Browsing Archive April, 2006

Game 13: Loss

Braves 7 Mets 1

I have to admit I did not watch this game live. It had something to do with the fact that Victor Zambrano was starting, and the game was already out of hand in the 4th. Further, the starting outfield looked like this:

LF Jose Valentin
CF Endy Chavez
RF Xavier Nady

Cliff Floyd and Carlos Beltran are both out, subject to day-to-day, with minor injuries. Knowing that, the Mets thought it was more important to have lefthanded pitchers Pedro Feliciano and Darren Oliver on the roster, than have outfielder Victor Diaz. Diaz, of course, is the only legitimate backup OF with a legit Big-League bat. He’s now in Norfolk for a minimum of ten days. During these next ten days, Floyd and Beltran are day-to-day.

Will someone please wake up Mr. Minaya? There’s a season going on, and the Atlanta Braves are in town! And while you’re at it, can someone bring a baseball card of Jose Valentin over to Willie Randolph? He needs to know that the guy hasn’t hit in four years, and even back then he didn’t hit that well.

This starting outfield harkens me back to the days of Shinjo-Perez-Payton-Agbayani — only worse. Ouch.

No one knows why Victor Zambrano is in the rotation.

No one knows why Victor Diaz is in Norfolk for the next ten days.

No one knows why either Feliciano or Oliver are on a Major League roster, much less BOTH of them.

No one knows why Jose Valentin was given a guaranteed, one million dollar contract.

Those are some of the tougher questions, and they need to be answered quickly!


Game 12: Win

Mets 4 Braves 3

Pedro won his 200th, and the Mets made their first move in attempting to unseat the Braves and simultaneously turn around the Tomahawk Jinx.

Once again, Pedro was masterful, and once again, the Mets won a game that they would have lost in 2005. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Braves were without both Chipper Jones and Edgar Renteria, but we were without Carlos Beltran, and Cliff Floyd was gone after straining himself on a 4th-inning double, so the players missing on both teams kind of evened out. It also doesn’t hurt to have Duaner Sanchez and Billy Wagner in the bullpen this year.

Sanchez was lights out — again — getting out of trouble when Pedro left with two outs in the 7th. Personally, I would have left Pedro in the game, but I suppose Willie wanted to do whatever he could to get Pedro #200, and to nail down the Braves. Sanchez is quickly establishing himself as one of the top setup men in the NL, and at the very least providing the Mets a fine consolation prize for losing the Danys Baez sweepstakes.

The only negatives — besides losing Beltran and now Floyd — was seeing Jose Valentin and Endy Chavez in the outfield. Chavez has some speed and can play the field, and is fine as a backup to Beltran; we’re assuming of course that Beltran won’t miss more than 10-15 games during the year. However, the only reason Chavez looks like he might be a Major League hitter is the fact that he bats before Anderson Hernandez, who looks like he’d struggle against American Legion pitching. Having to put Chavez and AHern in the same lineup means that #1-6 HAVE TO hit well, as 7-8-9 are automatic outs.

Furthermore, Valentin is a non-entity. He can’t hit, he’s not particularly adept in the field, and he’s only an average runner. He brings inadequate skills to every facet of the game, and performs mediocre at several positions. Omar Minaya, on several occasions in the offseason, bragged that although he likes to make the big deals (i.e., Wagner, Delgado), that he finds true joy in putting together the “little pieces”, such as the bench players. Well, if the ONE MILLION DOLLAR signing of Valentin is any indication, Omar’s joy is not necessarily a strength. In fact, it so far appears that Omar’s ability to put together a bench can be called an ineptitude.

Even the last time Valentin was 100% healthy, he hit only .216, and struck out once every four times up. Take that ballplayer, add a few years and injuries, and tell me how he turns into a legitimate pinch-hitter and utility man? He’s been the Mets’ number-one man off the bench, and number-one pinch hitter, yet he’d have trouble hitting water after falling out of a boat. Some may argue that it is only the second week of the season, that you need to have patience, but my argument is that we have no past history to look at to believe Valentin will do any better than he’s doing now. Pretty scary.

Well let’s stick to the bright side: the Mets are in first place, and off to the best start in franchise history (10-2)!


Game 11: Win

Mets 9 Brewers 3

Undeterred by their second loss of the season on Saturday, and in spite of a ninth-inning appearance by Jorge Jorrible, the Mets toppled the Brew Crew for a 9-3 victory.

Hiding like Easter eggs on Saturday, the Mets’ offense was uncovered on Easter Sunday, returning with a vengeance. Jose Reyes walked again — for the second time in two days — and scored twice, as did David Wright. Wright, Xavier Nady, and Paul LoDuca each had two hits, while Nady and Carlos Delgado went deep. Nady’s shot was the go-ahead, Delgado’s blistering line drive was the go-further-ahead. The Delgado home run was hit so hard, I think Shea Stadium moved a few inches from the impact.

Brian Bannister struggled through five innings for the win, giving up six hits, five walks, but only one run. I would have liked to see him pitch at least one more inning, and even pushed him into the seventh if he kept getting outs. He showed great guile and guts in keeping the Mets in the game while obviously not having his best stuff nor his command. Even though Mr. Willie had decided that Bannister would not pitch the sixth, I’d have still let him hit for himself in the bottom of the fifth, rather than allow Jose Valentin a useless at-bat. Though, as my wife pointed out, it was good to eliminate Valentin’s three cool breezes so early in the game.

Speaking of useless mid-to-upper-30-somethings, Darren Oliver turned in another shaky performance, nearly blowing Bannister’s second win by giving up a two-run bomb to Geoff Jenkins. I’m beginning to wonder if my expectation level is too high, as the Mets broadcasters had mentioned that Oliver turned in a “strong” outing the day before. Hmm … on Saturday he pitched two innings and gave up two hits, including a homer to Carlos Lee. How is giving up one run in two innings a “strong” performance? In any case, I’m still not seeing the purpose of carrying a lefty who can’t get out lefties nor righties. Oliver is a nice guy, but remarkably underwhelming and perhaps less than adequate.

How great is the Mets offense this year? So good that they were able to score nine runs despite a lineup featuring Endy Chavez, Anderson Hernandez, and the pitcher batting 7-8-9. Poor AHern looks like a 12-year-old trying to play with the big boys, and Chavez looks like he might struggle against a good high school pitcher. Though the bottom of the lineup makes the days of Al Weis and Wayne Garrett seem dangerous, batters one through six not only have firepower, they sport execution. Nady and Delgado’s bombs were enjoyable, but just as fun to watch was a textbook fourth inning: Wright doubled, Delgado hit an appropriate ground ball to the right side to move Wright to third, and Nady followed with a fly ball to score him easily. Then in the fifth, Reyes reached on an infield single, stole second, and scored on a single by LoDuca. How many more times will we see that this year? 70? 80? LoDuca followed with a stolen base himself, and a head’s up move to 3B on a wild pitch, putting himself into position to score another run had Delgado not ended the inning with a strikeout. Without doubt, the 2006 Mets put themselves into position to score, and will do so regardless of whether the 3-run homer arrives.

Delgado’s rocket gave Billy Wagner a day off and Jorge Julio an opportunity to blow a six run lead. Luckily, Julio was unsuccessful in blowing the lead, instead retiring three out of the four Brewers he faced. Jorge threw 21 pitches, striking out one and giving up no runs for the first time this year. I’m really not sure what Mr. Willie expects to achieve. The obvious plan is to give Julio chances to do well and build his confidence. However, it seems to me to be a recipe for disaster, as I don’t see this guy improving simply by raising his confidence level. It’s clear that Julio’s issue is upstairs, as he turns molehills into mountains. While it’s true that a dose of confidence can help breed success, that only works when a player understands how to overcome adversity. Confidence won’t cause Julio to shake off a bad call by the umpire, or a line drive double off the wall. Further, this guy doesn’t pitch; he rears back and throws. That’s it: no thought, no plan, no location. The only pitcher I recall getting away with that was Rich Gossage, but the Goose knew how to shake off a few hits … plus he was nasty. I don’t see Julio as nasty; he’d have trouble frightening a two-week-old kitten. I hope I’m wrong; I hope that a few confidence-building outings turn his scared look into an intimidating one, and somehow allow him to shake off the inevitable negatives that occur during a game. However, it appears to me that this guy needs to learn a little bit about pitching, and mature a lot — and it needs to be done at the minor league level. In fact, I’d send him to AA, and make him a starter, to give him lots of innings and thus exposure to all kinds of terrible consequences that he’ll eventually learn to overcome.


Game 10: Loss

Brewers 8 Mets 2

Well they had to lose eventually, and the Brewers are a good team this year so no pride is lost.

After pitching a great game vs. the Marlins in his 2006 debut, Steve Trachsel did not fare so well in his first start versus a Major League team. He barely managed five innings, giving up nine hits and four runs over 95 pitches. If his first two starts are any indication, it looks like 2006 will be a vintage Trax year: a win, a loss, etc., etc., en route to a 12-12 record.

The Mets might have had a chance to come back, but Mr. Willie threw in the white towel … er, I mean, he brought in Jorge Julio in the 8th, with the score 5-3, apparently to guarantee a Milwaukee victory. Jorge was Jorrible, and once again showed his displeasure and misery in his body language and all over his face. I don’t know how you can keep this guy up in the Bigs for much longer … not him AND Darren Oliver. At some point you need to consider promoting a pitcher who you would trust to help you win a ballgame.

Not much else to talk about … Wright drove in his obligatory run, Reyes walked (!), and the Mets offense in general was lackluster. Well, you can’t win ’em all!


Game 9: Win

Mets 4 Brewers 3

The Mets won again, pulling out a 4-3 squeaker in a game that didn’t really look that close. The way the Mets carry themselves on the field this year, they exude confidence, and look as though they expect to win. There appeared to be no pressure nor tension during this game, which wasn’t exactly an easy victory, as Aaron Heilman gave up two runs in the 7th to allow the Brew Crew to within one.

Not sure why Heilman was in there in the first place, as Tom Glavine was dominating through six, striking out 11 and giving up only one unearned run. But he did hit that magic, unfounded 100-pitch count (107 exactly), so Mr. Willie just had to remove him. Personally, I’ll never understand the logic of taking out a guy who is cruising, just because of pitch count. If he was up around 130 pitches, it’s a different story. In my opinion, you have to go with your best for as long as he can go, and Glavine was the best the Mets had last night.

Whatever, the Mets won, and showed how great it is to have both Heilman and Dirty Filthy Duaner Sanchez in the bullpen. Obviously, you can’t expect either of these guys to be perfect every time out, so when Heilman is “off” — as he was last night — you can pull him and bring in Sanchez, who was lights out. I still think Heilman should be in the rotation, but everyone’s tired of hearing me write that. In any case, the Mets bullpen looks damn strong here in the early going.


Game 8: Win

Mets 13 Nationals 4

Before the season, there was talk of a New York team scoring over 1000 runs this year, and possibly breaking the all-time record for runs scored in a season. Of course, that team was the Yankees, but if the first eight games of the season is any indication, there could very well be TWO New York teams vying for that record.

Once again, David Wright was the star, with three hits, including a home run, two RBI, and two runs scored. Carlos Beltran hit another bomb, and it’s looking like he is on a mission to erase the disappointing 2005 season. Cliff Floyd also had a couple hits, including a double, and it looks like he’s finally got his timing and is out of his slump. Reyes continues to hit the ball with authority, even when he makes out; everything he’s hit has been hit hard. Even Chris Woodward, who got his first start of the season at second base, had two hits and three RBI, hitting in Paul LoDuca’s #2 spot in the order (Ramon Castro caught and batted 8th). Which gives you a glimpse as to how much more powerful this lineup could be if you had Woody or Keppinger at 2B at batting 8th, instead of AHern. True enough, Hernandez has been spraying singles here and there so far, but I still don’t see him hitting enough to stay here.

If there was a negative today, it was Victor Zambrano, whose 2006 debut was underwhelming: five innings, six hits, 4 walks, 3 earned runs. He threw a total of 87 pitches in five innings, 47 for strikes (compare that to Pedro’s performance yesterday: 85 pitches, 55 for strikes, in 7 IP). It’s only his first start, and he’s undoubtedly rusty, but I just can’t stomach the way this guy pitches: deliberately, at a slow pace, with too many balls. I don’t care how much his ball moves, or how much talent he has, it’s unfair to the fielders to put this guy out there as a starter and force them to endure five innings of frustration. It’s a surprise the fielders don’t fall asleep, waiting for something to happen. As great as Heilman is in the pen, I’d still rather see him switch places with Zambrano. I truly believe that forcing Zambrano to throw only one or two innings at a time, and cutting his repertoire down to two pitches, would produce an effective reliever. The idea of him starting and laboring on the mound (the way Al Leiter did at the end of his career) needs to be re-thought. Put Heilman in the rotation, and you’ll have a solid 6-8 inning guy, and won’t need to worry about shortening his games. Put Zambrano in the pen, make him strictly a sinker-slider guy, and you’ve got essentially another Heilman who can be effective vs. righties and lefties. But then, what do I know? I’m just a whiny know-nothing blogger.

Jorge Julio was given another chance, and looked so-so … which is better than awful, so we’ll consider this a step in the right direction. He was lighting up the gun at 97 MPH consistently, but left one outside to Nick Johnson, who promptly dumped it over the left-center fence. Matthew LeCroy was sitting on a first-pitch fastball, and smashed it down the leftfield line for a double. In the end, Julio gave up just those two hits and struck out two, but walked off the mound with a completely dejected look; he truly wears his heart on his sleeve. It makes you think that maybe this guy needs to go down to AAA and develop some maturity. Bring back Heath Bell !


Game 7: Win

Mets 3 Nationals 1

The Mets are really making it difficult for me to critique them, as they’re doing everything they’re supposed to do and WINNING!

Pedro was masterful. He is truly an artist on the mound, painting the corners, changing speeds, using different angles and spins, and keeping the batters off balance. And yet he makes the batters hit the ball, or mis-hit it, and is so resourceful and efficient. By the middle of the 6th inning, he had only thrown a little more than 60 pitches; right around ten pitches an inning. That’s amazing.

Once again, the bullpen was wonderful, holding the slim lead and making Pedro’s masterpiece worthwhile. I think it’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing great Pedro outings wasted while people like Mike DeJean and Braden Looper blow the game.

Furthermore, the batters are batting. Every day, someone else hits — except for David Wright, who hits every day. This time it was Delgado and Beltran with the blows, with Wright sneaking in a triple. It’s early, but so far Delgado has delivered, and is exactly as advertised. Just as important, Beltran looks to be fulfilling his potential.

In regard to Beltran, let’s be realistic: he will not produce at the rate he did at the end of 2004 with the Astros; that was an anomaly. We should, however, realistically expect him to put up numbers similar to what he did in Kansas City: 20-25 HRs, 80-90 RBI, .275 AVG, 25-35 SBs. If he can return to that form, the Mets will have themselves a solid #3 batter.

As for David Wright, I’m sticking to my guns: Wright for MVP !


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?