Archive: August 29th, 2007

Mets Game 132: Loss to Phillies

Phillies 3 Mets 2

I’m getting really tired of typing that headline — it turns my stomach every time.

Although the Mets have now dropped all three games in Philly, and four in a row, I did see some positives — believe it or not.

First, Oliver Perez, who struggled mightily with his command yet kept the Mets in the ballgame through six innings. He allowed 3 runs on 5 hits and 5 walks, and struck out 10. There were several situations where Ollie was in a major fix, and/or lost his cool for a moment, but he collected himself and fought through the situation. There’s no way you can fault a guy who allows only three runs in six innings against the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park. He did his job.

Second, it was nice to see the Mets battle back in the ninth inning and tie the game — though the tying run was disallowed when Marlon Anderson was called for interference. It was an awful way to end the game, but the silver lining is this: the Mets did not give up.

Now, the negatives.

The Mets managed to score only two runs — AGAIN. This two-run output every game is completely and utterly unacceptable in the easiest MLB park to score runs against the worst pitching in MLB. Phillies pitching plus CBP equals runs no matter who you are. More unbelievable is that the Mets have been able to get into the Philadelphia bullpen early — the same bullpen whose collective ERA was around NINE prior to this series. It’s understandable, and slightly excusable to have one off day, MAYBE even two — after all, once in a while an opposing pitcher will have a great night. But three nights in a row? Sorry, but I’m sending up a red flag. Make that several, big red flags.

The boxscore claims the Mets had ten hits, but I swear I only remember three or four. The most memorable was David Wright’s homerun in the first, with no one on. Carlos Delgado had a run-scoring single to drive in Carlos Beltran in the fourth — and that was it, the complete scoring for the Mets’ offense. Against AARP-card-carrier Jamie Moyer no less.

People keep saying there’s no reason to panic, why the pessimism, hey the Mets are still in first. Meantime the Phillies are making a mockery of the first-place team from Flushing, and about to close out a sweep, which will put them two measly games away from the leaders. Oh, do you really think the Mets are going to pull out a victory on Thursday? It’s an afternoon game, remember — and those are the ones that Willie Randolph traditionally puts out his “B” team and makes little effort to win. If their top talent can’t score against the worst pitching in the NL, in the most comfortable hitter’s park, why would the scrubs? Though, maybe a change in personnel is exactly what’s needed — sometimes a new set of eyes (and arms and bats and legs) is what can reverse bad happenings.

Notes

The two Carloses went a combined 4-for-8, and Wright was 2-for-3. Jose Reyes reached base twice and both times was picked off first.

Jorge Sosa threw two scoreless innings of relief.

Next Game

Orlando Hernandez pitches another day game, this time against Kyle Lohse in a 1:05 PM start. The way the Mets offense has been sputtering, El Duque will need to throw a nine-inning no-hitter if he hopes to pull out a victory. Let’s hope he’s only on pitch #90 when the ninth inning begins.

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10 Hates On the Phillies

Philadelphia baseball mascot the Phillie PhanaticIt’s completely normal for New York area fans to dislike Philadelphia sports teams. In fact, it’s a birthright — and my guess is that the feeling is mutual (Philly fans and NY sports teams). However, it used to be that the only team I really hated — with a passion — was the Braves. They won every stinking year, and did it so easily, without dramatics, and seemingly without effort. The Braves would collect maybe four hits in a game but somehow come away with a 6-2 victory, and the whole time we had to endure the condescending smiles of Larry and Andruw Jones, Bobby Cox, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux … the list goes on and on.

Though I still hate the Braves, they’re not as much a threat recently as the Phillies. Each day there’s another Phillie to hate a little bit more. Here’s my personal list.

I hate …

1. Shane Victorino, aka “the flyin’ Hawaiian”. He reminds me of David Eckstein — a tiny, overachieving pest who always seems to be in the middle of a rally.

2. Chase Utley – because he’s so damned … perfect. Yeah, it’s jealousy, but jealousy and hatred go hand-in-hand. And that smirk when he’s beating you … reminds me of Greg Maddux and the Jones boys.

3. Adam Eaton – because it’s frustrating as heck to be dominated by the worst starting pitcher in National League history.

4. Ryan Howard, because a.) like Utley, I’m jealous; and b.) he’s so hard to hate.

5. Charlie Manuel – the Lt. Columbo of managers, a disheveled, dumpy character who appears to be a moron but somehow wins in the end.

6. Jimmy Rollins – I’d love this guy if he couldn’t walk the walk, but he can. His squawking and reprehensible confidence level (what have the Phillies ever won, anyway?) is annoying enough, but the fact he backs up his words … well, it’s unnerving.

7. Antonio Alfonseca – because I have a prejudice against polydactyls with pot bellies … so sue me.

8. J.C. Romero – because a middle reliever who gets released outright, in this day and age, has no business pitching as effectively as he is right now. (Unless that pitcher is Guillermo Mota, the year is 2006, and he’s on steroids.)

9. Pat Burrell – 38 career homers and 97 RBI against the Mets. Do I need another reason?

10 The Phillie Phanatic – because he is the ugliest and most annoying mascot in the history of sport. We need John Stearns to come back to the coaching staff to tackle that atrocious thing, in the same way he brought down and pummeled Chief Noc-A-Homa way back when.

Honorable Mention:
Cole Hamels – because a punk kid with 23 career wins shouldn’t have the audacity to be so cocky. Pitch a complete year without visiting the DL, or win 20 games in a season, before walking around like you’re the second coming.

Who are your hates from Philly? List ’em in the comments.

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The Fatal Flaw

William Randolph ShakespeareAs a person, we like Willie Randolph. We respect the way he played the game, we admire his ability to motivate players and teach the youngsters, and the way he handles the media. He’s a good guy, a first-class individual. Personally, I’d like to see him remain the manager of the Mets for a long time. However, his managerial career plays out like a Shakespearian tragedy, in that he has one fatal flaw that is his ultimate downfall: he has no idea how to manage a pitching staff.

It’s not his fault, really — he was a second baseman during his playing career, and what the heck does a middle infielder know about pitching? (That’s why catchers make such great managers — they know how to handle the most important aspect of the game.) As a coach with the Yankees, he was kept far away from mound, as his strength was in teaching and relating to the position players. The only bit of education he has regarding pitching management is from the king of reliever burnout, Joe Torre. So we can’t be too harsh on Willie — he’s ignorant, and never had the opportunity to learn the ropes in regard to managing a pitching staff. In many ways, he’s learning on the job.

How Rick Peterson fits in to this is anybody’s guess. It appears that The Jacket is more like Willie — he can relate to pitchers (they’re a different breed), and he can teach. But, also like Willie, he might not be the best at pitching management — because we’re assuming that Randolph leans on him a bit for advice. You may think this is a crazy idea — isn’t Peterson one of the best pitching coaches in baseball? Sure, but he’s never had a bat in his hands, and faced a Major League pitcher — so his knowledge is all one way. He may know all there is to know about pitching mechanics, and changing speeds, and grips, and the mental game, etc., but he doesn’t know squat when it comes to a batter facing a pitcher — and that’s part of in-game management.

A glaring example came in last night’s contest. Tom Glavine is cruising through seven innings of shutout ball. He’s thrown a fairly efficient 102 pitches in the process, and showing no signs of tiring. His seventh inning was one of his strongest — a 12-pitch, perfect frame. In his last win — 11 days before — he threw 116 pitches without a problem, so he’d gone that far before, and recently. Considering the disastrous efforts of the bullpen recently, Glavine’s gem of a performance was a sight for sore eyes — for once, a game could pass over the middle relief and go straight to closer Billy Wagner.

Except, for some reason, Glavine was removed before the 8th inning.

Now, it may have been Glavine asking out. If it was, shame on him — but shame on Willie also for not saying, “Tommy, we need you to go one more”. This is the end of the season, a game against the second-place team, and it’s a win you really want to get. Champions such as Tom Glavine rise to the occasion and muster the strength to continue on — he’s done it before, he’ll do it again.

My guess is that Willie and/or Peterson were either “going by the book”, or out-thinking the situation. “The book”, of course, stipulates that you remove your starter after 100 pitches, and that you go to a fresh arm to bridge the gap from starter to closer. “The book” also states that a lineup will start hitting a pitcher the third or fourth time around, so you want to remove your guy before that hitting starts. However, “the book” has to be thrown away in certain situations — such as when your starting pitcher is your BEST OPTION at that moment.

Rick Peterson may have whispered in Willie’s ear, “the Phillies are due to start hitting Tommy, they have the top of the lineup coming up … let’s get him out of there and get him a win for his effort.” That’s a great plan, IF you have a setup man you can count on. Unfortunately, the Mets do not have that pitcher, and haven’t had him in quite some time — possibly because Randolph has completely burned out and exposed the few quality arms he has in the ‘pen. Another thing Peterson doesn’t get — but Willie should. When a pitcher like Glavine is throwing 82-MPH slop up at the plate, and putting up zeroes, it gets to the opposing team. The batters look up and say, “how the heck are we not hitting this guy?”. It becomes a mental thing. This is how Glavine has won over 300 games in his career — guile, smarts, and dominating the mental aspect of a contest. He may not blow a batter away with his fastball, but he’ll hammer his psyche. Think back to the NLCS, when Glavine threw a gem against the Cardinals. Remember mighty Albert Pujols pissing and whining that Glavine “wasn’t that great” ? That’s how Tommy has been winning ballgames for twenty years — getting inside the head of batters, and letting them beat themselves.

So when Glavine is crusing with one of his “vintage” games, you let him go as long as he can go, because he’s dominated the other team, mentally. When the Phillies saw Pedro Feliciano throwing warmups before the 8th, the entire dugout nearly jumped out of its shoes. The smiles on their faces could not be missed — they were completely smitten that Glavine was out of the game, and were knocking each other over on their way to the bat rack. “Thank goodness, we don’t have to deal with Glavine for the rest of the night” — was no doubt said by at least one person in the Philly dugout at that time. It was the turning point of the game.

Now let’s pretend that removing Glavine was the right move. We can go round and round with theories on who should have come in, which matchups should have been made, etc. But it all comes down to this: the Mets do not have a setup man. This team was built by Omar Minaya around the concept of shortening the game, of getting the ball into Billy Wagner’s left hand. The concept falls to pieces without an 8th inning guy. At one time, the Mets had a fairly reliable setup man in Aaron Heilman. He wasn’t perfect, but if he was, then he’d be the closer and not the setup guy, right? They also had a fairly reliable second option in Feliciano — again, not perfect, but who is? Lately, though, neither of those two can be counted on to close the door in a tight game. Why?

It goes back to the mismanagement of the pitching staff. Willie’s in-game management is bad enough, but is exacerbated by his inability to manage arms over the course of a 162-game season. It’s been stated here and other places before — you can’t treat every single game of the year like it’s the seventh game of the World Series. If you do, eventually, something has to give. Randolph has trotted out Heilman 63 times in 130 games; nearly every other day. Feliciano is right behind him at 61 appearances. Both are on pace to finish the year somewhere between 75-80 games apiece. That’s too many. Anyone who watched the Mets last year knows that Heilman is not built for this kind of workload — mentally nor physically. He pitched too often last year (74 games), and had absolutely nothing left come October. His mechanics became a mess when he was overused early in 2006, and at the end of the year needed elbow surgery as a result of pitching too often. So what does Randolph do in 2007? Pitch him even more frequently, of course! If I was Heilman’s agent, I’d have Randolph shot — the guy’s arm is going to be jelly by the time he has a chance to cash out in free agency, at this rate.

Similarly, Feliciano went from being a reliable LOOGY to a full-core setup man sometime around June of this year. That’s great, as he was effective, but again — you can’t expect him to pitch four games in a row and not suffer negative consequences. Feliciano set a career high by pitching in 64 games last year — as mentioned he’s already been in 61 this year (before then he’d never thrown in more than 22). And last year, he was more of a matchup guy, pitching to one or two batters. This year, he routinely pitches one or two innings. That’s a big difference. I’m not sure how anyone can look at the increase in frequency for these two pitchers and be surprised by their recent breakdown in performance. It’s simple logic — also known as The Joe Torre Method of Destroying a Relief Pitcher (see: Proctor, Scott; Gordon, Tom; Quantrill, Paul; Karsay, Steve; the list goes on and on).

How could Willie have avoided the burnout of his two most reliable setup men? Many ways, beginning with allowing the starting pitchers to go longer in games. Just because a guy is approaching, or at, 100 pitches, doesn’t mean you have to take him out. The 100-pitch count is the biggest load of crap going in MLB. Any grown man who throws a ball professionally should be able to safely throw 120-140 pitches once every five days, with proper training. That’s not to say he has to get up to 140 every single time out, but rather, it’s OK if he averages around 115-125. That’s at least one to three extra innings every game, depending on how efficient he is with his pitches. But the current mentality in MLB is to use the quick hook when your starter gives up a single in the sixth inning. It’s ridiculous — that’s postseason, must win at all costs strategy. Shortening the game to that extent over the course of the season puts you in the situation Willie is in now. And just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean Randolph has to do it. Be a maverick, and do something crazy — like let a starter complete a game once a week. Nuts, I know.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much the Mets can do about the situation at this late stage in the season. However, Randolph and Peterson need to face the facts: the bullpen is tired, exposed, and ineffective at this point. Therefore, they’ll have to push the starters an extra inning here and there while the relievers lick their wounds, and hope they can recover in a week or two. And by god if a starter has a shutout through seven, LEAVE HIM IN THE GODDAMN GAME — at least until the ninth. A tired but effective starter is a much better option than any alternative currently available from the bullpen (other than Billy Wagner).

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