Winter Meetings 2016

The Winter Meetings are upon us which means most of us baseball loyalists will be checking our smartphones like we can somehow alter our team’s fortunes in signing the guy we want them to sign.

But the Hot Stove season is rife with lies and innuendo meant to steer us in a different way.  Meant to get us excited and build up angst.

In that regard the Mets signed the one guy i wanted them to sign so I am already satisfied with the output thus far.  But I thought a better way of giving my predictions (read my best case/worst case scenario for the Mets), would be to get through the thicket of news I’ve heard and give my best guesses on what to expect.

  1. The Mets will trade Jay Bruce and/or Curis Granderson- in 2013 when the Mets signed Curtis Granderson it was a modest signing but not headline worthy but this is what it did.  Granderson switched sides in the Yankees/Mets civil war and brought a measure of class and universal respect to the team.  It also brought leadership, one i’ve always felt was overrated when it came to giving David Wright props.  In that vein I think Granderson is the guy the Mets want to keep and Bruce the guy they want to trade.  Granderson is the older player (by 5 years) and the one with the bigger financial commitment for next season ($15M vs. $13M) but teams want Granderson for the same reason the Mets want to keep him: his leadership.  To me the news that more want Granderson sounds like teams want to undercut Bruce’s value and hope the Mets sell low which is why I think Granderson will be the guy to go.  Bruce didn’t hit much for Mets after being traded and the feeling is that teams may shy away from a guy who can’t play in the spotlight of a pennant race which the Mets expect to be in next season barring a catastrophic season.  My hunch is that the Mets trade Bruce for a prospect pitcher OR a reliever who they will try to march right up through the system to assist in the bullpen.
  2. The Mets will trade Conforto for a major reliever- I don’t buy it.  I think the Mets will listen to offers but this would be a TERRIBLE time to trade Conforto.  The Mets had as much to do with his horrible season as Conforto constantly managing to platoon a guy who had an idea when he came up to the plate.  Especially after letting Murphy go, the Mets should be valuing a player who hits for average which almost every single scout and prospect site says he will.  He will also hit for power, but ONLY if you play him.  The Mets were inconsistent in explaining Conforto’s lack of AB’s by noting their concern in their defense, but then how to explain Wilmer Flores’ playing time?  The Mets defense is contingent on their starting rotation being excellent and their offense bludgeoning teams to death.  Conforto should have been afforded more AB’s and this is where the Mets get into trouble.  When you get into bed with a guy like Yoenis Cespedes you do so with the understanding that you have to placate him a little.  The Mets however have allowed him to dictate where he plays (he would prefer playing left field).  Having Granderson and Bruce at right means Conforto’s only hope to get regular AB’s would be centerfield which leaves another problem- how to get Juan Lagares AB’s.  My hunch is that the Mets explore Conforto at 1st to get him regular AB’s and protect themselves against Lucas Duda’s back.
  3.  The Mets will move Zack Wheeler to the bullpen-  This is a development I’m in favor of even if excellent baseball writer Mark Simon is not:

But I think this helps bring Wheeler along slower while also giving guys like Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman who deserve a shot at innings in the rotation a chance at just that.  I like Gsellman for the bullpen because of his arm and the fact that he has that bowling ball sinker that gets a ton of weak contact.  Seth Lugo’s spin rate also created some historically bad contact but I prefer him over Gsellman in the rotation as part of a six man rotation to start the season just so that the Mets keep their fragile pitching staff rested.  Much of their pitching woes should be plugged in by internal solutions.  If it worked for the rotation why can’t it work for the bullpen?  My hunch is that it will be Wheeler who gets moved to 7th inning duty to start the season and when Familia returns, the Mets will add innings to expand him into a long reliever role and more if play or situation warrants.

4. The Mets are looking to trade one of their starting pitchers for positional talent- I don’t see it.  If they learned anything last year its that you can’t have enough pitching.  Their offense, if healthy can score enough runs to win more games than not.  The best use of their resources would be to lengthen your pitchers careers by asking them to pitch fewer games.  The six man rotation, one I’ve personally called for on this page, is now a necessity and can no longer be considered foolish.  Not when the Mets have this kind of pitching staff.  Not when this isn’t a forever kind of thing.  In fact I think they should start off with a six man staff and then when August and September games come you have a much more rested staff that can push through the dog days and give the Mets the kind of shot in the arm they need.  Why can’t the Mets employ some form of common sense to give their players a chance and be smart about getting them back to the normal 5 day routine as the season wears on?  My hunch is that the Mets employ a 5 man rotation and one of Wheeler, Lugo and Gsellman spend considerable time wasted in Triple A.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wek 11 Highlights.

A few thoughts from the Giants 22-16 win over the Chicago Bears.

  1. Landon Collins is a playmaker-  I’ve said it again and again- I still think there’s room for improvement overall- but he keeps making plays.  He’s improved weekly this season and we’ve seen his growth in how often he steps up during the game.  He just seems to be in the right place at the right time.  Cutler slipped making that pass and Collins just happened to turn before the receiver did to be able to come back to that ball.  He’s playing himself into a leadership role on this team my guess is that when this season is done we will probably be talking about his impact.
  2. Tale of two halves- The Giants came out listless in a game many had cautioned was a trap game for the Giants.  After all a 2-7 team against a 6-3 team with 4 straight wins and trending up seems like a mismatch on paper but Giants fans like myself were prepared for the let down game and the report before the game didn’t really put me at ease by Kim Jones.  She reported that this was the loosest Giants team she had ever seen since she started covering the team in 2001.  Out came Cutler throwing fastballs to his receivers and Jordan Howard patiently picking apart the Giants defensive line to a tune of 88 yards.  And every Giants fan could be heard groaning with the “here we freaking go”.  The second half however, the Giants came out motivated, and eager to change the script.  The defensive line shut down the Bears running attack and made them one dimensional and as he has proven throughout his career, when the game is in the hands of Jay Cutler, he oftentimes throws him and his team out of a game.  A very resilient response by a team that can’t afford to take halves off against any team in the NFL and hopefully this game proved educational for the Big Blue.
  3. Prevent Offense-  The first two drives of the second half resulted in touchdowns as the Giants scored in 3:56 and 3:15 and then went 5 consecutive punts with 4 of the 5 being 3 and outs and the only non 3 and out lasting all of 5 plays.  The Giants inability to run the ball with any consistency is going to be a major problem as the weather gets far worse and the schedule begins getting worse.  You need a solid run game in the Northeast playing through the elements.  Every remaining game will be played in less than ideal temperatures.  In those situations you can’t keep losing the time of possession battle and expect to come out with wins.  Its a situation worth keeping an eye on.
  4. Missed PAT’s- As of this writing there are 10 missed PAT’s and its officially made one of the more boring aspects of football a bit more unpredictable.  This counts as the ONLY rule change during Goodell’s tenure that would count as something for the betterment of the game.  The game expected up to 50mph winds which lead to three missed PAT’s and two missed FG’s.  It may have played into how McAdoo called the game especially on that second 4th down call where it was on the Bears 33.  Again- with weather conditions worsening its going to be interesting to see if the Giants can’t trust their run game OR their FG kicker it may make the Giants overly reliant on the passing game.
  5. 4th down play calling- It bears repeating every week.  Most analytically leaning writers will tell you the value in going for it on 4th and less than 5 in opponent’s territory but its shocking how many coaches play so safe.  And make no mistake that having been in the organization two years prior allows McAdoo to operate from a perspective that allows him to know what he can trust his QB to convert and what he can’t.  A first year head coach may not be as bold.  But McAdoo has exhibited a level of trust that shows that he won’t give up on possessions as easily as most conservative head coaches will.  Reminds you that sometimes football coaches are able to listen to reason and not all be Jeff Fisher’s.
  6. JPP is playing himself into a big contract- At this point, Vernon’s contract may be what JPP’s side is aiming for, but if he keeps playing the way he has the last few weeks, it may be the starting point.  JPP is getting push at the point and he’s got some of that burst back.  Good for him.  He’s also playing the run extremely well.
  7. Speaking of Olivier Vernon- There’s a man who’s living up to what many felt was a ludicrous contract (me included).  More than the sack numbers he’s played the run extremely consistent and now the sack numbers are coming.  He’s getting better and that’s coinciding with JPP playing better along with the rest of the line getting better and Landon Collins.  Its amazing what happens when the unit comes together.  The Spags element shouldn’t be lost here either.  Many (me included) had begun to lose faith in Spags and fell into the convenient “he had three great pass rushers- of course his defense was going to play well” theory but the entire unit has benefited from being in the system for over a year.
  8. Turning Point of the Game- Landon Collins’ interception is the easy call here.  But here’s a close second- 4th and 2 on the Chicago 17 in the first quarter after Chicago marched down the field and scored a touchdown fairly easily.  Many people have unfairly suggested that Coughlin would have lost these games this year if he were still coaching.  I don’t think its that simple.  I think McAdoo just strikes a different chord and after 12 seasons Coughlin’s voice just started to get old in a locker room that was different from the one he won Super Bowls with.  Collins interception iced the game and once again saved the offense by shutting the Bears down in the second half.  They legitemately were an elite defense in hte second half.  Again, they are winning the games good teams win- its those five after next week that they have to worry about.
  9. Looking ahead to the winless Browns- I’ll say it again.  Trap games exist.  This could be huge given the result of this Thursday’s Turkey Bowl between the Cowboys and Skins.  The Giants either have the opportunity to gain some ground on the Cowboys or put some distance between them and the Skins which will be huge later in the season when the Giants meet the Skins in the Nation’s Capital.
  10. The Top 10-

A. Cowboys- Have earned this.  Huge moment with Romo’s press conference putting to rest any speculation for the rest of the season.  Aside from injury or a string of games of poor play Dak will be the QB for the Cowboys.

B. Patriots- Brady being a realistic MVP candidate without playing the first four games is a tribute to the machine in Foxboro.

C. Seahawks- Wilson clearly will be limited moving forward which compromises how great this team can be but this defense still balls the heck out and will need to continue to dominate.

D. Raiders- They have a young fearless QB and a fearless coach and those guys are always the most dangerous teams.

E. Giants- Yes- a five game winning streak vaults you into Top 5 status.  And the only difference between the Giants and the Dolphins is I trust Eli and Odell more than Ryan Tannehill and Jay Ajayi.

F. Dolphins- They looked dead 6 weeks ago.  Now they are second in the division and trending upward with an out of nowhere dominant run game.

G. Chiefs- Similarly I trust the Chiefs QB Alex Smith more than the Broncos Trevor Seimian.  Getting a guy like Justin Houston back is huge for a team that will need him over the next four weeks.  Big stretch coming.

H. Broncos- the defending Super Bowl champions can wrest control over the division but can Trevor Seimian actually do that?  We’re about to find out Sunday.

I. Falcons- They’re still Matt Ryan and Julio Jones but this year Ryan has been comfortable operating Kyle Shanahan’s offense and it shows.

J. Redskins- Their offensive line is playing well and keeping them in all the games but their real skill has been Cousins’ efficiency and not having a true number one receiver.  He doesn’t have to force the ball into a player in a critical situation.  Don’t underestimate that.

 

 

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Winners and Losers NBA Finals edition

I wrote a few days ago about Lebron in the internet age.  I have to admit it got me to thinking about how the Finals, and his entire career has been a no-win situation for him since he got here.  Hyped since day 1, it was impossible for him to be what everyone wanted him to be.  Why did we love Jordan?  Because we didn’t know we needed him to be the standard until he became it.

After winning game 6, the Cavs have forced a game 7 in the NBA Finals.  This will be the 18th Game 7 in NBA Finals history.  The last Finals to go 7? Lebron remembers- that was in 2013 when the Heat were saved by a miraculous 3 by Ray Allen in the final minute in Miami in game 6 against a talented Spurs team to win the second of their back to back titles.  The last team to overcome a three games to one deficit were the 1966 Lakers who took the series to 7 until ultimately losing to the Boston Celtics.

People have tried to force the buy into the dislike that the Warriors have for Lebron and vice versa by hyping up every back and forth between the two teams.  Want trash talk?  Red Auerbach announced before the season that he would retire after the season was over giving his haters one last shot at him in 1966.  After an emotionally uplifting come from behind victory in Game 1 by the Lakers, Auerbach pulled yet another one of his classic psychological chess moves by announcing that Bill Russell would succeed him as head coach becoming the first African American head coach in the NBA all but destroying any momentum the Lakers had going into game 2.  The Celtics won the next three by an average of 13 points and eventually won the series.

In 1951 The Rochester Royals went up three games to none against the New York Knicks.  The Knicks won the next three to force a Game 7 in improbable fashion…and then lost game 7.

What does this mean?  It means that doing what the Cavs have already done is ridiculously difficult.  Just so everyone’s on the same page, they are facing the greatest regular season team in the history of the NBA, the defending NBA champions.  They also have a lineup called the “lineup of death”.   They also employ the reigning two time defending NBA MVP who still has not had a signature game and there’s  an unsettling inevitability that it will happen.

Last night’s victory had wives losing their minds, then there were the psychological tricks the Cavs were supposedly playing on the Warriors family and friends bus.  But the Cavs didn’t win Game 6 in Cleveland for any other reason than Lebron James willed them there.  It got me to thinking about who could be the biggest winners and losers here once Sunday’s Game 7, not just within this series but in the NBA as a whole.  Here’s my list:

WINNERS (if Cavs win):

  1. Lebron James- If the Cavs manage to pull off what no one else has done in NBA history, which is win a Game 7 on the road, against the greatest regular season team in NBA history, after being down three games to one, it would catapult Lebron into a whole other stratosphere.  Songs would be sung about him, babies named after him, and streets too.  Historically, the significance of it would make him unlike any other athlete that has ever graced this game and hopefully would even give the Lebron haters some chill, though I doubt the Curry household would.  Also Lebron the GM would get a huge boost.
  2. Cleveland- This city hasn’t won a championship in so long, and has been starved for some real hardware that I don’t know if there will be a city left to do a parade on Monday morning.
  3. Kyrie Irving- He’s done more in these last two games to answer questions about his ability to lead a team than ever before.  Not at the level of James, but his Game 5 performance will be difficult to duplicate.  Shooting 71% and hitting some of the highest degree of difficulty shots you’ll ever see.  Also being called champion will help Kyrie shake the stigma of being a good player on a bad team.
  4. NBA- A small market like Cleveland winning will only make the NBA look better.  Even if I’m stirring the conspiracy theorists with this idea, the NBA needs to go into the next lockout having had a team from a small market win to prove that their current financial system has NOT kept small market teams at a disadvantage.
  5. Ty Lue- Taking over a team in midseason after a questionable coaching change which was rumored to be a Lebron power play and Lue has been admirable in not being the center of it all.  You can tell the Cavs players enjoy playing for him and go all out.  Even if we have no idea how to gauge his ability to coach because he’s coaching a stacked squad, Lue will have NBA champion on his resume as head coach and player and that’s a feat not many have accomplished.  In fact here’s the list: Rick Carlisle, Pat Riley, KC Jones, Phil Jackson, Billy Cunningham, Tommy Heinsohn, Bill Russell, and Red Holzman.  That’s some elite company no matter how much you give him credit for.

LOSERS (if Cavs win)

  1. Warriors being the greatest team in NBA history- The obvious choice, but really its their place in history.  It ain’t no thing if you ain’t got that ring.  Being the greatest regular season team of all time is a good accomplishment but nothing to write home about.  The Bulls will pop champagne, and those other teams like the 86 Celtics, 87 Lakers will all rest easy and have the right to puff out their chest and say they were better too.  If they lose Game 7, the Warriors will have lost as many games in the playoffs as they did during the entire 82 game regular season.
  2. The Curry’s- This is now the second Finals where he’s gone MIA.  Yes, he scored 30 points last night but it was the quietest 30.  He also fouled out of a game for the first time and showed un-Steph-Curry-like undisciplined behavior.  He’s the reigning two time MVP but if they lose this series after being up 3-1, Steph will bear a lot of the blame and for the first time in his career face criticism.  That should make for a fun summer for the Curry household.  Continuing in the Curry household- her twitter rant after Game 6 will be discussed incessantly until Game 7.  If they don’t win, I’m sure Warriors fans will support Ayesha’s thoughts and complain about how the NBA doesn’t want the Warriors to win.  This will harm the Curry brand which was really beginning to take off.  NBA and other corporate sponsors can’t be too happy about her flying off the handle.  They don’t take too kindly to being called names by wives or part of the crew types calling their product or company into question.
  3. Draymond Green- The nut job as I’m calling Game 5 will rank as one of the weirdest suspension/momentum turners in NBA history.  Green’s value is immense to the Warriors, but his play and attitude were limited in Game 6 as he played with the thought that any kind of brash play would likely see him get suspended for an all important Game 7.  I’m assuming he’s saving all that rage for do or die Game 7.
  4. Knicks fans/Celtics fans or any fan base that wants a superstar off their team and Kevin Love on it-  If the Cavs win, the push or Kickstarter campaign to trade Kevin Love will take a huge hit.  No complicated three way deal that will net the Cavs Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks draft picks they desperately need to continue the rebuild or no superstar Kevin Love to join the revolution in Boston.
  5. NBA refs- If the Cavs win, tape of Game 6 will be studied as closely as the Kings/Lakers series in 2002 and the Heat/Mavs series in 06.  Tim Donaghy’s legacy will be safe and secure.

WINNERS (if Warriors win)

  1. Steph Curry- No one stands to gain more by his team’s success than Steph Curry.  I’m not saying he’s a product of that system- you can’t make that argument for Steph when he’s undoubtedly the greatest shooter this sport has ever known.  But he’s pretty much been non-existent in the NBA finals for the second consecutive year and the internet notices shit like that.  I’m expecting a 30+ point effort, but I think the Cavs have allowed Steph to get his 30 albeit working hard, but he may have been exposed defensively.  Steph has to be aggressive in Game 7 and if he does, he can secure his legacy.
  2. Klay Thompson- It seems people discuss Steph and Draymond when it comes to this team, but Klay does as much as Dray on the defensive side of the ball (look at his assignments during each round of the playoffs, Harden, Lilliard, Westbrook and now Kyrie) and has done more than Steph on the offensive end.  The Warriors do NOT force a Game 7 against OKC without Klay’s insane 40 point game.  He loves being in the background which tells you why the Warriors have so much success because all of their stars are uncharacteristically unselfish and genuinely like playing with each other.
  3. Kevin Love trade mongers- Knicks fans/Celtics fans will be spending countless hours on the trade machine to try and figure out how to get Kevin Love to Boston and the Knicks with a few draft picks.
  4. Joe Lacob- His NYT article probably turned off a number of people.  It made him out to be the arrogant douchebag we’ve all come to expect the rich to be.  If the Warriors win, those people can all suck it.  Many of his enhancements have enabled the Warriors to become the standard for front offices to aspire to and Lacob will have engineered one of the greatest turnarounds for a franchise in sports history.
  5. NBA tweeners entering the draft- The shift in thinking about how to employ players like Draymond has changed.  Every league is copycat so many teams will look at players who fit that description during the draft and may reach to grab them in hopes of getting the next Draymond Green.  Denzel Valentine’s draft stock is already flying high and I’m sure teams will be paying close attention to shooters who can stretch the floor.  There will be teams trying to fit square pegs in round holes in hopes of duplicating the Warriors success.

LOSERS (if Warriors win)

  1. Lebron James- Because he’s Lebron and no matter what, the haters will come out.  That’s the burden he bears and whether right or wrong, fans will forget the back to back 41 point games and herculean effort to force a Game 7, only done twice before in NBA history in order to troll the King.
  2. Kevin Love- Second to Lebron, the NBA will collectively ponder the future of Kevin Love in Cleveland.  Since he got to Cleveland, it hasn’t been a clean fit and his play in Game 6 was everything you needed to know.  He picked up 2 fouls in the first three minutes and saw most of the second half from the bench.  This was a top 15 player in the NBA two years ago but things have NOT gone well.  Love will likely have to leave Cleveland and be put up on the pantheon of hated athletes in Cleveland.
  3. Old Guys- All the Hall of Famers who have opened their mouths about a jump shooting team winning will have to admit that they were wrong.  Which they still won’t do, but maybe next time we won’t pay attention to click bait articles about a quote from an 80’s player that discounts the Warriors success.  They can stop the whole Kurt Rambis would’ve stopped Lebron and Draymond from entering the lane.  Seriously you think THIS GUY is stopping Lebron from getting in the paint?
  4. Harrison Barnes Free Agency- Barnes had a chance to step up in the Finals and take a $100M contract even if everyone would be screaming that its a bad contract.   This Finals has only proved what we all knew.  This guy isn’t worth the money and while its still entirely possible that Barnes can go off in Game 7, and the cap is so crazy high and every team has so much money that they may throw money at him- I can’t see him being the star and Steve Kerr sat Barnes down for a majority of the second half while the Warriors were trying to make a comeback.  Kerr thought a clearly hobbled Andre Iguodola was a better option.  Ouch.
  5. City of Cleveland- It bears noting that no fan base is more prepared for defeat and gut wrenching loss than the City of Cleveland.  No fan base has seen their hopes dashed in the way this city has.  I will say that this team right now has very 2004-Red Sox feel to it to me.  Take it as you will.

 

 

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The problem with being Lebron

This started off as a Lebron vs. Steph post.  I was talking myself into how the league suddenly went from being Lebron’s to Steph’s.  The much talked about come up of both stars.  The programs they built (St. Mary St Vincent/Davidson).  The way they look physically which, while on the opposite ends of the spectrum, define who they are .

 

 

After watching the first four games of the NBA finals, I still find myself conditioned to follow Lebron around the court.  Everything is, and always has been about Lebron and even on the precipice of the greatest season in NBA history, I don’t find the Warriors run nearly as interesting as what this Finals will ultimately mean for the career of Lebron James.  In the end, Lebron is too good and that’s his problem.

But hasn’t it always been this way?  Even as, in some people’s eyes, Steph Curry has become the best player in the league,  Lebron still is the most fascinating.  His athleticism, his prowess, his ability to take over games are parts of the package that make him so appealing to basketball fans.

The most memorable athletes are polarizing figures.  I thought of Muhammad Ali’s career this week as news spread of his passing.  Billy Crystal said it best during his eulogy: “the world stopped.  There were no wars.  There were no terrorists.”  Ali was a figure that drew the fiercest of passions.  You could have a spirited argument about Ali the boxer.    Ali the civil rights activist.  Ali the draft dodger.  Ali the Muslim. The one universal opinion was that his career as a boxer was memorable.  As memorable for his successes as for his failures.

Lebron’s career isn’t over, but when all is said and done, it will be interesting how we ultimately view him.  Its human nature to never appreciate something as its happening.  I feel like with Lebron’s career everything has been taken for granted under the incredible pressure both he and the basketball world placed on his broad shoulders since the moment he entered the league.

By the time he was drafted in 2003, the world was already well aware of who Lebron was;  All his firsts were universally broadcast as moments and special events.  His first record breaking contract with Nike was billed as revolutionary and  his first game in the NBA was a must-watch for people curious about the next big thing.  Hell, his high school games were being broadcast on ESPN.

lebron-james-052615-620There are two very distinct factors involved in how we view Lebron and they conflict with each other: the way the internet changed and the rise of the statistical analytics movement.

Every year the Cavaliers got better, every year the basketball intelligentsia wanted more.  Every year he raised the level of his game, it seemed never to be enough.  When Lebron entered the league, Facebook was still an algorithm connecting dorms in Harvard and Twitter wasn’t a glean in the internet’s eye.  The internet for all it does now, never connected the world of information in any field quite like Twitter does.  Sports bloggers were gaining ground as giants and counter culture to the old sports columnists.  The Mike Lupicas and Mitch Alboms of the world were finding that their voices were no longer necessary to tell us how to feel about games or moments.  The rise of the blogger with the fan perspective was becoming more prevalent.

When Twitter came into the world in 2006, the internet had finally found a way to bring everyone together into smaller chat rooms making the world wide web, more local.  It really would not have been successful had celebs and then sports writers endorsed the platform by participating.  Regular everyday fans could interact with stars and sportswriters.  Every year since Twitter’s arrival, the way we consume sports changed and the internet changed with it.  Hashtags became a way to categorize your thoughts and subjects.  Sports bloggers who took to the platform immediately found another way to widen their reach.  SB Nation and Bleacher Report were two digital publications birthed from the Twitter age, gaining funding and important backing from multimedia giants like Vox media and Turner Sports.

But it was the fan who rose during the internet age to have more of a voice.  Every business must respond to the changing of its climate.  As smartphones and tablets became all the rage, it became clear that this generation preferred their information in their pockets rather than in print.  As print shops were dying, so too were the voices of a generation who could capture a moment with their words.  The 2000s featured the voice of the fan become more prominent.  Fans wanted to hear the columnist feel the home team loss and share in their misery.  That type of columnist became famous and many sports programs were shaped in the image of the conversation of regular Americans.  Sports talk radio became more popular, PTI, and even the lowest form: First Take.

The other thing Twitter did was hasten the pace of both reporting and then reaction to sporting news and games.  Today’s games are watched with one eye on the screen and one eye on any number of handheld devices- your phone; iPad etc.  What did that do?  It warped the conversation.  Columnists who took time to adjust to the new age where print journalism was dying, had to calibrate their job title to include reacting to news as it was happening rather than rely on the benefit of time to gather their thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still journalists who refuse to take part in the Twitterati game.  You know where everyday fans gather the “courage” to to hide behind an internet handle and fly off of it to try and get a reaction.  I’ve noticed that more and more sports personalities like Amin Elhassin and Bomani Jones (two guys I follow and find to be funny and unrepentant in their back talk to the shallow end of the smart gene pool) can snap back at fans without fear of losing their jobs because maybe that’s also part of their job title now.

Lebron came of age during this rapidly changing time of the internet and that more than anything has warped our ability to properly understand and contextualize him as a player.  He’s been the best player in the NBA for the last 13 years and had more workload than perhaps anyone in the history of sports.  The demands on his body are great and so his physical frame, one to be awed, is sometimes taken for granted.  He can go from playing an 82 game season, to playing four rounds of the playoffs to immediately traveling to play for the United States in international competition.  Where does he get the time to rest and take a break?

That’s without taking into account the demands on his time to do commercials and be a top flight pitchman for a number of brands.

His body is kept in immaculate shape because he “gets it”.  Many times the athletes fans project to be great never get there because they don’t understand the sacrifice it takes.  They love the fame and fortune but never reach the levels we want because being a celebrity is more important.  New York has two of those in Carmelo Anthony and Matt Harvey: stars who have the talent to be even better but are still caught up in the trappings of being a star.

Lebron’s skill level causes the most amount of polarizing discussion.  Try and compare his career with Jordan’s and watch what happens to your mentions on Twitter.  Lebron’s skill and talent inspire so much thought that it hurts the head to see where people go with it.

In today’s day and age where everything is watched, Lebron is perhaps the most prepared athlete.  He has a stable family life, never implicated in any kind of wandering that had TMZ on his door.  He goes to clubs but never does anything to embarrass himself.

He’s had one very notable slip up: the Decision.   The one time he stopped being the robot everyone wanted him to be, he misplayed his hand so incredibly that the internet has never allowed him to forget it.  So much so that if sports had a super villain in the modern times, 2011 Lebron and the Heat would be it.  I never hated the decision to leave Cleveland: they had taken Lebron’s greatness for granted that they never adequately surrounded him with the players necessary to end Cleveland’s title drought.  But the way in which he decided to leave Cleveland for Miami was so poorly done that when you consider every other PR decision Lebron has made since and before then, one has to be led to believe that this wasn’t Lebron’s doing and more so the people around him that talked him into it.

After winning two titles in Miami, he returned to Cleveland in an even more surprising fashion.  I always knew Lebron would come back to Cleveland one day.  After winning back to back titles and and going to the Finals four years in a row, there weren’t that many challenges left for Lebron except for the biggest one: reversing Cleveland’s title curse.  In a  stroke of PR genius and further evidence that Lebron understands the way in which this here game works he penned a letter to Cleveland and to the sports world through Sports Illustrated to announce his return to “the ‘Land”.

In his second consecutive Finals against what may be the greatest team record wise, Lebron’s legacy faces its greatest challenge.  Many have said that Lebron looks tired. That perhaps its time to look at these next few years as the inevitable downturn for a player who has logged more minutes than any player in NBA history.  Since his first SI cover fourteen years ago as a 17 year old, he’s been in the public conscience.  Dave Chapelle once said “you can’t become un-famous, but you can become infamous”.  Lebron has no upside thanks to his incredible talent, or rather what we think his talent is.

In an incredibly cruel twist to Lebron’s legacy, many will remember Lebron for what he could have done rather than what he did and that’s where the second factor that has played into his career: the rise of the statistical analytics crowd.  No one athlete has benefitted more from the stat crowd than Lebron because nobody needs the defense more.  Jordan will always be the GOAT to me, but I bet if I look at the stats next to each other, Lebron comes closer to Jordan than any of my generation would like to think.

But Lebron conversations can create such hate within even the closest group of friends that its almost impossible to do the comparison without being prepared to take hits to your own pride.  Its completely illogical and yet its the curse of Lebron.  There is no win-win situation for Lebron.  Either his team wins or he loses the game.  Every game, every season is a referendum on him as a man, as an athlete etc.

We lionize guys like Jordan because they were willing to compete in things like the Slam Dunk competition.  We attach words and phrases like competitive drive and playing like a man possessed to Jordan.  But for whatever reason those don’t apply to Lebron.  Lebron’s manhood gets called into question more so than any other athlete ever.  Lebron doesn’t participate in slam dunk competitions and its as if he committed the greatest sin of all: you’re not like Jordan.

The comparison to Jordan isn’t fair, but let’s remember that for people to use Jordan as the comp for Lebron is paying high compliment to King James.  Its for a career body of work that has been followed and dissected more than any other athlete.  He will never get credit for the two titles he won.  Many fans will even laugh off the Jordan comp if this Finals series goes as most expect it to: a swift ending at Oracle on Monday.  For James, there is no upside.

No matter how much of the stat community come out in praise of Lebron, their words and numbers fall on deaf ears.  Nobody wants to hear that their eyes deceive them and that Lebron is somewhat in the conversation.  My generation will always stubbornly hold on to the fact that Jordan could beat anybody because we carry on about Jordan as if he were more myth than man.  He isn’t the guy who was routinely a douche bag to his teammates, and had a severe gambling addiction that may or may not have brought on his year and a half hiatus from the sport during the height of his powers.  We remember his exploits because he was the first to do it.

He was the first shoe mogul.  He built Nike to become the number one shoe company in the world.  He was the first athlete to be widely marketed and have major companies create lavish ad campaigns around.  Why?  Because he delivered.  We remember the push off and pose.  We remember the return.  We remember the Nike commercials who mythologized Jordan while he was still there.  He won while we were erecting statues in his honor.

Lebron was supposed to be in the same mold, and dammit if he didn’t try.  He played with fire and purpose and imposed his will when he wanted to.  But we as a sports culture hold it against him when his team failed around him.  I saw Skip Bayless, who has made so much money off discussing Lebron, tweet out that Lebron had been shutdown by Andre Iguodola.  Unfortunately he came one assist shy of a triple double.  If that’s shutting someone down,  we may need to reassess the sports lexicon for poor Skip.

That’s part of the problem.  There’s so much chatter orbiting Planet Lebron that its incomprehensible to have a genuine discussion about him.  We almost have to wait for a decade after his career is over to properly understand what he did for the game.

Lebron’s problem is that he’s too good for his own good.  One day we’ll all see eye to eye on him, but today is not the day.  Not in today’s hot take climate.  Not in today’s insta-reaction age where we have to understand what’s happening AS ITS HAPPENING.  Where everyone has a voice, the smart and the not-so-smart.

Part of the problem in properly understanding Lebron is how he’s discussed.  But mostly Lebron’s problem is  that he’s Lebron.  He’s probably too good to have a discussion today about him.

 

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Game 4 and 5 (Stop gaps and Stay Puts)

VelasquezThere’s a few ways  to look at teams rebuilding: they are either in it to bottom out and nab as many top 10 picks as humanly possible while not completely turning off the fan base.  Or they are hard at work at assembling a roster that will compete while telling everyone that they will stink this year.

The Phillies are more the latter than the former and the Mets are quickly finding that out.

Last year the Phillies didn’t win their second game against the Mets until September.  Its April 10th and now the Phillies have taken a series.  For the Mets to win their division and ultimately hold off the Nationals and perhaps even the Marlins, they have to win every game they can against the Phillies and Braves because you have to assume the other two probable contenders are doing the same.

The Phillies though are playing with pride and that’s what happens early on.  The season hasn’t escaped them and they forget that the goal even is to lose 100 games and get the draft picks rather than play spoiler so early in the season.  But perhaps even tougher to stomach for the Mets than late season games in division will be these games that they should have won and let slip away.

Saturday’s game featured one of the major pieces of that rebuild haul they received from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade.  Vincent Velasquez threw mid 90’s heat, pitched inside to lefties and kept the ball down and was dominant for most of the evening.  It was cold and there were two pitchers, one on the early side of his 20’s and one on the early side of his 40’s and both unwilling to give in to the elements.

Velazquez wasn’t just pitching great, he was pitching with an attitude and a swagger that we here in Queens haven’t seen since Matt Harvey in the 2012 days.  A hard throwing righty not knowing any better and going out and winning a game or two and announcing himself to the league.  Velazquez will be better served to develop that inside game to lefties and develop a better slider (some of those pitches came dangerously close to fat part of the lumber) but the tools are there.  The biggest one, attitude, is already there.  I loved every part of his game and look forward to his development as a starter.

His counterpart of Saturday was a young Bartolo Colon.  Maybe he’s already turned into one of those Ice Zombie things from Game of Thrones and thus can no longer feel cold, but his sleeveless outfit and general low 90’s cheddar was humming all afternoon save for one that sailed outside, but not out enough before Ryan Howard, old foe, put a charge into one and deposited it into the left field seats for the margin deciding run.

Losing 1-0 games suck.  Going to games where your team loses 1-0 sucks worse.  Losing 1-0 games to rookie pitchers against what should be a doormat suck worse.  These are the games  where you get runners in scoring position often, that you look back on and smack your head.  The Mets got to the Philly bullpen again in the 7th and had 3 innings to put atleast one run on the board, but the Philly bullpen refused to comply.

As a Met fan you just have to shake your head.  This early in the season, driving yourself crazy over a 1-0 loss will do you no good.  This is about the marathon.

The next day against Matt Harvey some of the worry about this supposed all-time great rotation reared its ugly head.  Harvey is supposed to be the bulldog.  The “best pitcher” out of the group especially in year two post-Tommy John surgery.  But his slider still has not returned to peak 2013 form and his fastball is still very straight and very much down the middle.

Ron Darling said it in mid-broadcast.  His mechanics have been off for two weeks going back to Spring Training and until he’s mechanically sound, Harvey will continue being ordinary.  Sitting now at 0-2 Harvey seems to get stuck in the same mess.  Get yourself into a mess and can’t give up that extra hit.  Had Herrera not taken him deep, the Phillies are down 2-1 heading into the seventh and momentum and the game goes differently.  Herrera’s homerun allowed the Phillies to stomach the Yoenis Cespedes homerun off an excellent at-bat and once they got out of that inning the confidence to make it the rest of the way.

Jeremy Hellickson is NOT a prospect, though he once was considered one of the best young pitchers in the game.  One of the few pitchers Tampa had coming to the majors that were going to lead them to multiple division titles and while he did do serviceable work, arm injuries and time off have stunted Hellickson’s development.  Once you leave an organization as well run as the Rays to go elsewhere you had better end up in the right situation before getting yourself back to where you once were.  Enter the Phillies who found Hellickson to play stop gap.

The plan is to build up his value by running him out there every fifth day and to eventually turn him into prospects either at the trade deadline OR recoup his value in a supplemental draft pick.  Hellickson hasn’t disappointed in his first two starts and despite his bullpen’s meltdown in his first start where he went 6 and didn’t give up an earned run, he was excellent again until the 6th inning and Yoenes Cespedes ran him off the mound.

Hellickson’s value is in staying in the rotation and pitching well enough to earn the win.  The Phillies hope he can make it to the sixth inning in most games and will likely throw him into the clubhouse to inflate his numbers while maintaining the rehab company line of bringing him along slowly.  This is so obviously the plan that its bound to work.

Some oblivious team will be desperate for a starter and will trade away even ONE decent prospect for him and that’s the point of these transactions for Matt Klentak and the Phillies front office.  Odrubal Herrera was a Rule 5 pick up that batted .290 and had a good OBP and showed solid promise at center field.  A majority of their starting line up is filled with guys who are young, but have been let go by the organization that originally developed them.  These are the guys that populate the rosters of teams like the Braves and Phillies.  There isn’t a bad case scenario in any of them being there- if they produce, you have a young guy on the cheap who most of the times you can sign for below market prices by playing the “we gave you a chance” card.  If they don’t, it only validates what the other team saw.

In many ways, the Phillies fans have to be excited about watching this team.  Mixed in with prospects the Phillies are legitimately excited for- like Velazquez and Aaron Nola in the rotation and Maikel Franco and JP Crawford (who will be up to the show by June you watch)- there will be guys like Hellickson who’s contribution to the Phillies will be getting to six and getting out unscathed so he can fetch some young prospects.  Every guy on this roster not named Nola, Velazquez, Franco are all either going to be traded or off the roster by the time the next great Philly roster shows up.

For the Mets, you can blame the weather and just a bit of bad luck for their misfortune these last few days but the struggles with runners in scoring position are real.  Last year the Mets did slightly better than average in situational hitting.  This year, runs have been more difficult to come by.  I don’t expect this to continue for much longer.  This is the first week, and the schedule has been so crazy and dumb that its tough for any of the hitters to develop any kind of schedule or rhythm.  While that isn’t a total excuse, you have to give a team that also started 2-3 last year before ripping 11 straight en route to a trip to the World Series the benefit of the doubt.

It was good to see Yoenis Cespedes’ power manifest in that 11 pitch at-bat.  Alot of what concerns you about Cespedes was still there.  He swung at pitches down and out of the zone.  Pitchers with quicker and better downward spiral on their offspeed stuff will trick Cespedes enough, to make him miss, but Hellickson doesn’t have that stuff.  You stay in an at-bat long enough pitchers have to go to their fourth or fifth best pitch OR throw a pitch the hitter already saw which in any case is an advantage to the hitter and on the 11th pitch, Hellickson left a changeup down and middle and Cespedes tossed that to right field for a two run home run and what looked like a momentum swinger.

But this is what you will see for the most part.  With that being said, here’s what I found interesting about the last two games:

  • The Phillies have some pitching this year.  Forget that they figured out how to pitch to the Mets this series (inside to lefties and down and away to righties),  but Velazquez was really impressive.  Mid 90’s fastball and the attitude.  When you are searching for traits in a staff ace, you often look for the guy who refuses to accept losing.  Tom Seaver came in 1967 and immediately changed the mindset of those Mets and they eventually won the World Series in 1969.  Keith Hernandez was traded from a World Series champion St Louis Cardinals team and the Cardinals way and taught those early 80’s Mets teams how to win.  Harvey was that guy for this era of the team and why fans continue to hold out hope that 2013 Matt Harvey will return to show why he was the best, and Velazquez showed the characteristics of that type of player.  Every franchise with hopes for a better future requires a guy who will go out and stop the bleeding.  The Phillies hope they have that with Velazquez.
  • Here’s another game where Harvey pitched better than the stats suggest but I’m going to look at this start and the one against the Royals from this perspective:  even with his mechanics being off, he pitched decently.  In games where the Mets can’t find runs, its clear that he presses and gives up that other run that ultimately decides the game.  The Herrera home run was tough because you had a feeling that the Mets weren’t going to be blanked in back to back games.  Its part bad luck and part mechanical failure that he has to work through.
  • I know Met fans are going to freak out and its natural.  Most of my Mets fan friends were still cautiously optimistic about this year and some of that negativity is creeping back in but I won’t allow myself to get caught in that.  Its so easy to revert back to the thinking that the Mets can’t handle success after being there for 2007 and 2008 and then 2001 and always hearing about 1988.   Its the first week and literally 100 things happened this week.  Let’s allow ourselves a full month before legit worry starts.
  • I liked David Wright’s approach in those last two AB’s.  After seeing a few pitches and swinging at a few bad ones, he went after the first pitch he saw in his final two AB’s and got a double and a single.  His aggressive approach allowed him to see Hellickson’s two weakest offerings: the ol get-me-over-strike.  Good for him.  Its good seeing your Captain fight.
  • Curtis Granderson 1 for 20.  Keep an eye on this.
  • When will Bartolo Colon start to age?  colon overhead catch  Seriously, look at this play.  Two years ago I called his arrival as the single most important signing the Mets could do.  That to me showed that Sandy Alderson wasn’t all algorithms and one year contracts.  It told me he understands how to round out a clubhouse and create an atmosphere and the veteran impact.  That’s what guys like Sam Hinkie who are completely slaves to the calculations of projection models don’t get.  That’s why you need actual baseball people in a room full of Harvard grad analysts.  Guys who will understand the not told on pie chart value of having Colon in the dugout offering advice.  This is a guy who goes out and learned the craft of pitching.  Having him around Harveys and DeGrom’s and Syndergaards make them better.  That’s where his value is.  And he keeps a clubhouse loose. colon flip marlins gif Last year’s behind the back flip was awesome because of the shot in the dugout of all his teammates and their genuine smiles.  Bartolo is for the people and he deserves all the millions he gets deep into his 40’s.
  • Also he’s a bad ass for going sleeveless.  You talk about playing mind games with the other team?
  • Big series coming up against the Marlins.  Due to a rainout in Washington the Mets will see Jared Cosart and Jose Fernandez in the first two games.  Last year the Mets kept missing Fernandez in his comeback from Tommy John.  Tomorrow will mark Steven Matz’ first start of the year and it should be a good early season test for the young lefty who struggled for most of the spring but finished with five no-hit innings.  Tuesday will have Fernandez going up against Noah Syndergaard who was absolutely lights out against the Royals.  That should be the showcase game of the night.  The Marlins will be the wild card team.  If they stay healthy they can be a thorn in both the Nationals and Mets sides.  More than just being the difference in who out of the Mets and Nationals take the division, the Marlins could wind up being in it till the end.  This is a team that won’t hesitate to make a move if they feel they are still in it.
  • No more negativity.  Tomorrow is another day but today is the best day because we’re all here.

 

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Oh Baby (Game 3 of 162)

The end of Jacob DeGrom’s afternoon had a surprise ending.  One Mets fans don’t want to hear or think about.  He left, not because he got a call on the bat phone to tell him that his wife had given birth but, because he felt his back stiffen up.  It was later reported as a right lat strain which given the cold weather, was not a surprise.

DeGrom was as cool as ever pitching into the sixth, commanding his pitches and painting the corners better than ever.  Given his competition, it was easy to see DeGrom lose some of his focus in the sixth when he allowed the pitcher Jared Eickhoff to get a double and eventually score on Osdrubal Herrera’s opposite field single, but he was able to lock in and get the final out to stop the damage long enough for the Mets bats to finally find some rhythm.

If anything DeGrom once again demonstrated his most natural gift.  Likely the one gift that separates him from all the other pitchers.  He has a way of finding extra life when he needs it on any of his pitches and managing stressful pitches that play beyond his years.  I go back to Game 5 against the Dodgers after the Mets had jumped out to a 1-0 lead and DeGrom gave up a few singles that scored a run and threatened to have Terry Collins give him the quick hook on a do-or-die Game 5.  But DeGrom worked pitch counts and eventually limited the damage and kept the Mets within striking distance.

When your pitcher doesn’t have his best stuff, those are the moments when you find out what they are made of, and DeGrom boasts that kind of ability.  He can reach back for that extra something.

Which is why I’m not overly concerned with his lack of velocity today.  Most of spring training much of the worry laid at the radar gun readings  during DeGrom’s starts.  Many read into those numbers that perhaps DeGrom was beginning to tire because of the increased workload those extra starts had.  But once again DeGrom’s strength was his ability to reach back for something extra.  To give his team a chance and once again he came through.

That’s why DeGrom is very much in discussion when you talk about who the best pitcher in this rotation will be and what a fun argument it remains.  After Harvey kept the Royals at bay for six innings and three runs.  Syndergaard followed it up, in his much hyped start, to baffle the Royals and leave them absolutely stunned with six innings of shutout baseball.  DeGrom, having his wife and the elements playing against him, pitched a great game before leaving.

Its April so its best to get the lat strains out of the way now and to keep the kiddie gloves on.  I’m sure DeGrom will argue and ask for the ball when his turn comes up but if Terry learned anything from the playoffs its to trust his own instinct and not allow his pitchers to second guess him.

If DeGrom is forced to miss any extended period of time, it may be best to be more on the conservative side.  Looking at the schedule, the rest of April provides a chance for the Mets to get some very good “routine wins” as Gary Cohen called it after the game.  Today’s win was routine and one in a very good way.

Degrom wasn’t his normal self, sitting 91-93 with the fastball, but his ability to control both sides of the plate make him a dangerous pitcher even into his 30’s because he’s demonstrated his ability to remain effective even without elite velocity.  The lat injury may have been something that prevented him to reach the mid to high 90’s even during the Spring.  If the Mets can get ahead of this, and this scares me because the medical staff will be involved, they can limit the damage moving forward.  As we know, a healthy DeGrom can truly be something special.

Speaking of which, the offense finally strung a bunch of hits together.  After working up his pitch count, Jared Eickhoff seemed to hold the Mets in check from innings 3-5 until the sixth when the Phillies had tied it up.  That’s when the Mets began found life and hit after hit came.  It was the bottom of the sixth when Neil Walker and Michael Conforto both had hits off Eickhoff.

Keith said it, and was right on the money: Conforto’s comfort at the plate is growing and he was seeing Eickhoff’s excellent off speed offerings.  That’s how he was able to swat an inside slider past a diving Ryan Howard and down the line for a run scoring double.  Conforto’s continuing to make the case for moving up in the batting order.  It was in the seventh where Conforto’s ability was really on full display.

Against James Russell, a leftie, Conforto was able to handle another tough pitch and hit a two run single.  Conforto won’t get too many opportunities this early to make the case to the coaching staff that he deserves an everyday job.  Its clear management wants to get Lagares into the game and have Cespedes’ bat in the lineup everyday, but something is going to have to give here.  Having Conforto make the decision tougher for the coaching staff is one of them, how you say, good problems.

THINGS I FOUND INTERESTING:

  • The National League Championship ring ceremony was done privately.  While I find the idea of a NLCS championship ring utterly ridiculous, I felt that if you were going to honor them with rings, you may as well have had them pick up their rings during player introductions.  Its so bizarre how often the Mets just don’t apply common sense.
  • Jared Eickhoff is a good pitcher that with time and maturity will be a solid major league pitcher.  He doesn’t have elite velocity but that curve has pretty good bend and gets over for strikes and he gets his slider over for strikes as well.  He’s going to have to learn to be crafty and be smarter in certain counts.  He didn’t have a good backstop to coach him through certain things but he managed well against the line up the Mets threw out there.
  • Henderson another 1-2-3.  Two K’s.  His velocity is in the mid-90’s and he’s locking down that 7th inning role.  It was good to see Antonio Bastardo in there to end the game after a brutal spring.  The bullpen overall has been outstanding.  Only Hansel Robles struggled today, but he’s a guy who lives in the middle of the plate and the Phillies got to him a little bit but I have confidence he will get better as the weather gets warmer.
  • The Phillies are a team the Mets should dominate this season.  Its one of the stories that bear watching especially as you see the Phillies line up continue to morph into something of a joke or as I like to call it, the 2011 Mets.  Remember that team?  They were a placeholder for a future contender.  A team that was to be.  At some point the Phillies will be more than just a team to beat on, but as presently constructed they are the easiest path to a division title.  Dominate the Braves and Phillies and that reduces the weight of games against the Nationals.  Dominate the Braves, Phillies, and Marlins, then that greatly reduces any supposed advantage the Nationals will have if they don’t handle business as well.  If you beat up the entire division then consider this discussion moot and not worth getting into.
  • As a second act to the previous point, teams like the Phillies will struggle with regular stuff like turning a taylor-made double play that eventually allowed the Mets to score their first run.  OR when your veteran infielder doesn’t grasp the infield fly rule and allows your best threat at a big inning fall by the waist side by getting caught in a run down.  That double play allowed the Mets to escape any further damage.  When things like this happens its imperative that the Mets take advantage.
  • I loved the preamble to Neil Walker’s AB where Keith and Ronnie were discussing how we were about to see a professional AB and there was Walker coming through again.  Through three games he’s clearly been the difference maker at the plate and he’s been a solid fielder.  If he’s trying to earn that big contract, he’s surely doing it.  The Pittsburgh native is surely living up to his billing: he’s the professional hitter we all figured he was.
  • While Walker’s small sample size is exciting, one sample size that isn’t so exciting is Curtis Granderson.  Last year, the Grandy-man was the team’s most consistent hitter.  Not your prototypical lead off guy, but it ended up working out.  This year’s at-bats have been different.  He hasn’t been battling pitchers.  Hitting weak grounders or pop ups that wind up in the infield.  Its interesting that most of the discussion has been about platooning Conforto in left with Lagares coming in to play center and shifting Cespedes to left.  What if its the other way?  What if its to move Cespedes to right and shift Granderson out of the lineup?  Part of last year’s comeuppance came as a result of his position within the line up.  Batting leadoff in a Sandy Alderson team means he has to be patient and draw walks and set the table.  His patience and approach of getting on-base created more opportunities.  Once teams realized he wasn’t trying to hit 40 home runs, they began pitching him more straight up and that meant more fastballs which he used to his advantage.  I’m not suggesting he can’t replicate his performance.  His BABIP (Batting average for Balls in Play) was actually below league average so there’s an opportunity for even better things.  Here’s where Granderson needs to be more 2015 Grandy and not this aggressive version of Granderson that we’re seeing early on in 2016.  While small sample sizes this small don’t tell the whole story, there may be a story to tell sooner rather than later.
  • Today is better than yesterday because we’re still alive.

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Thor’s Revenge (Game 2 of 162)

syndergaard 1Kansas City- (BoxScore) It was the sixth inning.  The bases were loaded with Royals.  Kendrys Morales, the 2015 Silver Slugger at the DH position, was up at the plate and it almost seemed inevitable.  The team that rarely strikes out had finally mounted a rally and a 2-0 lead by the Mets was about to evaporate.  The eventuality of it all seemed so whatever.

What happened next served notice to both the Royals and the rest of the league: Noah Syndergaard is no ordinary man.

Three sliders that are still being discussed today, even in disgust in some barbecue pits in Kansas City, were unleashed on an unsuspecting Kendrys Morales and all he could do was flail.  You could see the rubik’s cube that Thor dropped on Morales and he had three chances to figure it out.  All of those came at speeds of 95, 93 and 93.  Think about that for one second.

Folks after the game swore it was a cutter, but it was left as a slider.  And the baseball world was not the same again.

Games like this and moments like this invent fun fictional arguments for Mets fans that, in the best of scenarios for the Mets, could go on all summer and deep into October and early November:  who is the best of these starters?

Syndergaard made his pitch, literally, and most have been convinced that he is indeed the one with the greatest potential.  Science has not fully immersed into baseball yet.  We still don’t know how to prevent pitchers from completely blowing out their arm.  There are plenty of theories about what could prevent arm fatigue.  Teams use pitch counts.  After 90 pitches, every single pitch is carefully digested by the manager and tested and hypothesized.  Columns are born after the sixth inning when pitch counts run up and pitchers start losing their velocity.

But there was Noah Syndergaard laying waste to all of that.  He’s 6’6 and 240, so he’s a linebacker throwing fastballs.  If anyone is built for the rigors of deep pitch counts and testing the limits of what we know about pitchers, he is NOT the guy.  He is the exception.  He is not the rule.  Perhaps that’s whats more special about Syndergaard than the other pitchers on this pitching staff.

Matz stands out because he’s a lefty.  DeGrom stands out because of his hair and his ability to pitch even without his best stuff.  Harvey is special because he has a certain quality that draws your attention and for most of the fan base, he was the first symbol of change.

Syndergaard just stands out.  He’s your average superhero pitcher.  Capable of hitting triple digits for 9 innings, then throw mind bending sliders and curves at ridiculous speeds that make baseball folk argue about what they had just seen.

I don’t know what we’re seeing just yet from Thor.  What I do know is that it hasn’t been seen before.  What I do know is that his development is continuing.  Much of the discussion pre-game, while American Woman was blasting as he warmed up, was what retaliation would the Royals take on young Noah and the Mets?  We all remember his physical and verbal assault on the Royals last year.  The only victor against the pesky Royals that the Mets could muster.

We didn’t know how he would respond in game 2.  New Yorkers saw Matt Harvey do good, but not great and the Mets hitters look old and broken if your David Wright, and dazed and confused if your Yoenis Cespedes.  Syndergaard was responsible for exacting the Mets revenge.  Having to sit through another ceremony, one the Mets officials did not protest as is being reported, the Mets had to be pumped to get one more shot at the champs.

A first inning triple at the hands of Alcides Escobar, slapping a ball the opposite way that was at eye level, did not look good.  But something happened and clicked.  Syndergaard settled down in what was a frenzy atmosphere.  He struck out 2-3-and-4 in the Royals lineup and the inning was over and the fans were left wondering what had happened.

That’s what great pitchers do.  In the face of overwhelming odds, they come up with their best stuff.  It reminded me of Jacob DeGrom in last year’s starts against the Dodgers.  In game 1 and game 5, deGrom seemed to work in and out of trouble summoning the will and finding a way out of innings that should have ended worse.  In both games, game 1 against Kershaw and game 5 against Greinke, deGrom never blinked and offered no signs of weakening.  That kind of mental fortitude is what has everyone buzzing and everyone excited about the future here in NY.

Tuesday’s performance elevated the expectations for DeGrom on Friday’s home opener and eventually will elevate the expectation out of Harvey and Matz for their next starts.  Syndergaard’s spring suggested that he was not feeling the arm fatigue that people had placed on DeGrom.  Until DeGrom hits 98 on the gun, people will be worried.

There was Syndergaard hitting triple digits.  There was the explosive Dan Warthen slider.  There was the hook from hell.  At some point superlatives will get old.  There will only be one word columns for Syndergaard’s performance.  You will know by one sentence:  Thor was pitching today.

Other stuff you may care about:

  • Jim Henderson for me was the second biggest development out of this game.  I had to rewatch his inning and his tailing up fastball is going to be a deadly weapon.  Most interesting was that he was regularly hitting mid 90’s.  Good for Terry Collins putting him in that situation at that point in the game. He seemed to relish the opportunity, not just in this game but with the Mets.  If he’s anything like he was on Tuesday for the rest of the season the Mets will certainly have picked up a huge steal.
  • Finally, the championship belt has made its way into the Mets clubhouse.  The belt which traveled around the Mets locker room all year last year has now found a home with Neil Walker who got it for his first home run in a Mets uniform, and the Mets first of 2016.  His two run home run broke the scoreless tie and gave the Mets all they needed.  Fans got pretty worked up over Murphy’s stellar debut in a Nats uniform so it was nice to see Walker give them something to crow back about.  The Neil Walker scouting report: solid.
  • Jeurys Familia had as much demons to exorcise as any Mets player in Kauffman stadium.  He had converted every save from June 30th until Alex Gordon launched a game tying home run in the bottom of the 9th in Game 1 of the World Series.  It was nice to see Familia get a strike out and then get through the next two batters in four pitches.  That 7-8-9 of Henderson, Reed and Familia hopefully will be lights out like they were on Tuesday for the entire year and playoffs.  One can only hope.
  • It may just be me, but hearing Rob Manfred talk, makes me think this guy is your average baseball fan dressed up to talk like a suit.  He has an upstate accent, and talks alot with his hands.  I hope his tenure will solve two of the biggest things affecting the game: how to get more african americans involved in the game and getting rid of the New York Yankees.
  • Addison Reed with a fresh baldie?  Dude always looks pissed leaving the mound.  I love it.
  • David Wright had to feel good getting two steals. Two nights ago he was old and couldn’t catch up to fastballs down the middle.  Now he’s running on one of the best catchers in the game.  Albeit he ran against Chris Young who takes forever to get to the plate, still a pretty effing good start.  Spinal stenosis may have taken some of his ability, but it hasn’t taken the Captain’s pride.
  • I’m still not a huge David Wright fan and still, despite the recent arrest and allegations of domestic abuse by Jose Reyes, stand by my opinion that the Mets should have given Reyes the $90M contract instead of signing Wright to a $100M+ contract.  Both players have taken different paths down, but both are trending in the same direction.  I still remember the SI cover in 2006 and referring to them as kids.  Ten years later its amazing how things change.
  • As much as I loved Wright drawing the two walks, he can’t hit number 2 in the same lineup that Michael Conforto hits in.  I say that because its becoming increasingly evident that Terry will begin the season with the training wheels on young Mike.  I will be shocked if Conforto isn’t hitting in the 2 hole by the middle of June.  Shocked.
  • Lucas Duda reminded you again why despite the 30HR potential, his playing first base is still an adventure and will continue to make plays like Eric Hosmer’s dash to home in the ninth inning in Game 5 a relevant talking point.  He’s come leaps and bounds since he started, but he still isn’t consistently scooping everything off the dirt.
  •  Gary, Keith and Ron.  Its truly a pleasure gentlemen.

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Game 1 of 162

If Met fans were looking for signs that pointed to a more stable, solid, contending team they were rudely awakened in the Season opener against the defending World Series Champion Kansas City Royals.

Last night reaffirmed what many, including myself feel are major weaknesses this team has and will continue to have until changes are made.  The Mets had a defensive lapse in the first inning starring Yoenis Cespedes.  The Royals were feisty on the base paths, taking the extra base everytime.  The Royals dinked and dunked where the Mets weren’t.  The Mets most feared hitters could offer very little resistance to Wade Davis OR Edinson Volquez.

Sound familiar?

All similar themes that ultimately did in the Mets last year reared their ugly heads.  But Mets fans like myself swear it will be different this time.  That sounds good on paper, but on paper is where the Mets exist as contenders.  On the strength of a solid off season and a pitching staff that should on most nights be better than their opposite number, the Mets are living as holders of the most precious “best baseball team in NY” title.

That all could change fairly quickly and Mets fans know this.  I remember I was as excited in 2007 and felt a similar feeling of “unfinished business” theme and the Mets kept things interesting until September when it all collapsed and the world took Jimmy Rollins and the Philadelphia Philthies a bit more seriously.   If the Mets assume the Nationals will play patsy like they were so eager to do last year, they had better think again.

Since Spring Training the Nationals have played with the kind of focus that says “they are pissed about last year and don’t plan on giving away the division”.  Because that’s what they did.

But if yesterday provided fans with anything its this: you have to live with all of Yoenis Cespedes’ quirks.  David Wright will either catch up to that fastball or Terry Collins will have to make a decision.  Michael Conforto will be batting second very soon, but it will be interesting to see how Collins uses Conforto moving forward.  We were in an American League ballpark so you can hide Conforto as a DH, but at some point the training wheels have to come off defensively because that’s his only glaring weakness.  The defensive issues are very real for this team and will continue to be until you get better players.  This isn’t about anything more than talent and the guys they have manning the positions are what they are defensively and you can’t change that at this point.  Teams will continue to run on the Mets until they prove they can slow people down on the bases.

But yesterday was game 1 and here’s some of the positives for those struggling to find any this miserable morning: Conforto looks like he could stick but his real test will come when he has to face a lefty.  Lucas Duda driving in two runs in the 8th was a welcoming sight and what I feel will be a sign of things to come.  I’m expecting him to have the best power numbers on this team.  Then there’s Matt Harvey who had a better night than his stats will suggest.

Last year Harvey wanted to be more economical to get deeper into games and he mixed some of that into his pitch sequencing during last night’s game.  He wasn’t trying to get swings and misses every time, but inducing contact as often as he could and conserving the strikeouts for when it mattered most.  He lost some of his command in the sixth which forced Collins to remove him but for game 1, I thought he did fine.

Fans will naturally freak out about Cespedes’ drop in left and Lagares’ inability to catch that sinking base hit, and Travis D’Arnaud’s passed ball but we knew the defense was going to be shaky.  Sandy Alderson acknowledged that.  But it bears remembering that heading into last year we thought Wilmer Flores wouldn’t be able to handle shortstop and for the most part he did a very serviceable job.  This team is more offensive minded.  Power bats and power arms and pray that the rest of the league doesn’t catch on.

Its just the first game so no reason to get out of sorts but the red flags and concerns are going to drive Mets fans crazy this morning.

As always, today is another day.

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MLB 2016 Preview (OVERS/UNDERS)

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Recently Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo came together for a one-time only radio show reunion for the Garden of Dreams.  If they can come back after an 8 year break, I can too in time for an MLB 2o16 preview.

Why did i drag Mike and the Mad Dog through that crummy open?  Because they did one of their classic bits: over/under for the upcoming season and I figured why don’t I take a crack at it, but with a twist.  Instead of picking three overs and three unders from among the 30 MLB teams, I figured I would do a countdown of all 30 teams and having to pick at least 10 unders.  That’s the rule.

So here we go:

30. Atlanta Braves (65 wins) UNDER– I expect the NL East to be a 2 team race with a lot of wins coming at the expense of the two worst teams in baseball.  The Braves are gearing up for their new stadium by dealing for inexperienced talent.  I expect them to be very bad again this year.

BOLD PREDICTION: They will trade Julio Teheran at some point this year for another major haul.  I expect the Dodgers and Red Sox to be favorites in landing the cheap righty.

29. Philadelphia Phillies (66.5) UNDER- The second half of the doormat the NL East will serve up will be the new Phillies as the old Phillies and everything they used to be is gone.  The team is determined to rebuild and I’m putting them slightly ahead of the Braves because I think JP Crawford will win them more games than Dansby Swanson will win the Braves.  That’s, once both of them are up sometime in June and their teams have bought at least another year of cheap servitude.

BOLD PREDICTION: Ryan Howard doesn’t have 100 AB’s in a Phillies uniform left.

28. Milwaukee Brewers (71.5) UNDER- Teams are finally beginning to realize that going 162 games to end up .500 isn’t a way to live and that’s where Milwaukee is.  Either they are overplaying their hand with Lucroy or they know they have a deal in place.  Coming off a good draft, I do expect the Brewers to speed up the process by trading both Lucroy AND Braun.  There are three excellent teams in the Central- the only path to salvation for Brewers fans is to go about the rebuild.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Brewers end up just a game off the worst team in the league.

27. Colorado Rockies (68) OVER- As organizations go, this is one that offers far more potential than the three i just named.  The Rockies have some impressive young, hard throwing pitchers, which is how they should have been building from the start.  They still have a good amount of offensive talent to stay relevant for a short time, but it won’t matter.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Rockies stay relevant till July.  They don’t trade Gomez or Blackmon at the deadline and immediately regret it when they both suffer injuries limiting their production during the second half.

26. San Diego Padres (74) UNDER- You can understand why AJ Preller went all in prior to the 2015 season.  He saw an opening and took it.  Sometimes you miscalculate and run up the kind of rosters with bloated salaries unbecoming a small market like San Diego.  But there are useful pieces there that the Padres can use to accelerate their rebuild.  Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, James Shields and even Matt Kemp can be had for the right to appropriate price.

BOLD PREDICTION: Out of the four I named, I’d bet all of them get traded.

25. Oakland Athletics (75) UNDER- The Athletics I’m sure, are tired of hearing about how one sided the Josh Donaldson trade is.  But if Franklin Barreto ends up being what they think,  the A’s will have the chance at the last laugh.  We know that Billy Beane can have the type of out-of-nowhere seasons, but I’m guessing this is still a rebuild year.

BOLD PREDICTION: The A’s do NOT trade Sonny Gray despite everyone’s absolute certainty they will.

24. Cincinnati Reds (71) OVER- Something about the Reds say they will be better than what most think.  They let Mike Leake walk, but I don’t think he’s the type of player you give the type of money the Giants gave him.  But such is the market.  The Reds ask of Zack Wheeler in return for Jay Bruce tells me they will ask for a similar return in exchange for 1b Joey Votto.  Many already are fitting him for a Bluejay uni, but I don’t think a deal happens and I doubt any other team will have the financial wherewithal or motivation to make a similar trade.  They remain feisty until the end.

BOLD PREDICTION: Dusty Baker gets booed in his return.  There is seriously nothing bold about this team.

23. Minnesota Twins (77.5) UNDER- This under is based solely on their pitching staff.  And expecting Byron Buxton to have a dramatically good season is not out of the realm of possibility but I wouldn’t put the mortgage on it.

BOLD PREDICTION: Byron Buxton spends more time on the DL or Triple A than he does in the majors.

22. Chicago WhiteSox (80.5) UNDER- I would say push but since you absolutely need an answer, there it is.  For the record, I think this Drake LaRoche situation is ridiculous.  The fact that they allowed Adam LaRoche’s son to be homeschooled AND allowed in a major league clubhouse as frequently as he apparently was, in my opinion, unprofessional and should not have been allowed.

BOLD PREDICTION: The WhiteSox move one step closer to trading their ace Chris Sale, but eventually sign him to a long term deal by the end of the season.

21. Los Angeles Angels (82.5) UNDER- Under new GM Billy Eppler, I expect the Angels to make a ton of moves this season with only one goal in mind: getting the best team around Mike Trout.  I was a fan of the Andrelton Simmons trade.  The scouting community freaked out because of the return, but you are getting the kind of up the middle defense for the next five years that teams only dream about.  This will mean a step back, but if they can take a long term step forward, this season will not have been a total waste.  Oh wait, wasting another season of the best young player in all of baseball is a waste.

BOLD PREDICTION: Mike Trout once again finishes second in the MVP race.

20. Miami Marlins (80.5) UNDER- The Marlins always find a way to blow up expectations so I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Marlins be feisty all season.  They play the Mets tough and have the talent to hang in the race for a long time.  The Mattingly pick up will likely help a team that came in with high expectations last year but fell short for a number of reasons.  Expect Jose Fernandez to be on a very strict innings limit which ultimately undermines how far this team can go.

BOLD PREDICTION: The walls moving in will STILL not help Christian Yelich reach 20 home runs.

19. Tampa Bay Rays (78) OVER– Whatever magic or voodoo this team possesses to keep itself in contention seems to be wearing out since the Andrew Friedman move but they are still a bunch that gets the rest of their division mates attention.  This is a team that won’t wait too long to  pull the trigger on a move that could make them better in both the intermediary and long run.  The problem is finding a team willing to deal with them.  Kevin Kermaier and Brad Boxberger are two guys I expect the Rays to deal for the right package.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Rays win the season series against the Red Sox.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks (84.5) UNDER- I expected this to be an 87 win team WITH AJ Pollock.  Now with this injury, just a few days prior to Opening day, this has the makings of a disaster season.  Their 1-3 should keep them in games but this is the type of scenario people warned the Diamondbacks about when talking about possible regrets of the Shelby Miller trade.

BOLD PREDICTION: Diamondbacks host a statisticians get-in-for-free promotion which simultaneously turns into a group interview as the D-Backs finally embrace advanced stats.

17. Detroit Tigers (85) UNDER- The Tigers still boast the best hitter in the game and replaced David Price with Jordan Zimmerman.  Trades of both Price and Cespedes helped the team load up in the minor leagues but this is still a team that can do better than what they have.  Their number one is no longer a number one and their offense is probably a bit overrated, but I still can see a better season than most expect.

BOLD PREDICTION: Cameron Maybin fulfills his promise for the Tigers boasting a line of 20 HR’s, 20 steals, 80 RBI’s and a .285 BA.

16. Baltimore Orioles (80.5) OVER- Statistical forecasting never seems to give Buck Showalter’s group any kind of love.  Their end of game relief and lineup should make up for any noted weakness in the pitching staff.  But I’m expecting Adam Jones to continue to be an elite level talent and play Gold glove worthy defense in centerfield and for the Orioles to once again compete.

BOLD PREDICTION: Chris Davis plays half the season, and the O’s are ok.

15.  Seattle Mariners (83) OVER- I’m sold on an improvement for this team, but I think anyone predicting playoffs for the Mariners need to pump their brakes.  The Mariners one day will surround King Felix with a team worthy of putting him in big September match ups but for now, they have to make do with what they have, an ever improving team, one step closer.

BOLD PREDICTION: Robinson Cano finishes in the Top 5 of MVP vote.

14. New York Yankees (85) OVER- Give the Yankees this, even with the 30 game suspension, the price they paid for Aroldis Chapman makes him a steal.  They managed to improve their team without adding payroll which is remarkable and I’m in the very silent minority who believe the Yankees had a better offseason than the Mets did.  I think the Yankees can be relevant, but expecting Mark Texeiera and Alex Rodriguez to hit nearly 60 home runs between them is unrealistic.

BOLD PREDICTION: Brett Gardner gets traded by midseason.

13. Cleveland Indians (84) OVER- The Indians are an intriguing team that is beloved by the stat community.  They boast young cost controlled talent all over the diamond which make them players but what really makes them unique is that they are teetering between mediocrity and on the cusp.  This is the swing year and I wouldn’t be shocked if they made a push, but they are still a deal or two away and not being able to take back a contract or two that’s horrendous could hamstring any type of talent acquisition that could help.

BOLD PREDICTION: Trevor Bauer becomes the indians closer by midseason.

12. St Louis Cardinals (87.5) UNDER- The under also is my bold prediction.  Look, this is a team that won 100 games last year but advanced metrics said they were the luckiest team in the majors and those kind of clues along with multiple free agent defections (to an in division rival no less) will add up to a very tough transition year for the Cardinals fans.  Which will eventually lead to every one of those flowery fans to scream to the high heavens about how tough a year its been being a Cards fan.  Prepare yourself.

11. Boston Red Sox (85.5) OVER– This has a chance to be the dumbest over/under call, but Dave Dombrowski won’t allow this team to just give up by midseason.  He’s a move the chips to the middle kind of guy once he feels his team is ready and he’s walking on to a team that began its rebuilding process and an ownership group trying to parlay a Big Papi farewell tour deep into October, so you know the purse strings will be open to take back a bad contract or two.  No longer will prospects be protected for a better tomorrow.  Tomorrow is today.

BOLD PREDICTION: Joe Kelly will statistically be the best pitcher in the Red Sox staff.

10. Washington Nationals (87) UNDER- This team was the most focused spring training team in all of baseball, but I can’t see this team doing it for a full season.  They got rid of Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond, Denard Span, Yunel Escobar and Drew Storen and replaced them with very little.  Trea Turner is the shortstop of the future and Lucas Giolito should step into the rotation sometime in June.  People who predict big things for Washington also are banking on a huge year from free-agent-to-be Stephen Strassburg.  If he gives them 30 starts, he could win 20 games.  Its getting him to that number.  Joe Ross is quality and Dusty Baker is their biggest offseason pick up.  I’m not buying it.

BOLD PREDICTION- Stephen Strassburg has more starts than Max Scherzer (I’m asking for it aren’t I?)

9. Texas Rangers (86) OVER- The lasting image from last year was Adrian Beltre barely able to move, playing 3rd base in that awesome Game 6 in Toronto.  I like how this team was constructed and Queens own Jon Daniels has the kind of positional talent that can mask whatever their rotation will be.  Also, Yu Darvish will potentially return by June but I’m sure will force a 6 man rotation.

BOLD PREDICTION: Roughed Odor becomes the unquestioned best player on the Texas Rangers.

8. Toronto Blue Jays (87) OVER- I like this Blue Jays offense a lot.  I like that it has a pissed off Jose Bautista in a contract year and I love that its ace is a bulldog who can win you games by his mere presence.  They just seem to know how to get juiced for the big games and you know how that crowd gets.  I am also a fan of Russel Martin.  He’s got two more seasons of relevant baseball left before he becomes a liability, but that guy is a leader.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Blue Jays say eff it and trade for James Shields who goes 6-0 down the stretch but loses every playoff start he makes.

7. Pittsburgh Pirates (87) OVER-  Its interesting how this team manages to pick every team’s scrap heap and turn them into stars.  Another MVP caliber season from Andrew McCutchen will be outdone by Starling Marte’s real break out season as he will join his teammate in MVP ballots.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Pirates bullpen blows several late leads causing them to lose several tight games.

6. San Francisco Giants (90) OVER- Here’s a stat for you: the Giants have won a World Series every even year since 2010.  This year is 2016 so it stands to reason that they will be in the hunt again.  Here’s where it gets tough.  I wasn’t a fan of the other rotation adds but I think the idea is that the Giants ability to defend will help both Jeff Samardzjia and Mike Leake’s stats along with pitching in AT&T Park which is known for being a pitcher’s haven.  I expect huge things from Brandon Crawford this year.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Giants do NOT win a world series this even year.

5. KC Royals (87) OVER-  Here’s where the computers seemingly always have it wrong.  The Royals have consistently defied logic to win more than they are supposed to and gotten farther than expected because computers can’t account for heart and the sheer dramatics of this team.  The Royals should have lost to the Astros.  The Royals also should have lost to the Mets in 3 of the 4 games they won but there’s something called heart which computers have been unable to project and account for and the Royals win because they have that in spades.  I loved their signing of Dillon Gee.  He could be a 16 game winner for that team.

BOLD PREDICTION- The Royals run out of things to fight for, and finally succumb to PECOTA and every other computer projection model that says they are an average group.

4. Houston Astros (85.5) OVER- I have them winning their division and representing the American league in the World Series.  Carlos Correa is the kind of talent that comes along once a generation, but we’ve had a few of them come along recently.  The game is in good hands.  I don’t think the Ken Giles trade will have the desired results, just a hunch.

BOLD PREDICTION- The Astros only leak will be the new Ben Affleck directed Batman script and the Astros will have two no-hitters pitched by their pitchers this year.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (87) OVER- Vegas clearly thinks the loss of Zack Greinke and a completely left handed pitching staff will undermine all the good rookie manager Dave Roberts will bring to the team.  His biggest task will be corralling the wild talent of Yasiel Puig and how to bring along super prospect Corey Seager slowly.  If he manages that the rest should be easy.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Dodgers lose in the division round to the Cubs.

2. New York Mets (88) OVER- They shocked me with the signing of Yoenis.  They had a horrible spring.  All their pitchers seemed to be “working on stuff” and we dealt with the lack of velocity of Jacob DeGrom who every year seems to walk into camp with the “can he do it again” question and answers it.  I’m not worried about the pitching staff, I have legitimate concerns about how they are bringing along Michael Conforto and whether we will see the team give him regular AB’s against left handed pitching.  He’s not afraid of the moment as he showed with a two home run performance in the World Series and can be the number 3 hitter that David Wright was.  Terry Collins will have a full year of a very strong roster from top to bottom- his Mets career will thus be judged by how he does this year.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Mets win 100 games and win the World Series.  If you’re a Mets fan you know why that’s bold.

1.Chicago Cubs (89) OVER- They can sleep walk to 95 but it depends on a few things.  How will the young kids respond to the expectations.  How will Jake Arrieta follow up his historic second half and will we see a hangover like we saw in that Mets start?  I love their line up and they seemed to double down on it by adding Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.  Ultimately it will come down to one thing: can they get enough pitching out of old men Lester and Lackey?  Virtually every move the Cubs did had a double purpose of hurting their rivals (Cards/Mets).  The fans in Wrigley are excited but they need that pitching.

BOLD PREDICTION: They lose to the Mets on a walk off HR in Game 6 of the NLCS to the Mets.

AL MVP: Carlos Correa

NL MVP: Bryce Harper

AL CY Young: Marcus Stroman

NL CY Young: Matt Harvey

AL Rookie of the Year: Byron Buxton

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

World Series: Mets def. Astros 4-1

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Winter Wonderland

With the Winter Meetings set to start today, I thought I would take a few moments to write about what the Mets need and my predictions about what will get accomplished.

Last year was a dream.  The pitching came together.  The supposed favorites Nationals fell apart.  Every other team went into some state of rebuild and the Mets, out of recent character, took advantage by pushing their chips to the middle of the table by making a bunch of deadline moves.  Those were moves of a team thinking bigger than just a playoff berth.  The trades for Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Tyler Clippard and Yoenis Cespedes (and the non-trade for Carlos Gomez) were transactions brought on by opportunity.

You know how the story ended.  The Mets ran away with the NL East division, went to Tinseltown and won the division series in 5 games and then took on what is supposed to be their biggest rivals to glory, the Cubs, and swept them under the rug like it was no big thing.  They waited almost a week and a half and met a team that had a date with destiny and lost the World Series in 5 games to the Kansas City Royals.

But make no mistake, if the Mets go into next season banking on a similar script playing itself out, they are kidding themselves.  Let’s first assume a few things:

  1. The Phillies and Braves are still rebuilding- Yes, this is absolutely true.  The Braves are only scheduled to re-enter contention in 2017 when they move into their downtown digs, so until then they will be trying to maximize the assets they currently have on their roster and hope that the return will make them competitive soon.  They traded away the best defensive shortstop in the major leagues in Andrelton Simmons and likely will send Shelby Miller in a trade for more talent sometime between this week and the trade deadline.   While it doesn’t mean they will contend in 2017, they will have restocked the cupboard in a major way by the time they do move into the new stadium and atleast entice the fan base with a promise that better days are ahead.

    The Phillies are also planning on sitting out the playoffs for another year.  They have a tougher road but they have some talent coming down the pike.  Next year the Phils could have up to 4 prospects in their starting rotation by the time season ends and JP Crawford, considered by some to be the best shortstop prospect in the minor leagues, will likely get the call up.   They got a nice haul in the Cole Hamels trade that may or may not have come one season too late, and they finally fired GM Ruben Amaro after the media and fan base practically begged for it. The Phillies signed a major television deal and can throw dollars when it begins to make sense, but that won’t be next year unless all their kids play out of their minds.

  2. The Marlins will be a question mark all season-  It depends on where you stand on reports that the Marlins are not listening to trade offers for Jose Fernandez or the Marlins are talking to teams like the Dodgers on their ace.  One thing we do know, he’s likely gone once he enters free agency and the Marlins have never been ones to be shy about trading their best players if they feel they have no shot to sign him (see Cabrera, Miguel).  But I don’t think the Marlins trade him this year as his value won’t be as high as next season so let’s assume that Fernandez will remain on the team.  Giancarlo Stanton will return to the line up and the Marlins are reportedly trying to sign Dee Gordon to a contract extension as well.  All of the pieces that made the Marlins a sexy pick to usurp the Nationals will make them, again, candidates to contend for a NL East crown.
  3. The Nationals will have a manager who knows his shit- And by that, Dusty Baker won’t shy away from internal conflict and strife.  He managed a dugout with Jeff Kent (noted asshole) and Barry Bonds (also noted asshole) so Jonathan Papelbon and his ridiculousness will be just another walk in the park for Dusty.  Yes, he has his own weaknesses, he’s not the best strategist.  He doesn’t have the quickest hook with pitchers and may come from the old school in terms of managing while the rest of the league has adapted to a more stats-savvy style.  But let’s understand one thing: he’s being brought in as, and allow me to throw a football term at you to best deliver the point, a game manager.  He’s gonna Trent Dilfer the hell out of the Nationals.  Their current roster, even without Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister will still have some of the best everyday and every fifth day talent in the majors.  The same way they were supposed to run away with the division last year, they should be able to stick around similarly.

So if some of the irregularities of last season correct themselves, what can the Mets do and what do the Mets need to make sure they keep their division?  Let’s consider what they need first:

  1. Outfield depth-  This completely depends on the health of Juan Lagares’ throwing shoulder which does not, I repeat, does NOT need surgery.  I’m not repeating myself for kicks.  The fact is, he went from a Gold Glove award winner two seasons ago to a late game defensive sub for the Mets last season.   Its his offense that has always been a point of contention for the team, but its his defense that many point to when analyzing how far he has fallen.  So the Mets will look at left handed center fielders who can platoon with Lagares.  That means forget Dustin Fowler.  The Mets may also be out of the running for Gerardo Parra but that all depends on how teams evaluate him based on his second half.  With Conforto set to be an everyday left fielder and Curtis Granderson entrenched at right, the Mets will certainly evaluate what their options are in the minors if they can’t get a major leaguer to platoon with Lagares and hit righties.
  2. Second base-  The Mets have said they won’t hesitate to give the job to Dilson Herrera but their actions say differently.  The fact is, the Mets are hoping that Ben Zobrist agrees to sign with them, even going so far as to guarantee the fourth year in the contract , a must if you believe the reports on what it will take to sign the valued Zobrist.  He’s basically a much better version of Daniel Murphy defensively and can replicate Murphy’s bat (which is slightly better).  He also plays multiple positions on the diamond which makes his value even greater when you consider that David Wright’s health is a toss- up.  The feeling is that Herrera can play second base but will need more seasoning at the plate and he doesn’t have the contact ability of Zobrist.
  3. Relief depth- Outside of Jeurys Familia, the Mets didn’t have reliable options in the bullpen and if baseball learned anything from the World Champion Royals, its that having an elite bullpen can mask other areas of the game.  The Royals won with a contact approach at the plate, excellent defense, and a lockdown bullpen that shortened games to six innings.  While the Mets don’t have Wade Davis at the backend (and history says no one has EVER had the past two seasons version of Wade Davis),

 

the Mets do have a guy that can capably handle the closer duties.  The Mets still need a reliable 7th and 8th inning guy.  Addison Reed will be back and will fill in either the 7th or 8th inning roles.  But his role will depend on who the Mets go after in either the trade market OR in the free agent market.  While I don’t think the Mets will trade one of their big guys for an elite arm which likely takes them out of the running for an Aroldis Chapman), the Mets, if willing to take on some dollars may be able to get a David Robertson from the Whitesox OR a Will Smith from the Brewers (depends on if they think they are sellers).  Will Smith is an especially enticing option as he would be your lefty specialist as well.  The Mets will need to spruce up their options and get some established veteran in there to help solidify the late innings.  The Mets tendered troubled former closer Jenry Mejia a contract (it was a low-risk move for a guy who has the stuff in his arm but very little in his head) but he will miss the first 100 games thanks to a suspension he still has to sit out.  With Craig Kimbrel and K-Rod already traded, the market will be thinning on trades to make for elite relievers so if the Mets are indeed swimming in those waters, its getting shallow really quickly.

4. Offense-  The game plan for now is to sign Zobrist who can duplicate Murphy’s bat and give you better infield defense, and hope that Conforto and a full season of David Wright (yeah right!) along with the continued resurgence of Curtis Granderson will equal the offense the Mets got.  But for a full season the Mets will have to hope for players to hit a ton.  Notice I didn’t include Travis d’Arnaud, I did so for a reason.  Expecting him to play 130 games is foolish.  The fact is, catching is taxing enough for any player, but expecting one who has the injury history of d’Arnaud to do it is beyond foolish.  If the Mets stay pat and don’t make a single move to upgrade the offense, the Mets are banking on the health of Wright and d’Arnaud which are not sure things (in fact I would go so far as to say that every move to upgrade the team offensively should be made with the caveat that you won’t get full seasons from either) and the progression of Conforto as an everyday player and the resurgence of Curtis Granderson.  Those are major gambles and I personally don’t think the Mets can bank on any of them.

 

So what is my prediction?

I think the Mets will sign Zobrist.  I think the Mets will try hard to trade for a reliever but ultimtaely come up short.  Every team will ask for one of the big four and the Mets should not give any of them up for a reliever unless they are giving up an elite talent in return.  The most available for trade starter for the Mets is Jonathan Niese but then where will you get the innings while you wait out Zach Wheeler’s return from Tommy John?  Bartolo Colon has indicated he wants to be a starter and even he knows when Wheeler comes back, he will go back to being a bullpen piece.  If he agrees, I think you should definitely sign him.

Colon’s experience and personality fit on any club so his ability to keep a team full of young guys cool when things get dicey is priceless.  What the Mets need is a veteran presence on that team and while Michael Cuddyer is there, he likely will be getting his bats spelling Conforto and Duda.  You need someone in the pitching staff that can help guide their four young aces.

There’s also no guarantee that all four guys make 30 starts.  In fact, Syndergaard and Matz haven’t even pitched full seasons.  Matt Harvey will get better (the second season after Tommy John is usually the season where the player begins to look like the pitcher he once was), and Jacob deGrom has shown that he can  certainly adjust when the league adjusts to him.  The Mets will likely go with a modified innings limit for Wheeler, and will potentially pose the same problematic shifting of the pitching rotation and days between starts that Harvey’s, Thor’s and Matz’s presence did last season.  You almost need to have a sixth starter given Matz’s lack of innings professionally and the need to stretch him out.  So you almost have to keep Neise.  If you trade him, you would have to go back into the market for a starter and can you count on 43 year old Bartolo Colon to duplicate 42 year old Bartolo Colon?  For a 42 year old he was pretty freaking good, but the Mets may want to get younger anyway so I don’t see him returning.

Can the Mets expect to spend money on a Tim Lincecum, Ian Kennedy, Doug Fister or a Yovani Gallardo?  They are 31, 30, 31 and 29 respectively but I suspect some other team will come along and give those guys 2-3 year deals with higher annual salaries than what the Mets can offer.  Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto are going to get monster deals from NL West teams to compete with the monster growing in Arizona.  An interesting name that some may say will likely be too expensive is Mat Latos.  He has the requisite tools and he’s 27.  But he’s a pain in the butt and has maturity issues.  But shouldn’t the Mets explore getting him on a cheap 3 year contract?  Consider that next year the Mets may be looking to trade off Matt Harvey and they will need someone to take his place.  A 28 year old who can throw in the mid-90’s and has shown he has the stuff wouldn’t be too bad of a consolation prize.

Stop hoping for a reunion with once top prospect Scott Kazmir, that ship has sailed.  Henderson Alvarez is a very attractive name on that market.  But I doubt the Mets will get the chance to sign him.  Gavin Floyd as well.

Of course I don’t expect the Mets to go that route.  Instead the Mets will likely sign a mid 30’s guy who will understand that once July hits he will be sent to the bullpen or be used as a spot starter.  Those roles are taken by the guys who are in their mid-30’s.  With the Mets new relevance as contenders, they will get guys to bite.  I would love to do a deal with Brandon Morrow.  JP Ricciardi, assistant GM, knows Morrow from his time as Toronto’s GM.  He has really good stuff and may want to pitch for a contender.  More likely is a Bronson Arroyo (a Sandy Alderson fave) or a Jeff Francis type.  A guy who knows what they expect of him and won’t have a problem going into the bullpen once July hits.

I think the Mets go after a Greg Holland (if available) or Yusmero Petit (former Met farmhand) to bring in a more tested veteran to assist.

As for offense, the Mets will look internally as they have already loudly bowed out of the Yoenis Cespedes bidding  and so won’t be in at top shelf talent like Chris Davis (you would need a corresponding trade for Duda to make that work anyway), Jason Heyward (we need a centerfielder anyway), Alex Gordon (nice try but he’s looking at north of $100M on a long term contract as well), Justin Upton (yah, no).  I think they get Zobrist for 4/64-70M.  They can then lock in Parra for a 2/25M deal.  Shortstop, IMO is not a place the Mets will look to upgrade on the free agent market.  They have Wilmer Flores, and Ruben Tejada and I think Matt Reynolds will also make a few starts (finally!).  Ultimately the Mets will likely only make those two deals on the free agent market and no other trades for offensive talent.

Of course I think the Mets will look at all options and consider all moves but they won’t make major moves.  Not that the Mets can’t.  The moment they give the majors a whiff of potentially moving one of the four starters for offensive help, teams will line up with potential scenarios but the Mets, wisely, will resist temptation.

Do these moves add up to a second straight division crown?  Not likely.  But as we saw last year nobody can predict how the season will play out.  What we do know is that the Mets have multiple holes to fill before declaring themselves contenders again but like last year they may have time to fix it.  Their one constant is, barring injury, they will have the best collection of talent in the majors in their rotation.  How they leverage that over the next few years by making moves to make the rest of the team better will ultimately be how this team is judged.

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