Archive: April 11th, 2008

Mets Game 9: Win Over Brewers

Mets 4 Brewers 2

Hometown boy Nelson Figueroa made good in his Shea debut!

Figgy pitched six strong innings, earning his first MLB win in five years. He gave up two hits, two walks, and two earned runs, while striking out six in an impressive performance. He was perfect through the first four innings, mixing up an array of breaking pitches and changeups to keep the Brew Crew off balance. He was far from overpowering, but did an outstanding job of dropping in overhand curves mixed with sinking fastballs at several speeds. This is what you call “crafty”.

While Figgy was mowing down the Milwaukee batters, the Mets offense gave him just enough for a victory, thanks to a three-run fourth. David Wright singled to lead off the inning and Carlos Beltran followed with a walk. Then Carlos Delgado rapped a single to right under the glove of Prince Fielder to score Wright, and Damion Easley popped a fly ball to left to score Beltran. A passed ball (really, though, it should have been ruled a wild pitch) chased Delgado to second, and Ryan Church absolutely blistered a ball up the middle that couldn’t score Delgado because it was hit too hard. No matter, because Raul Casanova ripped a liner into left that scored Delgado for the third run of the inning and game.

Miraculously, the Mets bulllpen held up Figgy’s lead, pitching three hitless inning of relief. Billy Wagner earned his first save of the year while expending only 7 pitches.

Notes

If Figgy can give us six innings with only two runs every time out, then we’ve found a #4 starter — never mind a #5.

Adding to the story was the start by Raul Casanova, who was originally drafted by the MEts in 1990 (!). Yes he has some MLB experience, but it took him 18 years to start a game behind the dish with the Mets. Wow.

Isn’t Ryan Church supposed to have problems with lefties?

Rumor has it that Nelson Figueroa — who dropped a beautiful bunt and beat it out for a hit in the fourth — is a switch-hitter. We’ll see, perhaps, next time.

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Profile on Figgy

Nelson Figueroa of the New York MetsIf you didn’t see it yet, you MUST visit Ted Berg’s column on SNY today to read his interview with Nelson Figueroa.

It’s much better than the typical softball / ho-hum player profile … because we find out that Figgy grew up and remains a Mets fan, and get some great tidbits on his international celebrity status.

I think we’re all rooting for Figgy to succeed … and after reading Berg’s article, you’ll find it hard not to like the guy.

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Inside Look: Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers old school capThe Brewers come to town for a three game weekend series, and the Mets won’t see them again until September (makes you think they’re still in the American League).

Last year, the Brew Crew rode the bats of Prince Fielder and rookie Ryan Braun to an 83-79, second-place finish in the NL Central. Many believe the Brewers would have taken the division championship had ace pitcher Ben Sheets been healthy all year.

Aside from the exits of Johnny Estrada and Geoff Jenkins, the lineup looks fairly similar to the ’07 version, but the bullpen underwent a massive restructuring. No doubt Shea Stadium will warmly welcome former Met Guillermo Mota if he makes an appearance this weekend.

To get a Milwaukee fan’s perspective of the Brewers this year, I posed a few questions to Jeff Sackmann of BrewCrewBall.

1. The Brewers spent most of their offseason overhauling the bullpen. How do you think they did?

I think they did a great job. Eric Gagne has been iffy at best so far, but hey, it’s a one-year deal. David Riske and Salomon Torres have looked to be worth the money, and Brian Shouse is a known quantity as a solid situational lefty. The biggest question mark appears to be Derrick Turnbow. I think just about every Brewers fan wants Turnbow to succeed again, but dude, he’s wearing us out.

2. Speaking of the ‘pen, I can’t have a Q&A without asking your opinion of Guillermo Mota, who wore out his welcome in New York. Do you see him as being a valuable contributor to the ’08 Brewers?

We’ll see. I was skeptical back when the trade happened, because we were swapping guys who probably would’ve been released or salary-dumped. It seemed like a particularly bad deal to me when we lost Wise as basically a follow-up to that deal. (I like Wise, possibly a little irrationally.) Mota looked outstanding in his first outing this year, not so great in his last one. It looks like Ned Yost is giving him the opportunity to step up and become the main set-up guy, but at the same time, we don’t need him to be anything more than the #4 guy in the pen.

3. What do you think is the key to the Brew Crew taking the NL Central in 2008? What team in the division do you see as being the toughest for Milwaukee to outperform?

The Cubs are the threat, especially as long as Fukudome plays like the MVP. Call me an optimist, but the key is simply not imploding. This is a deep team, and we don’t need 32 starts from Ben Sheets or a miraculous rookie year from Manny Parra to make it happen. If Gagne falters, there’s Riske. We’ve got at least six decent starters. Of course, an injury to Fielder or Braun would be a disaster, but short of that sort of thing, I think it’s the Brewers’ division for the taking.

4. Manny Parra was impressive in his abbreviated debut in ’07. Tell us about his repertoire and skillset.

He’s a strikeout pitcher with some occasional control problems. The big issue this year is his fragility. He spent a lot of time on the DL working his way up the ladder, and has never thrown more than about 140 innings in a season. It remains to be seen whether the Brewers will try to keep his IP total down this year, or if they figure he’s 25 and finally healthy, so he can cope. One interesting thing to watch tonight is that he is, at least somewhat, pitching for his job. Yovani Gallardo will be back soon, and either Parra, Villanueva, or Bush will be headed to the bullpen or the minors.


5. Who will be the biggest surprise on the ’08 Brewers?

It won’t surprise Brewers fans, but Carlos Villanueva is the guy who will make fans outside of Milwaukee pay more attention. If he makes it through the year in the rotation, he should give us 30 starts in the 4.00 – 4.50 range. He’s never going to win a Cy Young Award, but three years ago, he wasn’t even really showing up on prospect lists.


6. What do the Brewers have to do to take this weekend’s series from the Mets?

Different challenge every day. Tonight, we’ll see how the ’08 Crew does against a pitcher they haven’t seen before in Figueroa. Anecdotally, first-timers seemed to be a challenge for the Brewers in recent years. It’ll also be interesting to see how Parra fares against a Major League offense. Saturday, the pitcher’s duel, will be up to Ben Sheets, who has been stunning this year. It would be nice to see Prince Fielder get hot, but it’s a balanced offense, so on any given night, somebody is probably going to come through.

Thanks again to Jeff Sackmann of BrewCrewBall. Jeff is one of the more astute writers in the baseball blogosphere, and I regularly enjoy reading his posts even though I’m not a Brewers fan. He also created Minor League Splits, co-created College Splits, and writes for The Hardball Times and Beyond the Boxscore, among others. Oh and if you’re contemplating graduate school, be sure to pick up his books The GMAT Math Bible and The GRE Math Bible.

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Tootsies Beat Casanova

Tootsie Roll popIt took two weeks, but Keith Hernandez finally broke out the Tootsie Roll pops last night during last night’s game.

All odds were on the Tootsies to appear this season before Raul Casanova, but no one could have guessed neither would show up until game eight.

Since the unknown backstop has been described by Nelson Figueroa as “my personal catcher”, there’s a chance we’ll see Casanova in the starting lineup this evening when Figgy takes the mound against the Brewers.

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Keith and Ron are Old

During the sixth inning of last night’s telecast — while John Maine was struggling — Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling suggested that the Mets pitchers have a tendency to lose focus at times, and Darling added that sometimes the pitchers gave too much credit to the opposing batters. Well, I have to completely disagree on both counts.

First, I don’t think John Maine lost his focus during his tough sixth inning — I think he simply ran into some trouble, and needed a chance to work out of it. “Back in the day”, a pitcher would run into one or two innings like Maine’s, and were expected to bulldog through it en route to a 7- or 8-inning outing. These innings of struggle are more noticeable today because pitchers are generally not allowed to pitch beyond the sixth — so the evaluation of their performance is more concentrated and more closely scrutinized.

Maine got two quick outs (one thanks to a throw out on a SB attempt) in that sixth inning, then Chase Utley hit a crazy single that bounced off the first base bag. Maine should have been out of the inning, but instead had to face Ryan Howard with a runner on and a slim 2-0 lead. Predictably, Maine was ultra-careful with Howard, and similarly careful with Pat Burrell, before inducing a grounder from Geoff Jenkins to end the inning. Personally, I don’t see walking Howard and Burrell as “a loss of focus” but rather smart pitching. And I disagree with Darling’s insinuation that Maine gave “too much credit” to those Phillies sluggers — both Howard and Burrell (and Jenkins for that matter) have the ability to blast one over the fence at any time. I’m curious to see (not hear) how Darling would have approached such a situation.

We can excuse Ronnie, though, because today’s game is very different from the era in which he played. Darling didn’t have to face a lineup like all teams have today — if he was in a tough spot, it was unlikely he’d have to worry about pitching around more than one or two guys. Most lineups in the late 1980s / early 1990s had only two guys with 20 homers or more. Today, teams have sluggers from top to bottom, and as a result a mistake by a pitcher is more costly.

But don’t listen to me — check for yourself. Take, for example, the 1988 Mets. Their 152 HRs were by far the most in the NL that year — 30 more than the second-best Reds — and the Mets lineup was considered a powerhouse. Their .256 average was good for second in the league (the Cubs hit .261), and pitchers feared the fact they had three guys (HoJo, Kevin McReynolds, Strawberry) with more than 20 homers. However, if you put those stats into the 2007 season, you have a mediocre offense — about on par with the Washington Nationals or Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2007, ten NL teams hit more than 152 homers (the eleventh hit 151), and all but two teams hit better than .256. It’s no wonder that Mets pitchers give opposing batters credit — the majority they face are dangerous in one way or another.

Ironically, I’m an “old school” baseball guy, who usually agrees with the throwback ideals that Darling and Hernandez spout about during their broadcasts. But on this one point, I have to disagree. The game has changed, and Ron and Keith need to understand that — and adjust their analysis accordingly.

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