Aug 17

Today in Mets’ History: When things looked brighter.

This was when the window was wide open for the Mets. They didn’t have extraordinary starting pitching, but a deep bullpen was deep and the lineup was powerful.

MAINE: It never happened for him.

There was a lot to like about the 2006 Mets, managed by Willie Randolph, who on this date ripped the Phillies in Philadelphia, 7-2, behind two homers from Carlos Delgado, one from Carlos Beltran and a workmanlike effort from John Maine.

Maine was acquired from Baltimore in the Kris Benson deal and showed glimpses of being a solid starter. Maine appeared on the verge of stardom the following year when he led the National League in wins at the break – but was an All-Star snub – and gave up one hit in a late September game against Florida that kept the Mets in the race.

However, arm problems and a tendency to more a thrower than a pitcher, derailed his career. Maine eventually clashed with manager Jerry Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen, and his Mets career was pulled after a five-pitch outing in Washington in his ninth start of the 2010 season.

Maine worked into the seventh this afternoon, before Randolph turned the game over to the bullpen.

First, the effective Chad Bradford, whom the Mets did not bring back in the offseason, then Pedro Feliciano, followed by Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner.

The Mets’ inability to keep their bullpen intact manifested itself in the dramatic late-season collapse the following year.

The bullpen has been an issue ever since.

BOX SCORE

 

Aug 02

Today in Mets’ History: The formula that was 2006.

Part of the signature of the 2006 Mets was their ability to strike quickly and a reliance to go deep into their bullpen.

TRACHSEL: Usually good for five innings, until the playoffs.

The Mets scored four runs in the first inning, tacked on a couple of more and hung on for a 6-5 victory over the Florida Marlins in Miami.

Run-scoring hits by Paul Lo Duca, Cliff Floyd and Endy Chavez off Ricky Nolasco staked Steve Trachsel to a 4-0 lead in the first inning. Trachsel, as was his reputation let the Marlins get back into the game.

Trachsel gave up three runs on two homers and didn’t make it out of the sixth before turning the game over to Roberto Hernandez, who worked one inning before the parade of relievers – Pedro Feliciano, Chad Bradford, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner – shut down the Marlins.

The Mets did not have an extraordinarily deep rotation that summer and manager Willie Randolph adeptly used match-ups over the last three innings.

General manager Omar Minaya did not keep the bullpen intact in the offseason  – he let Darren Oliver and Bradford get away – which contributed to the dramatic collapse in the final weeks of the 2007 season.

BOX SCORE

 

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.

Apr 21

Not buying St. Louis link ….

OK, maybe in 2007 it was plausible, that the collapse at the end of the regular season can be traced to the loss in the NLCS to St. Louis. Sure, I can see where there could be a carry over.

But not now.

If the Mets don’t have a killer instinct now it’s because their players lack it, not because they lost with Aaron Heilman’s pitch in Game 7. We’re a dozen games into the season, way too soon to spot any definable personality for this team.

However, it isn’t too soon to spot some definite trends.

The bullpen is much better than it has been in the last two seasons, BUT because of the starters’ inability to go deeper into games there will be an eventual breakdown due to stress.

Johan Santana has been terrific, but the rest of the rotation has been a pocket full of change, which is to say a bunch of Coin Flips. I have no inkling as to what kind of start we’ll see tonight from Oliver Perez. None. Good last time, but bad before that …. bad several times. John Maine has started quickly and faded. Livan Hernandez has had a good and bad outing. Eventually, three-plus innings a night for the pen will carry a toll.

Another inconsistency has been their inability to hit with RISP. Jerry Manuel keeps saying they should score more runs, but putting the pressure on is more than baserunners.

Pressure is defined as scoring. That’s one of the reasons why I want Daniel Murphy down in the order where he’ll get more RBI opportunities. For that matter, I’d like to see Ryan Church back in the line-up, too. They are leaving RISP at an alarming rate that only serves to put pressure on both facets of the pitching and the offense collectively.

The Mets are in St. Louis tonight which reminded me of the NLCS. I don’t think that loss is in their heads. What should be in their heads is how erratic they’ve played this season.

The Mets are a .500 club not because of bad luck or injuries. They are a .500 club because what they deserve to be.

Jan 26

Heilman: Takes high road when asked about NY.

HEILMAN: Change of scenery.

HEILMAN: Change of scenery.

Aaron Heilman could have ripped the Mets, but took the high road when asked about his time in New York when questioned by The Seattle Times.

“Playing in New York is the only existence I’ve known and I think you get used to it,” Heilman said. “You learn to accept the fact that you are dealing with a very passionate, very knowledgeable fan base. … New York’s one of those markets where unless you win the World Series, it’s not a good year.”

Clearly, Heilman wanted to start, but the Mets valued him in the bullpen. It was always presumed he would have left when he became a free agent. However, the Mets beat him to the punch and included him in the J.J. Putz trade.

“I certainly didn’t look at it as I really wanted to get out of New York,” Heilman told the paper. “I was kind of looking forward to going back and showing that last season was an aberration and to get back to what I normally can do.”

When he’s on his game, and he wasn’t for much of last season, he’s capable of getting hitters out from either side of the plate.

Heilman had productive stretches both in 2007 and last season, but didn’t come close to his 2006 effectiveness. Especially, when it came to keeping the ball in the park.

More than a few times he denied he was scarred by giving up the Game 7 homer in the NLCS.