Archive: August 15th, 2007

Mets Game 119: Win Over Pirates

Mets 10 Pirates 8

The Mets went seven innings without scoring a run. Luckily, they managed five runs on each of the bookends of the game to get past the Pirates.

The Mets exploded for a five-run first, thanks to doubles by David Wright and Carlos Delgado and another homerun by red-hot Moises Alou. But that was the extent of the offense for the next seven innings, and in the meantime the Bucs chipped away to eventually make it a 5-4 game in the sixth.

New York starter John Maine had another shaky outing, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks in only five innings of work. By the time he was lifted, he had thrown 117 pitches — mostly because he had trouble putting away the Pittsburgh hitters. That may seem like a strange statement, considering he struck out eight in the five innings. However, the Bucs batters fouled off several pitches after falling behind, driving up the count. It didn’t help that Maine walked three, two after going to full count. Maine did not have good command of his slider, which was breaking too early and too far off the plate to entice swings and misses.

The game remained 5-4 until the top of the ninth, and then the Mets offense woke up again. Lastings Milledge started the excitement with a seemingly harmless leadoff single, and was sacrificed to second by Jose Reyes and then stole third. Luis Castillo then hit a high chopper back through the box, which reliever Shawn Chacon threw away — scoring Milledge and giving Castillo first base. Wright then singled, chasing Castillo to third, and Chacon was replaced by lefty Damaso Marte, who gave up a two-run double to Carlos Beltran. Pinch-hitter Damion Easley hit another double to score Beltran, and Alou followed with another near-double, scoring Easley but getting thrown out at second. Marte, obviously frustrated, then hit Shawn Green on purpose — a dumb decision, considering Green’s anemic average against lefties and his 0-for-4 night — before striking out Mike DiFelice to end the onslaught.

With the score 10-4 going into the ninth, Aaron Sele came in for what should have been an easy end to the game. Instead, he gave up two quick singles then hit the next batter to load the bases for Adam LaRoche, who grounded to first to score the Bucs’ fifth run. No big deal, except Jason Bay then blasted a two-run double to put the Pirates within three. At this point, the game again became a save situation and Willie Randolph called on his closer Billy Wagner to put out the fire. Wagner gave up an RBI single to Jose Castillo before striking out Xavier Nady to save the game.

Notes

Originally, “Country Time” had gotten up during the top of the ninth to be ready to come in and close out a one-run game. However, once the Mets started scoring runs, Willie sat down Wags and summoned Sele to get warm. My guess is that Sele — who still is not the type of guy who can get warmed up quickly — wasn’t ready at the start of his appearance, and that’s why he was so ineffective. My guess is he had about five minutes of preparation, and he’s still on a starting pitcher’s clock of needing closer to ten or fifteen minutes.

Alou was 3-for-5 with 3 RBI. He is on fire.

Milledge’s hit in the ninth and steal of third both gave the team a spark, and with Green going 0-for-4 it’s looking like LMillz is taking the rightfield job away from the veteran.

Next Game

The finale pits Brian Lawrence vs. Tony Armas, Jr. After taking the first two, the Mets must put the hammer down and take this “gimme” game. Hopefully Lawrence can use his black magic for another five or six innings. Armas is only slightly better than a BP pitcher at this point, so the offense should tee off. If they don’t, a PI must be hired to find out if their breakfast was tainted or their coffee was doped. Game time is 7:05 PM.

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Why Matt Morris?

Matt Morris pitching for the San Francisco Giants
At the trading deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates pulled an under-the-radar deal to land veteran starter Matt Morris, in return for outfielder Rajai Davis. The 32-year-old Morris might have been a nice pickup for a team in contention, but for the last-place Bucs the trade is something of a head-scratcher — at least on the surface.

The apparent lunacy of the trade intrigued me enough to ask our Pirates correspondent Cory Humes of Pittsburgh Lumber Co. for his no-holds-barred explanation. Here are his thoughts:

“Rajai Davis is, well, crap — he’s fast and that’s about it. His speed helps him a little in the field (he’ll take horrible routes to balls, but make up for it because he’s so quick), but not so much that I’d consider him an above average defender. He’d be an amazing basestealing threat if he had any instincts whatsoever — in the short time he was with the Pirates this year, I can’t begin to count the number of times he was picked off. And, despite being one of the fastest players in the league, he refuses to put the ball on the ground. He might — might — be a fourth outfielder in time, but the general sentiment around Pittsburgh is that he’s nothing we’ll miss. At 27, he’s not a prospect, and we’ve got two similar players — Chris Duffy and Nyjer Morgan — about ready to come back from injury.

As far as the young pitching goes — where is it? Duke’s hurt, Gorzelanny’s overworked, Snell hasn’t won in years, Shane Youman’s minor-league filler, John Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington and Sean Burnett all need more time in AAA. Only Paul Maholm has pitched up to expectations — and ideally, he’d be our fourth or fifth starter. So yeah, we came into the year thinking we had tons of sexy arms, but they’re all M.I.A.

I don’t like the fact that Littlefield ate more of Morris’ contract than he reportedly needed to, but I don’t hate the deal altogether. If the Pirates are in a win-sorta-soon mode (meaning 2008 and 2009, before Bay, Sanchez, et al. leave via free agency), then this makes a bit of sense. Rather than try to sign someone like a Jeff Suppan or Gil Meche for four years and $40 million (or five and $55m), they got Morris for 1.5 or 2.5 years, depending on how long they’d like to keep him. If he pitches as he did earlier this year (or as he did in his first Pirate start — until the defense let him down), he’s not a horrible investment. He’ll stabilize the staff, eat innings, blah blah blah — the stuff that that type of pitcher is supposed to do.

I think the Pirates are planning on keeping Morris as a #3 starter (behind Snell and Gorzelanny) for 2008, trading Wilson (to the Tigers? for something reasonable?) and spending about $15m in free agency to boost the offense and defense. I’d guess a two-year deal to a center fielder, a cheap extension on Izturis and maybe one more surprise. “

Interesting thoughts. I suppose if a journeyman like Jeff Suppan can command $60M on the open market, a guy like Morris is a relative bargain — and without the 5-year commitment. If the Bucs are active during the winter in the free-agent market, and can find takers who over-value their young arms, then the Morris deal makes some sense. But they seem to have a number of holes to fill before moving up in the standings — even in the weak NL Central.

Who knows? Maybe A-Rod and Carlos Zambrano have always harbored a secret desire to play in Pittsburgh. Though even with those two additions, the Pirates might still be two or three players short.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Quick Questions

Pittsburgh Pirates baseball old logoLast year, a lot of noise was made about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ successful second half — OK, successful for them — in going 40-41 in their last 81 games (they went 27-54 in the first 81). The second-half surge seemed an indication that the Bucs were turning a corner, and manager Jim Tracy was making progress. Looking at that progress, as well as a number of bright-looking young pitchers littering the roster, it appeared that the Pirates might make a move upward in the NL Central. However, it was not to be — and Pittsburgh fans have been looking forward to the Steeler’s training camp since June.

I reached out to Cory Humes of Pittsburgh Lumber Co. to get a Pirate fan’s perspective on the Bucs’ disappointing season.

1. As a fan, how do you approach the rest of the season knowing the Bucs have no chance at all in making the playoffs? Do you watch the youngsters more carefully? Look for signs of improvement that could roll over to next year? Or start paying attention to the Steelers’ training camp?

What’s troubling, I think, is that the Pirates AREN’T watching their youngsters more carefully. We still see Tony Armas trotting out to the mound, still see Cesar Izturis making starts, still see Jack Wilson, Shawn Chacon, Salomon Torres and Damaso Marte wearing black and gold. It’s not as if the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate is brimming with loads of hot prospects that deserve call-ups, but you’d like to see guys like Ryan Doumit, Josh Phelps and Steve Pearce earn significant playing time—the Pirates have all but said those three will be counted on to contribute heavily in 2008. I’m not asking to throw them into the deep-end headfirst, but it might not hurt to test the water a little.

It’s important to develop a winning attitude, and there’s no such thing as a truly meaningless game—but at the same time, we’ve got players to evaluate and a top draft pick to earn. I’ll feel no better about the Pirates if they win 73 games this year instead of 67 or 68. We fans got burned last year when they played .500 baseball in the second half because we expected them to have that same kind of success this season.

If only Willie Parker could hit a baseball.


2. Last year the Pirates had an outstanding second half that was supposed to spill over in 2007. If the Buccos were to play, say, .600 ball from here on out, would you buy into the idea (again) that it was a sign of good things to come in 2008?

Their second half stood out last year mostly because they played such abysmal baseball in the first half. After going 30-60 to start the year, they finished with 37 wins in their last 72 games—a marked turnaround. The young pitchers progressed, guys like Chris Duffy, Ronny Paulino and Jose Bautista hit pretty well, and the team as a whole seemed to gel. Talk about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But none of that spilled over, as you pointed out, even though the core of the roster remained relatively unchanged over the winter.

This season, I don’t think I’m as concerned with the team’s winning percentage as I am individual players’ performances. If, say, Paulino hits .350 from here on out, I’d be excited. If Zach Duke comes back from his extended stint on the disabled list to throw well in a few September ballgames, I’d be optimistic. If Xavier Nady gets healthy and meshes with Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche in the middle of the order—and they’ve yet to all click at the same time—I’d consider it to be a promising turn of events.

But no, their record doesn’t mean much at this point. Until the Pirates figure out how to stay afloat in April and May, winning in August and September won’t mean much.

3. Are Dave Littlefield and/or Jim Tracy on the hot seat?

Kevin McClatchy announced mid-year that he’d be stepping down as the team’s CEO at season’s end, and so I’d imagine his successor would be in place well before the winter meetings. And any new regime would expect to bring in its “own people.” I doubt that a baseball man would take the Pirates’ job without being assured that he’d have full reign over the team’s operations. To allow your hand to be forced by tight-fisted owners is career suicide.

Given Dave Littlefield’s track record, you’d certainly believe he’d be on the hot seat. Jim Tracy’s entering a lame-duck year, so his future will be known soon enough, too. Pirate fans might be a bit too critical of Tracy—it’s hard to determine exactly how he’d manage given a half-decent roster with which to work—but everything that’s said about Littlefield is justified.

The front office changes that are certain to come might be more interesting than any free agent signings—and they’ll be infinitely more important. If the Pirates miss the boat here, they could doom themselves to another five or 10 years of failure.

Thanks again to Cory for providing his viewpoint on the Pirates. By the way, Corey asked me a few questions regarding the Mets on the Pittsburgh Lumber Co. blog — check it out and let me know what you think of my answers (teaser: follow that link to find out what falling frogs have to do with the success of Brian Lawrence).

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Randolph Mixes It Up

Nice to see manager Willie Randolph finally “showing us another look”. Two significant changes were made in Tuesday night’s ballgame, and in my humble opinion, both were for the better.

First of all, Willie left David Wright in the three-hole and batted Carlos Beltran cleanup. I can’t be happier with this move, mostly because Beltran is no better than a .260-.270 hitter and Wright has established himself as a .300 swinger. I know there are people who disagree, but I’ve always been of the philosophy that your best pure hitter — and top on-base guys — need to be batting somewhere in the top three spots of the order. It’s illogical not to ensure that your top hitter and top OBP guy are guaranteed to get an at-bat in the first inning. And while Wright is hitting 50 points higher and his OBP is 60 points better than Beltran, it’s hard NOT to have Wright third and Beltran anywhere behind him — be it fourth, fifth, or wherever. For nearly three years the Mets have tried to force a square peg into a round hole (Beltran in the three spot) — sitting on a weak argument that Beltran’s speed was part of the reason. Facts are facts, and Beltran, no matter which way you look at it, is not a three hitter on a championship club. Unless that club is the 1973 Mets.

The second change in the lineup was the insertion of Lastings Milledge in rightfield against the righthanded Ian Snell. According to Willie’s remarks in his pregame chat on WFAN, Milledge and Shawn Green will be more or less sharing the position, based on matchups and Willie’s famous hunches. Now anyone who’s followed MetsToday knows I’m a HUGE fan of Green, and a lukewarm supporter of LMillz. However, I’m not completely blinded by my man-crush, and can see that Milledge needs to see more time — and Green less. I like Willie’s handling of the situation, and believe that Green still has something to offer — as a part-time player. Before anyone jumps on the Stings bandwagon and starts clamoring for his taking the job full-time, see this post on MetsBlog concerning Green’s hitting against top pitchers. It’s time for Green to make room for Milledge, but not move over completely … he can still help a team win a championship, if used correctly.

Pedro in Two Weeks?

Also on the WFAN pregame last night, Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti remarked that he expected to see Pedro Martinez join the Mets in about two weeks. FYI, Pedro pitched three perfect innings before giving up three runs in his fourth frame of work in his second rehab start with Port St. Lucie on Tuesday afternoon. I’m not sure how the rosters work in regard to the postseason — I believe that someone on the DL as of August 31 can be eligible for the postseason, but not sure how that will apply to Pedro’s situation — since he hasn’t played at all this year and the 60-day DL has lapsed (any help appreciated). So we’re likely to see Pedro with the big club when rosters expand in September, at the latest. I’d be happy if he could appear in middle relief once or twice a week — never mind expect him to come in and start. If John Smoltz could do it (temporarily), and Kerry Wood can do it, why not Pedro?

Wakefield’s Decisions

This has nothing to do with the Mets but as a baseball fan I find it fascinating: Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has made 24 starts this year, and is 14-10. How many other pitchers have factored into the decision for every start they made? Are there any others this year? Any others in the past five years? A remarkable stat in this day and age of five-inning starters.

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