In A Word: Shaky

It took all of three batters to bring Matt Harvey’s channeling of Doc Gooden circa 1985 to a screeching halt. Chase Utley’s two-out, first inning homerun stunned the Citi Field crowd last night and temporarily at least, silenced the raucous crowd. Overall, it was a somewhat shaky outing for Harvey, as the Phils whittled away at the three run lead his offense handed him in the early going.

Statistically, Harvey was solid: 6IP, 5H, 3ER and 8K. But he never really dominated the Phils after the first two batters and a great third inning catch by Kirk Nieuwenhuis kept things from becoming much dicier. The highlight of the game was his plunking of Utley in the 5th inning, Harvey’s version of the intentional pass. In many regards, Harvey is a throwback of sorts to much more hardnosed era. He set his jaw and got the job done. He reminds me much of the early 1970’s Tom Seaver, who was the leader of that era’s team.

I think “shaky” is a good description of the Mets right now. It applies to emergency closer Jeurys Familia, who surrendered another 9th inning run last night. It applies to Juan Lagares’ current approach at the plate. In the TV booth, Keith Hernandez noted how Lagares is dropping his back shoulder, trying to uppercut everything, which makes him vulnerable to the high fastball. “Shaky” is an apt description of the Daniel Murphy/Wilmer Flores keystone combo. The late homerun aside, I do wonder how fully Murph’s hammy is healed. I am rooting for Flores, but I fear that he, much like his predecessor Ruben Tejada, has been set up for failure.

Perhaps the biggest concern from last night is the potential for David Wright to be sidelined for a while with a hamstring injury. Along with Harvey, Lucas Duda and Jacob deGrom, Wright is one of the Mets core players. A lengthy absence for their captain will hamstring the Mets chances, pun intended.

The fact that the Mets did win last night is far from a moot point. This game could have easily gone the other way. In a variation of the old cliché, you may not win a playoff spot in April, but you sure can lose one. It would have been so typical for the Mets to have this major buildup, only to flop in front of a full house. They didn’t, so there is that. One more with the Phillies and then a weekend wraparound series with the ice-cold Marlins before a weekend set in the Bronx. One game at a time, I know.

So, what did you think of last night?

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Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Mets

It was unfortunate that the New York Mets had to play one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Atlanta Braves this weekend. After dropping the first two games, the Mets were able to hand the Braves its first loss of the season behind a solid performance from Bartolo Colon.

The Mets return to Flushing with a 3-3 record to host the Philadelphia Phillies (3-3) in the home opener at Citi Field, where the team went 40-41 last season. The Phillies are coming in off a series victory over a talented Washington Nationals club at home. In the season series between these teams in 2014 the Mets won 13 of the 19 contests.

Monday’s Matchup:

RHP Aaron Harang (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Jacob deGrom (0-1, 3.00 ERA)

I’ll give Harang credit that he has been able to stay in the league this long (14 years). The 36-year-old had a rough 2013 season posting a 5.76 ERA in 22 starts for the Seattle Mariners before being designated for assignment and picked up by the Mets. Harang allowed nine earned runs in 22 innings in his short stint with the Mets.

In his 2015 debut Harang held the Red Sox at bay for six innings and only surrendered two hits. Harang is a flyball pitcher, so pitching in Citi Field could play to his benefit.

As for deGrom, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year showed that he hasn’t skipped a beat by going six innings, allowing two runs and striking out six in first start of the season. He did an excellent job of using his fastball as a put away pitch in his 2015 debut, recording five of his strikeouts with it. Phillies hitters should struggle with that pitch, especially if he can locate it in the top of the strike zone or even above it.

Tuesday’s Matchup:

RHP David Buchanan (0-1, 18.00 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (1-0, 0.00 ERA)

Much like deGrom, Buchanan was a rookie that was able to have a reasonable amount of success in the NL East last season. Buchanan went 6-8 with a 3.75 ERA in the 20 starts he made in 2014. The Mets should have no problem putting the ball in play against him as he only struck out 71 batters in 117 innings pitched last season. Buchanan allowed six runs in three innings against the Red Sox in his first start last week.

Harvey definitely lived up to the expectations of his much-anticipated 2015 debut. The young phenom struck out nine Nationals hitters, including Bryce Harper three times, in his six innings of shutout ball. Harvey has faced the Phillies five times in his career and is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA and has only allowed 15 hits in 38 innings. This could be fun one to watch for Mets fans.

Wednesday’s Matchup:

RHP Jerome Williams (0-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. LHP Jonathon Niese (0-0, 1.80 ERA)

Williams pitched for the Astros, Rangers, and finally found a home with the Phillies in 2014 before adding to the list of seven teams he has played for in his 10-year career. Williams pitched extremely well in the nine starts he made in Philly last season, posting a 2.83 ERA in 57 innings pitched. He was able to continue that positive trend into his first start of this year, where he held the Nationals to one run over six innings.

Niese made his 2015 debut against the Braves, throwing five innings of one-run ball in a 5-3 loss. The left-hander has pitched more innings against the Phillies (123), than against any other team in the league. Niese has enjoyed reasonable success against them, going 8-6 with a 3.00 ERA in 19 starts. Niese will need to be tough against this left-handed heavy Phillies lineup that has once-feared hitters like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

Players to watch

Phillies:

Philadelphia second baseman Freddy Galvis is off to a solid start so far this season, hitting .318 in first 22 at-bats. Ben Revere may not be off to a hot start at the plate (.167 avg.), but don’t expect him to stay cold for long as he hit over .300 in each of his last two seasons. Revere is also a threat on the base paths that Travis D’Arnaud will need to worry about.

Philadelphia has had a lockdown bullpen so far this season, allowing six runs, five of which have been allowed by Jacob Diekman. Middle-relievers like Ken Giles and Leury Garcia will be very valuable in this series if the Phillies back-end starters can’t go deep into games.

Mets:

Lucas Duda is swinging a hot bat for the Mets through the first six games, with eight hits (seven singles) in his first 21 at-bats. Look for Duda to capitalize against this weaker pitching and start to add up some extra-base hits. On the other side of the spectrum, Curtis Granderson has a whopping one hit in his first six games played — though he’s leading the NL in walks with 7. Facing a flyball right-hander like Harang could help Granderson bust out of his early-season slump.

Jeurys Familia will be the closer for the foreseeable future after Jenrry Mejia was suspended 80 games for testing positive for the new MLB performance-enhancer of choice, Stanozolol. Familia notched his first save as the team’s closer in the victory over the Braves on Sunday.

This is no longer the Phillies team that was a perennial contender in the National League. Jimmy Rollins is now a Dodger, Utley is 36 and Howard has almost played out that atrocious $125 million contract. While the Mets are (kind of) trending upward, the Phillies are in a slow, painful decline. It’s not ridiculous to say that this team could be very similar to 2011-2014 Astros over the next four years.

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Mets Game 6: Win Over Braves

Mets 4 Braves 3

I know Bartolo Colon isn’t everyone’s favorite person, but I love watching the guy. I’d watch him pitch softball. Damn, I’d watch him play petanque. He struts and postures and pouts like an XXXL Mick Jagger, basically playing chicken with hitters and usually winning.

Colon showcases four pitches. There’s the change-up inside that no one bothers to swing at. There’s the slider outside no one bothers to swing at (well, Nick Markakis did in the 6th… but it’s rare). His signature pitch is a fastball that gently curves from left to right at 86-91 mph… people like to fly out to that. And then there’s his meatball, his two-strike and straight-down-the-middle fastball that hitters often forget to hit for extra bases. Jonny Gomes hit one of those BP fastballs for a homer and Andrelton Simmons crushed a couple of them. But, somehow, they mostly they get outs, and they were enough to get Colon his second win and save the bullpen too much work.

Colon is the master of economy. He threw 77 pitches over 7 innings and 72 of them were fastballs. He also dumped a base hit over second base and laughed as he did so. The bleachers shook as he lumbered over to cover first base a couple of times, but he gets there. He expends more energy winking and smiling at everyone around him. Like a maniac in a truck, he just barrels forward with constant strikes. And, unlike Jenrry Meija, I hope it’s just fueled by tequila and courage.

The Mets’ offense was mostly fueled by Michael Cuddyer. He’s had a rough start and is leading the NL in strikeouts. Like David Wright yesterday, he golfed a two-run homer in the first with an ugly uppercut swing. It worked but it didn’t look great. But I’m still convinced he’s a 4-for-4 away from everyone thinking he’s doing great. Yeah, he looked horrible in the 5th on a change-up outside and almost lazy on Simmons’ double, but he’s an oddly reassuring grey-haired presence. The SNY team told us that Fredi Gonzalez said the “6th tool is character” when describing Jonny Gomes’ skills. I guess Cuddyer has the same effect, just without Gomes’ annoying tipping of the helmet.

The 5 and 1 Braves are a strange team. I’m also convinced they are not a good team. Alberto Callaspo botched a couple of plays, but more notable was that Alex Wood threw a laser-straight fastball and gentle off-speed pitches with a consistent break that made them hittable. Despite Wood’s gaudy numbers last year (1.14 WHIP), the Braves’ “number two” looked very tame and he seemed scared to throw his looping curveball. He’s got a swiveling, lanky delivery and he was unlucky at times – Anthony Recker should have been called out in the third on an 0 and 2 pitch – but his stuff looked very similar to Jerry Blevins. Blevins did a decent job in relief for the Mets, playing the swingman role that Wood used to have. The Braves also had Eric Young Jr. leading off. He’s another player I love (I winced when he struck out on four pitches in the first) but he should not be batting first in any lineup.

This first trip has been strange too. The Mets are 3-3 despite being unable to hit the ball. Nine hits in this game felt like some sort of miracle. Curtis Granderson is playing his own game of chicken, waiting for the pitcher to throw him a strike. He may end up with a .350 on-base percentage on 100 hits. Wright is still upper-cutting and Wilmer Flores looks lost at sea with nothing but chewing gum for company.

But, somehow, Lucas Duda is hitting left-handed pitching. Travis d’Arnaud has a nice, flat swing. Jeurys Familia’s pitches seem to be remote-controlled (did you see the sink on his last pitch?) And Colon – the kinda lovable Bartolo Colon – is leading the league in wins.

I heard this week that Colon keeps everyone loose by letting off firecrackers in the clubhouse. Well, that would get me on the toilet too. But if it wakes up the offense then let’s say thanks to the XXXL Jagger. When his right arm falls off, he’ll still be able to win games throwing underarm with his left.

Mets4Brave3SteveHussy

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Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves

It was a very productive opening series for the New York Mets as they took two of three from the Washington Nationals to start off the season. Bartolo Colon was impressive on Monday, pitching six innings of three-hit ball in a 3-1 victory. Matt Harvey stole the show on Wednesday, pitching six shutout innings and striking out nine Nationals.

So the Mets are sitting at 2-1 and travel to Atlanta for a three-game series against the Braves at Turner Field. The Braves opened the season with a sweep over the Marlins in Miami, outscoring them 16-3. Fredi Gonzalez’s team is one of three undefeated teams in the National league, along with Cincinnati and Colorado.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: LHP Jon Niese (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Eric Stults (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Niese makes his 2015 debut on Friday after posting solid numbers last season. In 30 starts in 2014, Niese posted a 3.40 ERA and a 9-11 record — though his ERA predictors say he over-performed slightly with a FIP of 3.67.

Niese didn’t blow anyone away with a fastball that averaged 88.5 MPH in 2014, but ranked in the top 20 in the NL in keeping the ball in the yard, allowing only 0.82 HR per nine innings.

However, home runs were a major weakness for Stults, who allowed more HR per nine innings than any other qualified starter — despite making 13 starts at spacious Petco Park for the Padres last season. Stults was able to earn a spot in the Braves rotation based on a strong spring training.

Stults is another soft-tossing left-hander who will struggle to record strikeouts as he averages less than six per nine innings in his eight-year major league career.

Saturday: RHP Dillon Gee (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (1-0, 1.50 ERA)

It was anticipated that Gee would be headed to the bullpen or possibly to a different team for the 2015 season until RHP Zack Wheeler was lost for the season with an arm injury. Gee only pitched 137.1 innings in 2014, posting a 4.00 ERA. As a student, a 4.0 is excellent, but as a pitcher that is the equivalent of a “C” average.

Gee saw his changeup improve drastically, a pitch that was only 0.7 runs above average in 2013, but improved to 9.9 runs above average in 2014. At only 28 years-old, Gee is still developing as a pitcher, but if he can keep having success with his changeup in 2015, then it will not be a stretch for him to keep his rotation spot for the whole season.

On the other hand, Teheran was the Braves Opening Day starter. He pitched well, allowing only one run over six innings and striking out six Marlins on Monday. Teheran was once a top prospect in the Braves system, but it took him longer than anticipated to develop into a No. 1 starter. However, he’s enjoyed a great deal of success in the last two seasons, recording a 3.20 ERA in 2013 and then improving on that with a 2.89 ERA last season.

Teheran was one of the few major pieces that Braves Interim GM John Hart did not trade this offseason, or right before Opening Day in Craig Kimbrel’s case. The right-hander ranks ninth in the NL in wins over the last two seasons with 28. Teheran has flashed some of his potential, but he could be due for a breakout season that puts him up there with Matt Harvey, deGrom and the whole Nationals rotation for the best young arms in the division.

Sunday: TBD vs. Alex Wood (1-0, 3.60 ERA)

The Mets have yet to announce a starting pitcher for Sunday’s contest, but we can assume it will be opening-day starter Bartolo Colon. Colon was impressive in the win over Washington, pitching six innings and surrendering only three hits and one run. In a game in which he became the oldest Mets pitcher to start on Opening Day (40), Colon looked like he 15 years younger (well, maybe five).

Colon’s effectiveness at his ripe old age is due to pinpoint control his fastball, spotting it on both sides of the plate and up and down in the zone. Surprisingly, Colon has won 43 games in the last three seasons, including a team-leading 15 in 2014 for the Mets. Location doesn’t necessarily go away with age, so we could see Colon putting together more solid outings as the year progresses.

Wood pitched five innings in a win over the Marlins in 2015 debut, allowing four hits and one run. He made 35 appearances last year, including 24 starts. Wood had great success in his 171.2 innings pitched and showed that he can strike hitters out at the major league level with 170 in 2014. Wood will get better as he continues to gain experience and has a secure spot in the Braves rotation.

Players to watch

Mets:

I don’t know if Travis d’Arnaud could have asked for a better start to the season. He is 5-11 (.455 AVG) with 4 RBI to begin the 2015 campaign. According to Mark Simon of ESPN, d’Arnaud could become the first Mets catcher ever to have an RBI in each of the first four games of season. We’ll see if he can get it done against Stults on Friday.

Michael Cuddyer is your early clubhouse leader in strikeouts with five through three games. I know it’s early, but the 21-million-dollar-man might want to improve his .231 average before Mets fans jump to conclusions and assume that signing him wasn’t worth giving up a first-round pick; maybe some have already made the assumption.

Braves:

With Jason Heyward, the Upton brothers and now Kimbrel gone, Freddie Freeman is the new face of the franchise. He was also unsurprisingly one of the top performers in the Miami series with five hits, including two doubles, in 13 at-bats (.385 avg.). If the Braves do any damage on offense this series it will be because of Freeman.

Eric Young Jr. will need to be more productive out of the leadoff spot for the Braves. The 2-10 he went in the opening series is not going to get the job done. Gonzalez has already used Jace Peterson to hit leadoff once and he could do it a whole lot more if EYJ continues to hover around the Mendoza line.

Though Mets fans are familiar with ex-Met EYJr, there are a number of other new faces on the Braves. The previously mentioned Peterson and Phil Gosselin platoon at second base; Jonny Gomes, Cameron Maybin, Nick Markakis, and Young, Jr., comprise the completely overhauled outfield; Christian Bethancourt, who was promoted from the minors at the tail end of last year, starts behind the plate — backed up by A.J. Pierzynski; Kelly Johnson returns to beef up the bench, along with Alberto Callaspo; and Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli, Cody Martin, and Brandon Cunniff are new arms in the bullpen. Oh, and Wandy Rodriguez, Trevor Cahill, and the aforementioned Stults make up the back of the starting rotation. Not exactly the Atlanta team you remember from 2014, eh? If nothing else, the 2015 Braves are … different.

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