Browsing Archive May, 2007

Inside Look: New York Yankees

New York Yankees LogoEven if you are a diehard Mets fan, if you live in the New York Tri-state area, it’s difficult to avoid knowing at least a little bit about the Yankees. The Yanks, after all, are the media’s primary focus when it comes to baseball — regardless of how well the Mets are doing. And that’s fine with us — it takes the pressure off, and allows the Mets to worry about what they’re doing on the field, as opposed to off (for the most part, anyway).

With the “Subway Series” about to commence, you have the rare oppoturnity to get inside the mind of a Yankee fan. Alex Belth of Bronx Banter and SI.com was kind enough to share his thoughts on a few subjects pertaining to the “other” team in New York.

1. First of all, what is going on with the Yanks? We thought the problem would be pitching, and though you’ve gotten some really bad luck with injuries in the rotation, it doesn’t seem like pitching is the problem.

Well, when they are hitting they haven’t been pitching, now that they are pitching they aren’t hitting. You figure if that’s the case, things should even out in the long run. That said, Damon has been playing hurt all year and hasn’t given them much at all. Giambi has been hurt and his production has fallen off. Abreu is experiencing the worst slump of his career and Robbie Cano is having his sophomore slump in his junior year.

On the Michael Kay Show a few days ago, Tino Martinez remarked that “only two or three guys are playing hard” on any given night. Are you seeing what he’s seeing? Do you think lackluster effort is part of the reason for the Yankees’ slow start, or a result of it?

I can’t really speak to that because I’m not in the clubhouse. But they definitely are not sharp and they don’t have a group of Type-A red ass personalities that they had back in Tino’s days.

4. How important is this Mets-Yankees series to George Steinbrenner? Considering the fact the Yanks are eight games behind the Red Sox, would losing two out of three to the Mets be viewed as the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, and might we see some knee-jerk reaction from the top?

Well, the Mets are always a big deal to George but I think it’s important to remember we aren’t dealing with The Boss we once knew (and loathed) for years. He’s severely diminished, and if he was going to have a knee-jerk reaction, well, he would have fired Torre years ago. Which isn’t to say that something won’t still happen, but you can’t set your watch by George’s explosions anymore because that George isn’t here anymore.


5. How do you think Joe Torre will manage the Yankee bench with the NL rules applying? (i.e., who will be the main pinch-hitters, how long will starters stay in, etc.)

Giambi won’t start because his foot makes him a liability in the field–not that he wasn’t already a mess. Which means that he’ll be regulated to pinch-hitting, late in the game and likely for a pitcher. Torre does not have much of a bench to work with. It’s not like he’s going to send up Will Neives any time soon.


6. Finally, what’s your take on interleague play? Has it lost its luster? Do you think it’s helped settle any Yankee fan vs. Met fan arguments?

I never cared for Interleague baseball, so it never had much luster for me. But I think objectively speaking the bloom is off the rose. I understand why they have interleague play–the Mets and Yanks sell out virtually every game–but it takes away anything that could be special about a true subway series. If they insist on it, I’d rather the Mets and Yanks play three games each season, one year in Queens the other in the Bronx, to keep a little suspense to it. As it is, the Yanks see the Mets as often as the usually see the Indians or the Royals. Kills it for me. And I’m not sure what six regular season games settle in terms of arguments. Playoff apperances and World Championships settle arguments. Otherwise, we’re just talking about fleeting bragging rights.


7. Anything else to add in regard to the series?

As you can tell, I’m not much for the subway series. It’s more for the fans, and I’m just not the kind of fan who likes getting hyped up for the sake of it. The Red Sox are different. Those are division games. I think the Mets-Yanks rivalry is a fugazy, fake, trumped-up. The Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers had a rivalry because they used to play in the WS often during the 40s and 50s. The Giants and Dodgers rivalry was real, Yanks and Sox are real. Yanks and Mets? I suppose it means something for a lot of fans. I just don’t happen to be one of them.

Thanks for your input, Alex.

Mets fans, be sure to check out Bronx Banter for opinions and analysis on the daily soap opera that is the New York Yankees, and also read more of Alex Belth’s articles at SI.com (Sports Illustrated).

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10 Things to Like About Jason Vargas

Jason Vargas pitching for the MetsIt was only one game, and there’s a good chance it could be his last — at least for a while.

And, Jason Vargas gave up five runs — four the result of two gopher balls in the sixth inning. Hardly impressive. So why would there be any fuss at all about the little lefty?

Call it a hunch, but I think Vargas could one day be a significant contributor to the New York Mets. It may not be this year, and he likely won’t be a star, but from what he’s shown in his miniscule time with the Mets, I think Jason Vargas could evolve into a solid #3 or #4 starter. And in this day and age, that’s high praise for a young hurler.

Here are ten reasons to like Jason Vargas:

1. He’s a competitor.
Maybe it has something to do with his small stature, but Vargas has the look and demeanor of a fierce competitor — on a Roger Clemens level (no, he doesn’t have The Roger’s skills, but he does have the game face).

2. He challenges hitters.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of pitching around sluggers. I like to see pitchers who believe in their stuff and go right at guys — regardless of slugging percentage. Vargas backs down from nobody.

3. He throws strikes.
Yes, he gave up two homeruns in one inning. But he did not walk a single batter in seven innings. He may get beat, but he won’t beat himself.

4. He’s efficient with his pitches.

This goes along with #2 and #3. Because he doesn’t pick around the plate like a kid who hates vegetables, and challenges hitters to swing, he gets out of innings in a dozen pitches or less. This is a nice feature for a starting pitcher, and saves the bullpen.

5. He exudes confidence.
Isn’t it really uncomfortable to watch Mike Pelfrey’s discomfort in the first two innings of a ballgame? It’s a lot less stressful to watch Vargas pitch. Even if he gave up five runs in the first inning, Jason’s borderline cockiness would have kept you feeling good about the Mets’ chances in the game.

6. He’s unflappable.
A homerun by Angel Pagan? Whatever. Another homer two batters later to Aramis Ramirez? Hey, sh*t happens, it’s not the end of the world. Vargas kept his composure after the two taters, in a mature way that was comparable to Tom Glavine. Vargas settled down to retire the next two batters, and then threw a hitless seventh. No worries, no panic. Very professional.

7. He’s lefthanded.

Not sure why, but lefthanders are overvalued, and can have longer careers than righties if they so desire.

8. He can hit.
A .310 career batting average. ’nuff said.

9. He fields his position well.

This cannot be discounted. See Glavine, Maddux, et al.

10. He’s a team player and good guy in the clubhouse.
Or didn’t you notice that his head was shaved clean?

Also, there was a specific game last year — Mike Pelfrey’s first big-league win, ironically — that Vargas came in to relieve Ricky Nolasco in the second game of a doubleheader. The Mets had pounded Nolasco for nine runs in an inning and two-thirds, and manager Joe Girardi asked Vargas to come in and take one for the team. Vargas remained out there for over six innings, allowing another 8 runs, but continued to compete. A dark day in his career, but also evidence of his selfless attitude.

Again, it’s doubtful that Jason Vargas will some day start an All-Star game. However, his makeup suggests that he might someday compare to Bobby Ojeda, or, at worst, a lefthanded Bobby J. Jones — the kind of guy who has a lot of heart, a competitive fire, and won’t wilt under the pressure of a big game. In other words, exactly the type of pitcher valued by a championship team.

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Grand Opening: Mets Stuff Store

Lola the Italian Greyhound marching around Shea StadiumIf you’re not watching the SNY replay of this afternoon’s game between the Mets and Cubs, you may have a three-hour hole in your daily routine and no way to fill it. If so, consider visiting the Mets Stuff Store.

I personally hand-picked the offerings, and found some interesting items. For example, did you know you could cover your outdoor grill with a Mets-emblazoned canvas? How about a set your table with Mets-logoed dinner plates (with matching salt and pepper shakers)? Or equip your toddler with Mets onesies and booties? Or your dog with a jersey or hat as I did with my Italian Greyhound (that’s her prancing on the warning track inside Shea Stadium).

Take a browse through the store, maybe you’ll find something fun. FYI, if you buy anything from the store, MetsToday will make somewhere between a 5% and 10% commission, so you’ll help keep the server bills paid and the site going.

Every week more items are added (for example, there aren’t any hats yet) as I find them. If you see anything interesting, or have any comments, let me know.

Thanks for your support, and hope you find the store useful.

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Mets Game 40: Win over Cubs

Mets 6 Cubs 5

Ruben Gotay scores the winning run against the Chicago CubsPlayers suspended for drug use … controversy over cutting a rap song … Lou Piniella struggling to stay in second place … New Yorkers jumping on the Mets bandwagon … the Yankees languishing behind the first-place Red Sox … Julio Franco starting on the left side of the infield … the Mets coming from behind to win in the last of the ninth …

Is this 1986 or what ?

After falling behind 5-1, with the B-squad on the field and a young lefty giving up gopher balls, this game looked like a giveaway in the late innings. Manager Willie Randolph was committed to keeping his regulars on the bench, to enjoy a well-deserved day off. If the second-stringers couldn’t muster up the gumption for a win, so be it — tomorrow is another day.

Then, Ryan Dempster entered the story.

The Mets faithful might have seen it coming, but the Cubs fans were blindsided. Dempster came into the game with a 2.37 ERA, dominating 0.84 WHIP and .159 BAA, and only one blown save in nine chances. He’d been part of the reason for the Cubs’ early success and second place standing. So when manager Lou Piniella put him in to close out the game, it appeared to be all but in the bag.

The inning started innocently enough — a David Newhan single followed by a Ramon Castro fly out. But Castro’s liner was the last out the Mets would make for the rest of the day, as the next seven hitters reached base, en route to a 5-run rally that won the game. If not for the fact the Mets were the home team, they might still be up.

After Castro’s out, Carlos Gomez singled to right-center, chasing Newhan to third. Carlos Beltran was sent up to pinch-hit, and after he took two balls from Dempster, Piniella ran out to the mound in a huff — strange panic move, since the Mets had yet to score a run in the inning. Eventually, Beltran walked to load the bases, as did Endy Chavez to bring in a run. Then Ruben Gotay came up and hit a single to drive in another run. With Shawn Green coming up, Piniella had seen enough and called for lefthander Scott Eyre, against whom Green was 0-for-22 in his career. Apparently, Piniella didn’t realize that Randolph had most of his starting lineup waiting on the bench, and Willie countered with David Wright, who deposited the first offering by Eyre into centerfield for a one-run single. With Mets down 5-4 and the bases still loaded, Carlos Delgado dribbled the second pitch he saw into rightfield to score Chavez and Gotay to win the game.

Ambiorix Burgos, who pitched two stellar innings of relief — no hits, no walks, 2 Ks, 14 pitches, 11 for strikes — earned the win.

Notes

Jason Vargas was pitching a great game until the sixth inning, when he gave up two two-run homers. It was the third time through the lineup, and it was indeed a charm for the Cubs. Vargas finished the inning and pitched a hitless seventh, so overall it wasn’t that bad of a start: 7 innings, 6 hits, no walks, on 90 pitches. While the two dingers were damaging, you have to admire the kid’s aggressiveness and lack of fear. He showed good composure and challenged hitters, going right after everyone, including Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez.

The Mets “B” lineup featured Julio Franco playing 3B (and batting fifth), David Newhan batting sixth and playing 2B, and Ruben Gotay batting second and playing shortstop, among other anomalies. Newhan had a 2-for-3 day with a walk and a stolen base, and Gotay was arguably the hero of the game. Ruben went 2-for-4 — including the clutch single in the ninth — with 2 RBI and he scored the winning run.

Next Game

The Mets play the “other” team in New York, the crosstown Yankees. Game time is 7:10 PM. It will be a battle of the lefties, as Oliver Perez faces Andy Pettitte.

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NeverLastings: Milledge on the Move?

Manny D and Lastings Milledge (L Millz)No doubt you’ve heard about Lastings Milledge’s foray into the world of hip-hop production by now, and the racy lyrics he performed on an upcoming CD by “Manny D” (whoever that is).

Many of you have emailed asking why I haven’t covered the story — surely “Super Joe” (or is it “Big Mouth Joe” ?) has an opinion on this controversial topic.

Well before you surmise I’ve skirted the topic, in fact I saved my side of the juicy story for Flushing University.

Can’t wait to read it? Want some clues?

Let’s just say, I fully support his entrepeneurial spirit, and wish “L Millz” well in his new career. Good luck and God bless …

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Mets Game 39: Win over Cubs

Mets 8 Cubs 1

Jorge Sosa pumps his fist after the last out of the seventh inningWill Jorge Sosa ever fall back to Earth?

Sosa breezed through seven shutout innings, allowing one hit, two walks and striking out five before running out of gas on his 96th pitch in the 8th.

Speaking of people playing over their head, Damion Easley hit another homerun — a two-run job, just to the left of the bleachers, of course — to put the Mets ahead 4-0 in the bottom of the fourth. Earlier, Easley scored the Mets’ second run on a sac fly by David Wright in the second. The first Met run was also the first Major League RBI for Carlos Gomez, which came on a Texas Leaguer into rightfield that scored Shawn Green.

Gomez collected his second big league ribbie in the seventh, this time on a legit two-bagger down the leftfield line that scored David Wright. That run capped a three-run inning for the Mets, and included an RBI double by Wright, a sac fly by Paul LoDuca, and a

Notes

In the bottom of the 7th, with a 6-0 lead, Shawn Green hit a weak bouncer to the second baseman. It was a routine grounder, but Green hustled down the line like it was the last out of the World Series. That’s one of the reasons I truly enjoy watching Green — and this Mets team. These guys — young and old, ahead or behind, in conditions wet or dry — play the game the way it is supposed to be played. Rarely will you see a Mets player “dog it”.

Wright was 2-for-3 on the night with 2 RBI and an SB and has lifted his average to .276. He’s officially hot.

Carlos Delgado went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a stolen base. He is officially tepid.

Joe Smith will not be the recipient of any steak dinners courtesy of Jorge Sosa. For the second time, Smith allowed an inherited runner to score — a run charged to Sosa.

Jose Reyes had two hits but limped out of the game after his second hit in the 8th. Hopefully it was just a muscle cramp or something similarly minor.

Billy Wagner wrapped up the game with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Every Met in the lineup — other than Sosa — had at least one hit.

Next Game

Thursday afternoon’s 1:10 PM game has Angel Guzman pitching for the Cubs against the Mystery Met. Most signs point to Jason Vargas.

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Lino Urdaneta Suspended

Steroid needle has punctured the Mets againHmm … what a coincidence …

Only a few days after the New York Mets demoted Lino Urdaneta to New Orleans, MLB suspended Urdaneta 50 games for violating the substance-abuse policy.

Public Relations man Jay Horwitz has done a marvelous job of glazing over various negative image issues lately, and may need to work overtime in managing the damage control for this one. The timing couldn’t be worse — just a few weeks after the Kirk Radomski bombshell (which includes an inquiry of Fernando Tatis), a few weeks before Guillermo Mota returns from HIS suspension, and in the midst of the debut album produced by “L Millz“.

It’s a good thing the Mets are doing well … winning tends to cover the blemishes. Hopefully Horwitz can skate the Mets organization through this latest public relations disaster without too much distraction to the team.

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Who Is Jake Gautreau?

Jake Gautreau with the Padres organizationOmar Minaya made his first trade of 2007, sending a player to be named and cash considerations to the Cleveland Indians for AAA infielder Jake Gautreau.

Ho hum.

So who is Jake Gautreau and why do we care?

First, let’s understand the point of this deal: it was made, essentially, because the Mets promoted Ruben Gotay and finally gave up on infielder Chase Lambin (Lambin was released on April 24th). With Gotay on the 25-man roster, the Mets are a little shorthanded in regard to middle infielders in New Orleans. What this deal suggests is that the Mets are committing to Gotay as Easley’s caddy — and that a trade for a second baseman probably won’t be happening. Or, it means that if there is a deal for a 2B, Gotay could be part of it (to the Orioles as part of a package for Brian Roberts?).

As for Gautreau, he was once a highly touted, power-hitting third baseman for Tulane, and Baseball America had high praise for him prior to the 2001 draft:

“With Georgia Tech’s Mark Teixeira sidelined for most of the spring, Gautreau emerged as arguably the best all-around hitter in college baseball. He entered NCAA tournament play as the Division I leader in RBIs (84) and the Conference USA leader in homers (20). He has passed the wood-bat test, hitting .348 with power as Team USA’s first baseman last summer. That might be Gautreau’s position as a pro as well, though Tulane coaches can’t figure out why scouts knock his third-base defense. He lacks speed, but he has the hands and arm for the hot corner. The two-time Conference USA player of the year could go in the first five picks, but he’s more likely to be a mid-first-rounder.”

Jake Gautreau playing third base for TulaneWow … mentioned in the same breath as Mark Teixeira. As it was, “Jake the Rake” was eventually the first-round pick of the Padres (14th overall) and signed to a $1.875M bonus. Baseball America touted him as the third-best “pure hitter – college” in the draft (some guy named David Wright was ranked the third-best “pure hitter – high school” in that same analysis). In 2002, Gautreau was ranked #77 in BA’s “Top 100 Prospects” in 2002, with an expected ETA of 2004. Yet, here we are in 2007, and he has yet to make his big league debut. What happened?

Part of Gautreau’s lack of progress was due to circumstance. With Sean Burroughs and Phil Nevin ahead of him on the depth chart at 3B, and scouts critical of his defense, the Padres converted him to second base. However, the emergence of Josh Barfield (taken in the 4th round of that same 2001 draft) blocked Gautreau’s path again, and the Padres found themselves with a surplus at the position.

Committing to Bafield, San Diego shopped Gautreau at the trade deadline in July of 2004, and nearly sent him to Texas in return for Brad Fullmer, but the deal was nixed when Fullmer went on the DL with a knee injury. On February 12, 2005, the Padres sent Gautreau to the Indians in return for 3B/OF Corey Smith.

But bad luck wasn’t exactly Gautreau’s issue; other than dominating short-season rookie ball in his first pro season — earning him a promotion all the way to AAA — Gautreau has not put up the offensive numbers everyone predicted. He hit .286 at class A Lake Elsinore in 2002, with 10 homers and 20 doubles in 390 at-bats, but was overmatched in AA Mobile for the next two years. Maybe part of it was being shuffled from third base to second base, and some of it was due to medical issues; he played through an elbow injury in 2003 and also suffered from ulcerative colitis in both 2002 and 2003.

Since being in the Indians organization, however, he has regressed to non-prospect status. At AAA Buffalo in 2005, Gautreau hit .253 with a .322 OBP and .454. SLG with 18 homeruns in 427 at-bats — not much to get excited about. His 2006 season was cut short due to injury, but wasn’t going so well anyway — a .198 average in 248 at-bats.

Again, much of Gautreau’s performance could be tied to medical issues. He missed significant time in 2006 due to multiple injuries and more intestinal problems, and has not yet played in 2007 after being treated for skin cancer. (Visit this Portland Beavers archive for a full interview that details some of his physical problems).

If Gautreau’s medical problems are the main reason he hasn’t fulfilled his lofty potential, the question is, will he ever be healthy enough to contribute to the Mets? Maybe not, but Omar Minaya hasn’t given up anything to make this a risky proposition. There are no expectations for Gautreau, and if he can stay healthy, and recover that once-mighty swing, he could be a surprise. In short, a low-risk, high-reward — a typical Minaya deal.

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