Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jeff, you did it again

We love our Mets. Things are going well, despite last night's disappointing loss. The young pitchers keep getting better. It's fun to go to Citi. All's well, right? Not really. You see, just when we were feeling good as fans, just when we were starting the see more Mets-clad fans on the streets, Jeff Wilpon opened his mouth. And as is typically the case, nothing good came from it.

Jeff opined on David Wright's contract status yesterday. Mind you, this was just a few days after Sandy Alderson indicated that it was hard to imagine David Wright playing somewhere else, and strongly intimated that the Mets would be open to keeping DW around after 2013. But here comes Jeff. He said yesterday that there was no point in "rushing the situation." He felt the situation should "play out." Now, maybe this is the right thing to do, and a wise business move. But Jeff, we don't want to hear that. If that's your strategy, fine, KEEP IT TO YOURSELF, EVEN IF YOU'RE ASKED A QUESTION. Give some politically correct response about how much you appreciate David's contributions. Your fan base has been beaten down, and many are still smarting over the organization's decision to let Reyes walk. There was no need, no need at all, to put doubt in people's minds about the future of the face of the franchise, especially now. We are your customers, and want badly to feel good about supporting the product. Please, Jeff, let the adults do the talking and stay away from baseball operations. Thank you.

On other matters, losing 2 of 3 to the Phillies hurt, especially when you think about taking 2 of 3 if Torres caught that ball. June is going to be rough, with 6 against the NYY, and series against St. Louis. Baltimore, Washington, Tampa Bay, and closing the month with the Dodgers. Memorial Day checked in well, how will things look on the 4th of July? It will be interesting. At least Chris Young should be ready to help, as he threw 6 solid innings today, and may be back within 10 days (2 starts in AAA).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pinball Mets Wizard

As we get to the first milestone of the season (Memorial Day), I think I can speak for all Mets fans when I say I'm thrilled with the performance thus far. However, the first 48 games have me thinking about the Mets connection to The Who, and their hit, Pinball Wizard. Asking for the band's apologies, I paraphrase them below:

"How do you think they do it, I don't know, what makes them so good?"

Not to sound like a caller to WFAN, but I've been a baseball fan for 40 years. I think I know a little. I just can't figure out how this team wins. Let's take a look at some top-level thoughts on the 2012 Mets.

1B- the guy is hitting .160 and on pace for 200 Ks. Really? Isn't this an offensive position?
2B- singles hitter batting around .300, who is learning the position in the big leagues. No speed
SS- rookie who is hurt. Limited speed, solid if not spectacular in the field. No power. Career backup playing now.
3B- all-star having an outstanding season in the field and at the plate. He's hitting .390.
LF- injured veteran, replaced by the likes of Vinny Rotino and rookie Nieuwenhuis.
CF- veteran who is hitting .200, spelled by Nieuwenhuis, who is on pace for 200 Ks in a full year.
RF- slugger who does not slug, decent OF defensively (surprise), batting around .270. Only 5 HRs
C- injured starter who is defensively challenged. Backups are hitting around .200.
Bullpen- close to last statistically, a collection of cast off pitchers and a hard-throwing right-hander.
Starters- number 1 and 2 are outstanding. 3 is inconsistent, 4 is a cast of characters (including a 41-year-old poet who is injured) and 5 is an inconsistent second-year guy. Injury to original number 4.
Bench- solid PH in Baxter, cast-off backup catcher, K-prone rookie, career utility IF who walks up to "Call Me Maybe".

There you have it. Look above. If that's all you had, where would you place these guys after 48. 18-30? 20-28? That's where I'd place them, but they win. The sum is greater than to total of the parts. Which brings me to my final point for this post. The manager, who turned 63 yesterday, deserves a ton of credit. This guy moves and maneuvers his players, getting the last drop out of them. Look at today's lineup. Turner is lead off. I'm not kidding. Yet, you just feel they can win this game. There's an aura, a vibe going on. They believe in themselves, and we're starting to believe in them. Good job, TC. At some point, people are going to start giving that man the credit he deserves. In the meantime, let's just enjoy it, and remember to thank all of those who serve to protect our freedom.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Quarter Pole

During a rain delay, what's better to do than blog about the team being delayed? The Mets finished a respectable road trip at 3-3, after beginning it at 1-3. The game they lost in Pittsburgh was the most improbable. They staked Johan to a 4-0 lead against a poor offensive team, and the ace gave it up. The collision in that game (Baxter and Kirk) was the topic of quite a bit of conversation. It was handled well, with Baxter taking full responsibility. Importantly, the Mets rebounded from that tough loss to take the next two, and that's the most encouraging sign. This team may not have much, but they consistently show their character.

We're just past the quarter pole, and I have to tell you, I don't know how they're 4 games over .500. The offense is devoid of speed and power (a quote from Sandy Alderson during the delay), and routinely puts three sub-.200 hitters in the lineup. The bullpen is wildly inconsistent (last in the NL right now). The starting pitching is generally good (with some Niese blips), and maybe that's why they're respectable. Sandy mentioned that if they keep this pace, they'll be 89-73 and in contention. Two questions remain.

First, if you see the glass as half full, you could say that they're 4 games over without many of their starters (Thole, Bay, Tejada), and that things can only get better when the guys return. The question is, will they add players if they're in contention? Can they? One thing for sure, if the Mets are 6 over at the break and they don't add players, Sandy will have to answer some questions.

Second, how will the Mets adjust the roster when some of the players begin to come back? What do they do when Bay comes back? How about when Young comes back? These decisions will go a long way toward determining if the respectable play will continue. One decision has been made, Ike is not going to the minors. I can't say that I agree with this. Who's benefit does his .158 BA serve? His? The team's? I say neither.

Ok, back to the game. It's now 6-1 Padres. This is a series where the Mets need to take 3 of 4. They're not off to a good start, but as I said, if nothing else, they're resilient.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sweating this one out

What an ending today in Toronto. The Mets were trying to avoid being swept, and were precariously holding a 6-5 lead into the 9th. Talk about drama. Frank Francisco came in for the save against the team that let him walk as a free agent. A walk and an opposite field single by Bautista later, Frank was looking at two on, no out, and a mountain of trouble. Francisco then struck out Encarnacion, Arencebia, and Thames to end the game. This was a baseball high wire act, and the fan base (at least those on Twitter) were nervous.  In watching the post game, I came to the conclusion that Francisco is likable guy, a stand-up guy, who takes responsibility when it's warranted. That, however, doesn't make him a big-time closer. The Mets are 22-19, on pace for roughly 88 wins, and if they're in contention and serious at the deadline, they'll need to look for someone who can close.

A few other items as we're at the season's quarter pole. What to do about Ike Davis? He's hitting around .160, and literally killing the offense, which is already challenged. Ike did have a double and RBI groundout today, but he's lost. Should he go to AAA? Jurrgens went down, Gabby Sanchez went down, why can't Ike? I think it's time. He's not deriving any benefit by being fooled in virtually every AB. When Bay comes off the DL next week, sending Ike down may be the move.

The catching position...what to do here? Thole is coming back soon, but has Rob Johnson played Nickeas off the team? Johnson is solid behind the plate, and seems far more competent with the bat than Nickeas. I say send Nickeas down and keep Johnson as the backup.

Nieuwenhuis? Well, he's a fan favorite, but seems overmatched at times. Should he stay, or learn to cut down his Ks in AAA? My guess is that he stays, but is it in a platoon with Bay? Maybe there will be more OF time if Ike goes down and Duda goes to 1B. I'm fine with Nieuwenhuis staying up, but he has to play if he does. He can't learn to make contact from the bench.

Valedespin....what's his next move? He's in AAA now, have we seen the last of him in 2012? He rotted on the bench during his call-up, and looked less than ready in his limited ABs. His speed would be a welcome addition, but he belongs in AAA if he's not going to play in Queens.

And the 800-pound gorilla-the bullpen. I realize they can't snap their fingers and have new (better) relievers. But how do they align the parts they have? Parnell had been good. Today he goes in a pressure spot, and he gives up 2 runs. What "inning guy" is he? Why is Schwinden on the team again? Really? The rest of the pieces, pitching to the second-worst bullpen statistics in MLB, need to step it up, since significant help is not imminent. Losing games in the late innings will kill a team; let's hope the pen does not continue to undo the good the rest of the team is doing.

One quarter down, and there are 3 to go. They've exceeded my expectations so far. But it only gets tougher as the season goes on. I'd sign for 41-40 at the statistical halfway point right now. Let's see if I've sold them short.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ugly night in Toronto

The Mets are being pounded in Toronto as I type, 14-1 Blue Jays in the 6th. The games happen, and it's no big deal. What may be a big deal is how poorly Jon Niese pitched. This is three of his last 4 starts that have not gone well, the only exception being his start against Miami on 5/13. Niese allowed 4 HRs tonight, and they were all shots. When a team puts a "challenged" lineup on the field, pitching is even more important. Let's look at the pitching overall.

Gee has not been good this year. In fact, as Ojeda discussed on SNY, Gee has not been good since the middle of last year, posting a record of 8-9 and an ERA around 4.50. I'm not surprised. I've written here before that Gee relies on fooling people, with no discernible out pitch. You can't say his change is his money pitch, since he changes off a 91 mph fastball. The more hitters see him, the less effective he will be, in my opinion. Dickey has been steady, and Santana has been great. Batista is the Pinball Wizard (how do you think he does it, I don't know, what makes him so good?). Let;s move to the pen.

This is the maddening part of the team. Sometimes, they look good. Other times, they look dreadful. Francisco has converted 9 of 11 saves, but has an ERA over 8. Rauch has given up more than a hit per IP, and Acosta continues to struggle. Byrdak has been solid, but has a very short shelf life, not lasting more than a batter or two per outing. Then there's Parnell, who has been pitching well. TC seems reluctant to use Parnell in critical or extended periods, and I get that, since Parnell struggled so mightily last year in pressure spots. If the Mets are serious about contending, and we'll know more about that around the break, they will absolutely need to add a bullpen piece or pieces.

One note to add about Carrasco. I think he did throw at Braun. It was the pitch after the HR, and he said it was a sinker. The problem is that it hit Braun in the shoulder. No pitcher misses that badly with a two-seam fastball. Carrasco hadn't been around, and was trying to earn street cred with his team by being a tough guy. His actions put DW in jeopardy of being hit, and imperiled the bullpen, by having to burn Ramirez in a blowout. Carrasco was later DFA'ed, and this action was justified. Lastly, I did not like TC's pulling DW and Murphy to avoid potential retribution. I agree with Bobby O. The message becomes "you guys going up there are expandable. I'm going to protect these two." It can't make Duda (who was sent up between DW and Murphy) and Valdespin (who hit for DW) feel good. I wonder about the message that was sent. And yes, I applaud DW for wanting to go up and literally take the hit.

The true test comes tomorrow. They've come back nicely from adversity all year. 14-1 is pretty adverse, boys.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

That one hurt

After sweeping the Phillies, the Mets went down to Miami. They lost 2 of 3, and ended the trip with a 4-2 record. Not bad, right? Well, it was bad. Both losses were of the "bottom of the ninth" variety. In both losses, the Mets had spirited, late-inning rallies, with contributions off the bench. In both losses the closer, Frank Francisco, was unable to seal the deal. These losses are demoralizing. The bright side is that after Friday's disheartening loss, the Mets pummeled the Marlins 9-3 on Saturday. So, they're resilient. But how resilient can they be? At what point do the blown saves begin to hurt the psyche of the young team?

TC was asked after the game, as you would expect, if he was considering a change at closer. He said he has 8 options, meaning that anyone could close. The Mets, in my opinion, need to address this now. The team is working too hard to fritter away games in the late innings. Where do they turn? One option is Bobby Parnell. I've never been a fan, but he is pitching well. Parnell has 16 IP, with 19 hits allowed, and 16 Ks. Another option could be Jon Rauch. He's pitched 14.1 innings, allowing 12 hits. There's some speculation that the Mets may go closer-by-committee. I'm not sure I'm a fan of this. I think the team needs to have a "go-to guy", someone they can rely on, someone who allows the natural circadian rhythm to take place. Also, with only one lefty, the committee idea is more difficult. That could change if they call Edgin up, who ironically got the AAA save today.

In any case, the next home stand is brief, with the Brewers and Reds in for a total of 4. The Brewers have had a significant injury bug, and the Mets need to do what they've been doing. They need to take advantage of the opportunity, just like smacking the Phillies around. After that, it's off to Toronto, and they can hit. All the more reason to figure out the bullpen thing. Maybe a move needs to be made, so Edgin can come up and provide another lefty option. I have no problem sending Carrasco down. In any case, the bad taste of today's game has to go. Let's see how serious the Mets are about their chances. They can show us they're serious by trying to address the biggest problem the team has had over the first 34.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I'm Shocked!

I'm not quite sure what to think of the Mets right now. They're 18-13, they just swept the (albeit beleaguered) Philles in Philly, and they're half a game out of first place. I expected the Mets to be bad, very bad, this year. They may still be. But for now, they're doing many things that I did not think they could do. Let's take a look.

The starting pitching is exceeding expectations. Even the most optimistic fan could not have seen Johan, coming off surgery, being able to throw 110 pitches per game, and be vintage 2008 Johan. RA Dickey has been consistently good (with one water balloon exception), and Niese has been good (with the exception of the Houston start). The back end of the rotation has held up its part of the bargain, with Gee pitching well and Batista, well...he's keeping the spot warm until Chris Young comes back.

The most amazing part, to me, is the offense. They're winning with little from Ike (until his HR and double last night), and not much more from Duda. DW (make him a captain and extend him already) is having a stellar season so far, both offensively and defensively. Torres and Nieuwenhuis have been strong contributors, along with hitting-machine Murphy. But they Mets have no speed (an ugly 9 SBs) and not a lot of power. Somehow, they win. The new term is "community win", and it's quite appropriate. There is no single outstanding aspect of the team, but they seem to work together. I attribute this to leadership, and that comes from TC, DW, and Johan. You hear Ojeda say it all the time. They don't talk about who is not there; they scrape and claw with what they have. They're effective, if not stellar. If they can stay this way, it may be a fun summer.

The Valdespin HR on Monday was the most exciting moment of the season, in my opinion. Think about that game. Halladay had them down 2-0, and had beaten them his last 8 starts against them. They started a rally with a walk, a single by a rookie, and then a double by their leader. Later, a kid gets his first hit, a 3-run HR, off of an established closer. Winning in improbable fashion-the Cardinals did that last year, just sayin'.

Final thought for this post: what if the Mets are still winning in July? Let's say they're 10 over, and 2 games out. Do they add a piece? Does Sandy stand by his word, that they will have money to spend if contending? Or were those just words, and is Sandy just as surprised right now as the guy at the top of this post?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Johan gets one, Mets get two of three

After a terrible performance in Houston and an opening-game loss at home to Arizona, the Mets won the next two vs. the D'Backs to take the series. After 28, the Mets stand at 15-13, and I'm pleasantly surprised. Like any other team, the Mets win when their starters pitch well, and lose when they don't. On Saturday, Johan gutted out seven innings for his first win. He did not have his best stuff, but he figured it out, allowing three runs. The pen was good (Parnell and Francisco), but provided a few "thrills" in win. Today, Sunday, RA was outstanding over 8, and left having pitched 8-plus, allowing one run. Once again, the pen succeeded, in both saving the game and providing for palpitations, as Byrdak and Francisco allowed warning-track fly balls with the tying run at bat. Now it's down to Philly. Remember what I said about starting pitching and its importance? The Mets will throw Batista in one of those games, and will see Halladay and Lee in two of them. This may be a tough series.

In addition to RA's performance, the story today was an injury to Tejada. Ruben tripped on his way to first, and had a quad strain. He also fell on his face, and has a swollen eye. Speculation, while the MRI is being read as I type, is that they'll piece it together (Turner) for a few days. Then, when Cedeno is ready at the end of the week, he'll take over, assuming Tejada goes on the DL. Word is that Valdespin will be ready and in Philly, and would likely take Tejada's roster spot in the event of the DL for Tejada.  I oppose. If Valdespin is here, let him play. Let him lead-off, and bat Torres second. Valdespin has played short and can do it in the majors. The Mets need speed up top, and the combo of Valdespin/Torres is not bad in that department. And again, it gives Valdespin a taste of big-league life, and the Mets a look at him. I like that TC dropped Tejada to 7th today. Speed, folks, you need speed up top. Tejada does not have it, and belongs 8th in a big-league lineup when he returns. The Mets need to find speed, and may have it with Valdespin. LET THIS KID PLAY!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Don't look-it's bad

Forget all the good feelings after two out of three in Colorado. The Mets followed that up (particularly the "feel good" win on Sunday) with a clunker of a series against the awful Astros. Yes, the Mets were swept  by a team of no-names. I understand that those guys get paid too. But the Mets have to be better than they were the last 3 days. The Mets pitched poorly, hit poorly, played bad defense, and ran the bases poorly. Let's take a look at some of the lowlights.

Chris Schwinden is not ready. This is not news. Schwinden has had six big-leagues starts and been torched in almost every one of them. The problem is there aren't many options available. Based on TC's post-game comments, you'd think Hefner will be on the hill in 5 days, with Schwinden in Buffalo. Starting pitching has been the strength during the pleasant start, but other than Johan, the pitching has been shaky lately.

Jon Niese was bad on Tuesday night, lasting just 3 innings and giving up 5 runs. Hopefully, this was just a bad night. TC hit for Niese with the score 5-2 in the top of the fourth. TC sent the ill Lucas Duda up against a lefty with the tying run in the batter's box. I have no problem with that move, since Niese was clearly off and TC had to take a chance on scoring some runs. The issue, though, is that Duda was sent up against a lefty. The team's bench is weak, and this example really demonstrated it.

The bullpen has been dreadful. Acosta was ineffective today. The bullpen has also logged the third most innings of any NL pen this year. Yes, hitting for Niese early exacerbated this point. But a tired bullpen on May 2nd does not bode well. Per the comment above, there just aren't many options for an upgrade. Frank Frank pitched a scoreless eighth today, but in a mop-up role. Ramirez has been terribly inconsistent. I think as Mets fans, we always anticipate "bad" from the pen, and when it happens, we see deja vu all over again (per Yogi).

Where are we now? Well, we're 25 games in, a little less than 1/6th of the season. The Mets are 13-12, and I think we all would have signed up for that. But the signs are ominous. The lack of depth, the weak bullpen, the thin bench...all of these point to rough going. Reinforcements don't seem available in the immediate future (save for a fringe move on the pitching staff). This is the "soft" part of the schedule, and I was hoping the Mets could fatten up a little.

Apparently, the Mets are counting their Weight-Watchers's points.