Browsing Archive September, 2006

Game 161: Win

Mets 13 Nationals 0

It was a blowout, and it was a win, but let’s look at the most important issues, considering the Mets’ postseason.

Have Tom Glavine pitch well enough to warrant being a #2 playoff starter … check.

Get Julio Franco and Ramon Castro some at-bats to get them into a groove and be worthwhile October pinch-hitters … check.

Tell Carlos Beltran to take even more pitches and draw some walks to put ducks on the pond for Carlos Delgado, Wright, et al … check

Get Shawn Green and Endy Chavez into the groove, so that if Cliffy isn’t available, we’re still OK … check.

Get Chris Woodward some at-bats so he isn’t rusty … check.

So all the 161st game postseason preparation goals were met, and the team won a laugher, to boot.

Most important was the Glavine issue; facing a last-place team with a very so-so offense, Glavine needed to pitch well. Had he struggled in the least bit against the woeful Nationals, we’d be in deep doo-doo. As it was, he not only pitched well, he came as close to dominating as Glavine is going to do against anyone, shutting out the Nats in six innings, walking none and allowing only three hits. Also important, he threw only 72 pitches — an average of 12 per inning (that is outstanding efficiency, by the way) — and 49 of those for strikes. Though he easily could have pitched another two innings at least, and possibly finished out a complete-game shutout, Mr. Willie did the right thing by pulling him after six. This way, Tommy came out of the game on top, brimming with confidence and with a very good taste in his mouth. Now that Pedro is gone for 2006 (and much of 2007), it is absolutely vital for Glavine to recapture the magic that made him a Cy Young Award winner in Atlanta, if only for the month of October. He needs to be as sharp as he was this evening, if the Mets are to get to the World Series. He must.

While Glavine was pitching lights out, the offense suddenly woke up. Granted, it was against the worst pitching team in the NL, but we’ll take it. Now is as good a time as any for the Mets offense to get into gear.

Leading the way was, of all people, 48-year-old Julio Franco, who was a triple short of hitting for the cycle, and drove in five runs. Endy Chavez went 2-5 with a walk and three runs scored, and Carlos Beltran walked three times, had one hit, and scored all four times he reached base.

And, Shawn Green broke out, going 2-4 with 3 runs scored and 3 RBI. If you paid attention to my last few posts, I mentioned that Green seemed to be seeing the ball well and was due to break out at any moment. I really like it when I’m right about some things ;-). Right now is a great time for Green to get into a hot streak. While we can’t expect him to carry the team, he’s not that far removed from hot streaks where he goes absolutely ballistic, and looks like the Jewish Babe Ruth. He had one of those back in May, when he hit .374 for the month. Though he’s probably no longer the guy who once hit four home runs and 19 total bases in a game, he is still able to get on the kind of hot streak that can do some damage, especially in the already potent Mets lineup.

Notes

Before the game it was announced that Frank Robinson would not return to manage the Nats in 2007. Robinson is without a doubt one of the icons of the game, and one of the few men who you could say, is most interested in preserving the integrity, respect, and purity of baseball above all else. He took the position of Montreal Expos manager five years ago partially because he wanted another shot to manage, and mostly because Baseball asked him to do it. Under the most dire circumstances — a team without an owner, and on the brink of dissolving at any moment — he did his best to make his teams as competitive as possible, despite a lack of resources and interest, and without complaints. My wife had a great point: considering his respect and commitment for the game, and his accomplishments, wouldn’t he make a great commissioner of baseball? The thought never occurred to me, but she has a worthwhile point. Of course, it would never happen, as the commissioner needs to be a puppet and mouthpiece for the owners to pit against Donald Fehr and the MLBPA. However, if the powers that be really cared about baseball, and wanted to put a good, neutral man in the position — one who would make ALL decisions based on what was best for the game (as opposed to the pockets of the players or the owners), then Frank Robinson might be a fantastic nomination for a short list of candidates. MLB has not had such a leader since the days of Fay Vincent and Bart Giamatti, and sadly, likely never will again. But if there’s a shred of possibility that baseball could have a true leader, rather than an egocentric foil for Don Fehr, here’s one vote for Robinson.

Probably lost in the postgame comments was a remark by Julio Franco, interviewed by SNY. He was asked if he realized he was a triple away from hitting for the cycle. He answered that he did know he needed a triple, but with a ten-run lead, he wasn’t about to start swinging from his heels in search of a personal milestone. He said something to the effect of, “… I have too much respect for the game … we were up by ten, so I take the first pitch in my at-bats … “. This was coming from an old-time ballplayer exuding old-time respect for the game and more importantly, for his opponent. He might also have been verbally slapping the Braves for their swing-from-the-heels approach after gaining an equally insurmountable lead against the Mets earlier in the week. No doubt Franco took offense against his former Atlanta teammates, who were clearly looking to embarass the Mets and pad their own stats in their 12-0 pounding and 13-1 massacre in back to back games on September 26th and 27th.

Speaking of that shellacking on the 26th, Oliver Perez will get the start in the final game of the season, stepping in for Steve Trachsel, who is returning home to San Diego for personal reasons. Hopefully, all is OK with Trax’s family, and we wish him the best. And if he can’t rejoin the Mets for a few days, so be it … there are much more important things in life than a few baseball games — even if it’s the playoffs.

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Game 160: Win

Mets 4 Nationals 3

John Maine pitched well … actually cruised … until the fourth inning, when he suddenly had trouble spotting his pitches, fell behind batters, walked a couple, and then lost a 1-0 lead. But, he kept the bleeding to a minimum, allowing two runs. In addition, he helped himself in the top of the next inning by hitting a one-out double (his first hit of 2006) and scoring on a double by Paul LoDuca.

He pitched two more innings, giving up a bomb to Ryan Church in the sixth, but looked like he could continue cruising. However, Willie Randolph removed him, as he had thrown 92 pitches and there wasn’t much sense in pushing him when the postseason plan is to use the relievers — and the bullpen needed some work. Though, even if it were earlier in the season, it’s likely that Maine would have been removed from the game anyway, considering the Mets’ strategy of “shortening” games.

In the end, Maine went six solid innings, throwing 92 pitches (57 for strikes) and giving up three runs on three hits and three walks. The walk total is alarming for Maine, but if you watched the game you know at least two of those walks were the result of very close 3-2 pitches that could have gone either way. As mentioned earlier, Maine would really benefit from developing a two-strike breaking pitch that breaks out of the strike zone, such as a splitter or slider. I really believe such a pitch added to his repertoire and used 5-7 times per game would turn him into a 15-17-win per season pitcher.

After Maine, the Mets bullpen did their usual excellent routine, though Pedro Feliciano struggled. Feliciano did not give up any runs, but it took him 25 pitches (only 12 for strikes) to get through the seventh inning. If Steve Trachsel were lefthanded and a relief pitcher, he might be Feliciano, who tends to rely on the batters swinging at bad pitches just outside the strike zone. A disciplined lineup (read: NY Yankees), would have an easy time with Feliciano, as they would just sit back and wait for a strike. Ironically, it was Feliciano who earned the win.

Guillermo Mota and Billy Wagner were nearly perfect in closing out the game, throwing for a combined 23 pitches, 16 for strikes (Wagner was 9/12 with two K’s).

Notes

Paul LoDuca hit his 39th double of the year, and went 2-5 in raising his average to .319.

Wagner saved his 40th game, only the second time in his career he’s reached that milestone. He did save 39 twice and 38 last year.

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Game 159: Win

Mets 7 Braves 4

The final score separated the two teams by only three runs, but it was never that close.

Finally, the postseason Mets showed up for a game, led by our new No. 1 starter Orlando Hernandez. El Duque put in quite a performance, dominating the Braves over five innings. He threw way too many pitches, but it looked like he might have been squeezed by the home plate ump (it was going both ways — both Braves catcher Brian McCann and manager Bobby Cox were tossed early for arguing balls and strikes), and the Mets were a little sloppy in the field, allowing the Braves a few extra outs.

El Duque allowed only three hits and no earned runs and struck out nine in those five innings, and even though he was up to 100 pitches, it looked like he’d have been fine pitching another 3-4 innings if this were a playoff game. Now is a great time for him to be hitting his stride, especially with the news that Pedro is gone for 2006.

Speaking of hitting stride, the two Carloses are heating up just in time. Delgado drove in four with two doubles, and Beltran mashed his 41st dinger of the year. BTW, Beltran must hit one more homerun and erase Todd Hundley from the Mets’ record book; it’s time to replace the louses with legitimate players.

In the same vein, Jose Reyes needs three more stolen bases to break Roger Cedeno’s record. Getting Reyes and Beltran to reach these milestons isn’t really that important, but it will be nice to see our young guns start to litter their names all over the Mets’ record book; it helps validate the ushering in of the “new” Mets era.

Notes

Shawn Green did not have any hits, but he looked very comfortable at the plate and hit the ball hard a few times. It appears that he is seeing the ball well, and is waiting longer on balls that he was previously ahead of. And though he’s sitting back nicely, it seems that he’s recognizing inside pitches in his hot zone to jerk into the right-field stands. I’ll go on a limb and predict that Green will come up with some big hits next week.

Paul LoDuca continues to quietly do everything with the bat. He’s spraying the ball all over the field, getting hits, driving in runs, moving runners over — the complete package — and showing no signs of slowing down. Although he hasn’t hit many balls over the fence, he does have 38 doubles — which is second on the team and is a nice complement to his team-leading .318 average. Does anyone realize LoDuca is currently the sixth-best hitter for average in the NL ?

Friday night pits John Maine vs. Tony Armas, Jr. If Maine has a great performance, he could give Mr. Willie reason to make him the #3.

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Game 158: Loss

Braves 13 Mets 1

What an ugly, ugly game …

We went into this contest not concerned about the outcome, so the fact that the Mets lost their fourth straight game — and second straight by double digits — was no big deal.

We’ll also pretend we’re not concerned with the continued lack of offense, sloppy defense, and overall sluggishness.

The main concern was Pedro Martinez. And we’re still concerned … very much so.

Pedro looked absolutely awful, flipping high change-ups (or were they fastballs?) from the get-go. I was astonished that it took three innings for one of the Mets announcers to mention his arm slot, and even then it was only a quick comment by Ron Darling that was lost by the next play-by-play call. Either they were not paying attention or in denial, because Pedro’s mechanics more closely resembled Chad Bradford or Dan Quisenberry than Mr. Martinez — his elbow was down around his hip and often lower on all pitches.

In addition, Pedro did not have a good “look” on his face — he looked scared, tentative, and without confidence. He also could not get a rhythm going, similar to Tom Glavine’s problem the night before. It was painful to watch, as it seemed like a moon shot was going to be launched every time he released the ball (and several were). It was sad, really.

Whereas we hoped that Pedro just needed to build his strength back, it’s now clear that Pedro either has a major physical problem, or possibly several physical problems. He cannot be counted on to pitch in the playoffs — not game one nor any other game. It’s a shame, because where the Mets are today can be traced directly to the signing of Pedro Martinez; perhaps the most significant milestone in recent Mets’ history. Without Pedro, the Mets don’t get Beltran, don’t get Wagner, and probably don’t get Delgado, either, because they might have needed Yusmeiro Petit.

The Mets can say all they want that this latest development is nothing to be concerned about, and the statisticians can show us that the Mets win more often without Pedro on the mound. However, Pedro validates the Mets as a contender. Without Pedro Martinez, the Mets may on paper be OK, but in their minds and hearts a seed of doubt is planted. The confidence factor WILL go down a notch, knowing that Pedro is not among their playoff starters. By not having Pedro, every Met player will have at least a slight feeling of anxiety — a feeling that they must try just a little bit harder. That creates tension, which in turn negatively affects performance. Not a good formula for the playoffs.

Notes

Wasn’t Chipper Jones supposed to be out for the rest of the year? Funny how he heals just in time to mash against the Mets.

Even up by ten-plus runs, the Braves continued to play hard, hustling out every play and diving all over the place for balls. Marcus Giles and Ryan Langerhans in particular made some spectacular plays to help drive the nails into the Mets’ coffin. After watching these two games, you’d never believe the Braves were eliminated from the postseason; they played like they had some kind of vendetta. I guess 14 consecutive division titles wasn’t enough.

Is any Met pitcher ever going to brush a guy back? After eating up and spitting out Pedro, the Braves proceeded to tee off on Darren Oliver — literally. Even the mild-mannered Ron Darling noticed that it was about time for someone to get dusted, stating, “I would not allow this to happen…” and leaving it at that. He’s 100% correct, and I’m not sure if this is a lack of heart, fear, or just the pussyfoot way baseball is played today … but I’m with Ron: if a team is going to dig in and swing from their heels like it’s a slo-pitch softball game, I’m sorry, but someone is tasting clay.

The blowout enabled Philip Humber to enter his second big-league game. While these late-season outings are relatively meaningless, one must be impressed with this youngster. He has smooth, easy mechanics, a very sharp 12-6 curveball, and a nice low moving fastball. His consistent, simple, overhand delivery suggests that he’ll throw lots and lots of strikes. He reminds me a bit of Tom Seaver, as he does have a little “drop and drive” to his motion (though he doesn’t get his back knee as low and dirty), and he has that nice easy yet powerful motion that delivers a good low fastball and overhand curve. He might just be ready to step in and be a #3 or #4 sometime next year.

The Astros won their 8th straight, coming back from a five-run deficit to beat the Pirates in 15 innings. Their only way into the playoffs is by winning the division, which means if the Phillies get in as the wild card, the Mets will face the ‘stros and are dead meat. Sorry, but I don’t see any possibility of the Mets getting through Clemens, Oswalt, and Pettitte — with or without Pedro. What a shame it will be to see the team with the best record in the NL be eliminated in three games.

Thursday night will have El Duque against Kyle Davies. It would appear that Orlando Hernandez will be the #1 playoff starter, so maybe this will be the game the Mets use as their pre-postseason tuneup.

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Game 157: Loss

Braves 12 Mets 0

For one night, it was as if the Mets were the victims of a time machine, making the year, perhaps, 2003. John Smoltz cruised all game, barely breaking a sweat, while the Mets looked inept at bat, on the mound, and in the field.

In the first inning, the Braves showed why they won the division 14 years in a row, while the Mets exhibited the incompetence that made them also-rans during that streak.

The Mets started off the game with men on first and third and no outs, with their 3-4-5 batters stepping up to the plate. Carlos Beltran struck out, not even coming close to a ball. Carlos Delgado did the same, though he nearly poked a single to left field before whiffing. David Wright completed the disgraceful performance by popping up to centerfield.

In the bottom of the inning, the Braves’ leadoff batter Willy Aybar hit a weak popup to leftfield that was so grossly misplayed by Mr. Achilles, Cliff Floyd, it became a standup double. Pesky Marcus Giles followed with a bunt past the pitcher toward second base that became an infield hit. So, the Braves had the same first-and-third start with the meat of the lineup coming up. The difference, of course, is that their #3 guy, Edgar Renteria, did his job by making CONTACT, and thus drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. The next batter, Andruw Jones, lived up to his status as the cleanup hitter by blasting a pitch into the leftfield seats. In the end, both teams put themselves into identical situations, and the result was Braves 3 Mets 0.

Granted, it doesn’t matter — at least not as far as the 2006 regular season. But, it is a glaring example of the Mets’ sudden inability to drive home runs that should and must be driven in. It’s an issue that must not be an issue come playoff time, when the Mets lineup might have to face the likes of Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, or Brad Penny — guys who shut down big hitters and rarely allow more than a few hits per game. Against those types of pitchers, a lineup has to attack as a team, making sure that every out is productive. Though you will occasionally see Paul LoDuca make a productive out by advancing a runner or driving home a run simply by makng contact, his skills are rare indeed among the homer-happy Mets. Too often, you’ll see Cliff Floyd or Carlos Beltran overswing at a pitch when all that is needed is a simple base hit or a well-placed grounder. This has been happening all year, but was buried because of the sheer firepower of the Met lineup.

Oliver Perez had a hard time in this game, as he was bit especially by the home run ball. Interestingly, the homers were on first-pitch fastballs, with the batters swinging so hard it looked like they were about to jump out of their shoes. Can anyone say “scouting report”? Here’s a whisper to Ollie: can you say “chin music” ? If Perez would occasionally buzz one inside to the sluggers, they wouldn’t be so eager to dig in and swing from their heels. It would also help if he could mix up his first pitches a bit.

The problem, I think, is that Oliver never really got any kind of rhythm. Other than the moon shots, he did a pretty good job of placing his pitches, getting ahead, and causing batters to swing and miss. There’s no doubt he has the kind of talent that can make a manager or GM salivate; the question is whether he’ll ever be able to put it together.

Notes

Royce Ring was one of the few bright spots of the evening, coming in to retire two lefty batters in the bottom of the sixth with a man on second. This was his third consecutive impressive performance, and you really have to wonder if he’ll get even a moment of consideration for the postseason roster, especially if he strings together a few more great outings.

Heath Bell also had a solid, if unspectacular outing, despite allowing runs in two innings of work. I say “solid” because his first inning and a third were good, but he clearly ran out of gas after that. Naturally, Willie left him out there to die, forcing him to throw over 40 pitches in the eighth inning. Randolph is a cruel, vicious, scumbag for that move. Some please explain how Bell is the only guy who can pitch when you have a 40-man roster? Dave Williams was not available? Philip Humber? Mike Pelfrey? Are these guys around merely to experience the joy of having their bags carried for them? That was a shit move, Willie.

Which begs the question, are the Mets interested in using Heath Bell next year, or are they displaying him as trade bait? Or do they simply not care at all about him, and have decided he’s the janitor? It would seem to me that Bell’s ultimate value to a team is as a one-inning setup guy, and he’s been trained as such, yet Willie Randolph continually uses him as a two- and three-inning mopup reliever. It’s like Randolph is giving him opportunities to fail — and he’s been doing it for two years now. What in god’s name does Mr. Willie have against this guy?

Ron Darling spoke about Bell going into a “caveman mentality”, explaining that Heath tends to quicken his tempo and throw harder after he gives up a few runs. Well, if Ronny were paying attention, he’d understand that Heath is no fool; Bell knows that if he’s pitching more than one inning, in a game where the team is down by five or more, he’s the sacrificial lamb. It’s kind of hard to, 1) remain motivated when you know the manager doesn’t give a crap about you; and 2) pitch effectively when you’re dog-tired. Here’s the deal, Ron: the Mets trained Bell to be a late-inning reliever, having Norfolk use him as their closer most of the year. For five months, he was told to pitch his heart out for one inning, then come back and do the same thing the next night. Since he throws a lot of strikes, he had a lot of 10- and 15-pitch outings. When the human body gets used to throwing 15 pitches, all out, a few times a week, it can be very difficult to suddenly throw 40 to 60 pitches once every two weeks. It’s kind of like asking Billy Wagner to be the playoff #1 starter, and expect him to pitch seven innings. No one would ever expect Wagner to be effective after the third inning, right? So why must people expect Heath Bell to suddenly become the righthanded Darren Oliver? His crucifixion is completely unwarranted, and a disgrace to Mets’ management.

What’s up with Willy Aybar? What does he have against the Mets? Chipper Jones must have brought him into that Friday night poker game with Pat Burrell and Dontrelle Willis, and found out all the tips for killing the Mets. I think the guy is hitting .078 against the rest of the NL, but .990 against the Mets.

Pedro tries again tomorrow, facing Tim Hudson. We’ll guess that John Maine will be ready as the long man? It would be nice to see how Maine does out of the bullpen, since the numnut Mets management is hell-bent on using Steve Trachsel as a playoff starter. Wednesday should be a good opportunity for a long relief appearance, as it’s doubtful Martinez will go more than three or four innings in his second attempt to completely destroy his calf muscle.

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