Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
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Game 40: Loss

Cardinals 6 Mets 3

Though the final score showed a three-run deficit, the game was never really that close. In fact, it was over by the end of the second inning (for many, it was over the moment Jose Lima took the mound).

It’s painfully clear that it is no longer Lima Time. What’s unclear, is why Omar is so damn stubborn about keeping his third-best starter, Aaron Heilman, in the bullpen. This was another game where the team’s “strength” (the bullpen, per Omar) was of no use, since the game was effectively over when the starting pitcher let the game get out of hand before the third inning took place.

Strangely, Mr. Willie’s first reliever in the fourth inning was Chad Bradford, a ROOGY who tends to be used later in most games, as a matchup guy. Why not Darren Oliver, whose only apparent use is as a long man for mop up situations as this? Why not Jorge Julio, who hasn’t pitched since Joanie loved Chachi ? Why not Aaron Heilman, as an opportunity to stretch him out and start conditioning him for starting duty?

Whatever. It’s getting really frustrating to watch a first-place team slip because they have no reliable starting pitchers after their #2 (Trax’s recent aberration notwithstanding).

Notes

Jose Valentin stayed hot, as he hit the ball hard three times, including a line drive homer. I wonder how long before he gets tested and suspended for taking whatever he was using two years ago. Maybe it’s just a B-12 shot …

One GREAT thing about Valentin in the starting lineup is that someone else is the first bat off the bench. It’s such a pleasure to know that “not Valentin” will be pinch hitting in the first such situation.

Through all these losses, Carlos Beltran has stayed hot, quietly hitting bombs. He hit another dinger today, and is on track to hit about 30 for the year.

Jeremi Gonzalez goes against Randy Johnson and the mighty Yankees tomorrow. Let’s hope the crappy Randy shows up, though I’m not sure of our chances in a slugfest vs. the Bronx Bombers.

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What’s Wrong with Cliffy?

Cliff Floyd's Uppercut SwingAfter getting above the Mendoza line a few days ago, it seemed as though Cliff Floyd was finally shaking his season-long slump. However, he had the unfortunate luck to run into a tough lefty, Mark Mulder, on a night that Mulder was at his toughest.

Is there reason for concern?

Maybe.

Metstradamus suggests that “He’s hurtin’. Don’t know what…don’t know how…but something about him is not correct. You can only put your car through so much before it stops running. And Cliffy it seems has taken his Dodge Dart of a body on too many cross country trips, which have included a few ill advised spinouts on major highways, and too many sideswipes on cross streets.”

He may be on to something there … Cliff Floyd isn’t getting any younger, and with all the injuries suffered throughout his career, his body has taken more of a toll than many other 33-year-olds. As Metstradamus says, something about him is not correct.

However, I’m not sure it’s his physical health (or breakdown). Actually, Cliffy’s problem looks not to be weakness or lack of bat speed, but the exact opposite: he’s too quick with his hands. He has a slight uppercut on most swings, and he’s topping the ball often and grounding out to the right side of the infield. That’s an indication of the bat coming through too early. Ted Williams was the first to point it out in his Science of Hitting, and it’s fairly logical. Picture the bat on an upswing, while the pitch is coming in on a downward plane: if the bat is too far ahead, it will miss or top the ball.

Cliffy hit a bunch of dingers last year, and he was never really a homerun hitter before. I think he might have learned “how” to hit them — by being a little bit ahead of the pitch and jerking the ball into the right field stands. However, he seems to be taking that approach far too often, to the point where perhaps it has become a habit.

Take a look at Floyd’s stats before he came to the Mets and you’ll see a guy who — outside of a 31-homer campaign in 2001 — hit for a near .300 average with tons of doubles (40+ a year), but rarely more than 20 HRs. After arriving in New York, however, the average has dropped considerably, the doubles have disappeared, and the homeruns were about the same until shooting up dramatically last year. Shea Stadium is not a hitter’s park by any means, but it shouldn’t have a drastic effect on the ability to hit doubles, and it shouldn’t allow a hitter to suddenly double his home run numbers.

So my best guess is that Cliff Floyd has changed his approach, and possibly his swing, and transformed himself from a high-average, doubles hitter, to a not-so-high-average, homerun hitter. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been hitting too many homeruns this year. And to make matters worse, it appears that every scout on the planet has taken note of Floyd’s pull-for-the-fences approach, as infielders are shifting to the right side when he’s up. In addition, many pitchers are feeding him inside pitches that are too far in to be dangerous, which Cliffy is pulling foul, then coming back with off-speed pitches on the outside part of the plate, which results in him reaching and either missing, popping up, or grounding out meekly. I’m not sure how many times Cliff and hitting coach Rick Down have to see this elementary strategy before they change something in Cliff’s approach.

The solution is fairly simple: trust the hands, wait back, and concentrate on hitting the ball to left field for a while. Of course, it’s easy to say, but hard to do. Much of the issue is the inside-pitch strategy that has been bestowed upon Mr. Floyd. The pitches look good coming in, and the natural reaction is to jump on them. Maybe Cliff can move off the plate a few inches, and concentrate on forcing the ball to left field with an inside-out swing. It’s not a swing he should always use, but it may help him get out of his current funk. The idea is that if he is looking to go the other way, he won’t be as prone to jumping too quickly on an inside fastball, and will wait longer on those (and all) pitches. That will give him a better read on pitch location, and hopefully get him swinging at more strikes.

After taking that approach for a couple weeks, and slashing some balls the opposite way, word will go around the NL pretty quickly that the “old way” to get Floyd out is no longer working, and maybe infielders and pitchers will attack him more straight up again.

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Game 39: Loss

Cardinals 1 Mets 0

It would just figure that Steve Trachsel throws the best game he’ll throw all year, on the same night that Mark Mulder holds the Mets to four hits and no runs.

Or would it?

Actually, this game is a microcosm of Trax’s career: he often pitches just well enough to lose.

True enough, Trax pitched a brilliant game. And the one run he gave up was the result of a walk to Albert Pujols — which you can’t really blame him for, in a 0-0 game — and a double by Scott Rolen on a pitch that Rolen had no business driving into the gap (it was a split about two inches off the ground).

However, Steve Trachsel seems to have a tendency to throw gems when the other pitcher is throwing a slightly more brilliant one. And the rest of the time, he pitches at a much lower level of efficiency. This is the enigma that is Steve Trachsel, and the reason he is a consistent 14-win, 14-loss pitcher every season.

As tonight’s game showed, Steve Trachsel has the ability to pitch like a number-two starter, and dominate on occasion. But, what every other start has proven, is that he doesn’t have the mental strength, and focus, to pitch like that every game.

Let’s get something straight: I don’t expect Trax to pitch a four-hit shutout every game. However, I do find it overwhelmingly frustrating to see him pitch a game like this against the hard-hitting Cardinals, yet also give up six hits and six runs and have trouble finishing the fourth inning against the Braves. And this is not something unusual, or a function of it being early in the season. This is Trachsel’s career: a great game, a bad game, a mediocre game, a great game, a bad game, etc. His most consistent attribute is his inconsistency.

OK, off the Trachsel wagon. The Mets had exactly two chances to score a run: in the fifth, and in the ninth. In both innings, the leadoff batter hit a double, was advanced to third on the next at-bat, and was left stranded. Kaz Matsui was the goat in the fifth, chasing a pitch out of the strike zone and popping up for the second out of the inning, with the pitcher up next. Though Kaz has shown a good glove and capable bat thus far this year, he definitely is pressing with runners in scoring position. In all other at-bats, he’s shown more patience than in his first two years with the Mets, often getting ahead on the count and getting good pitches to drive. However, that approach seems to go out the window with runners on, as Kaz seems to swing at almost anything he can reach. With the pitcher on deck and a man on third, it is imperative for a batter to be very patient, as the opposing pitcher will tend to throw outside the strike zone, preferring to take his chances with the weak-hitting pitcher instead. Kaz waving at bad pitches was a favor to Mark Mulder. Hopefully someone will take Matsui aside and discuss hitting strategy in that situation.

In the ninth, Jose Reyes led off with a near triple, but held up at second. Mr. Willie did the implausible, ordering Paul “Mr. Clutch” LoDuca to bunt. Why? Why Willie? Why? Why? Why? With Mulder pitching as well as he was, and going as deep in the game as he was, you can’t be giving away outs. Especially when you consider that LoDuca is a veteran hitter, who knows how to move the runner to third on his own, and who has a natural tendency to hit the ball on the ground to the right side. Maybe LoDuca doesn’t get a hit to tie things up, but you have to give him a chance. He likely won’t strike out, and in that situation, probably wouldn’t pop up. With Beltran and Delgado up next, there was a good possibility that Mulder might fall behind and give him a good pitch to hit.

As it was, LoDuca dropped a perfect bunt to move Reyes to third, only to be stranded at the end of the game.

Tomorrow night it’s Jason Marquis vs. Lima Time! Let’s all pray for Jose to pitch like it’s 1999.

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Game 38: Win

Mets 8 Cardinals 3

The rain came down in the middle of the 7th, then the floodgates opened in the top of the 8th.

After pitching six strong innings, but exiting with the score tied, it looked as though tough luck had returned to Tom Glavine. Things looked especially bleak after Glavine’s pinch-hitter, Jose Valentin, flied out for the second out in the top of the sixth (as hot as Valentin has been lately, it seemed strange to pinch-hit for a guy who came into the game batting .500). However, Jose Reyes pulled the unthinkable and coaxed a walk out of Jeff Suppan, proceeded to steal second, and scored on a two-out double by Mr. Clutch, Paul LoDuca.

Then the rain came down, and the field was covered, for an hour and forty minutes. Aaron Heilman waited patiently, then finally started the bottom of the seventh when the game resumed. He pitched a perfect inning, and got back into the dugout just before the floodgates opened.

David Wright was the first gate-busting wave, opening the top of the 8th with a long double. Cliff Floyd was plunked, and Xavier Nady reached on an error by Albert Pujols, which allowed Wright to score. Kaz Matsui followed with a perfect sac bunt to move the runners, and pinch-hitter Julio Franco stroked an inside-out single to right to score Floyd and send Nady to third. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran mixed in a couple of cheap singles before it was all over, and by the the time the Cardinals finally came to bat, the score was 8-3 Mets.

Following Mr. Willie’s plan to blow out the most valuable bullpen arms before the All-Star break, Duaner Sanchez came on to pitch a perfect 8th. Jorge Julio, the Mets’ closer when up by five runs or more, tried to make things interesting in the ninth, but succeeded in spite of himself, and finished the game without allowing a run and just before turning into a pumpkin at midnight St. Louis time.

Notes

Glavine pitched beautifully, hitting spots and changing speeds like he always does. He is an absolute pleasure to watch, and I pay close attention to each inning he pitches in the same way I viewed at-bats by Tony Gwynn, George Brett, and Wade Boggs at the end of their careers: you know they are special competitors, and they won’t be around too much longer, so you try to soak in every tiny detail they emit before they retire. (I watch Greg Maddux with the same attitude.)

Glavine passed Sandy Koufax on the all-time strikeout list. Not a huge deal, considering he’s pitched about eight thousand more innings than Sandy did. (OK, maybe not 8000 ….)

Cliff Floyd seems to have left his slump behind him, with two hits including a blistering double down the right field line.

Jose Reyes swung and missed wildly at a first, bad pitch, immediately after Tommy Glavine walked on four pitches. I was about to throw something at the TV when Reyes took the next pitch over the wall. He is truly an enigma.

Xavier Nady had another strong game. I suppose it’s time to eat crow on my preseason prediction of poor performance by him.

The Mets will send in the clowns to the mound for the rest of the week, making tonight’s win all the more important. Trachsel and LimaTime go against the Cardinals, and Jeremi Gonzalez opens vs. the Yankees. Dear god …

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Game 37: Loss

Brewers 6 Mets 5

This was a game the Mets could not afford to lose, for several reasons.

First off, they had Pedro on the hill. When the back end of your rotation is the crapshoot called Steve Trachsel, Jose Lima, and Jeremi Gonzalez, you need to produce when the sure thing is on the mound. Sixty percent of the time, you have no idea what you might get from your starting pitching, so you have to hope and scrape and pray you can eek out a win at least once or twice. When your number-one guy is out there, and you know you’re going to get a strong 7- or 8-inning performance, you must win. The offense must score, the bullpen must shut down the other team.

Unfortunately, though the Mets’ offense came through (sort of), the bullpen did not. In fact, the bullpen has been faltering quite a bit lately. Could it have anything to do with Mr. Willie’s overuse of the arms? Could my “Shortening the Game” post of less than a week ago already be humming true?

The game went back and forth a few times, not unlike Saturday night’s contest. Pedro uncharacteristically gave up a two-run lead in the second inning, and allowed the Brewers to tack on a fourth run in the fifth. It was not his best performance, but certainly not his worst. When compared to the “effective” starts of Jeremi Gonzalez and Brian Bannister, it was a fairly well-pitched ballgame.

The Mets showed gumption, as they have all year, and fought back to tie the score in the seventh and the ninth (Turnbow blew another save). However, there was only one man on the field who REALLY wanted to win the game: Billy Hall. His heroics came both at shortstop and at bat; he was playing like it was the seventh game of the World Series. In fact, if it was the only game you ever saw of him, you’d think he was on A-Rod’s level.

The Mets, however, had no such player in this particular game — though, remarkably, Jose Valentin was close. Coming of a good Saturday night, Mr. Willie played a Torre hunch and started him again, and he stayed hot, going 4-for-5 (he raised his batting average over 100 points in two days). However, all those hits produced only two runs. We can’t blame it all on Jose, though. The Mets had 15 opportunities to drive in runners, and produced only three times. You can’t do that against guys like Jose Capellan, Brian Shouse, and Danny Kolb.

Luckily, the Mets have an off-day on Monday, so the bullpen gets a rest. But Mr. Willie will have to come up with a better plan of using his pitchers. Either he’s got to find some starters who can get past the fifth (Aaron Heilman !!!), or he’s going to have to carry 10 players and 15 pitchers. This plan of throwing Heilman, Sanchez, and Bradford every single day is already taking its toll.

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Game 36: Win

With a pitching matchup of Jeremi Gonzalez vs. Dana Eveland, one would have to think this would be an unusual game, one where anything might happen. And indeed, nearly anything did happen.

If one would have told you, before the game, that Jose Valentin would be an offensive star of the contest, Duaner Sanchez would pitch like Doug Sisk, and the game would be won on a dinger by Paul LoDuca off of Dennis Turnbow, would you have believed it?

Well that’s pretty much the way things went.

As if the starting pitchers weren’t enough, Mr. Willie compounded the uncertainty of the game by starting Jose Valentin in left field. And guess what? He went 2-4 with four RBI, effectively matching his entire 2006 production in one game. If not for his atrocious play in left field, I would even be inclined to state that he’s finally proven useful.

Maybe more mysterious than Valentin’s effectiveness, was the Mets’ bullpen’s ineffectiveness. Aaron Heilman needed 44 pitches to pitch two innings, and gave up three hits and a run. Not awful, but not the usual Aaron. The other half of the dynamic duo—Duaner Sanchez—however, was miserable, giving up four runs on three hits, including back-to-back horme runs, before being tossed by the ump for throwing a beanball. He managed to do all this in one-third of an inning, taking a page out of Bartolome Fortunato’s handbook on pitching.

Even Billy Wagner gave us a scare, despite striking out three in the ninth. The boxscore makes it look like an easy save, but if you watched the game you know it was anything but. The only Met pitcher who you could say had an easy, effective outing would be the winning pitcher, Chad Bradford, who threw eight pitches, seven for strikes, in two-thirds of an inning.

Naturally, there will be some Met correspondents and officials who believe that Jeremi Gonzalez was also effective in this game. But then, I suppose we’ve really lowered the bar to think that a five-inning start — where one gives up three runs — is quality. Heck, I keep hearing about how great Darren Oliver is doing, and I’ve yet to see him enter and exit a game without giving up a run (and most of his outings are one inning or less).

Thankfully, the Mets had enough offense to make up for the pitching deficiency. Carlos Beltran is borderline hot right now, as he hit another bomb, his ninth of the year. We heard all about LoDuca being a clutch hitter and he certainly fulfilled that moniker with the game-winning blast in the ninth. Xavier Nady continues to make me look dumb, and Jose Reyes stole his 13th base of the year. And though Chris Woodward went 0-2, he seems always to be doing something useful, whether it’s working a walk, running the bases intelligently, or advancing a runner.

It was good to see the Mets win a wild one; these are the type of back-and-forth games that good teams win consistently.

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Game 35: Loss

Brewers 9 Mets 6

This game was lost before it started, when the lineups were handed to the umpire and Jose Lima was listed as the starting pitcher.

The Great Lima Experiment must end now. It is ludicrous to believe that the worst pitcher on the worst pitching team in baseball last year will somehow find the magic to be a legitimate #4 or #5 starter.

The Mets already have too many experiments in the pitching laboratory: Pedro Feliciano as LOOGY, Darren Oliver as who-knows-what, Jorge Julio as setup-in-training. Julio and Feliciano, at least, show some promise, and Julio has youth and talent on his side. Oliver and Lima need to go, Lima first.

The bright spots: Carlos Delgado continues to pound the ball, and Endy Chavez continues to make me look stupid by playing remarkably well in all facets of the game. Cliff Floyd had a couple hits and a walk, and seems to be moving out of his slump. Billy Wagner struck out three in a perfect eigthth that meant nothing.

Heath Bell got pounded again, which is really too bad, as Mr. Willie has no confidence in him to begin with. I hope they don’t send him down. It certainly wouldn’t make sense, since Randolph continues to give has-beens and never-wases such as Lima and Oliver chance after chance to fail. I would hope that he’d extend the same length leash to someone with potential, such as Bell.

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Game 33 1/2: Loss

Phillies 2 Mets 0

One of the worst rules in MLB is calling a game “official” after five innings. In fact, this particular game was actually called after 4 1/2 innings, as the Phillies were winning and did not need to bat in the bottom of the fifth. Preposterous that half of a game counts as an “official game”.

Of course, I wouldn’t think it were as preposterous had the Mets been winning … hee hee … but seriously, when you think about it, it really doesn’t make much sense.

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this soaked-out half-game … it was wet, they played four innings, and next thing you know the Phillies have a win.

Looking forward to a weekend of the Brewers, and the Mets’ magical mystery pitching staff ….

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