The Bridge Between Hope and Elimination

There are often two extremes to any situation.  One side will tell you the Mets playoff hopes are over, while the other might say they live on until the Mets are mathematically eliminated or at least further than 7 out with 17 to play.   Right now we’re bridging the gap between the two in a murky cloud where the Mets try to grasp at the last tendrils of hope before they flutter away.


53 games to play is a lot of games left in front of the Mets on the season.  With that many games left the Mets are still chasing a number of wins more than a Wild Card leading team.  After all, the team that’s leading today might not be the team that wins, meaning you’re not quite as far behind as it looks.  It wouldn’t even take a collapse to drop the number needed to qualify for the postseason to 88 wins, just a less than awesome second half by a couple of teams.  Currently the team occupying the low end of the playoff spectrum in the National League is the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 93 win pace, followed by the Cardinals with an 89 win pace.  There isn’t enough hope to bet on, but perhaps there is just enough to fill a dream.


The Pirates have not had a winning record since 1992, as pretty much everyone is aware of these days.  The Pirates have long been held up as the example of the team you’re supposed to beat on the schedule.  The Pirates have not won a postseason series since 1979, which was before I was born.  Is it impossible that a Pirates team that won less games than the Mets last year falters a little in the second half? Andrew McCutchen may be the best player in baseball this year, but can he sustain this incredible pace all the way to the end and if he doesn’t can the Pirates  compensate for the drop in offense?  Look at the Mets since David Wright stopped batting .350.


It’s worth taking a moment out from my point here to suggest you take the opportunity to watch McCutchen if you have a chance.  He’s having an amazing year.


Even if 88 wins is the mark the Mets need to get to, they’d need to play to a 35-18 record the rest of the way.   That’s quite a record, but it’s not an insurmountable one.  It would require some very good baseball, quality baseball that the Mets have no sustained for that length of time all year, but it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world if it happened.  The schedule works in their favor too, as they’ll be able to affect the wins and losses of some of the teams they’re chasing, including the Braves, Pirates, and Cardinals.


Time however, is not on the Mets side.  If they’re going to make a run it has to be now.  The last remnants of hope lurking in the recesses of the Mets season will be cleaned out and packed away for next year of the Mets don’t start a serious winning streak over the next week or two.   Winning road trips or home stands are no longer enough.  They need to win series and mix in a sweep or two.  Until then, the Mets exist in this murky state where you know they can get back into the hunt but you can’t quite see the path they’d have to take to get there.

Rotation After All-Star Break

All-Star Break coming up after the Cubs series and I think it’s worth a thought about how Terry Collins will line up his rotation coming out of it.   There are a couple of things to consider here, including getting Dickey as many games as possible, the impending division match-ups, and the two pitchers coming off shoulder surgery.


So I’d definitely start R.A. Dickey the first game back against the Braves.  This also ensures he’ll pitch against division-leading Washington in the second series.  I’d then pitch Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee.   Give Johan Santana the extra days off, which amounts to skipping a start, and have him start the series against the Nationals on Tuesday, 11 days after his start tonight.


No one’s asked this question that I’ve seen, and maybe it’s because no one dreamed Santana would throw this many innings, but I’m starting to wonder if the Mets would prefer he didn’t throw 200 of them this year.  He’s on pace for about 196, and this is probably the last opportunity the Mets will have to give him a little break before a pennant race.   Starting with the Nationals series, the Mets will play 20 games without a day off across five cities and three time zones.


Skipping Chris Young the first time through after the break gives him some rest as well, and allows the Mets to have Santana, Dickey and Niese lined up to pitch five of the six July games against the Nationals.

The Mets Record After Traveling

It seemed to me that the Mets were having trouble with games just after a travel day, and Terry Collins mentioned something along these lines about last night’s game, so I looked up their schedule and crunched the numbers.


The Mets are now 5-12 in first games in a new city.  This includes trips back home but doesn’t include traveling north for Opening Day.  They bounce back in the next game to a 9-7 record that more closely approximates their overall record.  They’re 4-8 in first games on the road (including the Yankees away game) which means 1-4 in first games after returning home, and 2-5 in first games of road trips.


Is this statistically meaningful or is it just an oddity?  Is there something the Mets could do with their first game prep that could mitigate some of the travel fatigue?  Maybe something like spending more time perusing scouting reports and defensive positioning and toning down the physical stuff to conserve strength?  I don’t think the value of a good night’s sleep can be overstated.  Being rested and alert for a game in which the slightest delay in reaction time can be the difference between failure and success is not something you can fake.  (Especially without amphetamines)


I’d be curious as to what the record is for teams on the Monday following their appearances on Sunday Night Baseball overall.


The King In The North Of Queens

Confirmed: R.A. Dickey does indeed come to bat to the theme song from the HBO series the Game of Thrones.


What Dickey has been doing on the mound is so amazing it changes the narrative around the team and dominates the story line.   Even the usually wordy R.A. has run out of things to stay to describe the results he’s getting, instead saying he’s going to leave it to us to describe and just continue going out there and doing his work.


The Mets had just gotten swept, again, coming into this series with the Orioles.  This was the farthest thing from your mind watching the game.  There was no downward spiral, no wheels coming off the train, just R.A. Dickey dazzlingly darting knuckleballs around Oriole bats.  Wilson Betemit got a hit in the 5th and ceased our worry about the no-hitter, and Ike Davis got a grand slam in the 6th that ceased our worry about losing the game.  From there on it was pure joy.


The Mets have a legitimate Cy Young candidate as the season nears it’s halfway point.  They probably have the All-Star Game’s starting pitcher.  They have an MVP candidate and a Rookie of the Year candidate.   If they could find someone to compete for Rolaids Relief Man there would be nothing this team couldn’t do.

R.A. Dickey When It’s Not Raining

R.A. Dickey had one really bad start this year. It was against the Atlanta Braves in the rain.   Normally I’d say you can’t throw out bad starts, because they still count.  That’s true; that bad start will always be on his record, will always count in the standings, and will always have cost the Mets a chance to win that day.


In evaluating Dickey’s performance, and in looking forward to when he next takes the mound, it’s a little bit more unfair to factor that game in.  The rain played a huge factor in the outcome and in his ability to command his pitches.  If it’s not raining Dickey isn’t going to pitch like he did in Atlanta.  The biggest cause of his bad game was the rain affecting the break of the pitch, not Dickey himself.


So that said, what does R.A. Dickey’s pitching line look like without that start?


10-0 record in 85.2 IP

1.47 ERA via 14 earned runs.

.875 WHIP.

17BB and 85 K for a 5 K/BB and an 8.93 K/9.



That seems pretty good.




Run Differential and the Mets

A lot has been made about the Mets run differential so far this year, and how it suggests that the Mets should have lost a lot more games than they have.  They’re 32-29, but the Pythagorean formula says that with 262 runs scored and 281 runs allowed they should be 29-32.   They’re at a point where winning a 3-2 game may get them a win, but will hurt their Pythagorean record.


Math does not have a memory.  If the Mets play well enough to win a one run game, then they get a victory which suggests a .6774 winning percentage (110 wins) via Pythagorean.  However if they get blown out 14-5, they get one loss but Pythagorean suggests a .1319 winning percentage (21 wins).  Combined that’s a .2195 winning percentage (36 wins).  Take the Mets record over the last 10 games.  They are 4-6, but their 42:37 runs scored to runs allowed ratio suggests they should be 6-4.


This is all nonsense really, because I’m just cherry-picking games.  The logic to it all is that overall you need to score more runs than you allow to win baseball games.  There is no inherent talent (besides things like using mop-up relievers that make blowouts bigger blowouts) or ability that allows teams to scatter those runs in a way that groups all of the runs allowed into a couple of games and spread the runs scored more evenly so that they win a lot more games than they lose.  That’s simply luck.  A team that scores 3.5 runs a game but allows 4 runs a game should lose more often that it will win.  For the entire season.  Runs do group though through luck and randomness and late inning replacements in out of reach games, and a near even run differential rarely means a team loses or wins mostly close games.


Manny Acosta has given up 29 runs this season.  Last season he gave up only 21 runs all year (although he started in June) to a rate of .4468 runs given up per inning.   If we’d have had that Manny Acosta so far, he’d only have given up nine runs, rounded up.  Acosta is pitching to a 11.86 ERA, which has accounted for a ton of those runs allowed.  This is why run differential is not predictive of how the Mets will do going forward.  The Mets removed a key input, Manny Acosta, from the equation and he won’t be around to give up more runs.  If he does return, it’ll be because he’s pitching better and won’t be giving up runs at the same rate.


Let’s compare the run differential if we’d had the 2011 version of Manny Acosta.  Instead of 262 runs scored and 281 allows the Mets would have scored 262 runs and allowed 261.  Aha! A positive run differential.  As I’m sure you can guess, that comes out to a .502 winning percentage via Pythagorean and 81 wins.  The Mets are only three games above that, which isn’t an unreasonable deviation.


What run differential predictions forget is that teams and managers make changes.  Manny Acosta is only one example of that.  The Mets will make, and have made, other bullpen changes.  They’ll make offense changes to to try to score more runs.  Ike Davis will hopefully learn how to play baseball again, Daniel Murphy is almost a lock to score more runs than he has been.  The Mets current run differential has roughly zero correlation to what we can expect from this team going forward; it only tells us about what they’ve done so far.

Mets Universe Realigned

The Mets lost a heartbreaker to the Cardinals in the 2006 NLCS, but we all assumed that that was a hiccup on the way to bigger and better things.  The Mets came out swinging in 2007; After watching the Cardinals hoist the World Series banner they promptly swept the defending World Series Champions in three games to open the season.   This result only strengthened the argument for the NLCS being a hiccup; clearly the Mets were better.


Well they did end up being much better than the Cardinals, but not better enough.  A lot went wrong after that, even if 2007 and 2008 were pretty decent seasons most of the way through.  Everything felt out of whack, tumbling out of control and into disaster.  The universe was clearly askew.


Five years later the Mets beat the Cardinals in three straight games, starting off with their first no-hitter.  Perhaps the course has been corrected and the Mets are now on the dynasty path we suspected they might’ve been on in early 2007.   Perhaps this is the start of a playoff run that will launch the Mets back to the top of the league.   Perhaps we’re stronger for having struggled through those years to get where we are today.


Or maybe we should just enjoy the ride and stop worrying about how to define the season before it’s over.  Let’s Go Mets!

Believe It: Other Its.

The wave of optimism coming from the Mets fanbase this weekend has been refreshing.  Welcome to the club.  (Guest euphoria welcome) It’s impossible not to be giddy about how this team played this weekend.  Finally, a Mets pitcher has pitched a no-hitter.  Believe it.

Believe It!

What else can you believe?  An MVP? Playoff berth?  The World Series?


Why not?  Many of us would’ve put the odds of those above a no-hitter, and we’ve beaten those odds.  David Wright has to be one of the favorites for the MVP a third of the way through the season.  You could make a case for both Johan Santana AND R.A. Dickey as Cy Young candidates.  According to ESPN’s Cy Young predictor, R.A. Dickey is the early favorite.


The Playoffs?  Well, the Mets are now tied for first place in the division.  They’ve been in “If the season ended today” position to make the playoffs most of the season.  Winning in the playoffs? I’ll take my chances with R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, and David Wright, that’s for sure.


Greg from Faith and Fear in Flushing has this to say on those “We’ve never had XXX” lists:


“And what’s left of a never-got-one nature to ache for anyway? Put aside a World Series championship even if you’ve never seen one before, because the Mets have two of those. They have cycles, triple plays, a 6-for-6 night, 10 consecutive strikeouts, a batting title and now a no-hitter. What is left hanging out there on the vine that can be attained on the field? An MVP has to be voted on, so that’s not it. A perfect game would be something, but that’s like waiting for the clouds to rain candy. Not everybody has one of those, so it’s not as if the Mets are being left out. Ditto for a four-homer performance. We’ll love if it happens, but it’s rare enough to advise against holding breath for.”


What can’t the Mets do this season? Nothing.  There is nothing the Mets can’t achieve.  Believe It.

Does It Get Any Better Than This?

Congrats JohanDon’t answer that. I don’t care.  Because this is awesome.  It’s perfect despite it not being a perfect game.  It’s simply Amazin’.


The first truly great moment, of many to come, at Citi Field.  The first Mets moment in history in a while that instantly became a “Where were you when?” moment.  The last one was probably also Johan Santana‘s.  His amazin’ domination of the Florida Marlins on the second to last game of 2008.


I was at a restaurant for my mother-in-law’s birthday.  A Hibachi steakhouse in Valley Stream, NY.   Much like Johan Santana, this restaurant had recently been damaged and shut-down, only recently reopening.  My wife, among others, joke that I’m addicted to my phone and this bit of positive reinforcement certainly won’t help with that.  I fully intended to detach from baseball for a night.  I’d seen Carlos Beltran‘s first at-bat before we went to dinner, and figured I’d read the recap and watch the highlights later.   I didn’t.  I finished my onion soup and peeked at the score.  After all, Johan Santana was pitching and we’d been there to see his last dominating start as a mere mortal last Saturday.  Game day told me of Duda’s 3-run home run and I smiled.  I did notice that there were no hits.  Of course I noticed. We always noticed.  It was early though, and we’ve seen that before.  My salad came and I started eating, and I drank my beer and ate some edamame.  All the while that nagging feeling in the back of my brain was tingling.  Internet addiction? Mets magic?  I checked the score.  I checked the pitch count.  I got worried.  These checks got more and more frequent, with a brief reprieve while the Mets were coming to bat.  They had a big lead and I was just hoping they wouldn’t prolong the time Santana had to sit and wait to continue.   I fretted briefly over the ‘injury delay’.   As we got to the 7th inning I started seriously checking the pace of dinner.


Would the guy behind the bar flip the tiny screen to the game instead of whatever race they were showing?  Was anyone really watching that? Maybe I would step out to the parking lot and use MLB’s At-Bat app for a live look-in.  Would 3G service be enough for that? Probably not.  The audio feed would probably be the way to go.  We’d finished ice cream and our waiter had disappeared.  Where was he? Run my credit card already!  Bottom of the 8th.  Someone finally showed up and processed it, and we could leave.  I got to the car in time for the 9th.  Instantly I was transported into the game.  It’s amazing how these events manage to do that.  I’d mentally pushed baseball down on my list of important things for the night, but it wasn’t having any of that.  Tonight was about Mets baseball.  I turned on the radio and Howie’s voice instantly filled me with all the jitters and emotions that we all know so well.  He called the game while I drove, which I don’t recommend in such situations..not that there will ever be a situation quite like that, and he called each ball in play with the urgency it demanded but also with a hint of terror that it was going to fall in.  Your brains, like mine, like Howie’s, probably ran through each of the billion ways it could’ve gone wrong.  It didn’t.  It so didn’t.


I parked, and everyone else went in.  I listened to the recap and interviews, grateful that they didn’t go to commercial and say “Back to talk about it in a moment”.  It was a great night.  It was a Mets night.  Baseball took over, and it was glorious.


Congratulations to Johan Santana, and Happy National Donut Day everyone!

Upcoming Mets Schedule Is Not A Big Deal

Supposedly the Mets have a difficult schedule coming up.  To think this is some make or break period though is a little silly.  All games count, but there is still so much time left after these games that they don’t quite mean that much in the grand course of the schedule, unless they did something crazy like win 25, or 75, percent of them.  I suspect what people are really saying when they tell you about the difficult schedule is that if the Mets can get through another stretch of games and stay in the playoff picture, they’ll start believing.


I say you believe now.  It’s more fun.  Still, let’s take a look at this so-called difficult schedule. (The New York Football Giants laugh at your strength of schedule arguments btw)  Carlos Beltran and the St. Louis Cardinal are next.  They’re pretty good, although one game worse than the Mets so far.  Nationals up after that, who are leading the division right now but merely 1.5 games up.  This is the biggest series of the bunch, for obvious reason.


Then it’s interleague play, which always matters less because the opposing team is not competing for the same playoff spot.  The Yankees are currently 1.5 games worse than the Mets and the Rays are only one better. The Reds have one less loss than the Mets and the Mets have already split two with them, and the Orioles are a team picked to finish last like the Mets. (that should be a fun one if they’re both in first)


Not to say this isn’t a tough stretch, but these teams are not teams that are playing better than the Mets, they’re teams playing much like the Mets. Equal competition, not better, unless you’re a non-believer.  The only teams truly dominating right now are the Rangers in the AL West, and the Dodgers who the Mets will play at the end of June.


The Mets have actually played well against good teams.  In fact they lead the league with 18 wins against teams above .500.  Their worst showing of the year was against the hapless Houston Astros.  Clearly the Mets have proved they can pretty much play with anyone.  Anything could happen going forward but to expect the Mets to falter based on opponent is to have not been paying attention to the first 50 games.


50 seems like a fairly substantial sample size and the Mets have the third most wins in the National League.  They have two top flight pitchers at the top of their rotation, one of the best players in baseball at third base, and an offense that seemingly manages to have good at-bat after good at-bat, even when dealing with slumping players and injuries.  The bullpen is streaky, but Bobby Parnell and Ramon Ramirez are pretty good, and Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco get the job done more often that not.  That’s more than you can say about most bullpens.  They’ve been in the money for a playoff berth for most of season and there is no reason to think that’s going to change in the immediate future.