Archive: July 24th, 2007

Mets Game 99: Win Over Pirates

Mets 8 Pirates 4

Wow … where to start?

John Maine pulled a little league feat, pitching and hitting his team to victory. Lastings Milledge was 3-for-3. Ruben Gotay had two more hits, with an RBI and a run. Paul LoDuca had two hits and two runs. Even Shawn Green was inspiring, with his clutch single and hustle around the bases.

In short, it was a good evening all around — and a great game for a Mets fan.

Maine was the hero, pitching seven solid innings of five-hit ball, allowing two runs, one walk, and striking out 7 en route to his 11th victory. Message to the rest of the National League: he’s back in form. Maine also helped himself with the bat, dropping two perfect sacrifice bunts to advance runners. Oh, and in his one official at-bat of the evening, he sent an Ian Snell fastball about 380 feet into the visitor’s bullpen — his first homer as a professional. The two-run shot put the Mets ahead 6-2, and capped a four-run fourth.

In the first inning, the Pirates got on the board when ex-Met Xavier Nady doubled in Adam LaRoche, who stroked a two-out single. The Mets, however, came right back in the bottom of the inning, thanks to back-to-back doubles by Jose Reyes and Ruben Gotay, a single by Carlos Beltran, and a sac fly by David Wright.

That fourth frame began with a Ryan Doumit groundout, but proceeded with the previously slumping Jason Bay crushing a fastball — dropping it over leftfield fence and nearly into the bleachers. Maine settled down after that, though, and didn’t allow another run to the Bucs. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the inning, Paul LoDuca doubled with one out. Shawn Green jumped on the first pitch he saw and ripped a shot up the middle to score LoDuca easily to put the Mets ahead. Green then advanced to second on a ball that got away from catcher Ronny Paulino. Lastings Milledge then fought off a full-count pitch and hit a bullet through the legs of third baseman Matt Kata’s legs. Kata recovered to chase down the ball, but Green never hesitated rounding third, and was sent home by the perpetual windmill known as Sandy Alomar Sr. Ball and Green arrived at the same time, but Green slid away from Paulino’s tag for the Mets’ fourth run. If Alomar had a crystal ball, he might not have sent Green — but with the light-hitting Maine on deck and one out, it was a fairly justifiable gamble. Maine, however, sent the second pitch he saw — a high fastball — over the fence to make the score 6-2.

The hot-hitting Milledge blasted a two-run tater inside the leftfield foul pole to extend the lead to 8-2. Which was a nice touch, because it meant Billy Wagner could take the day off, and Guillermo Mota had the luxury of allowing two runs in the ninth without anyone getting nervous.


Gotay is now hitting .342, and Milledge has raised his average to .262 — it was about 100 points lower a few days ago. So much for the idea of relying on old veteran bats, eh?

Gotay also made some slick, athletic plays around the second base bag. I’m still not convinced his glove is “suspect” — regardless of his zone rating.

Maine had a nice sequence vs. Xavier Nady in the third. Nady, who dives into the plate, was dusted by a 2-1 purpose pitch under his chin. That moved his butt a few feet further, and Maine then painted a fastball on the outside edge of the dish that Nady took for strike two. With the count full, Maine threw another good strike, and Nady grounded out to short. I’m really liking this mean streak that Maine’s been showing since his start in Houston — it’s an edge that will help him dominate hitters in the future.

What was great about this game — and the last few games in particular — was seeing the Mets come right back and score immediately after losing the lead. These boys got fight in ’em!

Moises Alou arrived at Shea with a healed quad and damaged shoulder. The MRI says he has tendinitis and some irritation in his rotator cuff — yet, somehow, he’ll be able to play three days from now. Huh. I’ll believe it when I see it. What’s the possibility that Alou was in the dugout just for show, and his coming back by the end of the week is really a bunch of horse manure? Wouldn’t other teams have the upper hand in trade negotiations, knowing the Mets are desperate to for a veteran outfielder?

Next Game

Tommy Glavine goes against Tom Gorzelanny in “Tommy G Night” at Shea (not to be confused with “Ali G Night”, which is later in the summer). Glavine should have a lot of fun with the overaggressive hitters in the Pittsburgh lineup. Game time is 7:10 PM.


Series Preview: Mets vs. Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates baseball flag logoThe last time the Mets faced an NL Central cellar dweller at home, they took three out of four. Today they welcome the 41-56 Pittsburgh Pirates to Shea for a three-game series.

The Pirates, actually, are a half-game up on the Cincinnati Reds and therefore not technically in first place. But no one will be surprised if they are by Thursday night.

Manager Jim Tracy sends his best three starters to the hill, so it won’t be a piece of cake for the Mets. Indeed, should the Mets not take the Pirates seriously, they’ll have not cake but their collective butts handed to them. Though they’ve been underachieving all year, the Pirates do have two things going for them: starting pitching and defense. Often, that combination can be lethal — even if the bats are quiet.

For a better quality preview, we’ve called on Pat Lackey from the popular Pirates blog, “Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?” to provide some inside information. His input is inside the quotes, in the gray boxes.

Game One: John Maine vs. Ian Snell

Both team send their aces to the mound in the opener. Maine, as we know, needs to get back on track after finishing the first half with a flourish, only to see his ERA “balloon” from 2.71 to 3.07 after his first two starts of the second half. It looked like his mechanics were a bit off, as his front shoulder was flying out a little early and causing his release point to be a little higher than normal (resulting in balls up and away to lefties). Less walks and more ground balls will help, and should be the result of a return to his better mechanics.

Unless you have him on your fantasy team, you might not know that Ian Snell is an up-and-comer with a high strikeout rate. In fact, he, like Maine, is having a year worthy of All-Star consideration, but was also snubbed. Snell — who has also been known professionally as “Ian Oquendo” (long story, but true) — is a little (5’10”), hard-throwing righty who’d been overlooked earlier in his career due to concerns about his size and durability (hmm … they though the same about a certain Pedro M.). Here is Pat’s take:

“You’re going to see the three best pitchers in the Pirates rotation this week, for what that’s worth. Snell really blossomed in the first half of this season. Last year in his breakout season he still had a lot of trouble with lefties and gave up a lot of homers. This year, he’s really managed to improve in both categories. He throws a good fastball (usually 93-95), a good curve, and has finally developed a decent change to go with the other pitches. In his first two starts after the break, he’s given up five homers, four to lefties, which is a bit of a concern given last season.”

Game Two: Tom Glavine vs. Tom Gorzelanny

Did they do that on purpose? Is it “Tom G” night at Shea?

Anyway, it’s time for Tommy Glavine to return to form, and the Pirates are as good a team as any. The Bucs have a lot of young, over-aggressive hitters in their lineup — exactly the types that Glavine feasts on. I think we’ll see at least 7-8 strikeouts and a lot of grounders on 1-0 and 2-0 counts.

Gorzelanny may be a better pitcher than Snell, as he has similarly good stuff doesn’t try to strike everyone out and thus more efficient. Look for him to keep the ball on the ground via a hard sinker and good changeup. Also, let’s hope Shawn Green is not in the lineup, or he’ll be eaten alive by Gorzelanny’s sharp slider (Delgado may wear the golden sombrero). According to Pat:

“Gorzelanny has also come a long way this year. He can also run his fastball up to around 95 or 95, though it usually sits in the lower 90s. He also throws a very good slider and a changeup. His strikeouts are a bit down from his minor league numbers this year, but it is his first full year in the majors.”

Game Three: Oliver Perez vs. Paul Maholm

Ollie’s been brilliant at times this year — but only when his head is screwed on straight. Will his first start against the organization that trashed him prove to be too overwhelming for his psyche? There’s no doubt he’ll be keyed up, and looking to prove something, but sometimes his emotions get out of control — a bad call or error early in the game might set him off. My guess is that he’ll either throw eight shutout innings or be gone by the fourth. Let’s hope for the former.

The Pirates send Maholm to the mound, a guy who took full advantage of the Wandy Rodriguez Effect last year (in fact, it was nearly dubbed the “Paul Maholm Effect”), going 2-1 with a 1.42 ERA in three starts vs. the Mets. He’s an underwhelming lefthander who relies on staying ahead of batters and getting groundballs with his sinker — a lot like Tommy John.

Pat says this about him:

“Maholm got off to a poor start this year, but has really turned things around in his past few starts. He’s more of a soft-tossing lefty, mixing in a few off-speed pitches with a fastball that generally sits in the high 80s. He’s cut down his walks this year, which is where I think his recent success has come from.”

Mets Bats

The Mets are finally executing the team philosophy of taking pitches, getting into deep counts, and making the starting pitcher work — and it’s already paying dividends. Add to their newfound strategy of manufacturing runs the fact that Moises Alou will be making his return to the lineup — just in time to face the Pirates two tough lefties. Recent roster additions Marlon Anderson and Lastings Milledge are only hitting around .200, but the hits they’re getting have been big — Milledge has six RBI in his last seven games. Carlos Delgado continues to swing a hot bat, and David Wright’s average is creeping closer to .300 every day. With the injury to Jose Valentin, Ruben Gotay will get a fair chance to prove he’s the answer at second base — he’s 6 for his last 18. Jose Reyes broke his mini-slump by going 3-for-5 on Sunday. Carlos Beltran is batting .321 in his last seven games with three homers and seven RBI.

Pirates Bats

It used to be all about Jason Bay, but the Canadian is having a horrible year, batting only .246 and getting worse as the weeks go by — he’s hitting a combined .162 for the months of June and July. And we thought the Carloses were slumping! That makes Xavier Nady the Pirates’ top threat, and he is having a good year — .280/14/52. So the idea that we “fleeced” the Bucs out of Ollie Perez isn’t exactly true — it’s been a good deal for both sides. Pittsburgh’s lone All-Star rep, Fredi Sanchez, won’t win a batting title this year, but he is approaching .300. The much-heralded deal that brought slugging first baseman Adam LaRoche has been something of a disappointment, as LaRoche is hitting .246/14/56. He is, however, 7 for his last 15, so may be on a hot streak. Catcher Ronny Paulino is hitting nowhere near the .310 of a year ago, though Ryan Doumit is still banging the ball — and still can’t find a position. Centerfielder Chris Duffy is on the DL, and they have a kid named Rajai Davis who’s hitting .455 in his last seven games, but manages to erase himself from the basepaths with dumb baserunning blunders. As Pat says about the Pirates,

“I could talk about the Pirate offense, but let’s just say they made Woody Williams look like the old Woody Williams this week. There’s really no one worth worrying about there, from your perspective.”

Pirates Bullpen

Per Pat:

“The bullpen is just awful. Matt Capps has been a pretty good closer, Shawn Chacon has done a decent job setting up, and Damaso Marte has been devastating to lefties (he’s rarely allowed to pitch to righties), but that’s about it. Torres has been pretty bad all year, though he has battled arm troubles. John Grabow hasn’t been able to get anyone out all year. Masumi Kuwata is a 39-year old veteran of the Japan leagues that throws really, really slow and can sometimes sneak through an inning on that, but he’s rarely good for more than an inning. Tony Armas Jr. has been embarrassing.”

Bottom Line

The Mets are in the soft part of their schedule, and this is a golden opportunity to extend their lead over the second-place Braves. Taking two out of three from the Pirates is the expectation — anything less will be a disappointment.


Middle Relief Option

The Boston Red Sox DFA’s Joel Pineiro yesterday, to make room on the roster for Jon Lester.

The guy’s got electric stuff, but has been riddled by injuries and inconsistency since 2003. The Red Sox signed him as a closer candidate when they thought Jon Papelbon would be a starter. It didn’t work out so well for Pineiro in the bullpen, as he posted a 5.03 ERA. He’s only 28, appears to be healthy, and may be ripe for a move to the National League.

A project for Rick Peterson?


Inside Look: Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates baseball logo (old school)Fascinating, isn’t it? That a team could be so physically close to the NY-metropolitan area, and yet have little or no consequence in the minds of most Mets fans?

Pittsburgh is only about 300 miles from Flushing, but it may as well be a million. The average Mets fan (excluding the loyal diehards reading this blog, of course) might be able to name two Pirates players off the top of their head — most likely, the two former Mets Xavier Nady and Jason Bay. After that, it’s a lot of “umms” and “uhhhs” as they search their mind — or their fantasy team — for another Bucco ballplayer.

So, we’re counting on Cory Humes, Director of Baseball at the Most Valuable Network and columnist for the Pittsburgh Lumber Co. (c’mon, you remember Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, and the rest of the hard-hitting gang of the 1970s, don’t you?) to give us the scoop on the Pirates.

1. At the beginning of the season, things in Pittsburgh were looking optimistic. You had good young arms in the rotation and at the end of the bullpen, strong defense, and power-hitting Adam LaRoche added to an already impressive, up and coming lineup. The Pirates’ talented youth looked on the verge of turning a corner. Today, however, the Pirates are fighting to stay out of the cellar. What happened?

The problem, I think, was that the Pirates were counting on too many unknowns. On Opening Day, I said that if all went well, the Pirates would be a .500 baseball team (and as such, capable of staying competitive in a weak NL Central). Of course, that was before Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny emerged as legitimate starting pitchers, before LaRoche hovered around the Mendoza line in April (as Bay did in June), and before a shuttle service started for relief pitchers going back and forth between Pittsburgh and Triple-A Indianapolis.

Quite simply, the Pirates’ supporting players — Bautista, Duffy, Paulino, Wilson — haven’t done nearly as much as optimists had hoped, and our two big bats haven’t seen the ball all that well. Outside of three or four starting pitchers, the roster has disappointed. Long story short: Decent pitching, but no offense.

2. Your opinion on Jim Tracy — in game management and his handling of the ballplayers.

Tracy’s being run out of town by the hardcore fans, but I’ve always appreciated his skills as a manager. Like Lloyd McClendon before him, I think it’s unfair to evaluate Tracy based on what he’s done with this roster. The Pirates would have you believe they’re underperforming, but I think that the biggest contributor to our losing tradition is a sheer lack of talent.

That being said, Tracy’s insistence on using players with low on-base percentages — Chris Duffy, Nate McLouth, Jack Wilson, Matt Kata — near the top of his batting order is frustrating. He’ll find playing time for a hot stick, but he writes curious lineups cards (to say the least).

Given the Pirates’ weak bench and lack of relief pitching past Capps, Torres, Marte and Chacon, you can’t question his in-game decisions much. He doesn’t have the options other major-league managers do.

3. Zach Duke may be back before the end of August. Yet, he’s been the subject of trade rumors here and there. Do the Pirates have reason to send him away, or is it more wishful thinking on the part of pundits and fans outside of Pittsburgh? (Can we send you a good young outfielder for him?)

You’re a witness to the Pirates’ main reason to send him away — Oliver Perez. Duke is broken, and we probably can’t fix him. Other teams, though, see our ineptitude and are convinced that with the right coaching, they can coax our castoffs back to form. Bronson Arroyo comes to mind as another player whom Pittsburgh gave up on too early.

The Pirates need to trade pitching for hitting in the worst possible way, and I seriously doubt that Ian Snell’s headed anywhere for less than a king’s ransom. With four lefties in the rotation (and another, Sean Burnett, looming in the minors), it makes sense to deal a southpaw. Still, Dave Littlefield has publicly said he’s reluctant to send away such a valuable commodity. You can’t blame him for that — if everyone else wants our starters, shouldn’t we, too?

4. Why did it take so long to give Matt Kata a shot? Is he someone to find a place for, or simply on a hot streak?

Because he’s 29 years old, and the Pirates have a stable of other infield options — Freddy Sanchez, Jose Bautista, Jack Wilson, Jose Castillo, and now Cesar Izturis. Kata’s played well in a couple of starts, so you’ll likely see him in the lineup Tuesday. As I said earlier, Tracy will reward a hot player — even if that hot player’s a journeyman.

Still, the fact that Kata’s cutting into Castillo’s playing time is discouraging. You’d think the Pirates would rather showcase the younger guy with more upside. No matter what, though, when Bautista returns from injury third base is his. I wouldn’t worry about finding a permanent spot for Kata, but I suppose he’s useful as a utility option.

5. Are Jose Castillo and Jose Bautista the same person? Their Strat-O-Matic cards sure look the same, and I don’t think I’ve seen them both in the game at the same time.

One hustles — Bautista — and one doesn’t. Castillo’s a bit flashier with the glove, but Bautista’s been solid at third. Both have the occasional power surge, but Bautista has proven to be a more valuable hitter because of his ability to draw a walk. All things considered, though, they’re relatively interchangeable. Given a choice, I’d take Bautista.

6. Speaking of Castillo, should the Mets consider him for second base? We’ve heard he’s a head case. What’s the scoop?

He’s been labeled as lazy, and I don’t think that’s entirely undeserved. At the same time, it’s hard to stay motivated when your manager gives you a start or less per week. Especially when you’re a Pirate, and the guys in front of you are by all accounts average ballplayers.

If I were an opposing GM, I’d probably take a flyer on Jose. He plays highlight-reel defense at second (and is serviceable at third and short), and can crush balls like you wouldn’t believe. You have to remember he just turned 26 and already has three years of experience as a starter. With the right coaching (and perhaps Minaya’s Latin influence), I think he could turn into — at the very least — a decent backup.

Then again, I don’t understand why no one will make a move for Jorge Cantu, either.

7. What happened to the idea of Xavier Nady at third base? Do the Bucs lack OF depth, or was Nady a bit shady at the hot corner?

In the days immediately following the Perez-Nady swap, there was talk that Nady had a little experience as a third baseman. Some of us discussed the possibility of shifting Freddy Sanchez to second and inserting Nady at the hot corner, but I don’t know that the Pirates ever considered that to be a plausible alternative. Having him split time between first and right seemed to work well, and now you’ll see him playing a mediocre center field, too.

I think the decision was made primarily due to Nady’s lack of polish at third, but the Pirates do have more capable infielders than outfielders.

8. In Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, and Paul Maholm, the Pirates have three 25-year-old pitchers with exciting upsides. What do these three have to do, individually, to turn the corner? Tell us ignorant New Yorkers what to expect when we see them at Shea this week.

Snell needs to stop trying to win games by himself. At times, he prefers to beat batters one-on-one rather than rely on the defenders behind him. He honestly believes he can strike anyone out, but at times that approach can prove costly. He’ll try to paint the black and miss, resulting in either walks or homers.

Gorzelanny’s still learning the ropes of playing in the bigs. I wouldn’t necessarily say he needs to turn a corner. In his first 32 major-league starts (just under 200 innings), he’s 11-11 with a 3.65 ERA. If put together in one season, those numbers would merit R.O.Y. consideration. He’ll only get better.

Maholm finally figured that he needs to throw strikes — nothing more. His natural downward movement lends itself well to being an extreme ground ball pitcher. He’s improved dramatically over the past month or two. You can expect that he’ll last six innings, allow his fair share of baserunners but emerge relatively unscathed. Paul’s an unimpressive innings eater that occasionally can put together a special outing.

9. Tie game, last inning, two out, runner on third. What Bucco batter do you want at the plate?

Looks like we’re playing extras.

No, seriously, I’d probably take Nady. He won a game in our first series of the year against the Astros, and he hasn’t stopped contributing since. He’s worked out for the Pirates — about as well as Ollie has for you guys.

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

As for the Mets: Who’s your best fastball hitter? I pick him. Matt Capps throws strike one every time. And if any other Pirate reliever is in, we probably lose.

Thanks again to Cory for sharing his thoughts on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Be sure to check out his Pirates blog, the Pittsburgh Lumber Co., and the Most Valuable Network (MVN) for commentary by other top-notch bloggers on all 30 Major League Teams.