Sports Beat “Did Sandy’s impatience hurt Santana?”

Granted, no one should have expected onetime Mets ace Johan Santana to be a difference-maker in 2013. The general consensus from baseball prognosticators is that the Mets would finish in fourth place in the National League East with or without him.

In most years, the Mets would be picked to finish in the cellar with the kind of team that they have but the Miami Marlins have earned that dubious distinction from most of the baseball media because their owner, Jeff Loria, decided to gut their roster in order to save a ton of payroll. It should be pointed out that Loria has done this kind of thing before and the Marlins always seem to surprise when they put on the field a lineup of unknowns so Mets fans can’t rest that easy.

 Now we’ll never know what caused Johan Santana’s left shoulder to tear again requiring surgery as it did in 2011. It is obvious that the 135 pitches that he threw against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 1 in the first-ever Mets’ no-hitter greatly accelerated the depreciation, to use an accounting term, on it since Johan was hit hard by opposing teams from that point on last year before being put on the disabled list in August.

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told the press then that he expected Johan to be the team’s 2013 Opening Day starter. I thought that he was being unrealistic at the time.

Early in spring training Alderson went public with his frustration about Johan arriving at the Mets  base at Port St. Lucie, Florida in far less than game-ready shape. Three weeks ago I wrote a column about how Mets executives were being delusional if they were counting on Santana, and that they should trust him to work out at his own pace. To his immense credit, Mets manager Terry Collins stood up for Johan as soon as Alderson made his statement.

Anyone who has ever met Johan Santana knows that he is a hard worker and a man of immense pride. Even with his Powerball-like contract, he never just goes through the motions. It wouldn’t surprise me if Johan may have done too much throwing too soon just to prove Sandy Alderson wrong.

Santana’s absence from the Mets goes beyond mere wins and losses. He is a proven leader in the clubhouse on a team where that is a rare commodity. I have always been impressed by how he makes himself available for interviews for not just the big fish in the sports media pond but those from smaller outlets as well. He will be missed.

*****

Charlotte Bobcats head coach Mike Dunlap was the St. John’s Red Storm interim head coach last year when Steve Lavin was recuperating from prostate cancer. Last Friday night I had a chance to chat with him before the Bobcats game with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

He was well aware of how the Red Storm season fell apart when the team suspended their star point guard, D’Angelo Harrison, in early March. “It shows that they have a system of discipline in place that doesn’t favor good players nor does it concern itself with the calendar. I know that D’Angelo will learn from this experience,” Dunlap said. He added that he expected both Steve Lavin and D’Angelo Harrison to return to the Red Storm next fall.

Last Friday night was Walt “Clyde” Frazier bobblehead doll night at Madison Square Garden. The former Knicks superstar and current team broadcaster on MSG Network has long been known for his outrageous threads. Clyde’s bobblehead had him dressed in a suit that looked as if it came off of a Holstein cow. Frazier obliged the fans at the Garden by wearing the same outfit for his popular “Clyde’s Closet” game segment with MSG reporter Tina Cervasio. To his credit, Walt pointed that his suit was synthetic so that the PETA folks could relax. No bovine were hurt for Frazier’s sartorial splendor!

Could the Islanders have finally turned a corner? Last Thursday night I witnessed the Isles give up two early goals to the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia and then come back to win in an overtime shootout, 4-3, thanks to Josh Bailey’s goal. Star center John Tavares had a goal and an assist. “It is gratifying to be able to win in a building we’re we’ve had trouble in the past,” said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano. The Flyers have been so awful this year that they are routinely booed by their fans but this was a big game for the Islanders who actually have a shot at making the playoffs for the first time in five years.

I was disappointed to hear that this will be Tim McCarver’s final year of calling baseball games for Fox. Pete Hamill once called Tim McCarver one of the brightest men that he ever met and I wholeheartedly agree. Tim always treats the viewer with intelligence and provides insight into the game that is never cliched.

Since 2000 he has been the host of “The Tim McCarver Show,” a 30-minute interview show where he conducts candid in-depth interviews with athletes and sports media types. The show has aired on an array of cable networks across the country. It’s on MSG here in New York but one never knows what time that it is going to be broadcast. It would be nice if Fox Sports could find a place on its schedule for the show.

R.A. Dickey’s “Wherever I Wind Up” has just been released in paperback (Plume Books). Dickey and co-writer Wayne Coffey have added a new chapter about his 2012 Cy Young Award-winning season with the Mets, although there is nothing about his subsequent trade to the Toronto Blue Jays since the book production deadline preceded it.

MSG Network reporter Jill Martin who is best known for her “Gimme A Minute” interviews with celebrities during halftime at Knicks games, has written her latest book on fashion, “Weekend Makeover” (Rodale Books).

I am beginning to wonder if it was wise for the federal government to bail out General Motors after all after attending the Chevrolet media presentation at the New York International Auto Show that concludes this Sunday. Instead of promoting safe, fuel-efficient cars, Chevy executives were proudly touting the revival of dangerous gas-wasting male mid-life crisis cars as the Corvette Stingray and the Camaro Z-28.

Lacoste, the Paris-based company that made the salmon-colored polo shirt with the alligator logo an iconic fashion statement, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Company founder  Rene Lacoste was a pioneer in tennis fashion literally from head to toe as he created everything from hats to tennis shoes. Andy Roddick was Lacoste’s most famous tennis endorser for years but now that he has retired, the next great American hope, John Isner, will be wearing Lacoste at the US Open in Flushing Meadows this year.

Mayor Bloomberg has taken a lot of ridicule for trying to limit the serving of sugar-based sodas to 16-ounce servings. I believe that the mayor is overstepping his bounds even if his knowledge of nutrition is correct.

The bottom line is that sugar-filled soft drinks are not good for one’s health but thankfully there are a lot of refreshing beverages in the marketplace that are for superior to Coke and Pepsi. Bai 5 makes a line of one gram of sugar fruit drinks that are called anti-oxidant infusions. Harney Teas has a line of bottled organic iced teas and juices that are perfect for the warmer weather which finally appears to be upon us. For those who like juices, upstate New York’s Red Jacket Orchards produces a number of blends of cold-pressed apple juices and ciders while Miami-based Raaw Foods has a line of nine fruit and vegetable juices such as Very Berry Wheatgrass and Strawberry Purple Carrot that have only natural sugars and plenty of vitamins.

Cable’s FX Network has done well appealing to a wide array of audiences with shows as “Justified,” “Archer,” and “The Americans” as well as movies that have just finished their runs on premium cable channels such as HBO, Starz, and Showtime. Last week FX announced that they will be starting a sister network, FXX, that will be aimed at the 18-34 market. FXX will try to revive a long dormant form of television programming, the mini-series.

Posted under Accounting Term, Depreciation, Dubious Distinction, Immense Credit, Immense Pride, Jeff Loria, Johan Santana, Lloyd Carroll, Mets Fans, National League East, New York Mets, Own Pace, Pitches, Port St Lucie Florida, Powerball, Prognosticators, Sandy Alderson, Spring Training, St Louis Cardinals, St Lucie Florida, Top Story

Mets lose Santana for the season and another one to the Rockies

Johan Santana was placed on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation of his lower back and the New York Mets ace is done for the season. That decision was made prior to the Mets latest loss, 5-2 to the last place Colorado Rockies at Citi Field Wednesday night.

And, because Santana had been ineffective in his last six starts this is a major reason why New York is one game away from last place in the National league east. There are other reasons attributed as to why the team continues to sink further with the lack of hitting and a torrid bullpen.

But since that historic no-hitter by Santana on June 1st, first in the Mets 50-year existence, he has not been the same pitcher. The team has not been the same when Santana fell apart as he seemed to inspire the hitting and propel the pitching staff.

“Something is not right and they don’t want it to get worse,” said a dismal Santana to the media when results of the MRI to his back were revealed. There had been speculation he would get the bad news, and shutting him down for the season makes perfect sense.

The Mets are out of contention and would want the left hander healthy and ready for 2013. He is due $31 million next year which includes a buyout for the following season.  The back problem is not related to shoulder surgery, extensive rehab assignments, or a stint on the DL in July due to a sprained right ankle.

And GM Sandy Alderson, along with Santana, said his latest ailment had nothing to do with a career high 134-pitch count when he pitched the no-hitter before the home crowd at Citi Field.

“That’s a long time ago and this just happened a couple days ago,” explained Santana, knocking down any speculation that the high pitch count contributed to his back problem.

He added, “It’s tough to go back and look at that no-hitter and blame it for this.”

Since that no-hitter, Santana is 3-7 with an 8.27 ERA in 10 starts, allowing six runs in his last five starts, 0-5 with a 15.63 ERA. Not numbers that reflect a two-time Cy Young Award winner. Thus the speculation, something was wrong as Santana said he began experiencing tightness a few weeks ago and it progressed during his last start at Washington last week. After he threw a bullpen session Monday, he addressed the issue with team personnel and a decision was made to undergo an MRI.

The 33-year old Santana was scheduled to start the finale of a four-game series against the Rockies Thursday afternoon. He will be replaced on the roster by right hander Collin McHugh. The 25-year old was promoted from Triple- A Buffalo where he went 2-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts.

Surgery will not be required, just rest and medication and that had Santana and Alderson relieved as it is not a disc problem that has caused the inflammation.

“I want to keep pitching,” commented Santana. I felt I could pitch, but at the same time I am listening to them.”

It is not the starting pitching that has caused New York to lose the first three of four games against the Rockies. They got two quality starts Monday and Tuesday night from R.A. Dickey and Chris Young before the bullpen and sloppy fielding gave the games away.

And, Wednesday night it was the same situation as the Rockies won their seventh straight game at Citi Field. Rookie Matt Harvey, with a fastball clocked over 95, struck out nine Rockies in six innings. He gave up three hits.

New York fell to 57-67, lost their fourth straight and ten games below the .500 mark for the first time since finishing that way in the 2009 season. The numbers have not been good since the all-star break, 11-27, worst in baseball, and the team has scored two or fewer runs in five consecutive games something that has not happened since the 2003 season.

“I feel like there’s more that I could’ve done and more I could’ve helped the team with like going eight innings and not giving up a run would’ve been nice,” said Harvey.

But Mets manager Terry Collins realizes Harvey has an entire career ahead, and 102 pitches was more than enough for the flame thrower.

“Extremely impressed tonight with the way he handled himself, pitching out of trouble , electric stuff again,” said Collins. “During an absolute brutal stretch there’s been a bright spot and he’s been one of them.”

Harvey has 43 strikeouts in his first six games which surpassed the club record of Nolan Ryan of 42. So there is something to look forward to for the Mets when it comes to pitching with or without Santana.

To that Collins said, “And we think we got some more coming.”  Time will tell as the 2012 season in other ways becomes more miserable for the Mets and their fans.

e-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol,.com  Listen and watch Rich tonight live at 10:30pm, keep it in the Ring on www.inthemixxradio.com also available on phone apps.

Posted under 31 Million, Ailment, Bullpen, Citi, Colorado Rockies, Contention, Couple Days, High Pitch, Johan Santana, National League East, New York Mets, Perfect Sense, Rich Mancuso, Sandy Alderson, Top Story, Wednesday Night

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on August 23, 2012

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Mets Sweep Gives Team Hope

New York – A prevailing mood in the New York Mets clubhouse is that they can win and have an impact in the National League East. And after completing a three-game sweep Sunday afternoon at Citi Field over the division rival Atlanta Braves, 7-5, there is every reason to put things in another perspective.

Winning ballgames, and more than the experts predicted has put a different perspective on what is expected to be another dismal season in Flushing. This was the first time in a 50 –year history of the club when a Mets team started the season with a three- game sweep over a division rival.

At 3-0, and with the cross- town Yankees off to a 0-3 start, this is something the organization is hoping will regenerate some interest. More so, if the wins can continue in the next three games at home with the Washington Nationals, getting a good start out of the gate is what will convince fans that this may not be dismal as was expected.

“This means everything,” said Manager Terry Collins when asked about the three games against Atlanta that saw his team pitch effectively, use the long ball, and also get the timely hit. “We’ve done a lot of talk in spring training about getting ready to compete. I told those guys in the first meeting ‘you’re professional baseball players and there are expectations in this town and in this clubhouse.’”

Numerous times last season, his first, Collins reiterated about expectation but the message did not carry into wins. A second half finish saw New York finish fourth in the division with 77 wins, and then losing Jose Reyes to free agency, now with the Miami Marlins, made the outlook look more dismal for 2012.

However, Reyes, for the moment has quickly not been a topic at Citi Field. His replacement, 22-year old shortstop Ruben Tejada, had a career day Sunday with a career high four hits with two doubles, driving in two runs.

“We have to keep working hard every day,” commented Tejada. “We play hard and together as a team,” he said.

And that was a prevailing attitude of this Mets team after the season opening series sweep Sunday afternoon. They believe in themselves as a team and despite what the prognosticators say, they have no intention of making this a dismal season.

And if the Mets get good starting pitching, as they did Sunday from Jonathon Niese, Saturday from R.A. Dickey, and in the opener Thursday, five strong innings from Johan Santana, well this could become a special season. But will the pitching stay consistent? Can Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee, who start the first two games with the Nationals Monday and Tuesday, be just as good?

“You can’t ask for better than that,” said Collins about the starts that have put the Mets at 3-0 for the first time since 2007 when they won their first four. “We saw that in spring training even though our starters did not go deep. We like our rotation,” he said also referring to Gee and Pelfrey.

Niese, in particular, who signed a long term contract Saturday, struggled often last year.  At times there were doubts he could be a quality starting pitcher. The return of Santana has inspired the pitching staff, and according to guys in the clubhouse the entire roster.

“They want to compete and do what he does,” said Collins. “He creates a great atmosphere. It spreads.

Niese flirted with a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Freddie Freeman singled to right field with no outs.  He would allow four runs, two earned, seven strikeouts and two walks. He lasted two more batters after the hit by Freeman. Atlanta scored four runs in the seventh. Lucas Duda lost a ball in the sun, and Jason Howard had a two-run double.

“It would have been hard to take me out,” said Niese who had a 93 mile fastball and control that was rare last season. The Mets after 7,911 games still remain one of four teams in baseball that have never had a no-hitter pitched. “We have a staff that likes to compete with each other and that is a good thing,” said Niese.

And this start has also been attributed to a revamped bullpen. Frank Francisco closed his third consecutive game becoming the first player in franchise history to save his first three games. Prior to a Brian McCann home run in the eighth inning it was the first Mets run surrendered by the pen. In three games the pen has allowed  one earned run in 10.0 innings.

“We have to pitch,” said Collins. “We have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a long way to go.  All we want to do is stay competitive.”

They have come out of the gate with this good start. That is what every Mets fan needed to see, and this team believes it will continue. David Wright is hitting with authority and showing signs of his old self. Daniel Murphy picked up a couple of hits and two RBI, including a two-run double in the three-run Mets sixth.

Now they need Ike Davis to get it going as well as Jason Bay, two silent bats in the first three games. But they feel like everyone else in the Mets clubhouse. It will come.

“I’m just a little off right now, I’m not worried,” said Davis. His feeling is the hits will come and go five for his next ten, and there will be no reason for concern. “It’s only three games,” he says about going hitless in his first eleven times at the plate.

Last season that would have been a concern. But for now, with the three- game sweep coming out of the gate, there is not one player in that Mets clubhouse who will think otherwise. Winning and a different perspective of what they are capable of doing is here to stay,

Jose Thole the rookie catcher said in that clubhouse Sunday, “We have a team that can win and we will continue to do it.”  And for the first three games the Mets have certainly proved they can be competitive.

E-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com

Posted under Atlanta Braves, Career Day, Cross Town, Different Perspective, Dismal Season, Division Rival, Game Sweep, Hope New York, Jose Reyes, Mets Clubhouse, Mets Team, National League East, New York Mets, Professional Baseball Players, Rich Mancuso, Shortstop, Spring Training, Team Hope, Three Games, Top Story, Washington Nationals

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on April 9, 2012

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Baseball Reacts To The Death of Bin Laden

PHILADELPHIA – There was the chant from the 45,000 fans, Sunday night at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia. They repeated “U-S-A! U-S-A!, as the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies continued to play a baseball game on a Sunday evening in early May. The game on national television, ESPN, at this point in the season meant more for the Mets who were trying to snap another brief but significant three-game losing streak.

We got word in the press box, through the technology of social media, and the on the press box televisions, that Osama bin Laden had been killed as the Mets were at bat in the top of the ninth inning. Fans checked their phones, and media in the press box went to the CNN and Fox News web sites to verify what was going on.

It was that type of night in Philadelphia, and another memorable one for the Mets as it pertained to the events of September 11, 2001.  “Probably a night I will never forget,” said Mets’ pitcher Chris Young who was back in the training room after pitching seven strong innings.

“I got chills hearing that crowd,” he said, as once again, baseball and the New York Mets were a part of history. “It’s a historic night and a great victory for the United States,” said Young. He wasn’t on the Mets team, neither were any members of the current roster when baseball returned at Shea Stadium 10 days later after the attacks of September 11.

However, as news reverberated around the stadium, and into the ears of the players, coaches, and manager, the events of that night of September 21, 2001 were recalled. Once again baseball was being played but the events taking place were more important.  The Mets and Phillies, rivals in the National league east, just like the Mets and Braves in that game when baseball returned 10 years ago, were no longer rivals.

“This is a good win for us and obviously a huge win for America tonight,” said Mets manager Terry Collins in his post- game press conference with the media. Collins did not immediately talk about the game. The Mets would win in 14-innings, maybe not as dramatic to the Mike Piazza home run at Shea Stadium that beat the Braves that night, when baseball became the healing process for New York City and all of America.

Collins heard the chants. “You almost want to stop the game,” he said. “You almost want to just stop the game and have that girl come and sing another beautiful rendition of ‘God Bless America,’” he said. But the game did not stop. And up in the press box, the media continued to monitor how it all unfolded.

They, too, got caught up in what was now more than reporting about a baseball game. It was news again, historic, as America finally got retribution and took down the most sought after mass murderer of this era. Baseball was still being played but those who lost their lives in New York City, Washington D.C. and in Pennsylvania, the brave military and uniform service personnel, and all who have been a part of this mission, they, were the story this evening.

Baseball was being played as scheduled. The military mission to end this 10-year hunt of searching, capturing, or killing bin Laden on the same night was a coincidence. And the Mets happened to be around this story again, the New York impact where the events of September 11, 2001 were mostly captured.

This was no longer going to be a night when the Mets snapped their latest losing streak and not a story about the Mets avoiding a three-game sweep by the first place Phillies. It was about America, and all the victims, and heroes of that tragic day of September 11, 2001.

And when David Wright of the Mets scored on a double hit by Ronnie Paulino in the top of the 14th inning, for the go- ahead run, there probably weren’t that many still tuned into the game on ESPN. They were watching the network news feeds and determining where do we go from here?  Are the threats against America over?

Probably not we were saying up in the press box. We will still have to be scanned before going into the ballpark, and be conscious of threats to our security. The implications will always be a part of our lives due to that tragic day of 10-years ago.

And for one night again, baseball was a part of the story. Except this time we were not the victims and America stayed strong. Some of us at times wonder why at the ballpark, in particular every seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium, do we stand and sing the words, “God Bless America?”

It won’t be questioned again next week at Yankee Stadium, or this week at Citi Field. Baseball was significant for America 10-years ago and again Sunday night May 1, 2011. We cheered what was going on the playing field and more so for those who help keep us protected.

Most of all, we never forget the victims of September 11, 2011.

Email Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com

 

Posted under Baseball Game, Chills, Citizens Bank Ballpark, Cnn, Fox News, Game Losing Streak, Game Press, Mets Team, National League East, National Television, New York Mets, Ninth Inning, Philadelphia Phillies, Phillies Baseball, Rich Mancuso, September 11 2001, Shea Stadium, Top Story

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on May 2, 2011

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Second Shutout for Mets Starters leads to 1-0 Victory over Phillies

New York – If a doctor were to sit down and write out a prescription for the Mets it would read like this: “A shutout a day will keep the losing streak at bay.”  The New York Mets (58-57) were able to do just that behind a very strong starting performance from knuckleball specialist R. A. Dickey to blank the Philadelphia Phillies (64-51), by the score of 1-0 in Friday night baseball at Citi Field.

The Mets now have had back-to-back complete game shutouts as Santana and Dickey became the first pair of Mets pitchers to post shutouts since Pedro Astacio and Jeff D’Amico went the distance in consecutive two-hitters on May 14-15, 2002 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Notching their major league-leading 18th shutout this evening, the Mets have had their last four victories all come in shutouts.

Dickey (8-5) was just what the doctor ordered for the Mets in throwing a complete-game shutout against the National League East Rival Phillies. The righty was able to baffle the Phillies batters, striking out seven while only giving up one walk and one hit. The lone hit for Philadelphia came from opposing pitcher Cole Hamels, who laced a single to right field. Hamels (7-9) went eight innings for Philadelphia in a fine start, striking out eight Mets hitters. What hurt the lefty were the five hits that he gave up to the Mets with four of them falling in for extra base hits.

In speaking about his starter Mets manager Jerry Manuel had this to say, “Today he (Dickey) was very impressive for us. He is very much a competitor and he knew what he needed to do and he did it.”

After the game Manuel continued to say how he felt that pitching and defense was also a part of that Mets prescription for leading them to victories in the rest of the 2010 season. Well the Mets got plenty of great defensive plays in the game as in the first two innings shortstop Jose Reyes made two very nice diving plays for New York.

“We put an emphasis on pitching and defense, and we think that is our formula to win games,” Manuel said after the game, “Guys have responded very well to that formula so far.”

Mike Hessman also had two very nice defensive plays for the Mets, both coming in the bottom of the second inning taking care of two very hit ground balls and was able to make the outs against two very speedy runners. Hessman also recorded his first major league triple in the bottom of the fifth inning, but not without help of instant replay.

It seemed as if the rookie was able to hit a first pitch changeup into the crowd in left field which fell for what was originally called a home run.  That call was immediately protested by the Phillies players and manager Charlie Manuel as a fan interference play. In doing the right thing the umpiring crew immediately went into the replay booth inside of Citi Field to make the correct call. The umpires came out after a six minute delay to tell the rookie that he was going to get a triple. After the umpires call was made the 35,440 in attendance very upset immediately voicing their displeasure at the reversed call.

“The umpiring crew went to Major League Baseball for the official ruling,” Manuel explained of the overturned call. “They look at all of the different angels and they made that determination.” Hessman was awarded third base because, “When the ball hit the wall, Mike was already past second base and on his way to third; so I thought it was the right call for us.”

New York wasn’t able to cash in on that extra base hit as Hamels worked out of trouble. It would not stay that way for the Philadelphia starter as consecutive doubles in the bottom of the sixth inning by David Wright (29) and Carlos Beltran (6) was all the Mets needed to win the game.

“Having Beltran and Wright get hits tonight for us was a huge boost to our offense,” Manuel said after the game. “If we can get them both going at the same time it will be a positive thing for us offensively.”

Also contributing to the Mets offense was left fielder Angel Pagan who out hustled a very strong throw by shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Pagan continued to show off his speed by stealing second and third base (28). Catcher Henry Blanco was another part of the Mets offense in the bottom of the seventh inning, when scorched a ball down the left-field line for a ground-rule double (5).

The Mets will try to continue to ride this shutout momentum, and keep to the doctor’s prescription in game two against the Phillies on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. Philadelphia will send out their own doctor in Roy “Doc” Halladay (14-8, 2.34 ERA) takes on Pat Misch. The 28-year-old lefty was 11-4 with a 3.23 ERA for Triple-A Buffalo will be called up to make the first start of the 2010 season. Mish had a taste of action with the Mets last season posting a 4.12 ERA in 59 innings.

Posted under Amico, Batters, Cole Hamels, Complete Game, Defensive Plays, Game Shutout, Jose Reyes, Knuckleball, Lefty, Los Angeles Dodgers, Losing Streak, Major League, National League East, New York Mets, Night Baseball, Pedro Astacio, Philadelphia Phillies, Pitchers, Santana, Shortstop, Top Story

This post was written by Stacy Rae Podelski on August 14, 2010

2-9 Trip Leaves Mets on a Road to Nowhere

About two months ago, I wrote about the dichotomy that was the New York Mets as Major League Baseball’s winningest team at home while collecting the major’s fewest road victories.

Since that time, little has changed.

The Mets have remained pretty strong at Citi Field, while cooling off just a bit there, going 11-7 since May 27th, to maintain one of MLB’s better home records at 30-16.

The road however, has continued to be unkind to the Mets, as evidenced by a disastrous west coast trip during which the Mets limped home with just a pair of wins in eleven games.

Since that earlier article, the Mets have improved — but only slightly — away from home, going 14-19, putting them at a still dismal 20-33 on the road, overall.

More importantly, the Mets now find themselves in third place in the National League East, looking up at Philadelphia (2½ games ahead of New York) and Atlanta, which now leads the Mets by 7½ games; and, even fourth-place Florida is breathing down the Mets’ necks, sitting just a half-game back.

While the Mets’ pitching has continued to be as consistent as their good play at home, their offense this month has been as promising as their ability to post road wins. Neither can be relied upon.

Even including a six-game homestand prior to the all-star break, the Mets have won just 4 of their past 17 games, scoring more than three runs just four times (three times not counting a bad call in San Francisco) while getting shut out five times over that stretch.

Most of that damage was out west, where if not for a missed call in the ninth inning of what should have been a Met loss to the Giants, the Mets would have won just a single game during their crucial eleven-game swing that saw the Mets score under three runs in seven games.

Not even the return of Carlos Beltran from the disabled list to start that trip nor Jose Reyes’ “re-return” to the top of the batting order could spark the Mets’ silent bats as they wasted several fine pitching performances. The Mets ended the trip without a run over the past 16 innings in Los Angeles, failing to score after the sixth inning in Saturday’s 3-2, 13-inning loss to the Dodgers before getting blanked 1-0 on Sunday.

It was such a poor road trip that it raises several legitimate questions:

At just a game over .500 (50-49), could the Mets, whose season was fairly solid before the all-star break, but which suddenly appears to be on the brink, be sellers instead of buyers this week, as the July 31st trading deadline fast approaches?

Could and should hitting coach Howard Johnson’s job be in jeopardy? At this point, the former Met slugger who had some nice moments as a player, did after all, hit only .249 over his career, and with the Mets in a deep and prolonged team-wide slump, Johnson has failed to get the Mets’ free-swinging and light-hitting offense to change its approach at the plate, as the strikeouts continue to mount at an alarming rate while being offset by far too few walks.

If the Mets don’t start winning soon, how much long might manager Jerry Manuel stay at the helm of his sinking ship? It’s difficult to blame a manger when players can’t hit. Or, is it? It took Alex Cora -– not Manuel -– to lay into the Mets after a loss in Arizona last week after Cora saw his teammates taking on Manuel’s easy-going persona, literally laughing off another loss as if the losing hasn’t been affecting the team much. Fiery managers win, and guys like Manuel win. So, there’s no right or wrong in terms of style, but it’s become clear that Manuel’s style with this Mets team, isn’t working right now.

If the season doesn’t turn around, will the Wilpons consider moving on from the Omar Minaya regime? After falling short in the 2006 NLCS when they should have probably won the World Series that year, the successive September collapses to blow the NL East each of the next two years, and the injury-plagued and poor season both on the field and from a public relations standpoint last year (right, Adam Rubin?), should Minaya be given yet another reprieve if the Mets aren’t at least playing meaningful games during the file week of the season, let alone if the Mets miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season? Minaya has made plenty of good moves, but he’s also left too many holes in the roster, and the underachieving results –- despite having one of the highest annual payrolls in MLB –- speak for themselves.

And, finally, although there have been several different pieces in the past few years placed around the core that has remained, are that core, along with the accompanying compliments simply a mentally fragile team? We’ve seen the Mets produce over the past five seasons when the pressure hasn’t been great. But, when the pressure’s been on, we’ve seen the Mets play tighter than a drum and thus become their own biggest obstacle to achieving success. Game 7 against St. Louis in the 2006 NLCS, and letting the Phillies catch them twice the next two Septembers. Folding like a house of cards instead of at least trying to fight through their myriad of injuries last year. And, now this year, playing well at the friendly confines of Citi Field, yet playing poorly on the road, to the tune of just two series wins (against two last-place American League teams) in 17 road series.

And, let’s throw in one more while we’re at it… how do the Mets’ medical and training staffs remain employed? With all of the misdiagnosing and mishandling of injuries last year, Beltran and Reyes, among others, again missed significant time this year, and now John Maine is out for the season. The only groups who are wrong more often while still keeping their jobs are weather people and at least this year, several MLB umpires.

After a horrid western trip, the Mets will be happy to get back home, but it won’t get a lot easier, as they’ll host the first-place Cardinals on Tuesday. After Arizona then visits Flushing, it’s back on the road to Atlanta and Philadelphia for a couple of three-game sets.

Unless the Mets can bring their Citi Field game to places like that, they’ll continue to travel on a literal road to nowhere and raise a lot of questions as to where others in the organization might be headed.

Posted under All Star, Bats, Carlos Beltran, Dichotomy, Giants, Jose Reyes, Major League Baseball, Mlb, National League East, New York Mets, Ninth Inning, Philadelphia, Road Victories, San Francisco, Score, Seven Games, Swing, Three Times, Top Story, West Coast Trip, Winningest Team

This post was written by Jon Wagner on July 26, 2010

These Days There’s Joy in Metsville

Bronx, NY – Jeff Francoeur is enjoying this.

Not only are his Mets on fire, but they are embroiled in a race with his former club, the Atlanta Braves.

“I’ve spoke to [Braves catcher Brian] McCann and the guys,” Francoeur said. “But we are just concerned about winning here. As long as we win, the standings will take care of themselves.”

Winning they have been doing. Eight in a row and 12 out of 13, the Mets have made themselves a force in the National League East, doing it the old fashioned way, by pitching and timely hitting.

It’s true the club went through the dregs of the American League last week and may be catching the Yankees at the right time, as the Phillies put them into a slump earlier in the week, but to a man they will take it.

You play the schedule you are given and remember, no one complained when the Yankees were feasting on Indians and Orioles earlier in the year, nor does anyone in the NL East give the Mets a break when they are forced to play the Bombers six times a year.

All of this doesn’t seem to bother this club.

“It looks like we have a real good team here,” said this week’s designated hitter Chris Carter.

With nine rookies on this club ranging from 20 to 35 years old, they may be too young and inexperienced to realize where this team was picked to finish dead last in the east. Too old and too dysfunctional to be considered a contender, with last Thursday being Jerry Manuel’s witching hours, the two year anniversary of Willie Randolph’s ouster and his ascension to the Mets managerial office.

For a while there, it looked like the prophecy will come true. Just a month ago, Jeff Wilpon took an emergency flight to Atlanta in order to rally his minions, with a firing on the horizon. But Manuel turned it around, first by crushing the competition at home and now becoming the Mets road warriors.

It’s still just June 19th and there’s plenty of baseball left to play, but right now everything seems right in Metsville as the team trails the Atlanta Braves by a half a game, with their best pitcher in Mike Pelfrey on the mound later today at Yankee Stadium.

Now the Mets have a chance to keep it going or as Francoeur said, give him a chance to “kick the bleep out of the Braves the next month.

Posted under Atlanta Braves, Brian Mccann, Bronx Ny, Chris Carter, Contender, Designated Hitter, Dregs, Emergency Flight, Jeff Francoeur, Jeff Wilpon, Joe Mcdonald, Last Thursday, Minions, National League East, New York Mets, Nl East, Ouster, Road Warriors, Rookies, Six Times, Top Story, Willie Randolph, Witching Hours

This post was written by Joe McDonald on June 19, 2010

Jekyll & Hyde Mets Need to Overcome Road Block to Reach Playoffs

It took about one and one-third seasons, but the New York Mets have finally built a dominant home field advantage in their new home park.

In fact, the Mets are better at home than any team in the major leagues through the first two months of the season.

After a tough 2-6 road trip that began with the Florida Marlins sweeping a four-game series from New York, the Mets returned to Citi Field, where they had already compiled a very solid 14-8 record.

Would the Amazin’s previous home success wane during a six-game homestand against each of last year’s World Series participants?

Hardly. Despite losing the opening game on Friday night, the Mets rebounded to win the final five games of the homestand in impressive fashion, taking two of three games from the New York Yankees before an historic three-game sweep of the defending two-time National League champion Philadelphia Phillies.

New York creeped back above the .500 mark at 25-23 and moved to within just two games of the first-place Phillies (26-20) in the National League East.

That in itself is significant, but what was especially remarkable against Philadelphia, was the Mets’ pitching, which shut the Phillies out for the entire series, winning 8-0, 5-0, and 3-0 against one of the more talented and dangerous lineups in the major leagues.

It marked the first time since 2004 that a major league team shut out another over a full three-game set (when current Mets’ pitcher Johan Santana helped Minnesota do that against Kansas City); it was also the first time the Mets threw consecutive shutouts since 1988; and, it was the Mets’ first three-game series shutout over an opponent since New York blanked Philadelphia September 26-28, 1969.

While repeating history more than four decades later, the Mets improved to a major-league best 19-9 at Citi Field.

The problem is that while the Mets lead the majors in home victories, they are last in road wins, with a paltry 6-14 road record.

The dominant starting pitching, able relief help, and timely hitting that the Mets have been getting at home has been much more inconsistent away from the friendly confines of Queens.

While the Mets’ home crowds were fairly sparse and relatively subdued earlier in the year, attendance and the fans’ energy both picked up during the most recent homestand.

Mets’ starter Mike Pelfrey, who has surprisingly become the Mets’ ace after improving his season record to 7-1 while lowering his ERA to 2.54 as the winning pitcher to start off and conclude the Mets’ five-game win streak on the homestand, said after Thursday night’s win over the Phillies, that feeding off of the energy of the home crowd has helped the Mets. “We definitely sense [the energy from the fans], and we feel them.”

Shortstop and offensive catalyst at the top of the Mets’ lineup, Jose Reyes, who went 12-for-23 while scoring five runs and driving in three during the five-game win streak, agreed that the Mets seemed to get up for beating the their hometown and divisional rivals in front of their home crowd.

But, when asked by reporters why the Mets have failed to carry over the same level of play away from home, both Pelfrey and Reyes were left puzzled and without answers. They were simply hopeful that New York could continue to play as well in other parks as they have at Citi Field this season.

The Mets don’t actually need to play nearly that well on the road, but they certainly can’t be the polar opposites they’ve been at home versus on the road so far this season.

While it seems that the Mets’ pitchers have finally learned to use the spacious Citi Field to their advantage, they’ll need to perform much better in smaller parks on the road. And, if it’s the home crowd of late which has helped the Mets’ bats come through, New York’s hitters will have to pack some of those clutch hits with them on most of the Mets’ remaining road trips.

As Mets’ rightfielder Jeff Fancoeur said after Thursday night’s win, the Mets have to find a way to at least play close to .500 on the road.

The good news for New York is that it seems as though Citi Field might for the most part this year remain a place that Mets’ opponents will want to stay away from. Yet, those same teams are for now, more than happy to invite the Mets to their places.

Thus, for the time being, it appears that any possible road to the postseason for the Mets will go literally through… the road.   

Posted under Amazin, Consecutive Shutouts, Florida Marlins, Game Homestand, Game Series, Game Sweep, Home Field Advantage, Home Success, Home Victories, Impressive Fashion, Jekyll Hyde, Johan Santana, League Champion, More Than Four Decades, National League East, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Series Shutout, Top Story, World Series Participants