Jan 24

Jan. 24.10: Jets take centerstage vs. real Colts.

JETS v. COLTS

JETS v. COLTS

Two good football games are on this afternoon: Jets vs. Colts and Vikings vs. Saints.

It’s fashionable to call the Jets a Cinderella, but when you have the No. 1 defense and No. 1 rushing game you’re no fluke. And, as long as they balance the offense enough to keep the Colts’ pass rushers off Mark Sanchez, they should be in decent shape. I’d want to see Sanchez throw more on first down to stay out of third-and-long.

The key, as it was in beating San Diego, is to play virtually error free and hold onto the ball to keep Peyton Manning off the field. But, Manning is so good, and he can score so quickly, that time-of-possession doesn’t always work against him.

As they did against the Chargers, the Jets need to keep this as low scoring a game as possible. The other game, however, I expect to be more wide open with both teams in the high 20s if not the 30s.

I wouldn’t be too quick to downplay Week 15 in this one either. The Colts are miffed at losing, but also teed off at the Jets’ yapping later about wanting “credit” for the win. They were given a gift, they should have kept quiet about it and moved on.

Jan 24

Jan. 24.10: Let’s big-picture this.

MR. MET: Can he really be happy about things?

MR. MET: Can he really be happy about things?

In 2006, the Mets finished 97-65, winning the National League East by 12 games. It would be fair to say that is when the window was open at its widest for this core of Mets. And, we’re talking David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. While that core has remained largely productive, the rest of the team, in particular it’s pitching, has not.

The strength of the 2006 team was arguably its bullpen, which picked up the slack for a consistent, but hardly spectacular rotation.

Despite signing Billy Wagner, at the time an All-Star caliber closer, Omar Minaya let two significant keys to that pen, Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford, get away. The Mets have been struggling to get a bullpen chemistry since. An argument can be made the chemistry started to fizzle with the decline of Aaron Heilman, who was so good in 2006 save that pitch to Yadier Molina.

Even so, the team started strong in 2007, taking a 34-18 record into June. Would we all agree that 2006 and the first two months of 2007 was when the Mets’ star burned its brightest?

They finished 54-56 the rest of the way in 2007, including a collapse in which they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. Much of the downward spiral was traced to a bullpen bridge that could not get to Wagner.

Since June 1, 2007, the Mets are 20 games below .500 – including another collapse in 2008 – and the refrain was the same after each season: The pitching is the problem. The 2008 team, by the way, blew 29 save opportunities.

It’s a double-edged sword: The bullpen is overworked and ineffective. But, the reason it is overworked is because the Mets aren’t getting quality innings from their starters.

For those who think I’m being too negative, those are the numbers.

I realize 2009 was a unique season because of injuries, but even under the assumption the core offensive players return to form this season, there remains largely the same pitching staff. Never mind the team’s hot start one-third into the last season, more representative of their performance was the remaining two-thirds.

Getting Johan Santana was a significant gesture of improvement, but he makes 34 starts a year. The pennant is won or lost in the remaining 128 games, and this is where the Mets are weak and have not improved.

Even Santana is a partial question as he’s coming off surgery. The team says he’ll be ready, but said the same thing about John Maine. Maine’s durability, along with his presence, are questions. We don’t know what we’ll get from Oliver Perez inning to inning, much less game to game. And, Mike Pelfrey has regressed. And, well, there is no fifth starter, yet.

Yes, Jason Bay will improve the offense, but in reality aren’t we subbing his numbers for that of a healthy Delgado? And, there’s another hole with the loss of Beltran. So, just how much better is the offense, really? And, what if Wright doesn’t regain his power stroke? Can we say for sure Reyes is back?

Bottom line: We can’t say the core is back to normal or will get that way.

In that case, it falls again on the pitching, which is the same pitching that failed miserably the last two-and-a-half seasons.

Jan 23

Jan. 23.10: Liking Garko over Tatis at first.

GARKO: Would help at first.

GARKO: Would help at first.

While the Mets are waiting to improve their pitching, it wouldn’t hurt to take a diversion and continue to add to their bench. There’s still a matter of the Daniel Murphy platoon at first base.

With Carlos Delgado not showing in winter ball he’s capable of the defensive end of it, why not go with Ryan Garko at first over Fernando Tatis?

Garko hit a combined .268 with 13 homers and 51 RBI last season for Cleveland and San Francisco. Tatis, who has been serviceable the last two seasons with the Mets, doesn’t have that power. Instead, he’ll be remembered for grounding into 13 double plays last year.

Garko won’t come at a high price, has some pop and plays first base by trade. I’d go with him over Tatis.

Jan 23

Jan. 23.10: What’s the plan?

SHEETS: Would he make the off-season?

SHEETS: Would he make the off-season?

It’s strange asking this inside a month before spring training, but do the Mets have a plan to get better? With all their talk about pitching and defense/speed to complement Citi Field, what exactly have the Mets done to become that kind of team?

The best available pitcher in the market went to the Red Sox, with hardly a whimper coming from the Mets’ camp. Come to think of it, all of the available pitchers on the market went elsewhere or are lingering in the discount aisle.

Of course, adding Ben Sheets changes that to some degree. Sheets is still an injury gamble, and even with him, there are three more questions in the rotation. But, it’s better than remaining stagnant.

The biggest acquisition is an outfielder, with reports now coming his former team wanted to redo its offer because of health concerns. Adding Jason Bay without improving the rotation doesn’t improve the team dramatically, at least not to where they should be considered legitimate contenders.

Gary Matthews Jr., only illustrates there’s nothing in the minor league levels to promote in case of emergency. Don’t you think if Fernando Martinez were ready it would have been him?

The bullpen remains a mess and the rotation is Johan Santana and the Four Questions.

Plan?

The plan was to wait for everybody to get healthy and better and hope for the best. I wrote that last October. That was shot when Carlos Beltran went down. There is no real plan, at least nothing of substance.

I wonder if they have any new concession stands this year?

Jan 22

Jan. 22.10: Matthews to Mets.

MATTHEWS: Brings baggage to Mets.

MATTHEWS: Brings baggage to Mets.

Gary Matthews Jr., to the Mets from the Los Angeles Angels looks like a done deal. Several media outlets have made the report, but the Mets have not confirmed the deal.

Uncertain, is who the Angels would get in return or if there is a third team involved.

I’m not a Matthews fan, and if the Angels are willing to spend $20 million of the remaining $24 million of his contract to get rid of him, what does that say about their regard for the player? Matthews hit .250 with four homers and 50 RBI, with an on-base percentage of .336 last season.

Since 1999, Matthews has played for seven teams, including two games with the Mets in 2002. There has to be a reason why he’s always been on the move.

His numbers averaged out over a 162-game schedule is a .258 average with 14 homers and 63 RBI. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff.

Matthews’ best season was 2006 when he hit .313 (his only .300 season) with 19 homers and 79 RBI (both career highs), for which he was rewarded with that ridiculous contract by the Angels.

Matthews’ name also surfaced in the Mitchell Report, which begs the question of what he might have hit if he were clean.

I know they need a center fielder, but I don’t like this deal.

I replaced the pitching poll with one on Matthews.