Tag Archives: Phillies

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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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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WEEK 5 Picks and some baseball drama!

What a first quarter of the season it has been!  It isn’t hard to make the statement that football is the best sport and have evidence to back that statement up.  All you need to do is show them the tape of the Dallas Cowboys/Detroit Lions game.  First, the video of Nate Burleson’s riveting opening monologue going over the Detroit Lions recent history of 0-16 and other exploits.  Then the favored, hometown Cowboys going up 20-3 with another Romo to Dez Bryant touchdown.  As all hope looks to fade, Dez Bryant has an incomplete yet talks trash to the Lions defense and bench which suddenly rejuvenates the upstarts and gives them life back.  Throw in an emphatically excited coach Jim Schwartz motioning incomplete to Dez defending his team’s honor.

Then the team rallies back with two exciting pick sixes surrounded by one of those exciting scenes in a movie that you know the QB and receiver (that’s Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson in case you’re keeping score at home) just sort of give each other a look and as the play transpires, close-ups of both of them show their subtle communication with one another that can only be described as something so unique to their relationship and it goes in slow motion right from the moment Stafford releases the ball to the time Johnson begins his ascent.  That scene includes the moment that the third defender who  realizes what’s going on and tries to get there in time gives chase to the play and in case the director wants more decides that upon release of the football, Stafford gets pancaked by two Dallas defenders, and Johnson jumps, and with the close up catches it and comes down all in slow motion and the crowd in stunned silence watches as Johnson emerges with the football as the ref in the background comes up to make the touchdown signal and the shot goes back to the QB celebrating on the ground as nice magical Disney theme music plays.

Then there’s the final play where Calvin Johnson goes up and catches the winning touchdown to ice the game and then the post game press conference where Jim Schwartz memorably goes on to shoot one back to Rob Ryan who ignorantly* said during the week of the game that he’s faced better receivers in practice about how he’s glad the third best receiver on the Cowboys was actually a Lion in reference to Romo’s 3 INT’s, two of which were pick sixes and transformed the dynamic of the game.  Yeah, just show someone that footage and I’m sure you could end any argument right there.

*= This is why Rob isn’t a head coach.  Atleast Rex isn’t stupid enough to say something like that which from the moment he said it kind of made you raise your eyebrow.  I mean if you watched Calvin Johnson since he came into the league you knew that this guy was a top 5 receiver.  But this season, with a healthy Stafford is turning into Randy Moss 1998 season where everytime you threw up the ball you knew it was to Randy and you knew he was going to catch it.  That catch in triple coverage had to make Rob sick to his stomach.  Don’t get me wrong.  The Cowboys have a beast of their own in the making with Dez.  He’s going to be great.  I said during the draft that he had the chance to make everyone pay like Randy did for passing on him in the draft thanks to shaky background information.  But let’s not bark up that tree.  Calvin is better than Dez right now and I believe always will be.  Something about Dez is missing.  But back to my original point:  this is why Rob isn’t a head coach.  He’s too much of a wild card.  He also needs to shave and cut his hair.  The NFL is too rigid and conservative to allow a coach to look like a hippie.  Trust me, its the good ole boys network and they won’t want that kind of guy in.  It sets too bad of a precedent.

But you have to give baseball its due.  These past two weeks, baseball has given us two nights worthy of our bravos.  First, game 162 on September 28th where two playoff spots were up for grabs and there were four teams competing for them and two trying to complete the most amazing comeback ever in league history.  The Cards were as far back as 10 games at the end of August and the Rays were as far back as 9 during the beginning of September.  Somehow, both went into that final game needing but one win and some help to keep playing.  Wouldn’t you know, Evan Longoria hit two homeruns to help his team come back from a 7 run deficit while the Red Sox, a team whom many considered overwhelming favorites to win it all couldn’t keep a lead in the ninth completing the meltdown.  Meanwhile, in the National League, the Phillies honoring the gods of baseball by playing out every game to the fullest blocked the Braves from entering the playoffs by beating them in a game they had to have after the Cardinals had beaten the Houston Astros (you know, the Phillies minor league affiliate) 12-0 to complete the Cards own miraculous comeback with a complete game shutout thrown courtesy of Chris Carpenter.*

*= Foreshadowing anyone?

But if that weren’t enough drama for you, the first round featured 3 sudden death game 5’s featuring the Yankees against the Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee against the upstart Diamondbacks, and Phillies against the upstart Cardinals.  The Yankees were the first to be eliminated as the big bats of that Yankee line up could not overcome Detroit’s great bullpen and timely hitting.  Timely because they jumped on the Yankee starter, young Ivan Nova who was later removed from the game thanks to arm stiffness or so said the medical report given by the Yankees.  Joe Girardi, overmanaging as he usually does brought out his ace in the pivotal game five and Sabathia eventually surrendered the go-ahead RBI.  The Yankees closed to within one in the bottom of the 9th when the heart of their line up came up with Yankee stadium on their feet hoping for the new Stadium to enjoy great memories like the old one had.  Naturally the season came down to Alex Rodriguez at the plate and he struck out swinging to end the game as he left the mound with no regrets as he later said in a press conference showered by the boos of the high expectations of their fan base.  The Yankees head into the offseason plagued by questions of their age, the remaining years on A-Rod’s contract and the eventual CC Sabathia opt-out from his contract.  Remember how A-Rod had no leverage but he still managed to talk the Yankees into making him the highest paid player in all of sports, for a second time?  Well, CC does have the leverage since he’s their ace and there’s no sure thing in their minor leagues yet and King Felix remains untouchable according to Mariners people.  It will be interesting how the Yankees approach this offseason.

Not to be outdone by the natural drama that New York brings, the Brewers and Diamondbacks continued the wild ride of one run games by giving us a dramatic extra inning affair.  John Axelford who had not blown a save since mid April came in and naturally blew the save as the scrappy Diamondbacks went the run producing route.  Get a man on base, move him over, suicide squeeze and score a run.  Typical Gibson fashion.  But the year of T-Plush continued as he faced a bunch of ex-Mets and as any former National does, he scored a run as former Met farmhand Carlos Gomez raced from second on a single and scored the winning run as the ball sailed over the catcher’s head avoiding what would’ve been a more incredible play, the play at the plate.

If that weren’t enough for you, the capper was the Philadelphia Phillies and their vaunted rotation went up against those pesky Cardinals.  Met fans remember these Cardinals as the ones that sneak up on you and can kill a magical season as they did to us in 2006.  But this time they went in against the Cards in a 5 game set and the Phils had them right where they wanted them.  Roy Halladay in a winner take all.  And he gave up only one run.  If you had told me before the game that Roy Halladay would only give up one run and go 8 innings I would’ve told you that the Phillies would win 9 out of 10 times.  Of course that’s why you play the game.  How do you beat an ace that pitches that effectively?  Have your own ace that pitches a complete game shutout and that’s what Chris Carpenter did.  He had the Phillies completely fooled all night as he weaved and bobbed through their line up with relative ease and efficiency.  Finally Ryan Howard came up with the Phillies season in the balance and he put a strong swing on a ball that ended up weakly going to second where Nick Punto could’ve walked it to first.  In fact he could’ve stayed on the field and did a few laps around Citizens Bank Ball park, hi five every Cards fan and then run to first.  Why?  Because Ryan Howard, it turns out, had torn his achilles as he made the turn on his swing and couldn’t make it down the base paths.  Fitting end.  Next year begins Howard’s big 5 year extension that runs for $125 million and suddenly the Phillies, everyone’s preseason pick to win it all thanks to that rotation doesn’t look AS formidable.  Suddenly their line up is old in many spots.  Chase Utley, who for my money was the heart and soul of that Phillies team, hit a drive to deep center in that bottom of the ninth that would have made it past the wall if he had full rotation of his hips.  Something he clearly is no longer able to do after he had to rest himself.  Jimmy Rollins yet another integral cog who has been disappearing from superstar status slowly since 2008 is up for a new contract.  Which I’m told he will receive because of his status in the Philly clubhouse.  So more of that payroll will be plugged into several superstars and Ruben Amaro will have to dig deeper to try and find that young superstar bat.  Perhaps its Dominic Brown or John Mayberry Jr.  Who knows exactly.  The only thing the Phillies know is that they will have several questions moving forward.

So now the ALCS is a Midwesterner’s paradise.  No longer is baseball being destroyed by those Satans of the East Coast and that media love they always get.  Now its small town versus small town.  Its Detroit, the town that has seen a revival in these past few months.  The Lions are destroying the NFL with their 4-0 record and keeping pace with the Green Bay Packers, the Super Bowl champions, and now their beloved Tigers are going back to the ALCS hoping for a return trip to the World Series.  They have the Cy-Young Winner and possible MVP on their team, Justin Verlander leading the charge.  Then there’s the Milwaukee  Brewers.  After the NLDS win, when asked to do an interview which the interviewer would’ve certainly asked him what his thoughts were as the Brew-Crew were playing on and his impending free agency, Prince Fielder overcome with emotion could not give a response and ran to join his teammates.  Then of course there are the St Louis Cardinals.  Tony LaRussa’s bunch who somehow always end up in the playoffs.  Who somehow always wind up in these circumstances when they sneak up on people.  Albert Pujols is another midwestern super hero whom Cardinal fans are praying will stay with them for the rest of his playing days.  What will happen once this season is over?  Perhaps winning his second title will convince him that this is the place he wants to be.  The Cardinals have plenty of pitching in the minor leagues and some hitting coming up.  Finally, there’s the the Texas Rangers.  The team that continues to bash its way to the top.  The team with the young GM from Bayside, Queens.  The same GM whom sources add would have definitely become the Mets GM had they simply placed a call and an offer.  Naturally the Mets failed to do neither, but hey who cares.  He’s the guy who built the Rangers into a superpower.  Now have the Rangers again knocking on the door of a World Series which would be the second year in a row they would be there.  Of course this is on the heels of a Dallas Mavericks NBA championship.  This would turn that sports crazed state into one big championship parade route.  They won game one and are now trying to get to the World Series and finish the job a year after letting their ace go.  Amazing how things happen right?

Who knew baseball could be this exciting and October baseball continues with the ALCS and NLCS.  While football is taking a minor backseat with bye weeks starting this week, plenty of cities will be wide awake watching their respective baseball teams try to bring some pride to their cities.  Who knew baseball had that kind of football drama?

Here then are the week 5 picks with the hometeam in caps:

COLTS (-2) over Chiefs

Cardinals (+3) over VIKINGS – i’m sorry am I missing something here? Why is Minny still getting love?

Eagles (-3) over BILLS

RANGERS (-5) over Raiders

PANTHERS (+6.5) over Saints

Bengals (-1) over JAGS- stat of the week that will mess you up:  NFL’s number one defense:  your 2011 Cincinnati Bengals!

Titans (+3) over STEELERS-  Start writing up the Steeler obituaries folks.  And the curse of the Super Bowl losers continue.  By the way, yet another stat that will mess up your day?  Matt Hasselback is a relevant QB again.

GIANTS (-10) over Seahawks

49ERS (-3) over Bucs

PATRIOTS (-7.5) over Jets

Chargers (-3.5) over BRONCOS-  The Chargers this week took out a full page ad in a LA newspaper.  I’m just saying.

BREWERS (-5.5) over Falcons-  I’m totally off the Matty Ice bandwagon by the way.  I got off that express two weeks ago.

TIGERS (-5) over Bears-  Can’t wait for this game.  CANT WAIT!

Enjoy week 5 folks.

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Risky Equation

The Mets announced Mike Pelfrey as their Opening Day starter this week to the surprise of no one. No one was surprised because no one probably cared.

The Mets are not expected to go very far this year. If you’ve been living under a rock that doesn’t have a direct feed of ESPN- the Philadelphia Phillies fresh off losing the NLCS, the third consecutive Championship they went to and the first they lost during that span, went and decided that 3 aces weren’t enough, they needed another one. Thus the Cliff Lee saga, which had dragged the Yankees and Rangers for far too long had revealed itself as one big con job, dragged long enough to bring in the team he had always wanted to be on- the Phillies.

While downtown Philly is preparing for what should be the most exciting summer in ages and quite possibly a very historic one- down the turnpike things were uncharacteristically quiet.

While the Yankees were licking their wounds and spending their money like spoiled trust fund babies (see signing of most expensive set up man- Rafael Soriano), the Mets went a separate route altogether.

The Mets finally decided that in order to win and defeat the Yankees they couldn’t go about it the same way they always had: trying to go dollar for dollar with them. If you bring your payroll to $150 million they will go up to $200 million. They have the history and mystique that not many teams in all of SPORTS have.

They needed to be successful going a different route. Call it smalll market mentality with a big market budget. More emphasis on amateur scouting. Shorter contracts that would give the team flexibility in the future. A deeper statistical analysis on players to assign a dollar value to any potential free agents. A team run as a corporate business basically.

From the day that Sandy Alderson took over he spoke about how much the Mets had to spend given their current budget entering the year. Their eyes were fixed on 2011 when almost $60 million would come off their budget.

His honesty was like a breath of fresh air. For a long time, the Mets front office- perhaps instructed by the Wilpons- were told to be as evasive as they could be about what ability financially they had to make moves leaving Met fans to come to the conclusion that while charging high ticket prices and concessions the Mets were not doing everything possible to be a winner like the Yankees did. If they had the money, and continued to charge the fans what they did, why not put that back into the team?

Make no mistake, their sudden change in philosophy has PLENTY to do with the still unclear Bernie Madoff scandal. Only the Wilpons know what amount was taken by Mr Madoff but it doesn’t take a genius to see that even the Wilpons couldn’t keep stretching the lie that the Mets were unaffected by the Madoff scandal.

But this is a natural step if the idea was for the Mets to be more fiscally responsible. In the present economic climate, being able to save is key and the Mets are now employing three of the more well known names who pushed the whole statistical model long before it became status quo.

Sure the Mets are late to the dance but better late than never right? But like I said before its no koinky dink that this suddenly financial stinginess was a necessary attribute in the next GM after the cloudiness of the whole Madoff situation.

So the Mets are more careful about who they spend their money on. So its relievers on one and two year (max) contracts. Minor league contracts for players they are taking shots in the dark on. That’s wise decision making on the Mets behalf. Its about calculated risks and no one has geekier calculators then Alderson’s gang.

So what’s the consensus on this group? It could be a wild success or what every Met fan feels will happen: the Mets will be a third place team at best and maybe a last place team at worst.

But here’s what we do know: they aren’t giving up the farm for anyone. They promised to use the big market dollars on the draft so they are saving up their pennies by signing the Chris Young’s of the world. Offering carrot-on-stick incentives to players so there isn’t terrible risk and, if things go well, a whole a lot of reward.

I suppose in the end, the Mets 2011 season is just one big risk or reward scenario. I just hope our set of stat geeks have the right formula for success.

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