Apr 21

Mets On Slippery Slope Following Another Loss

The bloom is off the Mets’ early season rose. After a quick start that included winning the first two games in last weekend’s series in Philadelphia, the Mets have lost three straight and four of their last five.

They are still over .500, but the sense this could be a different year is fading. Thirteen games is two small a picture to frame it a season, but the crispness that opened the year is gone.

Frank Francisco, who opened with three straight saves, has given up four runs in his last three appearances. Last night he walked Melky Cabrera on four pitches to lead off the tenth. Cabrera stole on a pitchout, which is almost impossible to do, and scored on a two-out single.

That’s three red flags in one inning: the leadoff walk; stealing on a pitchout shows an inability to hold runners and a lack of concentration; and the two-out hit is indicative of not putting away an inning. A successful closer doesn’t do any of those things on a consistent basis.

Francisco has good stuff, but has always been erratic in the little things, such as those mentioned above. Explains in large part why he was was available.

There’s more to be concerned with:

By definition, Jon Niese had a quality start giving up three runs in six innings, but needed 109 pitches to do so. That’s clearly working too hard. That many pitches should take him through the eighth, at least. Maybe complete-game worthy.

However, it was an upgrade from what the Mets received their two previous games from R. A. Dickey and Johan Santana. This afternoon it is Mike Pelfrey, who has been anything but calming and comforting.

The starting pitching is key to whatever success the Mets have this year and it must improve.

Offensively, Jason Bay homered and got another hit, but neither he nor Lucas Duda are hitting in the clutch. Bay struck out with runners on second and third and one out in the tenth. Both hitters are 1-for-13 with RSIP. That’s 2-for-26, which translates into a lot of runners left on base and empty innings. A lot of losses, too.

Also offensively are the continuing struggles of Ike Davis who struck out twice while going hitless five times last night. His swing gets longer and loopier by the game.

All teams are going to have night like that occasionally, but the Mets’ last four losses have exposed their flaws greatly.

I wrote several times this week how the Mets had to snap out of it to avoid a downhill slide. They are in one now.

ON DECK: Starting lineup.

Apr 19

Looking At The Numbers For The Mets, Wright And Others

We’re two weeks into the young season and I’d like to share some of my first impressions and hear yours. The Mets, despite losing three of their last four games, are among the early surprises, as are several of their players.

WRIGHT: Has reason to smile.

They are playing better than anticipated and on pace to win 93 games. I don’t believe they will sustain that, but who wouldn’t take .500 if it were guaranteed? I would because it is the next step in the franchise’s development.

Ever since I was a kid I loved the early season numbers and projections. It was fun to think of all those players breaking Roger Maris’ 61 homers, but knew nobody would come close. When it finally happened and I learned why, it wasn’t fun anymore.

For example, David Wright’s .500 average leads the majors and is one of six players hitting over .400 and 28 over .340. There won’t be a .400 hitter – and maybe never will again – and I’d be willing to bet there won’t be anybody over .340.

Both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda are on track to hit 41 homers and drive in 81 and 68 runs, respectively. They have the strength to hit that many homers, but I don’t think either has the plate presence or pitcher knowledge to do so. At least not this year. Their RBI totals are reasonable.

Wright won’t hit .500 or get the 230 hits projected of him, but I’d take the 28 homers and 108 RBI. The latter two should be worthy of a contract extension.

The Mets would gladly take those numbers from Wright, as they would Frank Francisco’s projected 41 saves.

Pitching wise, the Mets’ 3.69 ERA is sixth in the National League, which is a substantial improvement from last year. Also, their 43 walks allowed are 11th in the league, but ten of those came in one game. That needs to get better. They are second in the league with 101 strikeouts, an average of over eight a game that translates into working out of a lot of trouble.

In addition to the Mets, the surprise teams on the positive are Washington, the Dodgers, St. Louis and Baltimore. The Cardinals, minus Albert Pujols, Tony La Russa and Chris Carpenter, just keep rolling.

I thought the Nationals would be better, but not this good. They won’t keep playing at this rate, but their pitching is good enough to keep them contending. Their ERA of 1.92 is first; they are tied for seventh in fewest walks and first in strikeouts.

On the negative, the Phillies will climb in the standings, as will the Angels, Boston and the Yankees.

Individually, four players are on pace to hit over 60 homers, which isn’t supposed to happen in the new steroid-free era. One of those players is Carlos Beltran, who hasn’t made the Cardinals forget Pujols, but has softened the blow.

Speaking of Pujols, he hasn’t homered and is on pace for 54 RBI. He’s also on track for 81 strikeouts, which would be the second highest of his career. His 41 walks would be the lowest of his career.

I don’t believe the Cardinals will regret losing Pujols in the long term. Pujols is a future Hall of Famer and will eventually adjust to the American League and before it is over post impressive numbers. The Cardinals can live with that because even if Pujols plays another ten years, they would have gotten the best years of his career.

The most fun stats to project are the individual player numbers. The Dodgers’ Matt Kemp is on pace to hit .460 with a .500 on-base percentage, 287 hits, 87 homers and 224 RBI.

Incidentally, on the flip side, Jose Reyes is on track to play in 162 games (yeah, as if that will happen), hit .226 with a .276 on-base percentage, with 37 steals, 50 walks and 100 strikeouts.

Neither Kemp’s nor Reyes’ numbers will reach fruition, but on an off day it is fun to tinker with the numbers.

Apr 09

Evaluating Mets’ Sweep Of Braves; Niese Puts Cap On Weekend

NIESE: Flirts with no-hitter.

The Mets and Yankees were at opposite ends of the broom over the weekend, but it didn’t take much to guess where most of the newspaper attention went. Right – in Florida where the Rays were disposing of the Yankees.

Being a Mets fan, you’re used to that, but today you want it this way. Let the Mets fly in under the radar; let the Yankees deal with the pressure and panic.

The weekend was all about pitching, with Jon Niese flirting with the franchise’s first no-hitter. The string remains intact for 7,971 games. Who cares how long the streak goes as long as they keep playing well.

Continue reading

Apr 08

Mets Lineup Today Against Braves

No, I never would have thought I’d write this sentence: The Mets will go for the sweep today against Atlanta. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Two games in is too early to draw any conclusions, but the first impression is good. The Mets’ pitching has been superb, both from the rotation and the bullpen, and today they’ll throw out Jon Niese against the Braves.

The Mets haven’t unleashed the bats, yet, but hit three solo homers yesterday. Lucas Duda went deep twice and David Wright hit a bomb to right-center. The new dimensions might have helped Duda, but they were ripped nonetheless.

Frank Francisco has two saves in two tries, and Terry Collins has gone to the bench twice already in the late innings for Daniel Murphy. I don’t mind that as long as he’s not giving away any at-bats by Murphy. But, using the bench keeps everybody involved and improves the defense.

It’s hard not to like what you’ve seen so far, but it is early. Most importantly, the Mets are taking advantage of an undermanned and underperforming Braves’ team. Atlanta won’t be like this all year, so you hit when you can. It’s a good start, so ride it as long as you can.

Here’s today’s lineup:

Ruben Tejada, ss
Daniel Murphy, 2b
David Wright, 3b
Ike Davis, 1b
Jason Bay, lf
Lucas Duda, rf
Scott Hairston, cf
Mike Nickeas, c
Jonathon Niese, lp

Apr 05

Wrapping up Mets Opening Day

Game #1: Mets 1, Braves 0, at Citi Field (1-0)

BY THE NUMBERS: The Mets are 33-18 in season openers, the best record in the major leagues.

SANTANA: Goes five strong. (Getty)

QUOTE BOOK: “If we pitch we can play with anybody. Our guy pitched today.’’ – manager Terry Collins on Johan Santana’s strong effort.

SANTANA IS BACK: Hopefully, that is the case. If nothing else, it was a good sign and a positive step after five scoreless innings against the Braves in his first start since Sept. 2010.

Santana gave up two hits, and another good sign was pitching out of trouble in the fifth.

Santana threw in the high 80s and he’ll be the first to admit he’s still a work in progress.

Psychologically, this was a huge game for the Santana and the Mets. Had Santana imploded it could have left a strong negative impression. There was nothing but positives today for Santana.

BULLPEN STELLAR: With no outs and a runner on third in the seventh, Tim Byrdak – who underwent knee surgery three weeks ago – entered and got out of the inning.

The Mets’ new-look bullpen threw four scoreless innings. One game, of course, but a good sign. And, who didn’t think the worse when Byrdak entered.

Frank Francisco pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.

OFFENSE STAGNANT: David Wright, Josh Thole and Daniel Murphy had two hits apiece and Wright drove in the game winner. Jason Bay was hitless in three at-bats and was booed during introductions.

THE DOWNSIDE: Center fielder Andres Torres re-strained his left calf muscle and will go on the disabled list. The Mets haven’t announced who’ll they’ll bring up, but it could be Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Collins said Collins said Ruben Tejada will be the leadoff hitter.

UP NEXT: The Mets are off Friday. R.A. Dickey will start Saturday and Jon Niese will work Sunday.