Oct 24

Real baseball fans are watching … just not enough of them.

The ratings for this World Series, which has been compelling, are down but should pick up by Game 6, which is a certainty. I’m betting on a Game 7, the game’s ultimate gem.

But, that’s not enough for Maj0r League Baseball because the East Coast giants aren’t involved. With MLB’s penchant for panic and knee jerk reaction, I am beginning to wonder what the response will be.

Tinkering has already done damage to the credibility of the regular season. With interleague play and the unbalanced schedule, not every team runs the same race to October, which had been a constant for nearly a century. I guess 100 years of a good thing is not enough.

Major League Baseball is seriously considering expanding the playoffs to create interest in more cities and to add extra gates. Another round in the postseason turns baseball into the NFL, the NBA and NHL, which rewards mediocrity.

What had been unique to baseball – and valuable to the sport’s identity – was the difficulty in getting to the postseason. Every team facing the same obstacles gave value and integrity to the regular season. That has  been diluted.

It’s now a crapshoot where just about anybody can get in, and this year we have two teams that play the sport correctly, but don’t attract a national audience. What MLB wants is for the playoffs to be expanded, but in the end have the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Dodgers somehow involved.

It doesn’t work that way.

Ratings are down for a variety of reasons, beginning with conflicts from the NFL and college football, and so many other viewer options on cable and satellite. At one time, even when the Series started being played at night, baseball was the popular choice.

It’s not that way anymore.

For years, MLB operated in a fashion to discourage growth from a young fan base by scheduling the playoffs later in primetime and its regular season pricing for tickets. It is more inconvenient for a young fan base – and also for the older fans who long supported the sport – to follow baseball. Those in their 70s and 80s who watched games in Ebbets Field and in dozens of parks that no longer exist, can’t afford tickets and don’t stay up as late. They have been shut out, just like the youth who are choosing other convenient options.

MLB needs to re-evaluate its marketing strategy to get back the fans who long supported the sport and attract its future fan base. Its not enough to get cities to build new stadiums and ride that enthusiasm, because eventually the thrill fades.

As those of us who are watching can see, it is still a remarkable, attractive sport that when played well is a joy to watch. We should savor what we are seeing and not regret those teams that aren’t here.

MLB could start by starting the games an hour earlier as to not shut out the East Coast in the late innings. Start the telecast at 7:00 p.m., with first pitch a half hour later. I’d rather have a small West Coast following in the first two innings than lose the East at the end of the game where memories are made.

In doing so, MLB would sacrifice money in its TV deals now, but it will pay off in the future, and that’s what’s best for the game.

 

Aug 23

Looking at the attack ….

I’d like to thank those of you who read the blog and posted while I was away. It means a lot that you would do so.

Some miserable weather on the East Coast last night and I didn’t get back until today. I heard how the Mets did this weekend, and there’s something fitting about then finally winning a road series against a National League team but losing a chance to sweep behind Johan Santana because the offense disappeared again.

The offense has been dreadful this summer and is largely responsible for the Mets’ fade. It produced in June, but mostly because David Wright sizzled that month. It cooled in July, which is when the slide began.

Last year it was easy to blame the offensive problems on the injuries to Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Wright’s season-long funk. There’s more to it this season. Without getting into a lot of statistics, here’s the primary reasons for the Mets’ offensive decline this summer.

1) Jose Reyes: Let’s start at the top of the order. Reyes missed significant time in April, then was foolishly forced into the No. 3 slot in the order which took away what he did best as a player. I understood Jerry Manuel’s objective, but it was flawed thinking and disrupted the flow of the batting order. Manuel is known for how poorly he handles the pitching staff, but this showed he did not know how to best utilize his players.

Without Reyes on top, there was limited continuity to the order. Further complicating things was Manuel’s poor decision to rush Reyes back from his oblique injury. Three weeks were literally wasted. Reyes is healthy now, but except for a stretch when he was returned to the leadoff slot has largely been inconsistent this season. And, he’s not running wild on the bases. The Mets are always better when he gets on and runs and there have been too many stretches where he has not.

NEXT YEAR: Whomever manages the Mets next season it is hoped he won’t fool around with Reyes. The assumption is he’ll be healthy again and able to produce from the outset. Reyes remains prone to giving away at-bats and needs to increase his on-base percentage by walking more and striking out less.

WRIGHT: Needs to be more consistent

2) David Wright: His power numbers have improved over last season but not to where he’ll reach 30 homers. He should hit over 20 and drive in 100, but the expectations are 30 and close to 120. Wright remains too streaky and prone to the strikeout. There has been improvement, but not enough as he gives away far too many at-bats.

For the second straight summer, because of the loss of Carlos Beltran, Wright was asked to carry the offense, but I don’t believe he’s that type of player. He’s more of a complementary player in a complete offense, such as 2006, but he’s not one to shoulder the heavy load by himself. Wright is at his best when he’s disciplined and going up the middle and to right field. This is when his stroke is shortest and most compact, which reduces his strikeouts. Wright is on pace for 176 hits and 172 strikeouts.

Wright has also bounced around in the batting order, but he clearly produced best when he hit No. 3 in front of Ike Davis. His next best slot was fifth and his worst was cleanup where he hit .167 in 60 wasted at-bats. Again, a manager not knowing what’s best for his player.

NEXT YEAR: If Wright is able to discipline himself more and cut down on his strikeouts he can again reach the .300, 30, 120 levels. He’s still the best this club has to offer because we don’t know about Beltran.

3) Carlos Beltran: Beltran is moving farther and farther away from his days as an elite offensive force. He missed the first half of the season, which I believe in large part to the foolish way the Mets handled him last year, and has never taken off since his return. Until Beltran is fully healthy, and he’s not, he’s not the same player and will continue to decline. If the Mets’ could unload his $18.5 million contract they would, but since he’s not tradeable his value is in the hope of a comeback.

Beltran is also hitting out of place in the order. As he was rushed back he was force fed the clean-up slot. Truth is, the Mets were at their best in June when Ike Davis was hitting clean-up.

NEXT YEAR: He’s coming back, presumably healthy. It will be interesting to see if they move him to right field which should take a toll from his legs and consequently help him at the plate. Once a dangerous base stealer, I don’t see that anymore.

BAY: Way too little celebrating.

4) Jason Bay: It was a lost season for Bay, who’s likely won’t be back for this season. Year one, clearly was a bust, but he has produced before and I am willing to give him the benefit of doubt. The over/under for his homer total was 30, but he won’t hit 10. Bay hustled, but it still amounts to being thrown out by a step. Like Wright, he was a strikeout machine.

The decision to move Reyes was in large part to get Bay going. But, it amounted to screwing up two spots in the batting order. Initially, to jump start him he should have hit either second, fifth or sixth. There was just too much pressure for him in the clean-up slot.

NEXT YEAR: Assuming a healthy Beltran, Bay should hit fifth. I thought there were other priorities other than Bay last season and I haven’t changed from that spot. He has a track record of being productive, but he’s not a big bopper and won’t ever be at Citi Field. With a clear head, the numbers should get better. That he’s not an excuse-maker and hustles works in his favor.

5) Jeff Francoeur: Francoeur got off to a hot start because he opened the season with patience and selectivity. He ever walked a few times. However, as the season progressed he continued to fall into bad habits and gave away a lot of at-bats.

Francoeur strikes out roughly 20 percent of the time. And he’s an oddity in that he hits over .300 when swinging at the first pitch and less than .220 when the count reaches 3-0. At 3-1 and 3-2 he’s almost a sure out.

When the Mets traded for Francoeur, he immediately produced, but this year demonstrated why Atlanta thought he was expendable and why the Mets are sure to not bring him back.

NEXT YEAR: The assumption is Francoeur won’t be back unless there’s a re-injury to Beltran that changes everybody’s thinking. The Mets will need a fourth outfielder, but I don’t believe Francoeur wants that role. Hell, he could be gone on waivers by the end of the month.

6): An unsettled order: I’ve touched on it a few times, but the Mets were their best when there was some consistency in the batting order. Players hit out of position, and other players were buried. There’s a delicate balance to the perfect batting order and there was too much inconsistency. A early flaw was not taking advantage of Rod Barajas’ power in the early months by not batting him higher. Another was sticking with Bay at clean-up way too long when it was obvious he wasn’t going to produce. Yet another was not moving Angel Pagan to second earlier. He was obviously not a lead-off hitter.

NEXT YEAR: Things change, they always seem to for the Mets, but if everybody comes back healthy there should be more consistency in the line-up. Unless the impossible happens and they are able to unload Luis Castillo, the second baseman, Ruben Tejada, should hit eighth. We’ll also see more of Josh Thole next year, presumably seventh.

May 21

OFF DAY: Licking their wounds edition.

It’s almost noon on the East Coast. Most of the Mets are probably snoozing right about now after their red eye flight from LA. I know most of you are thinking they’ve been snoozing the last three days against the Dodgers.

I take four positive things from the last three days, but two of them are tempered:

1) Daniel Murphy seems comfortable at first base after the horror show that was left field. His bat, however, needs to come around again. I believe Murphy will get through this, so right now he’s gone down on my worry meter.

2) Tim Redding came back with a strong effort Monday night. It’s a good sign. Better, of course, than if he were bombed. But, he has to keep doing it.

3) I was encouraged by Livan Hernandez’s strong outing last night in the terms of innings. Still, he’s a question because you can’t rely on him every fifth day to give you what he gave them last night.

4) David Wright continues to hit as is Carlos Beltran. They are the only players performing to their capabilities offensively.

All that being said, there are more than enough areas of concern for the Mets, beginning with the leg injury to Jose Reyes. He reinjured his calf last night after missing five games and his availability for the Boston series is questionable. Ramon Martinez and Fernando Tatis aren’t the answers, which gives you an indication of how much they miss Alex Cora. The injuries to Reyes and Carlos Delgado are emblematic of the franchise’s lack of depth in the minor league system.

What else is going wrong?

* I have no idea what to get from start to start from John Maine and Mike Pelfrey is becoming a source of concern also. These are your Nos. 2 and 3 starters and they take the ball every fifth day more as question marks than exclamation points.

* Luis Castillo has returned to earth following a fast start. His range is limited and he’s in an offensive funk. Also struggling offensively is Tatis, especially with runners in scoring position.

* JJ Putz has not been as good as advertised.

* Ryan Church used to be a doubles machine but he’s not driving the ball anymore. He’s of little value as a singles hitter.

* Collectively, the offense has packed it in the last four games and they face three good arms in Fenway. This is not the weekend that screams breakout.

* The defense has been spotty, something you can’t afford with spotty starting pitching and a comatose offense.

Oct 02

Mets after Midnight ….

Moon over the Mets.

Moon over the Mets.

The Internet has made it easy to follow the Mets from any where at anytime. If you’re on the West Coast, like poster Patrick, you’re probably ready to talk Mets while most of us in the East Coast are calling it a night.

Not anymore. I will run this post for awhile, hopefully to find out how many friends I have from the West Coast. Ask questions and make your comments, and I’ll answer them in the morning. If it turns out there’s a lot of you out there, I’ll do a midnight Mets Chat Room.

Of course, if you’re on the East Coast and can’t sleep, which happens to almost nightly, I hope you jump in also.