A Night Out at the Game

May 19, 2015It was quite an interesting experience going to Citi Field Tuesday evening. Driving from Jersey is never a treat but we made it to the ballpark in about an hour and got home in less time. Guess I got lucky. One reason why we got there without too much stress is because we left early and got to the ballpark about 4:40PM. Low and behold, the gates had not yet open, and that brings me to my first nit-pick.

Look I know that these days security is important, that much is clear. We now can only enter the ballpark after being wanded and padded down by security for a safe night out at the ballgame, I get that. But why with Excelsior Club tickets that say go in through the Seaver entrance, do I have to wait until 5:40 when I can go in through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at 5:10. Was that Tom’s idea? I know he breaks into tears a lot when interviewed lately but has he lost it all together? To me, this is just one of the many things that aid and abet websites like MetsPolice.com. Why don’t the Wilpons just wear a sign that says “I’m with Stupid”? I know it’s not fair to the blame the owners but someone needs to explain this policy to me. Look, open all the gates at the same time or open the gates earlier for the customers that have paid more for their ticket. That would make more sense.

Obviously I went in through the Rotunda and to me it’s one of the classiest entrances of all of baseball. To you Mets fans that don’t get it, shame on you. It’s not about Jackie Robinson being a Dodger. It was about a black man breaking into all white baseball and his qualities of being such a great leader for minorities. By now you saw the movie. Read more about the man and tell me he does not deserve this memorial. What happened in 1947 when Jackie broke in with Brooklyn was one of the most significant  social events in American history. Baseball just happened to be the venue. Not to mention the guy could hit, run, and throw and eventually enter The Baseball Hall of Fame. Jackie deserves every testament that has been awarded him if not more. I applaud the Mets for creating the rotunda in his honor. It happened in New York and he was a player in the National League. It’s not his fault the Mets did not exist yet. Honestly if the Mets had not had such a miserable six year stretch since Citi Field opened, I don’t think the rotunda would ever have been much of an issue except for the most racist of fans that unfortunately are still out there.

Nit-pick number 2 – Sandwiches for 12 dollars. Really? I mean the food at Citi Field is really good but the prices are absolutely absurd. And a soda for six bucks, now there’s a bargain.

The new video board in centerfield looks fantastic. It’s clearer than any other board I have seen. I don’t think it’s quite as big as the one at Yankee Stadium but it is pretty close.  The new board is 5,760 square feet and is used to show replays and game related information including player stats and line scores. The alternate scoreboard in right field is also a video board but this season appears to be relegated to showing the lineups. One of the things I noticed and this will be nit-pick number 3 is when a team is batting, the right field board shows the lineup of the team in the field with a picture of the current pitcher. I was confused by this at first. However, the big board in center has the lineup of the hitting team with info on the current batter so I guess it made some sense after I got acclimated. There has also been another video ribbon board added just below the Excelsior level in left field as well as a shorter ribbon board below the Acela Club. That one is used to show strike outs (as well as ads) by the current Mets’ pitcher.

We sat right behind home plate in the Excelsior Level, really great seats. That’s the second main level. However, according to the elevator, there are six levels in Citi Field if you count the different suite levels.  Anyway, right behind us was the TV and Radio booths for both the Mets and Cardinals. It was great to see Tim McCarver doing the games for the Cards. I thought he had retired completely but I guess just from FOX. There were Gary, Keith, and Ron in the SNY booth and of course Howie and Josh on the radio side. They get this birds’ eye view every night.  Quite the dream job I would imagine. Well maybe not. Perhaps Gary Cohen complains to his wife every day that he can’t believe he has to go to the ballpark again. Maybe the grass isn’t always greener.

Besides the fact that the Mets got crushed (they did split the four game set with an outstanding Cardinals team, clearly the class of the National League), it really was an enjoyable night. For all the criticism the Wilpons take for everything Mets, they did a fantastic job with this new ballpark now in its seventh season already. And as the Mets continue to improve as I expect they will, this place will soon rock like Shea once did.

 

All in All…

Let’s face it, with the Washington Nationals surging, being led by MVP candidate Bryce Harper, it’s only a matter of time before the Mets fall out of first place in the National League East. Even though the Mets rebounded nicely against the Brewers after being humiliated by the Cubs, the reality is clear. The Nats simply have so much more offense than the Mets and they catch the ball better too. But don’t despair Mets fans, all is not lost.

We live in the age of the wild card, two of them per league in fact. When you look around in the NL, there is no reason to think the Mets, with their outstanding pitching, cannot contend for one of those two wild card spots.

The Cardinals and the Dodgers look to be locks to win their respective divisions. At this point, serious wild card contenders in the NL would have to be the Cubs and Giants, the latter who have been playing very well lately after a slow start. Those with an outside shot are Atlanta, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and San Diego. However, at the moment all of these teams are currently under .500 but have the talent to be a lot better. Teams likely not to be in the mix are Milwaukee who the Mets just disposed of two games to one, Colorado, Philadelphia, Arizona, and Miami who will hire their sixth manager today since 2010. So at the very least, the Mets should be in the mix for the rest of the season unless they suffer even more injuries than they have already endured. Currently the Amazin’s are still waiting to get back David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud.

It’s important to remember what our expectations were prior to the season. We would have been ecstatic at the end of March if we knew that approaching Memorial Day, the Mets would be above .500 on top of the division, even with Washington breathing down their necks. Unfortunately, expectations are always subject to change. When the Mets won eleven in a row, the expectations altered from contending to winning the division. Then when they lost five in a row last week, our expectations plummeted to thinking same old Mets.

But look, I’m not saying I don’t want the Mets to finish the season in first place. Of course I do. I just see the inevitable that Washington is simply better and will likely pass the Mets in the standings sooner than later. And with hoping that it’s later puts me and many Mets fans in an awkward situation. I find that I must spend Tuesday and Wednesday this week rooting for the Yankees. That’s right, let’s go Bombers.

Thanks to interleague play, the Yanks travel to the nation’s home of our dysfunctional congress for a brief two game set.  With the Mets playing four with the NL’s best Cardinals at Citi Field (where the Mets are now 15-4 this season), the Yanks will hopefully be beating the Nationals down in DC. The Nats come to the Bronx for two next month to complete the season series with the Yankees.

So there it is. After 38 games, the Mets are in fine shape. And they have done so without the aforementioned Wright and d’Arnaud for much of the season. Let’s not forget the others who are on the disabled list. Jerry Blevins, Rafael Montero, Dillon Gee, Buddy Carlyle, and now Dilson Herrera have all contributed and are now healing or rehabbing various injuries.  Then there is Vic Black and Bobby Parnell, both that have yet to throw a pitch this season. Let’s not forget Zach Wheeler and Josh Edgin, both of whom have had Tommy John surgery and are lost for the season.  These kinds of losses would devastate most teams. But thanks to the Mets depth, they have been able to hold on. Oh, then there is Jenrry Mejia whose contribution was to get suspended so that we could meet the Mets real closer, Jeurys Familia. He has been simply outstanding.

Let’s also not forget the Mets defense or lack of it. We have a shortstop who hits homeruns but every ground ball is an adventure. Daniel Murphy is a fine designated hitter but the NL doesn’t use one. So given all this, the Mets are hanging in there and at the very least it has to give us hope that the team is on the right track and things could get much better as the season progresses.

Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint and no, I didn’t make that up. But it is very true. Given what we Mets fans have gone through the last six seasons, we should all be enjoying this one regardless of the ups and downs we may experience on a daily basis.

 

Oh the Little Things

The Mets managed to hold on to their 2.5 game lead in the NL east last evening. But that had more to do with the Arizona Diamondbacks scoring 14 runs against the Washington Nationals than anything the Mets did. Noah Syndergaard was very good, not outstanding, in his major league debut.  But the Mets hitters and one fielder in particular did everything imaginable to frustrate the young phenome. Give the kid credit, he hung tough for as long as he could in a place that can be very difficult for any pitcher. But last night was a microcosm for everything that is wrong with the Mets lately.

The Mets pitching has been outstanding this season. But how long before it completely collapses because Mets hitters cannot score runs and the infield defenders cannot make routine plays. Night after night, the pitching staff keeps the game close but at some point something has to give. You could blame another bone head play in the field by Daniel Murphy as to the cause of last night’s defeat. However, the play didn’t allow a run to score but it did cause Syndergaard angst that he was not out of the inning.  Ultimately and indirectly, this play set the tone for how the evening would eventually end up.

The defensive non-gem by Murph occurred in the third inning. With two out, he took his time while superstar in the making Kris Bryant busted it down the line smelling a base-hit all the way. No question David Wright makes that play but Murphy, hands and feet of concrete, not feeling the need to react quickly, threw late. Syndergaard should have been out of the inning. But the latest low-light of Murphy’s defensive career caused the tall right-hander to throw in excess of eleven more pitches. Big deal you might say since the Cubs didn’t score but these are the kinds of things a team like the Cardinals do not do. Giving the other club extra outs generally never pans out well.

It’s clear that Murphy will not likely be a Met next season. Second base is Dilson Herrera’s position. Many scouts predict he will be an all-star one day. As long as David Wright can figure out how to stay healthy, he will continue to be the third baseman. Lucas Duda is fine defensively at first so Murph is the odd man out unless he can accept being a super sub type of player.

The irony in all this is Murphy’s bat. If the other hitters in the Mets lineup, specifically Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer, had Murph’s plate discipline, maybe a run or two would cross the plate once and a while. What would the outcome have been last night if say, Syndergaard had a two or three run lead and Murph made that play in the third inning? You see, the little things do matter and lately the Mets are simply not doing the little things.  Their pitchers are but the rest of the team is not.

Injuries are certainly playing a part during this 7-10 stretch since the Mets eleven game hitting streak ended back on April 24th. So perhaps it’s a bit unfair that I really feel like trashing this team this morning. After all, here we are on May 13, 2015 and the Mets are in first place with a 2.5 game lead. David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud have been out for what seems like an eternity.  They were both contributing when they left with injuries back in April. Both of them can begin baseball activities soon. Vic Black and Bobby Parnell–what about them? Neither has thrown a pitch this season. Jerry Blevins was outstanding before a line drive broke his forearm. Jenrry Meijia was suspended. Rafael Montero and now Dillon Gee are on the 15 day DL and of course Josh Edgin and Zach Wheeler are lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. And now there are rumblings that Buddy Carlyle is headed to the DL as well.

No one said it was going to be easy. Injuries are part of the game. But while this front office has been outstanding at drafting and developing pitchers, the hitters have been further behind. True, there is Brandon Nimmo (AA Binghamton) and Michael Conforto (A+ St. Lucie) down on the farm but they are not ready to supplant Cuddyer and Granderson. We must hope that the current bats can come alive soon or holding on to first place in the NL East may simply not be possible.

 

Offense is Offensive

Realistically, if Jason Werth doesn’t fall down Friday night, the Mets score two runs in three games. Hey Kevin Long, how do we like you now? The great start of 13-3 that included an eleven game hitting streak has been whittled away after a 3-7 span that started at Yankee Stadium. Because of the great start, the Mets are still in first place, now by just 3.5 games over the Braves and Marlins and 4.5 over Washington, the team that loves to play at Citi Field.

It’s very easy to blame the defense. Making the double play for the Mets has become something as difficult as erecting the Taj Mahal. We certainly can point to Wilmer Flores’s blunder on Thursday night that opened the floodgates for the Nationals. But after the inning when Flores failed to start a routine double play, the Mets were only down by a run. Where has all the offense gone?

Since the 8-2 drubbing that opened the series with the Nats, the Mets won 4-0 on Friday night then lost two games by identical scores of 1-0. You have to go back to 1973 to find the last time the Mets accomplished such a dubious feat. Was the weekend all negative? No, not at all.

The pitching was outstanding. Jonathan Niese did not have great stuff on Saturday night but managed to pitch effectively giving up just one run. Yesterday, the same could be said for Dillon Gee, also giving up just a run. And the bullpen was fantastic. Not only did they not give up a single run, they worked out of situations that Houdini would have been proud of. So while some may be clamoring for the Mets to bring up Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, both of whom have been outstanding of late, I have to ask what for? You’re going to tell me that Niese and Gee are the problem because they both gave up a run? Poppycock and balderdash I say.

The problem with this club is the same problem we have seen for far too long. They don’t hit. Pitching is important and certainly the Mets are rich there. Defense is important, and the Mets are good in six of the nine positions on the field, maybe seven now that Dilson Herrera is at second. However wins are not awarded by how many plays are made or batters that are struck out. The win goes to the team with the most runs. That requires some hits and preferably with runners in scoring position. Yesterday in the eighth inning, the Mets had runners on second and third with one out and could not even provide a sacrifice out to score the tying run. Both Lucas Duda and Michael Cuddyer struck out ending the threat. These two guys aren’t the fill in players for the injured David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud. These are the guys who are paid to do something with runners in scoring position.

You can argue that Washington’s pitching was just as effective as the Mets’, perhaps more so. Sure but there were other occasions when the Mets had opportunities and they failed to do so.  Realistically no one thought the Mets would run away with the division but against a team that has bitch-slapped the Mets in their own ballpark over the past few seasons, it would have been nice to see them rise to the occasion and at least split the series. The fact the Mets did not has to be a cause for concern.

Of the three games won over the last ten, Matt Harvey pitched two of them. The other was won at the last minute by Daniel Murphy hitting a three run homer. The other starters have pitched good enough to win. The offense has been absent, plain and simple. Certainly injuries have played a role but we are at the point where there are no excuses accepted anymore.

An off day today then Baltimore comes in for a quick two. The Mets need to figure out how to score some runs and do so in a hurry.

Pros: Simple, the pitching.

Cons: The Mets are not the kings of New York anymore. With the Yanks three game sweep of Boston, they are a half game better than the Mets. When too many say the Yankees are falling from grace, the Bombers always seem to prove us all wrong. The Mets could use a dose of that kind of moxy.

 

Great Month but…

The Mets ended the month of April with a 15-8 record. Any Mets fan at the end of spring training heading into the season would have given their first born for the Mets to achieve such a goal. But the month ended much differently than it started.

New York started the season going 13-3 over their first sixteen games. However since the Yankees ended their streak last Friday evening, the Mets ended the month at a 2-5 clip. Okay, no one expected the Mets to continue at the torrid pace they established that included a franchise tying winning streak of eleven games. It’s baseball and there are always bumps in the road.

But there are signs of late that are reminiscent of more recent seasons. The most notable is defense. If you watched the Marlins series and last night’s game it was not difficult to notice the contrast at second and short. I’m talking defense of course. It’s an old and true baseball adage. A team needs to be strong up the middle. The Mets certainly have center field and catcher covered. But double play tandem of Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy is just not cutting it. No can say what would have happened had Flores turned that tailor-made 6-4-3 double play last night. But it’s a play that simply has got to be made. Teams with championship aspirations make that play. Instead it turned into three runs for the Nats and the Mets were not heard from again the entire evening. Now down by a run, you could have expected the Mets to come back. Perhaps that inning deflated the team and inspired Washington on, who knows.

This was not a one-off. It’s not as if Flores and Murphy have been incredible in the field and last night was a rare miscue. It has been an ongoing problem with both of them. Even when an error is not made, often they don’t turn the double play because their execution is so poor. Quite simply, if the Mets want to compete this year, something has to give.

Apparently general manager Sandy Alderson agrees. After last night’s game, Dilson Herrera, who has been tearing it up in Las Vegas, was summoned to the major leagues. Murphy will be moving over to third until David Wright comes back and to offer a better bat at the hot corner since Eric Campbell’s has gone cold. It will be interesting to see what happens when Wright returns, especially if Herrera is playing well. And for Flores, this move has to be a wakeup call. Matt Reynolds is having a very good season at AAA too. How long before he’s called up as well?

Another bad sign is the offense. Of late the Mets are not scoring a lot of runs. And if it was not for Murphy’ heroics on Monday evening, the team might be in a five game losing streak right now. Hopefully Herrera’s bat will help as much as his glove.

Perhaps too much is being made of this current slump but a 15-8 record to start the season is still pretty good. The last Mets team to do better was in 2006, the last Mets team to make the playoffs. They were 16-8 at the end of April and cruised to the division title. But not every Mets team that dominated in April made it to the post season. The 2007 and 2002 Mets finished April at 15-9 and 16-10 respectively. The 2007 team had a miserable September, ending in the worst collapse in team’s history. The 2002 club finished under .500 and finished in last place. But the 1999 team went 14-9 in April and the 2000 club went 16-10 the same month. Both made the post season with the ’00 team the last Mets club to get to a World Series.

It’s still very early. Who are these Mets? The one that went 13-3, the one that went 2-5, or a combination of the two? I still think the Mets are going to have a fine season. However, the thought they will run away and hide was really never in the cards. And some of the weaknesses we have seen this past week are reasons why.

 

You Can’t Win Them All but…

Granderson’s error eventually led to the winning run. Give the Marlins credit, they did what the Mets have been doing all this early season—take advantage of the other team’s mistakes. And the two walks that Torres gave up in the eighth came back to bite. Oh those bases on balls.

Like I said, the Mets are not going to win every game. But after Juan Lagares’s double to deep center field to clear the bases and tie the game, you got the feeling they would do it again. Perhaps a better bunt in the top of the eighth by Ruben Tejada to move Daniel Murphy to third would have resulted in a run. Well it didn’t. Murph got thrown out then the Mets went quietly.

The Mets still have the best record in the majors with the largest lead of 4.5 games. The surprising Astros have a 4 game lead over the Angels and Mariners. Hopefully the Mets can win the rubber game this evening and maintain their .500 road record before heading home to meet Washington for a four game series.

The Mets then play the Orioles and the Phillies before finally competing against teams outside the east, NL or AL. After the brief Baltimore series at Citi Field, the Mets go to Philadelphia for a weekend series before heading to Chicago to play the Cubs for four games. That should be interesting with both teams showing off their good young talent.

Pros: Lagares continues to show that he is on the verge of becoming a superstar in this league. The word was always that the kid could catch anything but had a weak bat. For the last part of last season and this season so far, he’s proving that he can hit and run too.

Cons: Rafael Montero was very impressive adding to the thought that the Mets are so deep in pitching. Unfortunately for him, he was sent back to AAA after the game, the con. It was too bad that Buddy Carlyle threw a wild pitch to let one of Montero’s runners score. Montero really was outstanding. But having him, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz in the pipeline is really a pro.

 

Murphy’s Law

Here we are with the Mets still holding the best record in baseball after Daniel Murphy’s ninth inning heroics last evening. They came off of a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Bronx Bombers who may have let the Mets and their fans know that it’s still “their” city. After all, except for Matt Harvey, the Yanks played much better than the Mets, handing them only their second series loss of the season.

So you had to figure, with most Mets players not getting to bed until 6:00AM in Miami thanks to ESPN, cough this loss (last night’s game through eight) to being fatigued from the Yankees’ series and no sleep. But low and behold, this Mets never-say-die club came back in miraculous fashion last night thanks to Murph who everyone, including me, was ready to bury. Hold on Dilson Herrera, perhaps you do need more time in Vegas. Not only did Murphy club a go-ahead three run bomb to right center but he made the play of the game in the bottom of the ninth helping to lead the Mets to their fifth win in five tries against the Marlins this season.

Meanwhile back in the Bronx, the Yanks continued to role too, winning their sixth out of their last seventh as they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s so foolish to think the Yankees are through. Maybe it’s those pinstripes that give them special powers, you know, like Superman’s cape. So who said the Yankees were too old? Oh right, I did. Who said this would be the year the Yanks would likely finish below .500? Huh, yeah, that would have been me too. Hey it’s still early and the Yankees are pretty old. But for now, it’s shaping up to be a pretty interesting summer of baseball in New York.

Pros: That the Mets won a game they easily would have lost the last few seasons. Everyone is contributing and realistically the offense has really not been that good yet. Also Noah Syndergaard pitched a gem in Vegas. He threw a seven inning complete game shutout giving up just two hits and striking out nine. It was easily his best performance of his AAA career. It was the first game of a double header sweep by the 51s.

Cons: A rule. How is it that Dillon Gee, the pitcher the Mets were supposed to have most assuredly traded before the season but is still with the club, gets no respect? Here’s a guy who has the least stuff on the starting staff but knows how to pitch. He was brilliant last night. But after giving up a run in the eighth, Terry Collins pulled him as he should have. Enter Carlos Torres who threw one pitch to get the final out of the inning. One pitch.

After eight, Gee is on the short end of the ledger. If the Mets lose 1-0, Gee gets the loss. But the Mets won and Torres, again having thrown one pitch gets the win. I guess you could say he deserved the win for warming up in the bullpen. Of course, I am not critical of Torres, he did his job in preventing any more damage. But here’s a case for a rule change. The official scorer should be able to override the “rule” and award the win to Gee who was most deserving of the victory. Why not create a new stat (there are so many anyway), say for instance PFD (prevented further damage). Just a thought.