Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Don't Sweat the Sweep

Losing to the Yankees hurts.  No matter how much we downplay the Subway Series as an event gone stale, the minutes, hours, and even days after a Mets loss to our cross-town rivals are never fun.  Especially when it happens three times in one weekend.

But while most sweeps of the Mets bring on a sense of impending doom, particularly ones that come at the hands of the Yankees, this one didn't feel quite so bad. 

For one, these Mets are ridiculously over-matched by the Yankees roster.  A comparative look at the lineups for each game was almost comical; the Yankees started a current or former all-star at almost every position, while the Mets put out a number of guys that all but die-hard fans need to Google.  Nothing symbolizes this mismatch more than the words "Derek Jeter vs. Omar Quintanilla".

To make matters worse, Yankee stadium is tailor-made (literally) for the home team, and just about the  exact opposite for the Mets.  The joke of a right field porch is perfect for a Yankee team that lives and dies by home runs, Russel Martin's back breaking Yankee Stadium special in game 3 being the prime example.  For a Mets squad that that often needs three consecutive singles to produce a single run, even a little-league-sized outfield is of little use.  

Yet despite these personnel and stadium discrepancies, the Mets still could have won two of the three games.  A pitch thrown in a different spot here, a routine defensive play made there, and things could have been very different this weekend.  Yes, poor defense and even worse relief pitching are less excuses than signs of a very imperfect team, but the Mets once again showed off their solid starting pitching and ability to mount comebacks.

And that bounce-back ability is another reason why this sweep was not the end of the Mets world.  The Mets have responded well to adversity several times this season, and did so again by thrashing the tough Rays tonight.  Once NL-only play resumes, against teams who's number nine hitters are most unlikely to hit two homeruns, the Mets should be back in their element. 

Things will be different next weekend at Citi Field, where Russel Martin will look more like Rey Ordonez (or Jason Bay) than Babe Ruth.  The mighty Yankees might still win that series, and will likely be ahead of the Mets come season's end, but that won't matter much.

After all, we won't have to play them again until October.  


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Night at the No-Hitter

On Friday night, at around 6pm, I decided to buy a ticket to the Mets game.  It was a nice night, tickets were cheap, Santana was pitching, and my coworker, a Cardinals fan, was already going.  It was the best last minute decision I've ever made.

Every Mets game in history has provided the same fleeting moment of disappointment; the moment when that first bunt, bloop, or line drive by the opposing team falls in for a hit and we realize that history will not be made.    Amazingly, on this night, that moment never came.    

The first few innings went by with zeroes across the board, but it still felt like any other Mets game.  By the end of the 5th, with the game now official, I was secretly hoping a downpour would come and cause a rain shortened no-hitter (I later found out shortened no-hitters do not count).

The rain, fortunately, never came, but the baseball miracles did.  After Beltran's phantom foul ball and subsequent ground out in the 6th, there was a collective sigh of relief.  When Mike Baxter somehow tracked down Yadier Molina's long line drive, sacrificing his shoulder in the process, Citi Field was as loud as I've ever heard it.  The unthinkable was still possible.

When the top of the 8th rolled around, you could sense the term "no-hitter" was on mind of every fan in the stadium.  Of course, out of pure fear, no Mets fan would dare speak those words.  But that didn't stop every Cardinals fan in my section from trying to jinx it ("Did you know Santana is throwing a no-hitter?").  Still, inning over, zero hits.

The bottom of the 8th was just plain strange.  For the first time ever I was hoping the Mets would get out quickly.  Nobody in the stands seemed to really be paying attention.  When Santana came up to bat he received a less-than-overwhelming applause.  Only the ninth inning mattered to anyone.

Every moment of that final inning was full of nervous energy.  I was probably not alone in thinking, almost expecting, that the Cards would get a hit in the 9th.  The first batter hit a liner to center that looked like a hit off the bat.  The second batter hit a bloop that looked like it might fall on the infield grass.  The third batter went ahead 3-0, with Met-killer Molina waiting on deck to break the hearts of Mets fans yet again.

But three strikes later, the Citi Field crowd erupted like it was Game 7 of the World Series.  After what Mets fans have been through, it may as well have been.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You can't win 'em all

The dream of an undefeated season is over.  Reality has set in, with David Wright already falling victim to the little known but mandatory MLB rule stating that a Mets star must get injured at least once a year.

But instead of dwelling on injuries and the Mets first loss, let's take a look at the positives of this early season for the first place New York Mets.

Ike Davis, Jason Bay and Lucas Duda are a combined 6 for 51.  Why is that a positive, you ask?  Well, the Mets are 4-1 with their 4 5 6 hitters combining for a .118 average.  That is bound to change, and when it does the Mets lineup will be a force.  Ike will eventually get a hit, Duda will hit plenty more bombs, and Bay will...umm, let's just move on.

The rest of the lineup is hitting.  Most of us expected Wright to bounce back and Murphy to pick up where he left off.  But the no-names that make up the rest of the starting nine have been a pleasant surprise.  Rubensanity is taking off, with Tejada helping us forget He Who Shall Not Be Named.  Josh Thole is channeling his inner Mike Piazza.  And if Kirk Nieuwenhuis keeps this up we'll finally have to learn how to pronounce and spell his last name.

The rotation isn't half bad.  We couldn't have asked for much more after one full turn through the rotation.  Johan Santana not only pitched great in his return, but his arm didn't fall off in, or after, the process.  R.A. Dickey was his usual quality start-ing self, and Jon Niese's new nose propelled him to six hitless innings.  Even Mike Pelfrey pitched well enough to keep the Mets in the game, keeping his hands dry in the process.  If Gee can bounce back and become a reliable 5th starter, this staff will be just fine.

So THIS is what a bullpen is supposed to do.  Ramirez, Rauch and Francisco have been virtually perfect, a welcome sign following a year of 24 blown saves.  We can finally watch the final innings without a bottle of Xanax at our side.

We're still in first place.  The Phillies are 1-3, the Braves are 1-4, and the Marlins are 2-3.  Oh yeah, and the Yankees are 2-3 too.  Savor this moment.

Yes, it's very early, but at least for now it's good to be a Mets fan.  And that's something we haven't been able to say in a long time.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Taste of Kool-Aid to Start 2012

Even though we are no longer what we once were, we couldn't let the season start today without giving everyone a little taste of Kool-Aid.  Last year, expectations were low but hopes were high.  Today, the only thing lower than the expectations and hopes are the new fences at Citi Field.  With an off-season spotted with more talk of financial crisis than free agent acquisitions, it's hard to get excited.  When that happens though, you can rely on us to let you know why you can't pay attention to any other preseason predictions and can get your good news Mets news here. 

Starting Pitching
What do a two-time Cy Young award winner, a climber of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a man with a nose job, a compulsive hand-licker and Dillon Gee have in common?  They are all part of what should be a much better than expected Mets starting rotation.

It all starts with the Johan Santana, the ace, who finally returns after missing two years of action.  Not many teams can suddenly add a future hall-of-famer to the top of the rotation, but that’s exactly what the Mets will do this year.  And in the miracle of all miracles, Santana is the only player in history to be healthy before even the Mets medical staff thought he would be.  Prediction: 17-8, 3.10 ERA.

Next up is R.A. Dickey, the ageless wonder.  Scaling an enormous mountain and publishing a memoir aren’t typical offseason strategies, but Dickey is not your typical baseball player.  The knuckle-baller is as reliable as they come, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to baffle hitters once again this year. Prediction: 12-9, 3.25 ERA.

Jonathan Niese is maybe the most exciting guy in this rotation.  He showed glimpses of stardom in his first two years, and at just 25 years old seems poised for a breakout season.  Plus, players always put up career years after getting a nose-job, right?  Prediction: 16-7, 3.48 ERA.

Mike Pelfrey used to be in Niese’s current shoes as an up-and-comer, before inconsistency and a propensity for hand licking set in.  But people forget that he won 15 games just two years ago.  Expect a bounce back year from Big Pelf, especially since he no longer has the pressure of being the ace.  That’s good news for Pelfrey, his psychiatrist, and germaphobic Mets fans.  Prediction: 13-11, 4.00 ERA.     

Rounding out the rotation is Dillon Gee, who came out of nowhere last season to win 13 games.  Despite having horrendous facial hair, Gee should be even better with a full season under his belt.  Not many teams get 13 wins out of their fifth starter, but that’s what he can provide this year.  They’ll be playing “Aint Nothin But a G Thing” every fifth day at Citi Field.  Prediction: 13-10, 4.15 ERA.

The cash-strapped Mets couldn’t afford to add much to their roster this offseason, but Sandy Alderson took advantage of the bargain bin to revamp the bullpen.  No lead was safe with last years pen, which blew 24 saves and was the biggest weakness of a team with many.  This year’s version,particularly in the back end, should prove to be a strength.  Newcomer Ramon Ramirez is one of the game’sbest middle relievers, posting ERAs under 3.00 in each of the last three seasons.  John Rauch, despite struggling last season, has had an excellent career that even includes closing experience.  Most importantly, Alderson brought in a legitimate closer, Frank Francisco, to pitch ninth innings.  For now, the days of Bobby Parnell trying to close games are gone.  And that’s a good thing for everyone. 

Last season, the Mets infield looked like it was going to be one of the best in years.  David Wright was ready to finally get over his fears of Matt Cain fastballs to the head, Ike Davis jumped into his first full season with an allstar level offensive display, Daniel Murphy was taking over yet another defensive position but was stablizing the team with a high average, and Jose Reyes was in a contract year which inevitably meant he'd finally stay healthy and play to the potential fans have always hoped for and loved watching.  All of that came tumbling down over the course of just a couple plays as David Wright, Ike Davis, and Daniel Murphy managed to get hurt and spend significant time out of the lineup with Davis not coming back.  As any Mets fan should, we're here to know that this year is going to be different.

David Wright is the defacto captain of this team and the player who should be the team's superstar.  Bad luck, deep outfield walls, and injuries have kept him from looking like that for a couple years now as fans impatience has grown.  This is the year to put up or shut up as Wright is one of the top players on people's minds to be elsewhere before the trade deadline this year.  Years ago all we could look forward to was the Wright and Reyes show and we know there is no future for that anymore - unless that show takes its talents to South Beach.  Regardless, you know Wright wants to be here, you know he has the talent, you know he's not hurt (hopefully), you know he's got a shorter fence at home now to display his superstar power.  So if you know all that, how can you not think we finally see the David Wright we grew to love from 2005-2008?  With some tricky end of contract clauses and options, there's a strong chance that he's not going anywhere, so great ready for the Wright and Ruben show!  Prediction: .305, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 20 SB

Ike Davis is my favorite player today, but as a Jewish kid whose childhood dream it was to become a Mets superstar one day, how could he not be.  Needless to say last year started like a dream and quickly ended like a nightmare.  Through his first 36 games Ike managed to go from sophomore question mark to middle of the lineup mainstay by mashing 7 homers, knocking in 25 and having an average over .300.  Then, a miscommunication with David Wright on a routine infield popup ended Davis' season though we wouldn't know that until the season was over as the Mets medical staff managed fan expectations as they usually do, 14 days at a time.  The boot was on, the boot was off, the boot was on again, and now it's off, Ike's healthy (if you don't count rare potentially career ending sicknesses), and ready to realize my dreams that ended around the time of my Bar Mitzvah.  With Pujols and Prince Fielder heading to the AL, there is a big open spot at first for the NL this year in the midseason classic.  I'd love to see Ike there, but would completely accept my Prediction: .285, 35 HR, 98 RBI

Daniel Murphy is back.  I want to like him.  The guy can hit, there's no question about it.  In all of the time he's been able to be on the field, the guy has shown expecting an average over .300 is not out of the question.  For that matter, neither is a fielding percentage under .300.  What fans don't realize here is that this year is different.  We've seen Danny come into seasons going to the outfield, going to first base, potentially being a platoon player, but here he is, your starting second baseman, Daniel Murphy.  Lets hope another year of offseason work at second will lead to stabillity for him and the team defensively and that he can put together another offensive season just like 2011 where he hit .320. Prediction: .308, 12 HR, 75 RBI

Jose Reyes is back ready to terrorize opposing pitchers and catchers for another year in 2012, unfortunately, it's in a Marlins uniform.  That's right, the Mets are following up a season with their first ever batting champion by allowing him to walk and take the money he was offered to play in a new stadium for a newly revamped team in Miami.  Who cares they are in our division?  Who cares we didn't make any discernable offer.  What Mets fans need to concentrate on is what happens when a giant hole forms at an important position on New York sports teams lately - someone comes out of nowhere to play like a superstar and flood the sports talk radio air waves for weeks to come.  Linsanity at the Garden transfers nicely to Rubensanity at Citi Field for 2012.  Ruben Tejada will step in to try to fill the void left by Reyes and what we can hope for is a good firey replacement.  What we can expect is great defense, solid hitting for a #8 hitter, and most importantly some stability at a position where he's gotten to play a lot the last few years since Reyes was always injured.  At least we know he's not going to sit himself down after 1 at bat this season to try and preserve a perfect batting average (no, I'm not bitter).  Prediction: ..265, 2 HR, 55 RBI

The Mets boast a brand new outfield this year, one that should lead to more homeruns and scoring by the home team.  And I’m not even talking about the players yet.  The Mets brain trust, realizing that410 foot fly ball outs are the most frustrating thing ever, finally decided to move in and lower theCiti Field outfield fences. 

The men who will be roaming these new dimensions should benefit greatly from the change.  We’llstart with Jason Bay, who has joined the likes of Robbie Alomar, Carlos Baerga and Mo Vaughn as guys who seemingly lost all of their considerable talent simply by putting on a blue and orange uniform. But don’t let a horrible spring training and rumors of his benching fool you; this will be the year that Bay finally resembles the player he was in Boston.  The new walls will help Bay immensely,leading to an uptick in homers pulled to left field.  And if you don’t believe me, just ask Bay himself: "The last two or three days, I feel really, really good…once[today] starts nobody cares what you did in spring training."  Or the last two years.  Prediction: .265, 22 HR, 80 RBI.

Lucas Duda should also relish the new outfield configuration.  The monstrous rightfielder was one of the few Mets who could reach the stands last year, so just imagine what he will be able to do now.  Duda put together a solid rookie season, both hitting for average and showing glimpses of his immense power, so he should only continue to get better.  And on the defensive end he will no longer have to deal with that ridiculous MoZone in right field.  Prediction: .283, 21 HR, 82 RBI.

The one newcomer to the outfield is Andres Torres, who will take over for Angel Pagan in centerfield. Just two years ago Torres was a stud, hitting 16 home runs and stealing26 bases, so there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again in Flushing.  And to be honest, as long as Torres doesn’t fall asleep in centerfield and can run the bases at an above-little-league level, he will be an upgrade over Pagan.  Plus, Ican’t even remember the guy who batted leadoff for the Mets the past few years,so it’s not like Torres will be under much pressure to perform in that role.  Prediction: .270, 11 HR, 25 SB. 

The Mets are trying to stay competitive while letting Sandy Alderson put together the future of this team.  What that means in a market like New York is this is the equivalent of a rebuilding year.  3 of our biggest stars were shipped out in one way or another from K-Rod, to Reyes, to Beltran.  With that in mind, we need to know what we're waiting for here.  Anytime the Mets have had success in the past, it's been because of home grown talent.  Guys like Doc Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, Sid Fernandez, Edgardo Alfonso, and even Wright and Reyes all came up from within.  This is even more true for success for the Mets when this comes from their pitching.  No more are the talks of the teenage hitting machine as Fernando Martinez is gone.  That said, there are 2 potential aces ready to come up within the next couple years Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler are the future of this team.  Wheeler is really exciting as the Mets front office seemingly were able to put together a nice mid-season move sending a finally productive Carlos Beltran to San Fran where he eventually got injured and fizzled just like the Mets 2011 season, but not their future.  Others like Familia, Flores, Nimmo, Havens, and a few others are starting have us feeling like the future could be bright.  No more are the days of gutting the farm for the big arm or bat.  Sandy Alderson has ushered in a new era of building cheap from within and in my opinion that's the most fun way to win.  We're only a year away!!!

So get those blue and orange hats on (they match the outfield fences now!!!), it's Opening Day! Johan Santana is starting, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are injured, the fences are in, Mike Pelfrey is our 4th starter, everyone is healthy, financial issues are in the past, and we're 0-0...that's right, undefeated.  So get excited, at least for today, turn on SNY, get out to Citi Field, and as always, DRINK IT UP!

Have a great season everyone!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jose it Ain't So

Jose Reyes is now a Miami Marlin.

Nobody should be shocked to read those words.  Heck, more beloved players than him have bolted their adopted hometowns for South Beach (see James, Lebron).  And $106 million would entice the majority of us to relocate.

But that doesn't make it any less painful.

Like many Mets fans, Reyes was my favorite player.  He was like Rey Ordonez, my teenage self's favorite Met and the shortstop Jose replaced, except Reyes could actually hit and run in addition to flashing a great glove.  I'm not a jersey wearer, but I still have the faded Reyes t-shirt that I bought seven years ago.  He was, by far, the most exciting Mets player I've ever seen.

Reyes was always a source of debate for Mets fans.  He never walked as much as we wanted, never played as smartly as we wanted him to, and never stayed healthy enough for our liking.  To some Mets fans he was a great player, to others he was a disappointment.  At times he looked like a superstar, while at others he looked clueless.  To this day we are split on whether or not he is worth a boatload of money and a long-term contract.      

Yet despite these contradictions, Reyes has been almost unanimously considered the most exciting player in baseball since he slid into third base for his first triple.  He single-handedly won countless games for the Mets in ways that no other player could, whether it was with a walk-off balk or a diving stop in the hole at shortstop.  Watching Reyes hit a ball in the gap and dash around the bases was worth the price of admission (at least upper deck admission) even during the dark days of the past few seasons.

Reyes is the type of player that, because of a few faults and a long injury history, will never be fully appreciated until he is gone.  Well now he is gone and will be appreciated, especially when we see him play against the Mets.  And that is one of the worst parts of this whole thing: although Jose is going 1,200 miles south, he really won't be very far away at all.  He will be facing the Mets 19 times a year for the next six years, and will be announced as the opposing lead-off hitter at Citi Field in nine or ten games in each of those years.  

And in each of those games, the famed "Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose" chant will probably be replaced with "boos".  What a shame.    

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why the 2011 World Series will haunt Mets fans

Just when I thought I could take a mental vacation from the Mets for a bit, at least until Jose Reyes officially hits the market, I turned on the World Series.  And I was reminded of the Mets immediately.

The Cardinals and Rangers rosters are sprinkled with players who evoke, at best, bitter-sweet emotions, and at worst, bad ones.  On the St. Louis side is Octavio Dotel, the now-veteran reliever who seemingly just days ago was a young flamethrower in Queens.  Dotel saved the Mets in Game 5 before Robin Ventura's walk-off grand slam ever happened, but was bypassed bypassed in favor of the immortal Kenny Rogers in crunch time of Game 6.  We all know how that worked out.  Dotel was then shipped off to Houston for Mike Hampton, who helped the Mets reach the 2000 World Series before ditching New York for the schools (read: money) of Colorado.

Matt Holliday, on the other hand, was never a Met but will forever be linked to the team.  Back in the winter of 2009, the Mets seemed to have their choice of two top free agent sluggers: Holliday and Jason Bay.  The Mets chose Bay over Holliday, words that should eventually go on Omar Minaya's gravestone.  Holliday has been an all-star for the Cardinals, while Bay has been, well, less than that for the Mets. 

Now on to the Rangers.  Nelson Cruz was originally signed by the Mets in 1998, but was traded away while still in the minors.  In a rare case of a player becoming good after leaving the (*sarcasm alert*), Cruz has blossomed into an excellent hitter.  However in this case the Mets can't really be blamed for missing out, as several teams gave up on Cruz before he finally made the major leagues in 2005

Here is where it gets really bitter-sweet: the players that remind us of 2006.  Darren Oliver, now a 41 year old lefty specialist with Texas, was a key part of the Mets 2006 world series champion team.  Or, I should say, the team that should have won the world series but didn't.  Speaking of which, that brings me to ....

Endy Chavez and Yadier Molina.  One (Chavez, now on Texas) should have been the hero of the 2006 NLCS, the other (Molina, still on St. Louis) a distant memory.  Instead, the roles were reversed.  Molina will forever be known for hitting the series clinching home run, while Chavez' seemingly game saving, miraculous catch is now only mentioned with the caveat of "but the Mets lost".

I guess it's really more bitter than sweet.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mets Fans are Winners this October

  The last few weeks of the baseball season have read like a fantasy checklist for Mets fans:
  1. Colossal late-season collapse by a rival (Braves) - Check
  2. Colossal late-season collapse by another team in a major media market (Red Sox) - Check
  3. Yankees eliminated - Check
  4. Phillies eliminated - Check
  5. October baseball in Flushing - Sorry, now I'm just getting greedy
Aside from a Mets championship parade down Broadway, I can not think of a better sequence of events that could have unfolded.  Is it a bit sad to find pleasure in the choking of other teams, especially when my own team was nowhere near a position to choke?  Yes.  Does that doesn't make it any less great?  No.  

When the regular season was winding down, things looked pretty bleak.  Not only were the Mets irrelevant, but our most hated rivals (aka the Yankees, Phillies and Braves) were all on the fast-track to October.  Throw in the Red Sox, who I have grown to hate due to spending my college years with an abundance of insufferable Boston fans and that fact that Boston teams now win everything, and there seemed to be a 50% chance that a team I strongly dislike was going to win the World Series.  I was already debating who I would begrudgingly root for in another Yankees-Phillies fall classic.  

Two collapses, several A-Rod strikeouts and one crazy squirrel later, and that chance has improbably dropped to 0%.  The Braves and Red Sox, the ladder of which was picked by most to win the World Series back in April, both managed to bump the 2007 Mets from the title of "worst collapse in baseball history".  The Yankees and Phillies, seemingly on a collision course once the playoffs began, each played only five more games before wilting under the pressure of their understandably mammoth expectations.  Oh, and thanks to the Red Sox and KFC-gate, the Mets aren't even the biggest off-the-field punchline in baseball anymore.      

The end result is that I can finally watch playoff baseball stress-free.  No more trash talk and gloating from Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox fans (and those twelve or so Braves fans out there).  And no more worrying that one of the teams I hate most will win it all.  They are all now exactly where the Mets are: on the golf course. 

No matter who takes home the trophy this October, Mets fans will be winners too.