Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An All Star Experience

The 2013 Major League Baseball All Star Game might have been the most boring game I've ever attended. Zero hitting. Minimal run scoring. Even the runs that were scored were on lame sac flies or fielder's choice plays. It was also one of the most amazing sports experiences I've ever seen.

This was my first All Star Game. I've watched every All Start for the last 28 years on television and when the opportunity came to see it first hand in my favorite team's stadium I had to do it. Price gouging aside, this is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Not only was this my first All Star Game, it was the first All Star Game my son has been to. In fact, yesterday was the first baseball game he's ever been to in person. I will now accept my Father of the Year trophy. My son is 8 years old. He's not a huge baseball fan. He knows daddy loves the Mets. He knows David Wright and every so often asks where is Jose Reyes. I got him a Matt Harvey shirt and he thinks Kevin James on the jumbotron is fat, foolish and pretty hilarious. I didn't expect him to appreciate the significance of this game now, but I know he will down the road.

Explaining to my son what the All Star Game exactly is was interesting. He kept asking why aren't there more Mets players playing if it's in their stadium? He's starting to learn the game of baseball and a steady flow of junk food being passed his way helped him endure 9 innings of lackluster play from the game's top players.

But the sentimental father/son moments aside, the All Star Game being at Citi Field for a Mets Lifer was remarkable. Mets fans have lacked a packed house brimming with energy for quite a few years. What was interesting was just how few Yankees fans were in the building. This truly was a night for Mets fans.

The ovation for Wright and Harvey during the starting the lineups was raucous. David Wright may have worked harder the last two days than he will the remainder of the season. The guy did every interview. He was in almost every promo on the scoreboard. He was a PR machine for the Mets and after seeing him do all that I came to realize that it's really hard not to like David Wright. Is there a more clean cut, likeable, quality player in the majors than Wright? I'm not sure there is.

Then you have Harvey. The flashbacks to the hopes and dreams of Doc Gooden come flooding back every time I see Harvey take the mound. When he had 2 outs and 2 strikes in the first inning, the "Harvey! Harvey" chants started up organically as Citi Field just wanted to explode with a strikeout. I can't wait for more of those types of moments in regular season and hopefully postseason games in the future.

And Harvey plunking Cano was a bit entertaining as well.

Even as a Mets fan, I could appreciate the moment that was Mariano Rivera's final All Star Game. How could you not applaud this guy who might be the best pitcher we'll ever see. Rivera standing alone on the mound for a good 3 minutes amongst cheers and revelry was a moment I'll never forget.

So the National League lost and won't have home field advantage in the World Series. And yes the game was ridiculously boring for the most part. It didn't matter. This was an amazing experience, especially for Mets fans. If I liked the Dodgers or the Orioles or even the Reds, I probably would have walked away without that much of an impression. But for Mets fans, the All Star Game might very well have been the beginning of a new chapter. Changes are happening. An inkling of that was felt last night and I can't wait for what's to come.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Why the Mets Sweeping the Yankees Means Nothing and Everything at the Same Time

The Mets swept the Subway Series from the Yankees this week. It's never happened before and who knows if it will happen again. The fact that the Mets were able to win every game in the series isn't as surprising as who they won it with. To call the Mets lineup fearsome is as laughable as calling Tom Green an actor.

In the grand scheme of things this series win means nothing in 2013. The Mets will most likely still finish the season under .500. They won't be going to the playoffs and there isn't an expectation of them winning any division titles. It was just a nice winning streak in the second month of the season that will just be a blip on the radar come the off season.

But then this series also means quite a bit.

The Mets were on the precipice of losing their entire fan base for the rest of the 2013 season. No one wanted to watch the product on the field, let alone go to the ballpark. This mini winning streak and the fact that it came against the cockiest fan base of them all, Yankees fans, makes it all that much more sweet.

The even bigger reason this sweep meant so much is because it switched the discussion from the litany of problems with the Mets to the positives. From Valdespin to Ike to Terry Collins, there have been enough of negative headlines and minutia discussed online and radio about the circus that is the 2013 Mets. Winning solves most problems and this was a huge one. While Ike Davis still deserves to be demoted to the minors, for one week Terry Collins hasn't had to deal with the same questions over and over and over.

You have to also give credit to what The 7 Line is doing for Mets fans. Sure it's a business, but honestly The 7 Line has done more to energize the fan base than the Mets organization has done in the last decade. The idea of bringing a contingency of Mets fans to Chicago and then to the Bronx to occupy the home team's ballpark is just genius. I wasn't able to go in person to either of those venues, but not only was I aware of it but was excited by it as well.

I guess The 7 Line is capitalism and free enterprise at its best and it's probably the best thing to happen to the Mets fan base in a long time. Darren Meenan deserves a lot of credit and our thanks even if you've never bought one of his t-shirts (but you probably should because they're pretty great).

So where do the Mets go from here? Who knows. Maybe they'll continue to win and surprise us. Maybe they'll quickly return to their irrelevant status, but whether you want to mock it or not this series has meant a lot for the Mets and especially for their fans.

Wining makes baseball so much more fun...especially at the expense of the Yankees.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Trustless in Flushing

Some Mets fans and especially vocal ones on social media will try and call you out for criticizing this team. They may say you're not a "true fan" or spout how they love this team regardless of the record. They are well within their rights to do so.

But as a fan of this team for the better part of 30 years this is the most faithless I've been in a long time. While the last half decade has been anything but ideal, there have been injuries that prevented players from succeeding or stop-gap players were the core of the lineup that you knew was just a placeholder for the current season.

Look at the names in the current Mets lineup and in the starting rotation and what you'll see is that the majority of them are the homegrown players the organization has been hoping to build around. Names like Duda, Davis and Tejada. Pitchers like Gee, Niese and Hefner. These were pieces we did not trade because the Mets saw them as being more valuable in the future than what they could get for them right now.

So here the Mets sit. 10 games under .500 and it's not even June. Ike Davis is about to slump further into oblivion. Duda can only drive in runs with a solo homer. Tejada who made us forget Reyes last year is now reminding us of Rey Ordonez except without the SportsCenter highlights in the field. Jon Niese looks lost. Dillon Gee is on the John Maine path to success.

Fortunately Murphy and Wright are pulling their weight, and of course Matt Harvey is living up to expectations.

What is my point here? Besides just needing to vent, it's that how can anyone trust the idea that the Mets are planning for future success? The future of 2009 is on the field right now and looking like a Double A lineup. You want to give them more time? I say it only gives them more rope with which to hang themselves.

I can't point the finger at any one person because I honestly believe the entire culture of the organization is poisoned from the front office to the bullpen to the hitting coach.It has become a culture where losing is acceptable because our investment lies in the ever elusive "future."

I'm emotionally invested in this team. I have been for 3 decades, but that doesn't mean I'm blinded to the ineptitude and the false hope that's unraveling before our very eyes.

Trust is the most valuable commodity on the planet earth. It's invaluable when you have it and will make you broke if you don't. Once trust is loss it's a long and arduous road to get it back.

Why would anyone trust the Mets at this point? A culture change has to happen. Not in the future. Not at some point. It has to happen now before trust is gone for good.

Monday, May 13, 2013

It's Time for Sandy Alderson to Be Held Accountable

Betting on futures can be a dangerous game. Futures can be used either to hedge or to speculate on the change in price of tan asset. For example, a producer of wheat could use futures to lock in a certain price and hedge their bets on risk. On the other hand, anybody could speculate on the price movement of wheat by going long or short using futures.

I'm not going to pretend I understand all the intricacies of futures trading, but I feel I have a reasonable grasp on the futures exchange that Sandy Alderson is trying to sell us. He's saying 2014 and beyond is where the Mets will compete.

Here's the thing about Alderson's futures plan. It can't be disproven in the present. In fact Alderson has had several years to prove his mettle, but we continue to be sold that 2014 is the year. Could he be right? Sure, but what if he's not? What if his master plan ends up falling apart? Then we've been left with continued years of being awful only to not get any better.

So then Alderson gets fired. Who cares? The Mets and their fans are the ones that will suffer. The moves Alderson has made has been about freeing up money and acquiring young talent. So far not much has been done to improve the team.

All of the assets Alderson has attained currently reside in our minor league system. Matt Harvey is the lone exception. Wheeler could be great. So far the Dickey trade for D'Arnaud & Buck looks genius, but none of Alderson's moves have translated into wins. Isn't that what really matters?

The two biggest flaws with the Mets over the last 3 years have been its bullpen and outfield. Nothing has been done to rectify that. Cowgill was being touted in spring training and now we're longing for Cowgill given that we have to endure Brown & Lagares & Byrd at the plate. Anyone with eyesight can see the Mets bullpen is atrocious. Sure you can say they're overworked, but honestly there are no room for excuses when you continually blow leads and opportunities year after year after year.

But don't worry Mets fans. Next year is 2014. It will all magically turnaround. How? I don't know. But there's a master plan right? Has to be.

But what if there's not. Instead of slowly filling holes the Mets still have gaping chasms that need to be addressed before they can compete in what is becoming the ridiculously talented NL East. From the bullpen to the entire outfield to the now absence of a reliable bat first base, the Mets are in need of more than just a few moves.

So while the Mets season quickly fades away even before summer arrives, someone should start holding Sandy Alderson accountable. Before you know it he'll be named the new commissioner of baseball and the Mets will be left trying to piece together this master plan of his.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

There Will Be No False Hope this Mets Season

The issue for Mets fans the past few years has been the tease of hope amidst the reality of low expectations. A fast start last year turned into a painful collapse after the All Star Game and the questions of woulda/coulda/shoulda abounded within Mets fandom.

There will be none of that this year.

This April is proving to be a sign of things to come. The Mets have zero balance in their game. They get great pitching from their bullpen, and then the Mets go 0 for 16 with runners in scoring position. The Mets average 6+ runs per game, but their pitching gives up over 6 runs regularly.

Duda gets hot, but Ike is abysmal. Harvey is awesome, but Gee can't find the strike zone. Buck surprises everyone with an MVP-esque April, but the team is 4 games under .500 and falling.

Welcome to your 2013 Mets or better known as the lame duck Mets. Like a president who has lost reelection, Terry Collins finds himself mired in purgatory until the lauded 2014 season can begin with its promises of hope and success. If this were any other year, Collins would be gone by May. But the Mets won't make that move, which would be the right one along with dismissing Dan Warthen, because they are waiting to fully clean house in the off season with the hope of ramping up for a run in 2014.

Not to mention the fact that they're hosting the All Star Game in July and probably want no drama circling the team ahead of that media whirlwind.

So here's what Mets fans have to realize: the Mets are mailing in 2013. The players aren't, but the organization is. Try and sugar coat it if you like. No one will ever admit to this, but that's the truth.

This is a lame duck year. Kinda reminds me of the scenario in the movie Major League. It's not fun for the fans. It's not going to be fun for the players. But that's the reality.

It's gonna be a long season so find joy where you can in every Harvey start.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I Know I'm a Broken Record But Mets Pitchers Are Acting Like Mental Misfits

In the past week I've already lauded the mental toughness of Matt Harvey and ridiculed Dan Warthen's ability to fortify the psyche of his pitchers, but here I am again talking about the total lack of any semblance of mental strength in the Mets pitching staff.

Yesterday's double dip in Colorado was all the proof you needed. Dillon Gee started off the day showing no idea how to get his pitches across. You could tell it was one of those days where he didn't have his stuff and who could blame him with the temperature looming around the freezing mark and snow having just been blown off the field.

But here's where you can blame Gee: he failed to realize he didn't have his stuff and proceeded to throw pitches as if he did. Gee didn't just give up runs. He gave up bombs. There are two guys in the entire Rockies lineup that you don't want to pitch to, Tulo & Gonzalez. Just don't pitch to them! But Gee proceeded to throw meatballs to CarGo and he paid the price.

Gee wasn't THINKING. He was completely unable to identify his situation and find a way to work through it. Gee is on his way to having a Steve Trachsel type of year. He'll lose 10 games in the first half of the year before finally getting his act together in the second half to win a couple games in a row and make you think he's still a reasonable asset.

Game number one was nothing compared to game number two. A 6 run lead should be enough to win, but in the second game the mental misfits extended from not just pitchers but also to fielders. Baxter misplayed a ball that led to two runs. Lyons couldn't pickup the easiest of balls played to him which opened the door to a big inning. Parnell couldn't hold a runner on. Tejada pulled a Chuck Knoblauch and can't seem to throw the ball to first base.

The blame will go to Tejada who could have closed the door on the Rockies had he not thrown that ball away which led to the game being tied up. But before that even happened the Mets BLOWpen did the team no favors. Josh Edgin couldn't throw a strike. Hawkins likes to be hit hard. Lyons has evidently never fielded a ball before. And the list could go on.

I'm telling you that physical talent wise this team has enough assets to make things interesting. I'm not foolish to think they're a title contender but if you look at Murphy, Buck, Wright and the potential of Davis you have enough assets to be a competitor. Marry that with Harvey every fifth day and a solid season from Niese and you're easily a .500 team.

It's the mental side of things that will be the Mets downfall. Stupid mistakes that make you lose games to teams you should easily beat.

It's become a part of the Mets culture. Look at how many different names have been in the Mets bullpen in the last 5 years, but yet the product is still relatively the same. Sure you can blame part of that on talent acquisition but when you see no growth or change regardless of personnel, you have to start wondering if it's the leaders who aren't guiding the ship in the right direction.

Mental toughness. I'm telling you that's what makes or breaks this Mets team.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

I Still Think Dan Warthen Needs to Go

Look at the Mets pitching under Dan Warthen. Go ahead and sift through the stats, the records and the personnel. Talent wise the Mets pitching isn't great. Starting pitching has been better than relief pitching which has to do with the starters having a bit better personnel than the bullpen.

But if you forget about the names on the back of the uniforms and just look at the innings breakdown of the majority of Mets losses the last few seasons, you'll find a glaring commonality. They mostly contain one majorly bad inning.

Last night was just another round of this sick cycle carousel that has plagued Mets pitching. It doesn't matter if it was Dickey, Santana, Gee, or Hefner out there. They've all fell victim to "the big inning."

Psychologically "the big inning" is a heart breaker for any team. In the first inning when you're down more runs than innings left in the game, whether you want to admit it or not you feel like the game is lost. Go ahead and sort through all the Mets losses last year. The majority of them contained at least one inning in which 3+ runs were given up.

So why am I blaming Dan Warthen? I know he doens't throw the pitches but he's the one who's tasked with getting his pitchers game ready. He's the one who has to know the psyche of each starter and where are the signs that trouble is about to break loose. He's the one who needs to make sure mentally each arm in his staff is able to get out of trouble.

When hitters don't hit, the hitting coach goes. When teams don't win, the manager is fired. When pitchers consistently find themselves giving up 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 runs in a single inning, I'd say the pitching coach needs to be questioned.

Mental toughness is lacking in seemingly every pitcher not named Matt Harvey. From where I sit Dan Warthen has done very little to change the culture of the Mets pitchers and give them the tutoring they desperately need to avoid "the big inning."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Matt Harvey and the Killer Instinct

Over the last decade, the Mets have had their chances at becoming a winning ball club. They had talent. They had pitching. They even had opportunities. But the thing that was missing most was the mental fortitude to get the job done.

Blowpens and bad hitting aside, there was an aura surrounding this team that they didn't have what it takes mentally to get the job done. Is this a measurable metric? No, but its evidence is everywhere. The Mets have started several seasons in really great fashion, but only to falter late. Early leads in games have given way to blown saves and an inability to hit late in games.

Hits and RBI with 2 outs and runners in scoring position used to be something the Mets thrived on in '06, but has since faded. Is the ability to hit, throw and field different in the first three innings of a game than the last? No, but mentally it is. That's why you see career 90% free throw shooters brick back to back foul shots in the final minute. It's why Tony Romo puts up ridiculous fantasy football numbers, but can't win a playoff game.

It's a lack of a killer instinct. But that trait that has been missing for some time is pretty evident in Matt Harvey.

His moxy, his presence and even his words in interviews prove he mentally has what it takes to face whatever barrier appear in his way and overcome it. His sampling is still small, but when he gets into jams he doesn't implode. He fights through it. He'll give up runs, but he won't give up a ton.

Think about RA Dickey the last few years. Tremendous pitcher and an incredible year last year, but we all know when he didn't have his knuckleball going, he was going to give up not 2 or 3 runs but more like 6 or 7.

Matt Harvey may have a bad day in his future, but I don't think it will be like that. To be cliche he has the heart of a champion. You can see it on the mound and it's why Mets fans are so enamored with him.

We've seen pitchers who can throw as hard as he does and who've had the early success he has. But we've never been as excited about Parnell or Gee or any other young pitcher with talents similar to Harvey.

It's his killer instinct that we can sense will eventually lead us to some much needed wins.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Closing the Book on Johan Santana

Johan Santana is injured...again. It's a recurring storyline that Mets fans have lived through for several years. This time, it's the final chapter in the Santana story with the Mets. With his contract expiring this year, there's zero to no chance we will ever see him pitch in a Mets uniform.

It's a horrible injury and Santana will have a long road back which is an awful thing for a fierce competitor like Santana. But here's why it's a good thing for the Mets.

It officially closes the book on the past.

Johan Santana has been the subject of "what ifs" for the last three years. What could have been or should have been with him as an ace never culminated the way Mets fans would have hoped. It's no fault of Santana's. He was without question the ultimate "gamer" in a big spot. He won pretty much every game that he absolutely had to. His body let him down, but Santana did not let Mets fans down.

We need to stop the second guessing of whether Santana should have thrown so many pitches in his no-hitter. No Mets fan would trade that for anything this past season. Why? Because that was the highlight of the Mets season. The Mets were not going to win anything whether Santana pitched a full season or not. What he gave us last June 1 was one of the most memorable moments in Mets lore. Santana has no regrets about it. Neither should we.

And that's where the story should end. That should be our lasting memory of this dominant force.

Now that Santana is no longer an option, Mets fans can't hold onto a fading thought that "maybe we could be better if Santana was healthy." He's officially gone. It's time for us to move on.

The team's future now rests in the hands, and arms, of youth. Harvey, Niese, Gee and Wheeler are what we need to look to. David Wright and Ike Davis are now the shoulders that must carry the weight of this team.

Santana's injury is a horrible thing, but the fact that he is no longer an option for the Mets makes our move towards the future hope and success of this club all that more clear.

Johan Santana is the ultimate competitor. He's a fighter and I expect he'll pitch again. I wish him the best, but I'm happy to close the book and look forward to what's next.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why the Retirement of Mariano Rivera Should Make the Mets Reflect on the Error of Their Ways

Every time I turned on the radio this weekend they were talking about Mariano Rivera retiring. WFAN, ESPN, and even WCBS couldn't shut up about Rivera retiring. He still has a whole season to play, we've got college basketball going on, spring training, the WBC and we're talking about a guy who's going to retire in 6 months.

Yes, we are. Why? Because he's been the most impactful player in baseball in my lifetime.

An overstatement? Perhaps, but I think it's true. The Yankees would not have won as many championships as they have over the last 20 years without Mariano Rivera. He has been the lock down, reliable closer for nearly two decades. Sure he has blown a game or two and some of them at the most inopportune moment, but his body of work is that of miracles.

He's a first ballot hall of famer and one of the greatest baseball players of all time. This should make the Mets reflect on what they've been doing for the last decade.

The current Mets outfield is awful. Sure, they need a right-handed power bat to help out Wright and Davis. But the biggest need the Mets have had for the better part of my lifetimes is...their bullpen.

Look back at the Mets stats over the last 8 years and you'll see that their bullpen has been their biggest demise. If you Google "BLOWpen" you'll instantly get a couple hundred articles about the Mets. The '07 and '08 seasons should have been playoff runs if it were not for the atrocity of the Mets bullpen. Season after season the question of "who will be the closer?" continues to rear its ugly head including this upcoming one.

The Mets should look at what Mariano Rivera has done and realize that no matter how good a lineup they have or how solid the starting pitching can be, the bullpen can ultimately decide the fate of a team in today's day and age.

And that's the area the Mets have not explored seriously. They've made small moves here and there, but a team serious about winning has to have a reliable bullpen.

Today, baseball is a 6 inning game for starters. Those last three innings are for the bullpen to handle and we know first hand how quickly things can implode.

We will probably never see another pitcher like Rivera. He's one of a kind so I'm not suggesting the Mets need to go get another guy like Mariano because he doesn't exist. What they do need is to stop this bullpen experimentation with Frank Frank, Parnell and (insert other name here).

Bullpens can win championships. Mariano Rivera is living proof.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Forget Not Scott Kazmir

Spring training is underway. Pitchers and catchers across the country are stretching, squatting and dreaming about the season ahead.

So are baseball fans everywhere. Spring training is a fresh start for everyone. Expectations are high because we're still in the "what if" stage of our quasi-baseball reality. And Mets fans everywhere are enamored with one name: Zach Wheeler.

Is he or isn't he ready for the big leagues? Is he the most prized possession in the Mets franchise? Will he and Matt Harvey become our power pitching combo? Why can't he start in the big leagues this year? What's keeping the Mets from letting him loose?

All these questions and more will be bantered about over the next 45 days, but I am here to offer a simple warning. Like Jacob Marley I usher in the ghosts of seasons past to remind you to forget not Scott Kazmir.

If you ask a Mets fan what was the worst trade the Mets have made in the last 20 years, I guarantee you the Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano trade will be mentioned 99% of the time. It was an idiotic decision made with little statistical knowledge. The Mets gave up a potential franchise player for roll of the dice to make the playoffs which was pretty much already out of reach.

Idiotic. Insane. Juvenile. Many more adjectives can be used for that trade and that is why we can't possibly imagine the Mets being dumb enough to make this kind of mistake again with the likes of Zach Wheeler. Right?

Before we get all bent out of shape about Wheeler, let's remember who Scott Kazmir really turned out to be. He turned out to be a middle of the road pitcher. Sure he had double digit win seasons for 4 straight years. He even made an All Star Game or two. But his career numbers are not that of an anointed one.

Kazmir's lifetime ERA is 4.17. His winning percentage is .520. And after 2009 his stock has dropped significantly as he's struggled to regain his control. What was once a prized possession in the end turned out to be less valuable than originally thought. Such is the life of a pitcher. They're unpredictable and the smallest thing can cause them massive problems. Just ask Rick Ankiel.

So what is the point of this? Were the Mets dumb to trade Kazmir? Yes, they were dumb to trade him for Victor Zambrano. Had they traded  him for someone younger and with as much promise? Then that might be a different story.

What I hope the Mets realize is that they have an extremely valuable commodity in Wheeler...for right now. Once he gets to the big leagues the talk about his velocity, control and potential will go out the window because people can actually see how he performs. The Mets had the same thing in Lastings Milledge and Fernando Martinez. Two guys with ridiculous upside, but their stock plummeted once they made it to the majors.

I can't say whether the same thing will happen with Wheeler or not. I hope he becomes the greatest Mets pitcher to ever take the mound, but let's not think that is what's actually going to happen.

The Mets have to consider his value at this point in time and what it can potentially get them in return. Baseball is a game full of risks, but I think we've seen enough minor league talent turn into busts that we should know better than anointing someone as being untouchable before they make their first start.

That being said, I'm pulling for you, Zach Wheeler.