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Is Yoenis Cespedes the Mets’ new Mike Piazza?

He came to the Mets from the Detroit Tigers at the end of July 2015 for highly touted pitching prospect Michael Fulmer.  Because of that deal made at the trading deadline by Mets GM Sandy Alderson, the Mets went all the way to the World Series in 2015.  Last year, the Mets made the post season as one of the wildcards.  It was only the second time in Mets’ history that the club made the post season two consecutive years in a row.  The first time was in 1999-2000, the latter season included a World Series appearance.  During that time, the Mets star player was Mike Piazza, also acquired in a trade.  Piazza helped to lead the Mets to the post season those two seasons.  He hit the most home runs as a catcher in baseball history, was enshrined in the Mets Hall of Fame, and last year the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Fast forward to today where the Mets thunder in the lineup is Cespedes.   In many ways he has been even better than Piazza.  That’s a pretty tough thing to say when I consider Piazza only second to the great Tom Seaver in terms of most historic Mets player ever.  But unlike the Mets former all-star catcher, Cespedes came to New York and thrived from the outset, never really experiencing the “pressure of New York” thing that so many players have.  That’s not to say Cespedes has not struggled at times.  Toward the end of the 2015 season, Cespedes appeared lost at the plate. It happens with players like him, he’s streaking no question about it.  But for the most part, the Mets are a far better team with him in the lineup then when not.  That’s the earmark of a great hitter. It’s not just what he does alone but what he does for the rest of the lineup.  Both Piazza and Cespedes share that trait.

Like Piazza, Cespedes was destined for the Mets.  We heard how he would never resign in New York, twice in fact.  The same thing was thought about Piazza until he signed a record seven year deal at the end of the ’98 season to stay in Flushing.  Cespedes rejected a more lucrative contract with Washington after the championship season of ’15 to sign a one year deal with the Mets that included an opt-out clause. He’ll never return to the Mets the pundits said.  But after opting out as predicted, once again Cespedes did sign, this time for four years and 110 million dollars.

Then the thought morphed into will Cespedes perform now that he signed his big contract.  All he did was to work out all winter and dedicate himself to the game and the Mets.  There were no sports cars or horses this spring training, just baseball plain and simple.  It was very apparent that Cespedes is out to prove that he is the player worth every dollar of his new contract.  Cespedes thoroughly enjoys playing in New York, specifically in Queens where the fans have embraced him much the way they did when Piazza came to the Mets.  And like Piazza, Cespedes gives the Mets credibility and a whole lot of power.

Last night in Philadelphia, Cespedes hit three home runs.  It’s the second time in his short term with the Mets that he has pulled off that feat.  Yes, Cespedes has struggled a bit in the early going but last night shows what this guy can do.  He’s an awesome baseball player and unlike Piazza, Cespedes is a tremendous defender with a rocket for an arm.

In 356 games with the Mets so far, Cespedes has hit 87 homeruns, 241 RBI, 83 doubles, 11 triples, and a total of 392 hits with a slugging percentage of around .590.  Those are very comparable stats to Pizza’s when considering Mike’s first 356 games with the Mets.   Time will tell if Cespedes will become this generation’s Mike Piazza.  So far he has been everything you want in a superstar player.  Add to the fact the man’s history of growing up and defecting from Cuba and you have a great story, one of the many great stories of this franchise’s history.

Notes: The Mets have a very nice problem and that is when do they play Michael Conforto?  This kid needs to play and can contribute at the Major League level.  There’s no way Cespedes and Jay Bruce are going to sit right now.  I would like to see Conforto get a shot in center a few games in a row.  I know it’s tough to sit Curtis Granderson but either play Conforto or send him to Las Vegas where he has nothing to prove but so he can be in the lineup every day.

Great Game, Terrible Broadcast

Thankfully and in large part due to Noah Syndergaard, the Mets salvaged the final game of their three game set with Miami at Citi Field.  The bad news was that the game was telecast on ESPN, the worst TV venue for baseball.  Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez, and Dallas Braden handled the telecast.  Ravech, the one legitimate announcer is garden variety at best but the two former players were simply brutal pointing out the most obvious points as if they invented them.  Specifically embarrassing was the interview with Mr. Met.  I’m sure the person in the Mr. Met costume was glad he/she could hide behind that huge baseball head and never have to admit to being a part of such an horrendous attempt at humor. Then there was the interview with Giancarlo Stanton in the left field promenade seats where he once hit a batting practice home run. Perez’s interview was okay but ESPN felt the need to show the interview a couple of times and during the pre-game. Guys, it was batting practice!

By contrast, Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez, baseball’s classiest TV trio, did a wonderful bit on Friday night going through a box of old baseball cards. It was entertaining, educating, and brought back many memories of childhood, trading baseball cards in the backyard on hot summer days.  Cohen and company never lose sight of why we tune in. It’s to be informed as we watch the game.  Gary, Keith, and Ronnie, as well as Howie Rose and Josh Lewin on the radio side, never make the broadcast about themselves.  They play the sidekick to the straight man, the game itself.  Historically ESPN’s spin has always been that they, the broadcasters and the network, are the story.  The MLB network, TBS, and FOX do a far superior job of broadcasting baseball nationally than ESPN does.  But unfortunately if you have enough money to pay Major League Baseball,  you too can broadcast games too.  Quality of the broadcast never matters when it comes to doling out TV contracts.

The one thing that really disturbed me was the narrative the ESPN crew kept harping on, that the Mets only score when hitting home runs. While that was often true last season, it really hasn’t been the case so far. The Mets won games on opening day, Thursday, and last night in a number of fashions.  Last evening while going on and on about the Mets only scoring when socking those home runs over the wall, they failed to mention that the Mets held a 3-2 lead on runs scored by a base hit to left, an error, and a walk with the bases loaded in the first inning. True that Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto both added to the lead with solo shots but the real story was the pitching.  Beyond one earned and unearned run, Syndergaard shut down the Marlins offense as well as relievers Fernando Salas and Addison Reed. But to all of baseball land on TV, the Mets only score when they hit home runs. Aye!

And another night game.  Geez, do you think baseball owners care about their players?  Well guess what?  They don’t. They care only about your money.  Look at old Mets yearbooks from the 60s and 70s.  Most games played in April were played during the day.  Weekdays, can you believe it?  Why?  Because in April the daytime temperatures in the northeast are better during the day than at night.  The argument that the Mets wouldn’t draw during the day falls flat when you see the minuscule crowds at night games and in uncomfortable if not close to freezing temperatures.  The reason these games are played at night in April is because of TV revenue.  We need to tune in to see all the commercials at night regardless of the conditions the players must endure.  It’s truly a shame the Mets could not have afforded a retractable roof as ownership originally envisioned.

Minor Leagues: Dominic Smith (first base) and Amed Rosario (shortstop) are both batting .375 in the early going for Las Vegas.  Both have 6 hits with Smith having two doubles.  The Columbia Fireflies, the Mets single A affiliate, has started their season at 4-0 in the South Atlantic League.  In two of the four games, the Fireflies pitching staff shut out the opposition.  Did you know that the Binghamton Mets are now known as the Binghamton Rumble Ponies? Not kidding.


Harvey Brilliant in Return

Could Matt Harvey return as the ace of the staff?

After the first three games it appears the Mets have at least three aces.  Of course there is such a long way to go it’s hard to get too giddy just yet.  But consider that the three Mets starters gave up just two runs in 18.2 innings pitched right out of the gate.  Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom both pitched six innings fanning 6 batters each. Matt Harvey only struck out 4 but his performance was the most impressive.  Coming off of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery that followed Tommy John surgery three years prior, who really knew what to expect from the superstar pitcher.

Had Harvey not given up a bomb of a homerun to Matt Kemp, his second of the game that accounted for the only two Atlanta runs, Matt would have likely finished the seventh inning.  Harvey threw just 77 pitches in his 6.2 innings of work, 55 of them strikes.  By comparison Syndergaard’s pitch ratio was 86/55 and deGrom’s was 95/61, both very respectable but Harvey’s work was truly amazing.

What was most impressive was Harvey’s pitch selection. Perhaps it’s been the major injuries of this early career or just maturity but Harvey has turned into a cunning pitcher, not just a stud who will blow the hitter away.  With only four strikeouts, in year’s past we would have been wondering what’s wrong.  But last evening, Harvey’s efficiency was incredible. He averaged just a shade over 12 pitches per inning. Harvey has four pitches now and last night he was able to throw all of them for strikes confusing Brave hitters all night long.

Tonight the Mets have Zach Wheeler making his first start in what seems like forever.  I’m sure the butterflies will be twirling around in his belly once he takes the hill and picks the ball up from the mound at 7:10PM.  Wheeler has a tough Miami lineup to get through tonight so considering all the circumstances, I would be very surprised, that he too will deliver as Syndergaard, deGrom, and Harvey has done.  Tomorrow night Robert Gsellman makes his first start of the season too.

Let’s not forget the bullpen’s contribution in the three game series win against Atlanta.  So far the only hiccup pitching wise occurred in Wednesday night’s loss as Rafael Montero coughed up two runs in the 12th followed by Hansel Robles who blew deGrom’s slim 1-0 lead.  The pen gave up just three runs in 8.3 innings of work, none in the opener and last night’s victory. After Robles faltered mightily on Wednesday night, Jerry Blevins brilliantly bailed him out keeping the game tied until the 12th.

The Mets’ rotation has the potential to be something very special and that’s not even considering Steven Matz and Seth Lugo who are resting sore elbows.  The 2017 rotation could rival Seaver, Koosman, Matlack of the early 70s or Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Fernandez from the late 80s.  If the offense can get their act together as they did last evening, it’s not just the rotation that will be special but the entire season may be one to truly enjoy.

IBB Hoax

So far the new intentional walk rule has been a huge success. In the fourteen major league games played since Sunday, there have been 6 IBBs (intentional base on balls). Now pitchers no longer are required to wear out their arms by throwing four lobs to the catcher. The umpire merely sends the runner down to first base. Just look at the results of this rule guaranteed to speed up the game.

The average length of games played so far have been reduced from over three hours to over three hours. The six intentional walks saved at least a minute from the fourteen games collectively played. Meanwhile, play reviews are talking just as excruciatingly long as ever. Batters step out of the box to adjust their batting gloves excessively, pitchers take forever to throw the ball, and commercial breaks go on too long. What am I missing here?

The new intentional walk rule is an absolute joke. I say put the old rule back, don’t allow the batter to leave the batter’s box unless absolutely necessary, and enforce two rules already in the rule book. The first: enforce the strike zone. Make the batter swing the bat. Two: If the pitcher doesn’t throw the ball back in 12 seconds, it’s a ball. These things will speed up the game, not this ridiculous attempt to show that baseball really cares about the length of a game.

It’s Opening Day!

It’s opening day again. It seems like forever since the Mets lost to the San Francisco Giants last October in the National League wildcard game. It was the Mets second appearance in the post season in as many seasons. Today they will begin their quest to do something never done before in Mets history. That would be to appear in baseball’s post season for a third consecutive season. When you look at the roster, there is real hope that it can happen.

The 2017 Mets have one of the most balanced rosters in their history. Every starter has ace potential and that’s with Steven Matz starting the season on the DL. The Mets have a strong bullpen and a lineup that features an offensively resurgent Travis d’Arnaud batting eighth.  If the Mets stay healthy this year, we could be witnessing something special.

The Mets open at home today, already the ninth season of Citi Field. Where has the time gone?  If you are inclined to go to today’s opener and have yet to purchase a ticket, expect to pay in excess of one hundred dollars from the reseller market. It will be a sold out crowd as Noah Syndergaard takes the mound for the Amazins.

This season, SNY will live stream all games including the pre and post-game shows.  You will need the NBC Sports App to watch on a hand held device and you will also have to authenticate with your TV provider that carries SNY.  You will be able to tune in at work as long as you make it look like you’re working—the modern version of sneaking a transistor radio into school.

Last season the Mets opened with a 4-3 loss in Kansas City but five days later won their home opener against the Phillies by a 7-2 score. The last time the Mets lost a home opener was to the Nationals in 2014, 9-7 in 10 innings.

Today marks the beginning of the 162 campaign, a long and tedious journey that will have many twists and turns. There will be winning streaks and there will be losing streaks. There will be times when we will wonder when the Mets will ever get their act together. Then there will be times when they will look like they won’t lose another game the rest of the season. There will be injuries and surprises from players we never expect. There will be players that will have a great season and some that will play below their expectations. It’s simply the nature of baseball and what makes the American pastime so special compared to all other major sports.

It’s been a long and boring winter but it’s time to play ball!

Game Day Update:

The Mets scored 6 runs in the bottom of the seventh inning this afternoon. The last time the Mets scored 6 or more runs in an inning on opening day was back in 2008 at Miami. That day, March 31, the Mets scored 6 in the top of the fourth en route to a 7-2 season opening win against the Marlins. A year earlier, the Mets scored 7 in the 8th inning of the team’s home opener at Shea Stadium, defeating the Phillies 11-5. The Mets opened the season on the road that year.

Mets’ shutout wins on opening day: vs. San Francisco, 3-0, 1968 (home opener); vs. Pittsburgh, 4-0, 1972; vs. Philadelphia 3-0, 1973; vs. St. Louis, 4-0, 1977 (home opener); vs. Chicago, 2-0, 1981; vs. Philadelphia, 2-0, 1983; vs. Montreal, 3-0, 1988 (home opener); vs. Colorado, 3-0, 1993; vs. Philadelphia, 1-0 (14), 1998; vs Atlanta, 1-0, 2012; vs. Philadelphia, 2-0, 2015; and today vs. Atlanta, 6-0. (“Home opener” designates that the game was not the season opener but the first Mets game in New York. Games without this designation indicate the first game of the season whether home or away.)

A Dumb Rule Change

Major League Baseball has solved the age old problem of how to speed up ballgames. It is an ingenious solution and shows us that talented people are working hard behind the scenes and have really been thinking. In case you missed it, the intentional walk is no more. Well, there still will be intentional walks but now, the manager will simply signal to the umpire and the umpire will award the batter first place without the pitching throwing the four pitches. Gee, what took so long?

Actually I hope you can read into my sarcasm. This rule is an abomination and will do little to speed up the game. Ask yourself how many intentional walks there are per game? How many seconds will it actually save? Perhaps it will save a minute or two at the most and probably not even that much in most cases. Plus not having the pitcher throw those four pitches changes the game. It has happened, more than one would think that a batter reaches across the plate and smacks a pitch into right field. It has happened on occasion when a pitcher issues a free pass, he throws a wild pitch that changes the outcome of an inning, perhaps a game. Granted it doesn’t happen often but it does happen occasionally. In fact, when the rule was introduced, the MLB Network showed a montage of unanticipated plays that occurred from unfortunate pitches during intentional walks.

This rule is nonsense and will not solve the problem of speeding up the game. So what could?

How about simply enforcing the strike zone as the rulebook states? A larger strike zone will speed up the game because hitters will feel more compelled to put the ball in play or be called out on strikes more frequently. It will also reduce pitch counts. Don’t expect it to happen because revenue is tied to hitting. Little has been done to help the pitcher in the past twenty-plus years.

How about reducing commercial breaks from three minutes to two? Once the game starts, there are commercial breaks every half inning plus when there are pitching changes. There are seventeen half innings per game if the home team must bat in the bottom of the ninth. That’s a savings of sixteen to seventeen minutes per game. Of course that will never happen. In fact, I could see commercial breaks expanding to four minutes before they are ever reduced to two. The owners will never do anything that would infringe on their ability to pocket more cash. It’s a business, I get it, but don’t put in rules that change the game and will have virtually no effect on the outcome in terms of length. The only way reducing the length of commercial breaks would ever happen is if fans stop showing up and watching on the TV. Again—unlikely.

How about getting rid of replay review? That too is not going to happen but it could certainly be sped up. One way to speed up the play review process would be to have a fifth umpire at each game. He or she would sit in the press box with monitors all around. This would require employing fifteen more umpires, something the umpire’s union would surely embrace. Then we, the fans, would not have to wait for the review team in New York to finish two other plays from other games before they get to the review at hand.

So there are ways to speed up the game without taking away the four pitch intentional walk. Unfortunately if it has to do with curtailing profit, it’s never going to happen.

Here’s another rule change being tested in the Arizona Fall League this coming October. In extra innings, they are going to put a runner on second to start the inning. Just put a runner on second, without earning it. This is a similar concept to college football’s overtime rule of placing the ball on the twenty yard line of the opposing team to start play.

I hate this idea and hope it never reaches the major leagues. Currently the AFL ends games in a tie after ten innings, not to tax the young talented prospects. Hopefully this rule is simply for the AFL and not a testbed for an idea for the majors but we’ll see.

If the average length of a game thirty years ago was two and half hours then there’s got to be a way for that to happen today. The game is still nine innings long, with nine players on each team requiring three outs an inning. Nothing has changed that drastically if at all. But the idea that removing the four pitches of an intentional walk is going to shorten the game is downright silly.

Live Baseball Tonight

Live baseball is on the TV tonight beginning at 9:00PM EST.

It is the championship game of the Caribbean World Series. The AGUILAS (Eagles) de MEXACALI face off against the CRIOLLOS (people of Spanish origin) de CAGUAS in Culiacan Mexico.

The Caribbean World Series has been going on for a very long time. It is the culmination of the Caribbean winter leagues comprised of four leagues from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Mexico. The winners of each of these leagues meet at a neutral site each season, this year in Culiacan, for a ten game round robin first round, single elimination semi-final games and a single elimination championship game.

This year as in the past couple, the Cuban national team has also been invited to play in the CWS. Cuba and Venezuela were eliminated in the semi-final games yesterday paving the way for Mexico to fight for the title tonight on their home turf against Puerto Rico.

The game will be broadcast live in Spanish on ESPN Deportes. Check you cable provider for channel number.  Link here for a recap of the series.