Monday, May 30, 2005

Hanging In There

Games 49 through 51 - Mets

Mets 1, Marlins 0
Mets 6, Marlins 1
Marlins 6, Mets 3
Record: 26-25

This division is tightening up nicely. Things in MetLand had started looking grim after the peach pit they swallowed in Atlanta last week, but they came right back in an equally critical division series against the Marlins and nearly swept the thing. The much-maligned (but rarely unfairly) bullpen cost the Mets the sweep, but it's still a positive vibe in the Mets' camp. They're a paltry 2.5 games back of the co-leaders -- the last-place Phils are only 4.5 back, highlighting a division that beats up on each other at every turn. See if you can follow the loop:

So far, the Braves clearly dominate the Mets (7 wins in 9 tries, which suits me like a sandpaper jock, mind you), who've beaten up the Marlins, who have stymied the Nationals, who have managed to win more than lose against the Braves. Meanwhile, for you Phillies fans, the bad news is (mostly everything about this season, including) your Phightin's don't have a winning record against anyone in the division, but the good news is twofold: (1) they did just take two of three at Turner Field over the weekend to illustrate once again that a carcass in the road can make a good speed bump, and (2) the team that they have the best W-L against thus far is the NL-best St. Louis Cardinals, "because screw you, Scotty Rolen," I guess. (They can't wait to play L.A. & J.D.)

Now that this chapter in the bloodbath known as intradivisional play has ended, the Mets should be able to find more success in the next couple of weeks, though they never do as I instruct them on such matters. Home series against Arizona, San Francisco, Houston, and Los Angeles coincide with a return to the lineup from Carlos Beltran, and this seems a fine opportunity for the Mets to put some distance between themselves and the .500 line. It would make sense. It seems logical and a reasonable expectation. Which is why it cannot happen, sadly. Like a lousy playwright whose needless, wild twists in the plot only create holes, the Mets -- at least the ones we've followed in recent times -- rarely adhere to the notion that sometimes the better team on paper should actually win.

For the record, before the ten-game stretch the Mets just completed, I (blathered on interminably but at long last) made three comments regarding the treacherous set of games. I predicted they'd win but three or four of them, called them suckbags, and decided that with only four wins I'd find myself "slowly slipping towards sad resignation." What does it say about me that I was accurate (four wins) in prognosticating the success of the Mets but way off in estimating my own reaction to that result? It means that I am losing my mind, quite clearly, but that's the least fascinating development in the Mets' season so far.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

If You Called Me an Idiot Savant, You'd Only Be Half Right

Games 47 & 48 - Red Sox

Yankees 6, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 17, Yankees 1
Record: 26-22

Quick and dirty, stealing a few moments from drinking cheap wine and celebrating a holiday weekend, American-style.

Edgar Renteria's numbers since I excoriated him in this space: 11-for-19, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR (GS-style), 5 RBI.

Wade Miller's numbers since I anointed him the Sox' no. 1 starter in this space: 2 IP, 7 ER, 6H, 3BB, 1K, 1L.

The Sox today after I lambasted their effort: 17-1 winners over the Yankees.

The lesson, as always...c'mon, don't make me say it.

And if today wasn't a pitch-perfect example of Whitney's thesis about our ability to be perfectly and completely wrong about our teams, with me, I'm half in the bag. And to top it all off, I chose to stay entirely away from my television this afternoon, because I could not stand to sit through another Sox loss after last night's groin-kick. Super instincts, as always.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Need Me Tonight*

Games 42 through 48 - Mets

Yankees 5, Mets 2
Mets 7, Yankees 1
Yankees 5, Mets 3
Braves 8, Mets 6
Braves 4, Mets 0
Braves 3, Mets 0
Mets 12, Marlins 4
Record: 24-24

I'm back from a hardly-deserved beach vacation in sunny Wrightsville Beach, NC -- and just in time, it seems. New England and the Mid-Atlantic north of where I was reclined on the warm sand were cold and rainy, every piece of Mets footage seemed to have Bizet's Carmen playing in the background, and once more my little friend strayed just a wee bit from the mission, sprinkling politics (and scatological humor) into the mix. Had I stayed through the weekend . . . well, we don't even want to think about those consequences. And if you think my self-importance is a bit inflated even for me . . . well, sure, but here's the topical application (not to be confused with what Carlos Beltran is rubbing on his right quad about now) of the elephantitic ego: The New York Mets need me.

In Episodes I and II of the Misery Loves Company saga, I wrestled with a bizarrely frustrating dilemma -- the Mets seemed to thrive when I ignored them and tank the worst when I followed them the most closely. It's well documented in the archives, most painfully in this June 2004 post, a passage of which reads:
We've tried this before, and the evidence is mounting. When I follow the Mets'
progress closely, they lose. When I hunker down and tune in for the duration,
they lose badly. If I were to go to a game, they might fold the franchise. When
Rob applauds the Red Sox, they lose. When he trashes them, they win. And the
level of vitriol therein is directly proportional to the level of solid play
soon thereafter. It's beyond uncanny. It's odder than The Odd Couple, it's
weirder than Weird Science, it's stranger than L'Étranger. It's not just
bizarre, though, it's painful.
To me, the 2005 Mets season has seemed intangibly different than the two previous pants-stains, and by "different" I mean better, for the most part. Mike Piazza was quoted in the early part of last season as saying that that team was different than its predecessor, but as it turned out, it was different in a "chronic migraines are different than extreme nausea and vomiting" sort of way. I've had trouble clearly spelling out what is, in fact, better about the current campaign of jokers than the parade of bozos who came before them. Certainly their record is no indication, just a game better through 48 contests than last year's bunch and two games better than 2003. Last night, though, it occurred to me that part of my pleasure with the way the '05 term has gone has had to do with my personal timing of attention to them. In contrast to the horrible pattern of the past described above, this year I've missed the lowest lows but tuned in primarily to exciting, adept performances of "the new Mets," i.e., wins, and impressive ones at that. I was stuck at the beach (woe is me) with access only to box scores and a scant highlight here and there for nearly a week, and the Mets folded like a beach chair in five of six games. At the time, the slump was only fleetingly disheartening, as a vacationer's climate doesn't cloud with such trifles. I returned yesterday, ready to rant about the belly flop the Mets were in the midst of executing with all the ire of someone with sand in their shorts. Alas, I sat down to watch the (conveniently rain-delayed) Mets-Marlins game, and within five minutes the Metros had lemons-to-lemonaded a 1-0 hole into a 3-1 lead. By the time the game had ended, I had no fuel for a barrage of complaints. Instead, I could only come up with one concrete, unwavering truth: The New York Mets need me.

It just looks like the Mets need me if they're going to win this year. Everybody likes to feel needed, and I'm no exception; it makes my tuning in even more enjoyable, knowing that I'm doing my part for the cause -- instead of bogging the wagon down, like in years past. Sure, there will be times when doubt is cast upon this hypothesis; the Opening Day debacle is one example, though now I'm thinking that was just a "for old times' sake" tribute to the old Mets. Two months in, now, I'm feeling the tug of responsibility coming from this team, and I'm here to answer the call, at least until I go back on vacation to another beach in three weeks. Hey, it's not like they're paying me.

While this fortuitous shift in my own timing doesn't necessarily reflect an improvement on the team's fortunes, it does (a) help explain my brighter outlook and (b) continue a growing theme of opportunistic flashes of success that mark a change from years past. The Mets themselves have demonstrated a newfound timeliness that has resulted in heretofore unseen rallies and a frequent statistical conversion of LOB into 2-out RBI. This trend was shelved for much of the past week, undoubtedly, but we've still seen a sea change from the "if there's a way to lose, we'll find it" credo of the past few levels of Dante's Hell -- um, I mean past few Mets seasons. Now that the timing is synched between the Metropolitans and me, we're teaming up like the Wonder Twins (okay, there's a chance the Mets are a full-fledged superhero and I'm Gleek, the Space Monkey), so look out, people. It could get good.

For the record, how I managed to return with anything positive after a six-game baseball equivalent of tripping over feet and falling down stairs is well beyond me. Sunshine really is therapeutic, I guess.

* And finally, it should be noted that the more fitting but far less palatable headline "You Needed Me" and its corollary "Cue the Anne Murray" were dropped in favor of this weak INXS alteration -- just to prove once again to the doubting masses, that yes, there are some depths of loserdom to which we simply will not stoop here, even if they're rarer than a mint condition Fantastic Four #2 "graphic novel."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Stink. Stank. Stunk.

Games 44 through 46 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 6
Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 1
Blue Jays 8, Red Sox 1 (in progress)

I leave open the possibility that I've been more disgusted with the Sox at some point over the past 3 years than I am now. I also leave open the possibility that I might grow wings and fly, or that Bill Frist is anything more than a nakedly ambitious shill for the religious right.

I'm watching the Sox go through the motions against the Jays, on their way to a sweep at the hands of a team that dropped 14 of 19 against the Sox in 2004. I'm watching the Sox drop to 3rd place in the AL East after 46 games - and possibly slide to 4th if the Yankees (the same Yankees that started 11-19) come back from an early 1-run deficit to beat Detroit. I'm watching the defending world champions (and recently mis-described inexorable offensive machine) made to look utterly ordinary by Ted Lilly and Gustavo Chacin. No slander intended to those 2, but the Sox offense has pieces of corn in its stool with more talent.

Worst of all, I'm watching a Sox club that is characterized right now by nothing more than its indifference. Since the season's high-water emotional mark - back-to-back games won by walkoff homers against Oakland - the Sox have simply not been competitive, in the most damning sense of that word. They're 4-8 over that span, 2-7 against Seattle, Oakland, and Toronto.

Red Sox Nation celebrated the loose chemistry of the Idiot Champions in 2004. Today, the Nation is experiencing the downside of that laissez-faire makeup. One season's calm intensity is the next campaign's blase lack of fire. Last year, Terry Francona was a stabilizing influence, now the Sox' even-keeled skipper twiddles while Millar (trims his side)burns. Hangovers are a bitch when you get to my age - little did I know that the post-series cottonmouth would last this long, or feel this disappointing.

A Memorial Day set against the Yankees looms, and all I want is for the Sox to show some heart against the suddenly resurgent Bombers. I want Varitek to pop A-Rod in the mouth again, Papi and Manny to rub heads, and Eeyore to smile. I want Millar to rake, Trot to rage, Johnny Rockstar to run wild. I want Mueller to frustrate Mariano Rivera, Arroyo to buzz Jeter and Foulke to find his mojo. I want Timlin and Embree and Mantei to ride tall in the saddle, Wake to continue his Yankee-killing, and Renteria to earn his pay. I want most of all to see just a little evidence that these guys care as much as we do - naive and pollyannaish as I know that sentiment may be. I want someone to break some shit in the Sox' dugout. Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Fens, Groton, Minutemen, Lend Me Your Ears

Games 41 through 43 - Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Atlanta Braves 3
Braves 7, Red Sox 5
Red Sox 5, Braves 2
Record: 25-18

I come here not to praise Edgar Renteria, but to wax splenetic about the Sox' most expensive offseason acquistion's lack of redeeming qualities. Renteria's lost weekend against the Braves was highlighted by 3 2-out trips to the plate with the sacks juiced, and 3 empty frames for the Sox left in his wake. His effort today was as meager as any I've ever seen from a purported major league hitter. Pedro Martinez looked better at the plate against Carl Pavano this afternoon. Even Eeyore swings hard when he inevitably misses strike three and ambles back to the dugout.

In the interest of balance, Renteria set off his 1-for-13 weekend with 2 errors, bringing his league-leading total to 8 and lowering his fielding percentage to .949. Combined with his .630 OPS, Renteria's no-hit, no-field performance would be brutal if it came from Marco Scutaro. That those numbers have been the recorded output of a guy carrying a 4-year, $40m price tag is enough to justify the derision that E-Rent ("rent" apparently means "6" in Spanish) has heard from the Fenway faithful.

As I type this, I see that everyone's favorite spokesman, Kevin Millar, has come to his teammate's aid. Thanks, Kev. Maybe you should worry a little more about your own .680 OPS (.331 SLG! Mr. Koo has a better slugging mark than that) and a little less about the black hole at shortstop. At least Terry Francona's noticed Renteria's struggles, and adjusted the lineup accordingly, installing Renteria in the no. 9 spot where he belongs. What's that? He's made Renteria the permanent no. 2 hitter? Well, that's just splendid. Sure wouldn't want Trot Nixon's .430 OPS in the 2-hole in front of Ortiz and Manny. Mumbleuttercursephbbbb.

Apologies for the recent spate of 3-game nuggets, but an upcoming trip to beautiful (in January, not May) Boca Raton promises to continue the trend at least for this week. The Sox played against type this weekend against the Braves, reversing their abysmal interleague history against their former cross-town foes. Wade Miller looked nicenice yet again - he could be the Sox' no. 1 starter by the all-star game. Unless Matt Clement keeps throwing zeroes at the opposition. Manny Ramirez shook off a 16-game .115 slump (which borders on me-with-the-ladies-in-college sort of ineffectiveness) in today's contest, driving a rocket over the wall in right center and collecting 2 other hits. Only Timmy Wake's continued slide and Keith Foulke's keep-it-interesting personal style kept the Sox from a really glorious weekend. That, and the abysmal Boston weather.

Nothing from here until Wednesday at the earliest, which is good, because you'd probably want to get the kids out of the room if I got time to spout off about tomorrow's Hall of Fame exhibition against the Tigers. What legitimate professional league lets - nay, forces - its franchises to play phony games with real players during the regular season? Yankees/Rays in Japan is one thing - at least those games count. Sox/Tigers in Cooperstown in May strikes me as bizarre, and will strike me as much more than that if anyone gets hurt.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Can We Put a Stop to "It's Go Time"?

Game 41 - Mets

Mets 10, Reds 6
Record: 22-19

Uh oh. On the heels of Rob's musical detour and admittedly lean content, I offer the drive-thru version of a Mets recap (a day late, at that). I prefer to call it "analysis-minimalist" rather than "shallow," "weak," or "lame." I believe in few -isms quite so devoutly as euphemism.

It's too bad that I'm taking that route today, for there was much to laud in Wednesday's win. First of all, the Mets' sweep of the Reds was their first since they took three from Houston in the second week of the season. Second, Tom Glavine had another positive outing, taking his ERA all the way down to the still-gnarly 5.44. And finally, the Metbats were scorching, knocking in 10 runs on 13 hits. It was so nice to see that it was easy to forget it was the bloody-awful Reds taking the abuse. While there's no deflating the good feeling generated by the sweep, it will be quickly forgotten if the Mets expect the next three series to be this forgiving.

Worth mentioning was Chris Woodward shining once again in a fill-in role, this time opening the scoring with a two-run tater off Eric Milton while playing right field on Carlos Beltran's (2/3 of a) day off. Woodward can play every position except pitcher and catcher with unexpected proficiency, and I wouldn't bet against him too heavily in the battery, either. Having a guy like that on the roster makes Willie Randolph's job a whole lot easier.

Reds manager Dave "I'm Not S"Miley brought Danny Graves into the bottom of the eighth to keep the game close, presumably. "Flammable Danny" served up home runs to Mike Cameron and David Wright, and the Mets tacked on four runs to take a lead that seemed insurmountable, at least until "Inflammable Manny" Aybar tossed a three-spot into the Reds' box score in the ninth. I'm just not sure there's any situation I want him in the game. Well, okay, if there's room on the roster for the guy you want to close out all games featuring a 25-run lead, then he can stay.

Jose Reyes, Kaz Matsui, and Mike Piazza had nine hits between them, raising their combined average to about .249. Sure steps in the right direction, but again . . . it was the Reds. Be happy that these fellows showed some offense, be pleased that the team did what it should have, be pleasantly surprised that Tom "Ipecac Jack" Glavine induced outs rather than fits of vomiting from overzealous fans. Rob and the Sox are looking forward to the weekend's games because it's too ugly in the rearview mirror. I, and I pray the Mets, need to focus on the immediate future rather than the recent past because of the treacherous foes lying in wait.

The Mets enter the gauntlet of the early schedule tonight, facing the Yankees this weekend with road trips to Atlanta and Miami directly following. Ten games in ten days that will challenge, test, and reveal the true capabilities of the New York Mets. Alrighty then. Were this the Red Sox, Kevin Millar would be pulling the curtain back right about now to uncloak the latest hokey mantra, so here's the slogan of the next ten contests: "Don't soil yourselves, lads, for some stains don't come out in the wash." (There's actual deep truth in that statement, but I'll leave it underanalyzed.)

The Way It Should Go
Well, this is the wrongest of wrong times to face the loathsome Yanks, fresh off a 10-2 road stint. John Kruk predicted they'd go exactly 10-2 before last week. That says something about Kruk's savvy and the pathetic nature of the not-terribly-Athletics and the subpar-Mariners. Though the Yankees themselves might be lulled into the false sense of security this post urges the Mets to avoid, they are the Yankees, and their swagger is re-emerging. The Yanks are tossing Kevin Brown and the Big Eunuch in the first two games, and it's simply a question of whether "the old one" or "the new one" shows up. The 1990's era of either will be painful; in fact, even the early 2000's version of Randy Johnson bodes ill. Carl Pavano is slated to pitch Sunday afternoon, and he's had good success against the Metmen in the past. By leaving FLA he traded defense for run support, so we'll see how that changes his results. The Mets offer Victor Zambrano, Kris Benson, and Pedro Martinez (after a cortisone shot -- great news). Zambrano and Benson have looked better of late, and Pedro's looked worse. Each of them has the ability to keep the Mets in the game. Clearly, this series is up for grabs, and I like the aggressive attitude of the young Mets over the veteran cool of the tired Yankees. The Mets should take two of three.

The Braves are closing out a 12-game stretch on the road in Boston this weekend. Atlanta is just 3-6 on the trip so far, so the Mets may catch them at the right time, unless the Sox play with their heads up their keisters this weekend. I'm hoping I won't have to irk (further) the handful of Sox readers with a nasty rant in this space if the Idiots do just that. The Braves have closer issues and some rotation injuries, but a whole lot of mojo when they play the Mets, so there's never confidence running over on this series. Given John Thomson's DL placement yesterday and Mike Hampton's questionable forearm (you thought I was going to say "character" instead of forearm, didn't you, Rob?), though, the Mets should take two of three.

The Marlins are only one game better than the Mets, and frankly, I can't figure out how that is. They seem like they should be at least five or six games better. Their startlingly good rotation only has them five games above .500, despite allowing pretty much . . . zero runs all season. All signs point to the offense, and Mike Lowell just took a pop fly off the face. They don't seem to be putting it together yet, but the next six games against the D-Rays and Phillies (a painful association for you Philly fans) should help get them straightened out. The Mets should take two of four.

There you have it. The Mets should win six out of the next 10 games.

The Way It Probably Will Go, Knowing the Mets
The Mets will probably win three or four out of 10. Suckbags. (Sorry; some stains don't come out in the wash, and some scars take a long time to heal.)

Seven or more wins and I'm thrilled, five or six and we can't complain, four and I'll be slowly slipping towards sad resignation, three or fewer and I'm annoyingly ballistic. Your choice, Metropolitans. Gentlemen, start your engines.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Nothing to Fear (But Fear Itself)

Games 38 through 40 - Red Sox

A's 6, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 7, A's 5
A's 13, Red Sox 6
Record: 23-17

The title above refers to the great song by Oingo Boingo (one of the most underrated bands in the pantheon, for my very limited money), which happens to be playing on my iTunes Party Shuffle. Tangentially, if also refers to my current feelings about the Sox, but I'd frankly rather talk about Danny Elfman and the band that also recorded such Sox-appropriate classics as Who Do You Want to Be Today, Only Makes Me Laugh, and for Mark Bellhorn, We Close Our Eyes.

Can you tell that I don't really have much to say about my favorite 9?

One of the challenging things about blogging on the same topic for 2+ years is the difficulty in avoiding redundancy. Hell, I'm a master of it, but most of the time it's the intentional act of a creatively-challenged, time-starved would-be slacker. In that vein, I'd have loved to recreate this entry today in honor of the Sox' 4 of 6 capitulation to the just better than woeful Mariners and A's.

The assmonkey sobriquet would fit, too, but I look at the standings and see that despite relative underachievement the Sox are currently in playoff position, despite finding lots of different ways to blow games to Seattle and Oakland (Hi, Boomer! Glad you rushed back to collect that bonus for another start. Jeremi could've given up 7 ER in 1 and a third without costing the team $200k.) the Sox are still playing at a .575 clip. So I swallow my indignance and move on past the quarter pole.

Looking ahead, if only because looking behind makes me want to hurl, I'm looking forward to throwing Whit and his Metros a bit of a bone this week, as his arch-nemeses from the Dirty South roll into Fenway this week for a three-game set. Boston's "natural rivals" from Atlanta come to town in first place in the NL East. (Aside: how the hell can that be? 13 division championships in a row, and they're still winning games with Adam Laroche, Horacio Ramirez, and Johnny Estrada? Shame that the ATL is such a shit sports town, because that's one of the great achievements in franchise sports history.)

Wade Miller gets Tim Hudson on Friday night, and I'd like to say that I'm looking forward to a barn-burner, but my prognosticating acumen over the past week has been less sharp than the social skills of a Star Wars conventioneer. And ECA Mike thinks we're not paying attention to pop culture.

Our friends over at the Wheelhouse have a story adds a whole new dimension to the 'Bronson Arroyo as stud' meme. I mean, I knew that ballplayers get a lot of top quality, um, attention, but, well...see for yourself. Note to Bronson: a little strange is perhaps an accepted perk, but maybe you should duck when the camera-phone comes out. Y'know, 'cause of the wife, and all.

On that slightly Page 6 note, we'll close another incoherent ramble to the head-bobbing beat of Les Claypool's bass as the Primus front man pounds out Pudding Time. If nothing else, enjoy the musical stylings of this half of MLC, because the baseball stuff leaves a lot to be desired.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Kaz / Effect

Game 40 - Mets

Mets 2, Reds 1
Record: 21-19

Okay, so I was wrong. Or, as Social Distortion sings it, "I was wrooooooooooooong." It wasn't Zambrano last night, as misinformed me. (But why I looked there for up-to-date info is beyond me; I'm starting to trust them with all the confidence I have in the weather people. And not to get on too tangential a tangent here, but what is it with the meteorologists these days? Doesn't it seem like they get worse, not better, at predicting the weather with every passing year? Seriously, as technology has improved, we still have no better a grasp on the five-day forecast than did the seers, gypsies, and rain dancers of the past? How is it in 2005 we can take pictures of distant planets, we can transfer text, photos, and sound in real time to any corner of the globe, and we can invent incredible rocket shooters that fire T-shirts into the upper deck of baseball games, but nobody can tell me with any degree of accuracy whether it's going to rain two days from now? How is that?)

It was Kaz Ishii starting, and he was brilliant, conceding just one run on three hits and a pair of walks through six. Four relievers came to Ishii's defense, and did surprisingly well at it. Mike DeJean actually took the win, Señor Hernandez and Mister Koo each recorded the forgotten stat of "hold," and B-Loop notched another save, retiring the last two batsmen after Mistake Koo, in a rare and ill-advised save opportunity, let two of the three batters he faced reach base. Seriously, Willie, "Mister" Koo? Dae-Sung Koo? "Rock & Roll Hoochie" Koo? In a save situation? No thank you. Despite Hernandez's recent pitching interpretation of a Jackson Pollock painting over the weekend, I'd rather see him in a game's final precious moments than Koo. Based on recent efforts, I'd even rather see Mike D. with his bad self running things in a save situation.

On the other side of the Kaz-a strip, Kaz Matsui continued to fight through a nightly chorus of boos and a depressing stat sheet, providing the only offensive spark of the night for the Mets, thanks to the Metly resurrection of Reds pitcher Ramon "NL = New Life" Ortiz. Ortiz looked as dominant as he was supposed to be in Anaheim for many years -- and wasn't, but the artist formerly known as Doormatsui touched him in the bad way for a two-run dinger that provided the difference. Mike Ness roars again on behalf of the Shea faithful, "I was wrooooooooooong . . . "

The Mets have a chance to squash the meager Reds in a sweep with a win today. It's Tom Glavine vs. Eric Milton in a showdown of "wow, this would've been a better match-up more than a few years back." The jokers from Queens have shown signs of prowess from time to time this season, but they seem to get caught up with too many of those winnable losses; may they break free of that entanglement today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Muddling Through May

Games 36 through 39 - Mets

Mets 2, Cardinals 0
Cardinals 7, Mets 6
Cardinals 4, Mets 2
Mets 9, Reds 2
Record: 20-19

This weekend was the Mets' little way of pulling the rug out from under anyone who claimed to know a thing or two about them. Oh, you think Tom Glavine reeks, do you? Cliff Floyd is slumping, eh? Aaron Heilman is getting better every time out, huh? Roberto Hernandez should be saving games instead of Braden Looper? You sure about that? Pedro is lights-out? Really?

The disappointing thing about dropping two of three to the Cardinals is that St. Louis seemed beatable all weekend long, and it would've been a big lift for the Mets to knock them off. They're a better than solid team, of course, but each of these games was within reach. Okay, on Sunday Matt Morris had the Mets baffled for the most part, but two would-be big innings were truncated with double play balls. Saturday, meanwhile, saw Hernandez blow a one-run lead in the eighth. He was victimized by two cheap flare mishits (from great hitters) that dropped in, but he bookended them with costly walks. And that was it. They'd lost four of five by Sunday night.

One philosophical point of order concerning part of that Saturday game: in the ninth, down a run, the Mets were fortunate enough to have leadoff hitter Jose Reyes coax a rare walk out of Jason Isringhausen. With nobody out and contact hitter Miguel Cairo at the plate, I fully expected some sort of hit-and-run/run-and-hit/straight-up-steal from the Mets. Willie Randolph had options in this scenario. I can concede that Yadier Molina, who's thrown out 8 of 11 steal attempts this year (what's more startling, that stat or Piazza's 4 of 33?) was catching, but I guess I got a little Earl Weavery watching this game. The Mets only had three outs to scratch across a run, and handing one over with Reyes on the paths and Cairo at the plate seemed generous. Hindsight is 20/20, but I was barking at Skipper Willie long before Beltran flied out, Floyd was walked intentionally, and Cameron whiffed. Oh, well. But it's not the first time there has been an outcry for better utilization of the speedy runners in this lineup.

Last night our lads knocked off the woeful Cincinnati Reds, 9-2. I read more than one headline or story-intro mentioning this as some sort of retribution for the season-opening sweep in Cincy. I'm certainly happy they won (as Nuke said, "it's like . . . better'n losing"), but there's little glee generated from avenging that humiliation. Any take on this win as anything other than whipping a down team like down teams should be whipped is setting the sights low. It's the hare gloating after beating the tortoise in the re-match; sweet, you just outran a friggin' turtle, guy.

Seeing Kris Benson pitch a long and prosperous game was, however, reason for satisfaction. Again, grains of salt are handed out in the clubhouse after every win over a glorified barn-stormer like the Redlegs, but a quality start is a quality start, and 7.2 innings of 4-hit, 2-run ball qualifies. The rotation is in some strange state of flux right now, with some doubt lingering about who's in it for the long haul, who's in for now, who's pitching against the Yankees this weekend (this shouldn't be the topic of discussion you know it will be), and who's headed for Norfolk (the lucky dogs). Benson certainly shored up his standing in the mix. Victor Zambrano and Tom Glavine (a one-two punch only if self-inflicted) have a chance to entrench themselves further with outings against these lowly Reds in the next two nights. Whatever you do, people, nobody wake the sleeping chelonian.

Monday, May 16, 2005

You'll Never Get These 30 Seconds Back

Game 37 - Red Sox

Mariners 5, Red Sox 4
Record: 22-15

The bad news: the Sox dropped Sunday's game to the M's to lose their first series in a month, Tim Wakefield rewarded my recent kind words by giving up 5 runs in the first 4 innings, and the "inexorable" offense so named just inches below managed just 4 tallies against Gil Meche et al.

The good news: I didn't see, hear, read, or really care about any of it. This one is a mere bump in the long, long road of a baseball season.

Carry on, nothing to see (or read) here.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Staying Up All Night...We Don't Do That Anymore

Games 35 & 36 - Red Sox

Mariners 14, Red Sox 7
Red Sox 6, Mariners 3
Record: 22-14

Welcome to a week of West Coast baseball, a sure sign of incompletely researched notions, half-baked concepts, and ramblings influenced by minimal facts. As far as I know, the Sox won Friday's game, 6-5, and lost last night's, 3-1. At least I got the record right.

A theme is beginning to take shape in my mind to define this Sox ballclub. Even in Friday's loss, as I watched them continue to come back and try to pick up the pieces of Jeremi Gonzalez' wreckage, one word kept popping into my mind: inexorable. This Sox lineup is wave after wave of patient, powerful, versatile hitters, advancing without remorse on the league's pitching staffs. Even as several of the leading threats perform slightly below their potential, the aggregate just...keeps...coming - they're like the Borg with personality. That's a testament to an organizational philosophy that preaches patience and control of the strike zone. Case in point: Ryan Franklin shut the Sox down through 5 1/3 innings last night, but threw his 100th pitch in the top of the 5th. Simple matter of time before the Sox got to hit against the soft underbelly of the M's bullpen, and when they did, Trot Nixon took J.J. Putz (is Poots really a better pronunciation than Putt-z? I think he should go with 'Williams') way deep with the bases loaded to give the Sox their winning margin. Lord help AL pitching staffs if Manny, Ortiz, Renteria, and Bellhorn start producing to their potential.

Wade Miller was sharp again last night, until blowing a bearing and spilling oil all over the bottom of the 6th. Even with the back-to-back longballs he gave up to Richie Sexson and Raul Ibanez, Miller showed once again that he should be a huge factor in the Sox' rotation. I particularly liked his reaction after Sexson's immense clout to center - as soon as the ball left the M's firstbaseman's bat, Miller straightened up in a full-body scream. No stoic acceptance for the Sox hurler, just fury. I dig it.

And if Miller is what he seems to be, the Sox have a 6-man rotation of Schilling, Miller, Arroyo, Clement, Wakefield, and Wells that is embarrassingly deep, if marked by some health questions. (Note to Boomer: take your time getting back. Really, it's okay.) That rotation in front of that offense...I mean, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to react to such prosperity. In the B.C. era, I'd look for dark clouds surrounding that silver lining - now, nothing but sunshine.

Screeching segue alert: if Met play-by-play geeble Ted Robinson doesn't stop bad-mouthing Trot Nixon, I'm coming after him with all the fury an obscure, lazy Soxblogger can muster. Teddy Ro was gleeful as he described Larry Walker's career stat breakdown on Friday, comparing the Cardinal rightfielder's Coors Field stats favorably with Ted Williams, then noting that Walker's stats in all other ballparks were exactly like Nixon's. He said it 3 times, as if Nixon were Endy Chavez. For the record, Teddy Douchebag, Trot Nixon - while no Ted Williams - has a career .869 OPS (.923 against RHP). You could do a lot worse (cough, Mike Cameron, cough, career .784 OPS, cough). End of pointless rant.

Friday, May 13, 2005

This and That

Without a Mets game for me to recap, I thought I'd toss out some random thoughts about all things baseball . . .

There's been a fair bit of chatter about the impressive start to the Orioles' year, and how they're going to make a real run, they'll be buyers when the trade deadline nears, etc. Blah blah blah. The Orioles' quick and definite slide to 3rd place has already commenced. They've been great, to be sure, and they've been a pleasant change of focus from the usual YankSox spotlight. The problem is that that division is that division, and to do what they've done so far, too many Orioles have had to overachieve. Brian Roberts is hitting .381 with 10 home runs and has people bringing up Brady Anderson's name for the first time in years (excepting conversations about steroids and closeted gay baseball players). Javy Lopez is successfully staving off the catcher cliff-dive that was predicted for him. (Must . . . resist . . . Piazza comment . . .) And the O's were getting more than they asked for from Luis Matos before he broke his finger. Miguel Tejada, mind you, is not overachieving, just playing like the big-time RBI machine that he is. The pitching staff has produced even more raised eyebrows, though, with Erik Bedard and Bruce Chen shocking even the most devoted Oriole fans, while Daniel Cabrera and Rodrigo Lopez have at least shown flashes of brilliance. (Sidney Ponson, meanwhile, earns more than twice as much as the other four starters combined and is in effect the 5th starter. At best.) Setting up is Jorge Julio, who's looked good thus far but anyone who's familiar with him knows better. If the Mets swap Mike Cameron for Julio (as rumored in the circles of the Township), I will have 3,000 nasty words of rant at the ready. You do not want this, people.

A couple of injuries to non-critical (Matos and yes, Sammy Sosa) have the O-wagon already wobbling. An injury to one of the top arms or bats could derail them. Even without such misfortune, guys are inevitably going to come back down to earth. At the same time, nobody outside of the increasingly decrepit Rafael Palmeiro has struggled, so there's little room for improvement from others to balance out the performance. There's no question this lineup will continue to produce runs on a regular basis if they stay healthy. The pitching staff, however, would have to carry on a stretch of defying the odds, and in this slugging-heavy division, I don't see it. Again, I've enjoyed this diversion for the first six weeks. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

In the same vein, the Red Sox and Yankees have already righted their respective ships, and now it's just a matter of digging themselves out of the holes they dug in April. (Ignore the people lauding the supposed collapse of the Yankees; I'd have loved to believe it even for a second, but I didn't.) Boston hovered around .500 in April, and a predictable hot stint has them knocking on Baltimore's door. The Bombers, however, made their own bed (wet it, really) with a stunningly inept first month, and have had to rip off five in a row just to get to three games under sea level. Multiple series against the washed-up A's and M's have helped both of these clubs get turned around, and they each get the next six games against . . . the A's and M's? (Interesting scheduling. Wouldn't want to space them apart to see what they can do against them at different junctures in the up-and-down season.) A week from now, it will be back to the same old saga in the AL East, which should neither surprise nor excite anyone from outside the northeast corridor.

The Washington Nationals have sustained a flurry of crippling injuries (seriously, check it out) and are probably one more ankle turn away from waving the white flag, hollering, "No mas!" and fading into the NL East cellar. They've overachieved more than the Orioles, much to the region's delight, even while playing the hardest schedule in baseball (statistically) thus far. But it just doesn't look promising for the team -- not that the fans will hold it against them. The Nats have a free pass for at least this whole season, maybe more.

Challenging the Nationals for last place are the ever-sinking Phillies. Currently seven games out and falling, things are going quite as I predicted this spring. I told my Phightin' friend Nick that the Phils were in a lot of trouble, but that the acquisition of Jon Lieber was quietly one of the best of the winter. Without him, the squad might find itself under the scrutiny of this site's Phillies Watch.

Speaking of which, down in the depths of the big league doldrums we have not one but two candidates for the successor to the Tigers/Expos Watch. It's time to start looking at the Kansas City Royals as a serious contender for some low lows. Tony Pena falling on the grenade can't help, that's for sure. The Rockies, meanwhile, fell on their faces out of the gate and haven't gained any ground since. An abbreviated, preliminary report on each:

Kansas City: 9-26
Telling stat: 3-12 at home

Colorado: 9-23
Telling stat: lowest run total in their division, even playing home games at Coors; the Padres, whose home field is a notorious pitcher's park, have scored 12 more runs

We'll see which team earns the right for this coveted out-of-region coverage.

Last week, after the Reds had blown a 9-3 lead in the ninth, Joe Morgan commented during a subsequent telecast that the Reds' loss had a little to do with bad performance and a lot to do with bad luck. He said the chances of not being able to manage three outs before seven runs crossed the plate were remote under any circumstances, and he mentioned the phrase "bad luck" about seven or eight times. The very next night after Morgan's spouting, the Reds couldn't hold a 5-1 lead in the final frame and lost, 6-5, in 13 innings. I'm thinking it was less to do with "luck" and more to do with "suck" than Mr. Morgan may have thought.

The Devil Rays are 12-12 at home and 1-11 at home, conjuring up (a crappier version of) the Twins of a decade or two ago. Hmmm, they've played 24 home games and 12 roadies, which says to me . . . bad news for D-Rays fans (both of them) in the near future.

The Marlins have allowed 91 runs in 31 games. Astounding. The Reds have given up 197 in 34. (Not sure how many in the 9th inning.) Opposing hitters have a .628 OPS against the Marlins, a whopping .883 against Cincy (which is 23 points higher than against the Rockies). The Mets get to face the Marlins 14 more times, the Reds three more times.

The Reds swept the Mets in the season-opening series. It was a punch in the gut at the time. Seeing what the Reds really are makes it more of a sock in the face now. If Cincinnati continues to free-fall, it will have the effect of a punt in the groin by season's end.

Getting away from mindless stats, I just want to mention once again the point I'm going to hammer into the ground before this season is over: the fans are too damn close to the baseball field. Most importantly, there's a better than decent chance that somebody is going to die at a baseball game in the next couple of years. Teams are building seats closer and closer to the field, and with every game I watch on TV or in person, I see young children in harm's way of a line drive foul ball. Kids can't defend themselves, and the parents are busy flagging down the beer man or talking on the cell to make sure their friends see them. Even non-kids -- just inattentive, clumsy, or ill-prepared folks -- are potential victims, but the least they could do would be to keep children under 18 out of those target seats. I know MLB sees the NHL netting as an example of the solution, but they're waiting out a death or serious injury like hockey did -- that way, nobody but nobody can claim it's a bad idea. Hell, I appreciate the aesthetic of the ballpark more than just about anyone; I'm waxing poetic from the moment I set foot inside the stadium. Yet I'm one of the few voices begging for a look at a set-up that seems destined for disaster. (The others being people who've already been struck, including a woman at the first Nationals game I attended who was hit in the forehead, and she wasn't even all that close to the field.) When Bud Selig gets that same old pained expression on his face once again (Exhibit A in the case against the parental warnings that your face will get stuck like that) and bemoans "a terrible tragedy that mars the history of this great sport" or some bogus tripe like that, I won't relish having seen it coming.

That danger aside, there's a far, far greater statistical chance of a significantly less horrible but nonetheless critical downside to the fans' proximity to the field. Again, I've railed on this before, even recently, but it just keeps happening: how is it that spectators are able to alter the game consequences by interfering with play? In other sports, it would be front-page news, arrest-worthy, and investigation-ensuing type of event, but in baseball, it's a weekly occurrence. I know baseball's a little different because you can keep a ball as a souvenir, but we don't see hockey fans reaching down over the glass to grab a loose puck, right? (I love writing about the NHL as if it exists.) Some claim it's "just a part of the game," but that doesn't mean it should be. Every time a fan grabs a ball in play, an umpire gets to make an odd judgment call, and the result may or may not reflect what might've happened without the interference. If it changes the outcome of the game in any way, the council of elders should figure a way around it. It would take time and money to raise fences, move fans back from the field of play, and create some kind of buffer between audience and performer, and again, it (very, very slightly) tarnishes that ethereal feeling that the ballpark imbues in us, but it's the right thing to do. As a perk, said buffer might keep the fans and players from mixing it up like they're doing at a rapidly increasing rate. But MLB, the think tank that it is, has seemingly operated under the premise that there's no such thing as bad press for quite a while. A dead spectator, yet another player/fan fight, and a controversial ending to a key game (Jeffrey Maier turns 21 this year; for kicks, I'd like to invite him out to any one of 100 Baltimore bars for the evening) are all clearly preventable scenarios that baseball doesn't seem all that desperate to avoid.

And finally, back into the lighter fare:

In 2003, 40-year old David Cone began the season in the Mets' starting rotation but wisely retired after a 1-3, 6.50 start. This year, 39-year-old Tom Glavine is 1-4 with a 6.87 ERA. I'm just saying.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Musical Interlude

Game 35 - Mets

Cubs 4, Mets 3
Record: 18-17

I guess the Mets lost. Good thing I was listening to some tunes as the game was on, so this is all I heard from the loss . . .

Victor Diaz comes up in the second with the bases loaded as Simple Minds plays:
Don't you forget about me
I'll be up there, hitting, you know it, baby
Going to fight for my right
To play out in right night after night, baby

The other, less victorious Victor retakes the mound with a two-run lead as Dr. John takes the airwaves with his take on the Wilpon gang:
Well I thought it was the right Zambrano
But it must have been the wrong guy
He's from the right place
But I must have used the wrong guide
And I thought it was the right Matsui
But it surely is the wrong guy
He's also from the right place
But we both have a bad eye
Swinging missing booing hissing from every who I sign
Gotta start getting first names on that dotted line
Walking walking walking walking, fans shout obscenities
Gotta save face from this mistaken identity

Mark Prior settles down and starts making the Mets look foolish, starting with Jose Reyes. Cue the Dire Straits:
And Jose doesn't mind if he doesn't reach the base
He's got a daytime job he's doing alright
He can run the bases just like anything
But he's saving it up for another night
He's the Sultan, yeah, the Sultan of Swing

Here comes Carlos Beltran. We need him now, but as Velvet Underground plays:
I'm waiting for my man
When he pitches, that's when I can
Hit one out, and earn all my pay
But Pedro's sittin' on the bench today
With a swing of the bat, I can amaze
But you'll just have to wait a few days
I'm waiting for my man

How about Cliff Floyd? They Might Be Giants observe:
I was hot for five straight weeks, but now I'm slightly colder
And now I'm even colder
And now I'm even colder
Sixty points in seven days, and dropping even colder
And now I'm colder still

How low has Mike Piazza sunk? Ask Steely Dan:
No, you can’t flash the leather
No, you can’t hit at all
Please take the Mets along
When you slide on down

It comes down to Eric Valent in an unlikely chance to tie the game in the 9th. Just as The Clash's "Norfolk Calling" fades out, Charlie Daniels blares in:
But I couldn't believe it
I just had to find out for myself
And I couldn't conceive it
'Cause I never would have listened to nobody else
There's some things in this sport you just can't explain.

Tie game! On comes . . . Mike DeJean. The Smashing Pumpkins start in with "Bullpen with Butterfly Wings":
The world is an umpire . . .
Even though - I - blow, I suppose - I’ll - throw
I pitch straight - and - slow, there it gooooes
Despite all my rage I pitch like a batting cage
Despite all my rage I pitch like a batting cage
Then someone will say it's a loss and a blown save
Despite all my rage I pitch like a batting cage

Followed by Mister"y Why I'm Still Employed" Koo. Koo & the Gang's "Bungle Boogie" rolls on as the Mets fans chant at him:
Sit down, sit down
Sit down, sit down
[repeat until he finally gets yanked]

He does sit down -- after four straight balls to put the tying run 90 feet away. Heath Bell saves the inning, but after the Mets don't score, he's got to face Derrek Lee to open the tenth. It's oldies time, with the Bobbettes crooning:
One, two, three
Look at Mr. Lee
Three, four, five
He just hit a long drive
Five, six, seven
On pitch number eleven
Seven, eight, nine . . .
Uh, ballgame. Swell.

Uh oh. As the loss sinks in, Springsteen wails away:
Now I said I like this team
But it's clear I have no brain
And I feel like I'm a rider on a downbound train

And Lynyrd Skynyrd's "All I Can Do Is Write About It" closes out the day.
And Lord I can't make any changes
All I can do is write 'em in a blog
I can see 5th place slowly creepin'
Cold beer, take my mind before that comes

The soundtrack to this game is available through MLC Records, but you'll probably be more interested in the ones where the Mets win.

Remember, "if music be the food of the Mets . . . silence is golden."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Send 'Em Home Happy

Games 32 through 34 - Red Sox

Red Sox 13, Oakland A's 5
Red Sox 3, A's 2
Red Sox 6, A's 5
Record: 21-13

Apologies for the overlong hiatus, though the tidy 3-game set serves as a nice blognugget upon which to ruminate. Sweeps are neat. Sweeps of the A's are even better. Sweeps of the A's where that ritalin-deprived freak Eric Byrnes' heroics get obscured are fan-freaking-tastic.

Bit of the ridiculous and the sublime as the Sox drop the hammer on Octavio Dotel on back to back days to run their recent record to 10-3. Among the ridiculously sublime:

Kevin Millar's walkoff on Tuesday gave the Sox a win in a game that I'd conceded long before it was over. After Huston Street dominated the Sox in the late innings and the A's scratched a run off of Bronson Arroyo to take a 2-1 lead into the 9th, I sat passively, resigned to the loss and not all that upset about it. I even told my wife that the losses haven't been killing me as much this year. Right before Papi walked to lead off the 9th and I told her that Millar was going to end the game. "Good fastball hitter against a good fastball pitcher," I said. "He's taking him out." She nodded, patting me on the head, pretending she cared or even had any idea what I said. And then this blind squirrel found a nut.

Jason Varitek replicated Millar's heroics this afternoon, bailing Keith Foulke out and beating Dotel for the 2nd straight day. All manner of "Captain, My Captain" references burst forth from the assembled game thread masses at SoSH. Papi walked again to set up Varitek's heroics - I love that tall, dark and handsome man. I thought Florida Evans was hot, too.

Johnny Damon had hits in all three games of the A's series to run his hitting streak to 17. He's more locked in than lookalike Charles Manson. His streak is made more impressive by the fact that he's had multi-hit games in 12 of the 17, including a 3-for-3 on Tuesday. He leads the AL in batting with a .383 clip, and is in the top 5 in runs (26) and OBP (.421). He's the prime mover on the league's highest-scoring offense. I take back all that crap I said about Hollywood Johnny earlier in the season. Blind squirrels are, after all, blind.

The aforementioned Bronson Arroyo and his current pitch-alike, Matt Clement, are making Curt Schilling and David Wells luxury items, not must-haves. The 2 are 8-0 with a 2.99 ERA (and should be 9-0 after Keith Foulke ripped Clement's 5th win away by gacking a 3-run lead against the league's most inept offense this afternoon). Clement's given up 4 ER and 14 hits in his last 18 innings. Arroyo's gone him better, yielding 4 ER and 11 hits in his last 21 2/3 frames. Toss in Monday winner Timmy Wake's 4-1, 3.18 mark and Wade Miller's promising season debut, and you'd be forgiven if nos. 38 and 3 were fading from your memory.

On the just plain ridiculous-as-in-silly front, Manny Ramirez' sudden penchant for horsehide magnetism benched the slugging left-fielder for large portions of this series, after he was hit twice by A's pitchers. Good thing a .245-hitting, weak-fielder outfielder is easily replaced. We kid because we love, Manny. And because the Sox are 13 games over .500 without your bat.

Finally, the um-what-the-fuck-ridiculous stylings of Keith Foulke reared their ugly head this afternoon, as the Sox' "closer" allowed 4 runs on a single by Keith (.143) Ginter and a homer by the aforementioned turbospaz Byrnes. The A's leftfielder hustles like a crazy person - and made a handful of terrific plays in this series, including a flat spectacular diving catch to rob Trot Nixon on Tuesday - but doesn't he remind you of that kid in high school who tried just thismuch too hard?

And any major league pitcher that throws Mark Bellhorn anything but a sinking fastball under his hands should be taken out and shot. Bellhorn appears to have a Tourette's-like obsession that renders him unable to hold up on such a pitch, and he's damn well incapable of hitting it. It's maddening, frankly. Unlike Manny, we kid because you make us want to break things.

On a completely unrelated note, if our good friend ECA Mike thinks our recent pop culture references date us, just wait until I bust out the Lloyd Cole and the Commotions retrospective. Hell, Duran Duran had a top 20 album in 2004, for chrissakes. And 34 isn't exactly old, you whippersnapper. You should spend less time making fun of your elders, and more time cajoling your partner to contribute to our enjoyment of the blogosphere. And this time, we kid because we love.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Moving Right Along

Game 34 – Mets

Cubs 7, Mets 0
Record: 18-16

Yeah, I like this team. I just don’t like everything they do, and I reserve the right to speak painfully honestly (and sarcastically) when they veer into the unlikable. Hey, I like U2 plenty, but I’m the first guy to say I found Rattle and Hum erratic, half-hearted, unfocused, and ultimately an hour-plus of crud to follow up some fine work. Now that I type it, this game was pretty much the same, except twice as long. Ugh.

This loss came down to two significant obstacles: nobody could hit Greg Maddux – or the two relievers, for that matter – and Kris Benson simply would not stop serving up gopher balls. When your “hitters” total three hits and your starting pitcher allows sixteen bases’ worth of tater, it’s . . . it’s not good.

Fran-tastic and Teddy Ro (in a game like this, the mind meanders) mentioned several times in the broadcast that the Cubs and Maddux had made complaints similar to Tom Glavine’s about getting squeezed on wide strikes since the advent of QuesTech. No, good sirs, no. Jeff Van Gundy’s recent claim has more merit, based on what we saw tonight. Maddux, like his old pal, may sometimes find his current strike zone to be annoyingly similar to other pitchers’, but on this night he was getting over 50% of the old school calls.

What was decidedly more retro than the umpiring generosity was the Greg Maddux mastery, however. Slow, slower, slowest, up, down, in, out – his command was impressive and he kept the Mets hacking at air all night. Jose Reyes was particularly defenseless, looking a fair bit like he was holding the wrong end of the bat . . . and wearing roller skates. The only guy who could figure Maddux out was Chris Woodward, who notched two of the three hits and garnered a walk. Woodward was in because David Wright’s foul-dinged foot need X-rays . . . [can’t breathe] . . . which were negative.

Benson, on the other hand . . . might as well have been throwing with the other hand. He surrendered bleacher shots to Corey Patterson (twice), Jeromy Burnitz, and rookie Jason DuBois. (A hearty hello goes out to you Google-searching Soap or Benson enthusiasts who entered “Benson DuBois” and landed here; I apologize for the lack of jokes about dummies or Kraus quips – yet. Hey, you know, Billy Crystal and Jerry Seinfeld, who both got their first mainstream gigs on these two shows, respectively, each have a Met connection: one of Crystal’s most prominent, though not funniest roles, was the City Slickers lead who donned the orange and blue lid for most of the film; meanwhile, the Keith Hernandez saga on Seinfeld, not to mention the Roger McDowell bit, was vintage. But I digress, just a tad.)

Anyway . . . it’s best to keep things light like that after an ugly loss like this one. Pick out a bright spot or two (like, say, no Mets died on the field tonight), avoid repeated mentions of negatives like four HR’s allowed in 6 IP, and look forward to another crack at this opponent just 14 hours from now. One which features Victor Zambrano versus Mark Prior. Oh, sheist, Kraus.

Epiphany to Me, Cacophony to You

Game 33 - Mets

Mets 7, Cubs 4
Record: 18-15

I like this team.

It's official now. Yes, I've thought I liked them for a while now, but I also thought I liked last year's team, and look how sour on them I became by August.

This team is a team I'll stay up until 1:00 AM to watch, even when they blow a 4-run lead in a game they should win in their sleep.

It's a team that, even when they aren't catching breaks (Jose Reyes slipping on loose dirt whilst rounding second, which prevented a sure run; Jeromy Burnitz making the greatest catch in his long and unstoried career; the home plate ump calling balls and strikes with all the surety of a bingo ball picker), gives me a sense that they'll find a way to win.

It's a team that offers me a new bullpen staffer to loathe every other night ("Mister" Koo, come on down), but redemptive moments from them every third night (Mike DeJean in a cameo role).

This is a team of unsung heroes named Heilman, Mientkiewicz, and Marlon Anderson, the last of whom collected his major league-leading 10th pinch-hit last night. (The team record is 24, by Le Grand Orange, and the all-time record is 28, by John Vander Wal. Stay tuned.)

This is a team that currently leads the National League in home runs, and I don't even know what to do with that.

This is a team with a manager that opted to walk Derrek Lee in the same exact spot that the Phillies' Charlie Manuel (who I thought butchered the entire game I saw in Chi-town) elected to pitch to him. Lee homered against the Phils and was left stranded without damage against the Mets. I am digging Willie's scene more and more each day, something I could never say about the band of blow monkeys who preceded him.

This is a team whose announcer annoyed his one remaining fan last night, but it's okay. Fran Healy finally got to me. From mangling the opposition's not-terribly-difficult surnames (Hairston as "Harriston," DuBois as "Duboys") to gushing worthless compliments about Heilman to generally prattling on without end, I became one of the countless viewers that considered muting the Mets game. I think perhaps it was that, due to the three-inning rotation schedule, the first three frames were called by Keith Hernandez and Ted Robinson without irritation. From the fourth on, though, there was a noticeable fly in the ointment. I'm still against the sea of idiots piling on for cheap shots, but you'll not likely see me continuing my "Fran Fan" campaign with as much vigor, if at all.

This is a team, though, that no matter who they're throwing behind the mic, warrants watching, listening, and following. Even when the Nats are on, featuring '86er announcer Ron Darling. Even when the movie Salvador is airing concurrently, featuring actor James Woods. Even when you want to flip back and forth between those two channels furiously to compare the eerily similar voices in a vein attempt to prove they're the same man. You want to, but the Mets are on, and it's too inviting to possibly click away, except during bad Subway commercials.

This is a team that, while it hasn't been crippled by injuries compared to some clubs, had a few worrisome early-season DL trips, yet seems to have managed its way through each of them thus far.

This is a team that, despite its collection of well-paid and widely-adored individuals, is a team.

This is a team that has its fair share of problem areas for sure, and I may be hollering at them like bad dogs in the very near future, don't get me wrong.

But I like this team.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Taking Two from the Crew

Games 29 through 32 - Mets

Mets 7, Phillies 5
Mets 7, Brewers 4
Mets 7, Brewers 5
Brewers 5, Mets 4
Record: 17-15

It would have been nice to return to the 'sphere riding a five-game winning streak, but I'm not going to balk at taking five of seven and a pair of series wins. It was a strange set of wins for the Metropolitans, with the rotation hurling a handful of second-rate starts, only to be rescued by hot-hitting and consistently clutch batsmen. That doesn't necessarily bode well for the near future, but there was still more to laud than lament.

Kris Benson returned to action on Thursday, looking a bit like a guy getting his legs back underneath him after extended time off. Ultimately, though, Benson kept the game in reach and renewed optimism in these parts for some sort of recoupment for those 2004 deadline deal debacles. Speaking of which, Victor Zambrano continues to pitch just well enough to hide in the echoes of the Glavine-bashing that has reached a national level. John Kruk announced on the science analogy program Baseball Tonight last night that Tom Glavine has approximately one quarter-tank's worth left in him, describing a demise previously detailed up and down the streets of Metblogville. Two weeks ago I authored a diatribe insinuating that Tommy Glavine's current upside was no brighter than Tommy Chong's, and it may have seemed overly harsh. Two starts later, Glavine looks finished.

On the plus side of the pitching portion, Aaron Heilman continues to fill in where he's needed with a solid success rate. On Thursday, his role was Kris Benson relief, and he was awarded a win for his efforts. He starts tonight against the embattled Chicago Cubs, whom I saw up close on Friday. If he has that breaking ball and that change-up properly calibrated, he should be able to have his way with the Cubbies, for whom scoring runs seems to be an uphill battle these days.

Braden Looper was another bright spot, performing effectively in the pair of short but sweet stints he was tasked with over this stretch. Roberto Hernandez continued to impress, as he even added a save -- his first since a couple of years ago with the Royals. (Didn't we salvage Ricky Bottalico last year after he'd thrived with the Royals and stunk with the Phillies, just like Hernandez? Could be a coincidence, but I'd still be checking the KC and Philly transaction reports just in case. Even more coincidental -- and pleasant -- was Bottalico offering a sloppy performance as a Brewer in Saturday's game for an insurance run.)

Mike DeJean, it seems, is the most troublesome member of the bullpen in the early part of 2005, and his plight peculiarly mirrors his 1st-half woes of last year. Either he just can't get it going in the first three months of baseball season (6.13 for the Orioles last year, 6.17 now), or he needs yet another change of scenery. Either way, I'd prefer not to see him in a Mets uni until July.

The hitting, out of nowhere, carried them through the series with the Brew Crew. Mike "I'm Not Dead Yet" Cameron, as if he'd been reading the writing on the Met-blog walls, has come out of the belated gates with a bang. 8 for his first 14, two homers, 4 ribbies. And so the Cameron-Diaz controversy (not the one in People magazine) is defused before it begins. Meanwhile, Carlos Beltran sustained his stretch of becoming Superman only when Pedro Martinez is on the hill; all six of his home runs have come during Pedro starts, including two on Saturday. Granted, Pedro needed it, what with his Jimmy Olsen-like lapses in heroic status that day. And granted, Beltran hasn't exactly been Clark Kent on non-Pedro days, but he's not been Jeff Kent, either, and we'd like to see him fight for truth, justice, and the NL MVP award more than once every five games.

Jose Reyes and David Wright have cooled off, Cliff Floyd hasn't yet, and Mike Piazza remains an enigma. Just when by all accounts he's bouncing back, he drops an ugly 0-for-5 on us, and appears in yesterday's game as a defensive replacement (ah, the irony) who allows a stolen base on a pitch-out. (Debatably. The runner looked out, though the Mets weren't as jobbed by the umps on Sunday as the Nats in San Fran; oh, my.) Those events aside, Mike P. appears to be back from the dead, at least for now.

Going to Wrigley this weekend gave me a glimpse of a team in disarray the likes of which the Mets experienced over the last couple of years: bullpen agony that goes beyond some Looper droops, an extended scarcity of hitting (outside of Derrek Lee -- that guy is a beast), and a one-two gut-punch of bad play and bad luck that has the club failing to meet lofty expectations. It's all there. Still . . . going to Wrigley beats going just about anywhere else in MLB, and the fans seemed happy just to be there on a Friday afternoon at 2:20, and who can blame them? They've been blowing off work since 1916 to spend afternoons in the old park, and they still seem to revel in the event.

With those mightily struggling Cubs hosting the Mets for the next three games, there's no reason not to expect more of the same from the Metmen. Tonight's opposing starting pitcher is Jon Leicester, a member of the clan who spells it the old-fashioned way (purist!). With a 7.50 ERA (he's in their rotation because Ryan Dempster was just moved to closer to supplant the horrible LaTerrible Hawkins), and with Heilman gunning for the Mets, it should be a done deal. It never, ever, ever, ever is, though. Leave it to the Mets to jump-start the Cubs' season.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Y? Not

Games 29 through 31 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Seattle Mariners 2
Red Sox 6, Mariners 3
Mariners 6, Red Sox 4
Record: 18-13

Despite dropping the nightcap of today's doubleheader to the M's to snap a 5-game winning streak, this was a pretty impressive and positive weekend for the Sox on a number of fronts. Also, I learned how to wipe myself with my off hand, so all in all we'll call this weekend a net win.

The most prominent plus for the Sox was today's season debut for Wade Miller. The former Astro stud was stolen by Theo Epstein in the off-season, the Sox gambling that Miller would recover from shoulder troubles well enough to regain his former dominant form. If today's 5-inning effort was any indication, the Sox just got even better. Despite blustery, wet conditions (seriously, 49 degrees, 19mph winds and rain on May 8 - and New Englanders wonder why jobs are moving south) Miller threw hard and effectively, mixing in 92+ mph fastballs with nasty 12-6 curveballs, and giving up 2 runs on 3 hits while striking out 6 and walking only 1. He appeared to be ready to step in immediately and fill his place in the rotation, meaning the rapid end of the John Halama Experience - although Halama hasn't been complete dreck.

While Miller's outing dulls the pain of today's loss considerably, the weekend efforts of Matt Clement (7 IP, 1 ER), Kevin Youkilis (continued timely hitting and some terrific defense at 3B), David Ortiz (6-12 with 4 2B and 2 HR against Seattle), Keith Foulke (all of a sudden rolling), and the recently maligned Jeremi Gonzalez (winner of today's first game with 5 2/3 innings of 2-earned run baseball) all ushered in an entirely unexpected era of good feelings about the Sox. It's almost as if these guys are pretty good and really deep.

And they need to be the latter, because the list of truly injured and just banged up is longer than the delay between seasons of Chappelle's Show. Manny Ramirez took a fastball off his thigh and was forced to leave today's first game but wound up coming into the second game as a replacement for Trot Nixon, who tweaked his back making a tough catch in the 6th inning. Mark Bellhorn - who's missed a series of games lately with the flu - played shortstop because of injuries to Edgar Renteria and Ramon Vasquez. Johnny Damon sat out Friday's win with a sore leg, Papi's had hand trouble for most of the season, and Doug Mirabelli runs so slowly that he appears to be badly injured, even if he probably isn't. That list doesn't even consider Curt Schilling and David Wells, who really haven't been missed all that much.

It wasn't all sunshine and puppydogs in Fenway this weekend. In a day of debuts, Cla Meredith made his major league introduction this afternoon, entering a 2-2 tie and leaving trailing, 6-2, after walking 2, allowing a grand slam to Richie Sexson and a double to Raul Ibanez. To be fair, the Sexson blast was hugely wind-aided, but the walks weren't. Tough spot for a major league debut, but the Sox brought Meredith up to contribute, not as some kind of Make-a-Wish Foundation confidence boost.

Between Meredith and Gonzalez' first names, I'm beginning to wonder if there's some kind of vast conspiracy to replace perfectly good y-ending names with bizarro versions just to be edgy. Our societi is going to hell in a Gucci handbasket, led by the vowel-addled children of my generation. I blame my sister (Beckee, where a totally adequate "y" goes wanting). It's enough to give Yadier Molina a complex.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Saturn Balls, Youks, and Fat Fingers

Games 26 through 28 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Tigers 5
Red Sox 4, Tigers 3
Red Sox 2, Tigers 1
Record: 16-12

Three tight wins for the Sox to close out a 5-2 road trip through Texas and Detroit. Considering that 2 of those games were started by Jeremi Gonzalez and John Halama, and that both opposing clubs are solid, that's a fine little run. That Keith Foulke got saves in all three wins in Detroit is a fine riposte by the Sox closer to my little tantrum in this space just 2 days ago.

In addition to Foulke's resurgence, a pair of young Sox shone against the Motor City Kitties. Bronson Arroyo continues to stake his claim to the Sox' ace mantle, flirting with history today by taking a no-hitter into the 7th inning. Arroyo's now 4-0 with a 3.18 ERA and only 43 baserunners allowed in 39 2/3 innings. Kevin Youkilis is making the most of his return to the bigs, tearing up Ranger and Tiger pitching to the tune of a .467 average and the game-winning knock in Wednesday's game.

I could go on, but blogging got a lot harder for me after last night. An inattentive moment during a routine softball relay play put me on the disabled list with a shattered bone in my writing thumb. 6 weeks of recovery, and a fairly useless right hand are the prognosis. Have you ever tried to put on a pair of jeans without an opposable thumb. Fucking mind-boggling.

The More Things Change . . .

Games 27 & 28 - Mets

Phillies 10, Mets 3
Mets 3, Phillies 2
Record: 14-14

And so goes the even-Steven, up and down season of the Mets thus far. A bad loss followed by a strong win. Worsening problems and pleasant surprises interspersed among each other. Tom Glavine worsens, Jae Seo surprises. Victor Diaz surprises, Braden Looper worsens. This team is having a great deal of trouble putting it all together, as they say, but this season does seem to have more bright spots than its thoroughly overcast predecessors.

Tom Glavine . . . as Jerry commented, he's getting harder and harder to watch. He pitches like he has no confidence, like he's terrified of throwing a strike. The John Franco parallel is spot-on; he isn't throwing anything over the plate, and more and more hitters are detecting that fact. This situation could get very, very ugly before it's over.

Jae Seo . . . nobody seemed more surprised than Rob as we glanced at the Mets game amid a sea of televisions after a highly enjoyable night out at the softball park. Seo has had a Heilman-esque progression, wedging a dud of a start in between two solid outings. Last night he was far more than solid, permitting one hit, two walks, and no runs through seven while fanning eight. Wow. And what did it net him? A demotion, thanks to the untimely but nonetheless welcome return of Kris Benson to the active roster. Seo "Long" is headed to Norfolk, but if/when the subject of the previous paragraph continues eroding more quickly than beaches in SE Virginia (where Jae Seo can now frolic on off-days), perhaps a spot will open up for him. That's without mentioning the increasingly distinct possibility that Victor "I Stinct" Zambrano's spot in the rotation may be up for grabs by the Break.

Cliff Floyd . . . man, are there a lot of us who need to fess up to some winter ignorance. So many of us called for the Mets to ditch the fragile guy other Metbloggers labeled "Mr. Glass" in the off-season. I know I did, though I begged for it not to be in any deal for Sammy So-So. The obvious question is not whether he can keep up this torrid pace, but whether he can simply remain on the field in relative working condition. If Cameron comes back at anything close to his full potential, theirs will be the toughest outfield in the division by far.

Braden Looper . . . well, he did manage to strike out the final two batters and get the save. On the other hand, if it had been a one-run-lead, like it will be on plenty of save opportunities, it'd be another (probable) loss for Looper. Back-to-back jacks from Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu brought Met-murderer Pat Burrell to the plate down a run, with momentum evaporating quickly. Luckily, he wasn't the Burrell I've(s) come to dread over the last few years, and he struck out looking. We should not have had to dodge such a bullet after the splendid game Jae Seo and company offered.

Sneaking suspicions: It's foolhardy to throw support behind or abuse upon players for a month's worth of work (or less), but changes may have to be afoot to shake off this .500 affliction. One or more of the following alterations to the rotation and lineup may be seen within a month or two:




14-14 is not panic time, but we've seen enough thus far to know there's room for adjustment. Willie Randolph's predecessor would ride things out until they got out of hand; it will be interesting to see how much tweaking the new manager thinks is necessary.

I'm off to Chicago this afternoon with a ticket to tomorrow's Cubs/Phils afternoon game in hand. I'm on a bit of Phillies overload at this point, but that only makes me want to root against them harder. The Mets, meanwhile, are headed to Milwaukee. I'm not even going to say what they should do.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Ordinary World: 25 Games In

Channeling Duran Duran as we take a look at the Sox at the 25-game mark, because...well, just because. You were tired of the whole good, bad, ugly thing, anyway.

The title above refers to the weighty averageness displayed thus far by the Sox. I can't put a finger on it, really, but they've just bumbled along, doing a few things well (they're 2nd in the AL in OPS and runs, and 1st in OBP), doing a few things poorly (12th in the league in reliever's ERA and 9th in overall ERA), and generally not achieving up to the standards they set last October.

The Wild Boys, Matt Clement and Matt Mantei, have sort of encapsulated the season thus far on behalf of their colleagues: loads of talent, flashes of brilliance, and maddening bouts of inconsistency. Clement's also sporting one of the league's worst beards, accomplishing the heretofore unfathomed fashion first of making Kevin Millar's 2004 Abe Lincoln redux look stylish.

Mark Bellhorn's performance in the season's first 25 games has triggered a gag Reflex in most sentient Sox fans. His take, take, take, swing ineffectively, take, amble back to the bench looking like Eeyore routine is wearing thin. Leading the league in Ks is one thing if you manage an .817 OPS at 2nd base with 17 HR. It's a whole different, and much more craptacular, animal when you sport a .682 OPS with no longballs.

June 7 looms as a milestone in the eyes of this jaded observer, a date that I hope will mark the long overdue end of the celebration of last year's championship run and the beginning of a serious pursuit of a repeat. That's the date that the Sox' Girls on Film (Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek, Doug Mirabelli, and Tim Wakefield) appear on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, after taking a few days in Spring Training to let Carson preen over them. I'm tempted to give these guys more grief, but all 4 of them have performed solidly thus far, highlighted by Damon's .404 OBP, Varitek's .610 (!) SLG, the grand slam Mirabelli just launched off Tigers lefty Mike Maroth, and Wake's 2.78 ERA and 1.1 WHIP. The lesson, red-staters, is that gays are people, too.

Speaking of red-staters, I've gotten used to having to Save a Prayer (actually, several prayers and a whole bushel basket of curse words) every time Keith Foulke enters a tight game. The details are sordid; a 7.50 ERA, 4 HR and 20 baserunners in 12 innings, and 2-3 mph missing from his already average fastball. And on cue, there goes another bomb by the redoubtable Marcus Thames.

Sox medics have been heavily involved in the Skin Trade thus far, a departure from last season when no starting pitcher missed any substantive time. Curt Schilling, David Wells, and Wade Miller have made a combined 8 starts, posting a 3-5 record with a 5.44 ERA. That'll change.

To be fair, it hasn't all been bad. Opposing pitching staffs have had a front-row View to a Kill as Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz have pummelled them senseless - without really fully putting it together. Both have .550+ SLG and they've combined to hit 14 homers, but neither has ripped off an extended stretch of ball-mashing. That'll change, too. And I'll get to watch it, thanks to the single best development of the 2005 season - my long-overdue capitulation to the Lords of Baseball (and to Whitney's sniping) and their Extra Innings package. Except for the inanity of the Tigers' announcing crew, MLB EI has been a brilliant addition. Just ask my wife.

All She Wants Is...Bronson Arroyo's hairstylist (while he's pretty happy with the young right-hander's first 4 starts).

The rest of the population of the Sox' corner of Planet Earth has been fairly unremarkable. Bill Mueller's missed a bunch of games due to illness, and been mediocre when he has played, slugging only .333. Kevin Millar has yet to hit a homer. Trot Nixon and Jay Payton have been solid, but certainly not spectacular - though Nixon (.910 OPS) continues to be one of the league's most underrated players. New guy Edgar Renteria has been worse than unremarkable, posting a .631 OPS and making 6 errors. Mike Timlin's cruised along, defying age to the tune of a 1.54 ERA in 11.2 innings, while Alan Embree's been used, abused, and put away wet, appearing in 14 (!) of the season's first 25 contests.

Mercifully winding down, because we're clearly reaching at this point, half of the Durans chipped in on the Power Station's Some Like it Hot, and it says here that the Sox will warm with the weather. It would really be difficult for them to underachieve any more than they have thus far, and it seems clear that Schilling, Wells, and Miller will all be in the rotation before the end of May. I don't expect the hitting to slump, and I do expect the pitching to get better, so I'll save my whining for another day. I'm sure Phillies fans are tired of it, anyway.

I've been trying really hard to work my favorite Duran Duran song, Hungry Like the Wolf, into this ill-advised thematic train wreck, but that's really the problem, isn't it. The Sox have played like they're sated. And I can't really blame them, to be frank. I'm disappointed with the season's early returns, but I'm not a cat-kicking, wall-punching lunatic - I haven't Come Undone, as it were, and I guarantee you that I would have been if the Sox had started 2004 with 13 wins in their first 25 games.

Perspective is a wonderful thing, but like Prozac, it frames everything in a muted, gauzy effect. I sort of want my highs and lows back, if only because I know that the lows are what made the epic highs of last October so much better. There's definitely a lot of ball left, though - more than enough time for me and the Sox to shake off the residual hangover of the 2004 season and ratchet up the intensity. Here's to September.

You Get What You Pay For (Sometimes)

Game 26 - Mets

Mets 5, Phillies 1
Record: 13-13

See "Reason for Hope" #3 below: Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. Yep, that about sums up this game. Pedro was double-down dealing, and Beltran, after an uneventful first three trips to the plate, took advantage of an ill-advised off-speed floater from reliever Terry Adams and rocketed the baseball off the scoreboard. Without either of these gents on the field for the Mets, the outcome most certainly would have been less pleasing.

True Fact: each of Carlos Beltran's four home runs this year have come in games pitched by Pedro Martinez. Interesting; it's as if he sees Pedro earning his (ridiculous amount of) money and decides to turn it up in the same vein. When these two are on the field at the same time, the "new Mets" moniker they're Seattle Slewing all over New York doesn't seem so silly -- these two players make the Mets what they haven't been in years.

So this is what it's like to have big-money, high-profile, free agent signings who actually perform in the early term? Is this what it feels like to be a Yankee fan? Hmmm. Doesn't feel like I'm worshiping Satan. Doesn't seem like I have a gaping hole where my soul used to be. Maybe it's because the Mets are still 2.5 games out and a million miles from that trophy with all of the little pennants on it.

In other game notes, Jose Reyes responded to my plea for patience at the plate or a demotion in the order with a resounding "Walks are for sissies" 4-for-5 night that triggered the two run-scoring innings. In actuality, he was significantly more patient at the plate, getting 2-0 and 3-1 counts with a look of wonderment at seeing them for the first time. In his fifth and final plate appearance, he got a 3-0 count and the crowd -- what was left of them after a two-hour rain delay and eight innings of Metball -- went bonkers, cracking up his teammates and even making the kid grin in a nice moment of levity precipitated by a four-run lead. Reyes took a couple of close pitches to go 3-2, then slapped one to the other side that very nearly got through for his fifth hit. He looked great at the plate, and it all had to do with cutting down on the number of wild swings at pitches far from the zone. And dammit, man, his OBP has to rise because of how dangerous a baserunner he can be.

The mudslung Fran Healy out-thunk Phils skipper Charlie Manuel, though he'll likely not get credit anywhere else for it. Fran the Man advised sternly against lifting Jon Lieber for a pinch-hitter after six very solid innings. After Jose Offerman pinch-popped to short, Lieber's replacement gave up four earned runs in 1/3 of an inning, including Beltran's ICBM that won the game for Pedro. When your bullpen is a glaring weakness (listen up, Willie) and your starter is going great guns, pulling him for a guy who's not only not good enough to start on your last-place team (especially given the depleted nature of the Phillie bench) but also ice cold -- to face Pedro Martinez -- is simply not playing the odds.

Around the horn real quick: Cliff Floyd is red hot, Doug Mientkiewicz is struggling, and my brother-in-law Patrick announced he was officially off the Victor Diaz wagon before last night's game. After last night's game, I may be with him; Diaz looks lost after being so sharp for a couple of weeks.

I don't like tonight's pitching match-up at all (the slip slidin' away Tommy Glavine vs. the up and coming Brett Myers). If the Mets manage a convincing win tonight, the Philadelphia Phillies are indeed, as Nick Luketic proclaimed today, already "mailing in the rest of the season." Which I like to hear.

Monday, May 02, 2005

World Weary and Sox Bleary

Games 22 through 25 - Red Sox

Texas Rangers 7, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 8, Rangers 2
Red Sox 6, Rangers 5
Detroit Tigers 8, Red Sox 3
Record: 13-12

My wife and kids are gone for the week, and I'm taking full advantage by...blogging? Fear not, all who hold MLC up as a paragon of hipness in a bleak numberscape of sabermetric ramblings - it's not as bad as it seems. I've been traveling for work (does it make me a sellout it I admit that work's been really, um, exciting, lately?), after watching a ton of baseball this weekend, and finally have a moment to catch up. And I am drinking as I type. Under-thought, scattershot ramblings from an over-tired author to follow.

  • Pretty glad that I didn't get a chance to blog after Friday's game, because I might have pulled a carpal tunnel excoriating the Sox. Time (and a couple of wins) heals all wounds. Tim Wakefield definitely deserved better.
  • The Sox took a series in Texas for the first time since 2000(!) this weekend. Even John Kerry's fared better than the Sox in the Lone Star State over the past 5 years.
  • Mark my words - Matt Clement will cause me to destroy a cheap, yet versatile, piece of pre-fab Scandinavian furniture at some point in this season. As noted previously, he's Tim Wakefield, except with real stuff. At least Wake's got an excuse - "hey, I'm held hostage by the laws of physics - not my fault." Clement's stuff is downright silly, but he routinely loses command for innings at a time. He needs to start breathing out of his eyelids.
  • Sox picked up John Olerud this weekend, signing him to a minor league deal. I've always liked Olerud - soft spot for dorky-looking white guys, I guess - and yes, Dave McCarty, that bell tolls for thee.
  • Keith Foulke has officially joined Braden Looper in the Fear of God Players, that loosely defined repertory of closers marked most prominently by their unique ability to terrify all those who root, root, root for their respective squads. He had a few of these stretches last year, but they'd been largely forgotten in the wake of his otherworldliness in the last 8 games of the 2004 post-season.
  • The defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, owners of a $125 million payroll (give or take a few million), started Jeremi Gonzalez (2004 record: 0-5, 6.97) tonight against the Tigers, and are - at the moment - trailing the Detroit 9 by a 5-3 count. Setting aside for the moment my confusion over his name (aren't 98% of all Americans with first names ending in "i" either gyrating on a pole somewhere or waiting tables at Hooters?), this can't be a good development.
  • You could have made real cash by betting that the Orioles would lead the Yankees by 7.5 games at any point in the season. Thing is, I'm not so sure that it's a fluke, and I wouldn't be surprised if it stays this way for at least a good portion of the season. As much as it pains me to type it, the O's are solid. And as much as I'm tempting fate, the Yankees (and to a lesser extent, the Sox) are showing their age - especially in their rotation.
  • Oh, and if Terry Francona really does plan to get Alan Embree 90+ appearances this year, we're in for a few more outings like this evening's. Sweet.

25-game checkup likely to come tomorrow, time permitting. As usual, I'm stumped.

Mets 25-Game Check-Up, But I'm Still Not Sure What I'm In For

The 25-Game Check-Up is a time-honored institution here at MLC, alongside such staples as the case of beer bet, the Tigers Watch/Expos Watch/the soon-to-be unleashed Rockies Watch, and the usage of annoying, punny nicknames in lieu of actual worthy commentary. Unfortunately, the prognosis delivered in this edition of the Mets' Check-Up will flow something like the one provided by my child psychologist after six weeks under his care: "I really have no idea what the problem is. Wait a while and see what happens." After these words of wisdom arrived, I naturally grew out of my phase where I shirked responsibility, lacked discipline, and sought out trouble . . . and if the Mets follow my lead, they'll wind up a frustratingly underachieving mess. Uh oh. Whoa, we're delving a little deep here, so let's stick to problems of a baseball nature, shall we?

The Mets are crouched at 12-13 now, disappointing for even the most tepid of Mets enthusiasts. The excruciatingly tired mantra "It's still early" does indeed apply, if only for the fact that the Braves and Marlins sit atop the division in a three-game striking distance. The next couple of series, however, could provide a real look at whether the Mets intend to participate in what could be an exhilarating divisional race down the stretch. The Metmen host the decidedly down-sliding Phillies for four games starting tonight, then head to Milwaukee and Chicago for three apiece. The Cubs are clicking on one cylinder these days, so it may be the right time to face them, and Milwaukee is . . . well, they're the Brewers, you see. The latter half of June features a minefield of opponents named Cardinals, Yankees, Braves, and Marlins, so the next two weeks appear to be a time to stockpile wins. Of course, every time in the past two seasons that I've proclaimed that it was "Go Time" for the Metropolitans, they've answered the call with all of the verve and vigor of a tea party with doll-babies in Robby Alomar's basement. Tea for two - and two for tea - I hit .332 - then .233 . . .

The good thing about exhorting the Mets on in the next two weeks is that there seems to be plenty of room for improved execution -- again, with this team, it doesn't seem to be a dearth of talent, just results. If you had told me before the season started that Aaron Heilman would have proved capable of the brilliant games he's had -- even accepting the shellings that were interspersed, that Cliff Floyd would be crushing the ball with the tenacity he's shown -- even accepting the inevitable DL trip he took, and that we'd actually be concerned about how to get Victor Diaz at-bats with Mike Cameron coming back, I'd have projected 15-17 wins at this point. Of course, it hasn't worked out like that. It never does, does it?

Reasons for Hope

1. Heilman. Floyd. Diaz. As above. See, I'm not that wordy.

2. David Wright. He's gone through little mini-slumps, and his defense still needs work, but he's clearly the bright young spot of this organization. Trade him at your bodily health's peril, Omar.

3. Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. Long-term deals can't be declared successful until the big picture plays out, but these two guys have provided not only the upgrade in performance but also a big reason to watch -- they're entertaining as all get-out.

4. The Bench. One feeble-minded analyst pointed out a "startling lack of depth" on the Met roster before the season. (Please don't scroll down to find out who that idiot was.) Miguel Cairo is bucking for a starting spot, Chris Woodward has a key to every door in the place, Ramon Castro is more than a placeholder behind Piazza, and Marlon Anderson is merely getting a hit every time he comes up. When Cameron comes back, Eric Valent may find his way back to AAA and Diaz will be another weapon off the bench. It's all been a very pleasant surprise.

Reasons to Mope

1. Tom Glavine. See last week's diatribe on Mr. Glavine. He hasn't pitched since then, so there's really no reason to pile on more . . . just because he's been tremendously mediocre for a while.

2. Braden Looper. "Never a dull moment" should not be the slogan of your closer. 1-2-3 innings and save situations: never the twain shall meet. Senior citizens and fans with a history of heart disease are encouraged to leave the park while Looper warms up. I'm not saying I don't have any confidence in him . . . well, I'm not saying it out loud.

3. Kaz Matsui, Mike Piazza, Victor Zambrano. Same old stories.

4. The Jose Reyes leadoff dilemma, and upon this I'll expound. He's a young talent who needs time to learn, as Willie Randolph explained last night, but I'm not sure the Mets need learning curves on their already mountainous road ahead. That it's May 2 and he hasn't taken a single walk this season is staggering. Seriously. Tom Glavine walked once. So did Jae Seo, and he was in Norfolk for the first few weeks. David Wright has walked 15 times already, and he's just as young and raw. (Wright is actually leading the league right now with 4.43 pitches per plate appearance, while Reyes sees 3.68 and Kaz Matsui sees 3.57.) If Reyes really can't stop swinging, he might not be deserving of the leadoff spot and the PA's that come with it.

Perhaps the problem is that Jose Reyes never took the SAT in his Dominican high school. One of the guiding principles of mastering that test helps a lot of hitters in the big leagues. The SAT prep people always said that if you don't think you have a goos shot at getting a question right, don't answer it. If you don't think you can make good solid contact, don't swing at it. Sure, you can take a wild swing at it and maybe things will work out for you, but the percentages say that you'll be rewarded a lot more often if you lay off the especially tough ones. (Not sure where the cultural bias comes into play on baseball swings; that's a topic for a rainy day.)

Jose Reyes is a good hitter hamstrung by his own free swinging. He can hit pitches in and out of the strike zone, and he often does. He's capable of the 13-pitch at-bat, fouling off pitch after pitch and frustrating the pitcher. Then on the 13th pitch, he'll strike out. "Productive K's" is a sliver of a silver lining; it's still not getting it done in the top spot. Carlos Beltran has come up in far too many bases-empty situations so far this season. He's got 30 hits, leading the team, and he has 14 RBI. Willie Randolph has two lineup-related missions where Beltran is concerned: protect him with good hitters behind him, and make the most of his drives with good hitters in front of him. With Cliff Floyd destroying the ball of late, the skipper made the adjustment to move Mike Piazza down and give Floyd the role of protector. Well executed. Now it's time to give Beltran some RBI chances.

Reasons I'm a Dope

One of the problems with getting a bead on these guys even this far into the season is that their performances seem to turn on a dime. It was never more evident than in the 5-loss/6-win launch of the '05 campaign, but it's gone well beyond that. Guys have looked intermittently superb and hapless on any given night. Piazza is done, then revitalized, then done again, within a few games. Matsui is finally settling into a groove . . . nope, he's horrible. Glavine seems to have things worked out -- scratch that, he's getting hammered again. Granted, it's the nature of the oft-humbling sport that hot and cold spells happen to every player throughout a 162-game season, but the Mets seem to be all over the map at any given time. I promise to have more of a true read of this ballclub at the 50-game mark -- that is, if their scattershot glimmers of hope and glimpses of decay don't have me scrambling back to that psychologist in the next few weeks.