By Mike Steffanos
A reader named Matt took exception to my characterization of last night as the Mets winning a game that they didn't really deserve -- pointing out that the Nationals certainly didn't do anything to deserve winning the game more, while the Mets certainly got great pitching all night, especially from the bullpen. While Matt makes a good point, I wasn't speaking to the relative merits of either team's play. I was simply noting that the Mets seemed a little tired and flat coming off their road trip, and played an awful game from an offensive standpoint. Their approach all night at the plate against a bad pitcher was pretty bad, and their at-bats with runners in scoring position were horrible. It was frustrating to watch one batter after another lift a fly ball into the teeth of that jet stream blowing in.
Matt was correct in that the Mets actually out-hit, out-fielded and out-pitched the Nats all night. The hitting stunk, but the defense and the pitching were of high-quality. And maybe that makes an important point about the 2006 New York Mets. When you are solid in all 3 facets of the game, you can afford to be sub-par in one aspect and have the others pick you up. That explains why the Mets are sitting at 9 games over .500 on May 2 -- a mark they were unable to reach all of last year.
Make no mistake, luck is a part of this game for any team. You can be good and not lucky, and be like many of those Mets teams in the 80s that came up short. Funny though, how luck seems to favor the team that plays solid fundamental baseball and has a solid bullpen. Perhaps it's because solid play on less-than-perfect nights puts you in the spot more often where you have an opportunity to catch a break, and a tough bullpen can keep you in a game until your bats wake up. The breaks won't go the Mets way every night, but they will more often than not if the team continues to play the game right.
Bergen Record: Score one for Victor
Aditi Kinkhabwala reports on Victor Zambrano's successful outing last night, quoting Cliff Floyd on the pressure that was on Zambrano to perform:
Of course he felt it -- anybody does. This was huge, only it's bigger for him than us. If you ask me, he has some of the nastiest stuff on the team. He just needed to remember that.
I mentioned Victor's velocity in my post last night. A couple of times he got his fastball into the low 90s, but mostly was around 88. The problem is that Victor will never have great control -- which we all know involves more than just throwing a strike. When Victor throws his fastball around 92 with movement he has a little more margin for error and can get away with some badly spotted pitches. When he makes a mistake with his fastball dialed down a few miles an hour, he's more vulnerable. If the wind wasn't blowing in last night, Vidro's fly ball to centerfield would have gone out, and the game might have had an unhappy result for Mets fans.
In my opinion, what Peterson needs to accomplish with Zambrano is to either get him much more consistent with his location or harder to hit when he misses. Since I doubt he'll improve enough control-wise, I think he's best with more velocity. I don't envy Peterson, because Zambrano may be the biggest challenge of his whole career, much tougher than Jorge Julio. I'm not looking forward to the Braves game this weekend where Zambrano matches up against the red-hot Tim Hudson.
New York Post: It's Maine Time!
Brian Lewis and Mark Hale report on rookie John Maine, just called up from Norfolk to take Brian Bannister's spot in the rotation. Maine struggled badly with the Orioles late last year, and also this spring, but has been pitching well in Norfolk. Lewis and Hale quote manager Willie Randolph on what he expects from Maine:
Maine is going to pitch, taking over for Bannister until he's right. He didn't do too well [this spring], but spring training doesn't mean a whole lot to me. He's having a nice spring down in Triple-A. Right now we feel like he's the best option for us.
I don't know what to expect. He's throwing the ball well, and he's got some experience. He's only , he's still learning how to pitch. Omar [Minaya, GM] likes him. We like him as far as his talent.
Randolph wouldn't go so far as to guarantee Maine another start if he pitched poorly, and neither would GM Omar Minaya. At least winning Zambrano's game last night takes a little pressure off.
Mets.com: More Maine
Bryan Hoch offers some information on tonight's starter, including this heads-up from GM Omar Minaya:
He's a young guy. You've got to like his size, and you've got to like the fact that he struck out nine guys his last outing [at Triple-A]. We feel like he's still developing and has a chance to be a decent pitcher.
Newsday: Cliff Floyd
Mark Herrmann chronicles Cliff Floyd's efforts to bust out of his month-long slump.
Mets Inside Pitch: Soler Looks Good
The ubiquitous Bryan Hoch reports on Cuban defector Alay Soler's successful outing for Class-A St. Lucie yesterday. This spring Soler was expected to begin in Triple-A Norfolk, or possibly even make the major league squad. A really bad spring changed their thinking. Soler has been dominating this level, though, and you would think they would look to move him up and challenge him fairly soon.