We’ll Miss You David

David Wright is returning at the end of this season for, probably, just one game, and maybe not even a full one. The spinal stenosis and related injuries have wrecked his back to the point that it’s a constant companion, and one that has made it so doing the one thing he loves more than anything, playing baseball, is agony.

 

That sucks. On so many levels. David has meant so much to the team, to the fans, to baseball in general. I’ll miss him quite a bit, now that he’s officially not coming back.  He’s been a part of the Mets routine for so long that it’s hard to wrap my head around the idea of him not being out there somewhere, swinging a bat and making great plays at third. He was a Met before I had even had my first real job, long ago.

 

It’s crazy to think about how the game has changed since then. The Mets no longer play at Shea Stadium. There’s Twitter, and Smartphone apps, and hell, smartphones. When Wright debuted, MLB TV was still very new, and Moneyball had just come out the previous year. Fangraphs did not exist. Amed Rosario was eight years old.

 

David Wright was a Hall of Fame caliber player,  and he was ours. I think about him hitting these last few years, with the juiced ball that seems to particularly favor the type of hard-contact, gap-hitting player that David Wright is was, and I lament that we didn’t get to see him putting up what surely would’ve been a few more MVP caliber seasons that would’ve cemented his Hall of Fame case.  We’ve spent David’s career watching him climb over and take every Mets record imaginable, and he’s been stuck so close to taking that Home Run title from Darryl Strawberry for so long that it’s been agony.

 

But mostly, I’m just sad for David Wright. By all accounts a great guy that loves playing this game and now he’ll struggle to even play some token innings at the end of a lost season. This isn’t how it was supposed to go.

 

 

 

 

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Are Yesterday’s Strikeouts Tomorrow’s Home Runs?

photo by CeetarIt’s not about how incompetent the hitting has been for the Mets so far this season, it’s about how competent, and healthy, it will be the rest of the season going forward. Health is a major factor, and a tricky one. It’s the hardest to predict and the biggest problem when it fails.

 

Juan Lagares has been, or had been, playing hurt for a swatch of this season. David Wright has barely played. Travis d’Arnaud missed a ton of time and now is hurt again. Daniel Murphy has missed time. Michael Cuddyer seems like he might be hiding an injury. These things hurt, no matter the depth you do or don’t have.

 

It’s hurt the Mets ability to win. Despite some great pitching, they do not score enough runs on a regular basis to win enough games to be truly competitive. You could point fingers to just about everyone except maybe Lucas Duda, and even he’s had a slump here and there. The ability of the Mets to return and stay healthy is going to be a big key of the second half.

 

Additionally some roster adjustment both on the prospect front and the trade front can go a long way. The Mets could use another bat, particularly one that could play SS or 3B. Admittedly, there aren’t a ton of options in this area. The Mets pretty much have the outfield locked down, at least as much as you’re not going to sit Cuddyer, Granderson, or Lagares enough to make it worthwhile to acquire a fourth regular. Wilmer Flores is driving the ball when he does hit it, but he doesn’t hit it enough to compensate for his poor defense or on base percentage. With Tejada and Murphy and the almost ready Herrera, the Mets can sorta make due at third base until David Wright returns, but it might be wise to acquire a solid upgrade there and worry about where to play him if everyone’s healthy later.

 

Guys like Herrera are interesting too. Can he take the next step forward and be of value in the majors? Can Darrell Ceciliani have a roll as a bench player and frequent outfield sub? What about Matt Reynolds down in the minors? The Mets have some offensive help on the horizon, both immediately and a little further away. Perhaps it’s not quite time to panic and reach out to the greener grass players on the other side of the fence. After all, that grass could be Astroturf.

 

The most difficult question facing Sandy Alderson is the existing roster. While it’s unfair to pinpoint a moment in time, particularly one during a slump, to judge a player on, various Mets hitters have not been great this season to this particular point. Michael Cuddyer is having a rough go of it right now, and Curtis Granderson has been merely an average right fielder. However, the question isn’t “Who’s been disappointing so far?” it’s “Who’s going to help out the rest of the way?” and the answer to the first question isn’t really a prediction of the second. Betting on Daniel Murphy, Curtis Granderson, or Michael Cuddyer over counterparts is probably the safest bet, but it’s not a guarantee either. This is where Alderson needs to juggle the roster of who’s going to help, who can be moved for external help, and which guys are best to play where. Sometimes the smartest move you can make is to trust a guy you already have, but Alderson’s already been criticized for being too complacent. That doesn’t mean trading because you’ve been criticized is the right move either–there are shades of gray everywhere.

 

The Mets are in a difficult spot. Will they ever hit again? Should they explore a trade and at what cost, or should they promote more minor leaguers? Perhaps holding steady and making sure guys come back healthy is the best course. Whatever happens, you can be sure we’re in for a bumpy ride.

 

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Jason Bay Toggles His Awesome Switch

Jason Bay hit the wall in Dodger Stadium hard and made a great catch.  A couple of days later he was done for the season, and when he returned this year it was like someone had switched him off.   He struggled, was dropped in the order, failed to have an extra base hit for weeks, and watched his average plummet.  Then he started to get some more hits, and the occasional home run.  He was drawing more walks.  Then he made another amazing catch and hit the wall in Dodger Stadium.

One of the first things they ask you when you call a tech repair shop for service on your computer is, “Is it switched on?”  No one thought to ask that of Jason Bay this season.   Then Bay hit the wall, and his switch went back on.  Guys back in the clubhouse hung their heads in shame and said to themselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?” and Jason Bay hit two home runs and drove in four runs in a 6-0 rout of the Dodgers.

It was also Jason Bay’s 155th game as a Met, which would probably be more than he would’ve played in his first season as a Met.  Perhaps he’s just safely past his ‘first year in NY’ slump, and back to being a good baseball player.

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Debunking Pessimism

I stumbled across this extremely negative post on the Mets through some Google alerts.  At first I thought it would end up being a Philly blog, but nope. So here’s his five reasons why the Mets will suck post is way off the mark.
 

Spring training games began over the weekend, reminding us all how terrible the Mets will be this year.  Fittingly, Luis Castillo booted a ball at second base yesterday. Way to set the tone for the new season, Luis.

 

Here are my top 5 reasons why the Mets will be terrible this year.

Yes, I’m sure Castillo booting a ball in practice just doomed the Mets all season. Real players never actually make mistakes in Spring Training. Nevermind that Scott Hairston hit two home runs. This is just an excuse to pick on Castillo, who might not even make the team.

5- Ownership: Between borrowing $25 million from Major League Baseball, looking for minority ownership, and facing a multi-million dollar law suit, it will be a distraction all season. If the Wilpons sell the team, maybe it will make them less terrible, but still not good.

I can’t tell you that the Madoff stuff is a positive in any way, but it’s hardly going to be a distraction that causes the Mets to fail.  Wright’s not going to be worrying about the state of the lawsuit while he’s standing out at third base or at the plate.  They won’t even have to talk about it with the press, they’ve all said what they can say and their business is not finance, it’s baseball.  The state of the finances is not going to have much of an effect on the play on the field.  The only real thing it might do is prevent Alderson from adding pieces around the trade deadline, but so far there is no word that it will.  

4- Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez: It’s March 1, and for some reason they are still on the team. Perez got bombed in his first spring training game and Castillo is abysmal. Sadly he could actually win the starting second base position. It is unbelievable the Mets do not have anyone better than Castillo. Please cut your losses. I would rather have Ike Davis play first and second at the same time.

They’re on the team because they can’t lose the Mets games in March.  Whether or not they make the team will solely be based on merit, and it’s not looking good for either of them.  The players that help the Mets win will make the team, and therefore these two players will not be why they suck.  Reyes and Davis do have pretty good range, but I don’t think it’s enough to cover second base too. Plus, the rules don’t allow for only eight players in the lineup.  

3- Carlos Beltran playing right field: How long until he complains about it? I give it a month. Just imagine if he gets off to a bad start on offense. I know what the excuse will be.

#blamebeltran.  This pretty much debunks the whole post right here doesn’t it?  Never mind that he voluntarily moved there or that he’s not a complainer or an excuse maker.  A more valid question is how much regular rest is he going to need, and how well do those knees hold up?  Still, he’s been taking batting practice, and he should be ready to go as a hitter.  This should help prevent a slow start offensively at least.  Carlos Beltran continues to be underappreciated.

2- The NL East: The Phillies are probably the best team in baseball, which is not even fair, but the Braves and Marlins are better than last year too. The Mets are closer to the Nationals.

Just stating it doesn’t make it so. Probably? What if they’re not?  What if someone gets hurt? Their offense no longer looks formidable, Utley hasn’t even played yet and it’s looking more and more likely that Wilson Valdez may be starting for them, and they don’t even know what scrub or under-prepared prospect they’re going to throw out there in right field.  What if they don’t score runs when they pitch these great games, and what if age catches up with them?   The Marlins are not very good.  They’ve got some pitching, but it’s hardly amazing and they’re fielding a AAA offense outside of a couple of guys.  The Mets are capable of being in the thick of things just with their offense and with Pelfrey, Dickey and Niese doing what they did last year.

1- The Pitching Staff:  With Johan out until God knows when, Mike Pelfrey is the ace of the staff. Enough said. The Mets are depending on RA Dickey to repeat what he did last season, which is insane. I can’t even tell you who the 4th and 5th starters are: Chris Young?, Chris Capuano?, Dilon Gee? Oliver Perez??? Who the hell knows. As for the bullpen, talk about a disaster. Hopefully K-Rod won’t get arrested again or injure himself while beating up an old man. I honestly can’t even tell you who else is in the bullpen, so I have no further comments.

Enough said?  Sure, I could agree with that.  Mike Pelfrey was basically the best pitcher in baseball last April.  He had a horrible July, and it’s important that he minimizes that this year, but to dismiss him as crap is silly.  Why is it insane to expect Dickey to be as good as last year?  Did you really watch him all last year, and listen to him talk about pitching, and deduce that it was a fluke? It wasn’t.  He’s learned and adapted, and crafted his knuckleball to be a dangerous weapon.  It’s certainly possible he’s not as good, but the dropoff won’t be that extreme.  The ignorance in the rest of this ‘reason’ is too large to argue with, but I do have faith that some combination of Young and Capuano can give us some quality innings and keep the Mets in the game.  Losing Santana is rough, but given how many of his great games they let turn into losses last year, I’m confident with a little hitting the Mets can win more games that a lesser pitcher starts than they did last year with Santana on the mound.

 

I do have something good for Mets fans to look forward to. On Tuesday night (After the Knicks game) MSG will have a 4 part series on the ’86 Mets. Bar fights, sex, drugs, alcohol and more sex, drugs and alcohol- the good old days. Should be interesting. I guarantee it will be better than anything the Mets do on the field.

I’ll grant a pass on this statement since it was written before hand, but most accounts I’ve seen of the show have been pretty negative.  You can take your ‘guarantee’ and shove it, the Mets are going to be interesting this year.  Optimism is not a sin.

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The Mets Drastically Different Lineup

 

It’s likely the Mets Opening Day lineup will contain seven of nine different names.  Mike Pelfrey will likely be pitching instead of Johan Santana, which definitely hurts, but offensively the team will be starting the season off on a much better foot.  We’ve got Ike Davis at first instead of Mike Jacobs.  Probably Daniel Murphy at second base instead of Luis Castillo.  Jose Reyes instead of Alex Cora. Josh Thole instead of Rod Barajas.  Angel Pagan instead of Jeff Francoeur and Carlos Beltran instead of Gary Matthews Jr.

 

 

Alex Cora                               Jose Reyes
Luis Castillo                           Angel Pagan
David Wright                         Carlos Beltran
Mike Jacobs                          David Wright
Jason Bay                             Ike Davis
Gary Matthews Jr.                Jason Bay
Jeff Francoeur                      Daniel Murphy
Rod Barajas                         Josh Thole
Johan Santana                     Mike Pelfrey

 

Doesn’t that make you feel a little better about 2011?  Jacobs and Matthews didn’t get a ton of time, but the other four guys did.  Add in a non-concussed Jason Bay and that lineup really should compete with anyone.
I know there is some reservations about not making big changes and running out the same lineup in a “hope and pray” scenario that no one gets hurt and guys return to some semblance of career average, but there is a little bit of hope and crossing of fingers for every player.  It’s easy for some, particularly boisterous talk show hosts, to look at the Mets situation and not see how Mets fans would want to come out to watch the same guys play that have failed in years past.  It’s easy to assign blame to the guys that were a part of it all and that are more front and center, easier to pick at Reyes’ animated behavior or one pitch that beat Beltran.

 

The problem hasn’t been that Beltran or Reyes are bad players, but that they haven’t been healthy. Injuries happen.  They’ll happen in 2011 as well.  Alderson doesn’t need to sign big flashy players, but a couple of guys that provide more acceptable backup numbers than what we’ve gotten in past years would go a long way.  Players could get rest when they needed it. The Mets could be more conservative with injuries without feeling the need to have players play hurt, not go on the DL, or be rushed back from injury before they’re ready.

The biggest reasons for the Mets failures the last couple of years are in the first column, not the second.  And the biggest reason they might not succeed in 2011 (Obviously we’re talking offense right now.  The Mets pitched well last year, we’ll see what’s in store in 2011) is if the lineup features 2011’s version of Mike Jacobs a little too regularly.
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The 2008 Holy Grail: The Grand Slam

Grand Slammed to the mat. The problem with the Mets this year is the 4-run home run. They haven’t been successful since they last hit one, which was 2006. Beltran struck out with the bases loaded to end the season and they haven’t made good on an opportunity yet. They’ve certainly given them up this year though, whether to American League pitchers who can barely tell one end of a bat from the other, or to anyone coming up against the bullpen trying to protect a one-run lead. We got rid of Jorge Sosa who was helping put games out of reach by giving up Grand Slams, but what we really needed was for someone to hit one.

This team needs to find that Grand Slam so they can get over this malaise and start winning games again. You’d have thought the Mets bringing up Grand Slam machine, Fernando Tatis, would help them shake off the disaster that was Chan Ho Park and 2007 and get their very own 2008 four run dinger.

It wasn’t a manager or coach change that the Mets needed. It isn’t a Zephyr call up or a mid-season trade. It wasn’t the off-season acquisition of an Ace. No, what this team needs is a grand slam, and when they get that sweet quadruple helping of runs batted in, this team will take off towards the ultimate prize, October and the World Series.

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Subway Series loses some luster, but the Mets gain some

The Subway Series this year was very subdued. I’m still a fan of it, I like how it takes over the city and the general feel of it, but most of the novelty has worn off. It’s certainly no longer a David versus Goliath type match up like it was when it started, or when it reached what I think was it’s peak in 2000. It’s no longer a competition to see who is the better team, but who isn’t the worse team. Both clubs had issues to work out, and the opponent at the moment wasn’t important enough to matter. The fans, excepting when trying to shout down opposing chants and cheers, were almost quiet. I only saw half a dozen fights at the Stadium Sunday night. I’m sure a lot of that atmosphere was due to the game being a blow out, but it was more important that the Mets won, than it was who they beat.

And they did beat them. They played better baseball; hitting, fielding, and pitching. Derek Jeter, who always does well in these competitions, did well with the bat, but was average at best everywhere else. He failed to make the only high-caliber move he has at shortstop, his leaping throw to first, early on Saturday. He also got thrown out trying to stretch a single in that game. On Sunday he couldn’t keep his foot on the bag while fielding a bad throw from Giambi during the Mets first rally.

The Mets, particularly Church, played great defense, hit the cut offs and made great plays. They hit, Reyes hit, Wright hit, and they scored 18 runs. They also pitched well, Santana to Wagner on Saturday and Perez went as far as Santana before giving the ball to Smith and Schoeneweis.

More importantly, whether a result of a team meeting or something else, the Mets played with enthusiasm. They played with energy and heart and they really came alive during these two games. Wright was already on the mound encouraging Perez by the time Matsui’s ball went over the fence, everyone was excited when they got hits and scored runs. Maybe the Mets fans’ unwillingness to boo their own players in the hostile environment of Yankee Stadium helped, and maybe the Mets can go and put together a nice streak of games over the next seven so that when they return to Shea, there isn’t a single person we want to boo….besides Hanley Ramirez of course.

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Just One Game…but a good one

Barely half a day after the horrible loss Tuesday night in Los Angeles and all the things we were complaining about have been put to rest momentarily, but hopefully for good. Situational hitting, getting hits with two outs, with runners in scoring position, tacking on runs, offense in general..all looked good in this Wednesday afternoon game. On the pitching end, the Mets took another big step, finally reaching the 9th inning with a starter. John Maine struggled a little in the 9th and didn’t get to finish, but that’s alright. John Maine has taken steps to show that he’s going to get better this year, and with Santana and Maine, forget Pedro, at the top of this rotation, it gives me a lot of confidence. It’d have been nice for Maine to get the complete game, but Peterson and Willie gave him a lot more rope than I expected, and I think that says that they agree with me about him being improved over last year. Also, the game isn’t about personal stats and 8.1 is plenty from a starter, even bad bullpens should be able to get those last two outs. The bullpen will pitch .2 innings over two days, getting some much needed rest, hopefully charging them for a strong homestand.

However, it’s just one game, and we’ve seen these flashes in other games, and other stretches. The Mets need to isolate whatever is causing the difference between these last two games, whether that be the approach at the plate, the lineup, the manager, or just plain bad luck, and figure out how to make Wednesday stick. The plane ride home just got a little bit lighter, and hopefully the off day will give them time to figure out what went right on Wednesday afternoon.

A quick note on the leadership that so many people think is absent from the Mets and their clubhouse. It’s becoming _very_ obvious to me that Reyes and Wright have taken an active role, if not a public role, in leading this team. They were the first two, as is often the case, out to the mound to congratulate Maine. When a key error gave them the final game against the Diamondbacks, Reyes and Wright, nowhere near getting up in the inning, were the first two out of the dugout to give Beltran a high five with the go-ahead run. There is so much going on in terms of team chemistry that we just don’t see, or only see through the media’s eyes, who are so obviously just searching for anything to write about. The team is under performing, so they look negative.

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Eyes on the Prize

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. So at this rate, the Mets should be superb by October. Going into last weekend you figured the Mets had only a week left of baseball, and then a week of coasting. It looks like they decided to do it the other way, taking off for a week, hopefully followed by a week of good solid baseball. They went from being probably the first or second team to clinch, to a team letting the competition have a shot at the prize.

If the Mets play doesn’t give you faith in a postseason berth, and why should it, you have but to look south, at Philadelphia. This team is truly abysmal. They can outhit just about anyone, but when it comes to the playoffs and October, hitting just doesn’t get it done; You need to be able to pitch. The inability for the Phillies, and the Braves, to play truly competitive baseball for any length of time has been a double-edged sword. Sure it makes winning the division a little easier, but It bestows an air of confidence on the Mets that they haven’t deserved. It’s about time for the Mets to grab the prize that’s been sitting their all season long for the taking, before they knock it into the Phillies lap.

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