roster being too reliever-heavy - considering that most pitchers in the All-Star game only get 1 inning, doesn't it make sense to have guys who are used to rearing back and firing everything they've got in a short outing?), and he really needed to pick Aaron Rowand so that the roster would have more than one player capable of playing center field (great job by the player's ballot in picking 3 left fielders, including Carlos Lee, who isn't as good as his shiny RBI total makes him look). As for Leyland, 5 of his 7 picks had to go to players who are their team's sole representatives, and while Michael Young clearly is not having an All-Star caliber year (Gagne, Otsuka, or even Kenny Lofton would have been a better pick) and James Shields might have been a more deserving Devil Ray representative than Carl Crawford, Leyland did the right thing in making sure that Victor Martinez was on the team. Martinez is having a far better year than the catcher on Leyland's team who was voted into the starting lineup by the fans, and Leyland resisted the temptation to use that spot on Curtis Granderson (who is having a damn good year himself, but is not as big of a snub as Martinez would have been).
  7. After all of these wacky late-ish start times, it's great to look forward to watching a Mets game that starts at the "normal" time of 7 PM.