Browsing Archive June, 2008

Big Changes On the Way

So the buzz is that the times they are a changin’ at Shea. The hiring of Jerry Manuel was only one of many “adjustments” to be made by the Mets in the coming weeks. In fact there are closed-door meetings (will they stay closed, Mr. Bernazard?) happening right now, the results of which will supposedly mean major personnel moves.

What a revelation … too bad these discussions weren’t occurring over the winter, when the Mets’ biggest holes could have been more easily addressed. But what do I know? I’m just another blowhard blogger. I didn’t have access to the “inside information” that led the Mets’ front office to believe that

1) Moises Alou and El Duque would not go MIA;
2) Pedro Martinez would return as a #2 starter;
3) Ollie Perez would build off 2007 in a positive way;
4) Carlos Delgado’s slow bat speed was an illusion;
5) Luis Castillo is not the same man we knew in Florida;
6) Brian Schneider’s glove would overcome his offensive limitations;
7) Duaner Sanchez would return to 2006 form … and if he didn’t, Aaron Heilman was the next-best option.

At the same time, I’m willing to eat crow when I’m proved wrong. And it appears that my insistence that Mike Pelfrey needed to change speeds to succeed was off-base. I’ll also admit that I too was counting on Heilman to be a solid setup man. And, I was suckered into thinking Schneider would be a defensive stalwart — though with the lineup still counting on Delgado to be a force, it did worry me to have Brian’s bat in there every day.

But I digress … the topic here are the big changes upcoming. What can the Mets do, really, to change their current course? They have a roster full of immovable players and bad contracts. There is no one — at all — in the farm system that another team would deem “MLB ready”. We as Mets fans can get excited as we want about Jonathan Niese, Mike Carp, and Nick Evans, but the fact is, none of these players are considered “can’t miss” prospects by other organizations. And I shudder to think how much worse a mess the Mets’ farm would be if any of these three were dealt away.

That said, I wouldn’t count on seeing the likes of Erik Bedard, CC Sabathia, Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Ben Sheets, or Roy Oswalt coming to Flushing. In fact, it would be a stretch to believe the Mets have enough to pry away Raul Ibanez, Ryan Freel, or any of the other “second tier” players who may be on the market. Because realistically, who do the Mets have available to trade to a team that is selling? Aaron Heilman? Not getting much back for him at this point — better off holding on and hoping he can get it together.

It’s tough to deal when no one wants your expendable players, and your performing players are too valuable to trade away. Omar Minaya will have to be remarkably creative to bring in new faces that can make a difference. I suggested a Schneider for Ivan Rodriguez as one that could make sense for Detroit. Maybe there’s a desperate team out there nearsighted enough to believe that Delgado has something left. Minaya no doubt is working the phones for scouting reports on DFAs such as Denny Bautista, who resembles Jorge Julio in stuff — high 90s heat, can’t find the plate. Maybe there’s another “under the radar” player who can be acquired for next to nothing and provide a spark. I’m thinking a “AAA” player — similar to when the A’s unearthed Jack Cust. Maybe the Mets’ Cust is Val Pascucci, who is currently stashed in New Orleans. Maybe it’s former Athletic Dan Johnson, or one of those Texas Rangers sluggers we’ve talked about before (Jason Botts, Nelson Cruz). As long as it’s not Gerald Williams, it’s worth a shot.

Looking down on the farm, there isn’t much to choose from. Other than Pascucci, there isn’t a position player worth promoting (Chris Aguila certainly didn’t look as great as hoped). The Zephyrs do however, still have Tony Armas Jr., who has a 2.50 ERA over 16 starts and 100 innings in a hitter’s league. If this isn’t the right time to give Armas a shot — in Ollie’s next turn — then there will never be a right time. Nelson Figueroa has also pitched well since his demotion, and deserves a recall to fill the long man role left behind by the DFA’d Claudio Vargas.

In AA, there are some bright spots, but no one in particular who looks to be ready to make a splash. Mike Carp could have been such a guy early, when he was hitting near .370, but his bat has cooled in recent weeks. Still, can he or Nick Evans be any worse than Delgado right now? Jonathan Niese is pitching fairly well, though I’m not sure I’d bring him up over Armas or Figgy right now. And forget about Fernando Martinez — he’s just come off the DL and is nowhere near ready to play ball at the MLB level. He’d be an overmatched strikeout machine right now.

But, I could see an Evans, Pascucci, or Carp getting a shot. Unfortunately, there doesn’t look to be anyone similar to the Robinson Cano / Chien-Ming Wang spark the Yankees received back in 2005 — but back then, no one was expecting those two to have such an immediate and forceful impact, either. We won’t know for sure until these kids get a chance.

Over the past few weeks, we Mets fans have had to radically adjust our expectations. The postseason is no longer a given, and due to the math, we have to root more for other teams’ failures than our team’s success. The current cast of characters is a tired old bunch that no manager can inspire into a championship. So we have two glimmers of hope: 1. that the Phillies keep losing; and 2. that the Mets can follow through with their promise of changing the face of the ballclub.

Hopefully, these changes come quick, because the clock on this season is ticking.


Drinking the Kool-Aid

koolaidmets.jpgTwo nights ago, the SNY broadcast team (again) went on and on and on about Jerry Manuel, and how he’s already made drastic changes with this ballclub. For example, when Carlos Beltran stole third down by five and then charged home on a wild pitch, Keith Hernandez lauded the moves, and pointed out that Manuel said his team would be much more aggressive. Huh. Had Beltran done that two weeks ago I’d bet my house that Keith would criticize the move.

And by the way, the Mets were already pretty darn aggressive on the bases. They led all of MLB in stolen bases last year, with 200 — a good 56 more than the second-place club. And the Mets were either first or second in MLB for most of this year, prior to Randolph’s dismissal.

The Beltran conversation segued to a conversation that Manuel had with Beltran, in which he asked him to be more aggressive on the basepaths and steal more bases, and “forget about his basestealing percentage”. WOW!!! What a fantastic idea!!! What a revelation! Why didn’t Willie think of that, and ask Beltran to do just that?

Oh, that’s right — HE DID! On SEVERAL occasions over the past three years. In fact, the team even brought in a designated basestealing coach, Rickey Henderson, who tried (unsuccessfully) to drill home the same message to the stubborn Beltran. Hmm, is it possible Beltran wasn’t going to listen to anything Willie said because his countryman Tony Bernazard was constantly whispering in his ear, telling him all the terrible things Randolph thought of him?

Later in the game, the SNY camera cuts to Jerry Manuel and Jose Reyes talking. The quip by Keith Hernandez: “communication is always good”. As if to say that Reyes and Randolph never had communication? I’m beginning to buy into Randolph’s SNY paranoia.

In last night’s game, the “love” for Manuel would have continued, had it not been for the 10-nothing drubbing. Keith Hernandez forced it a bit, saying he “liked” Jerry Manuel and Carlos Beltran getting thrown out of the game, because he “… hadn’t seen this in three years.” Whether he was talking about the ejections, or the emotions, it matters not — because Willie Randolph was ejected a few times in his tenure, and emotions erupted as recently as Game 161 last year against the Marlins. On that day, and the day after, the same Keith Hernandez criticized the Mets for showing too much emotion, and “giving the Marlins motivation”. Huh.

Maybe there was an edict sent down by the head honchos, telling SNY to focus on the positive. In any case, the power of positive thinking ain’t working — the Mets are 3-4 since “great baseball mind” Manuel took over.

Interestingly, Ron Darling backtracked in the postgame last night, saying that it would take “30 days” before implemented changes are “noticeable”. Huh. And yet, Darling has been quick to point out — on air — a multitude of changes in the last week. Perhaps things look differently in the booth than they do in the SNY studio?

Ironically, Kool-Aid is artificially flavored. Just like this outpouring of effusive praise for Jerry Manuel.


Mets Game 76: Loss to Mariners

Mariners 11 Mets 0

It was “one of those nights” for Oliver Perez. As in, Mr. Hyde showed up on the mound instead of Dr. Perez.

By the fifth inning, it was 6-zip, and the Mets offense showed no interest in working the count on knuckleballer R.A. Dickey — despite manager Jerry Manuel’s big proclamation a night earlier that the Mets would “… have a different plan of attack”.

Yeaaaaaah, riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight …. nice plan there. You’re facing a knuckleballer and can only manage two walks in seven innings.


In the bottom of the fourth, Carlos Beltran was ejected by home plate umpire Brian Runge for arguing balls and strikes. Mets manager Jerry Manuel was also tossed about two minutes before Beltran, in his failed attempt to protect his player. For the record, the pitch was a strike, and Beltran shouldn’t have argued it. However, Runge was completely in the wrong for baiting Beltran and should be reprimanded by MLB. We’ll see if that happens … don’t hold your breath.

This was the first time in three years I’ve seen any emotion from Beltran whatsoever. And contrary to what Keith Hernandez said, it was NOT the first time in three years I’ve seen a Mets manager get thrown out for protecting his player. I will be the first one to say that Willie Randolph needed to get out on the field more often — it was one of his glaring defects, in fact — but please don’t try to say that he was never out there. And also contrary to Keith, this was far from the first time in three years I’ve seen emotion exuded from the Mets as a team. Rewind to late last season, game 161, when Jose Reyes and Lastings Milledge were chided by the same Hernandez for an outburst of emotions.

In the fifth inning, Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre threw his glove up after a line drive by Brian Schneider passed over his head. Technically, the umpire should have called a three-base error as per the MLB Rule Book. Why he didn’t, I’m not sure, because it was done in his full view and it was a complete bush league move. Had the umpire called the play properly, Schneider would have been given third base, baserunner Fernando Tatis would have scored, and Endy Chavez’s ground ball would have scored Schneider and made the score 6-2. Such a call would also likely have prevented Beltre from pulling such a classless move ever again.

Luis Castillo batted righthanded against knuckleballing righthander R.A. Dickey. As a result, he hit much harder outs than he would have from the left side. I think he feared not having enough strength to get the ball past the infield grass with 68-MPH flutterballs coming his way.

Brian Schneider and Fernando Tatis had three hits apiece in pulling up the bottom of the order. Marlon Anderson went 2-for-3 after taking over for the ejected Beltran. No one else hit safely.

All night, even after falling behind 5-0 (then 6-0, and 10-0), Mets batters were swinging at first pitches and swinging on 1-0 and 2-0 counts with nobody on base — against a knuckleball pitcher!!!!!!!!!!! Looks to me like it doesn’t matter what Manuel has to say on camera — it’s the same old, same old.

The answer Aflac Trivia question — who is the only former Mariner in the Hall of Fame — was Gaylord Perry (yes, I knew it within three seconds after the question was posed). Just for giggles, let me point out that in 1973, at age 34, Perry started 41 games (they had 4-man rotations back then), completed 29 of them, and tossed a total of 344 innings. Now THAT was an “innings eater”. And that was no fluke — he threw 342 frames the season before, and 322 the year after. In fact, as a 39-year-old in 1978, he logged 261 innings. And by the way, Perry never had arm problems. But hey, I completely agree with the modern idea to “protect” pitchers by limiting their pitch counts and innings. (NOT!) This has nothing to do with the Mets, but thought I’d throw it out there to chew on.

In the top of the ninth, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez had a long conversation about their dogs. My wife quipped, “this is much more interesting than watching the Mets stink up the field”. I seconded the motion.

I have to take issue with Ron Darling’s postgame criticism of Luis Castillo taking pitches in the third inning. It was correct in that Castillo should have been more aggressive with two outs and a man on third. However, Darling should have done a better job of explaining the times it makes sense to do what Castillo did, and times it doesn’t. From his synopsis, you would think that the Mets need to be more aggressive at the plate — and that is certainly, positively NOT the case.

Oh, did we mention that the Mariners have the worst record in baseball? That they are second to last in runs scored? That they are 27th in ERA?

Next Game

The Mets will do their damnedest to avoid a sweep against the Mariners in another 7:10 pm start. John Maine is slated to go against Miguel Batista. I’ll be sitting in SNY’s suite for the game, so if the Mets dog another one I should have access to plenty of painkillers in the mini-bar.


Mets Game 75: Loss to Mariners

Mariners 5 Mets 1

Soooo …. Johan Santana pitches seven innings, allows one earned run, and Felix Hernandez leaves the game in the fifth due to an injury. If you were to guess, which team would win?

Most likely, you’d have guessed wrong.

Because in the second inning, with two outs, David Wright booted a routine grounder to load the bases, bringing up the opposing pitcher. An American League pitcher. An AL pitcher with one career hit in eight career at-bats. The error should have been no big deal, right? Except, King Felix jumped all over Santana’s first offering and delivered it beyond the right field fence, for a grand salami. There had to be at least a little bit of emotion and adrenaline behind that at-bat, since it was one countryman vs. another (both Hernandez and Santana hail from Venezuela).

And just like that, the Mariners went up 4-zip.

They tacked on a fifth run in the fifth, just before Hernandez left the game after spraining his left ankle in a collision at home plate with Carlos Beltran. Not that they needed it, as the Mets were only able to muster one lousy run, against a parade of non-entities with names such as Corcoran, Rowland-Smith (isn’t he a news anchor?), Green, and Rhodes. The Mets batters were limited to four hits and three walks, leading new manager Jerry Manuel to the obvious proclamation that the offense needs to “attack”. Uh huh.


Carlos Delgado dirtied his uniform for the second time this year, though not on purpose. He reached a little too far down toward the ground while backhanding a grounder a foot to his right and lost his balance, falling to the ground. A patch of clay almost eight inches in length scarred his shiny white pants leg, just below the hip. Luckily, he was able to recover from such an obscene meeting with soil and get the out at first. Kudos to Carlos for staying with the play under such filthy circumstances.

Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran had two hits apiece, with Beltran stealing third and scoring the Mets’ only run on a wild pitch by King Felix. That was the extent of the Mets’ offense.

David Wright had a terrible game, going oh-fer-three with a walk and committing two errors — after going 27 consecutive games without a miscue. After the game, Jerry Manuel announced that Wright looked “tired” and would not play in Tuesday’s contest.

There was no announcement regarding Mets fans, who are also tired.

Next Game

The Wrightless Mets play the Mariners in another 7:10 pm start. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey goes to the mound against knucklehead Oliver Perez. The world records for combined walks and wild pitches could be threatened.


Mets Game 74: Win Over Rockies

Mets 3 Rockies 1

For the second consecutive game, Jose Reyes led off the game with a triple and eventually scored to put the Mets ahead 1-zip.

This time, however, the Mets held up the lead.

Carlos Beltran added a two-run homer — an absolute blast about 15 rows into the second deck in deep right-center — to give the Mets a three-run lead.

Mike Pelfrey backed it up, pitching 5 2/3 shutout innings, allowing five walks and three hits in a 98-pitch effort. He struggled mightily in the early innings, but pitched through jams without allowing any runs to cross the plate.

Joe Smith allowed a solo homer to Yorvit Torrealba in an inning and a third of relief, but Duaner Sanchez and Billy Wagner shut down the Rockies the rest of the way to preserve Big Pelf’s 4th victory.

Next Game

The Mets come home to Shea to face the Seattle Mariners in a 7:10 pm game on Monday night. Johan Santana faces “King” Felix Hernandez.


Wally Throws 22 Bats

Wally Backman throws balls on the field

Be sure to tune in to SNY tonight at 6 pm to see the latest episode of “Playing for Peanuts“, in which you’ll see South Georgia Peanuts manner Wally Backman throw nearly two dozen bats on the field.

But don’t watch the show just to see the bats go flying. Rather, watch it to see what REALLY happened during that game — the events that led to the eruption, Wally’s actions, and the media firestorm that resulted.

If you remember the national media reaction to this particular game, it was highly dramatized and portrayed Backman as an out-of-control nutcase who suffered a “meltdown”. It was further MISREPORTED that Wally went running into the press box to start a fight with the opposing GM, the play-by-play announcer, and anyone else hanging around.

Well in this Sunday’s episode, you will get a rare chance to see what REALLY happened, and then compare it to the second-hand reports we received from the media. You will also be able to form your own opinion on Backman’s “meltdown”, rather than accepting someone else’s.

It may be the best episode in the series — so if you can’t watch it live, be sure to set the DVR / VCR, as it’s sure to be a “can’t miss”.

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Valentin Packs It In

The 2008 comeback attempt of Jose Valentin has come to an end.

After hitting a pinch-hit homerun for New Orleans, Valentin called the Mets’ front office to say that he was shutting it down for the rest of the season — but is not yet ready to retire.

Valentin had been struggling in his recovery from both a pinched nerve in his neck and a strained right elbow, and that the lack of progress in rehabilitating those injuries was the major factor in his decision. He did say that he would rest and looked forward to initiating another comeback beginning with winter ball later this year.

Too bad for Jose, who is a class act, a legitimate gamer, and missed presence in the Mets’ clubhouse.

Somewhat related to this news was the plethora of quotes by Tony Bernazard in the “official” report on Personally, I don’t remember Bernazard being directly quoted in an official Mets news article more than three times in the last two years. However, he’s quoted several times in this one. Hmmmmmmmmmm …..

In other injury news, Ryan Church is now jogging and throwing, and will be hitting next week, according to John Delcos.

Delcos also reports that Moises Alou “might take batting practice next week”. Additionally, Delcos’ column states:

Assistant GM Tony Bernazard said he wouldn’t be surprised either way if Alou is available by the All-Star break.

Once again, what the heck is up with Tony “Rasputin” Bernazard supplying information?

By the way, what does “surprised either way” mean? He wouldn’t be surprised if he’s available, and wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not? This is supposed to be a scoop-worthy nugget of wisdom unearthed by a tenacious journalist? Or is it a writer scared to death of losing his credentials, and trying to get on Tony’s good side?

This Machiavellian routine grows more disturbing every day.


Mets Game 73: Loss to Rockies

Rockies 7 Mets 1

Well … what the heck happened?

Pedro Martinez looked brilliant through four shutout innings, and the Mets jumped ahead in the first frame thanks to a leadoff triple by Jose Reyes followed by a Luis Castillo sac fly.

However, everything unraveled in the fifth, when Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe began the frame with back-to-back homers to put the Rockies ahead and spark a six-run inning.

Meantime, the Mets offense was hamstrung by Ubaldo Jimenez — a pitcher unable to win in his previous 13 starts. After Reyes’ triple, the Mets did not get another hit until the eighth inning, when Damion Easley singled. They bunched together another two in the final frame, but by that point it didn’t matter.

The lack of offense was odd indeed here in the “Jerry Manuel Era” — this was the first time since Manuel took the helm that the lineup looked inept. Check that — the second time. With the wild run the Mets have been on, I completely forgot about the first game managed by Manuel, way back on June 17th. I imagine he didn’t call for extra batting practice on that day, either.


To the Mets’ credit, they did try to be selective against Jimenez, drawing four walks against him. Getting hits, however, was another issue.

The last time Pedro Martinez pitched in Coors was July 29, 1997 — and he pitched one of only three shutouts by opposing pitchers in Denver since then.

Jimenez pitched into the eighth inning for the first time in his Major League career, expending only 110 pitches in the process. Interestingly, he threw 110 pitches in his last start as well — though that outing (against the Braves) lasted only five innings. Huh.

Funny how the team looked lifeless after the fifth inning. The game got so arduous that even the umpires were generous in calling strikes and outs in an effort to end the game.

Question: why was Scott Schoeneweis brought in to face Todd Helton with two outs in the seventh inning of a game with the Mets down by five? Was it so vital to set up a lefty-lefty matchup in that situation? Why not just leave mopup man Claudio Vargas in there to finish the frame? I guess Scho needed work, not having pitched in three days … and his “role” is as the LOOGY — apparently even in games long lost.

Aaron Heilman pitched another scoreless inning in his role as the one-inning reliever in lost-cause contests.

As good a hitter Matt Holliday is, he’s just as bad in the outfield. He badly misplayed another ball in this game, allowing Damion Easley to reach third base on a single.

Next Game

The rubber match will be played in Denver at 3:05 pm EST. Mike Pelfrey goes to the mound against Greg Reynolds, whose ERA is a hair below six. The game will be broadcast on CW11, WFAN and XM 183.