Jul 21

Looking At The Pennant Races Heading Into Second Half

By rights the most intriguing storyline of the second half should be the pennant races, as that is the essence of the sport. No matter how hard Major League Baseball tries to screw up the integrity of the regular season schedule, we’re still there watching at the end to see who is left standing.

The New York Mets are one of nine teams at least ten games out of first place in their respective divisions. That puts 21 teams within reach, if you define that reach as the ability to pick up one game a week.

Mathematically, the  “best’’ race is the National League West, where nobody is more than 7.5 games out. Trouble is, three of the five are under .500, including the defending champion Giants. Do you remember when they wanted to get rid of Don Mattingly in Los Angeles? Well, the Dodgers are a mere half-game out.

Another compelling race is the National League Central, where the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds are bunched up under a four-game tent. Considering the mediocrity of the rest of the league, all three should qualify, as nobody else is close to becoming a wild-card contender. That would mean the first winning season in Pittsburgh in two decades, or since before Barry Bonds juiced himself out of the Hall of Fame running.

The Washington Nationals, the team supposed to get a pass into the World Series, is floundering and Stephen Strasburg is just 5-7. Not disappointed here, as the arrogance the Nationals showed last year by saving Strasburg under the assumption they will be a playoff fixture might not come to pass.

Once again, that leaves us with the American League East with the most compelling race. Boston, a team given no chance at the start, is in first followed by Tampa Bay, Baltimore and the Yankees, who are some how six games back without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and mediocre years from C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. Joe Girardi, to me, is the AL Manager of the Year.

There’s the chance for a compelling race in five of the six divisions. The worst? That would be the NL East.

A lot of things play off the pennant races, including the trade deadline. Every year it is the same, but with each team gearing up for a run there seems another about to unravel and call it a season. The manufactured excitement of the wild card in some cities is often off-set by the resignation summer is over by the first of August in others.

The Phillies are in town this weekend playing the Mets. Take a close look at them as they might break up that group. They are claiming they won’t trade Cliff Lee, but it’s another July and who wouldn’t be surprised to see him check out of one city and into another? It isn’t also hard to see Chase Utley traded.

Minnesota, both Chicago teams, Milwaukee, Miami with the Giancarlo Stanton Watch and perhaps the Angels all could undergo personnel facelifts in early preparation for spring training. The Angels won’t say it, but they’d love to be out from under Albert Pujols‘s contract. Probably the same goes with Josh Hamilton.

Meanwhile, the Mets are saying they won’t be sellers, but we’ve heard that before.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 05

Chris Young kicks off series in Philly tonight

Much of the pre-series buzz is about sending a message to the Philadelphia Phillies. Nice hype, but I’m not buying. Even should the Mets sweep the Phillies this week, what message could they possibly send to a team that has reached the playoffs the last three years, including the World Series twice?

YOUNG: Comeback story starts tonight.

By most accounts, the Phillies – even with Chase Utley and Brad Lidge shelved – remain the class of the NL East and are well aware of the annoyance they call the Mets. It’s usually electric when the teams play, but the Phillies are the superior team and they know it.

What’s important to the Mets is they don’t believe it, even though that has been the prevailing feeling in the clubhouse when they compare themselves to Philly. With a good series, the only message the Mets would be sending is to themselves, and the best way to start is to not get ahead of themselves by making more of this series than it really is.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s Game Four,” David Wright said. “It’s obviously a very, very good team. I think it’s a challenge. I don’t think either team is out to necessarily prove anything this early in the season. But it would be nice to go in there and win a series.”

A competitive series would also help in setting the stage for the home opener this Friday. If the Mets get waxed it won’t make for a festive mood this weekend.

Chris Young gets the ball tonight for the Mets. Young threw well during spring training,but coming off a shoulder injury and signed for a bargain basement price, the Mets don’t know what to expect from him.

Young, who hasn’t started 30 games in a season since, 2007, threw 25.1 pain-free innings while compiling a 1.78 ERA in spring training.

“I feel good,” Young told reporters in Florida, where the Mets opened their season by winning two of three from the Marlins. “I’ve made some good strides. I think my arm strength’s increased, breaking ball’s gotten sharper, command’s better. It was a good spring training.”

But, will it be a good year? That’s one of the Mets’ significant questions.

 

Mar 30

Bay to DL; Izzy stays.

Jason Bay returned to New York today to have his strained left rib cage examined and all indications are he’ll be placed on the disabled list. When manager Terry Collins said he’d rather lose Bay for a week rather than a month, how else can you read the tea leaves?

This is not an easy injury from which to recover, and even when he does return there’s no guarantee he’ll hit the ground running. And, he wasn’t exactly stroking the ball with power this spring. So, with Opening Day two days away the Mets have two significant power issues: Not having Bay at the start and concerns about Beltran’s health.

Meanwhile, Jason Isringhausen accepted the Mets’ decision to stay in Florida for an extended spring training. Odds are Isringhausen will be on the 25-man roster soon enough. Isringhausen had a good spring and his experience could be beneficial to a young bullpen.

Oh, a note that should make you crack a smile: The Phillies, who have a hole at second base with Chase Utley injured, waived Luis Castillo today.

 

 

Mar 20

Waiting out the Mets

ESPN is reporting the Phillies are close to signing Luis Castillo to fill in for the injured Chase Utley. If not the Phillies, it would be somebody else. The same goes for Oliver Perez when the Mets finally release him, presumably on Monday.

There was no chance the Mets had of trading either because teams knew they were dealing from a position of strength with Sandy Alderson. There is no reason for any team to offer a player to the Mets when they know they could wait them out and just sign them when they were cut loose. More importantly, by waiting out the Mets the new team wouldn’t assume those contracts, but only be responsible for the major league minimum of $414,500.

Sandy Alderson admitted Castillo was released in large part because of his perception by Mets’ fans. The same reasoning will also apply when it comes to Perez. Alderson and manager Terry Collins will meet Monday to discuss Perez’s fate. After giving up back-to-back homers Saturday, the inevitable is probably hours away.

 

Dec 14

Phillies land Lee in stunning turnaround

On a day Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Johan Santana won’t  be available until July at the earliest and Oliver Perez had a chance of going to spring training with a chance to compete for a job, the Philadelphia

LEE: Back in Philly

Phillies stunned the sport by bringing back Cliff Lee.

Ouch.

Lee left money and years on the table to return to Philadelphia, the place where he was most comfortable, now even more cozy because he’s joining  a rotation that includes Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. The Phillies’ team he left is better now than when he was there, and now arguably is the best in baseball.

Never mind that the Yankees were spurned. No tears for them as they’ll sign Andy Pettitte as a stop gap and add somebody at the All-Star break. I feel a little for the Texas Rangers, but they probably made off better in the long run by not being saddled with a huge contract. With Lee, they might have become the Mets in four years.

The Mets and Phillies are close in payroll, but there’s such a disparity in talent. So much so, that adding Lee wouldn’t have put them over the top. Adding Santana didn’t put them over the top, either.

You can try to convince yourself  Halladay and Lee are 32, that Oswalt is showing breakdown signs, that Lee had a bad back, and Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, that Jayson Werth is gone so there is a closing window in Philadelphia. Maybe so, but before it slams shut the Phillies will have played a lot of October baseball games. Maybe even spilled some champagne.

For the past four years the Phillies have been more aggressive and smarter than the Mets, and eclipsed them in the standings despite similar resources. The Mets have spent money since 2006, but not wisely. The Mets, in essence are starting over with a plan to make up for the poor choices of the past. The Phillies’ choices in that span have worked and they continue to feed the monster.

Maybe, when it is done eating, the Mets will be in position to do something. But, it won’t be anytime soon.