There’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? 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. 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.