Oct 28

World Series Keys ….

I suppose it was going to come down to this all along, the Phillies against the Yankees in the World Series.

The Yankees, with the home field advantage because of the ridiculous All-Star Game gimmick, are considered the favorites. Would they be if the Phillies had the home field? I’m not so sure.

Looking at the match-ups, both teams are riding a hot ace and scorching bat, with the Phillies’ Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez.

KEYS TO THE WORLD SERIES

KEYS TO THE WORLD SERIES


In looking at the match-ups, I’ll give the edge to the Yankees at catcher (only when Jorge Posada plays), shortstop (Derek Jeter lives for these moments and third base (Rodriguez seems to have shaken the October blues).

I’ll give the edge to the Phillies at first (I recognize the year Mark Teixeira had, but Howard is a monster), second (Chase Utley, for my money is one of the best players in the game), and all three outfield positions.

The starting rotations and bullpens are relatively even. Mariano Rivera is better than Brad Lidge, but Rivera can be negated because the bridge to him is tenuous. The Phillies’ offense is superior to that of Minnesota and the Angels, and once in the Yankees’ bullpen there’s no guarantee we’ll see Rivera.

Here are some of the more notable keys to this World Series:

1. KEY: Is Brad Lidge back from the dark side?
BREAKDOWN: Lidge blew 11 save opportunities this summer, but has been perfect in the postseason. If he’s regained his touch this is a huge factor to the Phillies.

2. KEY: Which superstar will have the bigger series?
BREAKDOWN: Both Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez tied Lou Gehrig’s record with RBI in eight straight postseason games. Rodriguez appears to have shaken his October blues, but there is one more round. Both have the ability to carry a team.

3. KEY: Will the Phillies be able to run on the Yankees’ catching?
BREAKDOWN: Philadelphia led the majors with an 81 percent success rate in stole bases. Once Chase Utley gets on, if he wants second it is his (23-for-23). The Phillies also like to run with Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins. Surprisingly, the Yankees were second. The Phillies can run on anybody, but they haven’t seen a move as good as Andy Pettitte’s.

4. KEY: Will the Phillies limit Mariano Rivera’s appearances?
BREAKDOWN: If Rivera gets four save opportunities, it’s a good bet the Yankees will win their 27th World Series title. However, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, the bridge to Rivera, has been rickety. Therefore, it is essential the Yankees will get innings from their starters to limit the bullpen exposure.

5. KEY: Will Cole Hamels return to prominence?
BREAKDOWN: Hamels, last year’s World Series MVP, had a miserable season. He’s pitched well in spots, but too often is vulnerable to the big inning.

6. KEY: Does Pedro Martinez have an encore in him?
BREAKDOWN: Assume for a moment CC Sabathia continues his roll in Game 1 and beats Cliff Lee. The Phillies would then need Martinez big time in Game 2 as falling down by two games would make defending their title difficult.

7. KEY: Will CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee continue to roll?
BREAKDOWN: Both have been virtually untouchable in the postseason and rightfully assume their roles as a No. 1. The Series could turn on who stumbles first.

8. KEY: Is there a rebound series for Mark Teixeira?
BREAKDOWN: Teixeira carried the Yankees for much of the season and had a hot ALDS against Minnesota. The Angels handcuffed him, but gave away that edge with their faulty defense. A hot Teixeira gives the Yankees another superstar bat.

9. KEY: Whose second level stars perform best?
BREAKDOWN: Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez vs. Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. Both teams are loaded and both have the marquee names, but those on the undercard are also vitally important.

10. KEY: What happens in the AJ Burnett and Joe Blanton games?
BREAKDOWN: Both starters have the capacity to pitch big and small. To win a series, a team needs a solid start from its No. 3 and No. 4 starters.

Oct 26

Mets’ nightmare comes true ….

The worst case scenario for Mets’ fans of a World Series between their two greatest rivals – the Yankees and Phillies – has reached fruition.

The Mets were left eating the dust of both, and they don’t appear to be in position to challenge either any time soon.

New York City, which some have argued is a National League town, belongs totally to the Yankees, who are in their 40th World Series seeking their 27th championship. Four World Series; two titles for the Mets.

YANKEES: Always the Mets' yardstick.

YANKEES: Always the Mets' yardstick.


The National League, for the second straight season, is owned by Philadelphia, seeking to become the first repeat champion since the Yankees, 1998-2000.

Many fans I speak to say they won’t watch, saying they don’t know whom to hate more. Selfishly, that’s not good news for me and the blog. Hopefully, the “baseball fan” in them will tune in.

However, the Mets and their fans, instead of lamenting their closed window, which slammed shut after a second straight September collapse in 2008, should step back and learn from their two tormentors.

The Mets, and probably nobody else, will match the October success the Yankees built over the last century. So what? What’s important is now.

Both teams opened new stadiums this summer, but the Yankees brought with them a revamped and retooled team. The Yankees took care of multiple needs last winter and added power in Mark Teixeira and pitching in CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. The Mets, also having multiple needs, but addressed only the bullpen with the belief things will get better with a veteran closer.

Rarely does it work that way, as building one area of a team doesn’t address the other voids. Watch, win or lose over the next week, the Yankees will address their team aggressively in the offseason. They know they don’t have enough starting pitching; they know there are bullpen questions; the outfield is an issue with the possible departures of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon.

The difference between the Yankees and Mets is that the team in the Bronx has a mission statement every season of WINNING the World Series. Getting there is not enough. And, please, let’s not hear about the Yankees’ unlimited resources. The Mets’ payroll is also formidable, but their approach is not nearly as aggressive.

PHILLIES: The team to beat.

PHILLIES: The team to beat.


As for the Phillies, they’ve also been more aggressive in filling holes than the Mets. The Phillies have a home grown core (Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins) as do the Mets (David Wright and Jose Reyes), but Philadelphia has been superior in filling its holes (Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Cliff Lee).

The Phillies will not stand still, even should they repeat. Unlike the Mets, the Phillies have the minor league resources to package should they decide to pursue Roy Halladay. The Yankees, of course, have always been known to be willing to part with minor league talent to win immediately.

Compounding the Mets’ dilemma with the Phillies, is that they aren’t their only competition in the National League East. Both Florida and Atlanta improved this season to overtake the Mets.

Both the Phillies and Mets, from the front office to the dugout, have a mindset beyond that of the Mets’ thinking, which gives the appearance of settling to become competitive.

The Mets had a good year at the gate, drawing 3.1 million (averaging 38,000), which was seventh in the majors (the Yankees and Phillies finished 2-3). However, rave reviews for Citi Field aren’t what’s important in the big picture. To keep drawing, and even increasing attendance is dependent on the quality of the product on the field.

Eventually, Citi Field will stop becoming a fan magnet, which is what happened in Baltimore and Cleveland when the Orioles and Indians hit the skids. Citi Field is too expensive, and New York City offers so many other diversions, for fans to keep coming out of curiosity.

Right now, Mets’ fans should only be curious about one thing: What is their team going to do to close the gap on the Phillies and Yankees?

Oct 18

TALKIN’ BASEBALL: NLCS Game #3; Phillies send Lee to mound.

After an afternoon of football, it’s time to return to baseball and tonight’s NLCS Game #3 between the Phillies and Dodgers. The Phillies were on the cusp of taking a commanding 2-0 series lead, but their bullpen collapsed.

LEE: Hot pitcher faces Dodgers.

LEE: Hot pitcher faces Dodgers.

Tonight, the Phillies will send Cliff Lee to the mound. He’s been nearly untouchable in his first two playoff starts against Colorado. He went the distance in Game 1 of the Division Series, beating the Rockies, 5-1. He gave up one earned run in the Game 4 clincher.

“He’s a guy that’s a gamer and that’s what I love about him,” said outfielder Shane Victorino. “It’s definitely a nice position to be in to have him getting the ball in Game 3.”

That the Phillies bullpen gave it up in Game 2 wasn’t a surprise. Neither that the Dodgers rallied. They’ve had 43 come-from-behind wins, including 23 in their last at-bat.

“We’ve been doing it all year, it seems like. We’re relentless. We never give up,” Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. “We go out there and compete, play through 27 outs, and whatever happens, happens. But we never keep our heads down.”

Oct 12

TALKIN’ BASEBALL: Game #4 and the Jets.

Let’s face it folks, the Mets’ real rival are the Phillies, not the Yankees, and fans of Flushing could get an in-your-face reminder of what separates Philadelphia and New York, and it isn’t the Jersey Turnpike.

The Phillies can wrap up their NLDS with Colorado tonight and move on to the next round against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Cliff Lee, the pitcher the Phillies weren’t afraid to pursue while the Mets waited for John Maine and Oliver Perez to get healthy, and Mike Pelfrey to get his head on straight, can wrap it up tonight.

After the playoffs, move on over to the Monday Night game and let’s talk about the Jets and Dolphins.

Aug 24

About yesterday …. no moral victories.

An unassisted triple play is rarer than a perfect game, and rarer still is for one to end a game.

Somehow, it was the perfect way to end a game in this imperfect season.

Before we get carried away about the Mets’ character in coming back from a 6-0 first-inning deficit – and it was an important aspect of the game – we must first acknowledge the game was a microcosm of this season, and to some degree their off-season and this weekend.

On a grand scale, the Mets had high expectations heading into the season, and this was supposed to a magical weekend with the honoring of the 1969 Mets. However, injuries and poor play sabotaged the season, and the grandest team in franchise history was treated to the spectacle of bad baseball. Does anybody really expect Bobby Parnell to out-pitch Cliff Lee to salvage a split.

As injuries have sidetracked this season, there is no telling what might have happened had the Mets even had one of their core bats in the game let alone for. Mets fans will forever be haunted by the what could have beens from this season.

Even still, there are 25 professional players on the team, but despite their spirited comeback, they played to the themes that really have cost the Mets this season: poor starting pitching and situational hitting, and overuse of the bullpen. There was also a questionable managerial decision or two.

Oliver Perez gave up six runs and didn’t get out of the first in another dismal performance that brought to questions of whether he’ll ever tap into his potential, and why the Mets bothered to re-sign him in the first place. As the home runs flew it was a reminder of the organization’s inability to fix its greatest need in the off-season.

Yes, it was an exciting comeback and excruciating ending, but let’s not forget the Mets twice had a runner on third with less than two outs and couldn’t score and they were hitless in their first eight at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Perez’s inexcusable outing piled 8 1/3 innings onto a bullpen that needs the rest. Three runs in that span is acceptable, but not when one of them is on a wild pitch. Sean Green, an off-season acquisition that was supposed to bolster the pen, has had a terrible season.

One thing preyed on my mind as Perez’s pitch count mounted to Jason Werth: This guy is going to hit a home run.

How could Jerry Manuel not be thinking the same thing? And, as Perez continued to struggle, it became apparent he wasn’t going to turn it around, so why keep him in to give up a second three-run homer?

Kind of makes you wonder what Manuel saw on the ball-three pitch to Pedro Martinez that he missed earlier.

Yes, the Mets showed some degree of pride yesterday in coming back. Perhaps they were so fed up and embarrassed about Perez. Whatever the reason, what’s left of this team has to maintain what’s left of this season.

It’s not impossible, but .500 or even a winning record is attainable and should be the goal. Reaching it would mean an improvement in play, including fundamentals, which have been sorely lacking.

Let’s face it, the Mets are playing for next year, and that begins now.