Archive: September 27th, 2007

Mets Game 159: Loss to Cardinals

Cardinals 3 Mets 0

Pedro did his job, holding the Cardinals to just three runs and pushing through seven full innings. However, the offense — which had been averaging about seven runs per game lately — did not show up to work.

Joel Pineiro — the guy who had a 6.36 ERA last year, and was dumped by the Red Sox (and who I clamored for both over the winter and after he was DFA’s) — pitched the game of his life, allowing only three hits and no runs over eight innings. You can’t really fault the Mets offense for this one — Pineiro was marvelous, with pinpoint command of every pitch in his repertoire. Oh, and the Cardinals defense collected about fourteen web gems (can’t decide who I loathe more, David Eckstein or Miguel Cairo).

Meantime, Rod Serling showed up in Citizen’s Bank Park to narrate the Braves-Phillies matchup. John Smoltz — a.k.a., Mr. Stupendous — pitched an awful four innings before being knocked out. Gold Glover Mark Teixeira made a critical error (as did Smoltz). When it was all over, the Phillies breezed to a 6-4 victory (it wasn’t nearly as close as the final score), and the phabulous Phillie phans were waving towels in jubilation at their team’s entrance into first place for the first time all year.

Notes

The Mets have zero passion, and are devoid of intestinal fortitude. Feel free to make plans for October — there won’t be any games to miss.

Keith Hernandez reminded me today of why I hated his announcing when he first came on board as a color man a few years ago. He started commentating when the Mets stunk, and he’s more of a bandwagon jumper than a homer — pointing out all the great things that the winning team is doing and criticizing the losing team’s shortfalls in any particular game. And often, the criticism is baseless or illogical. For example, he was getting on the Mets in the later innings for not being aggressive and swinging at first-pitch strikes. Hello? Keith? Have you watched the first 158 games of the season? If you paid attention, you may have noticed that the Mets were the most over-aggressive team in MLB, and routinely swung at first pitches regardless of the score. It was just their dumb luck that it took them 158 games to finally take a sound fundamental approach, and they happen to run into a guy who’s pitching the best game of his career.


Next Game

Does it matter? Oliver Perez will lose tomorrow against Byung-Hyun Kim in a 7:10 PM start at Shea. I will be in the Loge Level, Section 20, two-fisting adult beverages until I can’t see. Please feel free to stop by and swat me over the head with a toy bat.

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Outnumbered

The writers, bloggers, talk radio personalities, and other pundits have come up with a long list of reasons why the Mets have faltered so dramatically in the past few weeks. Such points as Willie Randolph’s managing; Omar Minaya’s inability to get the right personnel; the exhaustion of Jose Reyes; the gasoline the relievers have been pouring on the fires; and myriad other explanations have been pointed out as the reasoning behind their downfall. But everyone is missing one major factor:

They’ve been outnumbered.

It’s true, and it’s as plain as day — kind of not seeing the forest for the trees (or however that saying goes). Take a look at a boxscore from the last two weeks — any boxscore, from any game, be it a Mets game or someone else’s. You’ll see an unusually long list of players in the lineup, and a similarly lengthy string of pitchers that often threatens double digits — and the majority of the names are of those you’ve never heard before. Now, take a look at the Mets’ side of the boxscore. Huh. Same names as April and May. Eureka! The rest of Major League Baseball has been playing with 40 men, while the Mets continue to stick to their 25!

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I checked the Mets “active” roster and it appears that 37 men are dressing for the game. But apparently, Willie wasn’t aware he could actually USE all 37 until very recently, when someone let him know that the kid with “Humber” stitched across his back was, indeed, eligible (good thing, too, because Willie was thinking that Dave Williams was his only option).

While the Nationals have trotted out eight, nine, ten pitchers per game — most of whom I’ve never seen before — the Mets continue to push out the usual suspects (Schoeneweis, Smith, Mota, Feliciano, Heilman) day after day after day after day. Willie says you can’t force-feed the babies, because they’ve “never done it before”. Done what? Pitch a baseball? What the heck have they been doing from mid-February to September, then? Playing stickball? All he needed to do was take a look across town, where youngins’ like Joba Chamberlain, Philip Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Jeff Karstens are taking the ball in the most crucial moments of a pressure-packed pennant race (not to mention kids like Tyler Clippard, Darrell Rasner, Kei Igawa, Matt DeSalvo, and others who were given chances earlier in the season). The Braves seemed to have an all-new bullpen ever other week. That team nipping at the Mets’ heels, the Philadelphia Phillies, are throwing every arm they can find — young and old — to stop the bleeding and patchwork their way into the postseason. Kyle Kendrick, JD Durbin, Clay Condrey, JA Happ, Francisco Rosario, Mike Zagurski, and Fabio Castro are just some of the names not heard before who have contributed to the Phils’ mad rush. Granted, some of those names have performed less than admirably, but at least Philadelphia is trying to find solutions — rather than continually marching out the known (and underperforming) quantities.

In contrast, the Mets have had essentially the same cast of characters since April Fools’ Day (unfortunately, not a joke) — the only changes being the addition of Mota at the beginning of June, the month-and-a-half disappearance of Joe Smith, and the recent addition of Jorge Sosa. With every reliever other than Aaron Sele getting into 40 or more games, there’s no mystery. This corps is what it is, and it’s nothing special. After appearing 75 times and proving to be a mediocre pitcher, there isn’t much possibility of Pedro Feliciano suddenly becoming Willie Hernandez. With an ERA of 6 after 50+ games, you can’t think a PED-less Guillermo Mota will recapture the magic. And after 111 innings of throwing 95% sliders, it’s isn’t likely that Jorge Sosa will magically develop another pitch.

Meantime, Carlos Muniz, Phil Humber, Willie Collazo, Eddie Camacho, Ryan Cullen, Steve Schmoll, and others languished in the minors, never getting the call. Marcos Carvajal toiled in AA all year, then was picked up by the Marlins — who used him against the Mets within days after acquiring him. In addition, the Mets did not so much as sniff several pitchers who became available — both before and after the trading deadline. LOOGYs Mike Myers, Ron Villone, J.C. Romero, and Ray King. Joe Kennedy. Byung-Hyun Kim. Bob Wickman. Brett Tomko. Joel Pineiro, who’s starting against them tonight. Maybe none of those pitchers would have made much of a difference — but we’ll never know. And as we’ve seen, even if any of the youngsters were promoted, Randolph likely would have allowed them to rot on the bench (right next to Aaron Sele).

September is the time the rosters expand to 40, providing an opportunity to give a look-see to the up-and-comers. Every other team in MLB is doing just that — regardless of whether they’re in a heated pennant race. The Mets made the promotions, but had no plans to use them in anything other than long-lost situations. Instead, we continue to see the same old, used-up arms jog in from the bullpen — the same men who helped lead the team to a 52-52 record since June 2nd.

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Multiple Scenarios

It’s agonizing, I know, but let’s look at the current NL East standings (preferably on an empty stomach):

Mets 87-71
Phillies 86-72

Let’s pretend the Mets lose tonight, and the Phillies win. Both teams will be in a tie for first, with three games to play. Whichever team plays best in the last three-game series of the year, wins the NL East. Of course, it’s also possible that both teams finish with identical records.

Or, tonight, the Mets could lose and the Phillies also lose. Then:

Mets 87-72
Phillies 86-73

Still, it’s going to come down to whomever plays better in the last three — and a tie is still possible.

Let’s say the Mets win and the Phillies win:

Mets 88-71
Phillies 87-72

Again, it will come down to the best team in the last three games of the year, though the Mets will have a slight edge. And a tie remains possible.

What if the Mets win and the Phillies lose?

Mets 88-71
Phillies 86-73

If this is the case after tonight, the Mets would have to get swept by the Marlins, and the Phillies would have to sweep the Nationals (something they nearly did last week), for the Mets to lose first place.

The Worst-Case Scenario

The Mets lose the last four games of the season, the Phillies win the last four:

Phillies 90-72
Mets 87-75

Obviously, in that case, the Mets only hopes would ride on the Wild Card race, which currently looks like this:

Padres 87-71
Phillies 86-72
Rockies 86-72
Braves 83-75

Oh boy. That’s not good. Unless the Padres also lose their next four games, and the Rockies go 1-3, and the Braves DON’T go 4-0, the Mets would be watching the postseason in the comfort of their million-dollar homes.

Vote for Pedro.

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Cardinals – A Reminder

The Mets play the Cardinals today in a long-overdue makeup game from June 28th. The teams had split the first two games, so this is the “rubber match”. In case you hadn’t heard, Pedro Martinez starts against Joel Pineiro. Not that it matters — because, when, after all, was the last time the starting pitcher of a game had a remote effect on the final score?

On the one hand, the fact the Mets are playing a game today instead of getting a much-needed day off really stinks. The team as a whole is in a tatters — completely exhausted, though more emotionally and mentally than physically. Right now the best thing would probably be a day off to let the pain of the last two weeks fade away. A recharge — like a refreshing nap you take in the late afternoon to get your motor running for a long evening on the town.

But the Mets are not afforded that luxury, so we’ll have to take an optimistic view. Maybe seeing the Cardinals for this one time will remind the Mets of their dominance from the first week in the season. Perhaps in turn it will spark a pang of confidence — truly, the most vital thing this totally demoralized team needs.

Further, perhaps by seeing the Cardinals uniforms, they’ll be reminded of The St. Louis Story of 2006 — and be inspired. If you’ve forgotten, allow me to refresh your memory, and provide some comparisons.

What’s today? September 27th. OK. A little more than one week ago — on September 19th — the Mets had allowed their 7-game lead to drop to 2.5 games. It was a 7-game lead as late as one week before — September 12th.

Now, rewind one year, to September 19th, 2006. On that day, the first-place Cardinals enjoyed a 7-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds, and an 8.5-game lead over the Houston Astros (wow, what a difference a year makes; those two teams are fighting for the cellar right now). This is what the standings looked like on that day:

Cardinals 80-69
Reds 74-77
Astros 72-78

There was somewhere between 10-13 games left to play, depending on the team.

On September 27th, 2006 — a year ago today, the NL Central standings looked like this:

Cardinals 81-76
Astros 80-78
Reds 78-80

Whoa. In a matter of eight games, the Cards went 1-7, and the Astros went 8-0. A day later, after the Cards dropped another one, it looked like this:

Cardinals 81-77
Astros 81-78
Reds 79-80

So, after having a 7-game lead as late as September 19th, the Cardinals had gone 1-8 and allowed the Astros to get within a half-game of first place, with only three games left in the season (the Cards actually had a fourth makeup game that never needed to be made up). This is how it panned out at the end of 162 games:

Cardinals 83-78
Astros 82-80
Reds 80-82

You know the rest of the story — all too well. The Cards limped into the playoffs, everyone wrote them off, they got hot at exactly the right time, and became World Champs.

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Mets Game 158: Phillies Beat Braves

Phillies 5 Braves 2

The Mets’ strategy of waiting for the Phillies to lose backfired, as the Braves fell to Philadelphia 5-2. Tim Hudson’s solid outing was marred by a crucial Chipper Jones error (way to go, Larry — even when you’re playing against other teams, you kill the Mets), and the Braves bats were no match for the mighty Kyle Lohse — a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer of the future.

Nationals 9 Mets 6

Meantime, the Mets held the Nationals to less than ten runs for only the third time this month, but couldn’t get their passing game going after the fourth inning. After jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the first four, the offense stopped. You can’t really blame them, though — the guys coming out of the Washington ‘pen resembled Koufax, Gibson, and Feller. When you have lights-out arms like that coming at you, combined with Brooks Robinson at third base, you may as well pack it in and call it a night.

Philip Humber — the first true starting pitcher in history to make his first MLB start for a team in the midst of a pennant race in the last week of the season — pitched much better than his 4-inning, 5-run stat line would indicate. Truth was, he pitched well through the first three, then completely forgot how to throw a fastball — which can be detrimental against big league hitters. He left the game with a 6-3 lead, but also with runners on second and third. Joe Smith did an outstanding job of making sure those runners made it all the way home, and exited the game without recording an out. Because he also left a couple runners on, the next reliever, Pedro Feliciano, felt obliged to jack up Smith’s ERA the same way he did Humber’s. Eventually, Feliciano found a way to record three outs before the Nationals could score an eighth run.

The Nats batters were so tired from all that swinging and running around the bases, they chose to take a nap the next three innings, as Scott Schoeneweis, Orlando Hernandez, and Aaron Heilman tossed up zeroes. However, the nap was a refreshing one, as they battered closer Billy Wagner for another two. But Wags would not allow a tenth run to cross the plate — he was too proud, and reached way down inside of himself to limit the Nats to single digits. A most valiant effort.

Notes

Carlos Beltran clubbed two homers from the right side, and drove in three runs. Moises Alou extended his hitting streak to 30 games, going 2-for-4 with 2 RBI. No one else in the lineup did anything of consequence.

As if it weren’t bad enough that the Phillies are now one measly game behind, putting the Mets’ postseason hopes in jeopardy, the lovely Yankees clinched a playoff berth. Yee ha.

At this point, it’s hard to point the finger at Willie Randolph. It doesn’t matter who he sends to the mound, they give up walks, hits, and runs by the bushelful. No manager in the history of baseball — not LaRussa, not Stengel, not Lasorda, not McGraw — no one can lead a team to victory when you’re giving up seven to ten runs a game. And that’s exactly what the Mets have done over the past two weeks.

It’s getting harder every day to even LIKE this Mets team. Looking at their long, beaten faces, tensed-up bodies, and fearful play is depressing.

Next Game

The Braves send John Smoltz to the mound against Adam Eaton in a last-ditch effort to reduce the Mets’ magic number to three. Luckily, the only team that can’t score against Eaton is the Mets, so the Braves have half a chance.

Unfortunately, the Mets will also have to show up on the field for a contest of their own, a makeup game against the Cardinals. Pedro “The Savior” Martinez goes against Joel Pineiro — a guy the Mets didn’t bother picking up off the scrap heap because their pitching was too deep and high quality to warrant such a gamble. Game time is 7:10 PM; heavy drinking of copious amounts of the strongest alcoholic beverages available begins at 5:05 PM (except for those under the age of 21, of course). Go Braves.

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