Oct 28

Will Fate Choose Adam Wainwright In World Series’ Game 5?

Nobody knows where October’s spotlight will fall. Sunday it shined on journeyman outfielder Jonny Gomes, the unlikely slugger of a game-winning three-run homer for Boston in Game 4. Gomes is proof October doesn’t always belong to the marquee names.

The previous night it shined on the umpires, who correctly ended Game 3 on an obstruction call.

After Gomes’ blast on Sunday, fate chose to bite the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong, who became the first player in history to be picked off to end a playoff game. Fate is often cruel come October.

WAINWRIGHT: What will fate give him?

WAINWRIGHT: What will fate give him?

Earlier in the night Clay Buchholz produced despite a tired arm, giving the Red Sox four innings. The Cardinals had a two-on, one-out threat in the second and two-on, two-out in the fourth, but Buchholz survived both.

The Cardinals later stranded two runners in the seventh. St. Louis, a beneficiary the night before, was the ultimate giver Sunday.

Gomes provided the heart and David Ortiz gave us a made-for-TV moment with a pep talk to his teammates in the dugout in the fifth inning. Ortiz, who is having a marvelous Series and has always had a flair for the dramatics, had to know the nation was watching. It made for good television, but Ortiz couldn’t do anything to help for Gomes or Buchholz, who produced when the Red Sox needed it most.

Emotion can carry a player in football, basketball and hockey, but not so much in baseball.

Everybody contributed for the Red Sox, who, like the Cardinals have been a resilient team this season. Both teams, each of whom won 97 games this season, are on the cusp of giving us a classic World Series.

The definition of classic has to be seven games. For that to happen, Adam Wainwright has to find it for the Cardinals tonight. If the Cardinals fall behind in games 3-to-2, I don’t see them beating the Red Sox twice at Fenway Park. Wainwright, whom fate blessed against Carlos Beltran in 2006, has lost his last two playoff starts. He was routed in Game 1.

It has been a sloppy Series, which only fuels the drama. Outside the Game 1 blowout, the Series has been complete with unlikely heroes, game-turning plays, managerial decisions and tension. There has even been the unfolding saga of what Jon Lester has put on his glove. The composite score of Games 2-3-4 has been 11-10 in favor of St. Louis. It can’t get much closer.

We even saw Red Sox manager John Farrell second-guess his Game 3 decision to not hit Mike Napoli for reliever Brandon Workman. Credit Farrell for being stand-up enough to admit his doubts. You don’t see that often from a manager, especially from one the day after losing a World Series game on the most bizarre of calls.

There is a flurry of statistics to ponder over the first four games, but Ortiz going 8-for-11 is the most glaring. The Cardinals would do well to repeat the Angels’ strategy in the 2002 World Series to pitch around Barry Bonds. Having Ortiz in the field has not hurt the Red Sox, and for that they are fortunate. The Cardinals are also lucky he hasn’t hurt them more.

Despite the interesting numbers and Sabremetrics, this is still a game played by humans, and there was no number to project Gomes’ homer or the obstruction call. No stat could have projected Buchholz’s guile in pitching out of trouble. Things just happen in baseball nobody can predict.

So far, these humans – from both sides – are giving us a World Series that could be for the ages.

We can only hope.

 

Jun 23

Mets’ Matt Harvey Good, But Hold Off On Great

Matt Harvey is having a terrific season for the New York Mets, and the team and its fan base should be thrilled and excited about his future. But, can we have a little perspective please?

I read a blog post where the writer said he wouldn’t trade Harvey for any pitcher “on the planet,’’ which is an overused expression to begin with, one having cliché proportions.

HARVEY: Good, not great. (AP)

HARVEY: Good, not great. (AP)

Harvey will be making his 26th career start this afternoon, so that’s clearly jumping the gun. As good a season as he’s having, there are others having better years; others with better career numbers; and others with futures seemingly as bright.

Clayton Kershaw and Clay Buchholz, Patrick Corbin and Jordan Zimmerman, Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez. They are all good, young pitchers with bright futures as gleaming as Harvey’s. And, don’t overlook Stephen Strasburg.

There’s also the majors’ best pitcher this year in Detroit’s Max Scherzer, and his teammate, Justin Verlander, who is regarded as the best pitcher in the majors overall.

Twenty-five career starts is not enough of a sample to say he’s the best. Very good, but let’s have a reality check for a moment.

It is understood Harvey pitches for a bad team this year, but in the 15 starts he’s made he’s had eight no-decisions. That’s not a great ratio. Great pitchers, regardless of the quality of their teams, usually find a way to win.

Like most everybody else this spring, I am fascinated by Harvey and he is must-see for me, whether at the park or on TV. But, he’s not the best pitcher “on the planet.’’ He’s trying, which is the best thing to like about him, but he’s not there.

If Harvey is to become a great, franchise pitcher the way Tom Seaver once was, he must find a way to convert those no-decisions into victories. And, if you think I’m dumping on Harvey, he would be the first to agree.

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

Jan 04

Mets’ individual goals for 2011

The beginning of the new year is always fresh with optimism and goal setting. Yesterdays don’t matter anymore and the focus is on today and tomorrow.

As an organization the Mets’ 2011 goals are to get through the season as competitively as possible, shed itself of its suffocating contracts and lay a foundation for 2012. The free-agent signings of Chris Capuano and Taylor Buchholz are low-risk, with the potential for high-rewards moves. The possibility of improving the bullpen and possibly the rotation at minimal cost are the type of decisions we’ve come to expect from Sandy Alderson. If they acquire Jeff Francis or Chris Young, it would be more of the same. These moves won’t push the Mets over the top, but they can make for an interesting summer — if the following goals are also reached.

The following Mets should have these resolutions and goals.

JOHAN SANTANA: Don’t push your return from shoulder surgery and accept the marquee days of your career could be over. Santana’s injury is serious and there’s no reasonable expectation he’ll return prior to the All-Star break. The competitor in him wants to pitch and there’s the danger of him pushing it. Santana has pitched with injury before, but he must be especially careful now, even if it means setting out the entire season. To re-injure his shoulder could mean the end of his career. And, with 2011 all but a write-off season, there should be no urgency on the part of the Mets, either.

MIKE PELFREY: Pelfrey made tremendous strides last year, but regressed in June. Hopefully, he has learned from it. During that swoon Pelfrey reverted to bad habits and lost his focus on the mound. Pelfrey went away from trusting his stuff and started aiming the ball. When all else fails, Pelfrey must realize if he keeps it low he has the stuff to overpower hitters. Above all, without Santana, I don’t want Pelfrey to put too much of a burden on himself with the expectations. Pelfrey is what he is, which is a good, developing pitcher. He’s not a No. 1 yet, so his goal should be not to put that pressure on himself.

RA DICKEY: Dickey’s goal should to duplicate 2010 as much as possible. It was a career year for him so a regression shouldn’t be a surprise. Dickey can no longer sneak up on teams, so how he responds with expectations will be interesting to see.

JON NIESE: Niese had a good start but growing pains eventually caught up with him and he slid from 6-2 to 9-10. Niese, obviously, isn’t a given and his goal needs to trust his stuff and try to make gradual improvement. There are expectations on Niese he’s never had before, made even heavier by the questions swirling around the rotation. Niese must learn to keep things simple and not over extend himself.

BOBBY PARNELL: Quite simply, his goal must be to harness his near 100 mph. fastball to where he can capture the set-up role, which is his for the taking. How well Parnell does in this role will go a long way toward moving him into the closer’s role for 2012 should Francisco Rodriguez fail to finish 55 games.

FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: K-Rod has to keep his temper and get off to a fast start. If he’s hot early and the Mets are in contention, he’ll get more save opportunities to increase his chances of that $17.5 million option kicking in. The Mets would prefer he fail short and instead go with the buyout. One of the most interesting storylines of the summer will be Rodriguez. If he’s good, so will be the Mets. If he’s not, the team will likely be sluggish, but facing a financial windfall for next winter.

JOSH THOLE: Thole will enter spring training as the No. 1 catcher, but can’t assume he’s got it made. He has good bat control, but needs to pick up that part of his game. His offensive goal should be to continue to be patient at the plate and take the ball where it is pitched. Thole will get stronger as he gets older, but shouldn’t be thinking about changing his offensive approach.

IKE DAVIS: Already strong, the home runs will continue to come for Davis, but he needs to be more disciplined at the plate for that to happen. Davis was frequently beaten on breaking ball low off the plate. That was his offensive Achilles Heel that threatens to curb his progress. Davis knows he’s good and has the potential, but he can’t take it for granted that it will automatically come for him.

JOSE REYES: Reyes lets things get to him and that presents the danger of pressing in his walk year. With the Mets acutely aware of their budget, a decision on Reyes could come as soon as the All-Star break. Reyes hasn’t been himself in two years because of injury and the fear is he’ll try to force things. With Reyes, that includes losing focus at the plate and giving away too many at-bats. Reyes’ best production came in the years immediately following his contract when he’s healthy. Considering the past two years there’s a concern about his health. Reyes’ primary goal outside of staying healthy is playing within himself.

DAVID WRIGHT: With the clubhouse chemistry in a state of flux in a transition year, Wright’s goal should be to assert himself more as a leader. This is his team and he needs to act like it. With a lot of young kids, and what could be going on in Reyes’ head, Wright needs to be more of a vocal, kick-butt presence. With a new management and manager, now is the time. A leader, however, needs to follow by example and there were way too many instances where Wright gave away too many at-bats and also lost focus in the field. Wright struck out 161 times last year, a number that should be reduced by at least 25 percent. Too often Wright was a rally killer and that has to stop, especially with the need for more offense considering the pitching questions.

CARLOS BELTRAN: So far, Beltran has said all the right things to impress the new regime. His goal should be to mean them. If Beltran stays healthy and produces he knows that could parlay into another rich contract. Only Beltran knows it won’t happen with the Mets. The Mets could have an interesting dilemma at the All-Star break. If Beltran is having a good year and has the Mets within wild-card contention, they might try to ride him during the second half. But, if he’s playing well and what’s offered is potentially better than compensatory draft picks, they’ll pull the trigger on a deal. Either way, it is safe to assume this is Beltran’s last year with the Mets. It’s up to him to make the most of it.

JASON BAY: Rarely are there do-overs, but this is as close as it comes. Bay hit only six homers and missed most of the second half with a concussion in what was a lost season. The Mets are stuck with his contract and Bay’s objective is to prove his worth.