Apr 30

April 30/May 1.10: Chat Room, Games #23-24 at Phillies: Niese and Pelfrey carry the load.

The last time the Mets played the Phillies they lost to be officially eliminated from playoff contention. That was last September, but the truth is the Mets were cooked long before that game. It was one of 12 games the Mets lost to their rivals at the other end of the Jersey Turnpike last season, one that went horribly wrong for them.

In the previous two seasons, the Phillies overtook the Mets on the final weekend and went on to the World Series.

The first-place Mets are back in Philly tonight for the start of a three-game series against the Phillies.
The Mets, winners of seven straight, are the majors’ hottest team, and enter the series with their three most consistent pitchers, Jon Niese tonight followed by Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana.

“If we go out there and we do what we’re capable of, I think we’re going to be fine,’’ said Pelfrey, Saturday’s starter against Roy Halladay. “I don’t think it matters who we’re playing. It’s just a matter of going out there and executing. If we do that, we can play with anybody.’’

In breaking down the series, Santana figures to have the edge Sunday and Halladay should be favored over Pelfrey, which leaves the toss-up game tonight that boils down to how well Niese does against Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

The Mets’ offense is starting to heat up, and it couldn’t come at a better time for Niese, who has gotten no more than one run in any of his last four starts.

The power keys are Jason Bay and David Wright, who shook slumps in the Los Angeles series.

Still, these are the Phillies and strange things often happen in that bandbox of a park. The Mets are streaking, but an argument can be made they won nine of ten games against the Cubs, Braves and Dodgers, all teams struggling lately. The Phillies have stumbled a bit – enough to where the Mets passed them – but manager Manuel is right in that they are the class of the league.

“It will be a good barometer as far as where you stand,’’ said Bay. “They’re obviously one of the top teams in the National League for what they’ve done the last few years. You can’t deny that. And we’re playing pretty good baseball.’’

NOTE: Folks, I have to attend to a family commitment tonight and tomorrow and won’t be on the blog. I will leave the Chat Room open and hope you continue to watch the games and post. I will be back online Sunday.
Sorry I can’t be with you, but I need to take care of this responsibility.

Apr 30

April 30.10: On to Philly.

The Mets didn’t win anything on their recent homestand and they won’t win anything this weekend in Philadelphia.

Neither will the Phillies.

The most important thing coming out of the homestand, and this weekend’s series, is it has made the Mets’ season relevant again. It might have started with the promotion of Ike Davis and ended with perhaps the best 10-game regular season stretch in franchise history, but in between we saw the Mets play alert, aggressive baseball.

We saw the Mets play as they promised us they would. We saw them play as if they wanted our attention.

And, they deserved it.

What I am looking forward to in this series are three games of intense baseball, of a rivalry where the competitive juices are flowing.

After all the promoting it as such, it finally is a rivalry worth paying attention to again. Each one of the games has a special nugget of intrigue.

Tonight is about Jon Niese and how the young pitcher will respond to the pressure of a high profile game. Niese giving the Mets six strong tonight will go a long way toward answering some of their pitching questions. It would also prevent an emotional let down.

After a week-and-a-half of being on an emotional high, tonight is about sustaining. The last thing we want to see is for Niese to get hammered and to lose that good feeling.

Tomorrow, and this is the game I really want to see, is Mike Pelfrey against Roy Halladay. In a season full of tests for Pelfrey, this is another one. Aren’t you curious about seeing him go against an ace?

Sunday it is the stopper, Johan Santana, who would be pitching to either stave off a disappointment or continue the ride. It will be as important a game as you can have in May, and you want your best.

The Mets went 9-1 because they played to their capabilities, but also because they did not try to exceed them. They played within themselves and didn’t try to do something they weren’t capable of doing.

They need that same, level approach this weekend, and if they get it, then it could be the start of a wonderful summer.

Apr 29

April 29.10: Hope they don’t leave home without them.

The Mets wish they were playing the Phillies today. When you’re hot you don’t want to stop. Instead, they are off basking in the excitement of a 9-1 homestand.

When it began they were 4-8 and staring into irrelevancy in the National League. Today they are in first place and will take a half-game lead into Philadelphia Friday evening.

A lot of good things happened over the past week-and-a-half. Here are the nine most important trends and player developments, one for each victory:

Taking advantage: The Mets ran into three opponents who weren’t at the top of their games, but it would be unfair to say they beat up on bad teams. The Mets did what good teams are supposed to do, which is to pounce on the opposition when it is down. It’s not the Mets’ fault the Braves don’t know the infield fly rule. Too often last year the Mets didn’t take advantage of opportunities presented of them, but this time they went for the throat, which is the right mentality heading into Philadelphia.

The pitching: The starters have been particularly stingy, even Oliver Perez in terms of giving up runs. Still, Perez, John Maine and Jon Niese haven’t been able to go deep into games, but have been picked up by the bullpen. It can’t continue this way for the starters, but for now the bullpen is holding up to the strain.

John Maine: Wherever the Mets go this season, their GPS will be their rotation. Maine had been struggling, running his pitch count into the 100s while barely lasting five innings. Removed from his last start with spasms in his left arm, Maine recovered yesterday on a chilly afternoon to pitch into the seventh and earn his first victory of the season. He was on the verge of losing his spot in the rotation, but there’s now reason for optimism.

Mike Pelfrey: Pelfrey has been stellar all season, but had a rocky go of it in his last start with ten base runners through five innings. Yes, there was mumbling of this being “the same old Pelfrey,’’ but instead he pitched out of trouble with no runs scored. Not pitching well but finding a way to win is taking it to the next level.

Pedro Feliciano: The season began with a myriad of questions, not the least of which was the eighth-inning set-up role. Feliciano has been nearly untouchable giving up one run all season. During the homestand he appeared in five games and gave up one hit in 4 1/3 innings.

Fernando Nieve: The man with the rubber arm, Nieve appeared in six games during the homestand and worked 5 1/3 scoreless innings. He’s given up only five runs all season in 14 appearances, with three of them coming in one game at Colorado. He might get burned out, but for now he has proven to be reliable and durable.

Hisanori Takahashi: As Perez continues to frustrate, the Mets might have found a possible fill-in should they need to bump him a turn. Takahashi worked 3 1/3 innings in relief of Perez on Tuesday. He has 21 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings on the season.

David Wright: You knew he was going to hit eventually, and he snapped out of a funk against the Dodgers getting hot just in time for the Phillies. In the second game of the doubleheader Wright snapped a string of strikeouts in 13 consecutive games with three hits and four RBI. While it is premature to say he’s on a roll, he’s showing the signs of mechanically getting straight.

Jason Bay: Bay finally homered after 69 at-bats and is hitting the ball hard a couple of times in most games. Like Wright, it was only a matter of time. The professional that he is, Bay didn’t take his offense to the field.

Ike Davis: Davis’ major league career consists of this homestand, and in it he hit .355 with a homer and six RBI. Four of his nine hits have been for extra-bases as he’s given the Mets an offensive presence in what had been a black hole of a position.

Jose Reyes: Reyes hit safely in all but two of the ten games. He’s still not running with the authority he has in the past, but he’s getting sharper at the plate, with 12 hits in the 10 games. It is hard to say Reyes in the reason for Bay’s resurgence because the latter was starting to come around, but it is fair to say most of the questions surrounding the shortstop are being answered in the positive. Only three strikeouts during the homestand.

Apr 07

April 7.10: Phillies pick up Figueroa.

The Phillies claimed Nelson Figueroa on waivers this afternoon thereby mercifully ending the pitcher’s shuttle to Buffalo. Before we torch the Mets before this, remember his career record and he did get a chance with the team.

I will say, however, that I thought he’d stick as the long man this year.

Jan 31

Jan. 31.10: Loose Threads.

LOOSE THREADS

LOOSE THREADS

I hope this finds everybody doing well today. Quiet on the baseball front, so let’s open it up to what’s on your mind.

I’m still waiting for the Mets to add a pitcher. I hate to say this, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Pedro Martinez is brought back. To think the Mets will look at what Martinez did with the Phillies and to think he might duplicate it this summer might be a reach. Afterall, part of his success has to be attributed to playing half a season and being strong down the stretch. More indicative would be his second World Series start.

I saw where the Royals are willing to trade Gil Meche and Brian Bannister. Meche is a lot of money for somebody who is now merely average.

I’ll have something on the remaining FA pitchers on the market this week as well as something on David Wright.

Today, for me, I’ll watch the Celtics and Lakers this afternoon. One of the great sports rivalries. Rooting interest? Celtics.

Enjoy the day.