Browsing Archive August, 2006

Game 132: Loss

Rockies 8 Mets 4

OK, so the cork came off of the bottle holding the lightning of Oliver Perez. So we won’t have a flamethrowing lefty in the postseason. No biggie.

Although Perez looked awful, and he had no command whatsoever, it did appear that he was throwing more pitches close to the mid-90s; he hit 94 on several occasions. The big issue in Pittsburgh was that he lost velocity and was down in the 88-89 range. In his first start, his fastball was in the 91-92 range, and this time out he was more like 93-94. Now it’s entirely possible that the speed had something to do with the thin air in Colorado, but I’d like to pull out something positive.

Friday night has the return of Tom Glavine vs. Wandy Rodriguez. The Mets, for whatever reason, have had some trouble with Wandy. Luckily, they’ll only need to score one or two runs to beat the punchless ‘Stros.
One thing is certain: Oliver Perez’s mechanics are a pitching coach’s nightmare. If the Mets can find a way to get him to repeat his motion, they may have something. One thing in particular that strikes me is the fact that his stride foot lands closed and front leg plants stiff, which in turn cuts off his hip rotation and causes him to throw across his body. There have been a handful of pitchers who could get away with this — Steve Carlton comes to mind — but too many who could not, at least not over the long haul (Mitch Williams comes to mind). So another if: if the Mets can somehow get him to stride just a few inches to the right, and with a slightly more open front toe, he might be able to get his hips involved and regain the 96-98 MPH velocity he had a few years ago. I didn’t see much of him in 2004, and can’t find any video, so I have no idea if this is the issue … just a layman’s evaluation and theory.

Oh, was there a game? And here we thought it was another controlled, game-condition tryout for Oliver Perez.

The batters did a pretty commendable job, with Jose Reyes blistering the ball all over the place and Paul LoDuca continuing his quiet, all-around productive performance. David Wright, however, continues to slump; he had only one home run and a single (as Mr. Willie pointed out, he’s certainly no George Brett). Endy Chavez continued to prove why he is MLB’s best fourth outfielder by collecting three hits against lefthanded pitchers.

Notes

Garrett Atkins hit something like .800 in this series. Why no Met pitcher considered stuffing a fastball into his armpit is beyond me. The guy dives into the plate on every pitch and his hot hitting could have been equalized by a few inside pitches.

Todd Helton is looking awful — at least for him. It is painful to watch a guy who was such an amazing hitter struggle as he is. He was the kind of pure hitter who you would drop everything you were doing just to watch him do battle; much like Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, George Brett, and Paul Molitor. Hopefully he’ll be able to recover from his health issues during the offseason and come back next year to be the player we remember.

Shawn Green is showing vulnerability against lefthanders throwing sweeping breaking pitches off the outside half of the plate … and it shouldn’t be that way. He showed that he is capable of sitting back and waiting on pitches and dropping them into left field — witnessed by his big double in Game 128 against Aaron Fultz. If he can change his approach — think opposite field against these type of lefties — he will be devastating. Rick Down should have Pedro Feliciano throw BP to Green for a week.

ChadBrad is so automatic he should be called “The Machine”.

Jose Reyes is easily the most fun and exciting player to watch this side of the Mississippi. And the other side, too. He also gives the best interviews, because he is so obviously speaking directly from the heart and not through some PR filter. His quote before the game about hanging out at the mall with his buddy Anderson Hernandez made me believe I was listening to a 13-year-old.

Tulowitzki and Spilborghs will have to change their names if they want long-term success in the Majors. Or they’ll end up in Kansas City like Grudzielanek and Mientkewicz.

Is it me or is Keith Hernandez slowly turning into Phil Rizzuto? His personal comments (his nephew, his golf game, etc.) are slowly creeping into the broadcasts … I’m waiting for him to start wishing happy birthdays to 92-year-old women in retirement homes (not that there’s anything wrong with fans like that!) and begin talking about the best place to find a cannoli in Bergen County …

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Game 131: Win

Mets 11 Rockies 3

This is just getting silly.

The Mets have won 11 of their last 12, scored in double digits for the fourth time in the last week, Steve Trachsel has become a legitimate Cy Young candidate, and late-season retreads Dave Williams, Guillermo Mota, and Oliver Perez are making a strong case to be considered for postseason pitching. It’s as if the Mets can do no wrong.

Did I mention that starting pitcher Williams — who pitched seven strong innings, allowing only three runs — went 2-2 as a hitter and reached base in all four of his plate appearances?

Checking the ears of Mr. Williams, it appears he, like Trachsel, is also a vulcan, which may explain the tremendous run support he’s been given. Impressively enough, he didn’t need all those runs, as he pitched a helluva game. In fact, for all intents and purposes, the third run was a gimme, as the Mets didn’t even try to throw out Jamey Carroll on a steal attempt before he scored on Kaz Matsui’s single.

For the second night in a row, the Mets poo-pooed the whole “humidor” farce. David Wright — who is still in a slump — started the damage with a first-inning grand slam. Jose Valentin knocked two warm, damp baseballs over the fence, and Carlos Delgado socked a soggy one over the leftfield wall. Shawn Green and Michael Mother Tucker were the only Met starters not to collect a hit, as the Mets banged out eleven hits and walked eight times.

Notes

Something I’m not understanding regarding the humidified baseballs: didn’t Connie Mack (and others) freeze baseballs to deaden them? And by putting baseballs in the freezer, wouldn’t that DE-humidify them? I’d like to get some perspective and theories from a scientist on this …

In the last post I mentioned that David Wright was still slumping because he was swinging at first offerings and getting behind on counts. His grand salami came on a 2-1 count.

Was Guillermo Mota part of a conspiracy contrived by Omar Minaya? This guy has been downright magnificent, making one wonder how the heck he could have been thrown away by three different teams in less than a year. Did he pitch awful on purpose, with the goal of eventually returning to his original organization? True, he hasn’t yet been in a pressure situation, but he’s been almost perfect and his stuff looks deadly.

The Mets have been pursuing a backup infielder, with 2B Jose Valentin still nursing a sore hamstring and David Wright in need of a break. There was talk of acquiring Luis Gonzalez from Colorado, and I bet Craig Counsell is available. Here’s a crazy idea: how about Edgardo Alfonzo, who has been stepping it up lately and has raised his average to .262 at Norfolk? He’s a 2B/3B who would fit in quite nicely, don’tcha think ?

Oliver Perez will get another start on Thursday, facing Rockies ace Jeff Francis. We hope to see him build on his somewhat impressive Met debut. The good thing is, the Rockies don’t have Ryan Howard, so he has that going for him. The soggy baseballs should help, too.

With 31 games to play, the Mets’ magic number is 17.

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Game 130: Win

Mets 10 Rockies 5

Steve Trachsel pitched six solid innings for maybe the third time this year, truly earning (for a change) his NL-leading 14th win.

The Mets’ lineup, meanwhile, were limited to only ten runs; a fact directly attributed to the soggy baseballs coming out of the Colorado humidor.

Once again Carlos Beltran supplied the firepower, blasting a double and a home run, but he had plenty of help from the rest of the crew. Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Shawn Green all had multi-hit games, with Reyes smashing his 16th homer and nearly missing his 17th (he settled for a double). Wright and Delgado both hit triples in the game, with Delgado also getting a double.

Notes

Although David Wright went 3-4, he’s still slumping. Watching him in each at-bat, you can see that he is swinging at a lot of bad pitches, and the proficient two-strike hitting of the first half has come back to bite him in the butt. I mentioned David Wright swinging at first pitches back in late June; at the time, it didn’t seem so bad, because he had hit at least one home run with that strategy. However, when Wright has shown consistency, his approach has been to take a few pitches before clubbing away. You can say what you want about being aggressive, but it all depends on the hitter. Certainly Jose Reyes is a better hitter when he tones down his aggressiveness, and David Wright has proven to be a much more productive batter when he takes a few pitches. That’s not to say he should never swing at a first pitch, as he has been successful on occasion with that strategy. However, his approach was very similar to Mike Piazza’s: take a few pitches, especially early in the game, and get good looks so you are better prepared later in the at-bat and later in the game to handle anything the pitcher throws to you. Every once in a while, you take a hack at a first offering to keep the pitcher honest. However, David has been swinging at a lot of first pitches in the last month and a half — much more often than occasionally. As a result, he’s falling behind in counts and going directly to his protective inside-out swing. That’s a great approach, until pitchers start jamming you inside — which is another thing happening lately. D-Wright needs to get back to that taking pitches early routine, get ahead on counts, and give himself a chance to pull an inside pitch every once in a while.

Shawn Green is quickly fitting in very nicely, thank you. This is going to be one vicious lineup when Uncle Cliffy returns, and might even be strong enough to face an AL team for a seven-game series.

Here’s a scary scenario: Steve Trachsel wins 20 games and the Cy Young Award. Trax is currently tied for the NL lead in wins with Brad Penny, Brandon Webb, and Carlos Zambrano. Assuming he remains healthy, Trax should get at least six more starts. There’s every reason to believe that Zambrano and Webb won’t reach 20 wins, as the Cubs have a hard time winning and the D-backs are fading. If Trachsel can win all six of his last starts, Brad Penny might be his only competition for the Cy Young. Of course, there’s a great chance there won’t be any 20-game winner in the NL, but there’s also a good chance that Trax is the league leader in wins. What if, say, Trachsel finishes the season with 18 wins to lead the NL, the next-best is Penny with 17, and Webb and Zambrano only finish with 16? Who gets the Cy Young?

Better yet, what if there is no 20-game winner — or even a 19-game winner — and Billy Wagner saves 40 games? Is he considered?

While everyone else is talking about the heated competition for NL MVP, the Cy Young race — or lack of one — might be even more interesting.

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Game 129: Win

Mets 8 Phillies 3

John Maine looked great — again — and the Phillies rolled over and played dead on a dreary, wet afternoon that makes even professionals not want to play baseball.

Luckily, Maine and the Mets showed up, and spanked the Phillies all over Shea. Jose Reyes, Paul LoDuca, Carlos Delgado, and Endy Chavez all had two hits apiece, and David Wright continued his slump by driving in only two runs and scoring one. Chris Woodward was the only non-pitcher to go hitless, but he drove in a run to remain productive.

Maine went six and a third, allowing only five hits, two walks, and two earned runs — both came on a homerun by Met killer Pat Burrell.

Notes

Jose Reyes hit another triple, his 16th of the season. He might have been able to turn it into an inside-the-park homerun, but stayed at third on the wet basepaths.

Jamie Moyer looked like a 43-year-old lefty throwing 80-MPH slop. I guess the shoe fits.

Guillermo Mota finally gave up a hit, and a run, but it was to the inhuman Ryan Howard so it wasn’t a big deal. Other than Howard, Mota was perfect, striking out two. He and Roberto Hernandez are a fearsome one-two power punch, and make you nearly forget that the Mets also have ChadBrad and Aaron Heilman getting everybody out. Add these four to Billy Wagner — who struck out the side in his first outing in five days — and there you have the best bullpen in the Major Leagues. Imagine if Oliver Perez proves worthy enough to be a deadly lefty in that ‘pen, come October? Scary. Very scary.

Speaking of scary, Steve Trachsel goes for his 14th win in Colorado on Tuesday against Byung-Hyun Kim. Trax will have to figure out a strategy against the Rockies’ recent callup, a Japanese import who is batting .412 with a .500 OBP in his last five games. Some guy named Kaz Matsui ….

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Game 128: Win

Mets 11 Phillies 5

After the first four innings, it looked like Omar Minaya might have caught lightning in a bottle with the Xavier Nady trade, as “throw-in” Oliver Perez resembled the 2004 form that made him more highly coveted than, say, Dontrelle Willis.

Perez didn’t just breeze … he ripped through the Phillies batters like a gas chainsaw through warm butter, striking out six and allowing no hits through the first four innings.

Then came the fifth.

All hell broke loose, as Perez suddenly lost his command, walking two — including pitcher Jon Lieber — and hitting one before giving up a grand slam to Ryan Howard. When the inning was over, the Mets’ 2-zip lead was transformed into a 5-2 deficit, and Perez was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning.

However, Jon Lieber’s mastery of the Mets came to an end in the bottom of the sixth, as Carlos Delgado drove home himself and Carlos Betran with an absolute blast over the left-center wall. The Phillies brought in Rick White in the seventh inning, and the Mets began to feast.

After the first three Mets got on to load the bases, Carlos Delgado — again — delivered a long fly ball. This time it stayed in the park, but Jose Reyes scored on the sac fly to tie the game. David Wright was intentionally walked to load the bases again and give reliever Aaron Fultz an advantage against newly acquired lefthanded hitter Shawn Green. Green fell behind 0-2, watched a waste pitch, then hammered the 1-2 offering into left field for an opposite-field double that drove in two and gave the Mets the lead.

Fultz apparently didn’t learn from the first intentional walk, as he then intentionally walked Jose Valentin to load the bases again and face lefty hitter Endy Chavez. It was deja vu all over again, as Endy doubled to deep right, scoring Green and Wright. Chris Woodward followed with another hit, a single, to clear Chavez and Valentin, and by the time the inning was over the Mets had an 11-5 lead that stood to the end of the game.

Notes

Though Perez fell apart in the fifth, he looked downright awesome through those first four. If nothing else, it is apparent that he still has a huge amount of talent. From what I understand, his issue in Pittsburgh was partly mechanical, partly a decrease in velocity, and partly a change in style. In other words, his problem wasn’t a matter of losing concentration or succumbing to sudden big innings. Considering that he was hitting around 93-94, and was using a one-two combination of overpowering fastballs and deadly sliders, this was a very positive outing and a step in the right direction. Before the fifth, Perez looked confident, excited, and dominating, turning feared hitters such as Ryan Howard into non-entities. Even if Perez doesn’t evolve into a playoff starter by the end of September, he looks to have enough stuff to be a vital component of the bullpen come October.

Speaking of the bullpen, how about Guillermo Mota? After falling off the face of the earth — possibly gone to the same place as Perez — Mota has resurfaced with the same stuff that made him one of the most dominating setup men in baseball in 2003-2004. My guess is that he’s suffered from minor injuries and too many changes since his days as a Dodger. Based on his success as a setup guy, the Marlins gave up the farm and banked on him being a closer … a role he never quite embraced nor could succeed in. Since failing as a closer, he’s been passed from the Marlins to the Red Sox to the Indians, and now the Mets in the course of ten months. If he continues to pitch like this, he’ll have an enormous impact in the playoffs.

Shawn Green’s go-ahead double was exactly the type of clutch hit that will seal his endearment to the New York fans. He was already warmly welcomed, witnessed by a standing O in his Mets debut at-bat, and you could tell the fans were hoping that he’d come up big so they could cheer for him. By coming through in the clutch so quickly, the pressure is off and he can relax through September; and a relaxed Shawn Green should be a very productive one.

In the bottom of the sixth, Julio Franco pinch-hit for the pitcher, Darren Oliver, with the bases loaded and one out and the Mets still down 5-4. Maybe I’m crazy (OK, there’s no maybe involved), but I would have considered allowing Oliver to hit for himself in that situation. Oliver is a good-hitting pitcher, with a .228 career batting average, and had pitched only one inning. At the time, I completely understood why Mr. Willie had Julio Franco up there, though I firmly believe Oliver would have had a better at-bat than Franco’s first-pitch swinging into a double play. Since the Mets have been carrying so many pitchers, I wonder if Willie has Oliver take “real” batting practice with the regular players, or if he only swings with the pitchers — which is generally a more limited session. With an athlete like Oliver available, you’d think one would take advantage and have him as a hitter and a pitcher.

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