Archive: April 24th, 2009

Mets Game 16: Win Over Nationals

Mets 4 Nationals 3

How difficult is it to miss a slam dunk? Because the Mets came darn close to pulling it off.

With ace Johan Santana going to the hill against the worst team in baseball, and a fully rested, record-breaking closer at the ready, this game should have been a cakewalk. Instead, it was mildly unnerving through the first seven, before turning into a bonafide nailbiter in the ninth.

Santana was his usual brilliant self, allowing one run on one walk and six hits in six innings, but ran up his pitch count and ran out of gas, thanks in part to 10 strikeouts. Strikeouts, of course, are wonderful, but they’re not democratic, and they generally take more pitches out of an arm. But Santana needed those swings and misses to squeeze out of some tight situations, including one compounded by a missed popup by Ramon Castro.

While Johan was mowing down the Nats, the Mets bats were lukewarm against Washington starter Scott Olsen, who scattered nine hits and two walks in his six innings of work. The Mets did touch him for three runs (two earned), thanks to a Carlos Beltran triple, a Luis Castillo single, and a pinch-hit RBI single by Danny Murphy. They added on another run in the eighth when reliever Kip Wells walked Carlos Delgado with the bases loaded, forcing in Ramon Castro.

Generally speaking, 3-4 runs is enough for a stopper such as Santana, though he gave one back in the top of the sixth when Nick Johnson went deep. Bobby Parnell, Pedro Feliciano, and JJ Putz held the mighty Nats at bay through the 7th and 8th, setting the stage for Francisco “Stop Calling Me K-Rod” Rodriguez.

Rodriguez decided that the game had cruised long enough, and it was time for drama to keep the Citi Field fans in their seats. He started off the ninth by allowing a single to Austin Kearns and a two-run homer to Jesus Flores, cutting the Mets lead to one. But of course, the tightrope is where Rodriguez lives, and he dispatched of the next three batters in order. No small feat, as the Nats sent up a modern-day murderer’s row of Alberto Gonzalez, Alex Cintron, and Anderson Hernandez.

Game Notes

Hard to believe that Cintron is the best the Nats can come up with to pinch-hit in the final inning of a one-run ballgame, but I guess that’s why they’ve won just 20% of their games thus far.

Birthday boy Carlos Beltran kept his hold on the NL batting lead, going 1-for-3 with two walks; he’s hitting a cool .400.

Gary Sheffield went 1-for-3 with a walk — will that buy him another day?

Fernando Tatis, who many forgot was still on the roster, took advantage of his rare start in LF by going 2-for-3, including a walk and a double.

Luis Castillo batted in the two-spot and went 2-for-5.

The Mets’ four runs equaled their total runs scored in Santana’s three previous starts combined — and every one of his starts have been decided by one run. His ERA is 0.70 … if it were any higher, he’d likely be winless right now.

Next Mets Game

The Mets again host the Nationals on Saturday afternoon, with Mike Pelfrey going against the righthanded Ollie Perez: Daniel Cabrera. Game time is 1:10 PM.

This game worries me, because Pelfrey is coming off an elbow issue and Cabrera can, at times, be dominating.


Pitching Options (None)

In Adam Rubin’s column today, it was suggested that the Mets might shake up the starting pitching rotation, and/or consider adding an eighth reliever to fit the role of long man:

Manuel mentioned after the Mets’ fourth straight loss that the club may be forced to add an eighth reliever, to guard against overworking the current bullpen with the starting pitchers not going deep enough into games.

Hmm … who might the Mets have who can fill that role?


Stern Words for Sheffield

Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog believes time is running out on Gary Sheffield, and suggests that his presence on the roster could depend on his performance tonight:

“… Sheffield better have a good game, if he hopes to stay with the team beyond May 1.

Personally, I think he is causing confusion on the roster. …

He’s looking better at the plate, but he’s just not getting the results … he must also be making life difficult for Jerry Manuel, who has two outfield corners and four players to fill them, one of which is a rookie, in Murphy, who does nothing but hit and who needs to play every day if he is going to get better on defense, and another in Church, who is the second-best defensive outfielder on the team and who is also hitting .333.

I realize it has only been 15 games, but if he continues to struggle, and Manuel needs the roster spot for a relief pitcher, I say cut him and let Murphy, Church and Tatis find order in their well-earned and necessary roles on the team.

Is Sheffield the crux of the problem with this team? And you’re ready to drop him after 18 at-bats? Really?

I admit to being slightly biased toward Sheffield — I have a thing for righthanded hitters with remarkable bat speed, power, a .310 career average with RISP, and a World Series ring (I also like the fire in his belly, but that’s an overblown factor according to the statheads). It’s true that Sheff might be done, but I think it’s irresponsible to make that decision based on 23 plate appearances — particularly since he’s never been in a bench role before. Further, if Sheffield goes, who takes his place on the roster? Cory Sullivan? Nick Evans (who by the way is hitting .102 after 49 ABs in AAA)?

The answer to the Mets’ pitching problems is not to add more arms to the roster — the team needs quality, not volume. And as mentioned earlier today, the Mets’ best shot at finding that quality might be to trade Ryan Church — in which case Sheffield becomes all the more valuable.

Oh, and I agree wholeheartedly — all Danny Murphy does is hit. He certainly doesn’t field, his fundamentals are shaky, and he’s been sporadic on the bases. If Murphy stops hitting, he has zero value to the team.


When the Carloses Go Cold

The two Carloses
There is something really, really frightening about the Mets’ current struggles — the hot streaks of the Carloses.

Carlos Beltran is absolutely on fire, in one of those “zones” that he finds 2-3 times per year. Similarly, Carlos Delgado is blistering the ball to all fields, driving deep bombs over fences, and, for a while there, was looking like the guy who carried the Mets on his back for the second half of last year.

So why is this a problem?

Because despite both Carloses hitting the bejesus out of the ball, the Mets are still losing. Which begs the question: what happens when the Carloses cool off, which considering each’s past history as red-hot / ice-cold streak hitters, is a guarantee? Further, if the Mets can’t stay above .500 with their two most dangerous hitters on fire (and David Wright and Jose Reyes both over .300), how in the world can they win when the Carloses go cold?

Don’t look now, but Delgado is already cooling off — his average has dropped nearly a hundred points in the last eight days. Beltran looks like he can stay warm for at least a few more weeks, but will it matter?


Link Roundup

Adam Rubin dropped a bombshell this morning, and his headline says it all: “Slumping Mets eye major shakeup: Coaches on firing line; Pelfrey, Perez or Maine may get demoted

Wallace Matthews says the Mets and Yankees misread the market, pointing out “… they are turning fans away at Citizens Bank Park, and in New York, at least 10,000 seats go unoccupied every game”

MetsGeek previews the pitchers in this weekend’s series with the Nationals.

The Mets Report says the Dan Murphy Experiment Should End Now

Brooklyn Met Fan says it’s time for Omar to place a call to Pedro


Psychic Or Psycho?

You may have noticed during the St. Louis series that the Mets hitters were hitting the ball hard, but “right at people”. The Cardinals defenders seemed always to be at the right place at the right time — to the point where Matt Cerrone quipped, “… either Brendan Ryan is psychic, or the Mets are really unlucky, because the kid seems to be in the exact spot of every ground ball hit to the right side.”

Of course, Brendan Ryan is not psychic — but, neither are the Mets unlucky. The reason the Mets seemed to hit so many “at ’em” balls had much to do with the psychotic preparation of Tony LaRussa — a dugout warrior who leaves no stone unturned and reduces each game to a painstaking process of execution.

Since making his managerial debut with the White Sox in the early 1980s, the cerebral LaRussa has treated ballgames like chess matches, using every means necessary to gain an edge on the opposition. He was using computers before people knew what they were to churn out statistics and probabilities, a pioneer in the practical use of situational percentages (and a prelude to modern day sabermetrics — LaRussa was Billy Beane before Beane was playing high school ball). His teams have always been fundamentally sound, and benefitted from extensive, detailed advance scouting. These past three games were not unlike those of the 2006 NLCS, when David Eckstein seemed to be everywhere, except when balls were hit right at Ronny Belliard. LaRussa’s teams pore over the scouting reports, then act on them: the pitchers throw to specific locations, in specific counts, to specific batters, and the fielders position themselves accordingly. The results are not always perfect, but LaRussa makes certain that the odds are always on the Cardinals’ side, on every pitch. If the pitcher makes the intended pitch for a particular situation, there’s a good chance the batter will hit the ball to a general location. Many give the bulk of the credit to Dave Duncan when the Cardinals pull a pitcher off the scrap heap and turn him into a winner, but in truth, at least part of the success can be attributed to LaRussa’s intensive system.

LaRussa didn’t event this approach to the game — fielders have been “cheating” a few steps one way or the other depending on the batter and/or pitch since the 1880s, and all teams use scouting reports and preparation to some degree. And there are a few other managers who employ similar “systems” of success — Ron Gardenhire and Bobby Cox are two that immediately come to mind.

Point is, the sweep in St. Louis had little to do with a hex, luck or any other hocus-pocus. The team on the winning side had better scouting and better preparation, and did a better job of translating both into execution.