Archive: April 11th, 2006

Game 6: Win

Mets 7 Nationals 1

This is getting boring … win, win, win, win … it’s as if the Mets are serious about being contenders this year.

Seriously though, let’s look at what’s going on in the first six games of the year. The Mets are getting strong starting pitching performances, and hitting well. However, they are doing it against the two teams that likely will be the weakest in the National League this year. So let’s not get too excited.

The hell with it … the Mets are in FIRST PLACE … let’s get excited!

Indeed, there was a lot to be excited about in Game 6. First and foremost, Brian Bannister looked great. Hands down, great. This was definitely a better game for Bannister to remember as his first Big League win, as compared to Game Two. I’m not only understanding, but beginning to agree with the comparisons to Greg Maddux. He may not have Maddux’s command, yet, but he certainly resembles him as far as hitting spots, changing speeds, keeping cool, and throwing lots of strikes. If he pitches like this against the better teams in the NL, the Mets will have a really good shot to win the East. He could very well win 15 games and run away with the Rookie of the Year honors.

Another nice thing to see in the game was offense. Once again, we saw lots of offense. As in most of the previous games, the Mets hitters were working the count and getting good pitches to hit. True enough, the pitchers they’ve been facing have been borderline AAA quality, and they’ve been seeing a lot of meatballs over the heart of the plate. But, in 2005, the Mets would not have waited for those meatballs, and they would have struggled to beat inferior teams. This year, the Mets hitters are mashing the pitchers they should mash, and they are beating the teams they are supposed to beat.

Individually, we’re seeing continued development from Reyes and Wright, a distinct presence from Carlos Delgado, and a rebirth by Carlos Beltran. Cliffy’s timing is way off, but with Delgado, Wright, and Beltran hitting, there’s no reason for him to press. Chances are, he’ll start hitting just when one of the previously mentioned three cool off.

Speaking of cooling off, what’s up with Xavier Nady? I really hope I’m wrong about my assessment that he is an all-or-nothing streak hitter. But, I have to say I hate his hitting mechanics. His high leg kick and heavy step causes him to start his swing off-balance, unless his timing is perfect. The result is a tendency to dive into the plate and commit the hands forward too quickly. If his timing is just a hair off, he can’t meet the ball with authority. I just hope that Willie keeps Victor Diaz around a few more weeks, because he may have to take over in RF.

One negative from today’s game: Willie’s use of Billy Wagner in the ninth. The Mets had a 7-1 lead going into the final frame, and Willie brought in Billy to close out the game. Why? How is it sensible to bring in your silver bullet when you have a six-run lead? If Wagner needed work, let him do it in the bullpen, in a controlled environment, where he could throw a specific number of pitches. Instead, he struggled in the ninth, and ended up throwing over 35 pitches, probably nullifying him for tomorrow’s game. What happens if there’s a one-run lead to protect in the ninth tomorrow? Sure, Aaron Heilman and Duaner Sanchez are more than capable of closing, but you’re not paying those guys $13M a year to do that. Even if Randolph wanted Wagner to get some “game” work, he could have pulled him after 25 pitches.

There was a comment by Gary Cohen on the TV broadcast of the game, mentioning that this was a situation where the Mets could not count on Jorge Julio. Are you kidding me? They had a six-run lead! If you can’t trust Julio to hold a six-run lead, what the heck is he doing on the roster? When will you bring him in? When there’s a ten-run lead? If that’s really the case, why isn’t he on a bus on his way to Norfolk, and Heath Bell on his way back to the Bigs?

Personally, I think Julio has good stuff, and will eventually work his way into an important role here. But if he’s not going to be trusted to contribute in games like this, he may need to polish his game at the AAA level — much like Steve Trachsel did a few years back. The Mets need all the arms they can get in their quest for the playoffs this year.

Oh yeah, one more negative: Jose Valentin. I’m still trying to figure out this signing. Omar and Willie say they like his versatility, but let’s get serious: Valentin’s best two positions are SS and 3B. Wright and Reyes will play 162 games each this year, if possible, and will not be taken out at the end of games for defensive purposes. If for some reason one of them has to sit, you have Woody to play either position and Nady can play 3B. Or you have Jeff Keppinger.

Then there is the Omar/Willie defense that the guy adds leadership to the clubhouse. Are you kidding me? Isn’t that the excuse for carrying Julio Franco? And isn’t LoDuca supposed to be a leader? And Delgado? Jose Valentin looks great in a uniform. He looks very professional when addressing the pitcher in the batter’s box. And, he looks like he’ll strike out 75% of the time (but he’ll look good doing it). Yes, he’s versatile: he plays five different positions with equal inadequacy. He’s to be counted on as a late-inning pinch hitter, yet he has always been a free-swinger who misses much more often than not. And his experience and knowledge of pitchers occurred in the American League. You add all this up and wonder why in the world the Mets let Marlon Anderson walk away. Even if he did want a two-year deal, would it have choked the Mets’ budget to give it to him? What’s the difference between giving Marlon $1.5M over two years, and Valentin $1M for one year? Especially when Marlon established himself as perhaps the top LH pinch hitter in the NL, and an above-average option at several positions? OK, let’s try another scenario: let Marlon walk and give Angel Pagan a shot. Oh, never mind, Pagan is a top PH for the Cubs now. This Valentin signing is one decision that absolutely stupefies me. But, I suppose we should be happy Omar gave away a million to Valentin and not Sammy Sosa, right?


Game 5: Win

Mets 3 Marlins 2

This was a game that the 2005 Mets would have lost. Either Looper or some other reliever would have given up the go-ahead run, and/or the Mets hitters would have simply given up. However, the 2006 Mets have solid arms in the pen, with Wagner owning the 9th, and they have a continuously developing David Wright to carry them.

Tom Glavine threw another gem, keeping the Mets in the game against the only Marlins pitcher they should lose to: Dontrelle Willis. Even though Willis is one of the top lefties in the Bigs, I was still disappointed with the Mets hitters lack of patience. The entire lineup had shown excellent pitch selection and patience through the first four games, yet were suddenly swinging early in the count vs. Willis. This shows lack of preparation and a psyche factor.

It happens often; a player knows that an elite pitcher is on the mound, and thus believes that he will have few good pitches to hit. As a result, he swings at pitches earlier in the count, believing it is the best pitch he’ll see in the at-bat and fearing getting behind in the count. This strategy is acceptable when you face a guy who can paint the corners with filthy stuff, but the truth is, there are few guys in that category. Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens, Josh Beckett, Greg Maddux (in his prime), and Mark Prior come to mind. Willis, however, is not really in that class. If you watch him, he doesn’t so much throw strikes as much as he gets batters to swing and miss. He throws a lot of breaking pitches and fastballs out of the zone, getting batters to chase. If I were Mets batting coach Rick Down, I’d have the Mets batters watch their at-bats vs. Willis before the next time they face him. They’ll be suprised to see how many bad pitches they chased, allowing him to get ahead and/or get them out.

Otherwise, it was a very well played game all around. And David Wright is my Opening Week prediction for MVP.