Archive: September 17th, 2007

Mets Game 149: Loss to Nationals

Depressed Mr. Met by Sal Iovine

Nationals 12 Mets 4

So it wasn’t necessarily the Phillies that were the problem — it’s the Mets, who are finding new ways to beat themselves every day.

It was earmarked as a throwaway game when — unbelievably — Brian Lawrence was rushed up from New Orleans to serve as the “emergency starter”. What the heck was the emergency? Because El Duque couldn’t pitch? Don’t the Mets already have Mike Pelfrey and Philip Humber on the roster, in uniform, ready to show what they can do toward a 2008 job?

Coming into the game, Lawrence had a 1-2 record with a 6.83 ERA and 1.93 WHIP. In his last start, at Philadelphia, he was knocked out in the fifth inning after allowing 10 hits, 2 HRs, and 5 runs. In his previous four starts he BARELY completed five innings — though anyone who saw those games knows very well that he was lucky beyond belief to get that far. So it’s not like it was any surprise when he could go only 3 1/3 in this contest — the surprise, in fact, was that he remained on the 40-man roster. Some may disagree, but I would have been more confident to see Jason Vargas on the mound before Brian Lawrence. Just what in the world was Omar, Willie, and the rest of the organization thinking with this decision?

As it was, Lawrence “pitched” (if that’s what you call it) 3 1/3 frames, and gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and a walk. Like Oliver Perez a day earlier, though, he left with the game tied — at which point the Mets brought in another “sure thing” in Aaron Sele. For anyone who has watched the Mets this year, you know Sele is indeed sure to give up at least one run — regardless of the number of innings he pitches. Though Sele worked out of a jam in the fourth (thanks in large part to Paul LoDuca picking Rob Fick off third base), but predictably gave up the go-ahead run in the fifth. He was replaced by LOOGY Scott Schoeneweis, who struck out pinch-hitter Tony Batista to end the inning.

And here’s where Willie Randolph has problems. Willie, if you’re reading, “LOOGY” is shorthand for Lefthanded One Out GuY. That’s what “The Show” is — a guy you use for ONE OUT. However, the cement-head that Randolph is, chose instead to push his luck and use Schoeneweis for another inning. Bad choice — and that’s not coming from the Monday morning quarterback, it’s what was screamed at the television when the bottom of the sixth began.

Hmm … sound familiar? Perhaps you remembered Sunday afternoon’s contest, when the sixth inning “happened”. Well apparently the same copywriter was hired to write Monday night’s story, because again it was the sixth that the Mets had a collective brain fart and gave the game away. First, David Wright allowed a DP ball to skip under his glove. Then, Schoeneweis threw away a bunt. Then, Jorge Sosa forgot to throw out Nook Logan scoring from third on an easy bouncer back to the box. Before it was all over, it was Nationals 9 Mets 4.

The bottom of the seventh wasn’t much better, as the Nats added another three and a pound of salt to the Mets’ wounds. Not much more to say.

Notes

Kudos to Carlos Beltran for swinging at the first pitch he saw in the eighth and popping up to the catcher, down eight runs. No need to be smart or fundamentally sound at that point — just get the game over with as quickly as possible.

The Mets wasted a two-run homer by Beltran and a solo shot by Shawn Green. Green was 2-for-3 on the evening.

Willie found a way to use all four of his catchers in the game, wasting Mike DiFelice in a double-switch — only to pinch-hit for him later — and giving Ramon Castro a pinch-hit at-bat in the eighth.

The Washington Nationals came into the game as the worst-hitting, lowest-scoring team in all of Major League Baseball. They amassed 12 runs on 13 hits.

The Phillies bludgeoned the Cardinals and are now 2 1/2 games behind with 13 games to play.


Next Game

John Maine goes against Joel Hanrahan in another 7:05 PM start. Who knows what might happen?

Note: The image accompanying this article was drawn by Staten Island artist Sal Iovine. Be sure to view his websites IOBLOG and www.saliovine.com to view all of his great illustrations and artwork.

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Series Preview: Mets vs. Nationals

Washington Nationals baseball logoThe Nationals are one game out of last place, and at 66-83 have no hope of finishing .500 for the season. The Mets are sitting atop the NL East, with a 77-57 record against teams not from Philadelphia. The last time the Mets lost a series to the Phils, they went on a rampage, winning five straight and 9 out of 10. It would be nice to see a similar rebound with 14 games left to play.

However, there are some strange goings-on. For example, Brian Lawrence is starting the opener for reasons unknown. Guillermo Mota is still being called into crucial situations, such as to hold onto tie ballgames. Shawn Green is the regular first baseman, batting .324 for the month, and suddenly a stolen base threat. Aaron Sele is still hogging a roster spot. And there’s a little lefty on the team who can’t seem to get his name spelled correctly on his uniform back.

Let’s take it game by game.

Game 1: Brian Lawrence vs. Tim Redding

This is a battle for the ages, the winner of which shall be crowned king of mediocrity. Redding, of course, as the edge, partly because he held the Mets to only one run on five hits in six innings the last time he faced them, and mostly because the New York hitters routinely fail against the worst starting pitchers in the National League. And then there’s Redding’s crazy beard, which reportedly hides nail files and petroleum jelly.

Lawrence again goes to the mound to prove that he is indeed a four-inning pitcher, capable of allowing three baserunners per inning but somehow squeaking out of it by allowing only one run. The reason Lawrence is starting is not because El Duque is injured so much as the Mets are giving Pedro Martinez a full five days off between starts — and apparently the other starters were jealous of this arrangement. Also, Willie Randolph has not been informed that the kid wearing #49 is a pretty bright prospect — one, in fact, that might vie for a starting rotation spot in 2008. Why give Phil Humber a few starts in meaningless September games when you know you can get four and a third nail-biting innings from Brian Lawrence?

Game 2: John Maine vs. Joel Hanrahan

At this point, John Maine is pitching for a spot in the postseason starting rotation, and could go one up on Oliver Perez after witnessing his teammate’s debacle on Sunday. The Nats send Joel Hanrahan to the hill, he of the near-six ERA and WHIP a shade under two. However, the reason those numbers aren’t over 6 and 2 is due to his first MLB start against the Mets — a six-inning, four-hit, seven-strikeout performance. Hanrahan had pedestrian stuff in that July 28th game, and has an ERA of just about TEN in his last four starts. That said, we may see the Mets no-hit for the first time this year.


Game 3: Mike Pelfrey vs. Matt Chico

Pelfrey is the scheduled starter, as the Mets cannot allow 40-year-old Tom Glavine to throw on only four days’ rest. There has been some talk of using Pelfrey out of the bullpen — perhaps because the Mets are desperately in search of anyone who can get outs from innings six through eight — but if Pelfrey is a candidate that will have to wait another week. Hey, there’s plenty of time before the playoffs to find out if Pelf’s sinker-slider combo will be viable in 7th-inning situations.

Despite a 5-8 record, Chico won’t get discouraged, as the Mets, they ain’t so hard to understand. And if he tries now, the Nationals are convinced that Chico can lend a helping hand … because there’s good in everyone, and a new day has begun — you can see the morning sun if you try. Oh, sorry … every time I see Matt Chico’s name I can’t help but think of Freddie Prinze Sr. and Jack Albertson. Lookin’ good!

Matt Chico is a battler, if nothing else, and can beat you if you let him. Or you can wait for him to beat himself. He’s a little lefty with a Napoleon complex who relies heavily on pinpoint control and changing speeds. Unfortunately for him, he rarely exhibits pinpoint control. If he were on the Mets, he’d be in New Orleans with the name “Vargas” stitched on his back. But who knows, if given the chance, the 24-year-old might one day turn out to be something. After all, Jamie Moyer flat-out stunk until age 33.

Bottom Line

The Mets will tell you they are not worried about the Phillies, they need to take care of their business, blah blah blah … but the fact is, they’re a scant 3 1/2 ahead with 14 games to play. In other words, anything can happen. Personally, I don’t believe the Mets are going to blow first place any more than the Phillies are going to go 10-3 the rest of the way. But, these next 14 games are the ones that the Mets are supposed to, and must, win. If the offense continues their non-Phillies dominance of the past few weeks, and the pitchers can refrain from walking a dozen batters a game, the NL East should be nearly wrapped up by this time next week.

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Get Yer Mota Running

Mets pitcher Guillermo Mota reacts after yet another poor pitching performanceAnd head him out to the highway, please.

I can completely understand why Willie Randolph has been testing Guillermo Mota the last few weeks — after all, the guy has the best stuff (other than Wagner) in the bullpen. Very few pitchers can throw a moving 95-MPH fastball, command a nasty changeup, and also have a decent slider in their back pocket. Unfortunately, Mota is a head case, a pitcher with major confidence issues. In many ways, he’s not unlike Oliver Perez — if things are going well, Mota can be dominating. Hit with a few bad breaks, a bit of adversity, and focus goes out the window, pitches are left up over the plate, and balls are flying over fences.

In fact, I also understand why Willie put Mota out there with a tie game against the Phillies — it was a move of desperation. Willie gambled that Mota would magically find his mojo against the Phillies, and be able to ride that high through the end of the season. But in the end the move did more harm than good.

With Mota’s stuff and potential to dominate, Willie had to keep pushing Mota out there and hope he could string together a few good outings to get his confidence back up. Unfortunately, Mota has failed miserably time and time again, and the spots Randolph chose to test him were questionable. There’s the “tough guy” school of thought which says a man must prove his mettle by overcoming the most difficult challenges. However, everyone is built differently, and not every reliever is going to respond to such handling. Mota has been struggling since the day he returned from his 60-game suspension, and has been known to be emotionally fragile. No doubt the steroid cloud around him has affected him mentally in one way or another — for example, he may feel like he needs to juice to be effective; or, he may feel like he has to prove to people that he doesn’t need to cheat. Even without the steroid issue, Mota has had confidence issues based on his poor performance. Further, the hometown fans boo him unmercifully before he throws a pitch. He’s a professional, so you can say that shouldn’t affect him, but the fact is, it does. Observing at his body language and the scared look on his face, it’s clear that Mota is upset with the booing and is devoid of confidence. This time last year, Mota looked mean and full of energy; now, he looks terrified and waiting for a way out.

Again, you can say what you want — i.e., he’s getting paid $2M, he’s a pro, etc. — but that’s not what we’re arguing here. The point is, Mota is the Mets property whether you like it or not, and he’s a high-maintenance, highly skilled pitcher with the emotional fragility of an egg. He doesn’t respond to being thrown to the wolves, and most of us saw that way back in July. In September, Willie Randolph could have — and should have — eased him back into a groove. Treat him with kid gloves, give him ONE inning here and there in non-pressure situations. Let him slowly realize that he can get big-league batters out. Instead, Willie injects him into the middle of an inning with the bases loaded, or throws him into a tie ballgame, or pushes him a second inning after pitching a successful one. Some personality types — Billy Wagner, for one — might respond well to such handling. Not everyone does. If Mota did have that kind of personality, he’d be closing for someone else right now (another bright red flag for anyone who’s followed Mota’s career — he has the stuff of a closer, but never could handle the role). The definition of “managing” is to make the most of what you’re dealt with — you can’t play a five of clubs like it’s an ace of spades. For the most part, Willie does this well — with position players. But with the pitching staff, and specifically with Guillermo Mota, he has failed miserably.

At this point, trying to build Mota back up and making the best use of his god-given, superior skills is a lost cause. New York fans can be brutal, and he’s feeling the full brunt of their nastiness (much to the happiness of Scott Schoeneweis). With Mota’s checkered past with performance-enhancing drugs, there will be no feel-good standing ovation of support such as was given Carlos Delgado. Randolph can try to wean him back while on the road, but there’s really no time at this point in the season for Mota to get his confidence back. There are 14 games left, mostly against the Marlins and Nationals. Mota has pitched poorly in 11 of his last 18 appearances, and has an ERA around six. Striking out Nook Logan or Todd Linden in meaningless games against last-place teams won’t be enough to get Guillermo confident he can perform in the postseason.

So now the Mets are in a quandary. Outside of Aaron Heilman — who himself is not without questions — there is no one to count on to bridge the gap to Billy Wagner. Jorge Sosa looked like the answer for a short while, but his hocus-pocus act as a reliever faded more quickly than his startling success as a starter. Let’s face it, Sosa is the righthanded version of Sparky Lyle — a 95% slider pitcher — but his slider isn’t as good as Sparky’s was. If his slider isn’t biting hard, and/or batters aren’t chasing it, it’s only a matter of time before a ball finds the fence. We’d really like to believe Pedro Feliciano is dependable, but he’s been up and down. I won’t even allow The Show or Aaron Sele into the equation.

There are two weeks left in the regular season to find at least one, hopefully two, relievers for the postseason. Joe Smith needs to be tested. Philip Humber needs to be tested. Mike Pelfrey needs to be tested — though that’s going to be difficult if the Mets insist on a six-man rotation here on out. Maybe you promote another arm or two from the minors to see what you have. Maybe John Maine tries out the bullpen for a week. But the Guillermo Mota exam period has ended. It’s time to move on, and find a new solution, before time runs out.

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A Phew Notes

So the Mets finished their season series against the Philadelphia Phillies with 6 wins and 12 losses. To put this into perspective:

– The Mets are currently 83-65
– The Phillies are currently 80-69

– Against everyone but the Phillies, the Mets are 77-57
– Against everyone but the Mets, the Phillies are 68-63

Strange, isn’t it? When these two teams play everyone else, the Mets are dominant, while the Phillies are barely better than a .500 team. Yet head-to-head, there’s little question that the Phillies are superior. Say all you want about the Phillies’ hot streaks, their bad pitching, etc., the facts don’t lie, and the Phillies have a .667 winning percentage over 18 games vs. the Mets.

So now we as Mets fans may need to worry about the Phillies grabbing the Wild Card, since it appears that Philadelphia has replaced Atlanta as the Mets’ kryptonite. Or perhaps it’s nothing to worry about at all.

Fans going back to the 1980s no doubt remember the Mets’ absolute dominance of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. The Mets, who went 100-60 and finished 15 games ahead in the NL East, also beat the Dodgers ten times in eleven tries during the regular season. However, the Mets were stunned in a dramatic seven-game series by the Dodgers, who went on to beat the Athletics in five to become World Champs.

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