Tag Archives: Mets

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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Mets, 2015: A Year to Remember

It hasn’t been 72 hours and I’m still thinking about the Mets season that ended too soon.  I haven’t had a chance to write that paragraph since 2008 which in baseball years is equivalent to forever.  So forgive me if I write this from the perspective of a 16 year old girl that just broke up with her boyfriend all too publicly and thinks her life is over.

Yes, life moves on.  Yes its only sports.  I get all that but at the same time, I don’t.  When a baseball season ends, you’re almost glad, right?  From February through September, its nearly 8 months of ups and downs that you can’t possibly predict or pretend to not agonize over.  There will be stretches of absolute brutal play that will make you turn the game off in the 4th inning and want to sit outside and watch your wife garden without a cold one in your hand because you drank enough for two frat guys at a kegger in that four inning stretch that you’re embarrassed to be this drunk at 3pm.

But here we are writing the epitaph of the 2015 Mets season and feeling strange.  The Mets opened up as 10/1 favorites to win the world series, tied with the Washington Nationals, the presumptive favorites heading into this past season.  That sentence alone is unbelievable to write because the Nationals spent $210 million to bolster a pitching staff already thought to be the best in the major leagues.  Yet, somehow the Mets not only beat them, they destroyed them from within.

One of many criticisms that I have as a Mets fan is that the ownership group, I lovingly call the Coupon family (real name Wilpons but ya know), is too cheap to keep a contender around for the long haul.  Somewhere along the line they will try to nickel and dime their way to a championship because they didn’t want to pay the $7 fee to invest through Scottrade and instead decided to trust a guy named Bernie Madoff with their money and well, the rest is Ponzi history.  But now the stakes are different and we all know it.  Over the coming weeks, we will get into who the Mets should keep, should let walk, and who they should start the car, drive to the airport and make sure the plane took off before fist pumping.  Whether the Coupon family will bow to public sentiment is anyone’s guess, but like any parental unit on a budget they will have to do some spending to keep the house in order.

However, today is the time to look over the season and digest it all because Lord knows Mets fans deserved a season like this.  Did the Mets deserve to win?  Sure says any Mets fan.  But in reality, they faced a better version of what everyone was convinced the Cubs were.  They faced a team with the heart of a champion and a team with some serious playoff chops.  They got beat by a better team.  Those are the facts no matter what any Mets fan wants to convince you of.

Sure you can talk yourself into the fact that the Mets had a lead in three of the four games they lost to the Royals but that would only be fooling yourself into a false narrative that the Mets were close to the Royals in the intangible department.  Wanna know how I know this as fact?  Think back to every single sick feeling you got when the Royals got to our bullpen, save game 1.  When was the first time you realized that Daniel Murphy stopped snorting the good stuff he was on during the first two rounds when he was a mix of 2002 Barry Bonds and 1926 Babe Ruth? The only surprise was game one.  Had the Mets won that first game and they had every chance to do so, this series may have swung in the Mets favor, but once Alex Gordon launched Familia’s pitch into the center field stands and Familia had blown his first save of the playoffs, you knew as a Mets fan that this was a different beast the Mets were playing.

So let’s forget that every Terry Collins move that worked in the first two series didn’t seem to play to the same tune in the World Series because he wasn’t facing a team with serious flaws that could be exposed.  Playoffs are oftentimes about match ups.  Once you beat a team at its own game, you can see the wall of confidence crumbling around them.  The Dodgers had the decided pitching advantage in the Division series because they could pitch Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke four times in five games.  But when the Mets beat Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in two* out of the five games the math said that the Mets would win.

*= and it should’ve been over in 3 had it not been for that coward Chase Utley but let’s not open that wound. That’s a HBP for another day.

Jon Lester was a postseason veteran with experience and one could argue that Jake Arrieta was the best pitcher in all of baseball and the Cubs had the best under 25 positional talent in all of baseball and yet the Mets outhomered them and beat their two best pitchers en route to a sweep that even the most optimistic of Mets fans NEVER saw coming.  Surely we would, at best, beat the Cubs in 5 games.  But Daniel effing Murphy happened.

With 8 days to revel in their dominance, the Mets ran out of steam and gas that launched them into the playoffs.  From July 25th on, when they acquired Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, finally after fans and columnists had wasted countless calls to sports talk radio shows and typed thousands of words imploring the front office to get some help, the Mets seemed to take off.  From the moment Justin Upton launched a cruel 3 run home run to help the Padres beat the Mets in a new twisted way things changed.  Or maybe, and this is everyone’s favorite version, from the time Wilmer Flores came out to play the field minutes after finding out what everyone else in the stadium seemed to know, that he had been tentatively traded along with Zack Wheeler to the Brewers for Carlos Gomez, wiping tears from his eyes because he was hurt being traded FROM the Mets.

Aside from Bret Saberhagen and Bobby Bonilla both of whom will be paid more than some of the Mets current crop of pitching beasts, nobody had ever been that open about loving the Mets.  Nobody.  And then Sandy Alderson for his next trick pulled a Yoenis Cespedes out of his hat and off they went.  From a team that could barely muster two runs to a juggernaut that couldn’t be stopped the Mets blasted their way through August.  As luck would have it the first opponents for the Mets were the Nationals.  The Nationals had underachieved all season yet were trying to convince everyone that everything would be ok with the old “wait till Denard Span comes back- then watch out world.”  Of course we had heard that line before.  The Nationals have had an excuse for every disappointment.  Who can forget sticking to their guns on Stephen Strassburg’s innings limit and ruining their best chance at a deep run?  Who can forget lifting Jordan Zimmerman after 8 and 2/3 innings because well Matt Williams knows how baseball is played and we don’t know shit.  

The Nationals always talked before the season about what they were going to do because they had the talent and deserved to be everyone’s lead dog heading in, but there was always that championship DNA that was missing.  When the Mets had acquired the pieces to legitimately threaten the Nationals, you saw how far from the title the Nationals were.  Not only did the Mets sweep that first series in late July, they then went Labor Day weekend to Washington and soul punched the Nationals in three straight games, coming back each time in stunning fashion.

To be honest, when you look back at the Wilmer Flores game, that was so typical of the Mets.  They left Flores in the game clueless to the fact that we live in an age where information gets shared so quickly that of course the fans would find out before the player does that they were traded.  That’s what the Mets do.  They fuck these things up.  Yet, it worked because of Flores’ outward show of loyalty.  That was the first sign that this team was going to do amazing things.  When the Nationals took a 4-3 lead during the Labor day weekend series opener, with Max Scherzer on the mound, and the Mets mounted a stunning comeback, you kinda sorta knew but you didn’t want to believe it.  When the Mets came back down 7-1 the following night you were almost there.  When they beat Strassburg to complete the sweep of the three game series, you knew this season was going to be special.

But that’s how fandom is when you root for a baseball team.  The fear of failure and another lost season can flip on the dime.  We as fans are allowed to change our minds when it comes to our baseball team because the baseball season is so freaking long that its like watching the Christmas story marathon on TBS every Christmas.  You fall asleep to the movie and wake up and find yourself amazed that you are in the exact spot you left it and its still going.

The season had plenty of questionable decisions that we can point to in detail.  None more so than the he said, agent said, they said, controversy over Matt Harvey’s innings limits.  Somehow the Mets again appeared to have public sentiment on their side after Harvey did damage to his tough guy, Dark Knight rep when he agreed with Scott Boras’ poorly timed and executed public demand of cutting short Matt Harvey’s workload a year removed from Tommy John.  In a case of curious Karma, it was Harvey’s tough guy rep that again did him damage when he demanded the ball in the ninth inning and began the set of events that ultimately cost the Mets the game and the World Series.

This is all to say that while the season ended badly and from late April to late July was depressing as all hell (remember the days when John Mayberry Jr was our clean up hitter?), the Mets ultimately did enough in early April and from July 31’st on to make this season memorable.  In a slog of a 162 game season, the downs usually outnumber the ups when it comes to the Mets given their recent history.  But not this season.  For Mets fans it was the culmination of all the talk of promise they had heard.  We had heard about how the pitching staff would vault the Mets into contention.  They did.  The front office promised that once they were ready to contend they would make moves and increase payroll and they did.  Despite all the criticism we were told that once Terry Collins had a major league team to manage, he would manage it well and he did.

Everything we had heard or thought about, happened.  But then the Royals came and took it all away and left us Mets fans in a sea of disappointment.  When I stepped off a flight on Monday night, I got an alert from the Mets to relive the 2015 season and they were already talking us into the old “hey atleast we got there” talk.

But that’s not what I wanted to hear.  This is what I wanted to hear:

This is what I wanted to see:

thank you

There’s work to be done this offseason and like I said its still early.  But here’s to the 2015 Mets.  They gave us moments of tension, of dominance, of history, of awesome comebacks and deflating failures.  Ultimately they went to the World Series and got beat by a better team that had an enormous chip on their shoulder after losing in Game 7 of last year’s World Series.  But take hope Mets fans.  The pitching staff will come back no matter what Scott Boras threatens.  Michael Conforto will see actual at bats against lefties next year when he transitions to everyday player.  Jeurys Familia will be the closer and from the looks of it a damn good one.  We will be adding a fifth ace in Zack Wheeler in July.

So let’s remember fondly Bartolo being Bartolo:

this tweet:

or this tweet:

Or that time the Mets made fans of even their biggest rivals.

Or that time the Captain made his return to the Mets in style.

Or the time that Cespedes just flexed on the Pirates Sean Rodriguez, 

Or that time Terry Collins hugged the fans after a huge Game 5 win against the Dodgers. 

Or the time Reuben Tejada caned in like Willis Reed into Citi Field 

Or that time that Flores became the most popular Met like in ever. 

Or that time the Mets soul punched their biggest rivals. 

Or the time Will from Queens called Mike Francesa and well, yeah.  

Or that time Daniel Murphy went insane in the playoffs.  

Or that time Jacob deGrom convinced Mets fans and baseball that he was the ace on the team during the All Star game.  

Or the time Steven Matz’s grandfather lost his collective shit at just how good his grandson was.  

Or the time Noah Syndergaard took to his superhero nickname in an awesome way.  

Or everytime you stared into the outfield and you saw just a sea of orange clapping plastic thundersticks and cheering like crazy people.  

Or the time you had to follow a Met game on Twitter, refreshed your feed and saw this at the very top and the fear/disappointment that would ultimately follow:

Or the time that somebody else stood looking at strike three while we got to go to the World Series.  Carlos Beltran, you’re finally off the hook (though its bullshit you ever were considering the..ok I’m over it)

Or the time you go back to back in a clinching game to completely take the home team out of it in the first inning:

But most importantly, here’s to the future:

See you in Spring Training!

LETS GO METS!

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Game 1 of 162- Mets vs. Nationals (3-1 Mets win)

Here are 10 observations from the Mets Opening day 3-1 win over the Washington Nationals.  This win ran their Opening Day record to 35-19 which gives them the best winning percentage on Opening Day in the history of the majors.

1. No win early in the season is small or big….but you have to think for the Mets, winning this game was huge.  First there was the uproar over Bartolo Colon starting.  Then there’s the fact that the Nationals are missing their leadoff hitter (Denard Span), possibly their best hitter (Anthony Rendon) and their highest salaried position player (Jayson Werth).  So take this win with a grain of salt.  But beating a team that absolutely owned you last season in a tight contest is huge.  Consider that last year in games that were decided by 3 runs or less in which the Mets and Nationals played the Mets were 2-10 and overall were 4-15.  Don’t discount how big of a win yesterday was considering your two best pitchers haven’t even pitched yet.  A series win over the Nationals will help open the season the kind of way that can legitimize all the talk of playoffs and taking the town that the Mets have been doing.

2. The Bartolo effect- When Terry Collins named Bartolo Colon the Opening Day starter the fans reacted as if the Mets had given the fan base a big middle finger.  But the more I watched Bartolo yesterday afternoon, I began to understand the reasoning behind the decision.  Harvey would’ve been way too pumped up and his aggressiveness may have backfired big time.  The only other candidate that could have pitched was Jacob DeGrom the 2014 Rookie of the Year and he is the right guy to start the CitiField home opener.  He deserved it.

Colon faced jams in the first and sixth inning and like a true pro never wavered.  Using his ability to paint the corners and pitch inside and mix in his slider to keep hitters off balance, Colon was able to limit damage despite the error by Murphy in the first. He went on to strike out Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman and I don’t know that Harvey who would’ve been pitching with so much juice could’ve navigated that first inning or DeGrom not experienced enough to handle the jitters that come with Opening Day.  I will keep trumpeting Colon’s presence in that clubhouse.  You saw his value when he worked his way around jams.  Don’t think that the other pitchers weren’t watching and studying and trying to soak in as much knowledge from this almost-42 year old pitcher who has seen it all.  He’s also seen another Opening Day win for the Mets- his first since 2006 when he went against, wait for it, 42 year old Jamie Moyer.

3. Lucas “The Duda”- Its one game so let’s not overthink this.  But the Mets were talking long term contract with Lucas Duda  which means his 30HR season last year is considered by Mets officials to be legitimate.  The one thing about the analytics folk, they give up their hand when they voluntarily try to lock up a player before they have to.  Yesterday Duda broke up the no-hitter in a way that shows that he may be able to improve upon last year’s season by becoming a better hitter.  Against a pitcher that was serving him fastballs, daring him to muscle one out Duda put a level headed swing on a pitch belt high in the sixth with two in scoring position after Ian Desmond’s error.  He may hit only 29 HR’s but his batting average and on-base percentage will most likely go up if he continues to embrace the approach of situational hitting.  His season is probably one of the most important and critical to the Mets success.

4. Curious lineup for the Mets- Where to begin?  How about David Wright hitting 2nd.  Or Juan Lagares, having spent the entire Spring Training, being told he was going to hit leadoff and getting valuable reps there batting sixth.  Or the talk of hitting the pitcher 8th yet putting Colon 9th.  The Mets made some very curious decisions that ultimately worked but messing with a player’s head like Lagares who you’re hoping will elevate his game is a dangerous game to play.

5. Jenry Mejia’s elbow tenderness- 

Speaking of which, one of the reasons cited for bringing up 8 relievers was perhaps the Mets, having been warned of Mejia’s tenderness by Mejia on Saturday, made the decision that in the event Mejia’s condition worsened they would be prepared.  But this is another short sighted decision by Mets brass, almost putting their chips in the middle of the table for the first series of the season- tipping their hand on how important this series was for them internally.  Why not put Mejia on the 15 day DL to start the season?  Why insist on having Mejia there if there’s even a hint that he’s not 100%.  There’s a reason why Rendon and Werth and Span, who were seen prior to the game hitting line drives, weren’t in yesterday’s game.  Just goes to show how organizations who truly are in it to contend operate as opposed to the wannabe’s.  Mejia flying up to get an MRI is just a procedural thing but having seen four pitchers go under the knife and get Tommy John- there’s a general sense of trepidation that for the second year in a row- the Mets will lose their Opening Day closer for the year ON Opening Day.

6. Bullpen solid-  Colon left after six great innings almost-matching $210M import Max Scherzer striking out 8 in 1.2 innings less of work.  Colon probably would’ve came out for the seventh had the Mets not been threatening in the top of the 7th when Travis D’Arnaud tripled to score Juan Lagares and the pitcher’s spot came up.  The Mets then turned to their bullpen who after years of putting scares and mixing general discomfort into the fan base and the team, turned into a legitimate strength.  Before we even knew about Mejia’s injury (it was only reported in the bottom of the 9th when Jerry Blevins came in to match up against Bryce Harper) the Mets were likely going to go Carlos Torres for the 7th, Jeurys Familia in the 8th and Mejia in the 9th.  During Spring Training while Harvey and DeGrom were dominating, and the offense was producing, the bullpen was anything but ready.  But again, let’s not read too much into one game. While we won’t know much about Mejia today, expect the Mets to use their bullpen extensively especially when you consider they want to limit Matt Harvey’s innings and know that Bartolo Colon is 41 years old and if they bring up one or two of Steven Matz or Noah Syndergaard- they will need a bullpen to perhaps come in on the 5th or 6th inning.  A nice touch for the Mets to get Buddy Carlisle his first save after pitching so well for them last year.

7. Travis D’Arnaud’s effect-  You will only appreciate D’Arnaud’s effect on the pitching staff if you are a big fan of pitch framing and the general analytics that go into it.  But that’s where D’Arnaud shines.  He is one of the best at locating pitches that are borderline strikes and moving them ever so slightly to occupy an umpire’s strike zone.  Especially yesterday when he works with Colon its a thing of beauty.  Colon knows where to throw it and D’Arnaud knows where to keep it for both the hitter to think twice and for the umpire to call a strike.

But when his offense wasn’t justifying his framing talent, and he was demoted to Triple A something else happened.  D’Arnaud became less the patient hitter and more the opportunist.  So many folks mistake the Mets approach as simply to get on base.  The Mets primary objective on offense is to attack pitches in the zone and wait those pitches out.  D’Arnaud did a great job yesterday in locating the belt high slider that when he got it, he made the Nationals pay and scored their third run, the very necessary insurance run to give the Mets a lead they never relinquished.  D’Arnaud’s projections all point to him contributing close to 20 HR’s which if that is the case, will allow the Mets to have lineup protection everywhere.

8. MLB’s rule changes taking effect.  By my count, only four players didn’t take at least one opportunity to step out of the batter’s box.  The Mets played a 2 hr 35min game which is pretty good if you’re hoping to keep the games shorter than 3 hours.  I’m all in favor of keeping 9 inning games shorter by forcing the player to stay in the batter’s box.  Some hitters like to wander the earth before settling in for each pitch which unnecessarily drags out at-bats.  No need.  Smart move Rob Manfred.

9. Future Met shortstop Ian Desmond and the disastrous sixth inning-   I often wonder how the Mets would be perceived heading into the season if they had pulled off the rumored trade for Ian Desmond involving the Tampa Bay Rays that they were going to pull the trigger on.  Consider yesterday as a reminder why you hesitate.  The contract year Ian Desmond’s error in the 7th (a bounced throw to first time 1b Ryan Zimmerman which he couldn’t scoop up) was not like the boneheaded mistake he made in the 6th which ultimately lost the game for the Nats.  Desmond raced over to shallow right field and called off Dan Uggla who would’ve presumably made the play had he not been called off in the last second by Desmond who gave up on it in the last second.  Before that Scherzer was cruising and throwing a no-hitter and was about to get out of the inning had they made that routine play.  After that Duda hit a game deciding single driving in two giving the Mets the lead.  That play was the turning point of the game.  It kept Scherzer in one batter too long in the sixth and Lucas “The Duda” made them pay with a bases clearing single and the Mets went on to win.  This is not the first time Desmond has lost concentration or made a boneheaded mistake.  But you will take all of that when you consider that he’s one of the few shortstops that can both hit and hit for power if need be as evidenced by his three consecutive years of hitting 20+ HR’s.  He has the highest home run total of shortstops in the last three years, a position where if you have a guy with power you are ahead of the curve.  In fact, he has the three best home run totals since 2012 which is ultimately why he figures he can fetch  more than the reported $107M the Nationals offered over 7 years.  The fact is, the Nations have some tough decisions to make and with the Mets uncertain over Flores’ future at short, they may be in the market for a shortstop and may spend money on Desmond IF they contend this year and the dollars make sense.  Remember, while the Mets may have a New York zip code, they are still making decisions like a ball club mindful of limited resources with which to work with.  I wonder if some of the mistakes Desmond had weren’t of his own doing- trying too hard to make a positive impression on future employers.

10. Look ahead- Tomorrow’s game features an excellent pitching matchup as the defending NL Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom faces up against the contract year Jordan Zimmerman.  DeGrom has looked excellent all spring and has again been relegated to second status in a city caught up in Harvey-mania.  I admit that I haven’t given DeGrom his just due, but many within the Mets organization and in the press that cover him feel DeGrom is on the path to greatness as well having been a converted shortstop only five years ago and now the reigning NL Rookie of the Year.  None of this is lost on DeGrom, as he displays a maturity that tells you that he isn’t caught up or content on just the rookie of the year nod.  He went from unknown to mainstay in this vaunted rotation- another arm that is making the Mets stable of young pitching that much greater.  The contract year Jordan Zimmerman is another underrated pitcher overshadowed by a flame throwing teammate of his own.  He is of course entering the final year of his contract and many wonder about what Max Scherzer’s commitment means to Zimmerman’s future and how that decision will relate to Stephen Strassburg’s future in a Nationals uniform.  Keeping all three may be too difficult but they have an old owner desperate for a world series and he may be willing to spend, but keeping those two and contract year Ian Desmond may prove difficult.  Zimmerman’s first start of the season will be one of hopefully for their sake a 30 part tryout for a big contract.  Don’t think homegrown players didn’t sit up and take notice of Scherzer’s contract.  They will want similar deals.  Its interesting given the expectations surrounding this team whether it won’t prove to be a distraction all summer long.

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Lessons learned: MLB Trade Deadline 2014

Yesterday, baseball went on the kind of run that everyone in Las Vegas hopes to go on.  When the morning began those of us unfortunate enough to be tied to our Twitter accounts were awakened by Alex Speier’s report that Jon Lester had been traded to the Oakland A’s.  A moment passed before I read the next tweet which read “…for Yoenis Cespedes”.  It was the kind of swift kick in the butt that the trade deadline needed.

What followed over the next 7 hours were teams responding, teams waving the white flag, teams staying pat and teams deciding that they weren’t going to dip their toe in these crazy waters.

We will get to the New York teams in a minute.  But there’s much to learn about the changing landscape these days when Detroit and Oakland are the two teams waging war and raising armies in the North and the South, shooting out warning shots undoubtedly in preparation for their matchup in the ALCS.  After the Lester trade was finalized, I imagine Detroit CEO, GM and overlord of the car making province Dave Dombrowski reading the report on one of his sports apps and looking up at his team and muttering some phrase equivalent to “let’s get busy boys.”

The Tigers then made a huge trade in a three team swap to pick up the ace that had a reported 8.9% chance of being traded.  The Tigers picked up their Scherzer insurance.  The Mariners got an everyday center fielder.  The Rays got their bundle of team controlled prospects that will undoubtedly lead them on their second run.  Much of the surprise is somehow on the Rays side.  Most thinkers of baseball believe they could’ve received an equivalent trade in the offseason.  Why settle now in the midst of a race the Rays are quickly getting themselves back into?

One can never seem to doubt Andrew Friedman, but looking at the landscape this move can only lead one to believe that he saw his team incapable of sustaining such a run over the month of August and September and decided to cash out now.  But did they cash out with the biggest hand they could’ve had?  Who knows?  Drew Smyly has produced the best numbers of his career.  Nick Franklin has been shuttled between Triple A and the major leagues but has potential.  A most dangerous adjective that can lure GM’s into a trap.  Then there’s Willy Adames, the SS who is 18 years old and has shown an advanced bat for his age.  Those three shouldn’t net a David Price but this is the reality in which the Tampa front office operates in.  They must always keep an eye to four years from now while maintaining what they have today.  In a market that is not advantageous and doesn’t offer the revenue stream to change their thinking, they must always look ahead rather than gaze at the now.

But not Billy Beane.  Ol Billy decided when he traded away his best prospect to land two starters from the Cubs that this would NOT be the year that he stands pat and looks ahead.  This year he was putting his chips to the middle of the table.  Ultimately these moves will be judged by the end result in October but one can only applaud Billy as he makes his run at that championship he has so cleverly tried to get by selling his home made lemonade in his stand while he competes with the big boys in all things beverage.  By trading Addison Russell his star SS, he made an announcement to the world that he was going for it.  When he traded Jon Lester for home run darling Yoenis Cespedes he made sure to remind us that he was dead serious about his aspirations.  Lester represents about as sure a thing in the playoffs as you can get.  A hired gun bought for a single reason: to pitch those games that the Oakland A’s have never been able to win.  The Game 5’s and Game 7’s that Oakland has had to rely upon lesser talented players.  Now they have a bona fide tried and true ace that has been there and done that.  Again, his trades will ultimately be looked at through the prism of October results, but we should all applaud Billy the kid for deciding to take out the twin guns and fire away.

Of course if you’re Dave Dombrowski and you have a pitcher who decided to reject a 6 year $144 million deal the writing is in the stars.  When Max Scherzer decided to say no to an extension offer, the wheels had to start turning for GM Dave Dombrowski.  He has an aging owner who wants to win now and is willing to spend money but doesn’t have the endless pockets the Yankees do and at some point you get the sense that with each start, Scherzer is pricing himself into a different stratosphere.  Don’t take for granted Mike Illitch’s will to spend to keep a championship capable roster.  But with David Price in tow, they can weather Scherzer’s departure.  But this is also about  Rick Porcello’s advancement as a pitcher.  The Tigers bet on Porcello getting better when they dealt Doug Fister to the Nationals.  Now that his stats have all shown a major jump, one has to wonder if Detroit looks at those stats as an unsustainable leap from a pitcher who doesn’t project as a front line starter.  For me, this is also a Rick Porcello insurance move.  In case these stats are unsustainable, they have enough frontline starting pitching to help Porcello toil away and figure things out.  The Tigers have been stubborn about his development and it seems as though they will see this to the absolute end before they give up on him.

The Red Sox are an interesting case.  They sent away Jon Lester and John Lackey in separate deals that netted them serviceable major league players.  So it wasn’t a total destroy and rebuild like in 2012, but it bears a striking resemblance.  When the Red Sox traded away all their horrible contracts to the Dodgers they took advantage of a team with new ownership desperate to make a splash.  Now, there are no bad contracts, but a ton of young players the Sox brass are hoping will develop enough to become a core that can be competitive at a decent price while having the financial flexibility to add star players to support them.  I can’t be totally sure that the two moves were with an eye toward the future or making sure to have pieces in 2015.  The A’s were smart to trade Cespedes, a star borne out of the Cuban craze that has produced two legit superstars in Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu.  Cespedes, if you will remember had the amazing scouting tape that made him a cross between Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio and Ken Griffey Jr.  But he hasn’t had the kind of career that Puig and Abreu have.  Aside from the two home run derby titles and the occasional amazing display of the gun from the outfield, Cespedes has been a clean up hitter in name only.  Yes, he has a year left on his contract, but if the Sox catch lightning in a  bottle, they have inserted themselves into the Cuban pipeline of talent by bringing in one of their better prospects.  We won’t get a good idea of where the Sox’s thinking is until the offseason.  If they make a run at Lester, who can be a free agent and is well liked by both Boston’s fan base and by the ownership group, this will be a huge win for the Sox.  But based on earlier negotiations, the Sox have a price in mind for their staff ace and won’t go beyond that number.

The NL East all made incremental moves with one team making the most interesting one.  I’ve always been jealous of how ruthlessly efficient the Miami front office is.  Historically, they haven’t mastered sustained success, rather banking on their scouting and farm development to give them a good nucleus and then building through some major splashes, much the way they attempted to do so in 2012.  Then as soon as they win, they get out blaming a public that doesn’t support the team to give them revenue streams to spend.  But when Miami sent a few well thought of prospects for Jared Cosart, it was the kind of low level go for it move with a look towards the future for both teams operating with a time frame in mind.  Cosart is a former number one pick and no matter what the circumstances are that led to his trade from the Astros, its always a good bet to trade for talent.  Changing his surroundings may allow Cosart to start over and reach his potential.  If they manage to tap into Cosart’s potential, they could have added another frontline starter to a rotation that includes Jose Fernandez.  In a vacuum let’s presume that when Fernandez comes back next year, he will need a majority of the season to get back into the form we saw from him last year.  Cosart will enter a rotation with Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi, gives them enough young talent to slowly build the same way they built their championship teams.  This is the kind of move that won’t immediately pay dividends but ultimately is the kind of forward thinking move that sets the table for a major run in a year or two.  Smart.

So what if anything can the local teams learn from all of these moves?  The Mets and the Yankees operate in two different tax brackets.  The Yankees, did the smart thing at the trade deadline.  Rather than sacrifice their top prospects, they dealt from their endless welt of cash.  Nowadays, prospects are the currency of choice for GM’s, but that’s a matter of circumstance.  It just so happens that the Yankees can and can’t be begrudged for operating from that advantage.  So rather than make earth shattering moves which GM Brian Cashman is expected to always do, they made incremental moves to add depth.  If the A’s taught us anything its that having depth at IF and OF can always be a plus.  Having multiple options for a roster that is riddled with older players who are getting injured way too often, how is adding Martin Prado, Chase Headley, Chris Capuano, Jeff Francis,  Stephen Drew, David Huff, and Brandon McCarthy for cash, Vidal Nuno, C Peter O’Brien, Yangervis Solarte, Rafael DePaula, Kelly Johnson and a player to be named later.  To recap, they got a guy who was asking for $15M a year this offseason, a former Gold Glover, a player who was the centerpiece of the Justin Upton trade, for a guy they were going to option, a guy who’s hot start they parlayed into someone useful and a bunch of other pieces that were ultimately expendable.   That’s called making the most of what you have and more importantly recognizing what you don’t have.  They have enough talent, that once healthy, they know they can piece together a run.

But the Yankees also operate in a changing landscape.  There aren’t enough legit superstars in mid prime entering the free agent market that the Yankees can devour like they used to.  Teams are starting to be smarter about the Super-2 status and convincing prospects with potential to give up one or two years of their free agency in exchange for financial security.  Thus, free agents are entering free agency on the opposite side of 30.  Not only that, the Yankees aren’t the automatic suitors for the in their prime stars, anymore like they used to be.  The Dodgers with their new ownership group, the Tigers with an owner who’s advanced in both age and desperation to win a title, the Angels with a threatened Artie Moreno, and of course the Boston Red Sox.

Playing in New York comes with its advantages and disadvantages.  Cashman operates from the must do something mandate where its not just about the number of moves but the number of moves that make a splash.  So every offseason the Yankees will be linked with the biggest free agents and during the trade deadline the best trade chips are also somehow linked despite the Yankees not having the treasure trove of prospects with which to deal from.  The Yankees will never be in rebuilding mode.  Not with a new stadium that needs to be paid for.  Not when the team seems to be entering a deep decline with the final member of the Core Four retiring.  If anything this calls for an even more aggressive show of force by the Yankee front office.  A moment to puff out the chest and remind everybody who the Yankees are.  So naturally for those fans who looked at the Yankees tenuous position and thought they would just pack their bags and call it a season, just don’t know how the machine works.  It never stops. Or rests.  It continues manufacturing a relentless mentality to chase what may be out of their grasp.

The Mets however, have had to operate from a different point of view.  Though they call New York home as well.  Though they have a brand new ball park as well.  They compete with the monolith Yankees and against a reality they would rather not admit to the public because of what the feared reaction from the public is.  However, the Mets have always made the mistake that the public won’t understand: they’ve been with you this long stupid, they will continue to ride with you through this crap too.  With their finances a big question mark to everyone but the Wilpons’ accountants, the Mets have cut costs, and payroll since 2006, their last playoff run, to sit comfortably in the middle of the pack; a weird place for any team from NY to be in.  The Mets do however have something the Yankees don’t: young, high end, cost controlled pitching.  The Mets could have made a move to send a signal to the landscape that they were ready to overtake the Yankees but one thing is clear: they aren’t ready.  Not that they couldn’t make a run to the postseason or the 90 win goal GM Sandy Alderson set.  But the Mets also didn’t make a panic trade to make a run that nobody thinks is a guarantee.  What the Mets can take away from this deadline from the other teams is this: that they aren’t ready to trade for a David Price or Jon Lester.  But they are also close enough to be realistic.  This may not be the year, but they are close to making the kind of moves that send shockwaves throughout baseball and announce themselves as legit contenders.

 

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David Wright, the myth of a superstar

David WrightDavid Wright has agreed to sign the rest of his life away to the New York Mets, agreeing to the richest contract the franchise has ever given out.  The total value of the contract will net him $138 million, making him the highest paid Met.  EVER.

I’ve never been a David Wright fan.  I’ve always felt like his value has been overstated because of his Derek Jeter like presence in the club.  He’s a good looking guy who plays the game hard and never becomes back page folly.  He avoids any and all kind of blame, an amazing feat considering he’s viewed as the leader of a New York sports franchise.  Ask Patrick Ewing what it was like never winning a championship in New York and having to come into work amongst fans who blamed him for it.

The thing is not every player is Derek Jeter.  He’s won five championships.  He dates super duper models*.  He sends women gift baskets after he’s had his way with them at night.  He’s a living legend in almost every right.  When he reaches a milestone, he does so in style.  See, getting his 3,000th hit while hitting a home run.  And judging by his stats from last year reports of his decline were very much said too soon.
*=He dated Miss Universe.  You know how many guys get to date women on that scale?  And he did so publicly with an Indian woman at that.  Do you understand what that entails when a non indian man decides to date an indian woman?  Did her parents just never pick up a paper?  Were they Yankee fans and were excited that their daughter was dating the shortstop and future hall of famer? Miracle worker this Derek Jeter.

But David Wright, as stated above, is no Derek Jeter and the fact is no matter how many toothy smiles he gives he won’t ever resonate with the Met fan base the way Jeter does with the Yankee fan base.  If he’s our Derek Jeter than we’re as third class as every Yankee fan claims.  Its not to say that Wright isn’t a great player.  He is, but he’s not what we think he is and he’s not what we based his new contract on.

Most Met fans are rejoicing in the news that David Wright will be a Met for life.  I’m not.  He’s not a great fielder, he’s a good fielder.  He’s not a great clutch hitter.  In fact he’s very rarely clutch.  He’s got great stats but he racks up those numbers in meaningless games.  He’s the leader of a team that has not had a winning record in four seasons.  This is the guy you paid $138 million to over the final seven seasons.

I’m sorry if you’re waiting for stats to back up my case here.  But I don’t need them.  I’ve watched 90% of Mets games that Wright has played in and he does two things well: he racks up stats during blowouts and he smiles well enough to engender compassion and gratefulness.  The biggest argument that most Mets fans have is look at his statistics.  And I will argue back that they have not seen him in situations over the last few years with the chance to drive in more runs where he failed by doing the absolute worst thing you can do in those situations: strike out.  You can give me any advanced metric you want to play up Wright but he doesn’t pass the all important eye test.  Any real fan, who truly cares and watches the team as closely as I do (yes I’m being perfectly objective when I say this), knows what I’m talking about.  He doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers and there are enough holes in his swing that pitchers feel confident enough to get him out.  That’s not a superstar.  That’s a star.

But in our ever present struggle with Yankee fans the Mets fans have put it in their heads that Wright is our Jeter and that argument falls on completely deaf ears as well.  He’s not.  He doesn’t have the rings, or the general ability to come through that Jeter has shown throughout his career.  Wright does many things well, but all in moderation, making him a superstar by default because there’s some unwritten rule that says every team MUST have a superstar.  But that mandate doesn’t sit well with me and shouldn’t for Mets fans.  When a guy of superstar ilk comes along, you will know him.  He walks different.  He gives you confidence in any and every situation.  You don’t dread his at bats like a kid waiting for a report card.  But the Mets fans have decided to look past the eye test and enjoy the illusion.  And the Mets in turn have paid him handsomely to keep the fan base playing up to that illusion.  Its a win win for both sides.

All of that to secure the services of a home grown star and avoid any further embarrassment.  This deal doesn’t secure the Mets first winning record in five years.  This only secures the Mets ongoing war with the press to win their half hearted approval.  Not signing Wright would’ve meant mutiny within the fan base and total bashing by every media outlet in New York for an ownership group who (literally) can’t afford to lose any more paying customers.  In reality, Wright is the only thing clean about this Mets franchise and the only pristine thing in the whole organization.  The Coupon family couldn’t let him walk away.  Then the focus would be completely on them and they couldn’t have that.  They can now throw David Wright in front of the fire before it reaches them but the truth is no one blames him because everyone knows what a complete screw up they are in the first place.  Really, who can look bad standing next to the Coupon family?  Doesn’t Wright become bigger and better in light of the Coupon family’s distressing financial situation and idiotic decision-making?

But is that the right reason for signing Wright?  Did the Mets compromise their own team for the next few seasons by signing Wright to a deal that could financially cripple them for years to come?  If this contract is backloaded and there truly is a “hard cap” that even has the Steinbrenners running to shave a few million off the edges, exactly how much money will the Mets have to throw around on a 25 man roster?  We know now that Sandy Alderson was brought in to cut payroll and fatten the farm system up.    But will he stay long enough to reap the rewards when the next two seasons could entail more of the same?

The Mets are looking at 2014 as the year of the purge.  When Johan Santana’s contract and Jason Bay’s contract magically disappear off the payroll.  But what will happen next is anybody’s guess.  We’re hoping that a bunch of kids mixed in with a free agent or two will mesh perfectly to finally reward Met fans for their patience.  Patience that has been long waning thanks to ponzi schemes and putzes running the organization.  But the feeling is that the David Wright signing begins a new era in Mets land.  A promise that the payroll restrictions aren’t as crippling as people think.  That the Mets can drop an ineffective player regardless of salary ramifications (see Bay, Jason).  That the Mets do care about the product on the field and the fans who pay to see them play by signing talented home grown players that fans have seen age before their very eyes.  That the fans have a legacy player in the ilk of a Tom Seaver because they were robbed of that with Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden.

I agree that the Mets deserve those things and should get those things, but let’s remember one thing:  the goal is to win and get better.  I woke up this morning to the news of David Wright’s signing not sure if we accomplished either goal.

 

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Ya Gotta Believe- in the plan

I will never look forget the look on Terry Collins face as pitch number 134 of Johan Santana’s no hitter disappeared from the reach of Cardinals 3B David Freese. SNY cameras caught the reaction of Collins as a historic moment unfolded: relieved. Exasperated. Thankful it was over. Eager to find out whether his de facto ace’s arm was still in one piece.

Terry Collins was a manager of the year candidate in large part thanks to that performance and his club’s play throughout the first half. But since June 1st Johan Santana has gone 3-5 and has seen his ERA jump a full run and a half to 3.98 from 2.38. Winning 3 out of 8 decisions isn’t crippling but in his last 3 decisions ranging 12.2 innings he has given up 28 hits and 19 earned runs. He landed on the DL with a leg injury but most observers look back to that 134 pitch effort and the extra rest Terry Collins gave as the fault.

Santana’s swoon has coincided with the Mets scheduled second half meltdown. That’s 12 losses in the last 13 games and 6 in a row now, two sweeps included. There seems no end in sight to the bleeding and most consider the patient to be dead. Fans are accusing GM Sandy Alderson of being asleep at the wheel, not making a move when a move needed to be made.

Most have fixed the gaze of blame on the bullpen and they would have every right. The Met bullpen has the worst ERA. They don’t have the fewest wins or the most losses, yet if you had to rank a more horrendous bullpen you would be hard pressed to find one from the limited scope of New York fans.

But Collins admits fully that the bullpen isn’t the only one to blame: the offense hasn’t shown up either. They have scored 3 runs or fewer in 6 of their last 12 games and essentially turned themselves from fringe contender to sell candidate at the July 31st deadline. But am I worrying? No and neither should anyone else.

I submit all the preseason signs that the Mets weren’t making an effort to field a competitive team. They didn’t even make an offer to Jose Reyes, their homegrown superstar SS despite playing in the biggest market in the world and fielding a payroll north of a $100 million forever. Their biggest signings were Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco. They stubbornly refused to bench Jason Bay despite his 2.5 year struggle. They brought up Kirk Nieunwheis and kept Lucas Duda in right to play everyday roles and announced to the world that their opening day starter was Johan Santana- a year removed from arm surgery and with the bubble wrap barely off his arm. It sounded a lot like a rebuilding year.

That’s until the players didn’t play like it was a rebuilding year. That’s until David Wright played MVP caliber ball. Until R.A. Dickey became the best pitcher in baseball. Until Ruben Tejada made every Met fan forget Jose Reyes.

But as the magic has fully worn off this team and it’s become what every Met fan feared, suddenly outrage is fierce and fervent. Contending was never part of the plan. There were clear holes in the lineup and with the bullpen and issues with the starting staff that it seemed like the front office just waited long enough for things to fall apart before admitting that they were sellers: their true intention prior to the season.

I felt as though the Rauch, Ramirez trade an Francisco deals were all done with the intention of eventually moving them to contenders. The second wild cards adds the list of teams who feel they have a realistic chance at a playoff berth probably two fold. The chance to keep filling their farm system was too enticing. Thus the news that they have quietly shopped Scott Hairston and Tim Byrdak to teams interested. I thought it was funny when Met officials dismissed the notion that they were shopping Hairston earlier because he was such a good influence in the clubhouse. I wonder how many teams were scared off by that statement. God forbid they went harder after a good clubhouse guy who just so happens to be an excellent situational hitter against lefties.

As bad as things have gotten in Gotham city, sorry Queens, I’ve had zero problem with the lack of activity from the front office to proactively go after one or two relievers by dealing prospects as if that would solve everything ailing the Mets.

It won’t and the Mets are wisely sticking to the plan. They overachieved in the first half and are now falling back down to earth and the typical shoot first ask questions last fan base is in revolt over the front office not setting the organization back another few years by dealing for middle relief and a big bat.

They haven’t just now quit on the season- they were waving the white flag before the season began with a series of moves designed to keep the organization looking and moving forward. So it’s in it’s typical late summer swoon; so what? What’s different about this team is that there is legitimate excitement over its prospects, starting with Matt Harvey’s first major league start. He is one of a few pitchers the front office feel strongly about moving forward and refuse to deal for any short term fix.

If these last 13 games have proven anything, it’s how less talented the mets are and how much growing up their stars have left to do. There is one great player (Wright), three good players (Tejada, Valdespin; I know in a limited role, and Davis) and a bunch of stiffs. To be competitive the Mets need to get better and become a more complete and deep team and that won’t happen this season, the sooner Met fans admit that, the better it will be.

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The Mets of 2012- How amazing indeed.

Two major reasons why the Mets are what they are in 2012.

This is going to be a very long rant because I just finished watching the Mets/Phillies play the rubber game of a very important three game set.  It was absolutely amazing considering the ramifications that this game may possibly hold for both teams.

Don’t get it twisted: this was NOT the way smart people would’ve figured this season to play out: the Mets with their rag tag, Quadruple A team contending for the NL East, while the significantly more “talented” team in Philadelphia at the midpoint of the season in the cellar and beginning the early stages of picking apart a contender.  Yes, its 2012 and all end of world scenarios are in play here but pardon my french when I write this: WTF?!?!

The Mets are now 45-38,  and now sit 4.5 games out of first place with a three game set against the lowly Cubs before the All Star Break.  The Phillies meanwhile are now 37-47, a full 13 games out of first and with this loss may have firmly placed themselves in the sellers side with the July trading deadline 26 days away.  Can the Phillies make up the difference with two plus months remaining?  Absolutely, and Met fans would know about their ability in September.

But here are some very rational thoughts on the Phillies: Cole Hamels, tonight’s starter and the Phillies youngest ace, is due to hit free agency this winter and all indications are that he will entertain offers from rival clubs.  Count the Mets out.  Count the Angels out thanks to last offseason’s spending.  But that’s it.  The Yankees can never truly be counted out and if they are involved you can bet that the Red Sox will be.  Then there are the Dodgers who are now out of the hands of Frank McCourt and in the eager arms of a group of owners who are looking to make a major splash in the second largest market and will surely be in on any major free agent especially one with SoCal ties like Hamels.  So the Phillies would be prudent in trying to get some kind of compensation for Hamels while he has this kind of value.  Hamels would instantly boost a minor league outfit depleted thanks to contender status moves that the Phillies had to make to shore up midseason weaknesses and create strengths.  The Phillies had a great run and can still make a very good run for the next two to three years but its clear that this team is trending down while the rest of the division is trending up.  Ruben Amaro, the Phillies GM will have some very interesting decisions to make especially with Shane Victorino who also may price himself out of a Phillie uniform.  Remember, the Phillies will be paying three guys in the range of $72 million.  Cole Hamels will demand a $25 million per year contract which the Dodgers will gladly pay from all indications and so the Phillies have to be careful whether they want to get into a bidding war with other teams OR get as much value as they can NOW.  The best option is to trade him for pieces and replenish a farm system that desperately needs it and this loss and their position in the standings now may have been the best thing for the franchise.

Now that we got that out of the way back to the Mets.  What a feisty team and a great win within the division for a team that has exceeded all expectations and surpassed everyone’s ideas about what this team would be.  There’s no ceiling because this team is basically David Wright and a bunch of question marks and even David Wright would’ve qualified as a question mark after two sub par seasons.  But Wright has been the player that the Mets expected and now becomes an indispensable part of this team’s future.  Much like last year when Jose Reyes played his best ball heading into an unsure offseason the Mets are now with yet another cornerstone player playing lights out and making the decision for the front office, you get the sense that perhaps the GM and ownership will play this one differently.

Last year I said the Mets should have traded Wright and done everything in their power to keep Reyes for the long term.  Wright had been largely ineffective thanks to concussions and injuries limiting his playing time.  This season, largely healthy for the first time and definitely the leader of a young team Wright has found rejuvenation with this ball club and the tone of the season seems to be rebound.  Johan Santana entered the year being a question mark in terms of what the team was expecting: he gave them the franchise’s very first no-hitter.  R.A. Dickey was a decent pitcher the last two years and was slotted in as their number three starter: he’s in line to start his very first All Star Game.  Chris Young returned after his own shoulder problems and hasn’t given up more than three runs in any ONE of his starts.  Jon Niese has warranted that extension he got prior to the season beginning.  That’s four starters who have combined to give them a top 5 staff in the NL.  Of course the bullpen is from hell but it only makes sense given the nature of building a bullpen: you pick six or seven guys and you cross your fingers the entire time.

The offense has been productive despite not getting any real power or being a team that utilizes speed.  They have worked long counts and gotten to the opposing team’s bullpen’s more often than not.  Its been impressive to watch and still very difficult to believe.  But all this has been spearheaded by the MVP-like season that David Wright is having.  I’ve long questioned Wright’s ability to have a big moment for the Mets basically saying he’s a good stat sheet filler but not someone you want leading your team.  I was very hesitant heading into this season to predict what kind of year the mets would have because I didn’t feel like Wright was the guy to lead this young team.  He never exhibited that kind of moxie you need from your leader but he sure was a good Derek Jeter at the microphone- offering up cliche’d responses to questions that made you wonder if he was reading from a cue card.

This season has been different and you have to figure that health has a big deal to do with it.  My opinion on Wright more has to do with my own personal hang ups based on my years of watching the Mets and seeing almost 95% of his games.  I don’t consider myself the foremost expert on David Wright but I do have some kind of perspective when I speak on him.  It was in 2006-2008 where he enjoyed his most productive years and even 2009 up until Matt Cain came head hunting with a pitch and put the Mets at rock bottom; Wright especially.  I put a lot of the Mets problems at the feet of David Wright especially in 2007 and 2008 when the Mets gave up late season divisional leads but the Mets had other players/leaders and he always got away with not having to answer the call.  He was never the Mets highest paid bat so he never was the first to get the blame.  Especially not when he’s in the same locker room as Carlos Beltran who still can’t shake his called third strike in game 7 of the NLCS back in 2006.

But this season, with Delgado, Reyes and Beltran all gone, he was the lone member of that 2006 team remaining so the blame wasn’t going anywhere but on his shoulders and he’s responded with his best year statistically.  He’s getting every hit in every situation imaginable.  His OBP (.441) is almost a full 100 points higher than last year. He needs just four more home runs and 6 more RBI’s to match last year’s output playing in 24 less games.   He needs four more walks to match his total from last year and has climbed to the top of several All-Time Mets categories.  Of course, this was expected from David Wright who since he came has been heralded as the best player on the Mets and deserves serious consideration for the MVP.

But the strength of this team has been hitting with 2 outs.  With two outs the Mets have scored 184  runs with two outs (5 of the 6 runs tonight) which is remarkable and shows how gritty this ballclub is and how effectively they have bought into hitting coach Dave Hudgen’s selective approach at the plate.  Many make the link between the OBP loving Moneyball types like Sandy Alderson, Paul Depodesta etc but the fact is the Mets have been aggressively attacking first pitch like tonight when Wright took the first pitch fastball from Papelbon and blooped it for the game winning hit.  Another two out hit but this after two hitters had worked walks to load up the bases.  Many times once the batters go down 0-2 its almost routine to find them back in an AB 2-2 or even draw a full count, forcing the pitcher to make a pitch somewhere in the strike zone and sometimes creating walks, which the Mets lead the league in as well.  Its no wonder they also lead the league by seeing the most pitches per plate appearance: 3.9.

So what to make of this feisty ball club going into the All Star Break with a good feeling but major offensive, defensive and bullpen issues?  Alderson has to be calculating.  First order of business is figuring out if he can bring up any of his young arms to pitch from the bullpen to give them a lift but chances are that both Jenry Mejia and Matt Harvey may only POSSIBLY see a spot open up when the rosters expand in september meaning that even in the case of injury or success they are enjoying in the minors the only way that they will get called up before September will be if a plague rips through the Mets team and they are forced to call up everyone to take the place of the major league team.  Otherwise I see the Mets being patient and allowing the young guys to grow and mature before putting them on the major league team.  The front office is being judicious in how they will respond.  The Mets may be contenders this far but the front office is NOT willing to trade the farm to get one or two role players.  They have built the farm system up in order to give the team a steady pipeline of talent and once the revenue streams start building up again (aka- fans start coming back to the ballpark in droves), the Mets will spend on free agents and do their best to lock up their young talent as well.

The biggest reason for the Mets success?  Terry Collins in my opinion.  He has been virtually the opposite of what his critics said.  They said he was overbearing and his players tuned him out.  They said he wasn’t fit to manage a bunch of young guys.  Well, all those critiques have proven to be wrong.  Dead wrong.  He’s not only handled the team well, he’s shown he cares.  It was especially evident during Johan Santana’s no-hitter in which the cameras caught Terry Collins extremely relieved face as the 134th and final pitch was thrown on a record-setting night.  He then shared a very emotional hug with Johan as he was coming off the mound.  He knows his players and has pushed all the right buttons this year.  They are a top 3 team in pinch hits.  All because of their ability in situational hitting.

Nothing more symbolizes this team than tonight’s game.  Getting good pitching when it mattered.  Getting five 2-out runs and especially that ninth inning.  Trailing 5-4 and facing a dominant closer like Jonathan Papelbon, the inning started with a double by Ike Davis who went through such a tough stretch in the beginning of the year, to the point where fans were calling for his demotion.  Then a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runner into scoring position.  A strikeout by Kirk Nieuhenweis to make it two outs, but it seemed like thats where the Mets wanted to be anyway.  With two outs, the Mets worked out consecutive grueling walks by Jordanny Valdespin (6 pitch walk), and Ruben Tejada (8 pitch walk) to load the bases for Daniel Murphy.  Murphy went down 0-2, which made it three consecutive batters that went to a 2 strike count at that point in the blink of an eye.  Murphy fouled back a pitch and then took a pitch leading up to the fifth pitch of the AB which wound up being a chopper up the middle and bouncing off Papelbon’s leg and almost caroming into Murphy as he went down the first base line.  Papelbon tried to play it cleanly but slipped in the process of picking it up allowing the run to score from 3rd and the Mets to tie the ball game and set it up for Wright.  Wright who had already driven in 3 of the Mets 5 runs at that point came up and admitted that he was looking fastball and sitting on it.  With the first pitch, and the crowd still on its feet anticipating a Met win, (it felt like the world wouldn’t be right if the Mets lost tonight’s game), Wright got a 95 MPH fastball that came inside.  Wright looped it and it fell right before the outstretched arms of Hunter Pence and celebration ensued as Valdespin scored from third.

Its honestly the most fun Mets team I’ve seen in quite some time.  The 2006 season was fun because the Mets were dominant.  This season is fun because it almost feels like we’re playing with house money.  No matter what, ONLY good things can come from this season. And it makes sense.  In such an upside down season where the once power house Phillies are on the verge of being sellers at the trade deadline, and the Mets and Nationals competing for the NL East crown at the deadline the options and limits on this season are unlimited.  As a Met fan we can only sit back and watch.  David Wright promises more fun to be had.  Good times.

two of the biggest reasons the Mets are what they are in 2012

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No-Han Santana and the fan base.

Its the ninth inning, and after sitting in the dugout by his lonesome deep in his own thoughts, Johan Santana ventured over to the rubber to take on the ninth inning and so much more.  But hey, we won’t talk about it because that’s tradition.  That’s baseball tradition to not talk about something bordering on excitement.  SHHHHHH.  EVERYONE QUIET!!!!!

Its never been easy being a Mets fan.  We live in a city filled with obnoxious older brothers always willing to knock you down a peg with the same, yet inarguable point: Talk to us when you get to ten world series.  They have the much larger group of Hall of Fame players.  They have the lore of their stadium.  They have the worldwide brand.  They have the owner who’s famous for spending whatever it takes to build a winner.  They even took two of our most famous pitchers (Dwight Gooden, and David Cone) and saw them to a no-hitter and a perfect game.  That’s the kind of note in the back of your mind that Met fans have to keep whenever trying to savor a bit of joy in any Met win or feat.  Its been done by them and probably better.

So I’ll save Yankee fans from even having to make the argument: should there be an asterisk on the first no-hitter in franchise history?  Maybe.  Carlos Beltran’s liner in the sixth was a fair ball according to replays and the chunk of chalk it took with it as it lined foul according to the 3rd base umpire.  But we can all agree that umpires usually stand in the way of games and this time an umpire finally got a play wrong and did right by it.  The Mets deserved a no-hitter.  This is a franchise that employed Doc Gooden, Tom Seaver, David Cone and worst of all, Nolan Ryan.  He of the 7 no-hitters.  All of them having thrown no-hitters after they had left the Mets.  All of them great pitchers.  None of their no-hitters ours.

And I don’t use the word “I” in reference to the team but last night it was a collective sigh of relief.  For Johan Santana.  The warrior who had battled back from major shoulder reconstructive surgery.  Terry Collins had a strict 115 pitch count and he had to see it go steadily higher after the seventh inning.  This was the franchise ace and he was throwing him out there in a game having already been decided.  But in his defense: the bullpen sucks and there’s no telling how many runs they would have let up especially considering that the Mets were up against the number one offense in the major leagues.  YEAH!  He threw it against the number one offense in the major leagues with a slider, fastball in the high 80’s and a wicked change up in the mid to late 70’s.  Johan who was traded for and lavished upon the largest contract, at the time, for a lefty pitcher didn’t need any more validation.  Met fans knew about his fight and his guile.  On a bad knee he threw a one hitter on the day before the season ended in heartbreaking fashion against the Marlins in 2008 giving Met fans a glimpse of what a real ace was like.

For manager Terry Collins, Johan Santana’s final pitch was a huge relief.  His arm hadn’t fallen off and only until this morning will he know what it took out of him to reach this great milestone.  A manager has many duties and one of them being the safety and well being of his players.  So much was said by the huge breath he took as Santana locked up the no-hitter.  He knows what he had.  He knows what he was protecting and he also knows what a no-hitter would’ve meant for this fan base and for the franchise and he wasn’t about to risk all of that.  Not with a warrior like Johan out there and not with a crowd frenzied up in the ninth.  You had the feeling that even before a potential first hit had reached the floor, Terry would’ve already been motioning to the bullpen and running out there and carrying Johan on his back to the dugout.  That’s how much concern he had.  It was fatherly.  His tears running down when he finally embraced Johan near the dugout was heart warming and so telling.  Terry Collins, manager of the year so far, cared so much and loved his team and his team loves him back.

For the fans.  Its been fifty years with this franchise and despite the joy of the 69 and 86 seasons.  The awfully close but exciting ’73, ’99, 2000, and ’06 seasons.  The sting of these last six years have been a lot for this fan base.  Two collapses, one of them epic.  The rash of injuries.  Being Ponzied by Bernie Madoff.  Watching Jose Reyes get hand delivered to a division rival.  Its been difficult to understand the feeling of Met fans who often wondered what could happen next?

And yet now, next has infinite possibilities.  Now that this monkey is off our backs, what is next?  What could possibly happen this season that could top all of this?  Met fans know.  But we’re not saying.  See, there’s a tradition in baseball.  You don’t talk about it until it happens and hopefully we’ll get to that ninth inning.  To that final strike.  To that 134th pitch and hear Gary Cohen scream: “the BALL GAME IS OVER” or Howie Rose yell “PUT IT IN THE BOOKS”.  But shhh, we won’t talk about it.

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Daily Rounds 12/23

Last night was the Knicks second and final preseason game, both against the New Jersey Nets soon to be of Brooklyn, and the Knicks won 88-82.  Frank Isola said that the Knicks will need their BIG 3 to step up all year long in order for them to be successful.  Mike Vaccaro likes this Tyson Chandler and says that Tyson Time (my own unique-but-not-really nickname) is off to a rousing start.  Barbara Barker wrote about the newly renovated frontcourt making its debut in the newly renovated MSG.

Just a few quick notes that I took from this game:

– Sloppy.  Its to be expected though considering that the Knicks barely had a training camp AND had to work in several new players including two rookies and a new starter.  Amar’e Stoudemire’s shot was off and he didn’t even play a single second in the second half which shows you how concerned D’Antoni is in keeping him healthy throughout the season.  What that means in the regular season will be interesting but Amar’es shot wasn’t falling and yet he basically sat throughout the second half while Avery Johnson kept his entire starting 5 out on the court for the final quarter.  Carmelo seemed to be the only one with a semblance of a good, consistent game.  Pick and rolls need to be worked on and so does alot of the defensive spacing but I like in general where the Knicks are going.

– Defensive prowess-  I’m not trying to use Clyde lines but you can’t help but try and talk like him after a Knick game.  There was definitely more effort on the defensive front.  My All-Defensive Knick team would be Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony (yes,), Renaldo Balkman and Tyson Chandler.  I love the effort these guys give on defense and Carmelo when he’s into it, can DEFINITELY excel at it.  How much effort he wants to give is completely on him.  As long as during crunch time he shows forth that effort to lock down his guy I’m ok with him giving not max on other plays.  Sounds like I’m advocating for taking plays off but for guys as talented as Melo, it can appear he’s taking plays but he’s still giving more effort than less skilled players.

Alot of that communication came from….

– The Tyson Chandler Effect.  Chandler has been a revelation on the court.  On the bench.  In warm up.  In practice.  Just his whole demeanor and leadership that he’s brought to this team is awesome.  It reminds me of….Amar’e from last season when he came.  Amar’e was a vocal leader prodding his underachieving, underrated line up.  The Knicks were a legit threat with all their supposed “non-talent” they didn’t have to trade for Carmelo Anthony.  What Tyson does is bring a presence in the middle of the paint which has long been a freeway for opposing offenses.  He’s so good at keeping communication open while he’s on the floor AND EVEN on the bench.  HIs biggest thing is keeping confidence up and keeping everyone loose.  I LOVE Tyson Chandler and I’m ready to get his jersey.  He looks like the real deal and a great fit.

– Questions about the bench are going to rise but I LOVE our bench.  One major bit of news that came out of D’Antoni’s post game presser, is that he’s going to use a rotation of 10,11 maybe even 12 guys to keep everyone fresh.  That would be awesome.  Aside from the starting five, expect minutes from Iman, Jorts, Balkman, Devin, Novak when he arrives, Baron Davis and Mike Bibby.  It would be completely out of character for D’Antoni and maybe he goes back to his old ways of riding his 8 man rotation out during the course of a season but you have to take a man at his word.  I believe that things like a good supporting staff are important as having superstars on your front line.  That’s why the Mavs won the title and the Heat didn’t.  If you’re top heavy its almost impossible to win titles because eventually the tops wear out because they are human.  The Knicks need to get alot of production from their bench and eventually their second unit is going to have to play above and beyond the call of duty.  I like that Jorts does NOT hesitate shooting that three and I’d like to ask Renaldo Balkman to NEVER chuck up threes like that.  I think Balkman’s cutting to the hoop is underrated and teams need to be wary of that especially if Carmelo is handling the ball.

– Knick rookies stepping up-  Jorts and Iman are the two guys who will have a large hand in determining how far the knicks go.  Jorts is definitely just an energy guy off the bench meant to spell Tyson Chandler and also provide defense and rebounding.  He still needs to work on getting proper boxing out techniques but I think he can improve.  Iman is a combo guard and for him that means chucking up the shot every five seconds.

One of the best bit of reporting I heard was that Baron Davis went up to the neophyte and told him that Deron Williams is laying off him on purpose to bait him to shoot.  Iman listened to him and began driving to the hoop which really helped the Knicks.  I would like for Iman to drive and kick out and pass.  He has a nice stroke but he has to know when he has the hot hand and when he doesn’t.  Last night’s 2 for 10 meant he didn’t.  At one stretch he began chucking up shots at the beginning of the 24 shot clock.  That’s not effective nor efficient if you’re not making them.  Toney Douglas began heating up after going a whole half without scoring.  Iman should’ve looked for Toney on some of those plays but instead tried to find his own shot.  I get that he is listed as a combo guard and I get that his athleticism makes him an excellent one AT THAT, but he needs to know WHEN he’s on and when he’s not and I think at 6’5 if he can make the transition to point guard it would be the best thing for the Knicks in the long run.  I dont want OJ Mayo 2.0 on my team.

Don’t get me wrong, on the defensive end the man is a tireless worker and trust me that jump shot is going to come, but I’d like for him to really work on driving and passing and understanding that.  I realize it may not happen this year and the shortened schedule will force the Knicks hand in giving him a ton of playing time, add into the equation that Toney Douglas may struggle a bit going forward and Knick fans will want Shump to play but I see that as a good thing.  Hopefully the Knicks move forward trying to push the idea to Shump that he needs to find the open man.

– Melo as a passer-  Man am I excited to see him run the point at times on this squad.  He’s such a gifted passer/scorer/everything offensive that we sometimes undervalue how good he is.  I mean the guy can do it all.  He had probably the best assists and he’s got the mind of a savant when he’s playing basketball.  His ability to pass will throw defenses for a loop and he’ll give his teammates really easy baskets and once the defense lays off him, this will give Carmelo tons of easy possessions and plenty of one on one opportunities which he’ll certainly take advantage of.  He’s really a pleasure to watch.

– Toney Douglas and Landry Fields worry me-  I realize they didn’t have terrible games but they disappeared for stretches throughout yesterday and it has to bug you that both of them are NOT having great training camps but nobody really is.  Everyone’s struggling and coming to grips with the fact that the NBA season is beginning Sunday, a measly two weeks after training camp started. They will need to work hard because Iman Shumpert is there and gathering steam.  He looks like the more active athlete, and the guy they want eventually taking over either spot (my vote is for point guard), but I think that D’Antoni would rather have these two succeed.  In the end, I think both of these guys would benefit coming off the bench instead of starting but that’s all depending on how quickly Baron Davis recovers and if the Knicks have anyone to play shooting guard.  Again, I’d rather Shump NOT pick up habits like wanting to score all the time like he already does, but hey, there’s always the hope that he picks up better habits like using his slashing, driving style to dish the ball out.

– Why all the hate towards Kris Humphries- Gotta love New York fans.  That’s all i’m going to say.

– Clyde Frazier is already in midseason form- “The only green I like is money” and “Where’s the Kardashian guy?” I’m ready to go!

Here is today’s list of Knick stories including Marc Berman’s contention that the waiting for a team to be built is over for the Knicks.  NOW is the time for Knicks to go out and win a title.  Amar’e Stoudemire says that the Heat are not ready to climb for the title but the Knicks are ready to contend against Miami or whatever that means.  Frank Isola of the Daily News tries to explain.  Speaking of the Heat, Tom Haberstroh of TrueHoop did an excellent report on Erik Spolestra going to Oregon to study the offensive scheme of the Ducks, the college team who made it to the national championship game last year and have been perennial contenders under the guidance of Chip Kelly.  Also, Seth Walder gives you the low-down on pricing of MSG tickets if you wanted to sit courtside.  

Not lacking confidence is a good thing and frankly a welcome thing in these parts.  For years the Knicks and its fan base have had to be very quiet, patiently waiting for a winner to be built.  Well, the Knicks told everyone to open their eyes.  The Knicks are here and this is what the contender looks like.  Sure, there are still a few pieces to be added midseason.  The Knicks still have the $2.5 million room exception which can be used on someone like, say, a Kenyon Martin, but the Knicks know that in order for them to compete they have to go through Miami who almost certainly WILL get that number one seed.  Speaking of the Heat, that article scared me because of what it contained.  It looks like Spolestra was determined to make an offense that was part Showtime, part Amoeba, part crazy offense where Lebron and Co. will be playing a lot of smaller line ups to take advantage of their quickness and elusiveness.  Again, I dont know how it will work but I expect this shortened season to REALLY be the best thing for the Heat because if anyone is built for this kind of crazy schedule its young teams with very capable superstars.  Do I think the Heat will win the East this year?  Yes.  Do I think the Heat are better than the Knicks?  yes.  Do I think Lebron is the best player in the East?  Yes.  Do I think Dwayne Wade is better than Carmelo Anthony?  No.  I think its a tie but that’s only if Melo comes to play on the defensive end because Wade does.  Again, for the Knicks to contend I think Berman put it correctly, that Melo playing Point Forward HAS to work out and Melo has to play at an MVP like level.  I expect Amar’e AND Melo to bring 50-52 PPG and about 18-21 RPG.  I really hope that all goes well and they remain healthy and D’Antoni IS serious about a heavy rotation of players.

The Mets are officially in trouble says a brand new book by Mets blogger Howard Megdal who recently released an E-Book titled Wilpon’s folly.  According to Jeff Bradley of the Star Ledger, it talks about how much debt that the Wilpons have and how even with the investors they claim will purchase the necessary amount of shares to make $200 million that the Wilpons will be forced to sell the team.  Josh Kosman of the Daily News says the book made a claim that the Wilpons used their friendship with Bud Selig to make him look like the bad guy so if David Einhorn, who wanted to invest in the club and in effect take majority ownership SHOULD the Mets not be able to pay him back, ever tried to sue him the Wilpons could say that it was Major League Baseball’s decision not to approve ownership and not his.  According to Anthony Reiber, the Mets are cutting their GCL team in a cost-cutting move further developing fears within Major League circles that the Mets are indeed in a very seriously dire financial situation. 

Look, I’ll say it again: The Coupon family WILL NOT sell this team willingly.  It will take a bank robber and a ski mask and a machine gun to sell and even then they may take a few minutes to weigh death.  I hate what they have done to this team but in the back of my mind I believe they have had good intentions the whole way.  Have they made some poor investments?  Sure.  Have they embarassed the Mets enough?  Hopefully.  Is it the darkest before the dawn?  Scientifically I have no idea.  But I do believe that the Wilpons are true fans.  Unfortunately the team they root for no longer occupies Brooklyn but Southern California and they have been trying to get Jackie Robinson to play second base for their team for years and just can’t find a suitable contact number for him.

The Coupons are major league owners which should give the rest of us some hope that one day we could be total fuck ups and still enjoy the luxuries of owning a Major League franchise.  I think that the Mets are in a deep shithole and won’t be able to get out of it and this season’s ticket sales will be an issue.  Do I think the Mets can get enough investors to make the $200 million goal?  Yes.  Unfortunately business people will look at the Mets as a great investment considering they play in the biggest market and having an ownership stake in a franchise is huge for guys who are rich but not wealthy.  Remember kids there’s a difference.

But how much longer before they are asking those guys to invest more money in and how much longer before the math comes back to the Coupon family that they no longer own a majority share?  Again, these are questions that the Coupons really hope they don’t have to answer in the long run but its impossible to ignore.

A semi cool thing.  Ok its a major cool thing.  If you haven’t heard about Louis CK you’re living under a rock but if not check this article out on the New York Times about his come up- and his new comedy special which is coming out in a very unique way.  

Howard Beck of the New York Times also looks at how Brook Lopez’ stress fracture could ultimately deal a very big blow to the Nets chances at landing Dwight Howard.  Self explanatory but for those who want the elaborate answer.  

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Daily Rounds 12/15/2011

 

 

Finally we can all pack away the tents we used for those Black Friday Deals and waiting on line for those IPhones at the local Apple Store. Chris Paul is finally a Clipper thanks to a trade finalized and announced last night by the NBA.  Here are the pertinent details:

Clippers Receive:  PG Chris Paul
                                           Two 2nd Round Draft Picks 2015

Hornets Receive:  SG Eric Gordon
                                     SF Al Farooq-Aminu
                                       C Chris Kaman
                                     Minnesota’s Unprotected first round draft pick in 2012

TJ Simers of the Los Angeles Times wonders if there’s any room for the Lakers in L.A. anymore.  Mike Breshnahan said the Lakers organization were still fuming over their trade being nixed by the NBA.  John Reid of the Times-Picayune writes that David Stern believes he made the right deal.  The better deal.  For the Hornets.  Bill Dwyre wonders what the NBA did with Donald Sterling.  This can’t be the Clippers!  JA Adande writes that these are not your daddy’s Clippers or even your older brother by one or two years’ Clippers.  Finally, long time Clipper fan and my favorite basketball scribe Peter Vecsey still only gives the co-tenants of the Staples center second billing and explains why.  Chris Sheridan says there are ONLY losers, and not winners in this Chris Paul trade.  

At first, I was firmly against this trade.  Giving up Eric Gordon before he reached his potential or the age of 25 (he turns 23 on Christmas day), and a potential lottery pick in Minnesota’s unprotected number one was potentially huge.  Throw in cap relief in Chris Kaman’s expiring contract and some young players the Clippers were thought to be blowing up the team in hopes of excavating a playoff contender.  Of course with the Clippers luck, they would’ve found a way for Chris Paul to trip over a banana peel on his way to the podium for today’s press conference announcing the trade.  Paul has apparently agreed to opt-in to 2012-2013 so the Clips aren’t getting a one season rental.  But the door is open for Paul, if he doesn’t like it there, to explore his trade options at age 28 when barring catastrophic setback to his knees, will still be a very intriguing option for any NBA team during that offseason.

But as I looked closer at the deal I realized one thing, I was banking on a lot of unknowns panning out.  There’s a lot of people who think the Clips vault themselves into contention automatically with this trade.  Alot of people who believe they are better than the Lakers by virtue of this trade (they should have their heads examined).  A lot of people who think that the Clippers are now up there with the Grizzlies and even the Oklahoma City Thunder by making this move.  And if they are correct then yes, this is the correct move.

But let’s take a look at how the Clippers would’ve looked had they NOT made a move.  The unprotected pick has a very good shot at being a lottery selection and this year’s draft promises to be one deep in talent.  With Eric Gordon, free agent signee Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups gained through the Amnesty auction, have a mix of youthful talent and experience at several key positions.  That’s the kind of upside/experience you want on a team and the Clippers were BUILDING a team and not manufacturing it.  Yes this sounds very zealous of me to say and I may be clouded in judgement knowing that CP3 may have had an easier time convincing himself that he could join the Knicks at the end of the season.  But the Clippers had an assemblage of talent and had two other assets to play around with.  They had the 2012 pick which would’ve beefed up the team even more and they had Chris Kaman’s expiring contract to use as a trade chip to add a veteran F/C during the stretch run.

Now, the Clippers have CP3 and Blake Griffin and a bunch of other players.  They have four point guards (in reality 3 with Chauncey used as the 2 guard which might help explain his need to do the stop and pop from long distance at a rate of five times a game) and will most certainly have to give up Mo Williams unless their plan is to go small a lot and use Mo as a SG.  The biggest reason for doing this CP3 trade is because of Blake Griffin.  Blake changes everything for the Clippers.  He gives them credibility and a player that has stolen alot of the public love in Los Angeles away from Kobe Bryant, the Lakers longtime superstar.  The Kobe era is fading and the Clippers wanted to take advantage of that by not only getting the best player to help prop Blake up that extra level, but also to speed up that aging process.  Imagine Kobe looking despondently as his Lakers are escorted out of the playoffs by the CLIPPERS!  Imagine the state of catatonic shock Jack Nicholson will be in when Frankie Muniz (Malcolm in the Middle) is pointing his finger laughing at him.  The world will probably start coming to an end.

This move is to ensure that Blake resigns which means the pressure is on for the Clips.  If they don’t do well this season and head into next season with a lot of questions as Chris Sheridan expects them to (he doesn’t expect them to even make the playoffs) Paul might already be booking his exit flight and Blake may view the situation in Clipper land untenable.  And trust me, with Donald Sterling as your owner that scenario is in play.

So again I asked myself why would the Clips make this move?  After all, by signing Chauncey off the amnesty auction, they sent a direct message to the NBA, who were conducting negotiations on the CP3 sweepstakes, that they didn’t need him and were moving on; even if that turned out to be a ploy to get the NBA back into the bargaining table.  If so, then WHY give up that much?  You did all this to keep Eric Bledsoe?  Bledsoe is certainly a well liked player in the Clipper locker room and projects to be, at his best, a Rondo prototype but he’s the guy you are claiming victory on by keeping?  Bledsoe?  The Clippers seemingly had the upper hand in negotiations and the NBA still suckered Donald Sterling into providing three of his best assets for Chris Paul.

I’m not saying that CP3 isn’t worth it.  Would I do it if I were the Clippers?  Maybe not, but is it worth considering and a long second look?  Yes.  More so than I cared to admit when I first heard about the trade.  Chris Paul can make good teams great and great teams elite, as he would have for the Lakers.  But this was AS much to do with Blake Griffin and shedding the label of losers that the Clips have had since Sterling took over as it was anything else.  It was about building a culture of winning, independent of all the history that suggested otherwise.  In the backdrop of the huge shadow that the Lakers cast, this was such a wonderful master stroke: imagine, if you will, the Lakers getting outbid and outsmarted for an elite player by the lowly Clippers.  Sterling won the PR battle today and provided that CP3 remains his normal self, the Clippers will certainly invite more favorable comparisons.

The Clippers are not the better team in Los Angeles.  They still have Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.  They got a very underrated scorer in Josh McRoberts.  Most importantly they still have Kobe Bryant.  They have a motivated Kobe after being swept in the Finals.  They have a Kobe Bryant who will WILL his team to victories some night on the back of his pedigree and desire to be great.  The Clippers don’t have that but they are darn close.  Will is great but being youthful and supremely skilled like Paul and Griffin are, means great things as well.

We won’t know who got the better end of the deal until later on, but kudos to David Stern for sticking firm and getting the young players, cap flexibility and high draft picks he sought when he originally shut down the Laker deal, and credit the Clippers for looking good.  And how many times can they have said that in their history?

Meanwhile, these t-shirts will be available for sale soon and I think they are going to be a huge hit.

Despite all the evidence that would point otherwise, the Magic effectively ended trade talks with other teams in hopes that they can somehow persuade Dwight Howard to stay and re-sign with the Magic according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.  Bill Simmons wrote in his column that Dwight’s will he won’t he drama pretty much sums up his promising yet uninspiring career.  Dave D’Alessandro of the Jersey Star Ledger says he’s seen this script before and isn’t buying this end of trade discussions.  

I’m with Billy on this one.  Dwight Howard caused this whole mess when he back pedaled on Tuesday and decided that IF the Magic had listened to his suggestions and IF they had shown a more eager willingness to win or IF they had moved heaven and earth then he wouldn’t have demanded a trade.  Its a load of garbage and I PRAY that the Magic don’t buy it.  Not for the fan base.  It doesn’t deserve it.  Dave D’Alessandro is right, this is yet another ploy by another superstar who can’t be bothered with the burden of leading his own team and would rather invoke his right of using his name and clout to get his wish, to put himself in a better situation where he’ll have considerably more help and can be given a lot of the credit (as the missing piece) or only SOME of the blame as opposed to ALL of the blame when the light is brightest on the best player on each team.

If the Lakers offer up Bynum and Gasol, which they might have to if the Clippers start off hot and steal headlines and momentum from the Lakeshow, the Magic will listen.  I think the prospect of Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace and FIVE FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS apparently didn’t please the Magic.  Getting back known quantities are more enticing to the Magic who can show the fans that while they lost their young superstar center, they gained a young center who has a mean streak that is no where in Dwight’s game (yet) and a power forward who can dominate games offensively and shoulder the burden of being the number one option on the offense.  Plus he’s a very good passer out of the paint and for a team filled with slashers and shooters, it would be very much a similar situation except Gasol can make free throws and Bynum can offer the defensive/mean streak offense that Dwight offered (minus the mean streak).

Look, if I were as talented as Dwight I’m sure there would be a part of me that yearned to dictate where I went.  But Dwight like every other babied superstar has been given a silver spoon and been treated like royalty and spoiled with so much attention that its hard for them to figure out what exactly they are doing wrong when they are doing it.  Asking for a trade then back pedaling may not sound wrong to Dwight but he’s removed from the context of the whole situation.  This is a fan base that he himself promised he would not disappoint like others.  He told them he wouldn’t bolt like that, and yet here’s his first opportunity to do so and he is leaving.  Yes Dwight got them to a Finals on his back while Shaq had Penny (don’t giggle, you just don’t remember how dominant Penny was during those first few years- you remember Penny in a Knick uniform, two completely different players.), but its not enough for Dwight to get them there.

When he first came into the league there was this feeling like he was different.  His parents were strict.  He was a devout Christian and a young man who came out of high school more prepared mentally to handle all the rigors that come with fame and fortune.  I’m not here to judge him as a person but let’s take this back and forth for what it is.  There are conflicting interests here.  He wants to be a superstar and the attention and fame.  He also wants to be seen as a hero to Orlando, a city I think he genuinely loves.  There are forces working here and only one group will win.

My bet is that Dwight will end up with the Nets somehow but not until the end of the season.  I think he will need a commitment from Deron Williams but I can see Dwight and Deron deciding that its enough to start their legacies in Brooklyn and battle the Knicks for rights to New Yorker’s heart and wallet.  I think he stays put this entire season and gives Orlando the chance to woo him and show him that they are thirsty for winning.  Of course if the Magic don’t, and there’s a good chance that they go nowhere this year then Dwight leaves and the Magic fans are left with Shaq times two.

Dwight Howard knows that if he were direct with management a lot of this indecision and back and forth would end.  He needs to make up his mind.  At some point he has to be a man.  He can’t keep thinking that his smile will get him through the tough questions:  Is he invested in Orlando’s long term plans?   Is he that invested in the city?  How big are his goals for his after-basketball career?  Is he really thinking about becoming an actor?  Does he need the brighter lights of a bigger city to feel truly in place?  These are questions Dwight must answer and must answer fast.  Its not fair what he’s doing to Magic fans.  And its not fair to himself.  His life can either go forward or he can be like me trying to parallel park: reverse, shift, go forward, reverse, shift, go forward and repeat a few hundred times before finally getting out and being a solid five feet away from the curb.  Basically all that effort for NOTHING.  Dwight just needs to park his behind somewhere and be happy with his decision.  But he needs to make a decision.  For everyone’s sake.

The Knicks are down to three options now to augment their lineup.  According to Marc Berman of the New York Post Shawn Williams will make up his mind today and if he clears waivers the Knicks and Baron Davis have mutual interest in bringing the once star PG to the Knicks.  News also rains down that Amar’e Stoudemire doesn’t foresee himself playing all 66 games this season.  

I find it shady that Baron Davis a notorious slow starter but fast eater would complain about a bad back and IF that were truly the case, it wouldn’t make sense to hold on to that contract in hopes that he will come and rescue the knicks.  Yes, when motivated he can light it up on offense and CAN be a playmaker but those days are long gone in my opinion and according to my eyesight.  Replaced is a man who has lost his passion and would rather clog up passing lanes and effectively changed his style to rather suit the stylings of a post presence.  Something very dubious for a small guy to do but there is the rub.  Baron Davis is an enigma and a question mark.  He’s a head scratch.  And if the Knicks are seriously in the business of being taken seriously they need to resolve this fancy of bringing in every 2007 All-Star and try and build a team around the likes of Amar’e and Melo.  They have two guys who can take over games and quite possibly the most clutch player in all of basketball next to Paul Pierce, and Kobe Bryant in Carmelo.  They need role fillers and guys who can play defense and Shawn Williams can do that and provide you size and the inevitable knock down corner three.  Something he worked hard to perfect in order to resurrect his fledgling career.

He owes the Knicks a debt of gratitude but the Knicks have been busy diverting their attention on any number of options for the two guard, a position they don’t want to just GIVE to Landry Fields.  And I agree.  They shouldn’t take Landry’s word that he went out and practiced hard at the mental aspects of the game, which he was sorely lacking last year after the plug in of Carmelo Anthony into the everyday line up.  If he’s smart he’d take the Knicks one year offer or perhaps multi year offer and stay with the franchise.  But he may crave a starting spot in New Jersey which may prove to be a great opportunity if the chips start stacking up with Dwight Howard and Deron Williams being resigned.  But those are major ifs and its looking like they won’t have the ability to do that anyway.  I would bet that Shawn Williams resigns with the Knicks for one year and yes, we take a flyer on Baron Davis once he passes the amnesty auction.

I don’t trust Baron, but I believe the Knick staff thinks that he is worth the investment.  He had better be.  He can elevate this team or bring it down.  That’s the conundrum of Baron Davis.

If the Knicks signing of Tyson Chandler said anything its that the Knicks are done waiting and are done waiting on scenarios to play itself out.  They’d rather have a known quantity.  Shawn Williams is a known quantity in D’Antoni’s system and on this team.  Baron Davis isn’t and his reputation precedes himself.  I hope the Knicks know what they are doing.

Hey guys, the NFL is rich.  I mean really rich.  The NFL just agreed to a record extension with their three broadcast partners in NBC, FOX and CBS, which would have them pay 50% more in rights fees from 2014-2022.  Incredibly, the networks jumped at the chance of doing so.  

What’s that saying again?  The rich keep getting richer and the poor…well.

Here is the only savior that can come and rescue the Mets from themselves.  

Here is an interesting read about problems the Celtics have with Rajon Rondo.  

Speaking of which, troubling sense is setting in that Ndamukong Suh doesn’t get it.  Doesn’t get why people were disturbed by his actions and further more doesn’t get why people want to know if he’s learned anything by it.

Its not by accident that I bring up Tebow, Rondo and his meltdown and Suh’s complete lack of understanding all together in one hodgepodge.  Tebow is the golden child and its as much for his play as it is for his Christian beliefs.  Tebow’s intensity here can be compared to Suh’s intensity here.  They are one in the same and yet ONE of those guys controls his emotions and thinks straight and the other can’t.  There’s a fine line in sports and its crossed from time to time.  But I can’t understand for the life of me unapologetic players who don’t understand the consequences of their acts.  James Harrison straight up sounds like a complete IDIOT when he tweets LOL and warns that if he wanted to, he could’ve knocked Colt McCoy out.  That’s a threat and as close to a promise.  But you know what that isn’t?  That isn’t an apology.  That isn’t a promise to try and explore different ways on hitting.  That isn’t Harrison complaining and making a valid case about why the sport isn’t clear on hits to the head and why he’s being looked upon as a head hunter.  Because people like Harrison relish the fear that he brings on to a football field.

Harrison is a menacing player and so is Suh.  But they are both headed down a path that leads to nothing but shame and discorn.  They are both capable of being great NFL players but with indifferent attitudes about safety and showing composure.  Harrison has a legitemate gripe, not only did Colt throw that football at the last minute, he put his head down ensuring that Harrison’s helmet would go right into the face of Colt.  That’s not his fault.  No human alive could’ve avoided that.  But that’s what he should’ve said.  Not, “LOL”.  That’s not an adequate response, that’s a tease.  That’s a slap in the face of players who are now barely able to walk on their own power.  Guys who have paid the price physically and have their bodies betray them 10-15 years after they played their last game.  Harrison doesn’t get it now but he will.

But worse still is that Suh’s reputation is going down hill.  He’s not the humble kid that the Chrysler ads depict him to be.  Its getting to that time where not even Goodell, desperate for Suh to be a superstar and face of the league, can’t even save him from himself.  Goodell will be forced to give him the James Harrison treatment.  Every single thing he does, he will be hit with a substantial fine or suspension.  Every single comment he makes that draws the ire of its fan bases, Goodell will hit Suh with a fine.  His battles with the media are now becoming laughable.

How can a kid who sounds that intelligent, be THAT stupid?  How can he think that by arrogantly claiming the situation to be in-house that the media won’t further question that bogus statement?  The people who cover him and the league have been around far longer than Suh has or even before he wore his first pair of cleats in Pop Warner.  You think this is the first athlete trying to shut them down?  They are numb and immune to such foolish talk.  They and the fans have the right to know.  All Suh had to say was that he apologized and accept blame for a foolish moment.  That didn’t have to define him up to this point but right now it does.  His press conferences are bizarre.  He sounds like a little child that doesn’t want to be found out for breaking the vase in the living room.  He is scared and would rather try and dictate the terms of the conversation when that won’t happen.

You think the Detroit Lions PR staff want him in front of a camera anytime soon?  But you know who will?  Every single media member will descend upon him like a plague.  They will fire questions at him that question his character and question his ability to keep cool and until he proves otherwise those concerns will follow him.  Why is it so hard for these athletes to acknowledge their mistakes?  Why is it so easy to dismiss Tim Tebow and write off his performances?  Why is he so polarizing?  A person who stands up for his beliefs and goes about the game the right way?

Is he perfect?  No.  In fact he acknowledges his short comings and always points to every other direction but at himself for any credit he may get thrown his way after another game winning drive.  Yes, the QB gets the love, but his love goes to Jesus and God.  Why is it so hard to accept being like Tebow?

Why is it so hard for Dwight Howard to just come out and say he wants to leave and get ownership to find the best possible deal for the organization in the long run?  Why is it so hard for people to do the right thing?  And why is it that when someone DOES come along who does ALL the right things, that he is polarizing?

Why world why?

 

Editor’s note:  I will be leaving for Denver tonight to visit family and see the town that Tebow (re)built.  So expect posts to appear in west-coast time.  I will try to get them in as early as I can.  Don’t blame me though.  

 

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