Archive for the ‘MLB’ Category
I moved to New York City in October 2005. While there were infinite differences from the upstate area I grew up in; one I distinctly remember happened in the summer of 2006. I escorted my cousin to Grand Central Terminal on an early Saturday morning so she could catch an airport shuttle. It was the first time I experienced a summer-in-the-city morning — that brief window of perfect weather and temperature before the cab horns, sirens, bus exhaust, blacktop heat radiation, and tourist traffic take over the streets. It was so perfect, I decided to walk the 3.5 miles home to Lower Manhattan.
At the time, I hadn’t started watching soccer and I was only dimly aware the World Cup was happening. On this day, the city was thrumming with it. Any Manhattan bars with a European or sports’ theme were packed full at 8:30 AM. I was intrigued — not because I was particularly interested in soccer, but I was interested in a culture where people were drinking at 9:00 AM and it was OK. I had walked in to an English-styled pub at 9:00 am mobbed with fans to watch England/Paraguay. That single match got me started. Months later on a hungover Saturday morning, I’d discover both Fox Soccer Channel’s live broadcasts of English Premier League matches and the fact that morning soccer with understated British commentators is, perhaps, the greatest thing to watch on television during a hangover in the history of television and hangovers.
I discovered over the next five years that European soccer is run better than American sports in nearly every way except treating their fans like abused spouses (in which the NFL excels). From handling of youth athletics (teams are more likely to provide for, educate, and train players from a young age instead of pawning them off on high school and colleges where they must remain dirt poor with no incentive to educate themselves until they enter a professional league with no idea how to balance a checkbook or be rich) to their league structure to banning secondary ticket market sales to keep ticket costs reasonable. England’s league structure includes 92 professional teams in four tiers. Those teams can achieve promotion or relegation based on their on-field performance. Teams with superstars stay better. Teams that don’t wish to participate in the unchecked spending of players continue to have competitive games in a league that closer matches their talent level.
Can we apply this to baseball?
With baseball examining radical re-alignment that would further dilute the leagues, why not finally address the giant elephant in the room: that some teams — either by choice (Pirates) or front-office incompetence (Royals) simply can’t compete with the rest of the league. Since that is the case, why not start talking about separating the leagues again but, this time, instead of doing it by historical American/National lines, do it by skill? Why not consider creating a relegation league?
Let’s address the most common misconception first. Relegation does not mean demoting the Athletics to the Pacific Coast League or having the Buffalo Bisons promoted to the NL East. This doesn’t work for many reasons. It’s logistically impossible as Triple A stadiums aren’t equipped for a Major League crowd. Triple A players are not Major League players for a reason. Most importantly, minor league clubs are affiliates of major league clubs so there’d be no way to handle the Buffalo Bisons and the New York Mets being in the same league. Relegation in Major League Baseball means the following: the creation of a second league (for our purposes we’ll call it MLB2) that does not ever play the first league.
MLB2 creation is easy: take either the 10 or 12 lowest winning percentages in the league following a given season. Given leagues of 18 and 12, the 18 team league divides cleanly in to 162 (9) and the 12 team league gets at least two home and two away series with each other team. In the case of 20 and 10, the league sets itself up for expansion. Talent dilution aside, adding two teams to MLB2 would allow baseball to expand in to currently untapped markets like Portland. The relegation league already addresses one of the problems with expansion: the decade it takes the team to be competitive while hemorrhaging new fans. With MLB2, the expansion team would be competing with rebuilding teams. Let’s presume a 20/10 split because, ultimately, I think baseball wants to expand and in my fictional scenario the Mets don’t get demoted in the inaugural year of a new league that was my idea. If there is a tie at the relegation line, we have a seven-game series for the final spot in the league. Based on 2010′s standings, would you watch a Mets/Brewers series in which the loser got booted from the league? You’d watch the heck out of that.
Taking the top 20 and the bottom 10 given 2010′s final standings, the new leagues look like this:
5) White Sox
6) Red Sox
7) Blue Jays
By placing the dividing line at Chicago most, if not all, the primary rivalries (Dodgers/Giants, Yankees/Red Sox, Cubs/Cardinals) are maintained, some old rivalries (Phillies/Pirates) are restored, new rivalries are created (Braves/Red Sox, Nationals/Orioles), and a new focus gets placed on both intrastate (Indians/Reds, Rangers/Astros) and intracity (Yankees/Mets, Dodgers/Angels, Cubs/White Sox) rivalries. It also gives us the chance to expand the playoffs while not expanding the number of playoff teams. Note the Brewers in the East. It’s not ideal, but there are 16 teams Chicago or West and 14 teams to the East. The Brewers get screwed until we get two more teams. Sorry, Milwaukee — don’t be so open to switching leagues in the future and thus not having any long-term rivals. Hopefully this could be addressed with expansion.
With baseball’s (misguided) insistence on adding additional wildcard teams, it moves closer to the other sport’s situation in which under .500 teams get in to the playoffs. As more teams are added, it becomes less likely the best two teams — as determined over six months instead of two weeks — meet in the World Series. Adding the second league, though, we get two entirely different sets of playoffs with two entirely different sets of prizes. More playoffs mean more fans engaged further in to the season without diluting the World Series.
MLB’s playoffs are simple. It’s for the World Series. The top 3 teams from each division are selected. The two and three play a three-game series for the right to play in the MLB West Championship Series and the MLB East Championship Series. I chose three games because a six to seven day layoff may be detrimental to the division winner. One of baseball’s problems is there is currently no benefit to paying for the one seed. This accomplishes that goal. The one-seed gets a brief rest and a guaranteed ticket. The two and three must play in, using their pitchers and adding extra travel.
MLB2′s playoffs are limited only by how many teams are promoted. My preference is three with the following rules. The top two teams in each division are automatically promoted to their MLB division. For the third, take the two and three from each division, have them playoff, and the winners then play in the MLB2 World Series for the third promotional spot to their MLB division. Imagine your team finishing in the bottom two relegation zone in MLB and their future is now governed by a series they’re not playing in. Again, would you watch that? Of course you would.
Whenever relegation is mentioned, everyone is quick to talk about why it wouldn’t work because of the misunderstanding with Triple A. What they never talk about is the creation of an actual financial penalty for bad owners. Right now, owners have no financial stake in winning. What if the revenue sharing pool was league-exclusive? Right now, the Pirates’ owner has no incentive to get better. According to the oft-cited Deadspin article (in which I’m actually going to cite the NY Times because I can’t find the Deadspin link), the Pirates pulled in about $70M in revenue sharing for about $30M in profit. The Pirates have not finished a season over .500 in 20 years. In a city as sports crazy as Pittsburgh, that should actually be impossible. If MLB2 was half the size of MLB, and MLB2 only revenue shared with each other (with payments for some number of years after relegation so teams with long term contracts don’t go bankrupt), aren’t we creating a financial penalty that matters? Suddenly, the owner in the relegation league doesn’t have all the large-market revenue sharing checks at his disposal. Wouldn’t that kind of financial incentive make an owner care?
Ultimately, the question that matters is “why does it work for fans?” The argument against is always “won’t fans not go to games in the relegation league?” To that I ask, simply, why do fans go to games at Kaufmann Stadium or PNC Park now? They don’t believe at the beginning of every season they have a shot at the World Series, despite the clockwork “on April 1st, everyone has a chance” columns written on schedule when the temperature starts warming. Losing seasons affect attendance, but not enough to prevent a perennial loser from turning an eight-figure profit. In MLB2, aren’t we giving fans a chance to see a good season against similar competition with their own World Series? On the top end, doesn’t it make a trimmed-down MLB competitive to the last day of the season? The threat of relegation with the top three in the playoffs means the top five or six teams in each division are in the playoff race until September while the bottom four or five will be fighting to say out of the bottom two relegation zone. There’s no more mailing in August and September when being in the bottom two leaves the team open to demotion. On the lower end, we’re putting six of ten teams in a promotion playoff. We’ve made a case where nearly 3/4ths of the league is playing meaningful games late in to the season. Isn’t that good for fans?
The final thing to address is how relegation league teams rebuild. It’s likely that superstar free agents would tend to shy away from signing in MLB2 (though as Jason Werth proved in 2011, if you pay them, they will come). More importantly, slightly redesign the draft. The relegation league would get the first round entirely to themselves. Next, the relegation league would get any compensation picks from free agent losses. Then the draft would proceed as it does now. In this way, the top dozen or so prospects from each draft are sent to the teams that need them the most. This accomplishes two things. First, as the Rays (recently) and Twins (forever) have proven, this is the most efficient way to rebuild. Second, it decreases the chance that top draftees will decline to sign with their relegation league team since they will likely always be selected by a relegation league team. If we combined this new draft with a slotting system (to decrease signability problems) and extend the drafting rights of relegation league teams to two years (to decrease holding out) and suddenly there’s a draft system that’s amazingly efficient at getting the best prospects to the most needy teams.
What negatives does this system create that don’t already exist now? Free agents currently don’t choose to go to the worst teams. Second tier teams currently have attendance issues. The only group adversely affected by this change are bad owners who put uncompetitive teams on the field for two straight decades. These owners are vastly outnumbered by good owners. Owning a team should not grant an unalienable right to be bad and make money through taxpayer funded stadiums and revenue sharing. As fans, we get back to a more balanced schedule, unified rules (in either direction, though I’d prefer removing the DH while promising the MLBPA two additional teams), and have two competitive leagues with a revitalized All Star Game. Don’t sleep on how this structure helps the All Star Game. The relegation league has something to prove. The top league actually has pride on the line.
Ultimately, I know the league probably wouldn’t consider it as they’d prefer to pretend the income disparity between the three largest markets and everyone else in the regional sports cable network era doesn’t exist. This type of realignment gives the smaller market teams extra access to rebuilding strategies that doesn’t involve spending infinite amounts of money. It adds playoff shares to teams that would otherwise never make the playoffs and encourages even bad teams to play late in to the season by either playing for the playoffs or to stay out of the relegation zone. Finishing second to last would be bad. Finishing last gets you kicked out of the league. If the Pirates still can’t figure out how to make this work and they go bankrupt? Well, let another owner try to figure it out.
It won’t happen, but it’s fun to talk about. Baseball had two distinct leagues for many years. Having them again — especially in this world where baseball has its own cable channel to feature whatever it wants — isn’t a bad thing. It makes competition better across the board and finally, finally, gives owners an incentive not to be perennial losers.
Around February, I started sketching out what would become my lovingly ripped-off version of That Bootleg Guy’s 3rd Annual 30 A’s In 30 Days feature. If you recall last season, I blatantly stole this format for my 2010 Mets Preview; which featured such gems as “[Jason Bay will have] 100+ RBI and 25+ HR. No one admits to ever having wanted Matt Holliday.”, “[Angel Pagan] will single-handedly cost the Mets at least one game during his two-month tenure as a starter.”, and “15 wins or better from a healthy Oliver Perez this year.” In my defense, most of the predictions I made were spot-on… they’re just not nearly as funny. About a week in to outlining players, the Mets’ brass started… well… talking. The more I started listening, the more I started hearing “rebuilding year” between the lines. You know the words… “a lot of old contracts on the book” and “can’t really add payroll.” What I was hearing without them saying was this: due to an unfortunate series of events affecting the team’s ownership, their continued insistence that those events wouldn’t affect baseball operations was a blatant lie. The team’s ownership — despite a 65% ownership stake in a cable TV channel that makes $15 million/month — would be cutting payroll. To forgive me some math, $15,000,000 x 12 x 0.65 = $117,000,000. On top of that, the Mets pull in $20M/year in naming rights for Citi Field. To put that in perspective, the NFL television deal the media is currently enraged about is “only” worth $82,000,000 per team per year. The Mets nearly double AN NFL TEAM’s television revenue and they started by telling fans “we’ll get ‘em next year.”
As the pre-season continued, more information has been leaking about the Mets’ owners’ financial shape. The most damning being the admission of a $25 million loan from Major League Baseball. At the very least, this explained a couple things. First, it explained their decision to fire their general manager because their on-field manager was an atrocity that cost the team 10-15 games (more on this later). Second, it explained why Sandy Alderson was scraped out of obscurity to run the team. Alderson, friend of Bud Selig and guy who they sent to clean up baseball operations in the Dominican Republic, was sent to the Mets to be The Wolf and protect the franchise’s value. As his back-up, the team hired JP Riccardi who is responsible for 1) the single worst contract in baseball (not rescinded until he performs like last year a second time) 2) another of the top ten worst contracts in baseball and 3) letting the best pitcher in baseball leave for nothing when the team was out of contention with a zero-percent chance to re-sign. That’s our braintrust.
I may have even been OK with this change in regime if I believed for a moment it was warranted. It wasn’t. I watched probably 140 of the Mets’ 162 games last season and Jerry Manuel might have been the single worst manager I ever had the displeasure of watching. I have repeatedly stated that Manuel, at minimum, cost the team 10 wins last season and, with research, I could find fifteen. Some examples:
- Bottom of the 9th, Rod Barajas walks. Manuel does not pinch run for him even though he has 2 catchers on the bench. The next batter pulls a ball in to the gap and Barajas can only make 3rd on the play. Manuel then inexplicably pinch runs for Barajas at 3rd.
- Despite the fact that Gary Matthews Jr had lost the ability to hit Major League Pitching, Manuel continues to start him for most of April, despite the fact Angel Pagan is tearing the seams off the ball every time he gets to the plate.
- A 3-7 record in extra inning games on the road, fueled largely by the fact that Manuel never got the memo that scoring one run on the road does not, in fact, end the game.
The above doesn’t even include his chronic ability to go out for a mound visit, listen to the fact that his starter’s “still got it”, declare “he deserves a chance to finish it”, only to see the next batter hit a ball 500 feet. Nor his inability to recognize when his players need a day off and force one on them whether despite objections. Nor the fact he ran out of players not once, but twice in a nine inning game. Nor the fact that he let Jose Reyes die in the 3 slot for 20 games to the tune of .207/.253/.280, which was about 12-games after we could have officially declared the experiment a failure. Nor the fact he let Carlos Beltran destroy rallies in the 3-hole after you know, having not faced major league pitching in a year. Given all of that, a different manager with a better grasp on important things like “strategy” and “knowing your players” could have easily swung their 65-68 record at August’s end to 75-58. At that point, the team doesn’t have to play out a lame duck September. Who knows.
On the other side, here’s what we know about Omar Minaya. He had a cataclysmic run of injuries following the 2006 near miss. In 2007, Billy Wagner’s back gave out and led to a bullpen-by-committee during the cataclysmic 17 game stretch that cost them the division. I believe this was the first time I used: “the closer is the most overrated position in baseball until you don’t have one.” In 2008, Wagner was again lost and a combination of Luis Ayala, Aaron Heilman, and Scott Shoenweiss were closing games. In 2009, it was the single worst stretch of injuries I’ve ever seen in a baseball season. Last year, well, one might wonder how a team with an aggregate 3.73 ERA was under .500. Could it have something to do with a manager criminally mismanaging a line-up? Probably. Here’s what else we know about Omar Minaya. Since Frank Cashen’s 1980s team disbanded, the Mets have been in contention exactly twice. The Subway Series team in 2000 which featured Minaya as the assistant GM. And the 2005-present team which was in consistent contention when not being struck by terrible luck with injuries.
Minaya was fired, largely, because beat writers didn’t like him and the Wilpons listen to WFAN. As a recovering WFAN listener, I gathered three chief complaints. First, Luis Castillos’ contract. Often held up as the pinnacle of Minaya’s ignorance, Castillo’s 4-year, $24M contract has been labeled an albatross and something that, this season, was a sink on the Mets’ ability to sign other players. Over the period where the Mets were paying Castillo $6M/year, they spent $417 million on players. Castillo’s money accounts for 4% of the payroll. This 4% was for a fairly good defensive 2B with a light-hitting bat whose usual job was to get Jose Reyes to second base while sucking up 10-pitches per at-bat out of the two-hole. Stop it. Second, Oliver Perez’s contract. Yes, it was bad. It was also market rate at the time for a left-handed pitcher who could hit 90 on the gun. Ollie proceeded to get worse, refused to go to the minors, and ate a roster slot (and lots of pie) for two months. Although, I continue to wonder whose fault this really is. Want to know the ultimate difference between the Mets and the Yankees? When Carl Pavano was a trainwreck in the Bronx, he was put on the DL and never came back. The may have had Kei Igawa murdered. The Mets refused to eat Ollie’s contract and, instead, took a roster slot away from the team. Ultimately, I’m asked to believe the Wilpon’s story that Minaya never proposed cutting Ollie and swallowing his salary? I don’t. History tells me the Wilpons don’t eat bad contracts. Even when they’re getting $140M before turning on the lights. Minaya missed on Ollie’s contract. Show me a GM who hasn’t missed on a contract and I’ll show you a rich GM. Third, an over-reliance on older players. Largely, this comes from Minaya’s habit of having one over-the-hill player to sit on the bench and be a mentor. One can take or leave that strategy. It doesn’t bother me much largely because his older, mentory players have performed. This is something we don’t like mentioning when we talk about Minaya’s staff. He’s really, really good at finding efficient, low-cost players that everyone else has passed up. R.A. Dickey, Fernando Tatis, Jose Valentin, Angel Pagan, pre-concussed Ryan Church, and Hisanori Takahashi to name a few. But let’s forget those guys and just remember that he once overpaid Luis Castillo for a full 4% of payroll.
And Sandy Alderson’s first move as General Manager? To hire Terry Collins as manager. Terry Collins who has been at the helm of the Astros for an epic collapse and lost his players so badly he had to resign mid-season. Twice. Once in Japan. Japanese people don’t even boo at wrestling matches. Sounds like exactly the type of manager the Mets needed. A guy who hasn’t ever successfully managed a team while there were other better brand name managers available.
So, where does that leave the team this year? Ultimately, pretty much the same place they were last year. If they stay healthy (somewhat unlikely given that Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana will start the season on the DL) the team that Omar Minaya built last year is good. The top of their line-up is solid. Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Jason Bay is a solid top five. Ike Davis and Josh Thole were solid rookies last season who need to avoid a sophomore slump. Daniel Murphy, who lost all of last season to injuries, will finally be able to try and save the Mets from their long nightmare that was Luis Castillo’s good defense and decent hitting.
The Mets problem, largely, will be their pitching. Without Johan Santana, they have no true ace. Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese have the difficult task of trying to match last season’s great work. R.A. Dickey… well… let’s just say I’ll be stunned if he does this year what he did last year. While watching Dickey’s performance last year was fun, I don’t have any faith he’ll do it again. The bottom two slots of the Mets’ rotation will be made up of whomever they can find. The last two most likely candidates will probably be some combination of Chris Young, Chris Capuano, and Boof Bonser. I’d also imagine we’ll see prospect Dillon Gee sooner rather than later.
The Mets are about the same team they were last year with, hopefully, a better manager. I would not be surprised to see an eight-game upswing. I expect a big year from Reyes and a bounceback year from a Jason Bay who now understands the ballpark canyon. Carlos Beltran will likely get on the field if he has to be wheeled out on a gurney. As for the pitchers, the most infuriating part of the offseason was the fact the Mets let pitchers sign elsewhere without putting up a fight. They desperately needed to sign another premium pitcher because of Johan’s injury. They didn’t, which really just leaves a dim hope the Mariners do not want to pay the final 3-years/$60M on King Felix’s contract. Of course, if that were the case, the Mets wouldn’t make the trade because they’re just a scrappy, small market team trying to get by in the unfair, unbalanced world of major league baseball. They can’t afford premium pieces with their scant $140M/year minimum revenue before we even mention their 2.5 million attendance at an average ticket price of $35.
And, I’ll make this guarantee now. Should the Mets’ decide at the end of this season that Jose Reyes is too rich for their blood and try to sell me Ruben Tejada as the shortstop of the future — I’m out. I’ll start watching MLS games.
Over/Under (77.5): Over. 89-83, 2nd place, NL East. Sandy Alderson gets credit for Omar Minaya’s team.
W/W – Falcons -1.5 over Ravens, 26-21, Falcons cover: I was in DC for this game. About, what, 50 miles from Baltimore? Didn’t see it on one television in one bar I was in or walking past. Well played, again, NFL. Can’t wait to see how your anti-fan policies fly in London or Canada.
W/L – Colts -6.5 over Bengals, 23-17, Colts cover: Hooray for the backdoor!
L/L – Jaguars -1 over Texans, 31-24, Texans outright: I’d like to say that I could take a moral victory here and claim I was right about the game… until you realize that the game was tied anyway and, without the miracle finish, it just would have gone to OT anyway.
W/W – Dolphins -2.5 over Titans, 29-17, Dolphins cover: Chad Pennington’s career, in one play. We won’t know a whole lot about the Dolphins going forward until they figure out what’s going on at quarterback.
L/L – Bears +1.5 over Vikings, 27-13, Vikings cover: Happy trails, Minnesota. At the very least, Brett Favre will get his 300 starts at the expense of the team, Childress’s job, and probably next season since I don’t know that the owner will blame himself for the Favre trainwreck. If not, he’ll probably fire the coach and install a new regime that will take at least a year to get up to speed.
W/L – Bills -2.5 over Lions, 14-12, Bills cover: And these are the times when you wonder exactly how they pick spreads that are so exact. These are also the times when I wonder how my buddy Big T leaves Albany at 5:00 AM on Sunday morning to drive to Buffalo for a 1:00 PM Bills game. It’s not last year’s 6-3 but, well, it’s close.
L/L – Jets +3 over Browns, 26-20, Browns outright: There’s no way to say this without it sounding like being a hater but… I can’t wait to bet against the Jets in the playoffs. Jets’ folks have defended their last couple of games as “our defense has kept us in games and we’ve been able to take advantage of late mistakes. Good teams do that.” No, good teams don’t need a bunch of late mistakes to beat trash teams. The Jets have been getting gifts all year and nobody seems to want to point it out. Meanwhile, it’s likely they’ll play exactly two more teams with an over .500 record over their last seven games. It’s fully possible they are going to manage a 1-seed with 5/16 games being against good opponents and, currently, they’re 1-2 against those opponents. And, yet, with they way they’ve been pounding their chest for beating scrub teams with gifts while devaluing the roughly 10000000x harder Giants’ schedule… I won’t feel bad for them.
W/W – Bucs -7.5 over Panthers, 31-16, Bucs cover: Nothing too shocking here. John Fox is probably happy nobody wants to hire a new coach this year.
L/L – Broncos over Chiefs, 49-29, Chiefs: Don’t take the Chiefs on the road. Don’t take the Chiefs on the road. Don’t take the Chiefs on the road. Don’t take the Chiefs on the road.
L/W – Niners -5.5 over Rams, 23-20, Rams outright: Yeah, I didn’t have a good feeling on anything other than the points in this one.
W/W – Seahawks +3 over Cardinals, 36-18, Seahawks outright: The Seahawks seem to be the baseline NFL team. If they beat you, you’re bad. If you beat them, you’re probably good.
L/W – Cowboys +10.5 over Giants, 33-20, Cowboys +10.5: I saw this coming. I didn’t have the stones to actually pick the Cowboys on the road… but I guess I should have remembered 1) Giants fans even in the old stadium are notorious for selling their tickets for 4pm games 2) New Meadowlands Stadium has no home field advantage anyway and 3) trappiest trap game of the season.
W/W – Patriots +4 over Steelers, 39-26, Patriots outright: When the Jets play the Patriots again in a few weeks….. it is going to be ugly.
L/L – Eagles -3(0) over Redskins, 59-28, Redskins outright: One of the negative of not having had a chance to see the Redskins yet is that I had no idea how bad their offensive line was. Like… the Bears’ line is bad. The Redskins line is way worse. Like… holyshit worse. What I did discover about the Eagles, though, is that the receivers literally can’t outrun Vick’s arm. That’s going to be a problem.
Straight Up: 7-7 (84-60)
Against The Spread: 7-7 (78-66)
$100 – Colts -7 over Bengals – L
$100 – Redskins +3 over Eagles – L
$100 – Patriots over Steelers (+201) – W (+$301)
$200 – Bucs/Panthers over 37 – W (+$420)
Current Pool: $1797 + $721 = $2518
Spread: 6-8 (-$345)
Money Line: 10-10 (+$693)
Over/Under: 7-2 (+$670)
Total: 21-20 (+$1018)
L/W – Rams +8.5 over Chargers, 20-17, Rams +8.5: So the Chargers are officially dead? Is that what I’m to understand? Are we redefining a world where the Chiefs are the best the AFC West has to offer?
W/L – Texans -5 over Chiefs, 35-31, Texans cover: If you can imagine, with so many early games, this game didn’t even earn a TV in a bar that airs all the games.
W/W – Patriots -3 over Ravens, 23-20, Patriots cover: I saw bits of this game during commercials of the Giants game. It looked like Deion Branch pretty much reintegrated in to the offense like he never left. I will say it got deep enough in to the overtime period that I started rooting for a tie. Not a huge knock on the Ravens as this game was likely to be settled by three one way or another… the Pats came out on top. Two of the top tier in the AFC. As an aside, both Simmons and Scott Van Pelt keep repeating this insane idea that the AFC is worlds better than the NFC this season… due to, I guess, the fact the Jets are the only 5-win team in football? Here’s the difference between the two — the AFC winners are the teams everyone expected. The NFC teams are not. Therefore, the NFC is bad. Hooray self-perpetuating national media!
W/W – Saints -4.5 over Buccaneers, 31-6, Saints cover: Really, this was a spread that deserved its own bet. I would have felt much less stupid than relying on the Raiders to do what was expected of them. Bookies… Cadillacs… etc.
L/L – Eagles -1 over Falcons, 31-17, Falcons outright: There were a surprising number of Eagles fans out and about in New York on Sunday and an even more surprising number of them were women. It’s not often I can be out at a bar and hate a lot of the women. Since the Eagles won a game and Kolb looked dominant, I guess we’re all going to agree the Eagles are going to walk in a weak NFC East because the entire division is so bad?
W/L – Giants -9.5 over Lions, 28-20, Giants cover: I knew that I was having a rough week in the picks department when the Giants picked off the Lions’ final pass and the cornerback (rightly) killed the ball rather than running in for the Pick-6. I will say this — after one single game of watching Calvin Johnson, I understand why Shaun Hill has defied all logic to become my fantasy MVP. The dude can catch anything. If the Lions had anything on defense, they’d be a force.
L/L – Seahawks +6.5 over Bears, 23-20, Bears cover: Surprisingly, this game also did not earn a television in the bar so I really didn’t see much of it. The box score looks relatively even. So it certainly seems like the Bears are handled by teams with a better air game than running game… which is death in today’s NFL. At some point, are we going to have to decide that maybe Pete Carrol and Matt Hasselbeck have figured out something that works?
W/W – Dolphins (pk) over Packers, 23-20, Dolphins: Big win for the Dolphins after a couple rough division weeks. I’m really curious to see if the Packers start to bounce back a little — because I’m sort of expecting the Vikings to get better as the weeks go on. As much as we all like to goof on Favre and call him overrated — he’s got a great running back, two serious targets, and a decent defense. Presuming he and his penis don’t get suspended, the Packers are going to have a rough go at the division… especially if the Bears keep sneaking in to victories. Unless, of course, the NFC Wildcards will all get in with 8 wins — which is the ESPN wisdom du jour.
W/L – Steelers -11.5 over Browns, 28-10, Browns +11.5: OK, so I overthought this game based on a stupid “gut instinct.” My friend Mike tried to talk me out of it — saying “gut feelings” shouldn’t override logic and reason. He was right, until today when he told me he was taking the Yankees on Monday based on a “gut feeling” that Cliff Lee was going to lose it in Yankee Stadium. Logic and reason sometimes loses a foothold in sports.
W/W – Jets -3.5 over Broncos, 24-20, Jets cover: Gonna be honest here — by the time this game wound up, I sent the following tweet: I kicked the oktoberfest keg at 16th st bro jimmy’s. Welcome to to winter lager everyone!!. So, I got to close out the Oktoberfest keg and tap the Winter Lager keg. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing but, at the time, I thought it was awesome.
L/L – Niners -7 over Raiders, 17-9, Raiders outright: Three frigging field goals and 83 yards passing. Next time I want to bet on the Raiders, I do hope someone kicks me in the head. If not kick me in the head, at least NOT ENCOURAGE ME!
W/W – Vikings -2.5 over Cowboys, 24-21, Vikings cover: I love how the Cowboys and their fans can continue to compartmentalize these losses as “mistakes” and “not their fault.” The Cowboys are dead. They’re not a team that’s going to recover this season. They may… MAY… get a dead cat bounce against the Giants next week, but I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on that offensive line stopping a defensive line that’s put starting quarterbacks out of the game in consecutive weeks.
W/W – Colts -3 over Redskins, 27-24, Colts cover: After the adventures at Brother Jimmy’s, I only really half watched this game while waiting for dinner to arrive. No big surprise.
W/W – Titans -3 over Jaguars, 30-3, Titans cover: This might be the first Jacksonville game I’ve seen in years. I don’t know how Jack Del Rio is still employed. Four shots from the 3-yard line and they can’t get the ball in? The Jags are unfathomably bad. How they jumped on the Colts two weeks ago is baffling.
SU: 10-4 (54-36)
ATS: 8-6 (48-42)
$200 – Titans -3 over Jaguars: W (+$420)
$200 – Oakland +7 over Niners: L
$100 – Browns over Steelers: L
$100 – Rangers over Yankees: (In Play)
$100 – Giants over Phillies: (In Play)
Current Pool: $1170 + $420 = $1590
Spread: 4-5 (-$215)
Money Line: 2-7 (-$285)
Over/Under: 5-1 (+$590)
Total: 11-13 (+$90)
Chargers -8.5 at Rams: I hate this game. A lot. On one hand, it’s the NFC West. On the other, St. Louis got housed last week. On the other, the Chargers got mauled by a division opponent they usually crush. I have no idea. Taking the points. Rams +8.5
Chiefs +5 at Texans: Second consecutive game on the road for the Chiefs. The Texans showed against the Giants that they don’t have much in the line of pass defense. Fortunately, the Chiefs don’t have a whole lot in the line of passing. Texans cover
Ravens +3 at Patriots: Another game I really have no idea about. This has all the makings of one of those games where we think the Patriots are kind of done — and then somehow they’re not. Here’s the thing… I don’t love the Patriots’ chances in this game, but Joe Flacco has been less than awesome this season. Patriots cover
Saints -4.5 at Buccaneers: It seems like an awful lot of folks are calling for an upset in this game. I guess as indicated by their 3-0 record against teams that are under .500 and their absolute slaughter at the hands of the Steelers who are, you know, OVER .500. Saints cover
Falcons +1 at Eagles: Is Philly the only current stadium where their team has a home-field disadvantage? I feel like it might be. This seems like another place where the betting public is slow to admit that the Eagles really aren’t that good. They’ve allowed 32 points to the Lions and 24 points to the Niners and we’re supposed to think they’re about even with the Falcons? I think not. Falcons outright
Lions +9.5 at Giants: Between the Giants revitalized pass rush, Calvin Johnson’s slightly-less than sure status, and the fact Shaun Hill simply can’t continue being my weekly fantasy MVP… this might be uglier than Cleveland/Pittsburgh. Giants cover
Seahawks +6.5 at Bears: Chicago has been relatively good at taking down mediocre-to-good teams. The Seahawks, well, don’t travel well. Bears cover
Dolphins (Pk) at Packers: At this point, I’m still thinking the Dolphins are a rather good team that had a trainwreck game against a division opponent. I think the Packers are getting mispriced at home. Dolphins
Browns +11.5 at Steelers: This is a ton of points. Almost too many. Doesn’t this have all the makings of one of those insane NFL upsets where 99% of people take the Steelers in a walk and, instead, it ends knockout pools nationwide? I mean, you have Big Rapey coming back after his suspension trying to get back in sync with his receivers. You have Heinz Field kinda wanting to turn on him. You have a rookie quarterback who may or may not be good stepping on the field for the first time. On top of that it’s a division game? Like — I understand the argument that the Steelers defense could win this game without the offense ever really stepping on the field… but I really can’t get past the fact that I’m smelling a weird game here. I’m back and forth as to whether I’m picking the Browns to win, but I’m relatively certain they cover this. Browns +11.5
Jets -3.5 at Broncos: OK, fine. I give up. The Jets are better than I thought. Reverse jinx absolutely not being attempted. Jets cover
Raiders +7 at Niners: This is such a bizarre, out of place spread that it almost makes me afraid to take it. Like… I can’t imagine the argument that places the Niners a touchdown over anybody… much less the team from across the bay that’s probably going to travel relatively well the 20 miles to watch the game. Vegas has officially psyched me out with this spread… so much that I actually e-mailed the guy who runs my pool to confirm that he didn’t actually enter it backward. He didn’t. Raiders outright
Cowboys +2.5 at Vikings: I think the Cowboys are dead. I think the Vikings are not. Add the Cowboys being on the road and this has all the makings of a season-killing massacre… just in time for the Cowboys to bounce back against the Giants next week. Vikings cover
Colts -3 at Redskins: Why hello, new Brett Favre. I don’t bet against you on prime time games… even if you are playing against a team whose coat-tails I’m riding. Colts cover
Titans -3 at Jaguars: I still think the Jags are one of the worst teams in the league. This is another mispriced spread based on, I guess, the Jaguars putting up a lot of points over the last two weeks. Titans cover
$100 – Giants to win NLCS over Phillies (+220): Not a typo. As I mentioned in the LCS previews, I could have gotten this a much better price if I bet it earlier in the week. I never really said that the magic $1500 budget was limited to football, though I may have said that betting on baseball was a different level of degenerate gambling. Oh well… Lincecum and Cain getting two starts at better than 2-1 is too good a value bet to pass up. Speaking of which….
$100 – Rangers to win ALCS over Yankees (+160): Aside from the fact I actually think the Rangers are a better team than the Yankees, it certainly seemed clear that it was easier to find four wins for the Rangers than it was for the Yankees. If not for some horrible managing by Ron Washington and an unfathomably stupid steal attempt against Kerry Wood, this series should already be 2-0. I expected it to be 1-1 going back to New York, and 3-2 Rangers coming back to Texas. On pace even if it wasn’t as I drew it up.
$200 (+20) – Titans -3 over Jaguars: I can’t not do this. The Jags’ defense is terrible. I can’t see any scenario in which the Titans don’t roll over the Jags on Monday night.
$200 (+20) – Oakland +7 over Niners: Even if the Niners do somehow come out and find the answer to win their first game… are they really going to do it by more than a touchdown? I really just don’t see it. I don’t understand how this spread hasn’t moved. I don’t understand how Sportsbook’s trends say this is being bet down the middle. I feel like there’s something I’m missing… but I can’t not roll huge on these two spreads.
$100 – Browns over Steelers (+621): Since I’m currently up, and something in the universe is telling me this is right, I’m doing it. It might be wrong but… I’d hate myself more if I ignored the universe and it turned out to be right.
Current Pool: $1710 – $540 = $1170
1) The season ended, as it quite often does, in Atlanta. Turner Field remains the final level of hell for the Mets. As of a couple days ago, the Mets franchise record in Atlanta since the Braves changed address is 38-78. The Mets won the first game of the series. They went in to game 2 down 6.5 in the division. With the season still very much alive on August 4th, Mike Pelfrey gave up one run in the first inning. The Mets fought back in the second and third to take the lead. Then Pelfrey gave up consecutive home runs in the bottom of the third to surrender the lead and knock all the fight out of the team. An error in the bottom of the fifth made it worse, and a trainwreck 3 error inning in the bottom of the sixth finished the season. With the season on the line, the team gagged it up and haven’t been able to win a division series since. Even with the “easy” part of their schedule coming up in August and September, you can often figure out how good your team is with how they perform in must-win games. The Mets can’t win them. Thus, the season because obvious on August 4th.
2) Two years ago, I watched a Mets team that couldn’t hold a lead because they had a terrible bullpen. No lead was big enough. I watched the team just give up on the season as Luis Ayala blew save after save. Remember, kids — the closer is the most overrated position in baseball until you don’t have one. I thought that was the most frustrating thing to watch. I was wrong… it’s actually far more frustrating to watch really great starting pitching wasted while batters just flail blindly at junk and pop-out weakly to center.
3) Fun stat they showed on August 30th: the Mets were 5th in the league in ERA at 3.72. Over the same period they were 3rd to last in OPS with a .691. That’s an OPS+ of 86, kids. That’s tough to watch. I don’t know how Giants’ fans do this every single season. In August, the Mets had an aggregate .184 batting average with runners in scoring position. Kill me.
4) Jerry Manuel deserved a full season with an uninjured team. He got it. I will be happy to see him go. While I think he’s the right temperament to manage in this city — he’s a very level-headed, easy-going dude in the vein of Joe Torre — I think he’s too laid back. He takes way too long to make adjustments; from letting Gary Matthews Jr hit .150 while Angel Pagan — and his current breakout season — rotted on the bench to letting Carlos Beltran essentially sink the center of the order and hit .200 out of the clean-up spot for two months and counting. Look, I understand that you have to treat a veteran player with kid gloves, but there comes a point where you either have to give him some days off or move him down in the order. Beltran has absolutely nothing from the left side of the plate. He’s got a brace on his surgically repaired left knee and he can’t generate any power off it. This, more than anything else, has led to the Mets’ dearth of offense and Manuel just won’t change the line-up. Combine this with the fact that I really don’t think he gets his players. Best example — I’ve watched David Wright his entire career. When he goes in to slumps, he starts getting what I refer to as his “Murderin Eyes”; it’s like The Crazy Eyes but for guys. As soon as I see those, he’s going to start slumping. The only thing that has ever fixed this is an off-day. He gets a day, and he’s fine and starts hitting again. Manuel has never gotten this… he lets Wright press for weeks at a time with the Murderin Eyes. A manager’s one job is to know his players and if Manuel hasn’t been able to recognize the Murderin Eyes in 2 full seasons, then he’s not the right manager for this team. As for a replacement, I have no idea who it’s going to be. Mets’ fans, in their infinite wisdom, want Bobby Valentine. Who, apparently, will be better because he got fired once for being a bad manager… but he’ll definitely be better now. I hate my life.
5) As for Omar Minaya… I have no idea. I maintain my position that he’s done a good job. He missed on a contract… everyone misses on contracts. Other large market teams swallow these mistakes. If Oliver Perez was doing on the Yankees what he’s been doing on the Mets, you’d never see him again. They’d either be paying him to play on some other team or they’d simply waive him and let him attempt a renaissance somewhere else. We can call this “Kei Igawaed”. For some bizarre reason, the Wilpons refuse to eat this contract and would rather anger their fans and force their team to play with a 24-man roster. Ironically, this same thing might be what gives Minaya one more season. He’s signed through 2012, so he might get 2011. Though I will point out again… Omar was the assistant GM in the late 90s when the team was in contention. When he was in Montreal, they fell back in to being the worst team money could buy. Since he’s been back, they’ve been in contention every season. The idea that the Wilpons — who, remember, would rather force their manager to play a 24-man roster than eat contract money — will fire Omar and hire someone other than his assistant GM is crazy.
6) And, seriously Wilpons? Oliver Perez had four appearances in July and August. Four! He’s pitched five innings in two months! In those five innings he’s given up 2 home runs! You’re asking the people of New York City to support this franchise with $70 tickets to a Thursday Night game vs the Marlins and yet you won’t sink the cost of a contract that is basically less than 10% of next year’s payroll? Especially considering the guy who’d likely take his place on the roster, Jenrry Meija is a cost-controlled rookie. We’re not asking you to eat $12M and pay $20M for someone else (though that’d be OK, too). We’re asking you to eat $12M and replace it with $400k. I’m not even one of the crazy people who think Luis Castillo should be cut because he has some value in a trade if you pick up some of the money. But, come on guys. Let Perez go. Are you really planning on playing with a 24-man roster all next season? If so, you will not see one cent from me in tickets next year. Three starters (Niese, Pelfrey, Meija), a reliever (Pat Misch), three or four position players (Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Angel Pagan, Ruben Tejada/Joaquin Arias), and possibly your closer (Bobby Parnell or Hisanori Takahashi) will be arbitration or pre-arbitration next season. Eat $12M.
7) Also starting up is the talk about trading Wright or Reyes for “equal value”, even though Reyes hasn’t been right in two seasons. This is why I hate the WFAN and blog division Mets’ fans. They’ll complain the Mets don’t homegrow players, then demand to trade homegrown players off bad years when they have no value and get nothing for them. This is why reading blogs and listening to WFAN is a bad idea for me. People who call honestly convinced that the Mets could trade Reyes to Florida for Hanley or Beltran to Cincy for Brandon Phillips. And, the reasoning doesn’t even make sense. The prevailing theory is that Wright and Reyes are “scarred” because of the collapses in 2007 and 2008 — even though it’s very likely they realized 2007 happened because a Hall of Fame pitcher couldn’t get an out before giving up 8 runs in the last game of the season and 2008 happened because their bullpen couldn’t get outs. Fans are scarred from 2007 and 2008 and they put their attitudes on the players. Guys, they don’t care nearly as much as you do. Really, the only scarring thing in the entire organization is 30,000 people in a stadium waiting for something to go wrong. So, honestly, I hope Red Sox fans enjoy watching Jose Reyes become a Hall of Fame shortstop in Fenway. I will likely not enjoy watching the corpse of Josh Beckett get shelled because the team needed a “winner” or some such nonsense.
8) I’d ask the “blow it up and start over” crowd if they’re prepared to trade Santana to the Yankees for system trash… because it’s very likely that your superstar, $20M/year pitcher won’t be too enthused to pitch for a team that’s rebuilding. Also, the idea of a “rebuilding year” for a large-market franchise is f*cking stupid. I refuse to believe that only Brian Cashman has been smart enough to realize the system is built such that teams with a financial advantage can just buy the replacement parts they they need. Teams asking for hundreds of dollars for single-game seats can’t “rebuild”.
9) Speaking of good moves, the Jeff Francoeur trade was a good one. It’s really unfortunate that nobody could help Jeff hit better… I liked him. He took some of the “face of the franchise” pressure off Wright and was there to suck up some of the overwhelming media demands. He was almost certainly going to be non-tendered by the Mets next year so it was good they got something for him. Besides, Manuel was never going to be able to sit him down and, sadly, Jeff’s best job is defensive replacement on a good team. I like him on the Mets because he seems like a good dude… I just wish he was a better hitter.
10) As for next year: one new starter, some bullpen parts, and really that’s it. It’s a pitching-rich offseason, so this shouldn’t be that hard to fulfill. The team is going to have to roll the dice that Carlos Beltran’s knee is on board with his “tear up my walk-year” plan and that Jason Bay will solve the ballpark and get back to normal. I’d love for the team to be able to sign Carl Crawford but, well, he’s a free agent one year too soon. If Ike Davis continues to develop as expected and Josh Thole continues to slap the ball around the park, they can live with less than stellar production at 2B. If I have to sign for Reyes, Angel Pagan, 2008 Carlos Beltran, Wright, Bay, Ike, Thole, and Arias/Tejada as my line-up and Santana, Pelf, Niese, Dickey and Meija — I can do that. I’d rather that include Cliff Lee, but I’m sure the Yankees will be opening the checkbook for Lee.
Honestly, this year has nearly beat the fandom out of me. The constant desire to blow up the team and the talk of senseless trades that no team will ever do is exhausting. The Mets are a hard, hard team to root for while living in NYC. With essentially nothing to write about with the Yankees other than people looking for problems, April to August is a long time to be the only sports story in town. Be it writing yet another story about the team’s “lack of heart” or “lack of on-field leadership” or stirring shit by claiming teammates told Rod Barajas after he was traded to LA to “take me with you”… it’s both frustrating and impossible to escape. And the Mets simply don’t handle it as well as the Yankees do. Here is why the Mets have not been winning: Jason Bay hitting fifth killed them, Carlos Beltran and his .200 average in the clean-up spot has killed them, and David Wright went half of August in an aforementioned Murderin Eyes slump. Including a 3-week period where he didn’t get a single RBI. Unexplored during this RBI-slump — the effect of a .200 hitter striking out and grounding in to double plays out of the 3-hole. But the real reason the team is losing doesn’t sell papers. Instead, it’s a ubiquitous “scarring” and made-up reasons that speak to fans.
It also doesn’t help that there’s no clear person in charge of the team and they have ownership that loves making anti-fan decisions. They’re so sensitive to what papers say about them, and yet they refuse to do things that people want… be it lower that accursed Great Wall Of Flushing in right field or allow the general manager to cut a player who has clearly lost it. It’s going to be an interesting offseason.
Sadly, I didn’t handle scheduling very well at the end of June. I was planning on writing this at the beginning of July, not realizing that I’d be furiously packing and panicking on July 1st. Then, with two weeks in Europe entirely removed from baseball — to the point I actually forgot the All-Star Game occurred — I just decided the June edition wasn’t happening. I’m not sure what it says about me as a fan or baseball as a sport that, over two weeks when baseball was totally removed from my consciousness, I really didn’t think about it or miss it at all. I returned to find a Mets team that was 4 games out when I left were another 2.5 back and inexplicably sinking even though their best player had returned and their starting rotation had shifted such that the 3-5 starters were doing better than the 1-2.
1) While I still think Jerry Manuel deserves one full year to manage an uninjured team, I have finally reached the point where I wouldn’t be sad to see him gone. I’ve seen enough sacrifice bunts while down 3 runs and the team running themselves in to outs to last me a lifetime. Also things I’ve seen enough of: relievers forced to warm-up two or three times per game, Pedro Feliciano and Fernando Nieve being used like Manuel is trying to murder them, playing for one run in road games, running out of players in nine-inning games, inexplicable choices like not pinch-running for Rod Barajas in the ninth inning down 1-run even though they’re carrying three catchers, insisting on using guys even when they’re clearly toast, and not letting the best players play. Look, I like Jeff Francouer as much as the next guy but, pre-Jason Bay’s injury, he should never get a start over Angel Pagan. Ever. Manuel manages by his gut, which is great when it works, but more often than not it doesn’t. What I’m seeing is a guy the players kind of like, but also a guy who can’t quite seem to get the guys motivated to go out there every day. They’re sluggish, they frequently make bad decisions, and their defense is not exactly inspired. Manuel has the right temperament to be a major league manager: He’s level-headed, he doesn’t overreact to bed stretches or get too high on good stretches; but he doesn’t seem to impart that temperament to the players. Manuel has trouble getting them up for big games or down from bad stretches. That’s not good.
2) The most frustrating part of the Mets for me this season has been their inability to play well on both sides of the ball at the same time. Earlier this season, the pitchers and the bullpen couldn’t protect three or four run leads. The week I got back from vacation, the Mets were on a 11-game west coast road trip. During that road trip, the team lost 7 games by 2 runs or less. In this same stretch, the pitchers gave up 3-runs or less in 8 of the 11 games. I could forgive that if it only happened in San Francisco vs. Lincecum, Cain, and a resurgent Zito… but it’s much harder to forgive it in Arizona against a terrible team. The D-Backs scored 13 runs on Mets’ pitchers in the desert and then turned around and scored another 14 in Citi Field this past weekend. That, my friends, is a disaster. This is exactly the opposite of their early season problems, which saw them losing way too many games 10-8 or 7-5. Most teams deal with one or the other… it’s a rare pile of sh*t to deal with both.
3) There are going to be a good number of folks who will crush the general manager for standing pat at the deadline. I made this point last season — what move, exactly, would have fixed this team? By and large, pitching has not been the problem, so sending a pile of future for Lee or Oswalt would have been nice but, really, not a game-breaker. The Mets’ 3.94/3.71 starter/reliever ERA split is not the problem. Also, which offensive position were they going to add the ubiquitous “bat” everyone was calling for? Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and Angel Pagan are a good outfield. David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Ike Davis’ positions weren’t up for grabs. That leaves, potentially, catcher (the team has been carrying three) and second base. So, essentially, the move of destiny was to trade for a power bat at 2b. Which means Dan Uggla. It would be unlikely for the Marlins to trade Dan Uggla in the division when they’re arguably still in the race and the Mets’ line-up really doesn’t need an additional righty bat to strike out behind Jason Bay. For whatever reason, the team doesn’t sync. Either the pitching is on or the hitting is on, but they’re rarely both on at the same time. That’s not fixed via trade.
4) Also, let’s keep in mind… it’s an oft-repeated platitude when a team gets a guy back from injury to say “it’s like making a big trade.” In this case, though, it’s really true. The Mets essentially traded Jeff Francoeur for Carlos Beltran. A team really can’t do much better in a trade. Beltran isn’t producing yet… he will. Unfortunately, he’s still working on a razor-thin fan tolerance line because he struck out that one time in 2006.
5) To the people who still insist Omar needs to go, I’ll throw it to my friend Mike:
Omar Minaya’s resume vs. the Mets’ timeline…
Mets Asst GM (1998-2001): Mets win 88 games in 1998 (miss playoffs by 2 games), win 97 games in 1999 (NLCS), win 94 games (WS), win 82 games. Best infield ever. Contenders every year except 2001, when they never replaced Mike Hampton.
Expos GM (2001-2004): Mets win 75 games, 66 games, 71 games. Contend through most of May each year. Notable moves for the Mets include Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, trading Scott Kazmir for nothing. Among the worst teams in baseball. Art Howe looks confused a lot.
Mets GM (2005-current): Mets have won 83 games, 97 games (NLCS), 88 games (missed playoffs by one game), 89 games (missed playoffs by 1 game), 72 (injuries abound).
Notice a trend. When he’s here, we contend. When he’s gone, we’re a laughingstock. This can not be a coincidence. Is he perfect? No. Has he made mistakes? Yes. I’ll wait patiently while you show me a GM who hasn’t ever been burned on a contract. Still waiting. I’m sorry….you cant find one? Of course you can’t. The difference is how the team handles bad contracts, where we won’t eat an obviously bad contract and replace someone like Ollie. What’s a GM going to do then? He’s gotta find creative and cheap alternatives. Omar does this as well as anyone (like Dickey, Takahashi, etc). If you want to fire Omar, you better bring in someone fantastic and not just fire him for the sake of change. He’s a good GM who’s stuck with a tough ownership position and has consistently put a contender on the field. This isn’t much different than Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman, except those guys, when they miss on a contract, can just eat it.
6) As someone who tries to be level-headed when it comes to the team’s players, it really is time for Oliver Perez to go. Steve Phillips (whose opinion I don’t usually put much stock in) told WFAN that the biggest drawback to the Wilpons is that they refuse to eat contracts, lest the player experience a renaissance on another team. This is dumb. Look, at this point Oliver Perez is done on the Mets. The team doesn’t want to see him, the fans don’t want to see him, and the manager really doesn’t want to use him. This means that unless the team is in a blowout, they’re playing down a roster spot. That’s not good. Ollie is worse than replacement level at this point… it’s time for him to go and, if he turns around and pitches up a storm for someone else, the fans will understand. Stretch Meija out for a couple more starts at AA, send Takahashi back to the pen, and let Ollie take his talents to South Beach. Meija can be a fifth starter with Taka caddying him every fifth day.
7) Usually “pressing” is a platitude offered by a manager to the media so he can protect a player from those who would over-analyze a slump. Over-analyzing is all we do here and no player or manager is willing to say “yeah, I’m in a slump. It happens sometimes. There’s not much I can do but give me a day off and I’ll come out of it eventually” because that totally true statement would be run through the insane media and become “he doesn’t care enough.” The closest we’ve ever gotten to this in a news broadcast is the Dustin Pedroia Laser Show interview. There is a difference between pressing and slumping. In the Mets’ case, they’re all pressing. I get the sense that they know they’re playing well under their ceiling and they’ve collectively decided to put it all on themselves to win. Hitting doesn’t work that way.
8) Speaking of slumping, let’s all collectively deciding to settle down about Jason Bay. Look, our ownership built a gigantic baseball stadium and we watched an entire team struggle to learn how to hit in the park last season. For right-handed hitters, the process is as follows. Phase One: see shots that should be home runs turn in to outs or doubles via the Great Wall Of Flushing. Phase Two: start tinkering with your approach to get your power stroke closer to either foul pole. Phase Three: go insane because tinkering with your approach is the worst thing you can do. Phase Four: notice that, while your home runs are down, your other power numbers are up; Bay, for example, already has a career high in triples and is on pace to challenge his season high in doubles. Phase Five: relax and get back to normal. Jason Bay is mired in Phase Three. Hopefully this current trip to the DL will move him through Phase Four and in to Phase Five. Bay has been admitted terrible but if he comes off the DL and tears up August and September, we’ll forget the rest of this ever happened.
9) If I’m worried about the long-term mental stability of any player, it’s Mike Pelfrey. After a killer first half, Pelfrey handed in a 0-3, 10.02 ERA July that featured five starts with a 4 innings/start average. That’s not good, and Pelfrey’s not been the most stable of pitchers, famously visiting a sports psychologist over this past summer so he could settle down on the mound. It worked for a while. It’s stopped. Pelfrey’s starts have been brutal to watch, as he’s regressed in to his twitchy, unable to throw strike former self. Also brutal to watch: Johan Santana’s 7 ER starts this season. Considering Johan and Halladay have had a rough go of it in a start or two this season, this clearly means the NL is better than the AL.
10) When defending my relatively level-headed approach to this season amidst a crapstorm of negativity, I’ve pointed to this week as DEFCON 1 Week. If the Mets went through this week’s road trip through Atlanta and Philly at 4-2 or better, I’d consider the season alive. If they go 2-4 or worse and were 8 games back, it would be time to start focusing on Giants’ season. So far, they looked lackluster and dead in game one and fought back to win game two. If they’re still in it after this week — they still have 7 games left against the Braves in September and, really, if the Braves think Billy Wagner’s going to be saving them big games down the stretch… well… I know how that movie ends.
Current Record (May 31st): 26-26
May Record: 12-17
Games Back (NL East): 3.5, Atlanta, 3rd Place.
Games Back (Wildcard): 5.5, San Diego
1) So, what have we learned since April? We learned that the Mets are full of streaky hitters who go from horrid, 0-21 stretches directly to weeks where they hit .410. We also learned they are an incredibly awesome home team (19-9) and a horrid road team (7-17). Part of this is managing and part is overuse of a short-handed bullpen. Since Oliver Perez’s rather public refusal to go to the minors to work on mechanics, he’s been a $12M/year mop-up man, coming in the game to clean up after blowouts. This rather public pissing contest will likely come to an end, one way or another, on June 4th. That’s the day Jonathan Niese is scheduled to come off the DL. Ollie is currently the only useless piece on the roster. It’s quite possible he either goes to Buffalo on the 4th (with, by the way, a full recovery plan including a return date) or he gets released. Folks, even Scott Boras, his agent, is on board with the minor league assignment and it’s bad enough that even the players are making public statements. Pride goes before the fall, Oliver.
2) From bad starters to excellent ones. Mike Pelfrey has thrown his hat in to the ring with the other excellent young starters in the National League this year and is making a solid play for his first All Star appearance. He’s gotten great run support and is putting together a fantastic season. Johan Santana is also putting up a fantastic season, but is getting no runs for the second straight year. In his last five starts, he’s sporting a 0.74 ERA, a .493 OPS against, 22 Ks, one win, and 4 no-decisions. It’s frustrating for me and it must be murderously frustrating for him. Predictably, the New York media is desperately trying to create a story out of this. They haven’t been successful. Yet.
3) Two years after signing an ill-advised (for the Angels) contract, Gary Matthews Jr is washed up. Like, totally washed up. Washed up to the point that he was hitting .132 a few weeks ago and Jerry Manuel was still giving him every opportunity to come out of it. The final tipping point, I think, was May 29th against the Brewers. In a game where the team had to give a reliever his first start, Fernando Nieve gave up 5 runs in two innings. In the top of the third, the Brewers forced Manuel’s hand by intentionally walking the bases loaded up two runs with two outs to get to the pitcher. Manuel complied, pulling Nieve for a pinch hitter. Instead of using Chris Carter or Fernando Tatis (two much better pinch hitters), Manuel agonizingly sent up Matthews who struck out weakly on four pitches. From there, Matthews would only get three more pinch hit at-bats in low leverage situations. His time with the team is drawing to a close (He was DFAed on 6/3. He was doing so badly that the Mets don’t have a back-up center fielder on the roster — ed.) and I think even he knows it after that strike out. He got off to a terrible start, was stuck with even though Angel Pagan should have gotten his job out of Spring, and eventually went out weakly. He did, however, last longer than Randy Winn who some Mets’ fans were convinced would have been a great signing.
4) For a team that was destroyed for having a terrible farm system two months ago, it certainly seems like the kids coming up are much better than people recall. Ike Davis, slumping now, emerged as a legitimate power threat. He’s already locked in as the team’s every day clean-up hitter and is likely a contender in the crowded NL Rookie Of The Year market. Angel Pagan, who was drafted by the Mets, sent to the Cubs, and ultimately traded back to the Mets has emerged as a pretty good every day center fielder. Chris Carter, also known as “The Guy From The Billy Wagner Trade” has shown himself to be a competent pinch hitter and I’m actually looking forward to nine days of watching him pace the dugout like an animal while DHing through Cleveland and Baltimore.
5) It’s become such a normal thing for me to respond to various unfair criticisms of Jerry Manuel that I sometimes forget he does some frustrating things. Besides the situation where he was out of bench players in the bottom half of a nine inning game (and then Wright got tossed, which would have led to an interesting extra innings had he Mets scored), he also has an infuriating tendency to play for one run in extra innings on the road. Meaning, he’ll get a guy on first and sacrifice two outs getting him to third. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the Mets have lost seven walk-off games this year and ALL their road extra inning games except for the 20-inning disaster. Why does he follow “typical baseball knowledge” except for the “don’t play for one run on the road” one? I hate it.
6) The trade rumors have started to get really loud around the Mets. At the moment, it’s centering primarily around two guys. First, the Mariners fooled everyone in the preseason and are much more awful than anyone expected. This has created a Cliff Lee watch. Second, Roy Oswalt’s public demand for a trade has fired everyone up considering, according to most sources, the Mets had Oswalt in a three-way deal two years ago until the idiot in Baltimore pulled out. Both deals are intriguing. Dealing for Lee would probably be much cheaper since the Mets would be renting him for a potential stretch run. They’d probably be able to pull it off for Triple A talent and a couple nameless prospects. It would also, presumably, be a dress rehearsal for how big a contract the Mets will offer him next season if the Yankees don’t decide to blow everyone out of the water. The Oswalt deal, on the other hand, would be much more expensive in terms of talent. Now we’re talking young talent like Jonathan Niese, Ruben Tejada, and others, but it gets them back two or three years of a pitcher the team has coveted for, literally, years. It also takes them out of the Cliff Lee market next year. Sadly, neither will happen. The most likely deal, I think, might be swapping Oliver Perez, most of his salary, and a prospect to the Brewers for Jeff Suppan. The Brewers can get a free pitcher for 2011 and reunite Ollie with the only pitching coach who’s really had success with him while the Mets can give Suppan a change of scenery and hope their canyon-sized ballpark and good defense can bring his .400 BABIP down.
7) Also, a moment to call out the disingenuous people in the New York media who were still gleefully calling for the GM and manager to be fired because the Mets were in last place a few days before Memorial Day. I find it stunning that they think nobody can see through the “well, I called this team as last place crap so I need to now defend my premise” nonsense. There’s an ocean of difference between “22-23, 5 games out” last place and the “13-26, 10 games out” last place from the Brewers and Diamondbacks. It’s become literally impossible to take any of the regular media writers (and some of the bloggers) seriously as this season goes on. We get it, you predicted the team would be in last place so you’re picking apart every move to prove your premise. You’re wrong. Move on. It’s a tight division, it’s a surprisingly good division, and the last place team in the NL East is probably better than most teams in either Central division.
8) And, leave it to Major League Baseball to take the tightest division, and present a gift-wrapped three free home games to the Phillies. I understand that the scheduling algorithm, for whatever reason, doesn’t work things like “city closing events” to make sure teams aren’t home at that time — but the best idea they could come up with was allowing the Phillies to play the Blue Jays IN PHILLY when they’re supposed to be in Toronto. How is that fair to the rest of the division? You’re going to tell me that the logistics of moving it to Pittsburgh (where they hate the Phillies) while the Pirates are in Oakland was too hard? Besides the point, a Mets/Marlins series has already been moved to Puerto Rico from Miami. They really couldn’t have convinced San Juan to host six games instead of three? American League baseball isn’t THAT bad, is it?
9) Or, here’s the best idea nobody’s come up with except (of course) fans and a couple bloggers. There are two American League franchises that are in potential relocation situations in the next couple seasons. NOBODY thought to take Montreal’s temperature? Where, not only would it be way more fair because there’d be a Canadian team playing in Canada, but Mets fans would certainly make the drive up for a unique way of rooting against the Phillies. I understand that Stade Olympique isn’t a fabulous baseball stadium, but it’s a much fairer location for the games and, if it turns out that Montreal is receptive to getting a team back, suddenly Tampa has to think a little harder about telling the Rays to go screw. A second AL East team in Montreal is a WAY more attractive situation for baseball. It creates a great rivalry in Canada and makes road trips much easier for other teams. For God’s sake — Montreal is an 8 hour (counting time spent at the border) train ride from here and I still would have honestly considered the trip to 1) root against the Phillies and 2) have a throwback weekend in Montreal. This division is almost certainly going to come down to less than three games and, should the Phillies win, it’s going to be something of a travesty.
10) Ultimately, the team is doing exactly what I thought they had to do back in the preview. They had to dance right around .500 with their piecemeal line-up until they figured out what they had in the rotation and until Carlos Beltran came back in late June or July. That’s almost exactly what they’re doing. They’re getting great pitching out of two planned starters, they’re getting surprisingly good pitching from two key, quiet pick-ups from the Worst GM In The History Of New York in R.A. Dickey and Ken Takahashi, and their bullpen has vacillated between OK and fantastic. When they finally add a great 3-hitter and one more pitcher, the worst team that’s absolutely no better than last place is going to make a push at this division. And I can say “I told them so.”
As any of you who follow the Twitter Feed know, I finally had a chance to go to Fenway Park this past Friday to watch the Red Sox get slaughtered by the Royals. When fellow Beer Snob TheBigShow first mentioned the tickets to me back in late April, the following inner dialog occurred:
“Wait, when does Greinke start?”
Then I went to the Royals website (one of seventeen hits in April, I’m sure) to check Greinke’s appearances. It didn’t work out correctly. Then, he started the Sunday before my Friday game. I got really excited, only to find out that the Royals wouldn’t keep him on his day (they had a day off), but instead would let him start five games after Sunday instead of five days. I was going to be treated to former Atlanta Brave Kyle Davies. Not really what I had in mind but, for my first Fenway experience, I’d certainly take it. However, it did increase my personal disdain for the Royals from “low” to “burning.”
Now, my ballpark collection is small. I have been to five ballparks and three of them no longer exist. Of those parks, two are in New York City, two were in New York City, and one was in Montreal. Parc Olympique is located in Parc Maisonneuve which is well removed from any of the insanity on Rue St. Catharine or the student ghetto near University of Quebec. Yankee Stadium is surrounded by sketchy bars and junk stores where more folks visit to check their bags because of the Yankees’ bat-sh*t insane security policies. Shea Stadium/Citi Field is located in a gross part of Queens known more for junkyards and chop-shops. Meanwhile, the neighborhood around Fenway Park is actually, well, a neighborhood. There are apartments, restaurants, and bars. It’s one of the first ballparks I’ve been to where someone realized that people might like to, you know, do stuff after a ballgame.
5:15 pm: Step off the T at the Kenmore station. The previous day I had gotten off an Amtrak train at South Station which had been been collecting drunken Red Sox fans at every station since Providence, RI. Once again, the quiet car on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor trains is the best invention in the history of modern travel. TheBigShow and I get off the Kenmore stop quite frequently, albeit usually to go to the awesome Eastern Standard. Pro-Tip: the T-station named “Fenway” is not the station one uses to get to Fenway Park. I love Boston.
5:45 pm: Turn right on Lansdowne Street. I have been to the neighborhood around Fenway Park on two other occasions. Once, to go to a Siena alumni event at a bar called Game On (to watch a NCAA Tourney appearance) and the second time to go to the incredibly awesome Bleacher Bar. The Bleacher Bar is built in a former equipment shed in Fenway and includes a clear, soundproof garage door that opens on to the field. TheBigShow took me there in late April when they were preparing the field. I can easily say the block around Fenway is fully, wholly, and incredibly designed to get Boston college kids to fall in the love with the Red Sox. It’s brilliant, actually. Some day, I’d like to watch a Red Sox game just in the Bleacher Bar. I imagine the vibe must be great.
5:50 pm: Meander down Lansdowne Street to the planned dinner location at Laverdad Taqueria. TheBigShow informs me that this was a former Tiki-themed bar that has apparently had a moderate overhaul in to a more Mexican themed bar — including luchadore masks, a selection of margaritas, and lots of tacos. TheBigShow and I arrive before our compatriots, so we go to the bar to order two Sam Summers. Being as I’m across the street from the baseball stadium, I reach for two $20s assuming this is going to set me back a bunch. Instead, the bar has $5 draughts. Stunned, I hand her one twenty and, indeed, get back ten in change. Baffled, I return two dollars to the bar.
6:10 pm: Order tacos. I order fish, carne asada, and (to be different) duck. They stand no chance. I also go girly drink and get a strawberry margarita. The carne asada and fish are exactly what I expect. I couldn’t get in to the duck taco. I’m desperately trying to see what people love in duck but, thus far, I’m still not feeling it. Hopefully, Peking duck will help me turn the corner.
6:50 pm: We head down the street to the ballpark. I see the Ted Williams statue and it makes me oddly happy. I also get to walk in to a ballpark without getting patted down. The girl with us earns a half-hearted look at her bag. Yankee Stadium doesn’t allow any bags. Citi Field allows bags but also searches them AND pats everyone down. Fenway just lets you in.
6:55: I’m walking, I’m told, underneath the right field bleachers. There is food and ice cream and various things for little kids. Eric (the guy who got the tickets) tells me none of this was open area before. What was once equipment storage and tunnels is now concessions, kids’ stuff, and picnic tables. There are even concessions for lobster rolls and chowdah. Sadly, I was too afraid of ballpark chowdah to get any.
7:05 pm: I decide against going to check out Yawkey Way for the moment. Having never seen the field, I want to see that first. Having handed over my $60 to Eric for the tickets, we walk to what I’m assuming is going to be a section well away from the field.
7:06 pm: Or Not.
7:27 pm: Still recovering from the location of the seats, I nearly forget to stand for the National Anthem. I start trying to come up with American League jokes to tweet.
7:35 pm: Red Sox almost batted around in the first. #LaserShow. The Red Sox put a 3-spot up on Kyle Davies in the first inning. Fenway is rocking.
7:35 pm: I find a couple of things stunning about Fenway. First, what you can’t see in TheBigShow’s photo is a giant green pillar to the right of the picture. I’m assuming the reason these tickets are only $58 face value is because they are technically obstructed view. From my seat, I couldn’t see in to right field, but everything else was fine. You’d be hard pressed to find many seats behind those pillars that don’t have some bit of the field obstructed. Second, on the video board, they actually tell you how to score the play on a card. Third, the stuff between innings is mostly centered around the team and not inane sponsorships. It’s not quite as throwback an experience as I’m told Wrigley is — but there’s something to be said for less T-shirt launches and more team stuff.
8:00 pm: I run upstairs for a Bud Light. $7.75. There we go, now I feel like I’m home.
8:10 pm: The Royals get two back in the top of the third. Victor Martinez responds in the bottom of the third with a two-run homer. To fire up the crowd during the home run trot — as if they needed it — they play the chorus beat of Sexy Chick (skip to 1:28). Take that for what you will.
8:15 pm: 135 pitches. 3 innings. #DomesticLeague — I’m not sure when Hulse decided to start calling the American League the “Domestic League.” It was some slow-pitch/beer league softball joke. I still like it. This is an honest opinion and not an anti-DH dig — I really fail to see where adding another batter to chew pitches and work at-bats makes the game “more exciting.” It seems like the trade-off for not having to watch a pitcher bat is an extra half-hour of game. I don’t get it. Also, you never get the absurd joy of seeing a pitcher knock in a run.
8:30 pm: The Royals put up seven on Tim Wakefield. I want to joke about superior AL pitchers, but my phone is dead. I decide it’s time to see Yawkey Way.
8:40 pm: Yawkey Way runs along the stadium on the west side. In recent years, the public street becomes part of the stadium and closed to traffic during game day. Folks can actually walk out of the stadium on to the street where there are stadium concessions, a sports bar, and some various merchandise shops. We discover that if you go out there at game time, there’s almost nobody in line on the street. Instead of Bud Light, they have Sam Summer and Harpoon IPA for the same $7.75. There are stand-up tables outside the bar and a few people drinking. I presume them to be season ticket holders who have given up after the seven-spot and are just relaxing with a few eight-dollar beers in a venue more comfortable than their seat.
9:00 pm: We eventually head back in as I wait patiently for in-between innings to see if the Mets manage to scratch out a run for Johan Santana. No luck though. I find myself strangely fascinated by the Green Monster guy, who wanders out with a stack of numbers between innings.
10:15 pm: We head out of the stadium and back across the highway to Cornwalls — a smaller, English-style pub where people are watching the Celtics clinch a trip to the Finals. I’m again struck by the difference of having a nice neighborhood to go out in after a game. I mention to my compatriots how nice it is to be able to immediately grab a drink or some food without an interim 40-minute subway ride just to get to Midtown.
And, really, that’s the crux of what made the Fenway Park experience great. Don’t get me wrong, the park was nice. My knowledge of old Fenway is based on what Bill Simmons wrote in “Now I Can Die In Peace” — a hard, uncomfortable stadium that had terrible bathrooms, bad food, and wasn’t friendly in the least. However, for my money, the redesign turned it in to a much nicer stadium than either of the New York ones. They left Fenway intact, but took all the hard, rugged stuff and made it in to a playground while the field itself still looks like Fenway Park. The whole stadium experience fits the city. At its core is the field and the Green Monster — remnants of a hard, rugged Boston. The stuff going on inside the walls of the stadium is something like a private little club of long-time residents. The surrounding block on Lansdowne Street and Brookline Avenue — and especially the bars — is a playground for the college kids and the younger folks that flock to Boston for higher education. College kids who can’t afford a ticket can still get off the Green Line T at Kenmore, practically a shuttlebus from BC and BU, and still get an exciting bar experience with a city only rooting for one team. Of the people I’ve known that have gone to college there, not one has escaped without becoming a Red Sox fan. It’s an infectious and more organic fan base that probably won’t abandon the team in lean times. It is something that we in New York miss out on; that provincial knowledge that everyone in the bar, or everyone in the city, is rooting for your team. In New York, even beside two fan bases bickering at each other, I can find (and have been to) bars dedicated to the Red Sox, Cubs, and Cardinals. Boston is small enough that I don’t know if I could find that there. Mostly because the bar wouldn’t survive the hit in business.
I had a great time before, at, and after Fenway. It probably would have been slightly different with a rooting interest since the slaughter wasn’t fun. But I didn’t, so I was able to just take in the ballpark experience. It gets added to the laundry list of reasons that I wish I’d more rigorously pursued a college in Boston.
Current Record: 14-9
April Record: 14-9
Standings: 1st Place (up 1.0)
1) The Mets’ opening day line-up involved Alex Cora leading off, Mike Jacobs batting clean-up, and Gary Matthews Jr. in center field. That, my friends, is a depressing line-up with which to go to war. Jose Reyes missed the first week of the season. Anyone with a sense of, you know, timing, had some idea the first homestand would be a little rough. They grabbed the opening day win and went 2-2 pre-Reyes. This was fine, and there was a potential hot start on the horizon as the Mets had two to go against the Nationals. It was not to be, though, as we all decided to forget that Reyes hadn’t played a competitive baseball game since last May and also had no Spring Training.
2) To that end, Reyes looked horrible in his first few starts. He looked tired on the basepaths, almost clueless at shortstop, and overmatched at the plate — climaxing with an 0-7 in the 20 inning game (pairing slickly with Jeff Francouer’s 0-7 in the same game to tank my fantasy week). Then, Jerry let him sit for the first game of the Greatest Homestand In Team History, finally pulled the trigger on batting him third (which I was totally wrong about) and he’s started to come out of it. Jerry’s point, which I wrongfully ignored, is that Reyes’ being on base doesn’t matter much if the 3/4/5 can’t knock them in. The man has a point.
3) Gary Matthews Jr should probably not be playing baseball anymore. I understand the Mets were hoping they could showcase him against the Marlins, Nationals, and Rockies (in Denver) and maybe entertain a few trade offers, but he has nothing left. Jerry Manuel, because he’s a loyal, level-headed dude in an insane, over-reactive market, gave him way too long to “come out of it”. Angel Pagan is not a long-term answer at centerfield, but his .244/.314/.346 is Williams-esque as compared to what Matthews has done. I thought that Matthews would likely end up in a trade package near the deadline when Beltran was finally ready, but at this point it seems more likely that he’ll be designated for assignment since I’m not sure anyone would want him. He’s a replacement level player (Prospectus has his WARP at 0.2) and he’s certainly not a “perk” for any GM with a clue. As a defensively-decent center fielder, it’s really hard to be “not worth it” for $1M — but Matthews has found a way.
4) When I wrote about Mike Jacobs back in the preview, I kind of expected him to come out of the gate strong. He said all the right things in Spring Training and really led me to believe he had something to contribute. Then, he hit .208/.296/.375 with 1 HR and 7 K in his first 7 games. In a normal year, that might have been a slow start the team could absorb. Unfortunately, an impatient fan-base, not-particular-hot ticket sales, and Ike Davis destroying AAA to the tune of .364/.500/.636 with 2 HR, 9 BB, and 5K in 10 games led to Jacobs getting coyly designated for assignment after the 20-inning game to “make room for a pitcher.” On Monday, Ike was summoned from Buffalo. Ike’s .306/.409/.472 and 6 RBI out-performed the Tatis/Jacobs platoon. Just like that, Davis claimed first, Tatis was a bench player, and Daniel Murphy has no clear role on the team after he recovers from one of the most poorly-timed injuries ever. While I’ll grant that the list of guys who’ve come up and galvanized a team only to flame out quickly is a long one, Ike seems to control of the plate and plays some superb defense at 1B. While I’m still taking a “wait and see” approach with him, a big spring, a big debut, and success at all levels of the minors is, well, exciting. As for Murphy, it’s likely he’ll end up Banished To Buffalo and I don’t know what happens. Francoeur has taken something of a leadership role on the team, left is Bay’s for the foreseeable future, and Castillo (despite the fans’ insane and inexplicable desires) is still playing well at second. Unless Davis swoons hugely in the next few weeks, Murphy will have lost his job to an ill-timed ligament tear in a freak baserunning injury during Spring Training. Not a story you want to tell your grandkids someday.
5) When Jerry Manuel came home from St. Louis at 4-8, I honestly thought the team was getting ready to fire him. Fair or not, the team needed to get off to a big start and the bats were all quiet. Most of it, though, was easily explainable. Jose Reyes had no spring training. Jason Bay was off to a terribly slow start. Oh, and their clean-up hitter was MIKE JACOBS. They were 5 games out of first and the columns being written, predictable, said they were a bottom-dwelling team, a waste of money, and wouldn’t be better than fourth place the entire season. Then, they went 9-1 at home and took a half-game lead from the Phillies (which should have been a whole game, except for Bruce Bochy inexplicably pulling Tim Lincecum after 8.1 and leading to this insane box score). Manuel shuffled the line-up, discovered that his most solid card was Pagan, Castillo, Reyes, Wright, Bay, Davis, Francoeur, and Barajas, Gary Matthews was banished to the clubhouse, the pitchers stepped up, and the Mets took advantage of some suspect play from the Braves. Suddenly, Jerry’s a genius and everything’s fine. I love Mets’ columnists.
6) And by “the pitching stepped up” I really mean “the pitching and defense stepped up”. Mets pitching in April had a total ERA under 3 with a way-too-high 1.4 WHIP. Mets’ pitchers during The Homestand let way too many guys on base, but made big pitches when they needed it and kept runners from scoring.
7) After watching Jeff Francoeur gun guys down at third and home from all parts of right field, I’d like to start a campaign to get him to adopt the Dikembe Mutombo finger wave whenever he records an assist. I saw one live (I went to the Mets/Nationals loss when Santana decided to give up 4 runs in the first inning because I was there. He hates me) and it’s like watching Vlad when he was in Montreal. You don’t believe there’s any way for him to do it, then he does it, and it’s breath-taking. Until that game, I also forgot how annoying it was to play against Livan Hernandez. He just lets a ton of guys on base, makes the crowd think there’s a rally coming, and then mows down the guys he knows he can get out. It’s terrible.
8) Pelfrey, Maine, and Perez have, collectively, been slightly better than expected. The bulk of this goes to Pelfrey who, in his first four starts went 4-0 with a 0.69 ERA. He also pulled a “gimme the damn ball” in the 20-inning game to collect the rarely seen Win-Save-Win. His ERA got violently snapped back to normal by giving up 6 (questionably Earned via hometown scoring as both Reyes and Castillo dropped infield flies) runs to Philly on May 1st. Maine got off to something of a rough start, but seemed to have an A-Ha Moment following his 3.2, 3K, 1ER appearance against Braves in which he was pulled for still-not-sufficiently-explained reasons. Following that performance, he went 6.0 strong against the Braves with 9Ks and 2ER. He’ll get another soft landing spot tomorrow in Cincinnati. Perez… who knows. At this point, Jerry Manuel has given him almost no leash and Hisanori Takahashi has essentially become his caddy, coming in when the walks get out of hand, saving the bad inning, and collecting the win. Perez will also get a soft landing at Great American Ballpark this week.
9) Two solid strikes against Jerry Manuel. First, he sticks with guys way too long. We covered this above with Jacobs and Matthews. His second problem, it seems, is managing a bullpen. During the 20-inning game in St. Louis, he got K-Rod up in the bullpen six or seven times before finally putting him in. At that point, it was almost expected he would blow the save. Rodriguez said after the game he believed he threw something like 100 warm up pitches. Isn’t warming up a closer on the road pretty straight-forward? The manager makes one phone call and says “as soon as we score a run, get ready.” Not if there’s a guy on third, not if there’s a guy on second, but when we actually score a run. Then, the next day, Jerry had him up AGAIN at least once. If not for a fortuitous 5-inning game called for weather followed by a PPD rain-out against the Dodgers to give the bullpen two full days off, K-Rod and Fernando Nieve would be dead… in April.
10) Too many people were totally out on this team, making insane proclaimations about the season with literally 150 games left on the schedule. As I mentioned to friends, the NFL season will be four games deep by the time baseball season ends. There is, literally, no declaration that can be made in the second week of April. To do so is insane. If there is ANYTHING that concerns me, it’s the fact that the Phillies are so far in Johan Santana’s head that they can actually see out his eyes. But that’s a post for next month after their Yankees/Phillies homestand. I remain cautiously optimistic. Wright, Francoeur, and Bay look good. Reyes is recovering, Castillo is doing what he does, and the Barajas/Blanco catcher combo have been calling awesome games. The team is not bad. Their hitting is not as good as the Phillies but, top-to-bottom, their pitching is as good. Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey are fly ball pitchers — that they got crushed in Citizens Bank Park on consecutive warm, humid days is not shocking. It will be much more disconcerting if they get equally crushed in Citi Field at the end of May.