Browsing Archive May, 2008

Mets Game 54: Win Over Dodgers

Mets 3 Dodgers 2компютри втора употреба

I’m starting to believe that the Mets are becoming the team we’ve been dying to see for over a year.

The New York Mets — OUR New York Mets — came from behind AGAIN to steal a win away from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

There was life, there was spirit, there was drama — and best of all, a story with a happy ending.

High on the list of outstanding performers was Mike Pelfrey, who pitched seven innings — six of them excellent — and held the Dodgers to only two runs on seven hits and one walk, striking out three. I’m absolutely convinced he was motivated by my suggestion he swap places with Aaron Heilman a few hours before the game. No doubt, he’s cemented his place in the rotation once Pedro returns … let’s hope we don’t have to suffer through five awful outings before we see another gem. Oh, but let’s stay on the positive …

While Pelfrey was setting down the Dodgers, Chad Billingsley was doing the same to the Mets — until the 8th, when he was removed for Jonathan Broxton. Broxton gave up a double to David Wright and homerun to Carlos Beltran to tie up the ballgame, then allowed a single to Carlos Delgado. Delgado was replaced by pinch-runner Nick Evans, who was sacrificed to second by Damion Easley. Brian Schneider was then intentionally walked, and Fernando Tatis ripped a single up the middle to score Evans, put the Mets ahead for the first time and for good.

Billy Wagner came on in the ninth and struck out the side on 15 pitches to earn his eleventh save. Dominating.


This game was reminiscent of the ones we enjoyed in 2006 — plenty of chutzpah, and a never-say-die effort. Tatis is playing the role of Jose Valentin — the washed-up veteran middle infielder who reinvents himself and surprises everyone.

Next Game

The final game of the series will be played at 8:05 pm and carried on ESPN. Johan Santana takes the hill against Hiroki Kuroda.


Mets Game 53: Loss to Dodgers

Dodgers 9 Mets 5

I absolutely refuse to blame Aaron Heilman for this game.

Rather, it is the fault of Willie Randolph / a.k.a. “Bill R”.

The Mets led 5-4 going into the top of the 8th, and Pedro Feliciano had pitched a scoreless 7th. However, because lefthanded-hitting Juan Pierre was leading off, Feliciano was left in to start the frame. BAD IDEA. Why? Number one, because it’s stupid to apply the lefty-lefty thing to a singles hitter such as Feliciano — particularly when the next guy coming in, you supposedly believe “matches up well” against lefties. Number two, Heilman is MUCH better when pitching with the bases empty, which is guaranteed when he starts an inning. Number three, Feliciano is supposed to be a LOOGY or a one-inning guy. Having him pitch multiple innings means you can’t use him for the rest of the weekend.

So Pierre leads off with a ground ball out, but the first base umpire flubbed the play and called him safe instead. Since there is a righthanded hitter up next, Willie strides out to the mound to remove Feliciano and insert Aaron Heilman. Apparently, Willie was completely oblivious to these facts:

a.) Heilman just pitched two innings two days ago, and had pitched two innings two days before that;

b.) Heilman’s batting average against is almost 200 points higher with men on base than with bases empty;

c.) Someone (Rick Peterson?) has messed with Aaron’s mechanics so his hand is now below the ball at release, which causes pitches to be higher than intended.

The main point is (a) — Heilman has routinely pitched less effectively when overused. And yes, now that MLB regularly tests players for PEDs, most pitchers cannot pitch as regularly in the past (this is not to indict Heilman as a past user; rather, it is pointing out that managers must re-evaluate individual relief appearance frequency based on more humanly possible expectations).

I stated this in a recent post: I do not like the low arm angle Heilman has pitched with in his last few outings — the stats and performance be damned. Throwing from that sideways release MIGHT be OK when he’s feeling strong, but if he’s even a tad bit fatigued, his angle will drop by merely an inch and as a result his pitches will be up in the zone instead of down. And, wow, what do you know? The majority of his pitches in this abbreviated stint were up. Huh.

Anyway, back to the game.

It looked as though the Mets were going to win their fourth straight game when they went ahead 5-4 in the seventh when a bases-loaded grounder by Ramon Castro plated David Wright. The run capped a fine fight by the Mets, who came back to tie the Dodgers twice earlier in the game. If nothing else, this contest showed the Mets still have spirit. However, John Maine had a tough time, allowing three runs in the first frame, and a solo homer to Russell Martin in the fourth. On the offensive side, the Mets had a few opportunities to have huge innings, loading the bases in the third, fourth, and seventh, but scored only one run each time. Their only multiple-run inning came in the first, on Luis Castillo’s third homerun of the season and second in three days.


Carlos Delgado was inspired in game 52, but back to his old ways in #54. It’s borderline hilarious — to a non-Mets fan — to watch Delgado’s response to ground balls to the right side. If you watched Aaron Heilman’s horrible outing in the eighth, you saw at least two of the four hits go through the right side. The balls bounced past Delgado, who made absolutely zero attempt to move toward the balls, but rather turned his head ever so slightly and watched them zip past. Now, I’m pretty certain he couldn’t have made a play on either of the grounders, but geez louise — at least make a MOVEMENT, a REACTION to the ball. After diving all over the field the night before, Delgado went right back to cementing his feet into a comfortable spot of clay and acting as a curious spectator on balls to the right side.

Although Scott Schoeneweis has been pitching very well recently, and has a sparkling ERA, I must once again mention that he is the last person you want to see running in from the bullpen if you are a Mets pitcher leaving the game with runners on base. It’s amazing how many inherited runners he allows to score; I thought it was my imagination but the stats support my vision — he’s allowed something like 50% of inherited runners to cross the plate. Note to Willie: as we suggest with Heilman, let Scho start innings. Your old teammate Rich Gossage was adamant about that, too — you should remember.

Luis Castillo left the game after straining his hip flexor on a double play turn. Is this Jose Valentin’s window of opportunity?

BTW, who the heck is Charlie Minn and what is he doing on SNY’s Daily News Live? I can’t wait until web and TV converge and all the nasty MetsBlog commenters can rip guys like Minn to shreds while they’re watching the show (hmm … it would be kind of like The Gong Show).

Next Game

Unfortunately, it’s a FOX game on Saturday, so a 3:55 pm start. Mike Pelfrey goes against Chad Billingsley. My confidence in Big Pelf is as low as always, but who knows, he might surprise us and have one of those sparkling starts.


Mets Game 52: Win Over Dodgers

Mets 8 Dodgers 4

Someone call the authorities! The New York Mets have been kidnapped, and a collection of hungry independent-league ballplayers are playing in their uniforms!

The Mets hit, they ran, they fielded the ball, they threw the ball … it was like … what’s it called? BASEBALL, at its finest. They scored first, and they tacked on. They gave up a few runs, then answered with some of their own. They hustled down the line on routine grounders. They dove for balls in the infield. They took pitches. They hit the other way. They spoiled pitcher’s pitches. They drove in runners in scoring position with two outs. In short, they had energy and they EXECUTED. I haven’t been this giddy watching the orange and blue since the first week of April 2007.

Oh, and they’re back to .500. That may not seem too special, but considering how things were looking only a few days ago, getting even is a significant milestone.

The turning point in the game came in the bottom of the fourth, when Dodgers catcher Russell Martin interfered with Claudio Vargas’ swing with two outs and no one on. Jose Reyes followed with a single, putting runners on first and second for Luis Castillo, who smacked a double to score both runners and make the score 4-0. David Wright followed with a smash over the wall to extend the lead to 6-0 and bury Brady Penny.

Claudio Vargas threw four good frames, then gave up three runs in the fifth on two homeruns. No biggie, IMHO, as he was working with a six-run lead. I’d much rather see a pitcher with a big lead give up a few homers because he’s throwing strikes, rather than walk people. Vargas stayed through two outs in the sixth, but allowed a double and a walk before yielding to Pedro Feliciano. Pedro Lite failed in his assignment to retire lefthanded hitting James Loney, allowing a single to drive in a run and make the score 6-4. Unbelievably, Willie “Keep the Bench Warm, Rook” Randolph then called on recent callup Carlos Muniz to extinguish the fire. Muniz responded by striking out slugger Matt Kemp to end the inning.

Scott “Ol’ Reliable” Schoeneweis then did his usual routine — one and two-thirds innings of perfection, expending an efficient 15 pitches in the process. Joe Smith was equally effective, throwing 17 pitches and allowing no runs and only one hit in the last inning and a third, striking out two.

On the offensive side of things, David Wright was the player of the game, driving in four with his tenth and eleventh homeruns of the season. Luis Castillo went 3-for-4 with a walk, a double, an RBI, and two runs scored. The top five hitters in the lineup were a combined 11-for-21 with 7 runs and 5 RBI.


Amazing what a bit of motivation can do to a team. For example, Carlos Delgado. This game was the first time in three years I witnessed dirt on Delgado’s uniform. He dove to make plays not once but TWICE, staining that bright white uni with the orange clay substance covering the Shea infield. Don’t worry, Carlos, it’ll all come out in the wash (Charlie Samuels will Shout! it out). “Dirty” Delgado played the most inspired baseball I’ve seen from him since his Toronto days. Perhaps Willie should make a habit of sitting his big butt on the bench.

I’m still stunned that Willie brought in Muniz with a slim two-run lead. This could be a turning point in Willie’s reign — when was the last time he trusted an unknown rookie in a tight situation?

I love hearing “experts” such as Lee Mazzilli spout silly things such as his postgame synopsis of Brad Penny’s tough day. Maz pointed out that Penny was relying on his 95+ fastball to a “fastball-hitting team”. I don’t mean to pick on Maz — he’s one of my favorite former Mets — but just once I want to hear a pundit say that a batter is a “curveball hitter”, or a “slider hitter”, or a “changeup hitter”. That will be quipped immediately after the legitimate report of a swine flying.

Next Game

The Mets host the Dodgers again at 7:10 pm on Friday night, sending John Maine to the mound against rookie Clayton Kershaw. The contest will be broadcast on SNY, WFAN, and XM 186.


Mets Game 51: Win Over Marlins

Mets 7 Marlins 6

Wow … this is EXACTLY what we’ve been waiting for — for about a year.

Fernando Tatis continued his case for regular duty, slamming a clutch two-run double in the 12th to push the Mets past the Marlins.

The big hit came after light-hitting Alfredo Amezega punched a ball over the rightfield fence in the top of the inning to give Florida the lead. However, these “new” Mets did not roll over, but rather came back for the second time in the evening to earn a huge win over the first-place Fish.

But early on, there didn’t appear to be a need for the comeback kids. Oliver Perez was cruising right along, setting down Marlins batters like Earl Anthony used to knock down bowling pins. He retired 12 of the first 14 Fish he faced, allowing only a harmless solo homer to catcher Mike Rabelo. Meantime, the Mets jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first frame on a two-run dinger by Luis Castillo, and extended it to 3-1 on a sac fly by Fernando Tatis in the fourth.

However, Dr. Perez transformed into Mr. Hyde in the fifth, allowing a leadoff homer to Cody Ross and then losing the strike zone, walking two before wiggling out of the inning without further damage — thanks to a spectacular running catch of a line drive by Carlos Beltran. Miraculously, manager Willie Randolph allowed Perez to start the sixth, despite his struggles in the fifth and obvious sudden loss of confidence. Perez was given a free pass by Jorge Cantu, who flied out on the first pitch, but then walked Wes Helms in a nine-pitch at-bat. Dan Uggla followed with an infield hit, and then it was Cody Ross again. I kept waiting to hear “… and now Willie Randolph will go out to the mound”, but strangely, there wasn’t even anyone warming up in the bullpen. Apparently, Willie is not aware that his job is on the line. He left Hyde out there, and it was “deja vu all over again” as Ross put another one over the fence to give the Marlins a 5-4 lead. Only after the ball exited the playing field did someone in the dugout finally get on the phone to the bullpen. Amazing.

Scott Schoeneweis pitched a scoreless seventh, and then Aaron Heilman, of all people, changed the tone of the game. Heilman pitched with a fervor for two frames, retiring all six batters he faced with a dominance we haven’t seen since the first week of the season. His performance was something of an inspiration to the men in the dugout, who heartily congratulated Heilman after finishing the ninth. Endy Chavez was so excited, in fact, he led off the bottom of the ninth with a homerun off closer Kevin Gregg to tie up the ballgame.


It looks to me like Heilman is over-exaggerating an attempt to “stay closed” with his front shoulder, and also pitching from a lower arm angle than normal. Although he had great success tonight, I fear it may be a short-term fix. As has been mentioned here several times before, Heilman’s release point is extremely fragile, and he can very quickly get too much under the ball. This occurs when he’s overused, and gets fatigued. Pitching from a more upright position, he has a better foundation from which to stay on top of the ball and throw on a downward plane. The way he threw tonight, he’s already starting low, and throwing from more of a level plane — he looks a lot like Joe Smith, actually. I’m happy Heilman pitched well — I’m his biggest fan — but am guarding my optimism at this point in time. There’s not question Heilman can be an effective pitcher, but what worries me is when Willie starts using him five times a week.

The Mets bullpen retired 16 straight Fish before Amezega’s solo homer.

In the bottom of the 11th, Endy Chavez led off with a single, and Randolph put on the hit-and-run with Brian Schneider at the plate and the pitcher on deck. It was a good call, in my opinion, because a) the right side was wide open with the first baseman holding the runner and b) Schneider is a dead-pull hitter who seems to hit a grounder to the right side every other time up. Unfortunately, for only the second time in his career, Schneider hit the ball the other way, and in the air. Figures.

Duaner Sanchez got it up to 93 MPH on the Shea Stadium radar gun. Unfortunately, Alfredo Amezega used aikido to redirect that energy over the fence.

I have to admit I was concerned when John Maine was sent out to pinch-run for Carlos Delgado. Sitting on the bench all night, with his body cold, all I could think was “don’t run too hard, don’t pull a hammy”. Next time, send Mike Pelfrey out there — if he pulls something the impact would not be nearly as great.

Next Game

The Mets host the Dodgers for a four-game series this weekend, starting with a 7:10 pm game on Thursday night. Claudio “Don’t Call Me Jason” Vargas goes to the mound against Brad “JC” Penny. Strangely, the two teams finish the series with an 8:05 pm game on Sunday — and then both teams have Monday night games in California. Talk about jet lag. I wonder if they’ll be sharing a plane.


Told You So

Sometimes I hate when I’m right.

It doesn’t happen that often, which makes it doubly frustrating. But since I’m wrong so often, I have to occasionally point out the times I”m right, so you don’t think I’m completely full of manure.

For example, almost TWO YEARS AGO, I said the Mets Need a Gamer (and followed it up with examples). They never obtained one. Now they need more than just a scrappy ballplayer — they need an unquestionable leader. Those are hard to come by. Jim Edmonds might have been a decent choice, if his skills weren’t so eroded and he wasn’t injured as often as Moises Alou. And I wouldn’t care about him batting from the left side — some things are more important than matchups (personalities, for instance).

The sabermetricians disagree — most are still wondering why the Mets haven’t signed Barry Bonds (ha) — but having actually played the game on real fields, with real people, I can say without question that a winning team requires certain personalities, in addition to the people who can accumulate numbers. And the Mets are missing one or two of those personalities.

Early this spring, I made another outlandish claim: that Johan Santana was NOT the key to the Mets’ success in 2008. If you read that article, you’d know the key is actually Carlos Delgado. Maybe I was slightly off — after all, I can’t imagine where the Mets would be right now without Santana. However, I still stand by my opinion that the Mets’ offense is extremely reliant on Carlos Delgado being a 30-HR, 100-RBI, .275 hitter. Right now, it looks like Delgado would be lucky to meet any of those targets — and as a result the lineup has a hole the size of the Grand Canyon. To make matters worse, it appears that Delgado is the de facto leader of the team. Where he can lead them is anybody’s guess — but it certainly won’t be to the postseason.

For every two times I’m right, I’m wrong five or six. For example, I thought keeping Joe Smith on the roster over Stephen Register and Ricardo Rincon was preposterous … though in the same article suggested that Mike Pelfrey be left back in AAA. I didn’t think much of the Angel Pagan move, and that turned out pretty well until he injured himself. On the other hand, I really wanted the Mets to go after Mike Sweeney — who is now hitting .307 as a regular with the A’s.

Of all my dumb predictions and opinions, though, I never once suggested — nor thought — that the Mets would be fighting to stay out of last place at the end of May. Having Johan on board, and all those arms in the bullpen, it appeared that the Mets would have one of the stronger pitching staffs in the NL — and good pitching beats good hitting, right?

Except, of course, when bad pitching beats your bad hitting.

One more prediction: the Mets WILL turn their season around, and provide us an entertaining summer. I’m not sold on the idea that this is a championship team, but I’d at least like to look forward to watching the games every evening. Is that so much to ask?


Mets Game 50: Win Over Marlins

Mets 5 Marlins 3

Mets win! Mets win!

So the stopper stopped yet another losing streak.

Johan Santana pitched seven strong innings en route to his sixth win of the season. He allowed only three runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out seven in the process. Duaner Sanchez gave up a leadoff double in the eighth, but stranded him in his scoreless frame, and Billy Wagner closed it up 1-2-3.

The Mets “exploded” for five runs on nine hits, with the second half of the lineup — all bench players — providing all the production. Damion Easley, Fernando Tatis, and Ramon Castro batted 5th, 6th, and 7th, and combined went 5-for-9 with 5 RBI and a run scored.


Fernando Tatis is hitting .429.

While the Mets won this game, it is still disconcerting that they scored only five runs. They had several opportunities to break the game open — really run away with it — but as usual, failed. For example, in the 8th, the Mets had runners on second and third with no outs and Matt Lindstrom on the mound, but couldn’t plate a run. Maybe I’m being too picky, or expecting too much.

Johan Santana hit his fourth double of the year. That ties him with Luis Castillo for fourth-best on the team, and is more than the combined total of Moises Alou and Brian Schneider. In addition, Santana’s slugging percentage is 30 points higher than Schneider’s.

Even though there were several “irregulars” in the lineup, I felt a lot more confident in the batters than usual. I’m certain it was because the lineup was devoid of one slow, thick-legged, pulse-less first baseman.

Next Game

The rubber match pits Oliver Perez against Scott Olsen in a 7:10 pm start. I really hate Olsen — he looks like a spoiled brat punk … but I’m sure he’s a really nice guy. Lets’ go Mets.


Listen to HoJo

Photo by Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Last week, in a John Delcos article on Ryan Church, the Mets’ MVP credited hitting coach Howard Johnson with his early season success.

From the article:

Church credits his hot start to working daily with hitting instructor Howard Johnson.

“Howard and I are always talking,” Church said. “He’s a great sounding board.”

Johnson has Church hitting from a more upright stance instead of the crouch he was in while playing with the Washington Nationals.

“He’s able to stay on top of the ball,” Johnson said. “He’s been much more consistent with his mechanics.”

As you probably know, David Wright also is a firm supporter of Johnson — referring to him as his “baseball father”.

Take a look at the two top hitters on Mets right now in these categories: AVG, HR, RBI, OBP, and SLG. Go ahead, I’ll wait …

Did you see Church’s and Wright’s name? Interesting, huh? It could be a coincidence though, that the two guys who publicly admit to listening to the batting coach, happen to be the team’s best hitters.

Yes, David Wright is not having a year like he did in 2007 (yet), but he’s been fairly consistent — his average has been .270 or higher since April 12th. And remember he had a slow start last year. If he sticks to his approach, he’ll come around.

Ah — “approach” — that’s where the batting coach can come in handy, providing tips and advice.

In a few cases, a batting coach can tweak a batter’s stance and see improvement — as Johnson did with Church. But once a batter gets to MLB, his mechanics are unlikely to change drastically. Think about it: after 10, 15, or 20 years of swinging, a guy’s swing “is what it is”. One of the few things a batter can adjust — immediately — is his approach, or the plan he takes when he steps into the batter’s box. For example, a batter can decide beforehand that he’s going to look for a breaking pitch and go the opposite way with it; or make the pitcher throw him a strike before taking a swing; or sit dead-red on a first-pitch fastball; or focus on a specific location in the strike zone. There are many other examples, these are just a few. But to be a consistent hitter, one needs to understand his strengths and weaknesses, take into consideration the weapons of a particular pitcher as well as the current game situation (i.e., the score, the inning), and figure out an intelligent approach for the at-bat. What will the batter do on the first pitch? What will he do if he gets ahead 2-0? What if he falls behind 0-2? What if the pitcher starts with a curveball? What if he throws all offspeed pitches? What if the runner has a chance to steal second?

Bottom line is this: the majority of the Mets hitters appear to be clueless when they’re standing in the batter’s box. It’s like everyone is on his own agenda, guessing what the pitcher is throwing, or trying to pull every pitch into the seats. The game situation is irrelevant, the score is irrelevant, the man on the mound is irrelevant. One out, nobody on, 7th inning, down by three? Oh, heck, I’m going to do the same thing I did in the first inning, when it was 0-0 — I’ll hack away at the first pitch, see if I can get it into the seats. Brilliant! Recently promoted pitcher who’s wet behind the ears, scared out of his mind, who I’ve never seen before? Heck, I’ll hack away at the first pitch — who cares if I’ve never seen his release point, or seen the movement on his ball before? Middle reliever who throws 90% sliders off the edge of the plate? I’ll gear up for a fastball inside and jerk it over the fence (but instead look like an idiot waving at balls outside and in the dirt).

Willie Randolph’s postgame comments often include the words “you’ve gotta tip your cap”, or “their guy shut us down”. Nice, respectful fodder for the beat writers, but the truth is, the Mets beat themselves every game, because they don’t put any thought into their at-bats. Maybe it’s time a few of the .260, .250, and worse hitter start listening to the guy who the .280 and .300 hitters are listening to. Whatever the slumpers are doing currently, certainly isn’t working, so what is there to lose?


Comeback Frequency

Baseball Reference has some really neat ways to view and organize stats. One of their features new this year is “team inning scoring”, where you can see the number of runs scored by inning and a team’s record in various game situations.

For example, the Mets have a 3-9 record when the score is in the other team’s favor in the second inning. It’s the same record when behind in the third inning. If the Mets are losing in the fourth inning, their record is 2-11. Losing after the fifth, their record is 3-14. In other words, if the Mets fall behind early, there’s little chance of them coming back. We all have witnessed the Mets’ knack for rolling over or “calling it in” once they start losing, but for once the stats actually support what we think we’re seeing.

Compare and contrast:


As you can ascertain, the team that takes the lead early in the game has the best chance of winning. But, it’s interesting to see how much “fight” the top three teams in the division have in later innings, compared to the bottom two.

What’s particularly bothersome is that in this day and age of MLB, with the worst pitchers on the staff making regular rounds (the “middle relievers”), many games are won or lost from innings five through seven. The Mets, however, clearly do not take advantage of these lesser-skilled hurlers — quite the contrary, in fact.

Probably, though, it has NOTHING to do with their approach at the plate. For example, it probably wouldn’t make a difference if they made a regular habit of taking a strike with no one on, and behind, late in a game. The 11th and 12th pitchers on a team usually have Greg Maddux-like command, and/or Sandy Koufax-like nasty stuff. Certainly you don’t want to fall behind 0-1, or even up 1-1, against unhittable guys such as Jesus Colome, Blaine Boyer, Rudy Seanez, and Taylor Tankersley — those guys are so good they make me shiver!