Archive: July 2nd, 2007

Mets Game 81: Loss to Rockies

Rockies 6 Mets 2

Hmm … why did the Mets lose this game?

Pretty simple: Tom Glavine had an awful third inning, and the Mets went back to their ill-advised strategy of “swing your way to success.”

In fact, take out that third inning, and the Mets win 2-0.

It took the Mets eight innings to put together a decent at-bat, and it had to happen from the outside — a pinch hitter by the name of Ruben Gotay.

Unlike the batters in the starting lineup, Gotay thought it might be a good idea to take a strike. After all, the Mets were down by six and an unpredictable pitcher was on the mound. (By the way, he most likely drew this golden nugget of an idea from his little league coach — if they have little leagues in Puerto Rico). Lo and behold, the pitcher didn’t throw a strike before throwing two balls. Eventually, the count ran full, and Gotay managed to foul off numerous pitches before shooting a line drive through the hole between shortstop and third. It was a ten-pitch at-bat.

Naturally, the next batter, Jose Reyes, swung at the first pitch he saw. However, he did line it into the outfield for a double, putting men on second and third. Paul LoDuca really, really wanted to swing at the first pitch he saw, but it was out of his reach. He really, really, really wanted to swing at the second, but it bounced in the dirt, got away from the catcher, and scored Gotay for the Mets first run. Paulie couldn’t reach either of the next two pitches, and one was called a ball and the other a strike. He was able to reach the next pitch, thank goodness, otherwise it likely would have been ball four. Instead, he popped it up weakly into shallow right field, doing nothing for the rally and helping out old friend Jorge Julio. The rally pretty much died after that, though Carlos Beltran managed to bounce a run home with the second out of the inning.


LoDuca showed remarkable leadership, veteran guile, and baseball intelligence in this game. After the Mets fell behind six-zip in the bottom of the third, LoDuca led off the top of the fourth by swinging at the first pitch offered by Jason Hirsh and grounding out meekly to short. No one had any idea that LoDuca had the ability to hit a six-run homer. Absolute brilliance.

Is it me, or are Shawn Green, Carlos Gomez, Tom Glavine, and Ruben Gotay the only players on the roster with any baseball smarts whatsoever? How is it that the simplest, most fundamental basics of baseball — stuff learned by eleven-year-olds — escape people who have 5-15 years’ professional experience? When you’re behind in the score, TAKE A STRIKE. It’s so easy, such a simple thing. Yet the Mets just can’t do it. They’re in an incredible hurry to turn the opposing moundsman into Sandy Koufax and end the game as quickly as possible.

Glavine, by the way, was the only Met to draw a walk in this game. Remarkable. Oh, and would you know that Jason Hirsh had walked 41 batters in 95 innings prior to this start? That’s close to four for every nine innings, or nearly one for every two. Jorge Julio is averaging nearly a walk per inning.

Also of note: Glavine’s fastball was consistently clocked at 84 MPH. That had something to do with his inability to sneak one inside on Matt Holliday — an extra 3-4 MPH really does make a difference. Further, he did not throw his curveball once — not even as a “show” pitch.

Hirsh was 1-for-42 (.038) coming into the game, perhaps the worst-hitting pitcher since the immortal Bob Buhl. He proceeded to get two hits in consecutive at-bats in the third and sixth. Huh.

The bobcat on Todd Helton’s chin still looks awful.

Next Game

In an intelligent move by the Mets, Oliver Perez was put on the disabled list and Jason Vargas promoted to start Tuesday’s game against the Rockies, who will send Aaron Cook to the hill.


Inside Look: Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies baseball capSince we don’t get to see teams from the West very often, MetsToday called on Russ Oates of Purple Row to give us the inside scoop on the Colorado Rockies.

1. The NL West may be the most competitive in all MLB, and the Rockies (ironically) have a tough hill to climb. What is the outlook for the second half, and what part of their game do the Rockies most need to improve to get back in the race?

July’s always been a tough month for the Rockies. Last season, the team was 44-40 heading into the last series before the All-Star Break. They lost all three games and then the next five after the Break. If the Rockies want to stay competitive in the NL West in the second half, the main keys will be with the pitching: Aaron Cook regaining his form of the previous two seasons, Jason Hirsh being able to use his change-up as his out pitch (which he used effectively at the start of the season), and possibly removing Fogg from the rotation in favor of Taylor Buchholz.

2. From an outsider’s perspective, Brian Fuentes looked to be one of the most consistent closers in the game the last few years. What’s happened to him recently, and who will be closing games while he gets his act together?

Not counting the homers that Fuentes has allowed, most of it is bad luck. Not many of the hits he allowed were hard hit, and in the Cubs game, Kaz Matsui committed his first error on a play that would have ended the game. While Fuentes takes a timeout from closing, it looks to be a closer by committee for now. Manny Corpas, Jeremy Affeldt, Jorge Julio, and LaTroy Hawkins will each have a chance to close games. Corpas, many Rockies fans will tell you, is the future closer of the Rockies. I don’t disagree.

3. Kaz Matsui was a major disappointment under the spotlight of New York, but seems to have comfort in Colorado. How are the Rockies fans taking to Kaz and his style of play?

Think about this: from May 21 (Matsui’s return from the DL) until June 21 (team completes sweep of Yankees), the Rockies had a record of 20-8 in those games. Now, we can’t credit Matsui for the entire turnaround, but he was a sparkplug for the offense during that stretch. Maybe there’s something to those toe socks he wears. Rockies fans love him, especially some of the readers at the Row. They’ve formed their own unofficial Kaz Matsui Fan Club.

4. Jason Hirsh was supposed to be the key to the Jason Jennings deal, but so far has not panned out. Is he the real deal, and perhaps in over his head at this point in his career? What does he most need to improve to become the ace some scouts had predicted for his future?

I sort of addressed this in the first question. Lately he hasn’t been able to use his fastball effectively to set up his change up. That change up is an awesome strikeout pitch when he’s been able to use it. As with all young pitchers, he needs to find consistency.

5. I thought Jose Reyes was the best young all-around shortstop in the NL, but after seeing a few small samples of Troy Tulowitzki, I’m not so sure. Is he improving, and is he a star in the making?

Tulowitzki is improving, and he’s come through in many high pressure situations this season. Some of the more notable ones are April 24 (an RBI triple against the Mets in the 10th, only to see the Rockies lose the game), June 22 (homer in the 10th, only to see the Rockies lose the game), June 25 (a homer in the 9th, only to see the Rockies lose the game), and June 28 (a homer in the 11th, only to see the Rockies lose the game). He’s definitely a star in the making, but he’s nowhere near Reyes’ level yet.

6. Speaking of stars in the making, what happened to Garrett Atkins?

You tell me. He hasn’t altered his swing from last season and he isn’t suffering from any injuries. He’s been hitting the ball hard, and at the start of the season those balls were winding up in the outfielder’s glove. Maybe you can explain it with his BABIP of .267 (below average) this season, compared to .340 (above average) in ’06. After an abysmal May, Atkins rebounded with a solid June.

7. We know about Willy Taveras, but if he’s out I assume we’ll see Ryan Spilborghs in his place. Can you give us a quick scouting report?

Don’t be too quick to rule out Cory Sullivan starting in center if Willy T can’t go; Clint Hurdle might just do that. Spilborghs is a better all-around player that Sullivan in every aspect except for fielding. He’s great as a pinch hitter, and he should have been with the club from the start of the season, but the likes of Steve Finley and John Mabry haunted the team for nearly two months. He’s more of a fourth outfielder-type than a starter, but if Taveras went down with an injury for an extended period of time I wouldn’t worry all that much. There are worse options; one’s already been on the team this season and another is currently with the team, for now.

8. What’s the Colorado fan’s perspective of Todd Helton? Keep him? Trade him? Tired of the rumors?

A mix of all three, really. With the way Helton has been performing this season, it’s hard to say that he’d bring back much in return. He’s basically a singles hitter who still knows how to draw a walk. In other words, he shouldn’t be batting cleanup any longer. How many teams are going to want his contract with that production?

9. Ninth inning, tie game, two outs, man on third. What Rockies hitter do you want at the plate?

Troy Tulowitzki. He’s been coming through in “clutch” situations the entire season. Of course, lately those hits have been nullified by Brian Fuentes.

10. Same situation, Mets are batting. What Met would you least like to see?

Jose Reyes. I was at the last two games of the Rockies-Mets series back in April, and whenever Reyes was at the plate I couldn’t help but look away for fear of something bad happening.

Thanks again to Russ for his insights. Be sure to check out Purple Row for news, analysis, and opinion on the Colorado Rockies.


Series Preview: Mets vs. Rockies II

Colorado Rockies baseball logoWhat a time for the Mets to come into Coors — the bats are heated up and swinging as well as they have all year.

Of course there is the issue of the humidor — but that’s really more PR than anything else. Oh, you didn’t realize they’ve been using the humidor since 2002? It’s true — it took Colorado’s crack publicity team five years to get the story around the country.

While it’s a lot more difficult to hit homeruns at Coors than in the days of Dante Bichette, we’re not entirely sure if that’s due to the injection of humidity or the non-injection of another variable (yet to be determined by the Mitchell Investigation). Yes, it’s easier to put one over the fence in Citizen’s Bank Park, but Coors is still pretty high on the list — as of now the seventh-most homer-happy park in MLB. And according the ESPN’s Park Factor, it’s ranked as the sixth-most hitter friendly stadium (by comparison, Shea is #16, and Citizen’s Bank is #9)

So don’t believe the hype — it’s a sequel. The Mets will be expected to continue their hot hitting in this three-game set in Rocky Mountains.

Game 1: Tom Glavine vs. Jason Hirsh

Glavine is coming off two brilliant starts, including a one-hit shutout in his last start (OK, so it was only six innings, but it counts that way in the book). How he does at Coors depends entirely on the strike zone the home plate umpire offers him. If he doesn’t get the corners, it could be a long day of walks and pitching around guys like Holliday, Helton, and Hawpe. He absolutely, positively, must be able to establish his fastball inside early in the game, and he’ll need to show his curve a few times without hanging it.

Jason Hirsh is a young gunslinger still trying to find his way in the wild west. He can get his fastball into the mid-90s with movement, throws an occasionally tough slider, and mixes in an average change-up to keep batters honest. In many ways, he’s like a young John Maine in that he may rely too heavily on a high fastball and ends up getting hurt by it. If he has his slider biting, he could be a tough customer — but that has been rare for him thus far this season. He’ll more likely use his change, which is still a work-in-progress. Look for the Mets to swing and miss in the early innings, but catch up to the high heat the second time through the lineup.

Game 2: ? vs. Aaron Cook

Ollie Perez has already opted out of the start, so we’ll see either Jason Vargas or perhaps Aaron Sele. Vargas was bit by the longball in his only other big league start this year, and won’t be helped by the thin air here. However, he should keep the Mets in the game, and hopefully the dingers will be of the solo variety. One thing going for him, Vargas has been pitching in the PCL, a notoriously hitter-happy league with small parks — so he’s used to these circumstances.

If Aaron Sele gets the start — which appears doubtful — it will be his first appearance since March, I think. From what I understand, the thin air severely hampers the break on curveballs. Considering that Sele’s best pitch is his curveball, and his fastball is both flat and in the mid-80s, it could be a very, very long evening for Mets fans should he be pressed into duty.

Aaron Cook goes for the Rockies, and he’s a much better pitcher than his numbers suggest. He throws a hard sinker about 85-90% of the time, with the goal of getting groundouts. The aggressive Mets get eaten up by this type of pitcher even when they’re swinging well, so expect to see a few five and six-pitch innings. The one point of optimism is the fact that Cook is pitching more poorly at Coors than on the road, as pointed out by MetsGeek.

Game 3: John Maine vs. Josh Fogg

Say what you want about his luck, his BABIP, his FIPS, and any other uber-stat you can find — bottom line is, John Maine is developing into an excellent pitcher, nearly good enough to receive All-Star consideration. He hasn’t walked a batter in his last two starts, and needs to keep that streak going at Coors Field. If he can continue to throw that ever-improving change-up down in the zone for strikes, he should do well.

Josh Fogg embarrassed the Mets when he faced them in May, but is coming off a seven-run drubbing at the hands of the Astros in his last start — which lasted only four and two-thirds innings. I’m still baffled that he’s able to retire Major League hitters, and have no explanation for his ability to pitch so well against the Mets. The only possible conclusion is that teams beat themselves when facing him by swinging too early in the count — much the way Steve Trachsel continues to garner a paycheck. He throws four very average pitches, including a flat mid-80s fastball that’s often high in the zone, and rarely challenges hitters. Sound like a recipe for disaster in Coors Field, right?

Mets Bats

Carlos Beltran has finally caught fire, and it looks like he might just be warming up. My guess is he’ll stay hot through the All-Star break, and have a few monster games in Coors and Minute Maid. Interestingly, though Beltran hit four homers over the weekend, he’s only hitting .259 over the last week. On the other hand, Carlos Delgado is hitting .308 over the same span (who’da thunk it?) and Jose Valentin is at a .296 clip in his last seven. Jose Reyes had cooled off for a bit, but seems to be back on track. David Wright continues to be solid if unspectacular, getting his one hit a game. Call me crazy, but my eyes tell me that both Shawn Green and Carlos Gomez have been taking good at-bats lately — one or both of them could be ready to go on a tear. Ruben Gotay’s clutch hitting and .300 average most likely will remain on the bench while Damion Easley continues to pilfer at-bats from him. Easley hit a homerun a few days ago, justifying his presence in spite of his current 4-for-19 slide.

Rockies Bats

Though the trade rumors whirl around him every day, and he’s not the 35+ homerun threat he once was, Todd Helton is still a dangerous and professional hitter. Though he’s been in a slump for the last few weeks, he walked twice yesterday and went 2-for-4 the day previous, so he may be busting out. Meantime, Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, and Troy Tulowitzki are heating up as of late, and Matt Holliday is still leading the league in hitting. Oh, and then there’s this Japanese infielder named Matsui at the top of the lineup who is flashing a sure glove, hitting nearly .300, and has stolen 15 bases. Leadoff batter and centerfielder Willy Taveras (.310) may miss the series with a strained quad, but his replacement, Ryan Spilborghs, is batting .368 in his last 7 games. It’s a tough, deep lineup.

Bottom Line

Don’t expect to see any pitcher’s duels for the next three days — the Mets are a hot-hitting team and the Rockies are an always-hitting squad. From the outset, this looks to be a slugfest, with the winning team most likely the one that swings early, often, and late.

The Mets have an added advantage — Rockies closer Brian Fuentes is no longer the closer, having been removed after four straight meltdowns. That leaves the Mets to feast on the offerings of former teammate Jorge Julio and LaTroy Hawkins in the late innings.


I Don’t Want to Pitch

Well, it appears that Jason Vargas WILL be starting on Tuesday — unless the Mets remember Aaron Sele is still on the roster.

Per quotes from Newsday, Oliver Perez stated:

“I don’t want to pitch on Tuesday. I don’t want to pitch when I feel something. I want to pitch when I’m healthy.”

Well if that’s the way he feels, I don’t want him to pitch, either.


Vargas or Pelfrey?

Jason Vargas pitching for the Mets at Shea in May

New Orleans Zephyrs starter Jason Vargas was held out of his Sunday start, most likely because he is the emergency fill-in should Oliver Perez still have back issues tomorrow.

It’s entirely possible, in fact, that the Mets hold out Perez regardless of how he feels, as a precautionary measure. His 7-6 record does not correlate with the way he’s been pitching this year — more times than not, he’s put out ace-like efforts. With the All-Star break looming, it would make good sense to give Ollie an extended break to let his back heal, and have him fresh and healthy for the second half.

At the same time, Tuesday is as good a time as any to see if Jason Vargas can help this club this year. He gave a solid if unspectacular effort in his one spot start in early May, going seven full innings and allowing six hits and no walks. Unfortunately, two of those hits were homeruns, and thus he gave up five runs. Still, he pitched fairly well, throwing lots of strikes, hitting spots, and changing speeds. Though perhaps not ready for regular duty in a Major League starting rotation, he is much more polished and composed than Mike Pelfrey — if less blessed with god-given talent.

Giving Pelfrey instead of Vargas the start yesterday reeked of trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Though Pelfrey was doing better in AAA than he did in the Majors, he wasn’t exactly lights-out, and based on his performance on Sunday, he’s still very raw. The electrifying sinker we saw in spring training returned, albeit only for an inning and a half. Though his slider looked better, he still isn’t changing speeds — and the fact that he uses the slider for strikes is a recipe for disaster (sorry, Jorge Sosa’s luck with that will run out soon as well). As a result, if he doesn’t have great command of the sinker, he’s doomed.

Vargas, on the other hand, has an average assortment of pitches — nothing particularly impressive, but nothing awful either. Unlike Pelfrey, no one will ever consider him a future staff ace, but he’s a tough competitor who does everything he can to win a game and rarely beats hiimself. In many ways, he’s a poor man’s Tom Glavine, in that he pitches to contact and does all the “other” things to help himself win — he fields well, hits well, keeps runners close, etc. Though he will get beat with the gopher ball — not a great thought considering he may be pitching at Coors Field — it’s generally because he’s not afraid to challenge hitters. Though he doesn’t have electrifying stuff, at this point in his career, he’s probably ahead of Pelfrey, and better equipped to keep the Mets in a ballgame.

Should Vargas get a start and pitch well, he could be considered as a spot starter / relief pitcher for a while — perhaps until Dave Williams comes back. It might be nice to have a lefty not named Schoeneweis to team up with Pedro Feliciano.

We may find out on Tuesday night.