Browsing Archive April, 2010

Mets Game 23: Win Over Phillies

Mets 9 Phillies 1

Keep on rollin’ … Mets remain in phirst place as they parade past the Phillies.

Game Notes

Jon Niese couldn’t have pitched any better in a tough park against a tough lineup. Niese spun 7 (count ’em, 7!) innings, allowing only one run on four hits and a walk, striking out 7. His delivery is starting to look the same throughout his pitches, making it difficult for opposing batters to pick up what’s coming. In the past, the speed of his motion and his arm and body angle varied depending on the pitch, which would tip off hitters who could quickly decipher the subtle differences. Further, Niese had better command than he’s shown before — maybe another result of the consistent delivery / release point. A great night overall for young Jon Niese.

Rod Barajas hit many high, high fly balls over the fence — including two in fair territory. His two taters and two-bagger produced 3 RBI and 3 runs scored.

Jeff Francoeur played like he was back in high school, on the gridiron — banging into things, getting hit, throwing on the run. He also mashed a solo homer, stole his first base of the year, and played a strong game overall but left early due to a bruised elbow that resulted from a 95-MPH fastball from Danys Baez.

Phillies pitchers were pounding the ball inside to the Mets batters, and Jennry Mejia retaliated with a cut fastball to Chase Utley’s calf. I’d prefer the Mets pitchers throw inside as a routine rather than only when they feel the need to “retaliate”.

Angel Pagan went 3-for-5 with a triple, double, 2 RBI, and a run scored. If he hits like that I don’t care where Jerry Manuel puts him in the lineup.

David Wright went deep, then disappeared. No worries, his offense wasn’t needed beyond that.

Raul Ibanez hit a long drive for an out in the second and a hard single in the ninth. I get the feeling he’s emerging from his slump; I hope I’m wrong.

The Mets did not hit a single until the seventh inning — it took 30 batters and 7 runs scored before Jose Reyes struck an RBI single to drive in Angel Pagan.

Next Mets Game

Who’da thunk Mike Pelfrey would be part of a “marquee matchup”? Big Pelf goes against Roy Halladay at 3:10 PM on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. And yes, unfortunately, that bizarre time slot means the game will be on FOX.


Mets vs. Phillies – Stay with Us, Lady Luck

First off, let’s try not to look at this series as something more than it is. We can bask in the glory of first place, and if the Mets take at least two games this weekend, we can continue to gloat and enjoy all that goes with being the fan of a first-place team.

But, this series is unlikely to define the season, or the team, that we will be watching through the next 140 or so ballgames.

The good news is, the Mets have the momentum of a sherman tank plowing down Mt. Everest. Lady Luck has touched the Mets over the past week and a half, delivering teams that were at less than their best for one reason or another. That’s not to take anything away from the Mets — everyone needs a little luck now and then, but it’s what you DO with that luck that matters. And the Mets have taken full advantage of a downtrodden Cubs club, the bumbling Braves, and the debilitated Dodgers. Similarly, the Phillies are in a funk, suffering from the following:


Another Phillie Fan Perspective

Yesterday’s Q&A with Bill Baer brought so much banter that I thought it would be nice to bring in another Phillies fan. The following is a guest column written by a longtime rival (we are friends AFTER the baseball season ends) who used to regularly write a sports column for an esteemed college newspaper about a hundred years ago (OK, maybe more like 15 or 20, but it was before Al Gore invented the internet and global warming, so it feels like a hundred years ago). In any case, the following is written by Tom Maguire, aka “The Earl of Sports”, and I hope you enjoy his phanatical perspective. – Joe


These are the musings of a former sports columnist (yes it was college, but it was before blogging and my nom-de-plume was “The Earl of Sports”) who is a die-hard Phillies fan.


Inside Look: Phillies

The Mets are in first place, and the first-place Mets will be facing the second-place Phillies for a 3-game weekend series for the right to first place.

Yes, I am going to harp on the “first place” thing as much as possible, since we don’t know how long it will last. May as well take advantage while we can.

Since we have all day today and most of tomorrow to bask in the glow of Mets’ first-place status, I thought you might enjoy reading some of the thoughts of fellow SweetSpot Blogger Bill Baer, whose blog Crashburn Alley focuses on the second-place Phillies.

(You can also see a similar Q&A over at Bill’s blog, where I answer his questions about the Mets.)

To reiterate, the second-place Phillies. Boy that feels good!

Anyway, here is our Q&A … and here’s to hoping the first-place Mets can remain in first place!

1. The Phillies were looking like world-beaters before the season began and through the first two weeks. However, they are 4-6 over their last 10 games. What’s going on?

It’s a little worrisome, but I would attribute part of the misfortune on injuries (Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero, and Joe Blanton started the season on the DL; Jimmy Rollins and J.A. Happ soon joined them) and bad luck. Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, and David Herndon have been the unluckiest so far.

I think the starting rotation (when it includes Joe Blanton) is better than people think.

Doesn’t help that the Phillies have played 15 of their first 21 games on the road, either.

2. Jimmy Rollins made a preseason goal of 50 stolen bases. He stole 2 before going on the DL. Is his goal realistic, considering both Rollins’ skills and the Phillies’ overall offensive style / strategy?

It wasn’t realistic then and it certainly isn’t realistic now that he has missed two weeks. The most realistic goal of his is 200 hits since he gets so many at-bats at the top of a high-octane offense.

3. Ryan Madson is the closer while Brad Lidge is on the mend. Are you confident in Madson in the ninth? Do you have more confidence in Madson, or Lidge? How about the next option, Danys Baez?

If Lidge was completely healthy and he had the same velocity on his fastball and bite on his slider that he had in 2008, I may be slightly more confident in him than Madson. However, Lidge has just been squeaking above the 90’s while rehabbing and I really question his ability to handle high-leverage innings. I have much, much more confidence in Ryan Madson than anybody else in the bullpen. It’s a shame because many Phillies fans have labeled Madson unfit to close as a result of their armchair psychoanalysis.

4. Much was made about Ryan Howard getting tutored by Barry Bonds over the winter. Are you seeing any results from that?

Not really. As you know, Barry Bonds was a maven of plate discipline. Howard hasn’t brought that into the 2010 season as he is drawing walks at more than half the rate he had over the course of his career. So far, he has increased the rate at which he swings at pitches outside of the strike zone and he has decreased the rate of swings at pitches inside the strike zone. It is nice that he cut his strikeout rate by ten percent, but to be quite honest, I would prefer to take the strikeouts with his prodigious power, something we have barely seen this season.

5. We know all about Roy Halladay. But after him, the Philly starting rotation has been questionable. Even JA Happ, who hasn’t given up an earned run, has walked 8 in 10 IP. Is it simply a slow start by everyone, or is there valid concern that the current personnel will not be sufficient to pitch the Phillies into the postseason?

As mentioned above, Hamels has been unlucky in his four starts so far. Pitchers can’t control the rate at which balls put in play turn into hits (BABIP), so it tends to hover around .300 give or take a few thousandths of a point. Hamels last year sat at .325; it is .357 so far in 2010. Additionally, pitchers cannot control the rate at which fly balls land beyond outfield fences, so it tends to hover around 10% give or take a couple percentage points. Hamels so far has a HR/FB% of 20.6%. Hamels will come around.

Stats people are not expecting J.A. Happ to come anywhere close to the success he had last season. Despite the 0.00 ERA, he had pitched poorly in his two starts before landing on the DL. As you mentioned, he walked eight batters in ten innings and he was also striking out fewer than four and a half per nine innings. Happ doesn’t induce too many ground balls, so it is not good that hitters have been making contact as often as they have been.

Jamie Moyer is hit or miss but there worse ways to round out the back of a starting rotation. Speaking of which, I am counting the days until Kyle Kendrick returns to AAA Lehigh Valley.

6. Further to the previous question, what is wrong with Cole Hamels, and is he fixable?

Very fixable. He’s been unlucky. I know that answer doesn’t sit will with a lot of people, but them’s the facts. Phillies fans need to just ride it out — he’ll improve. Just don’t expect him to finish the season with Tim Lincecum-esque numbers. His true talent level is somewhere around a 3.50-3.75 ERA.

7. In 2009, the Phillies benefitted greatly by a scorching hot start by Raul Ibanez. This year, though, the story is quite the opposite. Have opposing pitchers “figured him out”, is he streaky by nature, or simply a slow starter?

Ibanez is streaky by nature, but I think part of the slow part is aging as well. From what I’ve seen, his bat looks slower and he’s having trouble catching up to fastballs. Since he started playing regularly in 2002, Ibanez has finished all but one season with above-average numbers against the fastball according to FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights. Through April, Ibanez has been two runs below average per 100 fastballs.

I’m hoping that Ibanez gets on one of his patented hot streaks and he becomes a palatable option to move at the trading deadline. However, I doubt that many teams would be willing and able to take on the remainder of his contract (about $6 million by the 2010 trading deadline and $11.5 million next year). Trading Ibanez and clearing his contract may give the Phillies the ability to re-sign Jayson Werth after the season, in which case prospect Domonic Brown would take over in left field.

8. For the first time in a year, the Phillies are chasing the Mets. Do you think that will be the case for most of the season? Why or why not?

No, I don’t. The Mets just don’t have a good lineup or a good starting rotation (outside of Johan Santana) or a good bullpen. It sounds like I’m being a biased, hateful Philly fan, but it’s true.

The Mets had a $126.5 million payroll to open the season, and their most recent batting order was: Pagan, Cora, Reyes, Bay, Wright, Davis, Francoeur, and Barajas. That’s just not a good lineup. Pagan and Cora are back-ups on most other teams; Davis would be unknown if he were in a less-prominent team’s farm system, Francoeur is overrated, and — okay — I irrationally dislike Barajas because he didn’t block the plate during a game in Florida when he was with the Phillies. Hey, at least I’m honest.

Additionally, Mike Pelfrey has been extremely lucky. His BABIP is only .249 and he’s yet to allow a home run. His 0.69 ERA is not backed up by ERA postdictors like xFIP (4.31) and SIERA (4.38). That’s not to say that a 4.38 ERA level of production is not acceptable, it’s just that Pelfrey’s recent success is completely and utterly unsustainable.

Jonathon Niese has pitched over his head as well. His 4.40 SIERA is more realistic than his 3.68 ERA. Niese needs to harness his control before he can be considered an above-average pitcher.

Finally, while the ERA’s have mostly been good with the Mets’ relievers, one cannot expect them to maintain that level of success over the course of a 162-game season. Takahashi has really been the only true bright spot in the bullpen — he has pitched exceptionally well. Fernando Nieve and Jenrry Mejia have not pitched well while K-Rod and Pedro Feliciano have been average at best and that may be too lenient given their bad walk rates.

Thanks again to Bill Baer for his insight. You can read more of his commentary and stat-driven analysis regarding the Phillies at Crashburn Alley. I’m sure you would like to comment on some of his answers, so please do so below.


Mets Game 22: Win Over Dodgers

Mets 7 Dodgers 3

This is getting a little silly. A 9-1 homestand? Seriously? Somebody pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Game Notes

John Maine hurled 6 innings, allowing 4 hits, 3 walks, and 2 earned runs, striking out 9. I know he did this because I saw it with my own eyes, and I reviewed the boxscore, but I have no explanation as to how he did it. His command was so-so — though, better than in his past starts — and his velocity was around 87-89. He did have good downward and sideways movement on the majority of his fastballs, but he didn’t do a fantastic job of changing speeds, nor was his breaking stuff anything better than mediocre. Yet, he was getting solid MLB hitters such as James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier to swing and miss. Color me befuddled. Maybe it was magic, or voo-doo, or a deal with the devil — whatever it was, it defied logic. And I’ll take it.

The Mets offense jumped all over Dodger pitcher John Ely, who was making his first MLB start, for 5 earned runs in 6 innings. They scored another two against Ronald Belisario, who was in only his fourth appearance of the season after coming off the suspended list and missing all of spring training due to visa problems.

Next Mets Game

The first-place Mets take a well-deserved day off on Thursday before beginnng a three-game series against the Phillies in Philadelphia on Friday night. Game time is 7:05 PM and the scheduled pitchers are Jon Niese and Kyle Kendrick.


Mets Game 21: Win Over Dodgers

Mets 10 Dodgers 5

Break up the Mets!

By taking the second game of their doubleheader with the Dodgers, the Mets have won their third consecutive series, and are now threatening to take the lead in the NL East.

I urge you to bask in this current glory, because one can never know what the future brings. Live in the present, and be happy!

Game Notes

Oliver Perez was his usual awful self. The numbers he put on paper in the first three innings seemed innocent enough — no runs, one hit, one walk — but your eyes should have told you a different story. From his very first pitch of the game and throughout his short stint, Ollie was consistently missing his target by a foot and a half or more. A FOOT AND A HALF. I’m talking about his intended target, not the strike zone — there is a difference. You can miss your intended target and still get lucky enough to have the ball pass over the plate on occasion. Additionally, his velocity was topping out in the high 80s. With that combination, it was only a matter of time before the roof caved in — as it did in the fourth.

Ollie’s issues stem from his inconsistent mechanics, which often are sending his momentum side-to-side rather than toward the plate, and in turn cause his release point to be all over the place. A pitcher can get away — for a while — with bad mechanics if his release point is relatively consistent. Perez has no consistency with anything he does from the moment he toes the rubber.

The fourth inning that sent Ollie to the showers could have been much worse. Hisanori Takahashi — who otherwise provided another admirable job in long relief — had walked the bases loaded, walked Reed Johnson to force in a run, and might have walked James Loney to force in another, but was saved by some questionable strike calls by home plate umpire Angel Campos. Takahashi was struggling mightily in his initial inning (maybe he wasn’t completely warmed up?) and who knows what might’ve happened if Loney walked to force in another run and bring up Blake DeWitt with the bases still loaded? The Dodgers could have broken the game wide open there and set the momentum in another direction. It’s nice to see the Mets getting breaks like this, after watching them on the short end so often the last three years.

Jason Bay followed up his first homer as a Met in game one with a first-inning triple and a spectacular diving catch in the second inning to steal a hit from Jamey Carroll. Who said he couldn’t play defense?

David Wright had a huge day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a walk and 4 RBI. His bases-clearing triple in the sixth cemented the win. Guess I can shelve my “Whats Wrong with Wright” article.

Hisanori Takahashi was better than Perez in 3+ innings of relief, but nothing to write home about. He’s following in the 2010 Mets tradition of inefficiency, using 75 pitches to get 10 outs.

Jennry Mejia got one inning of work in the 8th. So glad he’s up in MLB for these garbage innings, rather in the minors honing his craft for a possible future as a starting pitcher. The Mets can’t trust Jack Egbert or Pat Misch with a six-run lead?

Timing is everything; the Mets caught the Dodgers at just the right time, and took advantage. Los Angeles is currently without Manny Ramirez, Vicente Padilla, Cory Wade, and Jeff Weaver, didn’t have Rafael Furcal due to a tight hamstring, and for all intents and purposes didn’t have Ronald Belisario nor Hong Chih Kuo available (both recently returned to the roster and are being handled carefully by Joe Torre). James Loney exacerbated the situation by getting ejected in the fourth inning. Again, nice to see the Mets take advantage, since they likely will face a much different Dodger team the next time the two teams meet for four games in late July.

Next Mets Game

The Mets hope to finish the sweep on Thursday afternoon with John Maine taking the mound against a mystery pitcher who is most likely to be Josh Towers (who is currently in AAA). Game time is 1:10 PM.


Mets Game 20: Win Over Dodgers

Mets 4 Dodgers 0

Johan Santana threw six scoreless innings, Jason Bay hit his first homerun in the orange and blue, and Luis Castillo drove in two runs as the Mets cruised to an easy victory in the front end of a twi-night doubleheader.

Can’t say much beyond that, because I didn’t see the game … there’s this other thing I do during the day that allows me to pay the bills. So please if you have any comments to share, please do so below. Thank you!


Inside Look: LA Dodgers

In a matter of a few days, the Mets went from the NL East basement right into the thick of the race, simultaneously changing their outlook from bleak to bright. Their sudden “about face” was the result of several factors, not the least of which included strong pitching, a spark by Ike Davis, poor execution by their opponents, and a little bit of luck.

Can the Mets remain on a positive course? We shall soon see, but it appears as though their timing remains good — the Dodgers stumble into town playing below their potential, marred by multiple injuries to their pitching staff, and without the bat of Manny Ramirez.

To get a glimpse of what’s going on in Dodgerland, I’ve called on fellow ESPN SweetSpot Blogger Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts.

1. Prior to the season, the Dodgers – on paper – looked like the best in the NL West. However, they’ve struggled out of the gate and are sitting near the cellar with an 8-10 record. What’s going on? Have they been playing down to their competition?

Keeping in mind that there’s only a three-game difference between last and first in the NL West, it’s true that the Dodgers’ play has been problematic. They’ve had virtually unprecedented fielding troubles, and the starting pitching outside of Hiroki Kuroda has been inconsistent. I expect that the fielding and pitching will improve some, but the offense – which has been about the best in the league – will cool down, so it’s hard to predict how good they’ll be.

2. With the Padres at the top of the division, it’s obviously still early. Which teams do you see as the main competition for first place come August / September?

I still expect the Rockies to be the Dodgers’ team to beat, with the Giants in the thick of it if they can maintain any kind of hitting.

3. With hot starts by Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Casey Blake, it seems the Dodgers are less reliant on Manny Ramirez’s big bat for success. Would you agree? Will they miss Manny while he’s on the DL?

His bat is always good to have around – many pundits (gleefully) gave up on him at the end of last year, ignoring his hand injury – but in any case, the Dodgers showed last year they can produce without him.

4. Are Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley ready to take their game to the next level and lead the LA pitching staff, or are they still a year or so away?

I wouldn’t frame the question that way. Some days they’re already at the next level, other days they’re not. Billingsley was arguably one of the two or three best pitchers in the NL in the first half of last season. They just need to execute more consistently.

5. Russ and Ramon Ortiz? Really?

Two of the Dodgers’ top four relievers, Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo, started the year on the restricted and disabled lists, and Jeff Weaver went on the DL last week. So while I wouldn’t have chosen the Ortizs, I don’t think many major-league teams have No. 8 and No. 9 relievers that are much better. Russ is now gone, and Ramon is the last guy in the pen and poised for release if the Dodgers get completely healthy.

6. Does Joe Torre’s (ab)use of middle relievers like George Sherrill and Ramon Troncoso concern you?

Sherrill hasn’t been abused (he has never thrown more than 20 pitches on consecutive days, or more than 10 pitches on three consecutive days, as a Dodger), but to the larger point, it does and it doesn’t. There have been times when Torre has fallen in love with a particular reliever, but I also think it has been overblown. I kept track last year of reliever pitch counts and found that it was rare that Torre actually was working a pitcher above what anyone would think is acceptable. One of the few times it happened was with Belisario during one weeklong stretch last summer. Belisario went on the DL, but honestly, that was the exception. Torre has become as careful with Kuo, for example, as one can be.

Torre has had to go to the pen a lot this month, but given how poorly the Dodger pitching performed, there isn’t much any manager could have done differently. I don’t think Torre is a saint or that he’s outstanding with his bullpen use, but I think too much is made of this aspect of his managing in comparison with others. For every Scott Proctor or Belisario, there’s been a lot of good relief performance by the Dodger bullpen under Torre’s control, without injury consequences.

Frankly, I’m a little more concerned by Torre’s use of Billingsley in 2009. Billingsley had the most pitches thrown in the first half of the season of any NL pitcher.

7. Speaking of relievers, how is “former Met” Carlos Monasterios looking?

Monasterios looks like a keeper – not perfect by any means, but a valuable guy for the back of the pen for now. He pitched 2 2/3 innings to get the win in the Dodgers’ 13-inning game at Washington on Saturday.

8. What is the key to the Dodgers making it into the postseason in 2010?

They simply can’t be among the worst in the league in pitching and fielding. They certainly have the talent to make the playoffs, but if they can’t show it on the field, it ain’t gonna happen. They need to improve their performance in those areas just to make sure they stay in contention.

Thanks again to Jon Weisman for his excellent insight. To keep up with what’s going on in Los Angeles baseball, be sure to check out his blog Dodgers Thoughts.