Friday, April 30, 2010

Things Done Changed

In what has to be one of the most surprising stories of the young baseball season, the Mets have gone a whole week without losing, and not because they've had a week of rain delays. Let's take a trip in the wayback machine and check out what was going on the last time the Mets lost.

It was a simpler time, April 22nd 2010. Kick-Ass was a day away from ending its short-lived reign atop the box office. Mexicans in Arizona were free to rape and pillage to their hearts' content and the government was powerless to stop them. The US Senate wasn't on the brink of WAR. Gil Meche's ERA was 11.57 and Kris Benson was healthy. The San Jose Sharks were still deciding on whether or not to go through with another embarrassing playoff exit. Your esteemed host had no idea Hole was still around. Dirk Nowitzki was a happy Maverick. The Mets were in last place and not very good.

For an even simpler time, we look back to the halcyon days of May 2009, the last time the Mets put together seven straight wins. Michael Jackson and Ed McMahon were still alive, free from the clutches of the Summer of Death. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 8,574 um...points? Quadrants? Whatever. The country was in the middle of one of those sepia-toned depressions but wasn't yet in thrall to morons in tri-corner hats. God was punishing the Gulf Coast with soul crushing poverty, but that was nothing new. The President's approval rating was 65 percent on the strength of his promises to give everyone in America in free handjobs and health care. John McCain was an unhappy maverick. The Mets were in first place but not very good.

And now? Arizona is crime and meth free and patriotic Arizonians are lining up for landscaping and fruit picking jobs. Totally liberal and probably queer Charlie Crist has been chased out of the Republican Party by one of the good ones. The Dow closed today at 11,008 tribbles, no thanks to that meddling Kenyan, whose approval rating has plummeted to 49 percent. The President delivered on health care but the handjobs thing has caused enormous traffic jams trying to get to Washington, DC. Liberal claptrap How To Train Your Dragon burned its way back to the top of the box office. God punished the Gulf Coast with a massive oil spill because He hates either Bobby Jindal or poor people, probably both. Kris Benson is injured and Gil Meche's ERA dropped to 10.13 after a 6 inning, 5 run performance against the Red Sox. The San Jose Sharks are up 1-0 against the Red Wings in the second round. Dirk Nowitzki is going to end up on, oh let's just say the Grizzlies, and John McCain is unhappy but not a maverick and don't you ever say he was one.

And the Mets? They're in first place and still not very good. The more things change...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Metpocalypse Now

Time was, when I had more of a heart for doomsaying, we did a thing here called the Apocalypse Forecast. I'm dusting off that dusty tag tag now because there are too many good feelings floating around the Mets. "Ohhhhhh, the Mets are 10-9! Let's have a splendid tea party!" That's what you're all saying out there in Met fan land, entranced by the low ERA coming out of the starting pitchers and the seemingly impossible to argue with 6-1 homestand. Well I'm here to argue with it, because the Mets' success is about as stable as a credit-default swap offered up by Goldman Sachs.

Here's something to keep in mind when you watch or listen to a game: ball four. The Mets are walking the world right now, starters and relievers. Taken as a unit, Mets pitchers are straddling an unsustainable 4.9 walks per nine innings along with a 1.61 walks to strikeouts ratio. The only starter with a BB/9 under 4 is Johan Santana. The team is third in baseball in strikeouts yes, but it also leads the league in walks, by fifteen over the nearest team. There's the matter of the Mets being 22nd in getting innings from their starting pitchers and 3rd in getting innings from their relievers, which short of a miracle is a recipe that's going to blow up in their faces. I've yet to see Fernando Nieve walk across Flushing Bay, so it's safe to assume the bullpen will crash back to Earth if they keep being worked like this.

Know what I mutter about under my breath while I'm at work? It's a constant loop of "Why can't the fucking Mets fucking hit?" Nevermind that Jason Bay has yet to hit a home run and that the man is striking out at a rate that would make Dave Kingman blush, our new leadoff hitter has a .302 OBP. There's also David Wright, striking out at a rate that would make Mark Reynolds blush. If only he could hit .260 like Mark Reynolds, maybe he'd inch his slugging percentage above .500 again. Instead he's changing his swing, can't hit an outside pitch and can't catch up to a high, inside fastball. Which begs the question: what can he hit?

Wright still usually looks better than Jeff Francoeur though, who's made swinging at everything into an art form, if being a cracker version of Vladimir Guerrero can be considered art. The best the Mets can hope for at this point is that Francoeur treads water where his stats are now, because he's at about his ceiling until he can keep the bat on his shoulder for longer than two pitches. His name remains impossible to spell without checking an official reference and he's batting a puke-inducing .114 since the end of the hitting streak to start his season. One of those things bothers me much more than the other.

More good news: Carlos Beltran's return is now so ethereal that Gary Mathews, Jr. put a downpayment on a house on the North Shore. Gotta love the diplomatic language of the official team site in relaying the news that Beltran's mid-May return "now seems less likely."

Oh wait, I think George Vescey has something positive to say:

“I didn’t see anybody offering me an extension,” Manuel said, laughing, as he does. He was referring to his contract being up at the end of the season. A week ago, it was reasonable to envision him not making it to the end of the season, but that is how things go in these parts.

“Everybody’s making a big deal about it,” said Alex Cora, the Mets’ old-pro utility man who will be managing a team one of these days, if he wants the aggravation.


What about the fear and trembling that was kicking around recently? “I never thought about it,” said Cora, who helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2007, and knows from good teams.

Alex Cora is here for another season after this one thanks to a contract that was widely considered idiotic, you fucking buffoon! Alex Cora carried that Red Sox team with his .684 OPS and his seven errors in eighty three games. I don't even dislike Alex Cora, but using him as the linchpin in your "This team has heart" column is Sports Hack 101. They teach you how to be a relentlessly negative sourpuss in Sports Hack 202, a class I've been stuck repeating since 2007.

The Mets are 10-9 with a three gazillion dollar payroll, there's no telling what's going to happen to John Maine next (perhaps an anvil will fall on him or he'll get injured chasing a road runner), before last night they were staring up at the Nationals in the standings and to top it all off, Oliver Perez starts tomorrow. What a great time to revisit the fact that Bobby Bonilla's agent is obviously some kind of Rasputin-like wizard.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Braves Got What Was Coming To Them

Ordinarily I might be a little nervous that the Mets would get some bad karma from a rain-shortened sweep of the Braves, but not this time. I remember and still have nightmares about May 11, 2006. If you need something to remind you of that game, here's a Play by Play that dispassionately presents the third out of the first inning as "Flyball: CF." If only the play was so routine. Instead we get Aaron Fuckface Rowand.

I shouldn't even be angry about seeing Rowand crash face-first into the wall and still come up with the out, it was a ballsy, highlight reel catch. Not only that, but it was ultimately a meaningless loss because the Mets won the division by something like 100 games. Those were the heady, but waning, days of the Church of Nady, so to watch Rowand rob the man of three RBIs was seared into my brain. That, and the eventual bummer that was losing because of the weather.

I'm sure Braves fans were cursing this same exact fate last night. Even worse, it didn't even come with a highlight reel catch. It was just a bunch of strikeouts, walks and errors. Well, the Mets were owed one of these and I for one am glad they collected. There are no victims here, except maybe for the poor ESPN execs who had to eat a lucrative night of Sunday Night Baseball. A couple more goof-ups like that and someone isn't going to be able to afford the helicopter commute to work next year.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tiny Improvements Aren't Much Better Than None At All

The other night my friend Tim and I were sitting in the subway deep in Crown Heights when I noticed that the MTA had gotten around to adding one of the countdown clocks that can be found on the L line. That was cool to see, but all it actually did was let us know we'd be sitting in the station for 18 minutes until a 4 train showed up. So yeah, the MTA is still an unmanageable, deficit-ridden monstrosity, but hey, clocks! Similarly, the Mets are making some kind of stride towards mediocrity, but you'd never know it from all the other horrible things going on around them.

For instance, if you told people that Mike Pelfrey would be the team's MVP 12 games into the season, they would probably guess you meant it in a bitter manner and that the team had a losing record. They'd be only half right though, since Mike Pelfrey looks genuinely good. He's also been the only starting pitcher to end both of the Mets' losing streaks and has more saves than K-Rod. He's also batting .500.

In the grasping at straws category, there's Oliver Perez, who earned a big fat ND through no fault of his own. For the few innings I saw Perez, he at least looked like he knew where the ball was going and in one confrontation with Albert Pujols, he looked like a real major league pitcher. Of course all of his good work was undone when Jerry Manuel decided to play manage out of the Dada playbook again and have a righty pitch to a lefty and his LOOGY pitch to a switch hitter. I'm not going to lie, despite the fact that this team has ground down my enthusiasm, I was able to summon up a vile torrent of curses to scream while I watched the bullpen implode as it protected its first small lead of the season.

All of this comes back to something that's been on display on national television for the last two nights: the Mets just plain can't hit. That's funny in a way that's actually not funny, because on Opening Day Keith Hernandez posited that the Mets would have no trouble scoring runs but would have an enormous amount of trouble keeping other teams from doing the same. Instead they...can't do both? I guess balance is important, but when balance means Jason Bay striking out like his life depends on it and Jonathon Niese giving up a lead just for the hell of it, I start wondering about the NFL Draft. Like, is it always on 4/20 or does the NFL just figure a few more people will be sitting around at home on that random Tuesday and they'll turn on the draft? But I digress.

I should probably keep digressing though, otherwise this blog is going to have to be renamed "Gary Mathews, Jr. Will Drive Me To Suicide" (I wouldn't be shocked if someone took that Blogspot name already). I can't laugh about 20 inning games if the team plays like shit and loses the next night, because despite the eternal length of a baseball season, every one of these losses feels worse and worse. This is still a team with no direction, with tonight's proof shown in Jerry Manuel only turning to his "8th inning guy" after a crappy long reliever gave up a double to the opposing pitcher. You either have a set up guy or you don't. Saying you do and then not treating him like one is confusing and a little insulting to a fanbase that knows what the fuck the set up man's role is. Mike Pelfrey might finally be putting it together, just in time for the rest of the team to lose it. Don't give me clocks when the only thing they do is remind me of how long I'll be stuck.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Oh A Win! How Exciting!

One good thing about following all of the big four sports in America is they overlap. Things going poorly for your basketball team? Try football or hockey! Baseball getting you down? Watch the hockey playoffs! Hockey team play lethargic and uneven for three-quarters of the season and your baseball team is a huge joke? West coast playoff hockey! It means staying up a little later, but for a Met fan, there's something familiar about the existential nightmare that is the San Jose Sharks. When the Avalanche scored last night on that freak play, I finally felt a little less alone in the world of rooting for professional disappointments.

This is supposed to be about the Mets, as much as I don't want it to be. The Mets are bad, I was wrong about them and Gary Mathews, Jr. the other day, what else is there to say? I guess I could go into detail about how bad the Mets are, like how it appears David Wright is pressing and is forever removed from that young third baseman who we all fell in love with, the one that drove the ball the other way with authority. It's unbelievable that teams aren't afraid to throw him off-speed slop away and even more unbelievable that last night I saw Wright swing at a pitch that bounced between the lefty batter's box and the outside corner. Jason Bay has performed as advertised, at least when it comes to strikeouts. The Mets have scored five runs in each of their last two games but went 5-24 with men in scoring position in those games combined. Forget Carlos Beltran, I'm eagerly awaiting the return of Daniel Murphy.

Even better, Jerry Manuel seems to have lost his damn mind. What exactly was the deal with pinch-running for Mike Jacobs with Fernando Tatis in the middle of an at-bat, did anyone ever get an explanation for that? Did anyone even ask him about it or did the reporter pool just figure it's in their interest to not cold embarrass the guy? He seems to have a knack for doing just fine in that department though, especially now that he's drawn attention to himself as the one guy that wants to keep Jenrry Mejia in the bullpen instead of developing him as a starter. Jerry may as well just wear a sign around his neck that says "MY TENUOUS JOB SECURITY WILL MAKE ME IRRATIONAL AND UNRELIABLE FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE."

What makes the win today nice is that 3-6 is better than 2-7. It's pretty simple really, getting a win staunches some of the bleeding. I'm not one of those dolts that's panicking about 1992 all over again, but I wanted to see a win just as much as them. Having that win spearheaded by Mike Pelfrey is only helping to push the team to theoretical mediocrity. If he's finally figured it out, the Mets would have two serviceable Major League starters on their roster for the first time since 2005 or 2006. Whether that's even going to mean anything by mid-May is open for debate and subject to the whims of John Maine and Oliver! So, I guess that means it won't mean anything? Man, what a short debate.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

And All I Got Was A Laundry Day T-Shirt

Last night was the home finale for the abomination that has been the 2009-10 New York Knicks, which the Dolan braintrust decided to dub Fan Appreciation Night. If the truth was ever in style at MSG, it would have been called Below Market Value Ticket Night, although considering how long it's been since I tried to get a ticket that could have been every night since the All-Star break. Apparently cheap StubHub tickets, free XL t-shirts and the infinitesimal chance to win a spacephone couldn't bring people in because there were huge gaps in the crowd, which I couldn't understand. Who wouldn't want to see the Knicks and Wizards play a game they were contractually obligated to?

My friends and I sat behind a father who had brought two kids to the game, which kept me from screaming more curses that I might have considering the quality of play we were seeing. The father was nice though and would occasionally turn around to ask why D'Antoni wasn't playing such and such player, lament the existence of Eddy Curry and also mentioned that the Nets were much better at being bad. At one point, with the Wizards up and the family wearing the blue shirts that had been given away, the dad told his kids they were rooting for the blue team now. "I'll do anything to get you guys a victory!" he wailed, only half in jest it seemed.

The dad got his victory, but the Knicks took their damn time getting to it, down through three quarters and barely showing any interest. The Knicks scored 114 points last night but I'll be damned if I could tell you how. In 48 minutes I saw one nice high pick and roll, but other than that it was a disorganized halfcourt game with players deciding unilaterally to run their own isolation plays. Weren't we supposed to be a fast break team? What is the philosophy of this team and why can't it ever find an identity? Remember when the Knicks were supposed to have two dominant big men and dominate the low post? Or the time they were going to combine two washed up, shoot first point guards and somehow create a contender? Shit, I'll give Scott Layden his due, the New York Jazz, as someone dubbed the Weatherspoon era Knicks at least had a philosophy: to be as boring as a white bread and mustard sandwich. A really, really expensive sandwich because for some reason Shandon Anderson cost a gazillion dollars to employ.

What kind of Knicks will those kids grow up with? For a decade now, this has been a franchise rotting from the inside out, going from boring to frustrating to comical to now this rudderless mess, a collection of players you've never heard of jogging back and forth on the floor of the World's Most Famous Arena. Lebron James is going to turn his back on the home town hero story to play with Danilo Gallinari? I think I could count on one hand the amount of times Gallinari strayed from the three point line last night. You're 6' 10" dude, get down low! Even if everything works out and the Knicks bring in Lebron and another free agent, that doesn't bring the team an identity. It's turning on forced trades in NBA Live and going to town. What then? Does D'Antoni actually institute the 8 Seconds or Less system? It makes more sense for Lebron James to recruit David Lee to Cleveland than it does for him to sign up with a team that's basically going to be a repeat of his rookie season.

It's incredible to think about, but two years after bouncing Isiah Thomas, the Knicks might actually be more hopeless than they were under his "leadership." God help them if they can't blow all their cap space this off-season.

Monday, April 12, 2010

When No Margin For Error Means No Margin For Error

When you play 82 games of hockey, there's bound to be some stretch of the season where your attention span lags, you don't give it your all and you lose some games. Hey, it happens. Good teams don't let it happen too often, bad teams are constantly going through it and the Rangers are its living embodiment. This is a collection that played like a college student saving up all his effort for the last three days before the paper was due, finished the paper but then neglected to proofread it or include his citations. Not that I'd know anything about that. That's a formula for the NHL equivalent of a B-, missing the playoffs by one point.

Still, I'll give the Rangers credit for dragging their season out to the very last possible moment considering I wrote them off about three weeks ago. And then after that awful loss to the Canadiens and the more awful one to the Leafs. That says plenty about this team though. For three seasons before this one, the team started fast, ran out of ways to score and just barely snuck into the playoffs. That it didn't work this time shouldn't be a surprise but more of an indictment of how Glen Sather puts together a hockey team. Bad teams rely on just one guy to score. Bad teams stand around during power plays and can't get shots off. Bad teams hope against hope their goalie can keep other team from scoring more than two goals. Bad teams don't make the playoffs except when every other team around them are bad, and I'd like to thank the Flyers for being bad enough to keep me interested.

Being outshot almost 2:1 on the last game of the season when a win means a playoff berth means something just isn't clicking or the talent level isn't there. Some players showed some fire, and I'd be remiss if I didn't note that the season turned on Artem Anisimov being too aggressive during a penalty kill, but you can't be a Stanley Cup competitor if you leave your fans wondering where the effort is going to come from, if it will come at all. Forget the fact that Marion Gaborik didn't touch the puck during the shootout and that Olli Jokinen's shot wasn't much of one at all. The Rangers even finding themselves down to their last shot of the season says as much about their claim to a playoff spot as their record does.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Will Not Be A Hurtbro

It was really nice out today and I didn't have to work, so of course I hung out at the movies all day. Hey, that's what you need to do sometimes if you want to get cultured and try to learn something about human nature. Today I learned that Noah Baumbach wrote a wish fulfillment fantasy for dudes between the ages of 22 and 40 and he called it Greenberg. There's nothing wrong with wish fulfillment, per se, it's existed in entertainment since probably forever. It's just lame to sit through a movie that's supposed to be deep and meaningful when all it consists of is Ben Stiller falling between Greta Gerwig's thighs over and over for no reason.

Ladies, tell me, is there something irresistible about a 40-year-old dude fresh out of a mental hospital? Something that just makes you keep going back to him no matter how many times he freaks the fuck out about pretty much nothing? Stiller's character, Roger Greenberg, doesn't give off vulnerability so much as he puts it up as a false front in order to make sure people treat him with kid gloves before he walks all over them. Greenberg is an asshole through and through, the kind of person who doesn't drive but tells you the light has changed while he's riding around in your front seat. He lives almost completely in the past and expects everyone else to. Do today's kids want to listen to Duran Duran when they're on coke? No, of course not, but that won't stop Greenberg from trying to force it on them.

Who will save Greenberg? Unfortunately, that task is left up to Florence, played with actual vulnerability and flightiness by Greta Gerwig. It's bad enough poor Florence is confused by what she wants in life, doesn't speak up for herself and is bouncing around in unfullfilling trysts. The last thing she needs is a mental patient trying to go down on her after she and him each have a sip of beer. Yes, that actually happens. But OK, weird first date kind of thing, shit happens. That doesn't explain why she's ever interested in him again. A scene where she talks with her best friend about how vulnerable he seems just doesn't cut it. A woman as attractive and talented as Florence can do better than a mopey schmuck like Greenberg, especially after he blows a second chance to sleep with her by storming out of her apartment because he didn't like a story she told. The fuck?

Greenberg is by no means a bad movie. I understand Noah Baumbach's wheelhouse is people who act terribly towards each other, but in this instance all we have is one terrible person slicing through the lives of people who would dare to treat him like a human being while he's completely oblivious, even aggressively uninterested, about the fact that they care about him. There's some fantastic, bitterly funny dialogue, pretty cinematography and strong performances from the cast, but whenever the movie tries to convince us that Florence and Roger would ever be together it gets completely implausible. Florence tells Greenberg he likes her more than he's willing to admit and a drunken voicemail supports her theory, but it doesn't ever mean he'll stop emotionally abusing her and calling it honesty. That the movie ends with the two of them in Florence's apartment, treating each other sweetly, is simply baffling.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Taking A Step Back

Last year, Opening Day was a trying day. The weather sucked, I couldn't find a place to watch the game and Johan Santana couldn't even get out of the sixth inning. Still, it was Opening Day and the Mets are charmed in that department and they pulled it out. This year was much better, with beautiful weather, a pirate Chinese broadcast on my computer and Johan Santana finishing six. I'm not going to let that be some kind of bellwether for life or for the season, even if I'm already dreaming about replacing last year's too rainy summer with a hot, sticky one that makes me nothing much more than a huge glob of sweat. I'm not dreaming about the Mets replacing their summer doldrums though, because like Gary Cohen said, Game 2 is just baseball as usual.

I'd feel remiss though if I failed to pat myself on the back for finishing my season preview project on schedule. All nine positions before Opening Day! It's like I found discipline or something, even if it took me almost two months to do. So in honor of that, I'll talk about the bullpen! Because I'm a masochist apparently!

We all remember the frenzied off-season moves last year, when the Mets brought on Frankie Rodriguez and J.J. Putz in a move that was probably described as a "coup" somewhere. We were all excited to be getting a proper closer in K-Rod, but Putz was what the bullpen hinged on. During the Billy Wagner era, the Mets didn't have a reliable bridge to the ninth inning unless you count Aaron Heilman's predictable awfulness as reliable. Putz was supposed to strike a ton of guys out based on his devastating fastball/splitter combo. There was talk of seven inning games, even six inning games. Hell, the Mets would be able to throw a starter out there for four innings and then turn to the bullpen.

Then it turned out J.J.'s elbow was still exploded, so the Mets’ top brass figured he might be able to get buy with hitters giggling about his name as strike three floated through the zone. That is the only reason I can think of why they ignored his injury and kept running him out there, because he was pretty freaking bad. Of course, the scouting staff failed to take into account that most major league hitters are not Jewish vaudeville era comedians and that plan failed too. So they just ran Sean Green out there everyday while we drank ourselves to death every night watching highlights of Darren O’Day in a Rangers uniform. The lesson management took away from this was apparently: a bunch of no-names in the bullpen will at least tamp down expectations.

With that in mind, the team went out and picked up precisely no one you've ever hear of to join Predo Feliciano and K-Rod. Oh and Sean Green. So there's Fernando Nieve because he's a long man. There's also Hisanori Takahashi because he's a long man and he's Japanese. That means I guess that Ryota Igarashi is there to keep him company? Because he's Japanese too? And finally there's Jenrry Mejia, who's up with the club so everyone can learn to spell and pronounce his name and so the Mets can claim they've got a youth movement while inexplicably screwing up one of the brightest pieces of the potential movement.

So the bullpen will either be really good or really bad. Yeah, just gonna go with that.

Still High Off The Fumes

Seeing Mike Lamb in a Marlins uniform last night didn't make me feel old, even if my tweet about it could be read like that. That's not to say that Lamb turning up as a pinch hitter in a truly awful pounding didn't mark the passage of time in my life. The same thing can be said when I was watching the A's/Mariners game later that night and saw Eric Byrnes on the Mariners bench and and didn't see him again until he trotted out as a pinch runner late in the game.

When I went to college these two players had guaranteed jobs playing baseball because they both did it passably, if not especially well. Mike Lamb was the Astros' starting third baseman in their World Series run, and Eric Byrnes was discussed in trade talks for Mike Cameron to stave off the headache of having two alpha centerfielders patrolling Shea. Byrnes was also all over the TV taking up the plight of the Eckstenian player in this era of juiced up Hispaniards hitting baseballs 600 feet and breaking your car window and deflowering your daughter somehow. OK, I'll step off the ledge now and instead just note that sportswriters were forever talking up his grinderness.

Now? Mike Lamb couldn't make the Mets last year, spent the entire season at AAA Buffalo and hit all of five home runs there. As for Byrnes, the A's announcers described his role on the team as basically a 24th or 25th man. Don't forget Eric Byrnes plays on a team that employs 40-year-old Ken Griffey, Jr. as a DH, despite the fact that Griffey hit .214 last year. Not that I have anything approaching sympathy for either of them. They're still highly compensated professional athletes who have made millions of dollars playing baseball, which is just about the best way to earn a living ever. It does go to show though, that keeping track of who's on what roster can help prevent navel gazing posts like this one.

I'm going to have to do something like yesterday again sometime soon. Ten hours of baseball only helped to remind me how awesome the game is. I saw Johan Santana, Josh Johnson, Renyel Pinto, Francisco Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt, Tim Lincecum, Ben Sheets, Felix Rodriguez, Andrew Bailey and...Justin Berg. I learned Chris Sampson was a minor league shortstop and David Aardsma is a closer now. I missed getting extra innings in West Coast baseball by a half inning and got reminded of just how devastating Tim Lincecum can be. I wrote with a game on in the corner of my computer screen, which kept me from my usual goof off avenue of searching things in new tabs upon new tabs. I didn't see any baseball today and was kind of grumpy, grumpier than you should be when it's 80 degrees outside. Am I saying that baseball is awesome and makes you a more productive and better person? Yes.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of the position-by-position preview of the New York Mets and a healthy dose of Calm the Fuck Down Pills prescribed to me, by me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Offense, Subs and Pitching

As excited as as anyone can be for baseball to return to Earth, there's a point when Opening Day adrenaline leaves the system during a laugher like today's win over the Marlins. Eyes wandering during a meaningless Luis Castillo at-bat with the Mets ahead 7-1 in the eighth inning, you start getting into a Christopher Hitchens column during commercial breaks and maybe miss the first out when the game is back. Still, you watch until the end, because like Gary Cohen reminded us, day two of baseball isn't Opening Day, it's just baseball. But that's starting at the end and skipping all the wonderful parts of the beginning and middle.

My personal Mets victory anthem, BTO be damned.

Wonderful parts like Johan Santana opening the year with a crisp strike. The crowd at Taxpayer Field, obviously afraid that Johan's elbow would fly towards the plate along with the ball roared in approval as Chris Coghlan watched the pitch cross the plate, Santana's elbow stayed bolted in place and the game was on. Even without being dominating, Santana was controlling the flow of the game, impressing Keith Hernandez with his change-up and keeping the Marlins from putting together any sustained rallies. Speaking of Santana's change-up, Cameron Maybin is definitely going to be having nightmares of a yellow, blue and red colored man chasing him through Willets Point.

The Mets had an Opening Day lineup that inspired horror and mockery: Gary Mathews, Jr! Mike Jacobs! Alex Cora! All they did was go out and back up Santana better than the '27 Yankees could have. OK, maybe that's going a bit far, but my brain kind of melted when I saw Mathews chasing balls in the gap, running them down deep in center and picking up two hits to boot. Since it looks like he can still play he's obviously going to be super pissed when Carlos Beltran comes back. Hell, let's hope he takes the Wigginton Route too. David Wright stung the ball and his home run in the first inning probably caused a few wet spots to spontaneously show up around the New York metro area (I'll show myself out guys, no worries). Jason Bay proved himself to be strong of bat and of arm, his throw to almost get Jorge Cantu on his double was more impressive than his triple, if only because I didn't expect it. Jeff Francoeur walked! Oh and Mike Jacobs was terrible. Wow was he awful. Daniel Murphy can't get healthy fast enough.

Credit where it's due though, to the Marlins. When your organization cuts corners the way they do, aspects of your team will suffer. In their case, it's defense, with Jeff Francoeur's "double" the most obvious example of that, falling in between Cameron Maybin and Hanley Ramirez like an unwanted VHS copy of Tom Emanski's Defensive Drills . Gabby Sanchez, along with his officially noted error, was lectured twice by Ron Darling and Keith for failing to stretch properly to snare a couple throws, including the second half of a possible double play (that Dan Uggla didn't charge well to begin with) that set up Wright's home run.

Looking at the larger picture, and trying not to look too far into the future, this is a game that played like an exorcism. The Mets are supposed to bring out the very best in the Marlins, who according to media reports live to destroy the hopes and dreams of the Wilpons. Yet a potential year-long Adam Eaton situation was disarmed when the Mets tagged Josh Johnson with his first career loss against them, and the rest of Johnson's teammates played tentative, sloppy and all around weak baseball. The Mets meanwhile, got outs when they needed them, had their heads up and played the kind of baseball they seemed genetically unable to play last year.

1 down, 161 to go. On to the next one.

A Long Road From B.C. to Flushing

For a guy that's hit 181 home runs in 6 full seasons, Jason Bay has been traded a lot. 4 times since his entrance into professional ball 10 years ago. When you look at the players he was traded for the first 2 times, you begin to see that trading any prospect can be disastrous and grow bitter at the thought that Steve fucking Reed was somehow worth a prospect 14 years younger than him. Seriously, where were the 2002 Mets going that Steve Phillips thought he could save his job by trading for Steve Reed*? Or maybe Jason Middlebrook was the real prize of that trade. Yech. Of course, you wonder how Expos fans felt when they realized Pittsburgh's spiffy new Rookie of the Year wouldn't have even been a Met, a Padre or a Pirate if the Expos weren't seduced by the charms of...Lou Collier? Smooth move there, Omar Minaya. Thank God there's someone smarter keeping watch over the Mets.

The next 2 trades involving Bay worked out better for everyone, with the Pirates getting one awesome year out of Oliver Perez (and Oliver Perez getting 36 million dollars off the Mets based on said year) and five and half awesome years of Jason Bay. OK, four and a half, considering that his OPS in 2007 was .746. The Padres got Brian Giles, who immediately stopped taking steroids or whatever but could still get on base and be a competent left fielder.

When the Red Sox traded for Bay, there was a chance for it to be disastrous considering it came in the middle of a playoff race and he was brought in to replace one of the best offensive players in Red Sox history and all of baseball history. All Bay did there was hit 45 home runs in a little less than a season and a half and post a .915 OPS.

All of this points to Jason Bay not having a hard time adjusting to New York, especially after dealing with playoff pressure in Boston for 2 straight seasons. So long as his knees and shoulder aren't literal time bombs, Bay will be an above-average offensive player for at least 2 years of his contract, maybe 3 if we're lucky. He'll add lineup protection and provide a cherubic white face for Vinny from Queens o point out to his kid. He'll strike out a ton and he won't be great in the field. Still, that's better than what we've seen in left field at Shea/Taxpayer since 2005. Jason Bay isn't super-talented but just as injury prone, he's not a 4th outfielder than got hot one year, he's not super-talented but old enough to have been around for teenage Jesus to umpire his little league games, he's not way past his prime and an asshole and he's not Daniel Murphy. Going by those metrics, Jason Bay is gonna be a goddamn MVP candidate this year. Huzzah.

*Bobby M. Jones (the bad Bobby Jones) was also included in that trade, following the trail of Bobby Jones (the mediocre Bobby Jones) to Padres two years after he'd signed on with the team. I don't know if two players with the same name have ever been on the same roster for two different teams two different years, but I like to think the Bobby Joneses are the first.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Carlos Beltran Is Very Very Good At Baseball

There isn't much more to say about Carlos Beltran than the post title does. There's no arguing about this. It's a fact. Carlos Beltran is really really good at baseball. Not only is he very good, he's better than a lot of other people. So of course, the Mets need to trade him. What?

From 2006 to 2008 Carlos Beltran hit for .278/.372/.547. Wowwee zowee. 101 home runs, 66 stolen bases to only 8 caught stealing, 3 Gold Gloves, one top-5 MVP showing and general good guyness for three years. Yes, he had that crappy 2005, but come on, he's more than made up for it. Oh right, called third strike, blew the whole year for the Mets. Nevermind that he won Game 1 of the NLCS almost by himself, he totally sucks.

He's already all over the Mets' all-time leaderboard even though he's only played for the team for five years. Whenever he ends his Met career, he'll be one of the best Mets ever. Collapses be damned, he didn't have a bad September in 2007 or 2008.

Before the Mets faced Ragnarok, Carlos Beltran and David Wright had this team on their backs. They weren't great, but you would think after seeing what a traveshamockery the team was when Beltran wasn't there that he isn't easy to replace. Competitive spirit and ticket sales be damned, the Mets should have opted for surgery for Beltran last year when it was clear they were done.

Nevermind all that, this is supposed to be a preview, a look forward, not just a recitation of the fact that Carlos Beltran is sooo good at baseball. Because of the surgery kerfluffle center field belongs to Angel Pagan (probably?) until hopefully mid-May. I like Angel Pagan just fine, but he's merely good at baseball, sometimes he slips to being OK at it. That's better than Gary Mathews, Jr. though, and the fact that Gary Mathews, Jr. is in the conversation for the starting center field job shows just how hard Carlos Beltran is to replace. Well OK, not really, it mostly shows Met management thinks like the Burmese junta, but I think it also shows the first thing a little bit.

Just don't forget Carlos Beltran was hitting .300 and slugging over .500 before he got hurt last year, and that if, if, he's healthy, he'll go back to being very very good at baseball.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Broken English, Good Google Rankings and Footsteps

A little while back, I compared Jeff Francoeur to Daniel Murphy, in that they were both rushed prospects who captured the imaginations of their fanbases before plummeting back down to Earth. While all of that is true, I forgot to mention that they also share the ignominious circumstances of playing in two positions where the footsteps of Fernando Martinez and Ike Davis are getting louder. But that's not the point of this paragraph. All of that was just a set up to link to the funniest/saddest thing I came across while searching for a picture of Francoeur: the Jeff Francoeur Sucks Forum. It is what you think it is, if what you thought it was is a poorly designed sub-forum of TalkSports mostly designed to catch people searching "Jeff Francoeur sucks." Hilariously enough, it also contains a warning not to post anything inappropriate while you're devoting your time to the message board specifically for denigrating a specific human being, because it is after all, a "friendly forum for fans."

Poor Jeff Francoeur, going from the cover of Sports Illustrated to getting booed by his hometown fans to getting traded to the Mets in the midst of one of their worst seasons ever. And yet Jeff persevered and was probably the best player on the team in his time in right field. Hell, he could probably be seen as the team MVP considering nothing else good happened after he got swapped in for Ryan Church. So would it be cool if he put up another .830+ OPS? Yeah, duh. Is it realistic to expect this from someone with a 4 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio? Hell no it isn't, especially considering he's batting something like .035 this spring. So I have a solution that benefits everyone. It's known as the Wigginton Route and I just made it up so don't steal it.

You remember Ty Wigginton, don't you? Of course you do, because you were a superfan of the awful 2002-04 Mets teams. Ty had heart but his heart dwarfed his offensive ability and intangibles only count when you're on a team with players that can cover for your deficiencies (The Eckstein Rule). By 2004, Mets fans had been hearing about this David Wright kid and were eager to see him called up. Coincidentally enough, David Wright was just cold murdering AAA ball. So while Ty put up great first half numbers, it was all for naught. When David Wright got called up, the Wigginton showcase was officially underway and he was swapped for the super average Kris Benson.

So Jeff Francoeur should play his damn Atlantan heart out, especially if F-Mart's spring training was a sign he's finally figured it out. If F-Mart keeps tearing it up and Francoeur plays alright ball, maybe the Mets can swap him to a terrible team looking to get rid of some perfectly average pitcher, which in the Mets' case would immediately give them a Number 2 starter. Everyone wins! Except maybe Jeff Francoeur who ends up on like, the Pirates or the Nets or something.