Archive: May 14th, 2007

Mets Game 37: Win over Cubs

Mets 5 Cubs 4

Carlos Delgado applauds himself for walking in the winning run. Photo by Nick Laham / Getty Images.If you were a Major League manager, would you ever load the bases intentionally in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie ballgame in order to face Carlos Delgado?

Lou Piniella did just that, ordering pitcher Mike Wuertz to walk Carlos Beltran and load the bases with two out. How often in Delgado’s career has that occurred?

It turned out to be a poor decision, as Delgado had a tremendous at-bat, working the count full, then fouling off several pitches before taking ball four, a high fastball, to score Jose Reyes from third base.

What ended as a fundamentally sound game for the Mets, however, did not begin as such.

Though no errors lit up on the scoreboard, the Mets played sloppy defense in the first two innings behind Tommy Glavine to give the Cubs a quick 4-0 lead. Actually, that may be too critical a judgment — perhaps it was dumb luck that four balls just barely eluded the grasp of Carlos Beltran, Damion Easley, Shawn Gree, and Endy Chavez.

In the first inning, with two outs and Alfonso Soriano on second base, Aramis Ramirez lifted a fly ball to center that missed the webbing of Beltran’s glove and nearly bounced off his shoetop, allowing Soriano to score with the first run of the game.

In the second, a walk to Mark DeRosa was followed by a dying quail toward leftfield off the bat of Angel Pagan. Endy Chavez made a valiant, diving effort, but the ball fell safely out of his reach. You can’t blame Endy after that kind of effort, but the ball seemed to find a way to miss his glove. It turned out to be a double, putting runners on second and third for pitcher Jason Marquis. Marquis hit a grounder toward second base that bounced three inches past Damion Easley’s glove, scoring both runners. Why Easley didn’t dive, or do something to keep the ball in the infield, is anyone’s guess. After Ryan Theriot flied out for the second out of the inning, Cesar Izturis hit a Texas Leaguer between Shawn Green and Damion Easley. Green wanted no part of the ball, and Easley couldn’t get to it, so the ball fell safely between them, scoring the Cubs’ fourth run of the game. As it turned out, that would be all they’d get on the evening.

After that rocky start, Glavine pitched very well, retiring the next nine batters in a row before pitching around everyone in the fifth. After getting two quick outs, Glavine unintentionally intentionally walked the heart of the Cubs lineup — Soriano, Ramirez, and Murton — then went to a full count on Mark DeRosa before inducing an inning-ending fly ball to center. Glavine hung on for one more scoreless inning — but not before giving up Marquis’ second base hit. Because of the extended first two innings, and the wild fifth, Glavine was not very efficient with his pitches, throwing 106 over six, and Joe Smith took over in the seventh. All in all, in Glavine’s bid for his 295th victory, he did not pitch well enough to win, but pitched just well enough not to lose.

Marquis, on the other hand, pitched well enough to win in the first five innings, save for a two-run homer yielded to David Wright in the fourth. However, Marquis ran out of gas in the sixth, when he gave up consecutive singles to Delgado and Wright to lead off the inning. Piniella brought in lefty Will Ohman to face Shawn Green, who struck out on six pitches. Ohman was then replaced by my favorite ice cream flavor, Rocky Cherry, who gave up a one-run double to Paul LoDuca and a sac fly to Damion Easley to tie the game. LoDuca looked to be zoning “middle in”, and ripped an inside, hanging slider down the third base line.

The Mets had a chance to put the hammer down on Cherry in the seventh, but could not scoop out a run. Endy Chavez bounced a one-out infield hit and Carlos Beltran followed with a walk. However, Carlos Delgado ended the threat with a weak double-play grounder to second base. They couldn’t gather another rally until there were two outs in the ninth, when Jose Reyes started things with a ground ball single up the middle.


David Wright went 3-for-4 on the day, including the two-run homer, and scored twice.

Endy Chavez went 2-for-4 with a walk, and Reyes had one hit, one walk, and two stolen bases (he now has 23 on the season).

Joe Smith threw a scoreless seventh, then got one out in the eighth before Pedro Feliciano finished off the inning without incident. Feliciano got two quick outs in the top of the ninth before allowing a double to Ryan Theriot. Aaron Heilman was then brought in and induced a weak comebacker from Cesar Izturis. In the end, Heilman threw one pitch to scam his fourth win of the year.


Urdaneta Down, Burgos Up

Willie Randolph announced during the Monday postgame interview that Lino Urdaneta was being sent back down to New Orleans, and Ambiorix Burgos would return to take his place on the roster.

Urdaneta made two appearances, totaling one full inning. He gave up two hits, including one homerun, and returns to AAA with a 9.00 ERA.

Burgos made three relief appearances for the Zephyrs. In 5 innings, he struck out 6, walked 3, gave up 5 hits, and had a 5.40 ERA.


Series Preview: Mets vs. Cubs

Chicago Cubs Manager Lou Piniella orders two wins --- or beers --- from a Shea vendorThe Cubs roll into Shea a much different team from last year’s 66-96 squad, with new faces from top to bottom. Perhaps the most significant change was in leadership, as the fiery Lou Piniella replaced the easygoing Dusty Baker. Piniella’s demanding expectations and hands-on style are a complete turnaround from the country club atmosphere during Baker’s tenure.

However, not many Cubs would know the difference, as there was a severe housecleaning in the offseason. Michael Barrett, Aramis Ramirez, Jacque Jones, and Derrek Lee are the only starters returning from last year, and the Cubs spent well-publicized hundreds of millions of dollars to import free-agents such as Alfonso Soriano, Jason Marquis, Ted Lilly, and Mark DeRosa. It’s taking some time for the new faces to mesh, as they sit today with a 17-18 record, 7 games behind the first-place Brewers. However, there is significant talent on this team, and my guess is that they’ll get better as the season wears on. It takes time for players to define their roles and a team to gel. Hopefully, they’ll be “gellin'” long after this four-game series in Flushing.

Game one: Tom Glavine vs. Jason Marquis

Tom Glavine goes for his 295th career win against Long Island native Jason Marquis. Marquis is the biggest pitching surprise in the NL, this side of John Maine, sporting a svelte 1.70 ERA and posting a 5-1 record. Apparently the Cubs were able to fix some issues that pitching guru Dave Duncan couldn’t, and as a result he’s on his way to a career year. Tommy will need to pitch his typical “vintage Glavine” game, as the Mets may struggle against the much-improved Marquis.

Game two: John Maine vs. Carlos Zambrano
A year ago, this game would look like a gimme for the Cubs — but what a difference a year makes. Maine and Zambrano are moving in opposite directions, as Chicago’s 2006 ace is struggling with an ERA soaring into the sixes. Our insider Al Yellon tells us Zambrano is having an arm angle issue, and we witnesses of Oliver Perez know what that’s all about. Let’s hope our Maine man can continue his rapid ascension and Zambrano keeps slipping.

Game three: Jorge Sosa vs. Rich Hill
Can Jorge Sosa continue his domating ways? My gut says no, but maybe he has one more rabbit left in his hat for the Cubs. Of course, if he pitches a third masterpiece, we may have to start taking him seriously.

The Mets batters may have their hands full with Hill, a big lefty with an equally big overhand curve. If you’ve noticed, the Mets don’t like curveballers — witness their issues with the otherwise ordinary Matt Morris, who threw nothing but deuces. If Hill got the same scouting report as Morris, and his curveball is biting, it could be a long day for the Mets hitters. On the other hand, if his Uncle Charley is on a noose, we may see some Mets fly balls find the fence.

Game Four: ? vs. ?
The Cubs have Angel Guzman scheduled, and it’s presumed that he’ll start in the Thursday afternoon finale. However, he gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings against Philadelphia on Saturday, and there are whispers that Chicago may bring up Sean Marshall to take his spot. The Mets, on the other hand, have yet to make a move since demoting Mike Pelfrey, and likely won’t promote anyone until Wednesday. Since Jason Vargas was scratched from his Sunday start in Las Vegas, there’s reason to believe he’ll be added to the Mets’ pitching staff. However, that doesn’t necessarily rule out a spot start by veteran Aaron Sele, who has pitched only

Mets Bats

David Wright and Carlos Delgado are finally out of their slumps, but Shawn “Samson” Green has only one hit since shaving his locks. Additionally, Moises Alou might miss at least the first two games, but that’s not much of a loss considering his .208 average in May coupled with the emergence of Carlos Gomez. Gomez started with a bang on Sunday, going 2-for-4 with a double, a steal, and two runs scored. If he can keep that kind of pace up, Alou might be Wally Pipped. Paul LoDuca is batting .308 in his last 7 games, and Jose Reyes is hitting a ho-hum .353 over the same span. Damion Easley is also wielding a hot bat, batting .400 with 2 HRs and 5 RBI in the last week.

Cubs Hitters

The Cubs may have the most dangerous lineup, top to bottom, that the Mets will face all year. Cesar Izturis is the only light hitter among the regular eight, but he’s 6-for-his-last-10. Matt Murton is also 6-for-10 over the last three games, hitting in the fifth spot of the order. Local boy Mark DeRosa (Passaic, NJ) has a career .364 average against the Mets, going back to his Braves days, though he’s been cold lately.

The real mashers in the Cubs lineup, of course, are Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez. There’s no hiding or pitching around those three, as they’re among the first four bats in the lineup. The good news is, Lee might not play due to neck spasms, and Soriano is slowed — on the bases, at least — by a sore hamstring. Still, any of those three could change a game with one swing of the bat.

Sorry to say, we probably won’t see much of Cliff Floyd, as he is a backup in the Cubs’ crowded outfield. With Murton swinging a hot bat, and Soriano playing leftfield due to the hammy, Floyd is more or less relegated to pinch-hitting appearances.


This series could be tougher than you might think, as Lou Piniella is starting to get a handle on what he has here — and these Cubs are loaded with talent. The Mets made a statement by taking two of three from Milwaukee, but I’ll be happy with a split against the Cubs, especially considering that the starting rotation situation is still up in the air. It should be a fun and exciting prelude to the Yankees’ return to Shea at the end of the week.


Mets Second Base Question

Jose Castillo of the PiratesRumor has it that the Mets are trolling the market for a second baseman to fill in while Jose Valentin recovers from a torn ACL. Apparently the current setup of Damion Easley and Ruben Gotay is not perceived by management as a viable solution. Or perhaps Omar Minaya is using second base as an opening to negotiations, with the real goal of prying away a top-flight starting pitcher kept under the cuff until talks get heavy enough to start expanding the deal.

Despite the recent slugging and heroics of Damion Easley, he isn’t the ideal everyday second baseman. There’s a reason he hasn’t been a starter since 2001 — his fielding is less than adequate, and that slow, loopy homerun swing has signficant holes. Easley’s weaknesses will become more apparent and exposed the more often he plays. Don’t get me wrong — I like him a lot — but as a part-time player and pinch-hitter.

Easley’s caddy, Ruben Gotay, has better skills in the field and might be a better hitter, but chances are we won’t find out. Willie Randolph is hesitant to give Gotay regular work at the keystone, for two reasons: first, he feels obligated to make the veteran Easley play himself out of a job, and second, Randolph simply trusts “his veterans” over a youngster such as Gotay. Ruben Gotay will need to string together a few remarkable performances before getting a chance to start two days in a row. It’s too bad, because if given a week of starting, he could prove to be a viable replacement while Valentin mends. But that’s unlikely to happen unless Easley also goes down — and even then, Randolph might start mixing in David Newhan at the position.

If the above is true, then the only an outsider has a chance to start over Damion Easley.

Last week MetsToday thought Jose Castillo might be available, and now it appears that he is. the Pittsburgh Gazette reported that Castillo’s agent has requested a trade, citing his lack of playing time (the former starting infielder has only 32 at-bats this year). Is Castillo a better option than Easley/Gotay? Hard to say, as he’s pretty close to achieving what the current combination will likely produce, but he’s not a significant upgrade over either. In the field, Castillo is average to above-average, but tends to have John Maine-like lapses in concentration that affect his defensive play. Offensively, he’s capable of going on mad tears — such as a 3-week streak in May of last year that improved his batting average by 60 points. If he’s not hitting, however, Castillo is an overall average contributor. Plus, there is the consideration of his work ethic, which has been an issue in Pittsburgh. Would it be worth it to the Mets to bring in another question mark? Perhaps the only positive of such a deal is that it’s with Pittsburgh, who last handed us Oliver Perez. Is another fleecing in the offing?

Todd Walker hitting for the CubsMore likely, I see Omar Minaya waiting out Todd Walker’s ten-day assignment and sign him to a contract. Walker was DFA’d by Oakland on Saturday, and might be worth a flyer. In many ways, he is the lefthanded-hitting version of Damion Easley: a seasoned veteran, former All-Star, great clubhouse presence, strong hitter, but average to below-average at second base. Though his range is limited, he’s sure-handed, and the man can still hit and get on base. He has the kind of short, line-drive swing that is impervious to slumps, and ideal for hit-and-run and situational hitting. Walker is a shell of his former self, but he’s been a hard-nosed, team-first, winning ballplayer wherever he’s been — one of “Willie’s guys”. All in all, he may be the ideal platoon partner (with Easley) to get the Mets through the next two months — and he’d also give the Mets another nice lefthanded bat off the bench. Perhaps best of all, the Mets won’t need to trade anything for him, he’s cheap, and he won’t require a commitment beyond this year.

The more I think about it, the more Walker would be an ideal fit — though only if the Mets can figure out a way to keep a late-innings defender such as Gotay or Anderson Hernandez on the roster. It might mean a demotion for David Newhan, though he doesn’t seem to give the Mets much else than a middle-innings pinch-hit option.

The real question is, how would Walker look with a shaved head?


Inside Look: Chicago Cubs

Jason Marquis has pitched well for the CubsThe Chicago Cubs were baseball’s biggest player in the offseason, spending an enormous amount of money to retain Aramis Ramirez and fetch the services of manager Lou Piniella, outfielders Alfonso Soriano and Cliff Floyd, pitchers Jason Marquis and Ted Lilly, and infielder Mark DeRosa — among others. The “new look” Cubs are a much different team than the one that lost 96 games last year, and much better than their 17-18 record would indicate. Their deep starting rotation has been surprisingly solid, and should get more offensive support as the season goes on. With all the changes, it was expected that the Cubs would start off a bit rough, but when this team gells, the NL-Central leading Brewers will have a formidable opponent on their tail.

To give we Mets fans more of the “inside story” of these rising Chicago Cubs, Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Bluewas kind enough to answer a few questions.

How has Lou Piniella made an impact on the team thus far — in regard to attitude and performance? Is it clear that “there’s a new sheriff in town”? How are Cubs fans reacting to any changes he’s implemented?

I think Piniella is THE biggest reason for the change in attitude in this franchise this season. There have been some immensely frustrating losses via bullpen meltdowns, bad baserunning, etc.

And unlike Dusty Baker, who would have just said, “Geez, we had a tough day, dude”, Piniella immediately does something about it, whether trying different relief combinations, or lineup changes, or, well, just *something*.

Lou wasn’t my first choice for manager — Joe Girardi was. But so far, I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Sweet Lou. He’s not anything like his “throw a base as far as you can” reputation. He just wants to win. That’s refreshing.

What is Jason Marquis doing differently this year? A mechanicalchange? Mental change? Is he pitching over his head?

It’s both mechanical — Larry Rothschild worked with him intensively during the off-season — AND mental. It appears that the vaunted team of LaRussa and Duncan just didn’t like Marquis, and the feeling was mutual. Last year LaRussa left Marquis in games twice to take ten-run-plus poundings. Take those away and his season ERA in 2006 drops by a full run.

Marquis has attributed his success to good mechanics and throwing the same way every pitch. I’d agree. He’s getting his sinker to work and getting ground-ball outs, which is what he needs to continue to succeed. Will he have a 1.70 ERA all year? Of course not, but I’d settle for something in the low three’s. If he can do that, he can easily win 15 games.

We’re catching some buzz this way that Carlos Zambrano and Piniella are not getting along. Zambrano also seemed miffed about the contract extension that never happened. And his ERA is soaring toward six. What’s the real story, and will he be a Cub next year?

I haven’t heard anything about a Piniella/Zambrano rift. In fact, Saturday, Z threw a side session with Lou watching, and both pronounced themselves pleased with the result. Both management and we the fans have noticed a problem with Z’s arm angle; he seems to be telegraphing his pitches, at least early in the game. If that’s addressed, he should be just fine.

Will he be a Cub next year? Who knows, with the uncertainty of who’s going to be the club owner.

In a related question, how are fans reacting to the impending sale of the Cubs?

There was a big flurry of activity and discussion at first — but not much lately. There’s no “impending sale” at this time. What I mean by this is that the Tribune Co. sale is not finalized, and until that happens, Sam Zell can’t put the Cubs on the market. It is entirely possible, given that and the glacial pace at which MLB approves such sales (and FWIW, there is NO way they will EVER approve Mark Cuban as a MLB owner), that the current management team could still be in place on Opening Day 2008.

Rich Hill is taking some big strides so far … is this his “breakout” year?

Hill actually had his “breakout” year the second half of 2006, when he went 6-3 with an ERA in the 2’s, for a terrible team. He’s continued that performance so far this season; the difference appears to have been a change in attitude when he was sent down in May 2006. He was a totally different pitcher when he returned. He’s 27 — older than Mark Prior — but better late than never.

Here in NY we had a good look at the Brewers over the weekend. Strong pitching from start to finish, aggressive young hitters, fundamentally sound. What do the Cubs need to do to get past them?

You hit the nail on the head in your description of the Brewers. Consistent pitching and good fundamental play will go a long way toward making the NL Central a race again. Milwaukee’s good — but not THIS good. They will come back to the pack.

If the Cubs’ starting pitching can continue to be as good as it has so far, on a consistent basis, they will win a lot of games, because this lineup WILL hit.

Cliff Floyd was a fan favorite at Shea. How is he fitting in with the Wrigley fans so far?

Floyd’s not much more than a blip, to be honest with you. He doesn’t play enough — starting maybe three times a week — to have any impact with the fans. So far he hasn’t done anything really awful, but neither has he done anything spectacular. I saw him play in spring training games and he could barely run, letting many balls drop in front of him in the outfield. He seems better now; I’ve been surprised at how well he runs the bases.

Honestly, Jim Hendry should never have signed him — all his presence does is create a logjam in the outfield, where there is not enough playing time for everyone. Hendry recruited Floyd when he was coaching at Creighton, but Floyd opted to sign with the Expos instead. Hendry’s been after him for nearly 18 years. Unfortunately, he got him for the Cubs a couple of years too late — he’d have looked real good in left field in 2005.

Thanks again to Al — be sure to check out for more insights on the Chicago Cubs.