Browsing Archive April, 2007

Mets Game 24: Loss to Marlins

Marlins 9 Mets 6

Let’s play pretend.

Pretend it is the top of the third inning, there are two outs, and there is a 1-2 count on the opposing pitcher.

How would you guess the inning would turn out?

If you guessed five runs scored on two walks and four hits, you’d be right.

Mets announcer Gary Cohen insinuated (several times) that Chan Ho Park was the victim of poor Mets defense. While it’s true that a line drive popped out of Damion Easley’s glove, and two perfectly-placed pop flies eluded the Mets middle infielders and outfielders, you can’t ignore the fact that Park walked two batters to load the bases for the Marlins’ best RBI man Miguel Cabrera. And you can’t expect the wind-blow flies to safely drop into Mets’ leather.

Normally I enjoy Gary Cohen’s banter, but it’s irritating to hear judgmental criticism of the defensive plays from a guy who’s never been on a field above Little League. It’s easy to say a defender should have caught a ball from the comfort of the broadcast booth — quite another when you have actually been on a baseball field, and have had to deal with Major League popups hit into the lights and pushed around by the wind. Keith Hernandez was tellingly quiet in response to Cohen’s opinion on balls that “should have been caught” — and he is usually much more critical of defensive shortcomings.

As if the debacle of the third inning weren’t bad enough, light-hitting Alfredo Amezaga hit a monster solo shot over the rightfield fence in the fourth. Hanley Ramirez did the same thing two batters later to make the game 7-zip.

The Mets didn’t score until the fifth inning, when Carlos Beltran hit another solo homer from the right side. They scored three more in the sixth to chase starter Scott Olsen, and scratched out another two in the 8th, but never really put together enough of a rally to threaten the Marlins’ lead.

Notes

After this start, comparisons of Chan Ho Park to Jose Lima are not completely out of line. It would just be the Mets’ dumb luck that their worst AAA pitcher would be due for a start on the day they needed a replacement. My guess is we’ll see Jorge Sosa or Jason Vargas the next time El Duque’s spot in the rotation comes up.

Kind of scary to be Chan Ho Park, and honestly believe you belong in MLB.

One of the bright spots in the game was Carlos Beltran, who is suddenly hot — especially from the right side. Beltran had four hits including a solo homerun.

Jose Reyes went 3-5 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI. He’s hitting .356.

Shawn Green extended his hitting streak to eight games by ripping a two-run single in the sixth.

Moises Alou has cooled off substantially over the last few days, but worse, he’s become a double-play machine. His recent rally-killing, easy-bouncing grounders to shortstop are reminiscent of Mike Piazza in his DP prime.

How many hard line drives does Carlos Delgado have to hit into short rightfield for outs before he starts dropping bunts? This is getting downright stupid, and I don’t care how much money Delgado is making — if the infielders are going to play in excess of 120 feet away, he MUST start using the bunt. He did it once, and with some practice, he can do it again. For the short term, it will get him some easy singles, and over the long term, it will discourage teams from using the shift.

As much as we’d like to believe Jose Reyes is the best, young, all-around shortstop in the NL — maybe all of MLB — the Marlins have their own superstar shortstop in the making in Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez has equal or better numbers than Reyes in every offensive category other than stolen bases, and also bats leadoff. Oh, and when we start thinking the Mets have the beBst young left side of the infield in baseball (in Reyes and David Wright), consider that the Fish have Ramirez and Cabrera. Between the young “mainstay” infielders on the Marlins and the Phillies (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins), the NL East promises to be an exciting division for quite a while.

Am I crazy, or is there a significant problem with the decibel levels on SNY? I know that commercials tend to be louder than the regular programming, but the disparity during Mets games is obnoxious. During the third inning interview with Omar Minaya, I put my TV volume on 55 and still had to stand next to the speaker to hear the conversation. Yet once the inning was over, I had to turn the volume down to 15 so that the neighbors wouldn’t call the cops. It’s understandable that the advertisers want to be heard if you’re making a bathroom break, but you shouldn’t be able to hear the ads if you’re walking to a “common toilet” at the end of a fraternity hall — or to a keg party across campus.

The Florida Marlins have a bunch of lazy-ass slackers, led by Miguel Cabrera. In that ugly third inning, with two outs, both Cabrera and Mike Jacobs were taking their sweet time around the bases on Jacobs’ Texas-leaguer fly ball. I highly doubt either of those players would be jogging around the bases in that situation if Joe Girardi were still managing the team.

Next Game

Mike Pelfrey faces Ricky Nolasco at 7:10 PM. If you are attending the game, look for me in the Loge level, section 20. I’ll be the only man in the stadium wearing a Mo Vaugn jersey. Tap me on the shoulder, mention MetsToday, and I will buy you a refreshing beverage.

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Series Preview: Mets vs. Marlins

Chan Ho Park will strap on the spikes in El Duque's spot tonightPrologue

Had to hold off on the preview while we waited to hear the results of the examinations of El Duque and Jose Valentin.

From what we understand, Orlando Hernandez has bursitis in his shoulder and will be out indefinitely. He’s been placed on the 15-day DL and likely will be out longer than that. Chan Ho Park has been brought up to start tonight’s game in his place.

Additionally, Jose Valentin has an ACL injury to his knee, and will also be put on the 15-day DL.

Ruben Gotay will take his place on the Mets roster.

The Pitching Matchups

As always, you can get the most detailed pitching notes from Metsgeek. Read over there to get the full scoop on the Marlins. Additionally, I’ll give you my brainless comments here.

Monday: Chan Ho Park vs. Scott Olsen

With El Duque out, Park gets his first MLB start of 2007. He’s gone 3-1 for New Orleans, albeit with a frightening 7.24 ERA. In four starts he’s pitched 21 innings, allowing 26 hits, 5 walks, 6 homeruns, and he struck out 20. We can be optimistic and say, “well, he’s pitching in the PCL, where homers are aplenty”, but an ERA over 7 is an ERA over 7 (in contrast, the ERA’s of Philip Humber and Jason Vargas are in the 4s). The six homers in 21 innings certainly drives home the point that the PCL parks are small, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about Chan Ho’s numbers. Interestingly, all six homers were to righthanded batters — which suggests that he’s hanging his curveball (you hang ‘em, we bang ‘em!). Again, that possibility does not make me feel any more comfortable.

Scott Olsen is a big lefty trying to build on a strong rookie season. He can be dominant at times — he struck out 10 Braves in 8 innings in his last start — but can also have trouble with his control. He is the Marlins’ version of Oliver Perez.

To beat Olsen, the Mets’ righthanded batters must be on their game, as Olsen’s slider will eat up Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado. Additionally, Chan Ho Park must find a way to give the Mets 5-6 decent innings. This game depends very much on which Scott Olsen shows up. If the “good” Olsen is pitching, the Mets’ slumping lineup might not be able to make up for Park’s inadequacy. If the “bad” Olsen is on the mound, the game could go either way, and likely turn into a battle of the bullpens. I like the Mets’ chances in that event.

Burning Question: Why is Chan Ho Park pitching, and not Jorge Sosa, who is 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA?

Satisfying Answer: Because Sosa just pitched yesterday (he won, pitching 6 shutout innings). And before you ask, Vargas pitched on Saturday and Humber Friday … and Adam Bostick on Thursday. So it is just dumb luck that El Duque’s missed start coincides with Chan Ho Park’s day to pitch.

Tuesday: Mike Pelfrey vs. Ricky Nolasco

Pelfrey is coming off a very poor start — one that might have sapped his confidence. If so, it could be another quick outing for the young righty. Trying to predict what Pelfrey will do is akin to predicting next week’s weather: who knows?

Nolasco is making his first start after coming off the 15-day DL with an elbow issue, so his predictability is equally unpredicatible. Though he also had a strong rookie season, he did so in spite of getting rocked several times by the Mets.

This is the “swing” game — it can go either way. If Pelfrey finds himself, it could be a good ballgame for the Mets. Otherwise, this game is fated to be in the hands of the middle relievers, once again, as neither starter is expected to get far past the fifth.

Wednesday: Oliver Perez vs. Anibal Sanchez

This is an important game for Oliver Perez to be “on”, because it is likely that the Mets’ bullpen will be used heavily in the first two games. The Mets will need another strong 6- to 7-inning outing from the enigmatic lefty in order to garner a win.

Anibal Sanchez had an outstanding rookie campaign, and is 2-0 this year, but has yet to get past the sixth inning — he pitched less than six in all but one of his starts. Also, his WHIP is 1.92, mainly due to trouble with control. If the Mets batters can get back to their patient approach, they should drive up the pitch count and knock Sanchez out early — and tee off on a tired and weak Florida bullpen.

Mets’ Hitting — If You Can Call it That

The Mets offense as a whole is ice cold, and looked awful against the worst pitching in the NL East. The good news is that Shawn Green has a six-game hitting streak, and hitting somewhere around .500 in that span. That could change tonight, however, if Olsen can get him to chase the slider. Also swinging a hot bat lately is Damion Easley, and the timing could not be better — he’ll be playing in place of Jose Valentin for the next few days.

Marlin’s Bats

Pitcher Scott Olsen is batting .556 so far this year, so he’s not a gimme at the end of the order. Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez are Florida’s leading hitters, and Cabrera is coming off a 5-for-5 day against the Phillies on Saturday. Veteran Aaron Boone and leftfielder Josh Willngham are also wielding hot bats of late, both hitting .348 over the last seven games. However, Mike Jacobs is starting to cool off after a hot start, and Dan Uggla is in a 7-for-33 slump over the last week.

Bottom Line

On paper, it looks as though the bullpens will have a big part in deciding these three games. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Scott Olsen, Oliver Perez or some other starter won’t come out and toss eight shutout innings. If my guess is correct and this series does come down to the bullpens, I’m liking the Mets chances — even with Aaron Heilman off his game. For one, the Mets still have Billy Wagner to close out the ninth, while the Fish have … hmmm … who do the Marlins have? Jorge Julio — who wasn’t very effective in the closer role — is on the 15-day DL, and the Fish could go to any arm in their ‘pen, including former Mets Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom. With the Florida bullpen a smattering of question marks, I think the Mets have a good chance to take two out of three.

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Mets Game 23: Win over Nationals

Mets 1 Nationals 0

John Maine was sparkling on Sunday afternoon. With each start, he comes closer to establishing himself as a #2 or #1 stopper.

Maine struck out eight, allowed three hits, and walked three over seven strong innings. A key point in the game — and a test of Maine’s character — came in the seventh. With two outs, the bases loaded, a 3-2 count on Robert Fick, and Maine clearly out of gas, Fick spoiled two good pitcher’s pitches — fastballs on the outside corner of the plate. Everyone in the park knew Maine was going to throw another fastball to the same spot, and he managed to put just a little bit of mustard on it, sailing it past Fick’s late swing. We may look back on this at-bat, and Maine’s chutzpah, as a milestone in his evolution as a legitimate ace.

Just prior to Maine’s epiphany in the seventh, the Nats had runners on first and second with none out and Jesus Flores set to bunt. Julio Franco — playing first base for a resting Carlos Delgado — charged so aggressively that he backhanded the bunt on the third base side of the mound, whirled and threw a perfect strike to David Wright to nail Austin Kearns by a step. Just when I’m ready to dismiss Franco as an old fart hogging a valuable roster spot, he makes a play like this — one you’ll rarely see from ANY first baseman in MLB. Not to mention the HUGE pinch-hit he struck in Saturday night’s game.

As well as Maine was on the mound, former Rutgers pitcher Jason Bergmann matched him nearly pitch for pitch. The Mets could manage only two hits and three walks against him — and he left the game having thrown only 88 pitches in seven innings. However, one of those two hits was a solo blast over the rightfield wall by Carlos Beltran — ultimately the difference in the ballgame.

Notes

Sunday’s game was nothing new for Jason Bergmann. He’s pitched very well in four of his five starts, sporting a 2.79 ERA, and has an 0-2 record to show for it. This is the third time he’s gone at least six innings and given up one run or less.

With Bergmann pitching so well, there weren’t many highlights other than Beltran’s decisive blow. Jose Reyes walked once, had one of the Mets’ three hits, and stole two more bases, bringing his MLB lead to 16. The only other offensive incident of consequence: Shawn Green extended his hitting streak to 7 games thanks to an excellent at-bat in the ninth. After falling behind 1-2, and looking vulnerable against sliders down and away, he worked the count to 3-2, fouled a few pitches off, then finally drove a hard grounder up the middle. It’s too bad he couldn’t have had that kind of at-bat in the first inning, with

Ryan Church walked two more times in another successful impersonation of Barry Bonds. By the way, Church has walked a total of 70 times over the course of his 4-year, 230-game career.

Jose Valentin missed the game with a hyperextended knee. The injury is not considered serious, and he likely will not go on the DL.

Next Game

The Marlins come to Shea with Scott Olsen on the mound. El Duque is the scheduled starter, but is having his shoulder checked out, so there’s a possibility we’ll see Aaron Sele make a start. If not Sele, perhaps Mike Pelfrey will be pushed up a day. Pelfrey threw only 61 pitches over three innings on Wednesday, and will have had his customary four days’ rest.

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Mets Game 22: Win

Mets 6 Nationals 2

It took long enough, but finally the Mets executed the “big hit”.

With one out in the top of the 12th, bases loaded, tie game and the infield in, Carlos Beltran bounced a ball down the first base line, past Robert Fick, and into the right field corner, scoring two runs. Carlos Delgado was intentionally walked to re-load the bases, and David Wright ripped a line drive into left field to score two more.

However, it never should have gone that far.

Tom Glavine threw a masterful game, allowing one run on three hits and a walk over six innings and 84 pitches of work. He likely would have remained in the game had the Mets once-powerful lineup not been shut down by Jerome Williams. Why the Mets made Williams look like Bob Gibson is anybody’s guess; his stuff was mediocre at best, and he walked five batters in his six scoreless innings. My guess is the Nats’ visiting clubhouse attendant drugged the Mets’ Gatorade.

Ronny Belliard was nearly the hero of the game, as he drove in both the tying and go-ahead runs with doubles in the sixth and eighth innings. Both shots were in nearly the exact same spots, down the line and into the corner — well out of the reach of Moises Alou.

But if you watched the game, then you know that Belliard’s doubles shouldn’t have meant anything, and the Mets might have scored more runs earlier in the game — specifically, the fifth inning — when first base umpire Anthony Randazzo began to nearly take the game away. Randazzo got caught up in the excitement of two fantastic, diving stops by Ryan Zimmerman in the fifth, and called out both Damion Easley and Jose Reyes on those plays — when in fact they were safe. So instead of the Mets having two men on and one out, the inning was over. Then in the seventh, Tom Glavine worked out of a difficult situation by inducing a ground-ball double play — except, Randazzo failed to call the batter-runner out at first (he was out by a half-step), and the inning went on. Willie Randolph was justifiably ticked off, and a vehement argument with Randazzo resulted in his being ejected from the game. Moments later, Belliard mashed his first double of the game to the left-field corner on a hit-and-run that scored Felipe Lopez. Had Randazzo made the right call, Glavine would have been out of the inning without a scar; as it turned out, he returned to the dugout down 1-zip.

The Nationals stayed on top, and appeared to have the game won after closer Chad Cordero got Moises Alou to bounce into a double play. However, Shawn Green managed to drill a low inside fastball into right field for his second hit of the game, to keep the inning alive. Endy Chavez came on to pinch-run for Green, and Damion Easley followed with an infield single. Julio Franco then delivered a huge pinch-hit single to chase Chavez home — though the play at the plate was very close. Had catcher Jesus Flores let the ball come into him, Chavez likely would have been a dead duck. But the young backstop leaned out to receive the throw from rightfielder Austin Kearns, then had to lunge back after the diving Chavez, who escaped the tag by inches.

The game remained tied until the twelfth, when the Mets finally chose to bring their bats to the plate. The lumber worked much better than the flimsy asparagus sticks they were using in the first 11 innings.

Notes

Just hours after I proclaimed you wouldn’t see Aaron Heilman pitch a complete inning, the Mets had him go one and two-thirds before giving up the go-ahead double to Belliard in the 8th. Without being too high on my horse, I wish Mets officials would read MetsToday — because it’s clear that Heilman is not the pitcher he was in 2005 – 2006, and there is something not right with him. Someone else needs to step up — at least until June, when Guillermo Mota returns — or the Mets are going to lose a lot of games in the late innings.

Pedro Feliciano is certainly not the answer, unless you enjoy heart attacks. His inability to retire hitters who refuse to swing is gut-wrenching. Though he didn’t give up any runs in his inning and two-thirds, he was constantly picking around the plate with breaking pitches, hoping the hitters would swing at something out of the zone. This strategy can work, at times, particularly when facing one hitter, but is a frighteningly dangerous approach when pitching full innings. At some point, every pitcher — other than a knuckleballer — must establish the fastball in order to be effective. It’s been this way for 125 years, and isn’t going to change. Feliciano’s swing-and-miss approach is fine in his role as a LOOGY, but will get him into trouble as a setup man.

In HIS LOOGY role, Scott Schoeneweis retired the one batter he faced. Mighty Joe Smith did the same in his ROOGY role. Aaron Sele pitched a fine one and a third to earn the win.

Shawn Green had two more hits, and is now batting .365.

Jose Valentin left the game in the fourth with a tweaked ankle. Damion Easley went 2-4 with a double in his place.

Ryan Church must have been wearing his Barry Bonds Halloween costume, as he walked four times. Why else would anyone pitch around him?

Next Game

The rubber match takes place at 1:35 PM Sunday afternoon, with John Maine going against Rutgers alum Jason Bergmann. Maine must continue to roll and the Mets bats must wake up — Carlos Delgado’s in particular.

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How Hurt is Heilman?

Aaron Heilman pitching for the New York MetsThe New York Mets bullpen has me VERY concerned. Every time Aaron Heilman goes out there, I’m expecting his arm to separate and the elbow joint and fly off somewhere beyond the third-base dugout. After Heilman, the next-best reliever is Joe Smith, who has yet to give up a run — but we all know he can’t go an entire season with a 0.00 ERA, so he’s “due”. Whenever Scott Schoeneweis gets into the game, I’m certain he’s going to have an outing like he did against the Braves last Sunday, throwing 25 pitches before getting an out. Similarly, when Ambiorix Burgos jogs to the mound, I’m counting the pitches before he hangs a forkball that gets knocked over the fence. Even Pedro Feliciano has me concerned — it seems like every outing he gets the first two guys out, then starts collecting baserunners. And if Aaron Sele is in the game, I know it’s a blowout.

After Friday night’s game, I wonder if Willie is thinking the same thing. Or, is there something he’s not telling us?

When Oliver Perez came to bat in the top of the sixth with the bases loaded, one out, and a run down, it seemed perplexing to some. Why didn’t Willie have Juliio Franco, or another pinch-hitter, bat for Perez in that spot? The bullpen just had a day off, and the key men seemed to be well-rested. While Mike Pelfrey only gave them three innings on Wednesday, the men who did most of the cleanup — Aaron Sele and Amby Burgos — would not have been called upon. Willie could have used a smorgasboard of his lefties and righties to get through innings 6-8, and had Billy Wagner close things out.

Initially, I was with Willie’s decision to keep Perez in the ballgame, for two reasons: first, he was pitching very well, bouncing back nicely after the first-inning homer by Austin Kearns, and had only thrown 85 pitches to that point. With Perez rolling, why not leave him in there as long as possible, and continue to rest the bullpen? Secondly, I fully expected the Mets to score more than three lousy runs against Nationals pitching, and figured they’d mount another rally the very next inning.

Hindsight, though, is 20-20, and now I’m wondering why did Willie REALLY leave Ollie in? Especially considering that the Nats have a surprisingly strong bullpen, headed by outstanding closer in Chad Cordero?

Here’s my guess: Aaron Heilman’s elbow is more of a concern than we know.

If Guillermo Mota or Duaner Sanchez were on the roster last night, Willie pulls Perez in that spot, because he knows he can have either of them give him four outs and still be ready for Saturday and/or Sunday. With Heilman, he’s not so sure. For one, Randolph is losing trust in Heilman; for another, he’s not sure about his health. Aaron’s 41-pitch outing in Atlanta on April 8th was the start of it (speaking of, what was Willie thinking by leaving him in so long?), and was compounded by another poor appearance against the Braves on the 22nd. Most recently, he pitched one inning of scoreless relief against the Rockies, but anyone who saw the game knows that Heilman escaped by the skin of his teeth — two balls were hit very hard, one right at Carlos Delgado, and another that might have gone over the fence. Whether it’s his health or a mechanical issue (or combination of both), something is not right with Aaron Heilman, and Willie knows it.

Because of this, we may be seeing Heilman used very sparingly — only when the Mets are ahead by one or two runs, only for three batters or less, and rarely on back-to-back days. In fact, it may be a while before we see Aaron start and complete one full inning.

However, that really ties Willie’s hands behind his back, and shortens up an already short bullpen. As well as Joe Smith has been throwing, Randolph won’t trust him implicity for tight 8th-inning situations until Smith proves himself through at least July. It’s true — as much as Willie likes to say he’ll use the young guys, the truth is, he’s much like his guru Joe Torre in that it takes a long time for him to trust a setup man — and longer if it’s a rookie. With that in mind, Willie’s choices are the men who are supposed to be situational lefties — Feliciano and Schoeneweis. Which means, in turn, that he doesn’t always have his LOOGYs to get the tough outs in the 6th and 7th innings. Add in the fact that Amby Burgos is less trusted than Smith, and you can see why Heilman’s health could become a mini-crisis on a team that relies heavily on the bullpen to win games.

In other words, the Mets are going to have a tough row to hoe until Guillermo Mota returns — and that’s assuming Mota will pitch as well off the juice as he did on it. In the interim, logic would dictate that Burgos would be sent down to the minors, and replaced by another reliever, but the fact is, there’s no one in New Orleans that Willie Randolph would trust anymore than Burgos — so it’s a moot point. It’s not like Willie is going to put Lino Urdaneta or Jon Adkins into tight 7th and 8th inning situations. Which is probably part of the reason we’re not seeing Heilman go on the DL — there’s no one to replace him. The Mets are hoping that they can ease Heilman back to health, and in the meantime don’t look too desperate while trying to make a deal for another setup man. If Heilman goes to the DL, the price for, say, Scott Linebrink just went up.

Maybe Aaron Heilman is fine, and just needs to work out a kink in his mechanics, or cortisone shot for his elbow. Something tells me, though, that it’s wishful thinking.

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