May 06

Johan Santana Gives Mets Ace Effort

Once again, Johan Santan pitched like an ace for the Mets. Not so much in domination as he did working out of trouble and finishing strong. Only this time, the Mets got him some runs, the bullpen closed the door and a losing streak was snapped at four.

The Mets are a fragile team, thin actually, and they can’t afford to let losing streaks drag on and get out of hand. That’s how seasons can slip away.

This is also a team that must be creative, such as dropping Daniel Murphy to fifth in the order with Ike Davis slumping. Murphy responded with four hits, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him there again today.

For the most part, there’s little to complain about Terry Collins. He changed the culture of the clubhouse and has gotten the most from what has been made available to him.

I don’t know where the Mets will finish this season, but for some reason I don’t feel as bleak about things as I once did. I want to enjoy this summer.

May 05

Mets May 5 Lineup Vs. Arizona

Just thought I’d mention the Mets haven’t won since they moved Kirk Nieuwenhuis from center. He’s batting seventh today.

Here’s the lineup:

Andres Torres – CF

Ruben Tejada – SS

David Wright – 3B

Scott Hairston – LF

Daniel Murphy – 2B

Justin Turner – 1B

Kirk Nieuwenhuis – RF

Mike Nickeas – C

Johan Santana – LHP

May 05

Mets Bullpen An Issue

This is why you don’t make declarations during the first week of the season, or for all of April for that matter. The season opened with four straight victories and four strong performances from the bullpen.

After Opening Day, the talking heads as SNY – and that’s not the game broadcasting crew – started pontificating about how the bullpen would be a team strength this season.

Four weeks later, you don’t hear talk like that anymore.

Last night they threw away a strong effort from Dillon Gee. Once again, the focus in on control, as a walk from Tim Byrdak with a man on lead to Arizona’s three-run rally in the eighth inning. Yes, the walk was important, but it was also one batter.

“That’s the thing that sticks out the most,” Collins said. “The base on balls out of the pen have certainly come back to really bite us.”

The bottom is two-fold. One, walks kill and they always have. And two, these guys are major league pitchers and can’t fall apart after one bad at-bat. That’s been a problem with Mike Pelfrey, and it also applies to the bullpen.

Where the pen attacked hitters early, lately they’ve been working deep into counts and losing the at-bat. The pen has been worked hard in recent weeks with the starters not going more than six for the most part and the loss of Pelfrey.

Jon Rauch blew the save and took the loss last night, but wouldn’t blame it on an increased workload. He said it was poor pitching.

“You can’t come in and throw balls and expect to get everybody out after that,” Rauch said. “So we’ve gotta do a better job. I know personally I need to do a better job, especially coming in with guys on base and not letting inherited runners scored.”

Glad to hear there were no excuses, but it would be even better to see improved execution.

Once four games over .500 and sensing optimism about the season, the Mets have lost four straight and are counting on Johan Santana – the pitcher they seemingly refuse to score for- to stop the slide.

Regardless of what happens today, success this season largely depends on the bullpen holding up its end. And, that’s not a premature pronouncement, but a statement of fact that can be made any time of the year.

 

May 04

Mariano Rivera Reminds Mets Fans How Fragile Things Can Be

This is a Mets blog, but also a baseball blog, and part of baseball is Mariano Rivera, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame closer. Mets fans remember Rivera because he snuffed out many games over the years, including Game 5 of the 2000 World Series.

RIVERA: The end of an era? (YES)

When the ball left Mike Piazza’s bat with a crack I thought it had a chance, but like many before, because of that awesome cutter, Piazza didn’t get all of it and the ball died. It is one of baseball’s most dominating pitches, like Tom Seaver’s slider, Doc  Gooden’s fastball and Johan Santana’s change. Not many solved it.

After watching the Knicks get pulverized last night and getting bored watching the same about the Mavericks, I started to channel surf and caught the tease about Rivera being hurt and his career possibly being over.

Watching him crumpled on the warning track I recalled my eight years covering him and recalled several moments. Coming to mind immediately was his constant demeanor. Whether he sawed off another bat to end a game, or when Luis Gonzalez beat him with a bloop single to win the 2001 World Series, he was a stand-up guy.

However, one time after he blew several save opportunities in a row he got testy and said he was a human being and not a machine with oil running through his veins. It was surprising to hear, but it showed he was, indeed, human.

I enjoyed stopping by his locker to chat about things non-baseball. One spring I told him a joke three days in a row. On the fourth day, he came up to me and said, “where is my joke?” I loved that.

Another time I asked if he could play any position but his own what would it be and he said centerfield. So, to see him shag fly balls was not a surprise. He did it on a daily basis throughout his career.

But, to be injured shagging flies is a freak, unusual thing. Somewhat like his cutter, it is something that can’t be explained. He wasn’t injured because he is over 40 – see Derrick Rose also tearing his ACL – but being over 40 will make the comeback all the more difficult.

Sure, I can see him retiring, but I can also envision his pride not letting him go like this.

Yes, it was an unexplainable injury, but a reminder of how fragile things can be for an athlete. Mets fans have seen more than their fare share in recent years, like Ike Davis’ ankle, David Wright playing a month with a fracture in his back, the concussions of Jason Bay and Ryan Church, and how Billy Wagner’s elbow injury might have cost them the playoffs in 2008 and subsequently brought on the Francisco Rodriguez era.

Followers of the Mets know better than most how an injury can’t be projected, but can determine the course of a team. If Jose Reyes didn’t have an injury history would he have been re-signed? How things might have been different in recent seasons without injuries to Wright, Wagner, Carlos Beltran and Duaner Sanchez.

If Sanchez doesn’t get hurt in that taxi accident, the Mets never would have traded Xavier Nady for Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez.

Just think of how things could have been different.

 

May 03

Mets Must Sort Out Rotation And Houston Mess

Terry Collins spent much of the day deliberating his options regarding Chris Schwinden and the Mets’ rotation. After two rocky starts in place of Mike Pelfrey, Schwinden has proved not to be the answer.

After yesterday’s blowout, Collins wouldn’t say if Schwinden would come out of the rotation. He didn’t say he’d remain, either.

The Mets’ tissue paper thin depth was always going to be an Achilles Heel this year and it has come to pass. There are pitchers doing better than others on the minor league level, but nobody screaming for a promotion.

One option might be to keep Schwinden in the rotation in the hope he works out of this or if Chris Young is ready.

Whether it be on the minor league level or unsigned scrap heap free-agent, the odds against the Mets landing a workhorse in the rotation seems slim. I would have liked the Mets to sign a pitcher in the off-season, but that’s 20/20 hindsight.

There wasn’t a lot of things to like about the Houston series, although listening to the “Eyes of Texas,” during the seventh-inning stretch was good to hear, including David Wright’s comment the Colorado series drained the Mets.

That can’t happen, which Wright acknowledged and is a good sign. No excuses, said Wright, the Mets just played flat.

“You know, we knew we were going to have some ups and downs, especially with a lot of the young guys that we have on this roster playing right now,” Wright told reporters. “But this is what we need to fix if we want to become the team that we think we are capable of becoming. There are way too many inconsistencies right now. It seems like we play great for a series and then poorly for a series. And we’re going to have to straighten that out.”

One of the flaws of recent Mets teams has been their inconsistency. Win three, lose four. Managers constantly say they want their teams to just win series, one at a time. Win two or three, win three of four.

That is what the Mets did in 2006 and for five months in 2007.

Of course, consistency is easier to attain with better pitching which leads us to the hole in the rotation. The key game in the Houston series was the Jon Niese game. R.A. Dickey pitched well the previous night and Schwinden was awful. The game they needed to salvage the series was Niese’s start and he was anything but solid.

Growing pains? That all depends on how the Mets respond. Coming up are Arizona and Philadelphia, both good tests.