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A Tale of Two Innings and What It Takes To Be an Ace

It is mostly assumed that Matt Harvey is the ace of the Mets pitching staff. He’s the dominant alpha male of a core of power arms on the Mets. But no matter how strong his personality is, it’s pretty tough singling Harvey out as the best pitcher on the Mets even after just two games have been played.

Most fans and the media blasted Yoenis Cespedes for Sunday evening’s dropped fly ball to left. The ball should have been caught but popped out of a glove that looked like it might have been on the shelf of a Modell’s just an hour before.  After the error, a passed ball moved the runner to second. Harvey walked the next batter putting runners on first and second. The next batter, Eric Hosmer, singled to left and the first run of the game scored. Damn that Cespedes! No, damn that Harvey.

Look, errors are part of the game and I’m not excusing Cespedes for the mistake. However, to be the ace of the staff, you have to pick up your players. Harvey needed to bare down and get the next two outs making the error meaningless. That didn’t happen and when it didn’t we blame the left fielder when it was Harvey that allowed that runner to score.

Contrast Sunday’s first inning with yesterday’s sixth inning. Noah Syndergaard struck out Reymond Fuentes on a wild pitch as he reached first. Nursing a 2-0 lead, you could sense discomfort when the leadoff batter got on. The next two batters hit into what should have been double plays but a double pump by David Wright was enough to allow Alcides Escobar to reach first safely. Another close but failed double play attempt allowed Mike Moustakas to reach first. Then with two out, star Royals player Lorenzo Cain singled putting runners on first and third. Cain then stole second then Syndergaard walked Eric Hosmer. From what happened last October against these Royals and then on opening night, was there a Met fan who didn’t feel the game would soon go Kansas City’s way.  But Syndergaard with a pitch count close to ending his day bore down and struck out Kendrys Morales ending the threat. And that my friends is what an ace does. Almost out of gas, protecting a slim lead with history clearly on the Royals’ side, the ace of the staff so far did what an ace does. He got out of the jam.

I’m not trying to put down Harvey. He’s an outstanding pitcher and was deserving of making the start on opening night. But too often we make this assumption that he is the ace of the club when really every one of the Mets four starters could be the ace with even Zach Wheeler having the potential to be one when he returns.

It’s a long season and we are only two games in but so far, of the two starters to take the mound the ace of the staff is Thor. DeGrom gets the next chance to take over that title this Friday at Citi Field.

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As good as the Mets are on opening day, they lost last night to the Royals by a score of 4-3 to open the 2016 season. The last time the Mets lost on opening day was two years ago. The Nationals defeated the Mets in 10 innings at Citi Field in 2014 to start the season then lost the next two to get swept in the opening series. One must go back to 2011 to find the last time the Mets lost on opening day on the road. That year the Marlins defeated the Mets 6-2 in Miami. The Mets went on to win the series taking the next to against the Fish.

Bright spots about last night’s loss: The Mets came back late against a tough bullpen. They had the tying run 90 feet away with one out in the ninth.

The low spots: The Mets couldn’t get the tying run across in the ninth with one out and Wright and Cespedes due up. Both struck out. Harvey looked mortal but didn’t get much help, especially in the first inning when Cespedes couldn’t catch a ball he should have caught. Looked like a new stiff glove issue to me.  Cespedes’s play was somewhat reminiscent of his botched hot dog attempt on the opening pitch of the World Series that turned into an inside the park home run. That play kind of set the table for the series. Hopefully Cespedes’s gaff doesn’t set the tone  for the 2016 season.

Opening week continues but the Mets don’t play again until tomorrow evening when Noah Syndergaard takes the mound. However the Mets minor league teams get started this week also. On Thursday, April 7th, the triple A Las Vegas 51s get their season underway against Fresno at home. The double A Binghamton Mets open their 2016 campaign at home against New Hampshire. St. Lucie (high A) will likely open in the best weather at home in Port St. Lucie against Jupiter. Finally the debut of the single A Columbia Fireflies happens that night also on the road at Charleston. The Fireflies are the former Savannah Sand Gnats. Glad to see the club stuck with an annoying insect as a nickname.

Harvey Is OK and Who Cares About Spring Training

Matt Harvey is okay. His mysterious medical condition certainly had Mets fans’ hearts racing last evening. Thankfully it’s only a bladder infection for Harvey and that he will be okay and ready to start on Sunday in Kansas City. I have to say, memories of Jason Isringhausen swirled through my brain last night.

For those too young to remember or too old to remember, Isringhausen was part of the Mets pitching prospects known as Generation K that never materialized in the mid-1990s. The Mets were all set with Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, and Paul Wilson to dominate at the end of the last century. While all had serviceable careers, it would take till current day for the Mets to realize such a magical pitching staff. Pulse, Izzy, and Wilson never panned out as the dominant starters their scouting reports said they would be.

A mysterious illness shutdown Isringhausen during the early part of the ’97 season, It was discovered that a large mass was in the pitcher’s chest. Everyone feared the worst for the young man’s life let alone what he meant to the Mets future. A sigh of relief was felt when it was determined that Isringhausen had Tuberculosis. The disease which used to be deadly is easily treatable with drugs and Isringhausen missed about two months of the season while he recovered.

Then in 1987, as the Mets prepared to defend their world championship, out of the blue it was announced that Dwight Gooden was entering a drug rehabilitation center. So Mets fans old enough have experienced the gloom and doom that surrounds what went down with Harvey yesterday. However this time, we have a happy ending. While I’m sure there was a certain amount of discomfort for Matt having this condition treated, it’s minor in comparison to what Izzy and Doc went through years ago. I’m glad Matt is going to be okay.

In other news, is anyone concerned that the Mets have not won a game in eleven tries? Actually I’m not concerned at all. I honestly get the impression from this team they are approaching spring training with the correct attitude. Get in shape, get the work in, and who cares about wins and losses. Once in a while, spring training schedules can indicate a team’s fortunes to come but seldom are those records accurate. Last year, I believe the Mets finished the spring around .500 but I honestly don’t remember.

I mean do you think the Phillies are really going to be good because they are 14-10 this spring? Did the Diamondbacks improve that much that a 21-6 spring record suggests they will dominate the West. While the Mets are 7-14 with a million ties, the Cubs are 8-17, the Pirates are 7-19, the Giants at 11-18, and the Cardinals are at 9-13. These are teams who are all expected to compete. Oh and let’s not forget the defending world champion Royals at 13-18. So these records are meaningless. Managers can say what they want in terms of players getting ready for the season but until the bell rings, no player really gets the competitive juices going.

I have hardly paid attention to the Mets this spring except for health issues. That’s why yesterday’s news surrounding Harvey grabbed my attention. Wins, losses, pitch velocity, no home runs, low batting averages, players not making road games… who cares, it’s spring training. It’s a glorified practice period that benefits the communities of Florida and Arizona more than really getting a team ready for the opening of the season. Spring training is too long and it’s too boring. My attitude in paying attention to spring training reflects the attitude of players playing in spring training. Enough already, start the show.

What to Expect (from the Mets) When Your Expecting

And what are you expecting exactly? Why of course… nothing less than a world championship in 2016.

And why not, the Mets very likely have the best starting rotation in baseball. They have a budding star in the making in left field. They resigned Yoenis Cespedes and traded for a better defensive second baseman in Neil Walker over Daniel Murphy, and brought in an experienced shortstop with more pop in his bat. They also bolstered their bullpen with a number of moves. Surely the Mets are in great shape to repeat as National League champions then hopefully take the final step and win the World Series.

The problem is that, and all due respect to the Kansas City Royals, it seldom works out that way. Last season the Mets were not expected to do much but hopefully improve to around a .500 record or slightly better. This spring, the expectations are completely different. Fans expect the Mets to win and opponents will do their best to make sure they do not.

There will be no surprises for teams visiting Citi Field this spring, summer, and fall. The Mets have a target on their back and like last season, it will be another learning experience for the young squad. This time the lesson will be on how to handle the pressure of expecting to win.

The 2016 Mets are in the same position as the 2007 Mets were. They need to defend their Eastern Division title or at least win one of two wild cards. Remember, the Mets are a franchise that has never won back to back division titles. That’s over fifty-four seasons. They came awfully close in 2007 to winning the division but collapsed mightily at the end. However, this year’s team will not have the glaring weaknesses that the ’07 club had. The pitching is now superior to what it was back then.  But that doesn’t mean that other things will not go wrong to thwart the best laid plans.

Injuries, subpar performances, and bad bounces can all play a role in spoiling what should be another exciting season in Flushing. Plus other teams, most notably, the Washington Nationals, have tremendous motivation to prove that last year was an anomaly and not what is to be expected. The Nats had a fractured clubhouse last season. The hiring of Dusty Baker will go a long way to bringing those players together with the common goal of dethroning the Mets and Washington has the talent to do it.

No one gets crazy over spring training games but the wins the Nats have over the Mets this March is an attempt to send a message. So far the Nationals have won three games against the Mets and each one was a trouncing. Again, no one gets excited about these games and two of the three games were in Viera when the away team brings few of their star players. Plus the home game lost last Friday was started by Bartolo Colon who was clearly just getting his work in. But make no mistake that Dusty has his team focused on the prize this season.

Let’s not forget the Marlins who have some talented players as well. However, realistically and barring any miracle seasons from the Marlins, Braves, or Phillies, the fight for the division should be between the Mets and the Nationals.

In the climate of modern day sports, Mets fans may find themselves in a disappointing situation if the Mets get off to a slow start, they run neck and neck with the Nationals all season, or simply just not play the way we all anticipated. But remember last season when it was a fairly frustrating affair until the end of August when the Mets made some great deals that changed their fortune.

The baseball season is a long one. Teams play every single day with about twenty-two days off over a six month stretch. There will be ups and downs, thrills and disappointments. Some players will have unexpected years while others may not live up to the backs of their baseball cards. There will be injuries and a call up or two that may surprise. My advice, as always, would be to take it one day at a time. Baseball’s a sport where a team can lose eight games in a row during the regular season and still win the World Series. For me, I would simply love to see the Mets at least repeat as division champs. As stated, back to back division titles have eluded this franchise since its inception. It’s time for a two-peat. After that – que sera, sera…

The Coco-Cola Corner

According to an article I found online today dated from last December, the old “Pepsi Porch” at Citi Field will become the “Coca Cola Corner”. And Coco Cola is apparently providing a large sign similar to the Pepsi sign that hung over the porch since Citi Field opened in 2009. I’m surprised there has not been more written about this unless of course I missed it.

These are the hard hitting stories I expect form Metsblog.com. But apparently they’re all hung up discussing player moves and baseball related stuff.

Anyway, my advice to Mets fans is don’t drink this crap anyway. There is nothing good for you in a large cup of soda, regular or otherwise.

A Look at the 2016 Schedule

I’ve looked over the Mets 2016 schedule a couple of times and find some peculiar things about it. Now I know it must be a difficult task when planning the schedules of thirty different teams but there is a way it could be made fairer and frankly a whole lot more sense. I will get to that a bit later though.

Of course a team from one league must play all its league counterparts and five to six opposite league teams depending on how National and American League divisions line up for interleague play. A problem arises when it’s necessary to add the twenty interleague games that each team must play. No doubt it is a complicated mess when trying to construct schedules that are as fair as possible but still have to accommodate not only interleague games, but those rivalry games as well.

Teams within the same division play each other 19 times, more than the other teams they play because the schedule is unbalanced. The idea being that winning a division title is something that really should be earned. But 19 times is an odd number. So typically a team, say the Mets, might play the Phillies ten times at home and nine times away one year then the opposite the next. And since there are five teams in one division, the Mets would play two of the other four teams ten times at home and the other two teams ten times away. In this way the Mets would play an equal number of games away as they do home within their division, 38-38. This is the way it has been since 2013 when the Astros moved to the American League creating two leagues with fifteen teams each and insuring that there is at least one interleague game every day. However, this season for some scheduling reason, within the NL East, the Mets will play 39 games at home and 37 away.  The Mets will play the Braves, Nationals, and Marlins ten times at Citi Field and the Phillies nine times.

Now in regard to playing the Central and Western divisions, the Mets schedule has also changed compared to recent seasons. The Mets will play an equal number of games at home and away against the central (16-16) and two fewer games at home vs. away against the West (16-18). And of course, as it has been every season since 2013, the Mets will play 20 games (10-10) against American League clubs. All teams play 81 home games and 81 games on the road.

The Mets’ schedule breaks down this way. They play their eastern division counterparts over six series, three home and three away. All series are three games each except for one four game set played against each team.  The Mets do not play a single two game set against any National League team this season.

Against the Central and West teams, the Mets play two series, one home and one away, for a total of six or seven games. The Mets will play the Cubs, Brewers, Rockies, Dodgers, Giants, and Padres seven times and the Reds, Cardinals, Pirates and Diamondbacks six times for a total of 66 games. That plus the 76 games against the East equal 142 games plus 20 interleague games and voila – 162 games.

The interleague games are the part of the schedule that always wreaks havoc. Because of the rivalry games, the schedule is rarely pretty. Now that the Mets are back to playing an American League division other than the East (this year the Central), they go back to playing a home and home series against the Yankees (first week of August). This has been done since 2014. In years when the AL East clashes with the NL East, the rivalry games increase to six. In regard to the rest of the American League slate, the Mets will play the Tigers for three at Detroit, the Indians in Cleveland for three, and the Twins and the White Sox at Citi Field, both three game sets. The Mets will also open the season for the first time ever against an American League team, the Kansas City Royals for a two game set. Yes, the Mets will have to line up at the third base line watching the Royals raise the World Championship flag. And if that’s not bad enough, two nights later the Mets will watch the Royals receive their World Series rings. Hopefully that will provide for more than enough incentive to motivate the Amazins.

The other oddity of the opening two game set is that ESPN is moving the first game a day earlier than originally planned so the two 2015 World Series participants can be featured in the first Sunday night telecast. Now mind you, two games will have already been played earlier in the day. The Mets-Royals game is not the season opener.  Plus the Mets will now have Monday off, play a game in KC on Tuesday then have two days off before the home opener against the Phillies on Friday, April 8.

The Mets longest home stand of the year begins on the last day of June and extends for eleven games leading up to the All Star break.  During that stand, the Mets will play the Cubs(4), Marlins(3), and Nationals(4). And as what has become common over the last few seasons, the break will be four full days with the season resuming on the following Friday. The Mets also have two ten game home stands, the last two home stands of the season. Plus the Mets have two nine game home stands occurring before the break.

The Mets longest road trip of the season is eleven games and that occurs in May when they travel to San Diego(4), Los Angeles(4), then a stopover in Denver(3) before heading home.  They also have a ten game trip in June and a ten game trip in August. There are also two nine game trips on the schedule as well, nothing really out of the ordinary. The shortest road trip of the season occurs at the end of May when the Mets go to Washington for three. That series is in the middle of two home stands where the Mets will play twelve out of fifteen games at home.

There is a lot of convolution in the MLB schedule but there is a way for teams to play a more equally competitive schedule and in fact it’s quite simple mathematically. But because of the desire to make the most money possible, it would never be considered for two reasons. One, it requires more interleague games and two, it requires less rivalry games. More interleague games would probably disturb the purist fans more than the lack of rivalry games that would upset the owners.

Now to those purists, here me out before you get too excited about more rivalry games. The problem with the current schedule is that teams play too many series of unequal amounts of games. As stated, some central and western division series are seven games while others are six. Why is it fair for one team to play a tough team like the Cubs seven times but yet another team in the same division only plays the Cubs six times?  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  If MLB expanded interleague play to thirty games instead of twenty, the schedule falls together very nicely and insures that the each team within a division plays the exact same schedule.  For example, if the Mets and Nationals are the two teams to battle for the division in 2016, both clubs would play the exact same teams the exact same number of times with an equal number of home and away games. Let’s suppose the Yankees have a really good team this year. My system eliminates the Mets having to play the bombers four times while the Nats do not have to play them once. This scenario would be true for any team within their division.

Other things need to occur too to achieve the necessary balance. Intra division games would be reduced from the current 19 to 18. That reduces the number of games a team will play within their own division from 76 games to 72. It still leaves the schedule unbalanced and that’s desirable. So 72 plus 30 interleague games adds up to 102 games with 60 left over. Divide that by 10, the number of teams within the league that a team plays outside their division.  That’s six games each, one three game series away and one at home. Now you have an unbalanced/balanced schedule. Unbalanced in the sense that a team plays their divisional foes 18 times or three series of three games each at home and three series of three games each on the road. The other competition involves playing the ten other in-league teams and the five interleague teams six times, three home and three away.

But here’s the kicker and why it will never happen. Unlike the NFL that figured this out a long time ago, MLB would have to drop the “rivalry series” every two out of three seasons. In other words, if this system were in play today and because the Mets play the AL Central division this season, they would not play the Yankees at all. In fact, they would not play the Yanks until 2018 (for six games), when the NL East lines up with the AL East again.

I would rather see the Mets and Yanks play every three years like NFL’s Jets and Giants do. It would be more special and the schedule overall would make a lot more sense from a competitive perspective. And unlike the NFL, NL and AL teams would continue to play all the teams within their league even with playing an additional ten interleague games. That cannot be said in regard to the NFL’s AFC and NFC teams. And as we are seeing, the NL is getting closer all the time to accepting the designated hitter. 2016 is the twentieth season to have interleague play. The two leagues of MLB are more unified than ever so really, what’s the big deal about ten additional interleague games?

The most important thing that a schedule like this does is to insure that teams within a given division, for example, the Mets, Nationals, Marlins, Braves, and Phillies in the NL East would play the exact same schedule. The teams of the other five divisions would also play the exact same schedule within their division. All of these clubs would play each other 18 times within their division. They would also play their other league division teams the same number of games and they would all play the opposite league division teams the same number of games as well. So clearly, each division winner would have no distinct advantage or disadvantage.

A schedule like this would make a whole lot of sense but that’s likely why we will likely never see it happen.

Oh My Jenrry! We Never Knew You

Jenrry Mejia’s problems with steroids go beyond the steroids themselves. It’s likely that Mejia suffers from some form of mental disorder.

It’s hard to believe that in this day and age of testing for PEDs that Mejia could be this stupid. What we could be witnessing is an athlete who simply cannot perform without the substance. What I find interesting is that perhaps it’s not the substance he needs but the perception of needing it. Of course I am just conjecturing but maybe his confidence level is so poor that with the drug, he was able to convince himself that he could compete, that he felt invincible. Early on in winter ball, Mejia was getting lit up. Then he pitched well and now he got caught again. Could that be a telling pattern?

Whatever the case, Mejia becomes the very first player under the new drug testing rules to be banned for life from Major League baseball. While the media went somewhat off the rails, as typically they do, let’s be clear, it’s really about what the drug test failure means to Mejia, not what his loss means to the Mets. I’m not quite sure what contribution baseball writers saw that made them feel this hurts the Mets. The Mets became the National League champions without one contribution from Mejia. Sure, Mejia coming back in mid-season would have been nice if he were off the juice and throwing the way we saw before he was suspended last spring. But the fact is we really never knew what kind of pitcher Mejia was because he may have been doing the drugs while we saw him succeed in 2014.

Mejia’s legacy with the Mets is that by getting caught at the very beginning of last season, the closer role was given to Jeurys Familia.  And that turned out to be a great move for the Mets so Jenrry—thanks and good luck with your life. I truly hope you get straightened out.