Browsing Archive July, 2009

Series Preview: Mets vs. Phillies

phillies-76The phireworks will be on the phield in Philadelphia this weekend, as the second-place Mets take on the phirst-place Phillies in a series that could be a turning point in the season for both teams.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Phillies are not alone at the top of the division — the Florida Marlins have crept in to share the top seed thanks to an offensive resurgence and solid starting pitching. At the same time, the Phils have been stumbling mightily, losing their last three in a row and seven of their last ten ballgames.

The Phillies’ slide has been congruent with the absence of Raul Ibanez, who has been on the DL since June 18 with a groin strain. He was scheduled to return this evening in time for the Mets, but Philly has decided to play it cautious and hold him back a few days (what a novel concept!). Philadelphia has also been affected by injuries to their pitching staff — LOOGY Scott Eyre, middle man Clay Condrey, and rookie Antonio Bastardo are all on the DL, and Brad Lidge just came off a few days ago (Eyre might be activated this weekend). Additionally, Jimmy Rollins’ season-long slump continues, Cole Hamels has allowed 17 hits and 11 runs in his last 9 innings, and Lidge cannot be trusted to close games.

Game 1: Livan Hernandez(5-3, 4.04 ERA) vs. Rodrigo Lopez (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

You read that right — Rodrigo Lopez is alive and well and starting Friday night for the Phillies. Lopez, who hasn’t been relevant since 2005, and not thrown an MLB pitch in two years, was chosen to make this start instead of top prospect Carlos Carrasco (among others). The 33-year-old was 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA in his last three starts at Class AAA Lehigh Valley. From what I understand he still throws junk. Facing Lopez will be Livan Hernandez, who continues to do exactly what the Mets need him to do — eat innings and keep the team in ballgames. Keep on keeping on, Livan!

Game 2: Fernando Nieve (3-1, 2.25 ERA) vs. Jamie Moyer (6-6, 6.05 ERA)

Talk about a contrast in starters — one, a young flamethrower on the rise, the other, an old junkballer at his demise. Fernandomania suffered a setback a few days ago, but even Jorge Sosa wasn’t perfect through his first four starts (ironically, Sosa also lost his fourth start as a Met — an 8-1 drubbing at the hands of the Braves). If Nieve keeps his fastball down the way he did in his first three starts, he should be OK. What Moyer brings to the table is anyone’s guess — he’s been consistently inconsistent (though pretty impressive for someone collecting Social Security checks).

Game 3: Johan Santana (9-6, 3.34 ERA ) vs. Joe Blanton (4-4, 5.08 ERA)

Santana is still among the top thee starters in all of baseball, but his month of June was the worst of his career. One can only hope that a new month changes that pattern. Blanton has been up and down, and lately down — the Phillies have lost all of his last five starts. He’s been pushed far beyond the 100-pitch count several times this year, so don’t be surprised to see him lingering if the game is close in the late innings.

Final Thoughts

The Mets might take two out of three, or even sweep. They could just as easily get swept — that’s the way this season is playing out for everyone in the NL East. Find a comfy chair, crack open a cold one, sit back, and enjoy the ballgames.

Or, if this rollercoaster ride is too much, distract yourself by attempting to grill the perfect burger this weekend — at least that goal is within your control.

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Mets Game 78: Win Over Pirates

Mets 9 Pirates 8

The Magic Bus rides on !!!

Ironically, the Mets continued their hot streak of now two consecutive wins against the Pittsburgh Pirates — the team that had “We Are Family” as their theme song back in 1979. Ironic because, of course, this steamrolling of the competition had its impetus immediately following a “family talk” led by Jerry “Pops” Manuel, the inspiring father figure and fearless leader of the New York Mets.

At first, it appeared the Mets were going to get blown out, as Tim Redding allowed five runs on six hits and two walks in his first two innings. But Bucs starter Pat Maholm was no better, and the “Flushing Lumber Company” exploded with a four-run inning in the fifth that was sandwiched by two two-run innings.

The impressive comeback should have been celebrated in the ninth, but after Sean “Teke” Green used his sidearming style to get out of a major jam in the eighth, Frankie Rodriguez allowed a two-run bomb to Adam LaRoche en route to his third blown save of the season.

However, the Mets came back again, rallying in the tenth against Pirates closer Matt Capps. Ryan “Crazy Horse” Church drove home Fernando “Cobra” Tatis with the winning run, and K-Rod set down the Bucs in order to “earn” his second victory.

Notes

Tatis had three hits, scored four runs, and drove in two with an opposite-field homer that put the game away in the sixth.

In my mind, a key factor in the game was a pinch-hit, two-run single by Dan “Hit Man” Murphy in the fourth that put the Mets on the board for the first time and kept the team within striking distance. Had they not scored those two runs right away, it might have been easy to lose motivation. But down by only three, with five innings to play and Redding out of the game, there was plenty of reason to believe there could be a comeback.

Nice to see multiple-hit games from Alex “Scrap Iron” Cora and Nick “The Hammer” Evans.

Additionally, Church continued his red-hot hitting with three hits of own — he’s now 10 for his last 18.

David “Mad Dog” Wright had only one hit in the game but scored twice.

In a mysterious move, Tatis and Evans switched positions in the ninth inning — Evans going to left and Tatis to first base.

K-Rod threw 46 pitches in his two-inning stint. Will he be able to pitch against the Phillies this weekend?

Rain delayed the start of the game, then interrupted the delayed start of the game. I have to believe the delays had something to do with the abbreviated and awful outings by both starting pitchers.

Next Mets Game

The Mets travel to Philadelphia to play their third game in as many cities in as many days. Livan Hernandez goes to the mound against Rodrigo Lopez (apparently, the rumors of Lopez’s death and/or retirement were greatly exaggerated). First pitch will be thrown at 7:05 PM on Friday night.

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Shades of ’73

mets1973-yearbookA number of loyal MetsToday readers have commented here and emailed me suggesting that this season could turn out to be a rerun of the magical NL Championship year of 1973.

For those too young to remember, ’73 was the year “Ya Gotta Believe” was coined by Tug McGraw, among other events.

That year, the Mets won 82 games and lost 79, barely edging the St. Louis Cardinals (81-81) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (80-82). Yes youngsters, the Cards and Bucs were in the NL East back then, as were the Cubs and a team from Montreal, Canada, known as the Expos. Further there was no Central Division, and the Milwaukee Brewers were in the American League. This was all “B.S.” (Before Selig) … or is it all “B.S.” now? Anyway, I digress …

There is too much to say about the ’73 season in one blog post, so if you are interested in re-living it, please purchase the book From First To Worst: The New York Mets, 1973-1977, a fine book that gives a blow-by-blow account of all the details of that year and the three diastrous campaigns that followed.

But there are many similarities between the 1973 Mets and the 2009 edition, the most obvious being their shared lack of punch. The ’73 Mets most prolific slugger was a wiry, street-tough dude named John “The Hammer” Milner (why is it that no one has cool nicknames anymore?), who mashed 23 homers. Only three other players on the team hit more than 6: Wayne Garrett (16), Rusty Staub (15), and Cleon Jones (11).

Obviously, the ’73 Mets didn’t overpower the competition with their offense. It was the pitching staff that carried them to the postseason, led by Tom Seaver. Seaver was arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the time but was victimized by poor run support (sound familiar?). As a result, he won “only” 19 games despite a 2.08 ERA through 36 games started and 290 innings (18 complete games). His 19-10 record was one of only two winning records among regulars in the starting rotation (the other was George Stone, who went 12-3).

Back then — as you might have surmised from the high complete-game total — closers were not used as often as they are now. But in addition to the best starter in MLB, the Mets also had one of the best relievers in baseball — Tug McGraw, who appeared in 60 ballgames, saved 25 of them, and hurled 119 innings (some starters today struggle to reach that number!).

The team was built on pitching, defense, and fundamental baseball, and had little room for error. Much like 2009, the ’73 team was wrought with injuries. First baseman Milner, leftfielder Jones, starting pitcher Jon Matlack, shortstop Bud Harrelson, and catcher Jerry Grote were among the key starters who lost significant time due to injuries. In addition, backup catcher Jerry May, acquired to replace an ailing Grote, injured himself within weeks of joining the team (Duffy Dyer became the backup to the backup), and rookie outfielder George Theodore went down as well. In addition, Staub played most of the year with a badly injured wrist, causing him to swing one-handed and severely diminishing his power.

Amidst the injury spree, a light-hitting, smooth fielding Don Hahn took over in centerfieldand provided clutch hits down the stretch (could that be Jeremy Reed?). For occasional power and leadership, the Mets leaned on aging outfielder Willie Mays, whose best days were long behind him and who was only able to play a few times a week at most (mild parallel to Gary Sheffield, no?).

Without their big hitters for much of the season, the Mets relied on small ball to score runs. Their switch-hitting shortstop — Bud Harrelson — was the main leadoff hitter and baserunning threat until an injury in June took a chunk of his season. In the two-hole they had a slick fielding second baseman named Felix Millan, who choked up on the bat, punched grounders and bloopers for base hits, and was an adept bunter. Sound familiar?

Their manager — Yogi Berra — had taken over the team the previous season as an interim manager, and was a favorite of the media for quotable quotes and malaprops. Though, he expressed a more positive outlook than the ’09 manager when his team hit rock bottom. Ravaged by injuries and stuck in last place halfway through the year, the press asked Yogi if their season was finished. His reply? “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Strangely, the ’73 Mets didn’t steal many bases — only 27 for the entire year. As a team they batted a cumulative .246 with 85 homeruns. With no power and no speed, it’s not surprising they scored just 608 runs all season (3.77 runs per game).

So how did the 1973 Mets get to the World Series? Mostly because the rest of the NL East was as incompetent and affected by injuries as the Mets. The Cubs and Cardinals were aging teams, the Pirates had injury issues, the Expos had terrible pitching, and the Phillies were in rebuilding mode. Essentially, the Mets “won” the division by losing less than everyone else.

Aside from the contrast in stolen bases, there is one other, major difference between the 2009 Mets and the 1973 NL Champions. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll leave you with this:

buddy-belts-rose

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Mets Game 77: Win Over Brewers

Mets 1 Brewers 0

Too much, the magic bus … magic bus!

Fresh off a wonderful bonding session through the streets of Milwaukee, the New York Mets pounded Yovani Gallardo for five hits and an entire run to claim their first victory in six games.

Mike Pelfrey was spectacular, exhibiting the skillset and resolve of an ace. No temper tantrums in the dugout, no glaring at teammates for making mistakes, no meatballs to sluggers on 0-2 counts, and no free passes to the opposing pitcher — just 7 2/3 solid innings of hard-nosed pitching.

The lone Mets run was scored by Luis Castillo on a single by red-hot Ryan Church in the sixth inning.

Sean Green retired the one batter he faced in the 8th to pull Pelf out of a jam, and Frankie Rodriguez made things interesting before notching his 21st save.

Notes

No one has confirmed whether it was the magic bus ride or the family talk that was the reason for the Mets victory. But it had to be either one or the other, if not both. That Jerry Manuel is one heckuva motivator, as we all know.

Next Mets Game

The Mets ride the magic bus to Pittsburgh for another day game on Thursday. Tim Redding faces Pat Maholm in a 12:35 PM start.

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