Archive: July 5th, 2007

Mets Game 84: Win Over Astros

Mets 6 Astros 2

Mets pitcher John Maine fires a pitch against the Houston AstrosAll season, the Mets have been in search of a “stopper” — a bonafide, ace-like starter who can put an end to losing streaks, and reverse negative momentum.

With his performance last night, John Maine put the mantle on his shoulders; he is unequivocally the Mets’ “stopper”.

Oh, and a note to anyone not wearing a Mets uniform: don’t get this guy mad.

The Mets — as they’ve been doing all year — got on the board right away with two runs in the first, thanks to a Jose Reyes triple and RBI singles by Ricky Ledee and Carlos Delgado. They tacked on three more as the game went on, and Maine took care of the rest, going 7 2/3 innings, allowing two walks, six hits, two runs, and struck out a career-high nine.

Though he has continually downplayed it, and insisted that he doesn’t think about it, you really must wonder if the snubbing of John Maine from the All-Star team had something to do with the dominating performance he displayed in this game.

More than likely, the selection of Roy Oswalt to replace John Smoltz for the All-Star team was the furthest thing from his mind. But that doesn’t make for a good story. So we’ll pretend.

John Maine, fired up about being passed over for the NL All-Star team, decided to show the fans and the National League what they’d be missing next Tuesday. And it was all the sweeter to do it in front of Roy Oswalt, who had just been named as the substitute for the injured John Smoltz.

Despite outpitching Oswalt in every category — and being fourth in the NL in ERA — Maine was passed over by Tony LaRussa twice, by the players, and by the person responsible for creating the “Final Vote” ballot for the fans. Maine’s response to this universal disrespect was to pitch his most intense and spectacular game of the year.

By the end of the third inning, Maine had already struck out seven batters, prompting SNY to pose the question of whether striking out 20 batters in a game was the most difficult thing to do in baseball. He was cruising, getting swings and misses, mis-hits, and harmless fly balls. Particularly inspiring was his ownership of the inside part of the plate, and the occasional “shaves” he gave batters on 0-2 counts. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Mets pitcher buzz up and in with purpose, gusto and bravado — a refreshing change from the typical “keep it outside” nibble and pick approach.

The defining moment of the game for Maine came in the sixth, when Craig Biggio led off with a basehit and Hunter Spence reached on routine fly that Ricky Ledee misplayed into a single. With none out, the meat of the Astros order was up — Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Mark Loretta (the Killer L’s ?). Maine struck out Berkman and Lee and disposed of Loretta via an easy popup to end the threat and the inning.

He then breezed through the seventh without incident, but in the eighth, Biggio again led off with a hit — a ground-rule double. Maine stayed on to retire the next two batters, but then allowed a double to Lee that chased Biggio home and Maine to the dugout. Joe Smith came on and allowed a Texas Leaguer to right that scored Lee, and Pedro Feliciano was quickly brought in to strike out pinch-hitter Morgan Ensberg and finish the inning.

Billy Wagner came on in the ninth and made fairly quick work of the ‘stros in a non-save situation.

What a Hunch

Ricky Ledee batted second in the lineup and played leftfield in the absence of Carlos Gomez (who is on the DL with a broken hand) and had a walk, two RBI singles, and a stolen base. While this was a wonderful performance from the perspective of the Mets fan, it was absolutely awful in that Willie Randolph will continue to believe in the Torre-like, nonsensical “hunches” that spill out of his brain. Yeah, Willie, that was a great hunch, you’re just absolutely brilliant. Now how many of your other “hunches” didn’t pan out before this one hit? His hunches are like the prophecies of Nostradamus. The famous “seer” made over 6000 predictions — so of course a dozen or so were bound to come true!


Good At-Bats

Ramon Castro continues to pound the ball when given an opportunity to play. He had three hits — all hard-hit balls — and is now batting nearly .300 for the year.

Carlos Delgado hit a single to right in the first, a 436-foot double off the centerfield wall in the third, a hard liner to center in the fifth, walked in the seventh, then fell behind 0-2 in the ninth before fouling off several pitches and eventually sending a solid line drive into center for his fourth hit of the game. We haven’t seen Delgado let the ball get this deep and trust his hands with this kind of confidence since 2006 — is the giant finally awake?

Did someone mention before the Colorado series that Shawn Green was getting good at-bats lately, and might break out of his slump? Oh, yeah, that was me. Since I made that point, he’s been 6-for-16 (.375) with three doubles. OK, so he’s not exactly on a “tear”, but it’s a pretty nice clip.

And while we’re speaking of good at-bats, Carlos Beltran hadn’t been getting many lately — it seemed as though he’d grounded out to first base about a hundred times in the last four games. He finally went the other way with one, and wow, it went over the leftfield fence. Huh.


Out of Gas

Magically, John Maine began to tire immediately after pitch number 99. It would be nice if pitchers would be pushed toward 120 – 130 tosses every once in a while, so that they’d be in shape to continue throwing with effectiveness beyond the century mark when necessary and appropriate.

That Stinks

Many thanks to the SNY camera crew for showing us the bare feet of Keith Hernandez. Good thing Smell-O-Vision never took off.

Final Note

Why is Jose Valentin still in the game in the bottom of the ninth, with a four-run lead? There’s this kid named Gotay who plays the same position — some think with more effectiveness — who can give Valentin’s cranky knee a rest in the late innings.

Next Game

Mike Pelfrey gets a second chance in his second go-around with the big club, as the Astros send the immortal Wandy Rodriguez to the mound in another 8:05 PM EST start. There’s an outside shot we’ll see Sandy Alomar, Jr. catch, as he was Pelfrey’s caddy in the minors.

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Inside Look: Houston Astros

Houston Astros old baseball jersey logoTo get a better idea of the team the Mets will face for the next four days, MetsToday called on Lisa Gray of The Astros Dugout for a more in-depth, Houston fans-eye view of the team.

Before this interview, I thought I was a typical, ignorant New York fan whose knowledge of the Astros was limited to the Houston player(s) that happened to be on his/her fantasy team (I have Wheeler, btw). After this interview, I’m certain of my ignorance — though Lisa has expanded my Astros knowledge considerably.

1. The Astros are mired near the bottom of the NL Central — but if recent history has told us anything, it’s don’t count them out before the All-Star break. Is there hope for Houston to have a hot second half, and if so, what are the keys?

Well, as the saying goes, when it comes to baseball, there’s just one word – youneverknow (Joaquin Andujar)

I would think that the probabilities of a sudden comeback are minimal to non-existent, because it would require:

A – the entire bullpen to excel, including Lidge returning healthy and pitching as he did the first half of this year after he recovered his 2004 mechanics. Frankly, asking Brian Moehler and Trever Miller to excell is like asking Tom Glavine to hit 30 homers a year, but I guess miracles CAN happen.

B – Lance Berkman and Luke Scott to return to their 2006 forms and Ausmus and Everett to hit over .250 for the rest of the year.

C – improved defense. Now that Adam Everett is on the DL, every fielder except Lance Berkman (only at first base) is below league average.

2. Who is Hunter Pence, where did he come from, and is he ever going to stop hitting?

Hunter Pence is our second round draft pick from 2004, picked from University of Texas at Arlington. He moved very quickly through the minors, unlike 99% of Astros draftees, posting a .932 OPS over his minor league career. He came to the attention of Astros fans in Spring Training because he hit over .500 and runs fast. Chris Burke was installed as the center fielder, to the immense anger of almost every Astros fan, and when Burke hit .240, he was sent down and Pence called up after only 3 weeks in AAA. At this time, he has become the overwhelming Astros fan favorite. His minor league 20% strikeout rate has carried over to the majors, but his walk rate has significantly decreased, and he has only 10 walks over his 264 PA.

As for if/when he will stop hitting, it is hard to say. He seems to be a streaky hitter who will have several days of no hits followed by several days of multi-hit games. So far, I don’t really see holes in his swing and he seems to hit breaking pitches decently. He certainly isn’t a Vlad Guerrero bad-ball type hitter though.

By the way, I notice that like Astros fans, you have no interest in his fielding abilities, or lack thereof.

3. The Brad Lidge implosion put the bullpen into a disarray. Now that he’s on the DL, and Dan Wheeler’s ERA is over six, who is being counted on to take the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings?

Brad Lidge didn’t implode, he pulled a muscle in his side and went on the DL. The bullpen is in disarray because the Astros management, for some reason, decided to replace 1 inning pitcher (and informal assistant pitching coach) Russ Springer with washed up pitcher Rick White, who for some reason, they thought could not only pitch multiple innings per appearance, even thought he hadn’t done so for several years, but also maintain his miniscule Spring Training ERA. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before White, designated 8th inning guy, blew up and was released. At this time, the only pitcher in the bullpen who has NOT been a catastrophe is Dave Borkowski. Chad Qualls has been either good or lousy. This means that no one can be “counted on” to take the 7th, 8th and 9th inning roles, even though Dan Wheeler is still designated closer unless he starts giving up runs or hits.

4. Morgan Ensberg has been a disappointment, but his ineffectiveness opened the door for Mike Lamb. How do you feel about Lamb at 3B, and do you think Ensberg’s days in Houston are numbered?

As a third baseman, Lamb is a very good hitter. His defense is, quite simply, not good, although he sometimes will shock me and make a good play. He can’t make plays toward the line nor go to his left very well, but he is pretty good at coming forward to get balls, especially one-hop balls, and he has a very strong and accurate arm. He has only made one catastrophic throwing error this year, but has not made uncounted numbers of plays which have allowed hits or runs.

I sincerely hope that Ensberg’s days here are numbered, not because I HATE him, as most Astros fans do, but because I would like to see him get a new start somewhere else. I have NO idea whether or not his shoulder injury really healed or whether it permanently changed his stance/swing, but it is time for him to try his luck elsewhere. He certainly isn’t in the Astros plans.

5. Craig Biggio was having a tough time until recently. Do you think he was affected by the quest for 3000, or is it time for him to hang ’em up?

Biggio is twice the player at home that he is on the road. Of COURSE he was affected by the 3000. He is not even close to league-average with defense any more, doesn’t get on base well, and really should retire at the end of the year. Also, he really should sit on the road, unless he is facing a lefty. I hope Chris Burke gets increased playing time at second, his REAL position, so that the Organization can make some sort of decision on whether to keep him or trade him. Unless Mark Loretta has no intention of re-signing, I also hope the Organization trades Burke so the guy can have a career SOMEwhere.

6. Mark Loretta’s been a pleasant surprise. Is he the main shortstop while Everett is out, and if so, can he handle the job defensively?

Loretta is indeed the main SS while Everett is out. Bruntlett plays SS when Roy Oswalt pitches, as Roy is the ace and can, shall we say, request a player who can play adequate defense. Mark Loretta is to playing SS as Mike Piazza is to playing first. Loretta is decent, even if not league-average at third and second. He is simply dreadful at short as he has NO range whatsoever. I know he has very few errors, but it is hard to make an error when you don’t get near a ball.

7. Jason Jennings has had an up and down year, most likely due to his elbow issues. His last two starts indicate he’s healthy — at least from a boxscore standpoint. From your view in Texas, is Jennings now the pitcher you thought you were getting back in December, and was he worth the price?

Jennings in fact looks like the pitcher they thought they were getting in December. Although most fans deeply mourn the loss of Willy Taveras (he runs very fast and fast runners are always great, great ballplayers, you see) who too many think is the second coming of Kenny Lofton (he isn’t) the real loss was two cheap, decent-to-good young pitchers who would have been under club control for 5 more years. The fans were demanding a number-2 pitcher to replace Pettitte, but a 1-year rent-a-pitcher stopgap, when he certainly was not the ONE missing piece of the puzzle, was a foolish trade.

8. Other than Pence, are there any other new faces who might impress us ignorant New Yorkers in this series?

No, because you won’t be facing Chris Sampson, who is a better pitcher than he gets credit for. Mark McLemore, the new LOOGY, is actually a starting pitcher who seems very uncomfortable in the LOOGY role, and I hope he eventually returns to starting. Matt Albers, another AAA/#5 ML starter who was recently placed in the bullpen, has flashes of brilliance, but is otherwise not impressive.

9. Tie game, ninth inning, two outs, man on third. What Houston Astro do you want at the plate?

Carlos Lee, believe it or not. As the saying goes, he can smell an RBI and he is the most likely guy to get a hit up the middle. He seems to have escaped the Crawford Box Syndrome.

10. Same situation, Mets are up. What Met would you least like to see step into the batter’s box?

Mo Alou. Yes, I know he’s on the DL, but he’s the guy I think is most likely to beat you. Next to him, I think, Jose Reyes.

Thanks to Lisa for providing her insights on the Astros. Be sure to check out The Astros Dugout for more great information on that Major League Baseball team in Houston.

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Series Preview: Mets vs. Astros

Houston Astros baseball old logoMy apologies for taking so long to get this posted. Between the 17-7 bashing last night and one too many glasses of wine … well, the motivation is a hard time coming.

So the Mets wander into Houston for a four-game set, still in need of a sure-handed receiver, a quaterback who can convert third-and-longs, and a reliable field goal kicker.

Oh wait … wrong sport … these recent scores have me a bit confused …

It’s baseball we’re talking, and the Mets face the Astros — a team that is having a hard time staying above water in the putrid NL Central. The Astros’ starting pitching, bullpen, hitting, and fielding have all been inconsistent and disappointing this year, and the roster has been hit hard by injuries to key players. All of which means absolutely nothing to the New York Mets.

If you recall, Colorado had lost nine of its last ten, was putting retreads such as Josh Fogg on the mound, and had a closer who had blown his last four saves. In other words, it was a team laying on the ground with barely breath left, just waiting for the All-Star break to remove them from their misery. So naturally, these next-to-dead Rockies made the mighty Mets look like a little league team, and didn’t have to move mountains to do it.

So we move on to Minute Maid Park, not knowing which Mets team might show up. Here are the specifics:

Pitching Matchups:

Game One: John Maine vs. Jason Jennings
This could be the most interesting matchup of the series. Maine has been excellent this year, but Jennings just as good since returning from an elbow injury. Considering that the Mets have trouble with sinkerballers such as Jennings, Maine will need to bring his A-game to the mound at Minute Maid.

Most of the Mets have limited experience versus Jennings; those with the most at-bats against him are Shawn Green (44 ABs / .272) and Paul LoDuca (25 ABs / .400) — the rest of the active players have less than 10.

Of course, the most devastating weapon Jennings has is not his sinker, but his bat. If the ‘stros are smart, they’ll bat him third.

Game Two: Mike Pelfrey vs. Wandy Rodriguez

If you look at the boxscore in Mike Pelfrey’s last start, he had an encouraging outing. Anyone who watched past the second inning, though, knows differently. It may be another game where we are sitting at the edge of our seats, fingers crossed, willing young Mike’s pitches to find the strike zone. I’m not sure I’ve seen so many 3-2 counts from a pitcher since … oh, nevermind … yesterday.

If you’re a regular reader of MetsToday, then you know all about the Wandy Rodriguez Effect. It will be interesting to see how the actual Wandy Rodriguez will do two years after establishing the phenomena. For those that don’t remember, Wandy is a little lefty who throws junk, and barely gets his fastball in the high-80s. Hmm … how have the Mets fared against this style of pitcher? Yeah, it ain’t looking good.

Maybe Pelfrey will finally pitch the no-hitter everyone’s been waiting for, and make it a moot point.


Game Three: Tom Glavine vs. Woody Williams

Our old geezer against their old geezer.

Though Tommy was not terrific in inning three of his last start, he was remarkably effective in the other five. Let’s pretend it was all about the thin air and altitude and give us some hope in Houston.

However, the Mets will have to hit, and there is a significant element of concern. MetsGeek’s outstanding preview of the pitchers in this series says this about Williams:

he has mediocre control, an inability to strike anyone out, a propensity for giving up the homerun, and no endurance. In short, he might be the worst pitcher in the National League.

If that’s not enough to get you nervous about this game, then I don’t know what will. We’ve all seen how the Mets handle the worst pitchers in the NL — Adam Eaton, Josh Fogg, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Davies, Jose Mesa, Hong-Chih Kuo — so there’s no reason to believe they’ll be able to bat with any effectiveness against a guy this bad. I almost wish the Astros still had Pettitte or Clemens on the team to pitch this game.


Game Four: ? vs. Roy Oswalt

Which is the bigger question:

1. Who will start for the Mets?
2. Will it matter?

Oswalt, despite the subpar (for him) numbers, is still one of the best three starting pitchers in the NL, and capable of throwing a four-hit shutout at any moment. The Mets will likely delude themselves into thinking they need to be aggressive against him, not recalling how that approach worked with Johan Santana.

Of course, there is the possibility that Oswalt has an off-day, the wild-swinging bunch from Flushing rips off hit after hit. However, there is still the matter of the Mets stopping the Astros from scoring — and no one knows whose responsibility that will be. Dave Williams, coming off a few so-so string of rehab starts in AAA? Phillip Humber, who looked like a deer in headlights in spring training? Aaron Sele?

Mets Bats

David Wright was the Mets offense yesterday, but no one else not named Gotay has done anything special lately. Carlos Delgado looks to be slowly eeking out of his season-long slump, as he’s 9 for his last 27 with two homers and a couple doubles. Carlos Beltran was hot in Philly, but was cooled by the mountain air (orwas it a Silver Bullet?). Jose Reyes and Paul LoDuca have been tailing off over the last week or so, probably dog tired from playing every single day. Luckily, Paul will get some well-deserved days off thanks to a two-game suspension and the All-Star break, but Reyes will not. Damion Easley is 5 for his last 16, so we’ll probably see his sad face in the lineup more often than necessary. Shawn Green has been awful of late — he really needs to get hot if the Mets are to do anything with the next four games.

Astros Bats

Write down the name Hunter Pence now. Unless you’re a fantasy baseball owner, you probably haven’t heard of him yet. You’ll know him well by the end of this series. He’s a rookie centerfielder hitting nearly .350 with 11 dingers and a .600 slugging percentage. The Astros also have Carlos Lee this year, and he’s doing his usual damage — hitting near .300 with 16 homers. The Killer B’s — Biggio and Berkman — are having off-years but both have heated up recently )great timing). Berkman is batting .321 over his last 7 games and Biggio is at .480 over the same span. Morgan Ensberg is near the Mendoza Line but you won’t see him starting as long as Mike Lamb continues to pound the ball at a .305 clip. Automatic out Adam Everett is on the DL,
but Mark Loretta is batting .326 in his place. And then there’s Jennings, who’s in a bit of a slump this year but could come out at any time. This is by no means an offense to be taken lightly — even if they’re wearing Astros uniforms.

Bottom Line

Hard to say what might happen in these next four games. If it were April, I’d feel OK with the pitching matchups (except for game four), but it being July and just getting trampled by a team that was a breath away from tanking the season, I’m concerned. We can’t count on the Braves and Phillies to continue losing (or can we?), and there’s a very real possibility the Mets find themselves sharing first place — or being out of it — by the All-Star game. Hopefully the Mets will come to their senses, step it up, and play like “the best team in the National League”.

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Mets Game 83: Loss to Rockies

Rockies 17 Mets 7

No comment.

Notes

El Duque’s line:

4 IP | 6 H | 6 BB | 1 HR | 2 K | 6 ER

Guillermo Mota’s line:

2/3 IP | 6 H | 0 BB | 2 HR | 1 K | 6 ER

Suddenly, the Jason Vargas line of Tuesday night doesn’t look THAT awful.

Which brings up an interesting point — if Willie Randolph, Rick Peterson, and the Mets brass have a pauw-wow regarding whether Vargas should get another start, will they consider the fact that El Duque, Mota, and Tom Glavine all had similarly horrible outings? Is it possible that it wasn’t Vargas, but the thin air in Colorado that caused the problems for the Mets in the past three days?

My nephew, an ex-Marine, claims that it takes 48 hours for the human body to adjust to a severe altitude change — such as suddenly playing at an elevation above 5000 feet. You hate to make excuses, but then again, are the Mets really this bad? Couldn’t we at least pretend that the thin air made all the Mets sick, and unable to play to their potential?

While we’ve seen teams lose like this — allowing the opposing team nearly 20 runs — how often does it happen to a FIRST-PLACE team?

Anyway …

Todd Helton drew 7 walks in this series. The Mets, as a team, drew 3. Matt Holliday matched that output in this game. But, no, it doesn’t mean anything, really. The Mets are just running into really great pitching. I mean, who beats Josh Fogg, Aaron Cook, or Jason Hirsh?

For the season, in Colorado: Rockies: 47 All NY Teams: 17.

David Wright went 3-for-4 with 4 RBI. Too bad it was hardly noticeable.

Ruben Gotay did not start but was brought in to pinch-hit, and stroked a single. He now leads the Mets with a .317 batting average.

Both Shawn Green and Paul LoDuca had two hits and a double. They needed to quadruple those efforts for it to matter.

Next Game

The Mets travel to Houston for a four-game series in Minute Maid Park. John Maine goes in the opener against Jason Jennings. Hopefully the Mets can adjust quickly to sea level and right the ship before it starts sinking.

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