Browsing Archive May, 2007

Mets Game 27: Win over Diamondbacks

Mets 9 Diamondbacks 4

Mets Damion Easley hitting in spring trainingWhy the heck did the Mets sign Damion Easley?

That’s what I was thinking back in mid-November of last year. Here was a little guy with a loopy swing, washed up for five years now. He wasn’t particularly adept with the glove, and not terribly versatile, either. Why were the Mets in such a rush to sign this “never-was”, when guys like Mark Loretta and Adam Kennedy were available?

A few minutes later I recalled similar thoughts from around the same time the previous winter, after the Mets signed Jose Valentin for no logical reason.

Ah, yes, In Omar We Trust.

After a mostly ordinary, often lackluster career — save for a three-year, 20-homer per season spurt — Damion Easley suddenly has a flair for the dramatic. And that loopy swing is connecting at precisely the right times.

With one out and two men on in the ninth, Easley lifted a 2-0 pitch into the leftfield stands to put the Mets ahead 6-4. The blast came against Jose Valverde, who had previously been nearly perfect in the closing role, saving 10 games in 11 chances and entering the game with a marvelous 1.64 ERA. The go-ahead homer, however, clearly affected the volatile Valverde, as he then walked Julio Franco and allowed a base hit to Jose Reyes before being removed from the game. His successor didn’t do much better, giving up an opposite-field homer to David Wright to put the game away for good.

Though it turned out to be an exciting, come-from-behind victory, the Mets nearly gave the game away.

They say the great pitchers seem to get tougher as the game goes along — particularly after they are given the lead. The smell of victory — the blood of the fallen opponent — causes something extra to kick in, a competitive streak that sears the outside skin of the decision, sealing the win inside.

For some reason, however, Tommy Glavine didn’t get tough.

The game was reminiscent of a Glavine start in Atlanta last July, when he was given the lead four times, but handed it right back. Against the Arizona Diamondbacks last night, Glavine fell behind early, but the Mets came back in the fourth to give him a one-run lead. Minutes later, he gave away the lead via a two-run homer to catcher Chris Snyder.

In the top of the fifth, Carlos Beltran evened things up with a prodigious solo homer to right-center. But in the bottom of the inning, Glavine gave up another dinger, this time to Orlando Hudson on a BP-like fastball over the middle of the plate, to untie the game. It was as if Glavine didn’t want to win. Maybe the 300-win thing is getting in his head, causing him to lose his focus

Notes

The ninth inning was a buildup of breaks that bewildered Jose Valverde, and may have caused him to lose his cool. First, a Shawn Green grounder bounced through Tony Clark’s legs, and then Paul LoDuca had a tough at-bat, working the count full and walking on a close pitch off the outside part of the plate. Valverde seemed to disagree with several of the ball calls — though they weren’t close enough to bicker about — and after walking LoDuca fell behind 2-0 to Easley. Ten saves or not, Valverde is still a head case.

Is Carlos Delgado ever going to hit again? Besides these little singles, I mean. At some point, Willie Randolph has to acknowledge that this man is in a slump. He’s not hitting the ball hard anywhere, and in fact is swinging and missing at an astonishing rate. And it’s not as if he’s getting fooled — he’s getting beat, he’s swinging over, he’s swinging under. Hopefully he and Rick Down will check out some video and notice that Carlos’ head is moving too much when he strides and begins his swing, in turn causing the ball to “jump” and leave his line of vision. A lighter stride step will keep his head “quiet”, and he’ll get a better, longer look at the pitch coming in.

Speaking of mechanical flaws, Aaron Heilman’s arm action is now identical to Joe Smith’s. But we’ll keep believing Willie’s mantra that it’s a phase Aaron needs to work out of, or that it’s mental, or he’s simply “getting the ball up”. And no, I don’t particularly care that he pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and received credit for the win — the ends do not justify the means in this case.

After going 2-for-2 with a walk, Moises Alou left the game because of a sore knee. Great. A split lip, a sore shoulder, now a bum knee. And it’s only the first week of May.

Shawn Green’s 10-game hitting streak came to a quiet end, though he did walk once and reach on the error by Clark. He also made an outstanding diving catch in the bottom of the ninth, eliciting a big hand from the hometown crowd.

Next Game

John Maine faces Randy Johnson at 9:40 PM EST. If Maine can continue his recent dominance, it would be a major shot in the arm for the Mets, as the last two games of the series will be tough. The D’backs will send their best two starters — Brandon Webb and Livan Hernandez — against someone who hasn’t made an MLB start this year and the shaky Mike Pelfrey. A bit of momentum going into the third game against Webb will be a big lift for the Mets.

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Series Preview: Mets vs. Diamondbacks

Mets offense like a 69 Chevy NovaIn the last two series, the Mets played teams they are supposed to beat handily. Instead, they struggled mightily, losing two of three to the Marlins and nearly losing two of three from the Nationals. The offense is sputtering like a ’68 Chevy Nova with vapor lock, the bullpen is clearly not the dominating force it was a year ago, and there is a hole in the #2 spot in the rotation.

Clearly, 2007 is a different season from 2006.

However, it was a grueling West Coast trip in late May of last year that defined the New York Mets as stalwarts in the National League, so perhaps this first jaunt westward can ignite the sparkplugs and get their engine running.

The Diamondbacks’ Situation

The D’Backs are 16-10 so far this year, in second place in the competitive NL West and one and half games behind the Dodgers. They lost their last two games to Los Angeles, most recently a walkoff heartbreaker on Wednesday night, courtesy of a pinch-hit single by Olmedo Saenz. One thing to note is that Arizona has been near the top of the standings despite being without starting pitchers Randy Johnson and Micah Owings for most of April.

Their offense has been struggling, but the team has received outstanding starting pitching performances from Brandon Webb, Livan Hernandez, and Doug Davis — all of whom have sparkling ERAs and routinely pitching into the seventh inning. The bullpen has been anchored by closer Jose Valverde, who is showing no signs of the volatility that caused him to lose his job to Jorge Julio last year. He is 10-for-11 in save chances, with 12 strikeouts in 11 innings. However, he has walked six and allowed 11 hits, so there haven’t been too many 1-2-3 innings.


The Pitching Matchups

Game one: Tom Glavine vs. Micah Owings

Tom Glavine will try for the third time to get career win #294, after pitching well enough to earn it in his last two starts.

Owings is making his first start since going on the DL in mid-April due to a hamstring injury. Since he is a rookie that the Mets have never seen before, it’s possible that the Wandy Rodriguez Effect could come into play, though Owings is luckily a righthander. Hopefully for the Mets, he’ll be rusty due to the layoff. Additionally, there is a chance that the D’Backs won’t push him because of the injury, and so the Mets may get into the Arizona bullpen earlier rather than later.


Game two: John Maine vs. Randy Johnson

John Maine is coming off three brilliant starts and goes to the mound sporting a 1.35 ERA. How much longer will he keep this up? Only time will tell.

Randy Johnson, on the other hand, has had two difficult starts — his first two since offseason back surgery. Reports are that his velocity is OK, but is not quite 100% yet. He may not have the stamina to get beyond the fifth or sixth inning.

Game three: ??? vs. Brandon Webb
Reportedly, Chan Ho Park is penciled in to start against Webb, and he is still on the 25-man roster. That said, we can pretty much assume this game has been handed to Arizona.


Game four: Mike Pelfrey vs. Livan Hernandez

Livan Hernandez has been his usual self — mixing up speeds, going deep into games, and giving his team a chance to win. However, he has been walking more batters than normal — 25 already in 38 innings. Though it’s next to impossible to wear out this workhorse, the Mets might be smart to be patient at the plate and earn free passes.

After a difficult first inning in his last start, Pelfrey fought back to finally show some of the skills that earned his promotion to the Major League roster after a strong spring training. Hopefully, he can build on that experience and progress against the D’Backs. If nothing else, Pelfrey would be wise to watch his rival, Livan Hernandez — who can teach him a few things about backing off on the fastball and keeping batters off-balance. Actually, Pelfrey could learn a lot from watching Webb the night before his start as well. One would think that the sinkerballing Webb would be an ideal example for Pelfrey to follow.

Visit MetsGeek for a more detailed report on the Arizona pitchers.

D’Backs Bats

Orlando Hudson has reached base in all 29 games this year, and is batting .351. However, he is the one bright spot thus far, as the D’Backs have been hit with nagging injuries and offensive slumps similar to the Mets’. Other than Hudson, the only other Diamondbacks batting over .250 are Eric Byrnes (.286) and Chad Tracy (.292), who missed the last two games due to a strained ribcage and is day to day.

First baseman Conor Jackson hit .217 for the month of April, and is currently nursing a stitched-up thumb and a sore hamstring.

Shortstop Stephen Drew, who has also been dealing with a sore hamstring as well as a sore groin, struck out eight times and went 1-for-13 in the series against the Dodgers. He is now hitting .240 with a team-high 19 strikeouts.

Mets Bats

Where are they? On paper, this is the most powerful offense in the National League, and some say strong enough to compete in the AL. Off paper — on the field — the key hits aren’t coming, particularly from the middle of the order. David Wright seems to have broken out of his slump, and Carlos Delgado is showing signs of breaking out of his (though, Willie Randolph will not describe Delgado’s .196 batting average as a “slump” — just what the heck IS it then, Willie?).

Jose Reyes has been outstanding, getting on base at a .431 clip, but not scoring as often as he should. Carlos Beltran has been really hot at times, and is batting .349. Moises Alou started off hot, but now that April is over his batting average has slipped. Shawn Green has a 10-game hitting streak and is hitting around .440 over that span. All these numbers mean nothing, though, as the Mets continue to mount rallies when a.) there are two outs; or b.) the pitcher is coming to the plate. To beat the D’backs’ strong starting pitchers, they will have to start driving in runners on third base with less than two out, get things started early in innings, and improve their overall situational hitting techniques.

Otherwise, it could be a long four games for New York Mets fans.

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John Maine and the BABIP Mystery

I have two questions for you — no visiting Baseball-Reference, Googling, or otherwise cheating:

1. What was Yogi Berra’s career batting average?

2. Name one quote attributed to Yogi Berra.

(answers come after the text ads, scroll down)

OK, so how did you do? I’m going to go out on a limb and say you didn’t know — off the top of your head — that Yogi’s career batting average was .285. Imagine if I asked something more obscure, such as his career OPS? (Which was .830, by the way.)

Now, I’m also going to go out on a limb and say you can probably repeat MORE than one “Yogism”. If not, here are a few of the more popular:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

“If there’s a fork in the road, take it.”

“90% of the game is half-mental.”

“This is like deja vu all over again.”

“I want to thank all those that made this night necessary.”

and of course, “I didn’t really say everything I said.”

Now, you may remember several others, as there are literally dozens of “Yogisms”. Heck, there were several books published, filled with his quotes, mis-quotes, and malaprops.

What’s that tell you? That Yogi was a better talker than he was a hitter?

Actually it’s a clue to what has made baseball so popular for over 100 years: the stories.

In the last few days, both FlushingUniversity and MetsGeek posted stories that John Maine’s success should be taken with a grain of salt, because his BABIP suggests that he’s merely been lucky.

Thanks for raining on our parade, guys. And you’re both supposed to be Mets fans!

Originally, this post was going to be about how I think BABIP is a bunch of poppycock. (For those of you who don’t know what BABIP is, I strongly suggest you read either of the above-mentioned articles, and/or google the research of Voros McCracken — it’s all fascinating stuff, if you are into numbers.) But two things kept me from explaining why I think it’s skill, and not luck, that has made John Maine a great pitcher so far this year:

1. I don’t want to get flamed again by the statheads over at The Baseball Think Factory

2. I don’t care if John Maine has been lucky. I just want to enjoy the story.

While it’s true that baseball is the most measurable of the major sports — there’s seemingly a stat for everything, and stats based on stats — the words are what have carried the sport through over a century. It began with the stories spun by scribes such as Ring Lardner, JG Taylor Spink, Zane Grey, Hugh Fullerton, and others. It continued over the airwaves, and through the years people have felt comfort from the voices of Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Curt Gowdy, and dozens of others. The most successful writers and broadcasters are remembered for conveying the story that was on the field.

Yes, we count the hits and the homeruns, and acknowledge the milestones — but the numbers are a part of the story, not the story itself. In fact, with the recent controversy surrounding performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, it’s doubtful people will even care about the milestones anymore. For example, how many people outside of San Francisco think Barry Bonds’ career homerun total means anything? Not nearly as many people are talking about 755 as much as the STORY behind Bonds’ getting there.

So in the case of John Maine, the numbers geeks are telling us not to get too excited, don’t get your hopes up, the BABIP tells us that Maine won’t keep this pace up.

Hmmm … so John Maine won’t go 32-0 this year? He won’t finish the year with a 1.35 ERA?

C’mon guys, we already know that — no one expects Johnny Maine to continue pitching like Tom Seaver on steroids. Eventually, there will be a game where he gets knocked out in the fourth inning, and his ERA — and BABIP will swell like a pregnant elephant.

But until then, let us bask in the moment. Let us talk about how confident Maine looks on the mound; how he worked so hard in spring training, believing he had to earn a spot; how he really has command of his fastball; how those new offspeed pitches are keeping the hitters off-balance; how Omar Minaya fleeced the Orioles; how Maine has built on the 2006 postseason. That’s what we enjoy about baseball — personalities, opinions, argument, banter. Drowning oneself in the numbers to quantify performance may give us an idea of what will happen in the future, but in the process you’re destroying the universal appeal of the game — the storytelling.

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Game 26: Win over Marlins

Mets 6 Marlins 3

Thank goodness. For a minute there, it looked like the Mets were going to get swept by the Fish in Shea — something that absolutely, positively, cannot happen. Ever.

Oliver Perez pitching for the New York MetsAfter giving up a quick run in the first inning, Oliver Perez kept his composure and pitched masterfully before running out of gas late in the sixth. He struck out 2 batters in each of the first five innings, finishing with 10 while walking 3 and allowing 3 hits. For a four-inning stretch, he was in a groove and downright dominating, retiring nine in a row at one point.

In an encouraging contrast to the last week and a half, the Mets offense showed some signs of production. In response to falling behind 1-zip early, the Mets quickly evened the score, courtesy of a leadoff double by Shawn Green and Ruben Gotay’s first hit as a Met. The offense had Anibal Sanchez on the ropes in that second inning, loading the bases, but not until after depleting two outs, and Carlos Beltran popped up to end the inning.

In the fourth inning, Oliver Perez helped himself by bouncing a leadoff single past a diving Dan Uggla and into right field. Anibal Sanchez flaked out and made a pickoff attempt with first baseman Aaron Boone playing back, sending Perez to second. Moments later, Jose Reyes lashed a line-drive double to left field, driving in Perez with the go-ahead run. The Marlins continued their circus-like play, as Endy Chavez bunted back to Sanchez, who had a shot at getting Reyes at third but couldn’t wait for Miguel Cabrera to get there (Cabrera’s strained oblique isn’t helping his already lackluster defensive efforts), and as a result nearly threw the ball away in getting Chavez by a step at first. Carlos Beltran followed with a Texas Leaguer in front of rightfielder Joe Borchard to score Reyes and expand the lead to 3-1.

Ringling Brothers returned in the fifth, as Perez blooped another single, then made it safely to second when Dan Uggla played hackey-sack with the baseball on a routine double-play grounder by Jose Reyes. With both runners safe, pitcher then threw a wild pitch to advance them to second and third for Endy Chavez, who came through again with a two-run single. (Someone put a tent on that circus!) Carlos Beltran grounded out, moving Chavez to second base, and the Marlins walked Carlos Delgado intentionally. David Wright followed with a single to drive in Endy. It turned out to be the end of the Mets’ scoring for the day, and all they’d need to win the game.

Notes

Though they won the game, still problematic was the fact that the Mets left ten runners on base in the first four innings, scoring just three runs in the process. With that many people on, you have to find a way to push a few more runners home.

Shawn Green continues to stroke, stroke, stroke, burying any doubt about his abilities with the bat. He’s now hit in ten straight games, and is spraying the ball all over the field. The way he’s swinging the bat, I really would have liked to see him tee off on a 3-0 pitch with two outs and two runners on in the fourth — but he was taking all the way and eventually walked to load the bases. While, it would be wonderful if he could recapture the power that made him a 40-homer threat, but if he can continue getting good at-bats and poking line drives, he’ll be extremely valuable in the #6 or #7 spot in the order. He’s being very smart, understanding that he’s playing in a big, pitcher’s park, getting into batter’s counts, and hitting the ball where it’s pitched — rather than trying to force the ball over the fence. Let’s hope he can keep it up the Tony Gwynn impersonation over the next five months.

David Wright had two more hits, and nearly a third, and appears to be out of his slump. However, he made two errors in the game, including on in the sixth that allowed two runners to score.

Oliver Perez went 2-for-2 with 2 runs scored and a sacrifice bunt.

Ruben Gotay had a nice debut, driving in the tying run in the first and taking charge on popups in no-mans-land in short right-center.

Mighty Joe Smith came on with two out and two on in the sixth to strike out Mike Jacobs on four pitches to end the Marlins threat and preserve Ollie’s win. This guy is unbelievable. Smith also had his first Major League at-bat, and though he didn’t look great, he took a healthy hack on the first pitch. He got into a bit of trouble in the 8th, but it was to be expected — he’s been pitching nearly every day for the last two weeks, and threw 37 pitches in this game. He’ll likely get a day or two off after this lengthy appearance.

Interesting that in a “must win” game, Willie Randolph hung with the rookie Smith as long as he did, with veterans Scott Schoeneweis and Pedro Feliciano well rested. An unusual, strong vote of confidence from Randolph, who tends to be wary of trusting rookies in tight situations.

It took Billy Wagner 11 pitches — 9 for strikes — to close out the game.

Mets pitchers retired the leadoff batter in every inning. That’s one way for a pitcher to make his life easy.

Next Game

The Mets travel cross-country to begin a three-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday night.

Tom Glavine goes against Micah Owings in a 9:40 PM (Eastern Time) start.

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MetsBlog on TalkRadio

Matt Cerrone of MetsBlogMatt Cerrone is going big time!

Our #1 source for Mets news — MetsBlog.com — is taking on talk radio … well, sort of.

You won’t find the MetsBlog radio show anywhere on your AM dial — nor FM, XM, or Sirius, for that matter. Rather, you can listen in on BlogTalkRadio.com, which is something of an internet radio channel, but specifically for blogs.

Matt Cerrone has been testing the platform for a couple weeks now, and is about to execute a show that has a legitimate, “big league” lineup. His guests tonight include Buster Olney from ESPN.com, Gary Cohen from SNY, and Brian Moritz of the Press & Sun Bulletin.

If you are a transplanted Mets fan, and don’t have XM, this is a landmark event. You now have a chance to listen to Mets chatter for a full hour, as well as try to call in — just like “regular” talk radio.

Further, if you are a Mets fan living in the Tri-state Area, there’s finally a legitimate, passionate alternative to choosing between Fat Mike and the Yap Dog or the Michael Kay Show — and you can listen to the show anytime you want.

Not sure about you, but for me, this is a major breakthrough. It is astonishing that “the official radio station of the New York Mets” employs two ignorant, obnoxious, Mets-hating personalities for their signature afternoon show. It’s the “Mets Station”, yet Mets fans have to listen to the maniacal barking of a San Francisco Giants fan and a Yankee fan who once said “They keep talking about David Wright. I don’t even know who David Wright is.”

Isn’t is shameful that the best NY Mets radio coverage comes from Yankee announcer Michael Kay?

This is exactly the reason that platforms such as BlogTalkRadio will succeed, and run over radio the same way blogs are killing newspapers — because the choice is now in the hands of the people, rather than some ignorant executives who can’t see beyond the Arbitron ratings.

If WFAN won’t fire Francesa and Russo, then the listeners will fire WFAN.

If you can, tune in to MetsBlog on TalkRadio tonight at 6:00 PM, and call in at 718-664-6795 to voice your support and talk Mets baseball. If you can’t tune in at 6pm tonight — no problem! You can visit the same link anytime after that to download the show and listen on your PC, iPod, etc. — at YOUR convenience (another thing I love about this platform).

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Milledge for Harden?

Oakland A's Pitcher Rich HardenRumor has it that the A’s are shopping Rich Harden.

Since we haven’t heard the Mets as part of the ploy to gauge interest in the enigmatic righthander, my guess is that there is an excellent chance of a trade taking place between Omar Minaya and Billy Beane. After all, Minaya’s — and Beane’s — deals seem to come out of thin air. Both organizations are tigther than a nun’s …. er …. tigther than a frog’s …. um …. let’s just say they subscribe to the theory that “loose lips sink ships”.

Taking a look at the current status of the Oakland A’s and the New York Mets, a Lastings Milledge – for – Rich Harden deal makes a lot of sense for both teams. The A’s have been decimated by several injuries to their outfielders, and recently made a desperation move to install Braves’ reserve OF Ryan Langerhans as their starting centerfielder. They’re tired of Harden’s myriad injuries, and want to unload him before his value drops considerably. The Mets have just lost Orlando Hernandez for an indefnite period, and despite Mike Pelfrey’s recent strong start are still in the market for a starting pitcher.

Of course it’s a gamble to obtain Harden, who is currently on the DL with a sore shoulder, but he is a rare talent — the kind of guy you feel good about starting in the first game of a playoff series, for instance. With his injury problems, compounded by the A’s desperation to shore up their outfield situation — both for the present and the future — a Milledge-Harden deal could be more realistic now than it ever was this past winter. We know that Beane is high on Milledge, and if he really believes Harden is on a Mark Prior-like path, he might be willing to do such a deal straight up.

Considering Harden’s age and upside, and the fact that Carlos Gomez could be ready sooner than we think, it would be a no-brainer for the Mets to pull the trigger. Yes, it’s a gamble, but so is thinking that Milledge will some day be the next Gary Sheffield. At least Harden has proven success — dominating, in fact — in the Major Leagues. Milledge, on the other hand, has yet to impress at the AAA level.

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Mets Recruiting Cabrera?

Omar MinayaIn what could develop into a ridiculous controversy — but is more likely a writer grasping for straws in chasing a story, Florida Sun-Sentinel writer Juan C. Rodriguez exposed the fact that Omar Minaya was chatting with Miguel Cabrera prior to Tuesday night’s game between the Mets and Marlins.

Rodriguez reported:

“Marlins President David Samson and General Manager Larry Beinfest could not have been pleased at what they observed from the Shea Stadium visitors’ dugout Tuesday.

While the Mets were taking batting practice and the Marlins were stretching, Mets General Manager Omar Minaya engaged third baseman Miguel Cabrera in about a 10-minute conversation.

Per Major League Baseball directive, it was tampering. Was Minaya recruiting Cabrera, a free agent after the 2009 season? Of course not, but the subject matter is irrelevant.”

C’mon, Juan … Omar Minaya is simply a friendly fellow, and in fact was seen sitting in the visitor’s dugout before Monday night’s game chatting it up with Beinfest himself.

Perfect example of a writer trying to stir the pot, instead of reporting the news.

(The article had no mention of the condition of Cabrera’s oblique, by the way.)

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Mets Game 25: loss to Marlins

Marlins 5 Mets 2

It’s time to invite Mo Vaughn and Eddie Kranepool back to Shea to compete with Carlos Delgado in a 30-yard dash to see who is the slowest first baseman in Mets history.

You wouldn’t mind the fact that Carlos carries a piano on his back around the bases, but does he have to stop and play it, as well?

OK, it’s not fair to blame the game on Delgado’s lack of speed. His getting thrown out at home to kill a 4th-inning rally was only a symptom of the Mets’ most glaring problem lately: lack of offense.

What on paper is the National League’s most powerful offense is losing to the scissors in the baseball version of ro-sham-bo. The 2007 Mets looked more like the 1977 Mets against the second-worst pitching staff in the NL — the Nationals — over the past weekend. In a grand stroke of luck, the Shea-men had the chance to change their luck against the WORST pitching team in the NL, the Marlins. You would think the Mets hitters would have been licking their chops looking at who would be on the mound against them: Scott Olsen (6.24 ERA), Ricky Nolasco (0-3, 19.72 ERA vs. Mets in 2006), and Anibal Sanchez (averaging 5 innings per start). On Monday afternoon, one would think the Mets would make quick work of of Olsen and Nolasco, and maybe be challenged against Sanchez. A sweep seemed likely.

Well here we are two games later and the Mets offense is a fuming, stinking pile, and a sweep sure does seem likely — but with the Mets as the dirt. There’s really no other way to describe it. They’re not moving runners, not drawing walks, not building rallies, not getting clutch hits, and running the bases poorly. It seems like every time they get a runner into scoring position, it’s when there are two outs or the pitcher coming to the plate — or they hit into a double play to squash the rally.

Too bad, because Mike Pelfrey finally seemed to make a breakthrough. I for one am not sure that Pelfrey should be at the big league level right now, but with El Duque down the Mets don’t have much choice but to forcefeed the big righty. After a shaky first inning, Pelfrey settled down and pitched 5 1/3 excellent frames before yielding the game to Joe Smith. It wasn’t a dominating performance, but it was encouraging in that he didn’t panic, found his composure, and stayed focused on the task at hand (hopefully Chan Ho Park was taking notes). I still don’t think he has enough weapons to compete as a starting pitcher, but he did show the courage and gumption necessary to succeed at this level — and heart can take you a long way in this game.

Pelfrey left the game with one out and runners on first and second, but Mighty Joe did his usual thing — 7 pitches, four for strikes, resulting in a strikeout (victim: Hanley Ramirez), a ground ball, no harm done. When is this guy going to break?

Aaron Heilman, on the other hand, was not nearly as effective. He gave up two hits in the 8th, including a two-run homer. He continues to push the ball — his body is way ahead of his arm and he has a frighteningly low elbow at release — and the result is that his pitches are flat, up, and without downward movement. If it’s a simple mechanical issue, OK, but I have great fear that it is a symptom of a physical problem.

The Mets (lack of) Offense

Carlos Delgado took advantage of the shift and poked two soft liners through the left side hole vacated by the third baseman. However, when it takes four hits and a blind catcher to score Delgado from first, the singles don’t help very much.

On a positive note, David Wright finally broke out, blasting his first homerun of the season and adding a double in going 3-for-4. Willie Randolph had him in the #2 slot, which may have been partly to get him more fastballs and to force him to focus on going the other way. Whatever the reason, it worked, though if he’s going to start hitting it makes good sense to switch him back to #5 and get Paulie back in the second spot.

LoDuca, by the way, went 2-for-4 and was extremely angry with himself for popping up in his two hitless at-bats. He also seems to be out of his slump.

Shawn Green had one hit, extending his streak to nine games. His single came in the fourth, the result of an excellent at-bat where he worked the count to 3-2, fouled off a pitch, then drove a tough pitcher’s pitch into the hole between short and third.

A few moments after Green’s single — which put Delgado on second with two outs — LoDuca followed with a line drive to center. Delgado rounded third and then inexplicably turned around to watch the throw coming in from centerfielder Alfredo Amezaga. The throw was up the line, and had Delgado not slowed down by turning around, he likely would have passed catcher Miguel Olivo before the ball was caught. As it was, Olivo caught the ball about 15 feet up the line from home plate as Delgado was two steps away. Delgado might have had an opportunity to barrel Olivo, but again, because of turning around, didn’t have enough of a head of steam to make any kind of impact. Instead, he tried to dance around the tag, failed miserably, and ended the inning. Again, with the offense struggling, you can’t completely blame third-base coach Sandy Alomar for being aggressive in sending Delgado — many times you force the defense to make a mistake. But the Marlins, again, executed well, and Delgado didn’t add any difficulty.

Jose Reyes was a disappointing 1-for-5, striking out three times. The Marlins pitchers offered a steady feed of overhand curveballs to get him to swing and miss. Reyes also was thrown out attempting to steal home on a strikeout by Carlos Delgado and steal attempt of second by David Wright. The throw went through to second base, but Hanley Ramirez received the ball in front of the bag and quickly zipped a return throw to Miguel Olivo to nab Reyes. With the Mets struggling offensively, it wasn’t a bad idea, because a lot could go wrong defensively. You have to tip your cap to Olivo and Ramirez for perfect execution.

Notes

Pelfrey had a lot of trouble spotting his off-speed pitches again, and threw too many balls, but started to get some sink on the fastball as the innings wore on. A big, big issue is with runners on base — he simply does not keep them close. His move to first is only adequate, and has no secondary (or “good”) moves to mix in. Additionally, he doesn’t mix up the timing of his delivery from the stretch; for example, pausing a few extra beats before starting. Further, his high leg kick and long arm arc make him very slow to the plate. (A slide step might be something to incorporate on occasion, if he’s not going to shorten his knee lift.) Add all these factors up, and smart opposing teams will run at will. In effect this eliminates Pelfrey’s greatest strength: the ability to get ground balls that turn into double plays. Holding runners seems like a small thing, but it can mean a lot to a pitcher’s effectiveness, and Pelfrey sorely needs to improve in this area.

The Mets began to mount a rally with two outs in the ninth and a hard rain falling, but it was too little, too late. Had it still been a 3-2 game, it might have been a different story, but Josh Willingham’s 2-run homer in the 8th gave inexperienced closer Henry Owens plenty of room for error and the ability to remain relaxed.

Next Game

The Mets face the Marlins at 1:10 PM on Wednesday and hope to avoid a sweep at home. Oliver Perez faces Anibal Sanchez. This early in the season, it’s difficult to say there’s such a thing as a “must win”, and it’s no time to panic. However, the Mets are already making a habit of losing series (it took three months before they lost one in 2006), and don’t want to start getting swept — especially at home.

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