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

 

Mar 27

March 27.10: Takahashi starts today; looking at the pen.

When the Mets signed Hisanori Takahashi after his ten years with the Yomiuri Giants, there was little doubt he’d be on their staff, most likely as a starter.

After a strong start Jerry Manuel said there would be a spot for him, but with prospect Jon Niese recovered from a hamstring injury and performing well, the Mets are looking are at using him out of the bullpen, giving them a second lefty to Pedro Feliciano.

Pencil Takahashi into the bullpen, even though he’ll start today.

“Takahashi is fun,” pitching coach Dan Warthen said earlier this spring. “He very seldom hits the middle of the plate. He changes speeds. He recognizes swings, works both sides of the plate extremely well.’’

Takahashi’s ball cuts and sinks, giving the Mets an option to come in and get the double play, something they’ve lacked since Chad Bradford in 2006.

The dynamics of the make-up of a pitching staff are interesting. Niese puts Takahashi in the pen, and Kelvim Escobar’s injury led to several scenarios. Escobar was to be the eighth inning set-up reliever, but that could go to Takahashi now. It could go to Fernando Nieve or to somebody else. It won’t got to Pedro Feliciano.

The Mets will carry seven relievers with only closer Francisco Rodriguez and situational lefty Feliciano givens with defined roles.

Ryota Igarashi and Kiko Calero have been impressive, and that leaves one spot unaccounted for.

For much of the spring we heard it could be Jenrry Mejia, but it seems he’s ticketed to the minor leagues.

Who gets the final spot?

Do they relent with Mejia, or give it to Bobby Parnell, Sean Green or Nelson Figueroa?

The path of least resistance would be Figueroa for the following reasons: 1) if Mejia won’t be the eighth-inning guy he’s better off getting consistent work in the minors, 2) Mejia, Green and Parnell all have options remaining, and 3) with the Mets’ rotation suspect there would appear to be opportunities for an innings-eating long-man.

That’s Figueroa.

“We know that he’s capable of throwing three innings a day and then come back if somebody’s losing it and throwing again,’’ Manuel said. “He has shown us that he can handle the big leagues. Whatever role we decide for him, he throws strikes. He’ll be fine.’’

Prior to yesterday’s disastrous start Figueroa had pitched well, and his demeanor and talents are better suited for the mop-up role. The irony of it is that Figueroa isn’t good enough to make the rotation, but the questions in the rotation might give him a chance to stick.

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.

Dec 01

Omar’s infamous moves ….

This time next week, Mets GM Omar Minaya will be in Indianapolis, working the room to make a deal. The flip side is also true, agents and GMs trying to work Minaya.

And, several have been successful in doing so.

Minaya has had an interesting tenure with the Mets, making some good and bad decisions. I’m interested in your opinion of the worst Minaya deals.

Here are some of the nominations:

MINAYA: What's this year's bombshell announcement?

MINAYA: What's this year's bombshell announcement?


OLIVER PEREZ: Re-signing lefty Oliver Perez last winter to a three-year, $36-million contract could go down as one of the worst deals in Mets history.

LUIS CASTILLO: Re-signing second baseman Luis Castillo to a four-year, $24-million deal after the 2007 season. Castillo redeemed his miserable 2008 season with a good year in 2009, but signing him meant the Mets couldn’t go after Orlando Hudson or any other viable second baseman. Two more years.

MOISES ALOU: After playing in just 87 games in 2007, the Mets picked up outfielder Moises Alou’s $7.5 million option. Injuries to the 41-year-old Alou limited him to 15 games the following season. Of course, it wasn’t a great idea to have the option in there in the first place.
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