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Turning the Page in Mid-America

Mike SteffanosThursday, April 5, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Mets 10 - Cardinals 0

I liked Willie Randolph's comments after last night's game, as quoted by Mike Vaccaro in the NY Post:

"We know we're good," Randolph said last night, refusing to betray whatever contentment may have been bubbling inside him. "We came to play knowing we can't change history."

And that's the point, really. Nothing changes the fact that the Cardinals won last October. I don't see the Mets sweeping the opening 3-game series versus the reeling Redbirds as some sort of vindication or revenge, but rather the opening salvo in a brand new war. Last October is now history, and the club is back to taking care of business in their effort to write a happier ending this October.

The Mets pitching got off to a good start, and that's important as the staff creates their identity for 2007. John Maine is still not a finished polished major league starter, but he is obviously making strides. That's all you can ask from young pitchers. Last night Maine built off what he and Rick Peterson worked on all spring, keeping the ball down and using his off-speed pitchers to get the hitters off balance. We can only hope to see Oliver Perez continue that. It won't always look as easy and as good as it did last night for the Mets young pitchers, but it was a huge step in the right direction.

I know I'm quite late to the party with this recap, but here are a few thoughts on the game and the series.

You're never as bad as you look when you're slumping, but the Cardinals don't have the look of a legitimate contender this year. Frankly, if Carpenter has injury issues that persist, I don't see this club being competitive at all. They'll be better when Juan Encarnacion returns, but Jim Edmonds looks like he could be close to done. The lineup isn't all that strong around Pujols and Rolen, and Preston Wilson looks like he needs a walker in the outfield. They may turn it around and be viable contenders in an uncertain NL central, but I wouldn't be shocked if they lost 90 games this season, either.

What impressed me about Maine last night was more than just his location and the effective off-speed pitching. I liked that after running into his first trouble in the fifth -- walking Edmonds after Rolen singled leading off the inning -- Maine sought out Tom Glavine in the dugout and was talking to him after escaping the inning. Also, when Maine ran into some difficulty, rather than seeing last year's deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes you saw determination. You have come far, Grasshopper.

After Willie Randolph was hired as manager in 2005, an emphasis was placed on defense for a club that had traditionally been guilty of sloppy play in the preceding years. Up to then, Cliff Floyd had been seen as a defensive liability in left field. In 2005, the overall emphasis on defense made him work hard to pick up his game. Earlier in the spring, Moises Alou commented on the team's defense and how hard they work at it. Moises made a really nice play on a ball last night, and had that diving catch in the opener. While there will be no gold glove for Alou in 2007, don't be shocked if he gives the club the same surprisingly decent leather that Floyd provided. Alou is no burner at 41, but he's an athlete and he knows how to play. A team concept that stresses defense has a way of pushing everyone to pick up their game.

Speaking of old OFs, Shawn Green has looked okay so far. I think he actually has a chance of contributing in 2007. He needs to forget about HRs and continue to hit the ball hard the other way. If he does that, enough HRs will come. I think both he and Alou will require days off to stay fresh, and Milledge is there in the background should either falter or get hurt. I like the way Green's left-handed bat balances the lineup, and if he could recover enough of his old stroke to hit around 20 homers, he could really help this team.

Finally, Ambiorix Burgos showed what he could do when he keeps the ball done. When he is overthrowing his ball flattens out and he tends to leave it up in the hitting zone. Straight, belt high fastballs over the heart of the plate tend to become souvenirs for fans in the outfield bleachers. When Burgos keeps that ball down in the zone it has a ton of movement and is extremely difficult for even good hitters to drive. Also, when Burgos gets ahead in the count he can use that great slider as a strikeout pitch. While this kid is a project that may or may not pay off, what I don't see from him is that tendency to hang his head and sulk when things don't go his way, and that's a positive sign. He could be a really important piece of the bullpen puzzle if he drinks the Rick Peterson Kool-Aid. Conversely, he could be spending his free time on Bourbon Street if he stubbornly strives to be a thrower.

P.S. - Congrats to all of you out-of-state Mets fans with cable tv.

Box Score

Comments (10)

People are surprised these days by sound fundamental defense. Why is that? It's a whole third of the game! Throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. That's the game.

Hi Mike- We are on a roll here so far huh? Exacting revenge against the Cards-mid 80s style! I have SO enjoyed this series! I got worried when Looper looked good through 6-I thout come on-this is Braden Loop-Hole we are talking about here? He couldn't pitch one effective inning as a closer no less start a game-granted he was supposedly hurt when he was a Met, but I don't totally buy that as en excuse either-if you see you are playing injured and you are a disaster waiting to happen then tell them you can't pitch.

Anyway-Green does look good so far, Alou does too. Lets hope for thebest out of those two.

Pitching, hitting and defense: what's not to like?

I'm sure somebody out there will eventually write a nice story of what it was like for our guys (beat by THEIR guys a scant few months ago) to walk into THEIR house and open the season. THEIR guys get rode around the field in convertibles, blah-blah-blah, and our guys proceed to pound the crap outta them and sweep them in three games. How much guts does something like this require? Forget skill; every major leaguer is presumed to possess the talent be in the show. Who amongst us who's ever been through a divorce would readily attend the ex's next wedding, then wind up bedding and marrying her maid-of-honor?

As in '86, the Cards have given us exactly what we need.

On to Atlanta.

Great points Mike. John Maine's 5th inning performance was just the most impressive part of his outstanding start. He confidently went to his breaking pitches and kept the ball down with 2 on and none out. A year ago he would have tried to blast his way out of such innings with his fastball. He has evolved into a real pitcher.

The Reyes-Valentin double play tandem is quickly becoming one of the best in the game. And with Beltran covering about 2/3 of the outfield with grace and ease, the up the middle defense will continue to save us run after run.

And how about the Ambiorix Project? It was reported in ST that following word of Sanchez's fracture, Omar tapped someone in the pen to step up and take the bull by its horns for the sake of the team. My guess is that guy was Burgos. Just look at his outings since the Sanchez loss. The kid is pitching with poise and focus. I have a very good feeling about him.

Here's to Ollie keeping this train on track.

Happy Passover and Happy Easter to all. Well its on to Atlanta and I think they will be our thorn in our side, but we will overcome. Its April 5th and snowing outside, lets play two.

Its later than I think? April 6th correction.

Well, I did notice Maine utilize the riding fastball against Pujols and a few others. Of course it's a far more effective pitch in combination with the other offerings. I am planning on a long acquaintence with Mr. Maine.

Good point about team defense, and players who rise to the expectations of a good defensive outfit. One would sometimes see a similar thing with the old Orioles teams. Chico Salmon was a scatterarmed infielder before he came under Earl Weaver's tutelage. Eddie Murray, Davey, Singleton; I can imagine all of those guys becoming lesser fielders in another, less demanding organization. Not so much the case of Floyd Rayford I guess.

You know that Green has to feel pushed, with all the fasties in the Mets organization. Did anyone besides me catch Carlos Gomez' act on the telly last night? We've got another burner on the way.

And Moises is a solid outfielder of limited range; for all I know he's been working this hard all along. It's really pretty remarkable, you know, that Alou can still play at all, with all the ailiments he has suffered over the years; or that he's not someone's DH, which amounts to the same thing as not playing. He got a late start with his career, he suffered injuries that might have finished him, and here he is at forty, starting for the best outfit in the National League. Character will out I reckon. But I wish he didn't look so dour most of the time, picky me.

Hey, last night was a travel date, so indulge me with two unrelated blurbs.

In discussing teams' nicknames in the previous post, Anonymous suggested that Fujiun, the Japanese God of the Winds, would make a good team mascot. Problem is that the Shinto faith is not exactly retired; some Japanese would take offense.

Anyway, yesterday I ran across a great name for someone's fantasy team: the Toucans of Whupass.

Second topic: Satchel Paige we all know. He was a legend in the Negro Leagues for years, made it to the majors at an advanced age, pitched effectively for five years in the majors, and slid into the Hall of Fame without a throw, you might say. No one I can name denies his rightful place among the greatest to play the game.

So, a question for seven years from now, give or take a year: El Duque, the Duke of Havana, for the Hall? There's a lot of parallels between the two players, folks. I'm thinking he might just belong.

dd - That's an excellent idea. But the only chance I see of O-Hern getting into the Hall is if Castro's Cuba crumbles in the next five or seven years, and is replaced by a semblance of a democracy with an MLB franchise in Havana.

El Duque would make a good first offering by the Lords of Baseball to the fanatical beisbol crowd in Cuba. No question, a LOT of good baseball has come out of that country, and El Duque would be an excellent ambassador for the major league game there.

bmc - I wish it was the rule rather than the exception, but defense has definitely taken a backseat to offense since the steroid era began.
Shari - For what it's worth, I think Looper is a better pitcher than he is given credit for being. The Mets were looking for a low-budget closer in 2004, and that's what they got. He wasn't a great closer, but he wasn't a head case like Benitez, either.
geezer - Do we get to see what the Maid of Honor looks like first?
Salman - I heard Omar's comments, and thought the same as you that it was Burgos. The fact that he made the team looks like a confirmation.
Al - Happy Easter to you, too. Try to put in a good word upstairs for us this weekend.
dd - I like Maine's fastball when it is down in the zone or way up near the letters. It's the stuff in between that he's been cutting down on.

If Alou hits, he can be a sourpuss if he wants. >:-|

Really interesting point about El Duque.

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