Sep 17

Mets’ Fade Makes One Yearn For A Pennant Race

Every morning I take a glance at the standings and the pennant races. There’s nothing like the drama and intensity of a pennant race. It is the essence of the sport.

For the record, this morning the Mets are 14 games under .500 and 23 games behind the Nationals with a schedule that could plummet them to 20 below.

So much for a pennant race involving the Mets. Even the collapses of 2007 and 2008 gave those Septembers more meaning than this excruciating month. Of course the remaining schedule is of importance to the Phillies, Pirates and Braves, all in wild card contention. There are six games left with the hated Marlins in the battle to stay out of last place.

Major League Baseball added a second wild card in the hope of creating spice and interest in more cities. So far, it has worked in both leagues.

Sort of.

In the American League there are eight teams – including the three division leaders – that could end up with a wild-card berth. In the AL East there is a dogfight between the Yankees, Orioles and Rays. But, what kind of fight is it really if all three were to qualify for the playoffs? Mathematically it could happen.

In the National League, seven teams are in serious wild-card contention with all three division leaders having comfortable margins.

For all the drama – is it really manufactured drama? – in the wild-card races I think of perhaps the greatest pennant race in history, that being 1967 in the American League when five of the then 10 teams in the league were alive in September, but only one would survive.

For much of that tumultuous summer, the Red Sox, White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Angels were all packed at the top. The Angels were the first to drop out, then with over a week remaining the White Sox’s woeful offense finally wore down their marvelous pitching staff led by Gary Peters and Joel Horlen.

I remember it vividly because I spent that summer in New England and started following the Red Sox on the radio at night. My Indians, of course, were like the present day Mets and well on the outside.

The Red Sox, Twins and Tigers were alive heading into the final weekend. Carl Yastrzemski’s Sox and Harmon Killebrew’s Twins would eliminate one of those teams. All three were alive the final day. Boston eliminated the Twins early, then had to wait until the Tigers lost the second game of a double-header before clinching.

There have been many great pennant races, but for the amount of teams involved, that one had the most.

It’s not the same intensity when so many are involved for a play-in game.

If the old, no-division format were in place today, the Nationals and Reds would be having a great race, with the Braves and Giants on the fade.

The American League would have a spicier race with the Rangers, Athletics, Yankees and Orioles within five games of each other. That combination would give 1967 a run for its money.

Perhaps, because I was a kid and was just developing my passion for baseball

the 1967 race stands out. But nearly four decades later, it is still special reading about it.It is one for the ages.

Sep 12

Mets Announce 2013 Schedule

With the Mets playing out the string, what better time to announce the 2013 schedule, which is crazier than usual.

One good thing is the Mets and Yankees only play four games, scheduled in back-to-back two game series at the end of May.

On the flip side, interleague play is spread out throughout the season. You all know what this blog thinks of interleague play, so there’s no use in going through that now. One interleague comment, however, is the absurdity of scheduling something in September. In fact, the Mets have four series in September out of their division. They also have four series against teams that will only make one trip to Citi Field, which opens up the possibility to long rain delays and  awkward make-up dates later in the season.

Here’s the schedule. Times not announced.

1, 3, 4 vs. Padres

5, 6, 7 vs. Marlins

8, 9, 10 at Phillies

12, 13, 14 at Twins

15, 16, 17, 18 at Rockies

19, 20, 21 vs. Nationals
23, 24, 25 vs. Dodgers
26, 27, 28 vs. Phillies
29, 30 at Marlins
MAY
1 at Marlins
3, 4, 5 at Braves
7, 8 vs. White Sox
9, 10, 11, 12 vs. Pirates
13, 14, 15, 16 at Cardinals
17, 18, 19 at Cubs
20, 21, 22 vs. Reds
24, 25, 26 vs. Braves
27, 28 vs. Yankees
29, 30 at Yankees
31 at MarlinsJUNE
1, 2 at Marlins
4, 5, 6 at Nationals
7, 8, 9 vs. Marlins
11, 12, 13 vs. Cardinals
14, 15, 16 vs. Cubs
17, 18, 19, 20 at Braves
21, 22, 23 at Phillies
25, 26 at White Sox
28, 29, 30 vs. Nationals

JULY
1, 2, 3, 4 vs. Diamondbacks
5, 6, 7 at Brewers
8, 9, 10 at Giants
12, 13, 14 at Pirates

16 All-Star Game at Citi Field

19, 20, 21 vs. Phillies
22, 23, 24, 25 vs. Braves
26, 27, 28 at Nationals
29, 30, 31 at Marlins

AUGUST
1 at Marlins
2, 3, 4 vs. Royals
6, 7, 8 vs. Rockies
9, 10, 11 at Diamondbacks
12, 13, 14 at Dodgers
15, 16, 17, 18 at Padres
20, 21 vs. Braves
23, 24, 25 vs. Tigers
26, 27, 28, 29 vs. Phillies
30, 31 at Nationals

SEPTEMBER
1 at Nationals
2, 3, 4 at Braves
6, 7, 8 at Indians
9, 10, 11, 12 vs. Nationals
13, 14, 15 vs. Marlins
17, 18, 19 vs. Giants
20, 21, 22 at Phillies
23, 24, 25 at Reds
26, 27, 28, 29 vs. Brewers

Jul 15

Braves Complete Sweep Of Mets; Santana Routed Again

The Mets have never liked Atlanta, moreso now after being swept by the Braves coming out of the break. Johan Santana was rocked this afternoon, losing 6-1. They’ve now lost seven of their last 11 games.

SANTANA: Ripped again. (AP)

Since his June 1 no-hitter, Santana is 3-4 with a 5.67 ERA in seven starts. Both he and R.A. Dickey have been hit hard lately with no signs of regaining the form that made them an strong one-two punch in the first half. Santana has given up 13 runs in his last two starts.

The Mets’ next nine games feature six with first-place Washington, a stretch that could determine their second half in terms of whether they believe they can continue to compete and whether they should be active at the trade deadline.

Things aren’t looking good now and this is a very tenuous time for the Mets.

May 09

Mets Go For The Throat; Dillon Gee Gets Crack

The Mets have won 17 games this young season, ten of the come-from-behind variety and seven by one run. They have won six series, sweeping two. They go for the sweep today in Philadelphia.

Doing so will represent another step in their development. Contending teams close out games and close out series. Winning a series winning two of three is great, but sweeping is better.

Sweeping represents a sense of dominance and reinforces confidence. I know what you’re thinking; I’m being greedy. Maybe so, but doesn’t that signify a new attitude about this team?

Today it’s Dillon Gee going, and twice now Terry Collins let him pitch out of trouble when he was on the ropes. That demonstrates confidence, something you rarely saw Jerry Manuel give his pitchers.

I mention that not to rip Manuel as that would be piling on. I do say it to show the difference in attitude and culture between Manuel and Collins.

Manuel came on strong at first, taking out Jose Reyes in his first game. He then regressed, taking an unequal approach in dealing with players and afraid to be forceful with the deadwood. Then again, in all fairness, that message – in dealing with Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo – came from up top.

Things are different now. The Mets are infusing themselves with young, homegrown talent. You don’t often see guys not running out ground balls. There are occasional fundamental lapses, but they aren’t as frequent. That explains in part the winning.

The Mets haven’t hit this well with two outs in as long as I can remember. The defense from early questions – Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda and Josh Thole – is better than anticipated, as is the starting pitching.

Something else the Mets have done, and this is another mark of a contender, is winning within the division and beating teams when they are done. They’ve won two series from the struggling Phillies, swept the Braves when they limped out of spring training without Chipper Jones, and swept the Marlins during their slow start.

Things have changed with the 2012, and that includes the expectations. Have yours changed?

 

May 01

David Wright, Kirk Nieuwenhius Shine in April For Mets

April is in the books and the Mets are sitting well in the National League East at 13-10.  I am first to admit I never envisioned that record for the Mets a month into the season.

When the schedule came out, I penciled in seven or eight wins, tops. However, the Mets exceeded all expectations to make me wonder just how good a summer this could be.

WRIGHT: April Player of the Month

There’s been a lot to like, so let’s touch on some of April’s high points:

PLAYING THEM TIGHT: Including last night’s loss in Houston, the Mets are 8-2 in games decided by two runs or less. That is one of the best indicators a team is heading in the right direction. A team gives itself a chance to win when the score is close. There have been few games when you feel like turning off the TV in the early innings. The Mets are making you watch, and the record shows they have been worth the wait.

WINNING THE DIVISION: The Mets lost series to Washington and the Braves, the latter on the road. However, they swept the Braves and Marlins at home and won a series in Philadelphia. The NL East hasn’t been kind to the Mets in recent seasons, but they are standing up to their division rivals in the early going of 2012.

THE WRIGHT STUFF: Despite missing several games with a fractured pinkie, David Wright is back and stroking the ball with authority. Wright has hit in the clutch and posting good numbers. I’d like for him to hit with more power, but would take the average and RBI than have him slip into bad habits swinging deep. Wright is playing at a level where the contract extension should be a given.

THOLE TAKES A STEP: At the start of the season I wondered about Josh Thole, both offensively and defensively. He’s shown improvement in both areas and the staff likes throwing to him. The Mets’ catching will longer be a concern if Thole continues at this rate.

MURPHY TAKING TO SECOND: We all knew Daniel Murphy could hit, but just as important is his comfort level at second base. Last night he went into the hole and threw back to second for the force. Both catching the ball and throw have been problems. Murphy’s defense was a significant question now being answered in the positive.

TEJADA PLUGGED THE HOLE: We all wondered how Ruben Tejada would respond replacing Jose Reyes. Tejada’s glove was never in doubt, but he’s hit better than anticipated. Before it is over Reyes might have better numbers, but Tejada has not been the weak link.

HELLO NIEUWENHUIS: Andres Torres’ calf injury gave Kirk Nieuwenhuis an opportunity and it looks like one he won’t relinquish.  Nieuwenhuis plays an aggressive center field and is confident at the plate. There’s a lot to like, such as a swagger that says he belongs.

SANTANA IS BACK: Johan Santana’s recovery from shoulder surgery was one of the spring’s leading questions, and save one bad outing, he has been stellar. Wisely, the Mets have monitored his innings and will continue to do so. All they need is to score some runs for him.

ROTATION HAS BEEN GOOD: The Mets received a serious setback when they lost Mike Pelfrey to Tommy John surgery, but Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey have been solid. The Mets need more innings from their starters to stay out of the bullpen, but mostly the innings they’ve received from Niese, Dickey and Santana have been good. Much better than expected.

SURVIVING THE STORM: How the Mets respond from Pelfrey’s injury will dictate a lot about this season. They have been a resilient team and played through injuries to Wright, Jason Bay and Torres. They’ve also compiled a winning record despite little production from Ike Davis and an erratic bullpen. The pen has its positive moments, but there have also been several head-scratchers. Frank Francisco regressed after a fast start and now is nursing a hamstring problem.

I am picking Wright as my Player of the Month. Please check out the newest poll question and share your thoughts. Thanks.

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