Tuesday, July 31, 2012


As the Mets' official 1967 Yearbook displays above, things could be a lot worse in Met land.  Before last night's game, I began to think of what I wanted out of the rest of the season.  Who I wanted to see succeed, the type of performances I wanted to see, where I wanted the team to end up.  As the game began, a record popped into my mind: 33-27.  The Mets would have to go 33-27 the rest of the way in order to finish the season above .500 at 82-80.  Although it seems the season has already slipped away, my body refused to drift off to sleep as last night's fiasco of a game twisted and turned to its eventual conclusion at around 2 AM Eastern time.  And when the game was over, a new record popped into my head: 32-27.

Regardless of what your feelings are regarding the team's inactivity before and during today's trade deadline - whether you hated, loved, or were indifferent to the lack of moves, the deadline has passed.  The Mets' chances to alter the roster drastically are gone.  Now, you can root for the team to completely tank in order to net a higher pick in next year's draft, or you  can root for them to succeed.  I'll be doing the latter.  A first half that was so full of promise has devolved rapidly, and the Mets find themselves at 50-53, nowhere near the position they were in when the first half drew to a close.

The first half featured brilliant starting pitching and timely hitting that was able to partially negate the horrendous bullpen.  After Johan Santana's ankle was stepped on, and Dillon Gee went down with a freak season ending blood clot, the matter was compounded when R.A. Dickey timed his only poor stretch of the season along with the aforementioned strokes of bad luck.  The Mets' bullpen is a disaster regardless, and the defense and offense have left a lot to be desired, but the Mets' fate was likely sealed when the starting pitching went from a strength to a weakness.

Coming into the season, I felt the team would hover around .500, and potentially reach the mid 80's in wins.   Miracles have happened, and I'm not completely writing the season off with 59 games left to play (as Mets fans have seen first hand, leads can evaporate rather quickly).  As the team is currently constituted, it doesn't appear as they're about to make a miracle run -which is why I'm asking for 32-27.  If the Mets go 32-27 the rest of the way, they'll finish at 82-80.  It would be their first winning season since 2008, and it would mean that they avoided what befell them over the last three seasons: a second half collapse.  The move the team has taken in the right direction would be reflected in their win total, and a positive second half would hopefully help to show David Wright that the team is close to being a legitimate contender, and in turn facilitate a long-term contract extension.

82-80 is not what you want to strive for year after year.  Still, if the Mets finish with that record, it will mean that they exceeded expectations - that the season as a whole was indisputably positive.  The Mets haven't been able to say that since 2006.  So, Mets, give us 32-27.  And if you can shove some more wins in there, all the better.

Friday, July 27, 2012

From Gooden to Harvey

Let's start with the following -  I am not comparing Matt Harvey to Dwight Gooden.  I repeat, I am not comparing Matt Harvey to Dwight Gooden.  However, here's what I believe to be an indisputable fact:  The Mets drafted and developed Gooden, who exploded into the Majors in 1984.  Last night in Arizona, Matt Harvey displayed the best pure stuff we've seen from a starting pitcher who was drafted, developed, and debuted with the Mets since the Doctor.  The previous sentence is both a knock on the Mets' scouting and development over the past 28 years, and an endorsement of Harvey's arsenal of pitches.  Had the Mets not foolishly traded Scott Kazmir in 2004, he would've come up and been the guy who had the best stuff since Dwight.  They dealt him, and it didn't happen.

Between 1985 and 2011, a plethora of Mets draftees went through the Minors and came up to the bigs.  Some had enormous expectations, some didn't.  Contrary to what some think, Sid Fernandez and David Cone were drafted by the Dodgers and Royals, respectively.  So, they don't count.  In the early 90's, Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson, and Jason Isringhausen were touted as "Generation K."  They'd come up together and bring the Mets back to respectability.  A combination of overuse in the minors, injuries, and in Isringhausen's case his temper, prevented any of them from reaching the Majors and displaying the talent behind the hype.  Bobby Jones came up in 1994 and became a  rotation mainstay, but he got by on guile.  Octavio Dotel had some moments in 1999, but his arsenal was still lacking a bit.  Mike Pelfrey was tinkered with before he came up in 2006, and never displayed the plus-plus fastball he was supposed to have.  Philip Humber got hurt, and despite throwing a perfect game for the White Sox, didn't do a thing for the Mets.  Jonathon Niese has very good stuff, but his fastball is tame compared to Harvey's.  Dillon Gee is a finesse pitcher.

So, if we span from 1984 to 2012, and are forced to name the two pitchers with the best pure stuff the Mets have drafted and developed before making their debut for the team?  It's Gooden 1, and  Harvey 2.  I'll now repeat a third time:  I'm not putting Matt Harvey on the level of Dwight Gooden.  Doc was a once in a generation talent who was almost impossibly good.  However, what we saw on the mound last night in Arizona was the best pitcher the Mets have produced since. 

Last night in Arizona, Matt Harvey took the ball and made us all open our eyes.  He may yet turn out the be the #2 type starter most scouts have projected him to be, but last night's stuff said otherwise.  His fastball sat mostly 93-96, touching 98 MPH.  He painted the black with it, ran it up, ran it in. His slider was at times filthy, coming in anywhere from the high 80's to 91 MPH.  His curve had a sharp, late break.  And he located it.  His change is still developing, but he wasn't afraid to use it.  He came right after the hitters, getting ahead in the count and then busting them in.  Imagine?  A starting pitcher the Mets developed who isn't afraid to throw inside.  While he was striking out 11 Diamondbacks and giving up only 3 hits and 0 runs over his 5.1 inning Major League debut, Harvey also displayed poise on the mound.  He was calm, he was decisive, and he worked quickly.  It was a thrill to watch.   

No one can state whether last night was a sign of how things will be for Harvey going forward.  What we do know, is that he has the stuff and makeup necessary to dominate.  And that's extremely exciting.  If he becomes a #2 type starter, fine.  But he clearly has the potential to be much more than that.  Even more exciting, is the fact that Zack Wheeler (according to every scout and observer) has better stuff than Matt Harvey.  According to Sandy Alderson, Wheeler won't see the Majors in 2012.  He should be in AAA in the coming weeks, which would make him a candidate to make the 2013 starting rotation out of Spring Training.

Any number of things may prevent Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler from reaching their full potential.  One of them has made it to the big leagues, while the other is extremely close.  For all the misfortune that's been heaped on this team, wouldn't it be rewarding if Harvey and Wheeler fulfilled the potential they clearly possess?  Last night, Matt Harvey showed that he has the stuff to do it.  Now, Mets fans are waiting on Wheeler.  Once the two of them are together in the rotation, all that's left to do is pray to the Baseball Gods.  To ask them to allow these two to become special, and turn the dreams of Mets fans into reality.   

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What's the Plan?

                                          From L to R: Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, & J.P. Ricciardi

This afternoon, before the Mets fell to 1-11 in their last 12 games, in a sloppy mess of a ballgame to Washington, the Miami Marlins began their fire-sale.  In a season that's slipping further and further away from the Mets' grasp, fans can at least take some solace in the fact that Jose Reyes' dream destination has become a combustible and comical mess in less than 4 months.  Many saw this coming as soon as the Marlins opened up their wallets this winter (albeit not this quickly).  However, even though their current plan was borne out of a disaster of a season, at least the Marlins currently have a plan.  A plan for 2012 - which is to sell off pieces that they don't think fit and/or will soon be out of their price range, in an effort to make the team better in the long run.  What the hell is the Mets' plan?

When Sandy Alderson took over a few years ago, along with his top lieutenants Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, great things were expected from them.  Unfortunately, the Madoff mess that lingered into Spring Training of this year severely limited their maneuverability.  Still, they made two astute moves last season.  The money saver was dealing Francisco Rodriguez, and assuring his albatross of an option wouldn't kick in for 2012.  The second, which appears to be an absolute gem, was dealing pending free agent Carlos Beltran to the Giants for Zack Wheeler.  Wheeler is now viewed by most as one of the top overall prospects in all of baseball, and is being lumped into the conversation with Dylan Bundy of the Orioles as the single best pitching prospect in the game.  Last summer, even with the Mets on the fringe of contention, Alderson and Co. knew they had to make those deals.  They made those deals because they were too good to pass up.  If they passed them up, they would've been doing so with the hope of the off chance the team somehow made it to the Postseason.  They knew their Playoff chances were microscopic, so they made the deals.

During the offseason after 2011, no one expected the Mets to be a potential destination for any of the top free agents on the market.  With the Madoff situation still hovering over the franchise, there simply wasn't any way the Mets were going to snag any of the upper crust guys (save for Jose Reyes, who could've stayed if he was willing to sign for 5 years and $80 million, with an easily attainable option that would've guaranteed him $100 million if he stayed relatively healthy).  For all the good Sandy Alderson did by jettisoning Francisco Rodriguez and importing Wheeler, he was equally bad this winter.  Instead of being creative in the trade market, he elected to spend the majority of his allocated cash on mediocre bullpen arms (Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch).  He didn't make a move for a backup catcher, content to have Mike Nickeas in that spot.  He knew his team was left-handed to a fault on the offensive end, yet did nothing to address the issue.  He kept Miguel Batista around, and refused to let go of him until the results reached the point of being stunningly bad.

Despite Alderson and Co's relative inactivity, the Mets surprised pretty much everyone by starting the year 46-39 (with players, it should be noted, who were mostly holdovers from the Omar Minaya regime).  Their record most likely would've been 50-35 or better if they had a mediocre bullpen.  Unfortunately for them, they had the worst bullpen in the Majors.  As I mentioned earlier this week, the Mets' brass may have decided once Dillon Gee went on the shelf, and once Johan Santana looked to be heading there, that they wouldn't deal any prospects of consequence for bullpen help.  In order for the Mets to have acquired a difference maker for the pen, they would've had to part with some actual prospects.  They weren't willing to do that.  Even moderate improvements to the pen would've likely staved off the current 1-11 free-fall, but the only improvement came internally in the form of Josh Edgin.

The poor winter bullpen acquisitions and recent period of inactivity and indecisiveness isn't a complete indictment on the Alderson regime.  There have been good moves, and there have been bad moves, but it's impossible and unfair to judge a man and his staff after such a small period of time.  Still, it is fair to ask at this point if other than waiting for contracts to expire and prospects to develop, the 2012 Mets currently have a plan of any sort.  It was difficult to watch the inaction of the front office, and be subjected to meltdown after meltdown by this atrocity of a bullpen as the losses piled up.  It was insulting to watch Miguel Batista start games because Alderson simply refused to dig through the scrap heap for anyone who may have done better - just like he refused to replace Mike Nickeas with any other Catcher on the face of the Earth.  It's as if the Mets were happy to basically forfeit games.  And a team that's happy to forfeit games should ultimately be open to trading players who aren't part of the long-term solution, right?

According to Alderson, the Mets were "buyers" last week.  As of last night, they were "observers."  Alderson noted when asked that he was unlikely to deal players such as Scott Hairston and Tim Byrdak in order to bring back prospects.  He didn't elaborate as far as his reasoning was concerned - perhaps because there's no appropriate reason to hang onto players who aren't part of the long-term solution when the team appears to be heading nowhere.  Regardless of the Mets' current period of hellish play, they're not a lost cause.  They have talent, just not enough.  With a 2013 rotation that may include R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Matt Harvey (with Zack Wheeler on the cusp), they have the arms to compete.  They also have a mess of a bullpen, a backup catcher who isn't an adequate Major Leaguer (with no viable long-term alternative close in the Minors), a Left Fielder who may very well be the worst player in all of baseball, and seemingly redundant players in Lucas Duda and Ike Davis.        

Last year, when the team realized their Postseason chances were slim, they made moves.  They were proactive.  In the process, they netted one of the top prospects in all of baseball in Zack Wheeler.  No one is expecting that type of return for a Scott Hairston or Tim Byrdak type, but I'm sure one of those players would net a prospect who could turn out to be better than whatever the hell the current incarnation of Jason Bay is, or be better than Mike Nickeas.  Or perhaps they could net a prospect that would help out next year in the bullpen, or be a backup at short, or help out anywhere else on the diamond.  Maybe they could entice a team to bite on Ike Davis or Lucas Duda, knowing full well that Duda can't play the outfield, and that his only other viable position is first base.  Perhaps the front office could think of dealing one of their top prospects who may be blocked at the big league level for a prospect from another team in the same predicament.  Unfortunately, it seems that the front office is content to sit on their hands.  To not buy, not sell, but observe.  Mets fans didn't expect a World Champion overnight, but what they did expect was a front office that did everything in its power to improve the team and move it in the right direction.  Right now, the front office appears to be asleep at the wheel while in neutral.  And that's simply unacceptable.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

46-39 Has Become 47-48. What to Do?

After entering the final day of the first half with a record of 46-39, the Mets have gone into a tailspin.  The reasons for the tailspin are numerous, and the ways in which they've lost games has been maddening.  There has been horrendous starting pitching, bad managing, a failure to come through with runners in scoring position (something the team excelled at for most of the season), and inaction by the front office over the last few weeks as far as addressing any of the above concerns.

Saturday, the Mets started Miguel Batista.  A move that was akin to a forfeit.  A move that was a slap in the face to the players who have been fighting all year, and to the fans who had to sit through the last act of the play that was the Miguel Batista show.  The fans knew Batista would pitch poorly, and so did the organization.  He did what everyone knew he would do, and is no longer part of the 25 man roster.  Today's game was far more painful than yesterday's, since the Mets should have won it easily.  Two key moments stick out:

The first:  With Kirk Nieuwenhuis on 2nd base and no one out in extra innings, the Mets elected to not bunt the winning run over to 3rd base.  Why did they elect against the bunt?  Because Mike Nickeas would be the batter in the spot that conceivably would've had Kirk at 3rd with one out.  The Mets have so little faith in Nickeas' ability to put a ball in play and end the game, that they decided against the conventional move.  Nickeas ended up batting with runners on 1st and 2nd and none out, and laid down a horrible bunt.  The Mets didn't score, the game went on.

The second:  With the bases loaded in the top of the 12th with two outs and two strikes on Matt Treanor, Ramon Ramirez threw a belt high fastball that was lined up the middle for the deciding hit.  No one should be giving up game winning hits to Matt Treanor, especially when you have him in a 1-2 hole.  Ramon Ramirez found a way to do it.  After Jason Bay struck out to end the game (how fitting), the Mets fell below the .500 mark for the first time in 2012.

Where do they go from here?  Before answering that question, the following must be pointed out:  Dillon Gee is most likely lost for the season after a blood clot was found in his pitching shoulder - a blood clot that resulted in surgery.  Johan Santana has landed on the disabled list with an injured ankle, and it's unknown how effective he'll be when he does return.  Terry Collins has done a terrible job with bullpen management.  Examples include bringing Tim Byrdak into a game to face consecutive right handed hitters, and his demented reliance on Miguel Batista in tight games.  The majority of the games over this 1-9 stretch have been close, and when bullpen management is poor during close losses, it ends up looking that much more glaring.  Again, Terry Collins has not been gifted with a solid bullpen.  But it's his job to manage what he has.

With that said, it's entirely possible that once Dillon Gee went down and Johan Santana began to falter, the front office simply decided it wasn't worth it to deal any of its valuable prospects for bullpen help or a bat for the bench.  They may have decided that the Mets' chances had shrunk significantly, and that the best bet would be to hang onto all of their potential 2013 contributors and ride this thing out.  And if that's the case, you really can't blame them.  Now that it's reached this point (5 games back of the 2nd Wild Card spot, down three fifths of their Opening Day rotation), the following should be the course of action:

-Jordany Valdespin needs to start every game where the Mets are opposed by a right hander.  Whether those starts come in left field or center field, they have to come.  If the Mets elect to give Daniel Murphy a day off, the starter at 2nd base should be Valdespin - not Ronny Cedeno.  You start Valdespin because he's clearly one of your best eight players, and because Valdespin playing every day should help the Mets to determine whether or not he should be in their plans for 2013 and beyond. 

-Daniel Murphy needs to start every day.  Terry Collins' lineups against lefties have gotten to the point of being comical.  Murphy is hitting .274 against lefties this year, and there's absolutely no reason for him to be on the bench against them...especially considering Ronny Cedeno is his replacement. 

-Mike Nickeas needs to be DFA'd.  As was pointed out earlier, Mike Nickeas is simply not a Major League Caliber hitter.  He's hitting .172 with a .245 OBP.  Whether it's for Lucas May or someone else off the scrap heap, it's time for Nickeas to be sent down.  Nice guy, awful player.

-Against right handed pitching, Kirk Nieuwenhuis needs to start over Andres Torres in Center Field.  Even with his rising strikeout total and recent slump, Nieuwenhuis may be a part of the Mets' long-term plans - whether it's as a platoon guy or something more.  Torres is not a part of the plan and is hitting .222 while playing sub-par defense.

There have been some positives during the hellish start to the second half:  In a bullpen that has been the worst in the Majors, Josh Edgin has come up and excelled.  Hopefully he can continue to be a solid contributor and become a key piece going forward.  Pedro Beato has shown flashes.  Daniel Murphy has been on fire.  David Wright has continued to be incredible.  Jonathon Niese has bounced back from a rough last start before the break, and is hopefully on his way to putting together his first truly successful complete season.    

Going forward, regardless of his rough start last night in Buffalo, Matt Harvey should be called up to make the start Thursday in Arizona.  No one expects Harvey to be terrific right away, or to not hit any rough patches.  However, he's clearly the best option.  And in a season that is turning in the wrong direction, Harvey can get some valuable Major League experience at the very least or be a potential contributor to a turnaround if things start to break right.  If Jenrry Mejia continues to improve in his relief appearances, he should be added to the pen in the near-term...as it seems the Mets see him as a relief arm.

A team most expected to be a non-contending last place club sits at 47-48 on July 22nd.  Fans who had no expectations are now angry at a team that's still exceeding them.  And that's their right.  Still, it's important to keep the big picture in view.  The big picture, is that even through this brutal stretch, the team has continued to show fight (unlike some of their recent incarnations).  During the 1-9 clip, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong.

2012 was seen as a rebuilding year,but it's the fans' right to hope for more.  Coming off two consecutive seasons of second half fades that followed solid first halves, it's imperative for the 2012 Mets to get this thing under control.  To show the fans that the team is indeed headed in the right direction.  If they catch fire, the Playoffs still aren't a far fetched possibility - not with 67 games left and a 5 game deficit.  However, the Mets don't have to catch fire and reach the Postseason in order to make 2012 a successful season that helps them springboard into 2013 - a season that could have Zack Wheeler in the rotation to open the year.  They simply need to gather themselves and not allow this slide to become a repeat of 2010 and 2011 (even though 2011 was negatively affected by the front office with an eye towards the future).  They need to get back on track, because attendance is driven by wins, and (for now) payroll is driven by attendance.  Therefore, regardless of how much promise this team has and how bright their future may be, wins and losses matter for them more than they do for most of the other clubs.       


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Terry and the Pen

As bad as the Mets' bullpen has been in 2012 (statistically the worst in all of baseball), Terry Collins' management of the pieces in the pen has been equally horrendous.  And when you combine mediocre personnel and inept management, losses like last night and tonight are what you get.  Just looking at the last two games:

Case 1:  Last night, after the Mets took the lead in the Top of the 10th, Terry Collins elected to bring in Tim Byrdak, a lefty specialist, to pitch to two consecutive righties.  Byrdak's numbers are stark: His BAA vs. left handed hitters is .140.  His BAA vs. right handed hitters is .269.  What happened when Byrdak came in? An immediate leadoff hit and a bunt that put the tying run in scoring position - and an eventual loss.  Pedro Beato should've started the inning, with Byrdak ready to face Harper (last night's result not-withstanding).  The fact that he didn't is mind boggling.

Case 2:  Tonight, after the Mets cut the deficit to 2-1 in the Top of the 7th, Terry Collins elected to bring Miguel Batista into the game.  Miguel Batista, who has a 1.74 WHIP this season.  Miguel Batista, by far the worst pitcher on the entire staff.  What makes using Batista there absurd is the fact that Pedro Beato, Ramon Ramirez, and Jon Rauch were all available.  Now, Beato, Ramirez, and Rauch aren't sure things to succeed.  But Miguel Batista is as close is it gets as a sure bet to fail.  And fail he did, giving up three consecutive ropes (one that was caught), to put runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 out.  Instead of bringing in Josh Edgin to face the lefty, Collins elected to stay with Batista, who promptly gave up a 2 run double off the wall.  That 2 run double was the difference as the Mets lost again, 4 to 3.

To repeat.  The bullpen isn't good.  It's not even close to good.  Sandy Alderson has yet to address it, which is borderline criminal.  Terry Collins has yet to learn from his repeated mistakes, which is simply unacceptable.  If Terry Collins manages the bullpen properly the last two nights, the Mets likely have two wins to show for it.  He didn't manage properly, and the Mets now sit at 46-45 instead of 48-43. 

Mets Fandom: Impossible to take a Break

Allow me to preface this piece with the following: I consider myself to be in the upper tier of die-hard Mets fans.  By the time I was 3 (Game 7 of the 1986 World Series), I could name the entire team (it's on video).  After the Mets won the World Series, I met Keith Hernandez and asked him to kiss my mother.  He politely declined.  I forced my father to bring me to games in September of 1993.  Before the dawn of the internet, I would show up at Shea at 2 AM in the middle of February and stand on line for 8 hours in order to purchase tickets for Opening Day and the Subway Series.  In 1999, when the Mets were set to play their first Playoff game I'd be old enough to completely enjoy, the start time was 11PM.  What'd I do to make sure I didn't fall asleep?  I mixed coffee grinds with gatorade and drank up.  I've been a partial plan holder for 12 years.  I watch every game. 

After Jordany Valdespin hit the go-ahead 3 run homer in the 9th, I told one of my friends that if the Mets blew the game, the season would be over.  I knew that wasn't technically true, but that's what it felt like.  And after Parnell blew the save when he was a strike away from closing it out, only to see the Mets re-take the lead and blow it again (with Tim Byrdak inexplicably on the mound to face two righties to start the 10th), I was left in stunned disbelief.  The fact that it ended on a wild pitch with the Mets again one strike away from at least having a chance to win?  That cemented the fact that last night's loss was the worst one I've witnessed since 2008.  The Mets were awful in 2009, faded quickly in 2010, and sold at the ASB in 2011.  Therefore, the 2012 squad was the first one since 2008 that had a legitimate shot at the Postseason entering the 2nd half.  In that late September game in 2008, Daniel Murphy tripled with the game tied to start the bottom of the 9th or 10th (don't recall).  All the Mets had to do was get a ball to the outfield and the game was over.  They didn't.  They lost.  And at that point, it felt like the season was over.  

The minutes after that game in 2008 were the last time I vowed to give myself a break from the Mets.  To not watch the next game or two, not listen to them on the radio, not follow them on the internet.  What ended up happening?  I went to nearly every game down the stretch, and nearly broke my hand punching a door at Shea after the Mets lost another late September crusher - the Phil Humber game.  The one where the Mets were up 5-0 and ended up losing.

After last night's horror show, I decided for the first time since 2008 that I wouldn't watch/listen to/follow the next game...that I wanted to take a break.  When I woke up this morning, the thought of not watching tonight's game was still in my mind.  By the time I was on the way to work, though, my irresistible instinct and eventual action was to text my friends to attempt to gather them to watch the game, as it now seems that if the Mets don't turn it around immediately, they're screwed.  Why is it impossible to ignore this team, even for one game?

When I was in high school and would argue with my girlfriend, I was able to control myself and stubbornly ignore her.  I would stupidly refuse to be the first one to call and apologize.  I could take a break from them for a day or two, knowing that I would in turn be preventing myself from getting laid. Yet, it's impossible to take a break from the Mets.  There's something seriously wrong with that.  Let's delve deeper.  Sex is absolutely tremendous, and the feeling of Orgasm is the single greatest feeling your body ever has - it obviously feels better than watching a Mets game.  Drinking numbs you and enhances social situations, and drugs expand your mind.  But none of those things lead you to jump up and down like a madman screaming unintelligible nonsense, while at the same time hugging your friends and/or strangers (we're excluding hypothetical threesomes and orgies while on Acid or Magic Mushrooms).

An epic Mets moment makes you go wild.  The feeling of exhilaration lasts long after, and therein lies the problem.  That's why they're impossible to quit - even for a matter of a day or two.  The fact that my brain won't even allow me the option is a bit insane.  Then again, so is being a Mets fan. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Lost Weekend

Like every team, the Mets wanted to come out of the All-Star break strong.  It didn't happen.  Before the season, nearly every member of the media wrote the Mets off.  They were going to be a last place team.  There were a handful of times during the first half when the Mets appeared to be heading back to and perhaps under the .500 mark.  That didn't happen.  Now, with a maddening three game sweep at the hands of the Braves at Turner Field behind them, the media is salivating yet again.  Joel Sherman penned an article today basically saying that the fat lady was singing:

Now, these Mets are 0-3 in 2012 after a second-half-opening series that as bellwethers go was akin to seeing the iceberg from aboard the Titanic.
It'd be somewhat understandable to liken a three game sweep to a sure to sink ship, had the Mets been non-competitive in those three games.  If they'd failed to score any runs.  If they'd failed to fight back when they were down.  However, that's not what happened over the weekend in Atlanta.  They showed the same fight they have all year, but came out on the losing end.  What happened was a confluence of at times strange events that led to three losses, with the most alarming thing being the fact that Chris Young, RA Dickey, and Johan Santana each gave up 5 runs or more.  While discussing the ugly lines of the Mets' starters, realize the Mets countered by battering both Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson (the Braves won the games, so no one is worried about those two).  If you think the Mets' starters ERA will be 5.50 for the duration of the second half, you'd be correct in writing the team off after three second half games.  If you don't believe that to be in the cards, consider the following:

Chris Young laid an egg Friday night, the Mets fought back to make it 5-4, failed to capitalize on a bases loaded situation in the middle of the game, and eventually lost.  Tough game.  Johan Santana saw three absolutely absurd calls go against him in the 5th inning of a scoreless game (two of which would've resulted in strike 3 and a scoreless inning), and the Braves scored each one of their runs in that frame.  Runs that wouldn't have scored if CB Bucknor was a competent umpire.  Still, the Mets' bats were flat so who knows if they would've won.  The game the Mets should've had was Saturday.

RA Dickey didn't have his best stuff, and was victimized by another Andres Torres misplay (why he's still getting time in Center Field, I have no idea) and some more interesting umpiring that led to an ugly final line.  Even so, the Mets fought back and took a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning.  I'm not sure why Bobby Parnell was summoned for a five out save when Pedro Beato was doing fine, but whatever.  After Parnell entered and recorded a strikeout, he gave up three consecutive hits.  Let me preface what I'm about to say with this:  Yes, hits are hits.  I'm not discounting anything the Braves did.  Still, each of the three hits were grounders through the infield.  The first one was the most clean, back through the box.  The next one was slapped past Ike Davis, who was holding the runner on at 1st base.  The one that gave the Braves the lead was hit an inch out of Ronny Cedeno's reach...a ball Ruben Tejada may have fielded if he wasn't incomprehensibly double switched out of the game.  If one of the first two grounders are fielded, the Mets likely win the game.  If the third one is fielded, they may have won.  And if they had won Saturday in Atlanta, none of the "fat lady singing" pieces would've been written.  So, the difference between "the Mets are OK" and "the Mets are doomed" is basically three seeing eye singles.

Now, it is certainly normal to be concerned at the moment.  The starting rotation has slipped, the bullpen continues to be a crap-shoot, and the offense has been hit and miss.  Still, this team has fought back in every game it's been down, and has gotten up off the mat after every difficult loss and after every trying stretch.  They made it through what most were sure would bring them crashing down to Earth (the string of games against Playoff contenders in June), and are now staring at a similar stretch (9 games against Washington and Los Angeles, followed by an 11 game West Coast swing).  The Mets have gone from 0.5 games back of the second Wild Card to 3.5 games back, and that's scary.  It's put them in a precarious spot. 

The Mets need bullpen help, and it appears as if Josh Edgin will be a positive addition.  You'd expect the team to make an acquisition from outside the organization to fortify the pen a bit more.  And if Jenrry Mejia can get his act together, he'd be another intriguing internal option.  Mike Baxter recently played his first rehab game, and is probably about 10 days away from returning.  As I'm typing this, Matt Harvey has exited the game after 6 2/3 innings of 3 hit, 1 run ball for Buffalo in what is likely his last AAA start before being called up to face the Dodgers at Citi Field on Saturday.  

The 2012 Mets are a young, likeable team.  Instead of seeing retreads called up in times of need, we're seeing homegrown talent with upside (see Jordany Valdespin, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Josh Edgin, and soon Matt Harvey).  There have been lots of comparisons between 2012 and 1984 - a year where the Mets started to right the ship, but couldn't quite get over the hump.  If that's the end result of this season, so be it.  However, this team has responded each time it's been knocked down.  There's absolutely no reason to write them off this quickly.  The Mets simply need to come out against the Nationals beginning Tuesday night and get back to work.  They need to respond to adversity once again.   

Thursday, July 12, 2012

As the 2nd Half Begins

As the second part of the season begins tonight in Atlanta, I'm reminded of a throwaway line from one of the articles Adam Rubin penned before the season.  In it, he said that with the 2nd Wild Card being added for the 2012 season, the Mets could theoretically finish in 3rd place in the National League East and make the Playoffs.  He was obviously being tongue in cheek when he wrote it.  And being that Rubin is the gold standard when it comes to Mets beat writers (and in the top percent of all of those who cover baseball), his little sentence from months back goes to show you what most people felt about the Mets coming into this season.

Maybe it was blind optimism, or an at the time misguided belief, but there were a host of fans (myself included) who expected more out of this team.  Expecting the 2012 Mets to make the Playoffs may not have been what I had on my mind when the first pitch was thrown by Johan at chilly Citi Field in early April.  I expected them to compete, though.  I expected them to play their asses off.  I expected them to surprise.  So far, they've done all of the above.  Coming out of the All-Star break, they sit at 46-40, and in third place.  Yet, being in third place in the NL East means they're one half game out of a Playoff spot.

The All-Star break wasn't without incident for the Mets, as they found out that Dillon Gee will have to undergo what will most likely turn out to be season ending surgery on his pitching shoulder.  The blood clot he had wasn't minor (as was the case with Bobby Parnell last year and Tom Glavine a few years ago).  For Gee, it was much more serious.  And because of that, the Mets are a starter down.  The health of Gee is the most important issue here.  Thankfully, he appears to be out of the woods.  Sandy Alderson said the Sunday before the break that a "convergence of events" might force the Mets' hand regarding Matt Harvey, who's currently pitching quite well in AAA for the Bisons.  Before it was known that Gee would likely be out for the season, the Mets intimated that Miguel Batista (a person who has no business on the team in any capacity, let alone starting games in July with the team in contention), would likely be the short term fill in for Gee.

With it now known that Gee is likely lost for the remainder of the regular season, it's time to turn to Harvey.  If Chris Young is good to go on regular rest his next turn through the rotation, Harvey wouldn't be needed until July 21st.  That would give him another start in AAA, and some time to exhale before potentially making his Major League debut against the Dodgers at Citi Field on the 21st.  No one is expecting Matt Harvey to be a savior.  But the Mets don't need a savior.  They need someone who has quality stuff, and the potential to give them quality innings.  Chris Schwinden has shown that he possesses neither quality.  Jeremy Hefner doesn't appear to be an option, and it would be cost prohibitive for the Mets to acquire a quality arm from outside the organization.  Therefore, the choice seems to be between Batista and Harvey.  And it really shouldn't be a difficult one.  Toby Hyde, who does a tremendous job at Metsminorleagueblog.com, thinks it's time for Harvey to be called up.  As Toby points out, Harvey has flaws.  He won't be perfect or refined from the get-go.  Again, though, he likely gives the Mets a better chance to win than Miguel Batista.  And, unlike Batista, he's part of the team's future.  This wouldn't be a matter of the Mets rushing a prospect to the detriment of his development.  Harvey is basically ready.  He's simply marinating, waiting to be unleashed.

The Mets have a legitimate shot to make the Playoffs.  Let's say that again:  The Mets have a legitimate shot to make the Playoffs, and they're not doing it with smoke in mirrors.  Unlike the eventual sub .500 teases that were the 2010 and 2011 squads,  they have a rotation that's above average, led by Cy Young favorite R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, and an emerging Jon Niese - whose ERA is finally starting to match his peripherals.  They have an offense - led by MVP candidate David Wright - that's 8th in the Majors in runs and 9th in OBP, making it one that certainly has the ingredients to continue to contend.  The bullpen issues have been addressed somewhat with the promotions of Pedro Beato and Josh Edgin, and will likely be fortified in the coming weeks with the return of Frank Francisco and an acquisition from outside the organization.

Towards the end of the first half of the season,  Citi Field started to feel a little bit like Shea used to (although the new place doesn't shake, unfortunately).  The fans began to make more noise than they had been, started to rise in unison as they so often did at Shea.  It started to feel like the fans once again expected the team to come through each inning, and hold on in the end.  It all began on the night the fans had been anticipating for the better part of four seasons: the first signature moment at Citi Field.  That moment came on June 1st when Johan Santana completed the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise.  That night, Citi Field finally sounded like home.  Mets fans make a different noise than any other fans during times of triumph and celebration.  The crowd noise starts and eventually becomes a loud murmur...the murmur reaches a crescendo, and then becomes a roar.  At the time of exhilaration, the roar raises several octaves and becomes an explosive shriek.  Listen to the buildup before the last strike of the 1986 World Series and the moment after Marty Barret swings and misses, and then listen to the buildup before the last strike of Johan's no-no and the moment after David Freese swings and misses.  The sound is the same.

Mets fans want to make that sound a few more times this season.  The Mets, like every other team in Major League Baseball, have flaws.  They also have a Manager who seems to have the ear of each one of his players, a third baseman determined to have the best year of his career, and a starting rotation that's on a bit of a mission.  Starting tonight in Atlanta, the Mets take the first step towards trying to turn their very solid first half performance into a Postseason berth.  And my tongue isn't in my cheek as I say that.   



Monday, July 9, 2012

Those Awful San Francisco Giants

I was born in 1983, so there have only been a handful of teams I've despised:  The Yankees, Braves, Phillies (from 2005 on), and Marlins (in 2007, 2008, and starting anew this year).  I was too young to despise the Cardinals in the mid to late 80's, still too young to despise the Pirates around 1990.  Well, mark today down as the day I officially began to despise the San Francisco Giants and their fans.   

The seed was planted in late 2009, when Matt Cain drilled David Wright in the head with a pitch.  I was in attendance at that game, and was disgusted and infuriated when Cain tipped his cap as he left the field.  It was a classless and horrible thing to do, and may have simply been the reaction of a confused kid who didn't know how to react to the vitriol he was receiving.  Still, it left a bitter taste in the mouth of every Mets fan.

Fast forward to July of 2012.  David Wright, having one of the most dominant years of any player in baseball, is a surefire bet to start the All-Star Game at third base.  R.A. Dickey, having one of the most dominant years a pitcher has had in the last few decades, is a near lock to be the starting pitcher in the All-Star game.  However, the San Francisco Giants fans had other ideas.  They decided that over the last 48 hours of voting, they'd stuff the ballot box for every single Giants player.  As a result, Brandon Belt nearly beat out Joey Votto, and Freddy Sanchez (who has yet to appear in a game this year), finished fourth among all the second base candidates.

The Giants fans did succeed, however, in costing Carlos Ruiz his rightful starting nod in order to get Buster Posey in as the starting Catcher.  And in a much more egregious display, voted so often that Pablo Sandoval (who was trailing David Wright by 450,000 votes two days prior) edged out David Wright for the starting nod at third base by over 1.5 million votes.  David Wright, who entered the break hitting .351 with 11 homers and 59 RBI's.  David Wright, who is one of three legitimate MVP candidates in the National League (along with Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto) is a reserve on the All-Star team.  He's a reserve because the Giants fans decided to stuff the ballot box.

It's pretty clear that the voting system for the All-Star game needs to be fixed.  Fans have the right to vote for whomever they want, but that doesn't make their actions any less pathetic.  This year, the only Met I voted for was David Wright.  He was the only Met I voted for because I felt he was the only one who deserved it.  I hate the Yankees, but I still voted for Robinson Cano.  Because he's an All-Star.  A deserving All-Star.  It's a shame the fans of the Giants didn't respect the game and the players enough to vote accordingly.

As I woke up this morning, the David Wright/Pablo Sandoval fiasco was in the past.  It was a real shame, but there was nothing we could do about it.  I was certain that R.A. Dickey would be named the starter for the National League, especially after Yadier Molina had pulled out of the game due to personal reasons.  Tony LaRussa's prior excuse had been that he might hold R.A. back so he could pitch to Yadier, who he felt was best equipped to handle the knuckler.  Without Yadier Molina in the game, the only catchers were Buster Posey and Carlos Ruiz.

Josh Thole had offered to call Buster Posey to give advice on how to catch R.A. Dickey.  Earlier in the week, Posey seemed to be on board.  Today, after the announcement from Tony LaRussa that Matt Cain, not R.A. Dickey would be the starter for the National League, the real reason why began to slowly seep out from the writers on Twitter.  There was a report that Buster Posey went to Tony LaRussa and told him he'd be uncomfortable catching R.A. Dickey.  Whether or not that's accurate, according to Peter Gammons, the Giants stepped in in order to make sure Dickey didn't start the game.  Later, on the MLB Network, Gammons was again adamant that Giants officials had contacted LaRussa and/or made their feelings known in order to make sure that Posey wouldn't have to catch R.A. Dickey.

Let's recap, shall we?

The Giants fans stuffed the ballot box and in turn cost two players (Carlos Ruiz and David Wright) what should've been their starting slots in the All-Star game tomorrow in Kansas City.

The player who beat out Ruiz (Buster Posey) because of those ridiculous Giants fans, first said that he'd be fine catching R.A. Dickey, but is now "thankful" he doesn't have to.  Meanwhile, Ruiz, has been given an enormous Catcher's mitt, is practicing with R.A., and is taking it all in stride. 

The Giants officials themselves stepped in, knowing full well that two of their All-Star game starters (Posey and Sandoval) were voted in over two more deserving players (Ruiz and Wright) in order to ensure that R.A. Dickey, the current best pitcher in the game and the story of the first half of the 2012 season, would not be able to start the game almost everyone believed he should start.  And because they stepped in and made sure R.A. Dickey would not be the starter (which would've subjected poor Buster Posey to having to catch a knuckle ball), they were rewarded by having another one of their players named as a starter - this time Matt Cain, who will take the mound in the bottom of the 1st inning.  The Giants officials should've kept their mouth's shut.  And if they had, R.A. Dickey would've likely been given the honor he so deserved.

Fortunately, most of us recognize the value of R.A. Dickey the man, and the brilliance of what R.A. Dickey the pitcher has become.  It's a shame Major League Baseball allowed Tony LaRussa to come back after retirement, and stood by and allowed the Giants to step in and make sure they deprived R.A. Dickey of what will most likely be his only chance to start the All-Star game.  Because of all that, I will now add the Giants to the list that includes the Yankees, Braves, Phillies, and Marlins.  You're now despised.  And with the Mets and Giants both set to enter the second half of the year with 46-40 records, both 0.5 game out of a Playoff spot, it would be great revenge to settle this on the field in early October in a one game Wild Card Playoff.  If that came to be, no one would be able to keep R.A. Dickey off the mound.