Friday, July 31, 2020

Not the Start I Was Hoping For

Yesterday I wrote that the Mets are starting to show the characteristics of a mediocre team. They continued that trend last night by allowing themselves to be pretty much shut down by a very unexceptional pitching staff. They also continued the first week trend of not getting big hits. They had a little momentum after taking a pair of games in Boston, and they gave it all back with two lackluster losses at home. And so it goes.

I was watching some of last night's effort and thinking about how much I wanted baseball to come back. I have to keep reminding myself of that, otherwise I might start asking myself if it was worth it. I can't pretend to be surprised by any of this, really. When I first heard the news that Syndergaard was getting Tommy John my first thought was that they had lost their one real chance to be really good. And that was before Marcus Stroman tore his calf muscle.

The Epitome of Meh

Even in a 60-game sprint it's too early to make summary judgements about the Mets, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm watching a very mediocre team right now. Almost everything about them screams yawns "middling" right now. Their 3-3 record, their fielding foibles, and the ongoing failures to capitalize on offensive opportunities all remind me of many previous Mets teams I've witnessed over the years - the baseball equivalent of a weak, tepid cup of restaurant coffee that's been sitting on the warmer a little too long.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Behold, A Pale Horse!

Apparently another Marlins player has tested positive for coronavirus, bringing their total infections to 16 players and two coaches. A friend of mine is convinced these are the end times, and the coronavirus is one of the signs. I'm not so sure that I agree with him but, if these are truly the end times, I expect when the four horsemen of the apocalypse ride in, the one representing pestilence will be wearing a Marlins cap.

The Marlins have been stuck in Philadelphia since the beginning of this story. That just seems like adding insult to injury to me, having so many players infected and being trapped in Philly. I've had nightmares that were less frightening than that scenario.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Those Marlins Are Dropping Like Flies

With the latest news about the Marlins coming out that their season has been shut down until at least next Monday, I'm tempted to write something snarky. I've loathed that team since they joined the league as the Florida Marlins almost 30 years ago. In grudging fairness to them, however, I'm going to avoid taking the easy cheap shot. This could happen to almost any team, given MLB's decision against playing this season in a "bubble."

As collateral damage from the pestilence sweeping through the Marlins, apparently the Phillies season has also been shut down until at least Friday. MLB is working to revise the schedule to avoid having too many missed games, but I honestly question how much longer this season can survive if another incident like this one happens to a different team.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Risky Business

Well, this was a great start to something we waited so long for. The Mets gave their offense the whole weekend off. They blew a game they should have won, and then barely showed up for the rubber game of the series. If that wasn't enough, now the season itself is in jeopardy thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak that hit the Marlins. Suddenly the Mets performing so poorly was only the second-biggest bummer of the weekend for me.

Where things stand right now, 11 Marlins players and two coaches have tested positive for coronavirus. The tests were given while the team was in Philadelphia, but they were playing exhibition games in Atlanta before that. I'm not sure if it's possible to trace where the infections started, but MLB would do well to try and find out. Were some players on the Marlins just being careless? I think that must be what MLB and club owners probably are hoping for right now, because the alternative would be that the current guidelines they're operating under aren't strict enough.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Pandemic Ball Update

Maybe it's fitting considering the compressed baseball season this year (we're already 3.33 percent of the way through the regular season), but the Mets treated their fans to quite an emotional roller coaster over the first couple of days playing ball. Opening Day offered up all of the joy and promise of a new baseball season, then yesterday reminded us how baseball can string you along until you're almost at the finish line, then just yank it away from you in an instant. The bottom line: one strike away from a series victory and a 2-0 start, then crashing back down to .500 in an instant.

What bothers me is that yesterday's game felt like a giveaway - not so much from Edwin Diaz's one mistake, although that was heartbreaking enough - but the way the Mets failed to capitalize on opportunities to extend their lead, win the game outright in the bottom of the ninth, then fizzle out on a bases loaded, no outs last chance in the tenth. Offensively these last 2 days, they've been as flat as a pancake.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

It Was Good Until It Wasn't

This was one of those games that made me wonder why I missed baseball so much while it was gone. The offense was still out of sync, but the pitching was really great for 8-2/3 innings. Unfortunately, everything went to hell for that last inning and a third, and the winning streak ended at one.

Steven Matz pitched a really solid game. His curveball was a bit inconsistent but generally effective. He kept the Mets in the game until their offense put together their one effective inning to plate a pair of runs in the fifth. If Matz can continue to pitch close to this level for the rest of the season he might finally live up to the potential he showed when he first came up.

The Mets offense was non-existent for the first four innings, but finally broke through in the fifth. Michael Conforto hit a one-out opposite field double to get things going, then Amed Rosario tripled to right-center on the next pitch. After Nimmo was hit by a pitch, Jeff McNeill did a nice job lifting a sacrifice fly to bring home Rosario with the go ahead run. I remember thinking after that inning that the Mets offense might build some momentum after that solid inning, but they were barely a factor again.

Friday, July 24, 2020

A Perfectly Scripted Win

As is often the case on Opening Day, today was a good day to be a Mets fan. Other than the fact that I'd like to see a little more offense, I doubt if I could have scripted this afternoon's game any better. deGrom was solid for five innings, the bullpen pitched well, and Yoenis Céspedes crushed a badly located fastball to provide the Mets all of the offense they would need.

My day started out well before the game got underway when I saw that Robinson Cano was batting sixth. I don't know if the decision was all Luis Rojas's or if there was input from upstairs, but it was absolutely the right move. That's where Cano should bat in the order unless he turns it around and earns a better spot in the order. It sets the right kind of tone for the team, and shows there's a sense of urgency for this season.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Cue the Laugh Track

I've been around for quite a while now, and have had my share of good years and bad years. I've had to adjust to my share of changes that life more or less thrust upon me without bothering to ask me for my approval. For all of that, 2020 stands out above all the other years for the sheer disruption that it has caused both myself and the world around me. A lot has been asked out of all of us that we never bargained for.

Do not fear, however, now that there's news that FOX will use "virtual fans" to sweeten its MLB broadcasts. Fox is planning to utilize augmented reality technology to create a virtual crowd in the stands, both visually and audibly. To quote Fox Sports executive vice president Brad Zager:
"We were dead set on trying to make the broadcast with no crowd feel as authentic and organic as possible. We want to give people an escape."

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Playing Doctor

With the Mets only a couple of days away from Opening Day 2020, the news about Marcus Stroman going on the injured list with a torn calf muscle is not good. The Mets need to keep their five starting pitchers healthy to have a chance to compete this season, as their depth in starting pitching basically consists of Corey Oswalt, who has a career major league ERA north of 6, and prospect David Peterson, who has yet to pitch in the major leagues. I don't know about you, but after watching Oswalt's previous starts, I'd be inclined to roll the dice with the new guy. Watching Oswalt pitch reminds me of witnessing Lima time back in 2006, only without the entertaining theatrical extras.

Anyway, there's no reason to worry about Stroman too much. I have it on good authority that Stroman has secured the doctor who is guiding Jed Lowrie through his rehabilitation. That's his picture on top of the page. Now that's a guy who inspires confidence. But all kidding aside, now Stroman has to have the calf heal and then get his arm ready again. In the best case scenario he's likely to miss a couple of starts. I can only hope this isn't one of those classic Mets injuries where the guy is expected to miss a few days and winds up being out of commission for 2 months. Bad enough in a normal season, that would be a catastrophe this year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Mets Sale and Other Tales from the Darkside

Sheldon Adelson preparing to dine
on the tortured souls of Mets fans
Even as the Major League Baseball season, such as it is, gets ready to launch this week, the ongoing saga of the Mets sale still dominates the local news. It makes sense, really. If you're covering baseball in this town it's a huge story - much bigger than the shocking revelations that Jed Lowrie will begin the season on the disabled list. I mean really, who saw that coming?

What's amusing to me, at least, is all of the contradictory stories that come up. Some pundit boldly asserts that Sheldon Adelson is part of a bid to buy the Mets. His wealth makes Steve Cohen's net worth look like some kid's allowance. Then we find out that he's not interested in the Mets at all, he just wants to see a casino raised up above all of the chop shops in Willet's Point. And we're considering this because, nowadays, building a casino somewhere seems to be a prescription to revitalize any downtrodden area.

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Cano Conundrum

Joel Sherman had a piece in the New York Post today about Robinson Cano, asking some of the same questions that I've been asking myself about the Mets second baseman. It's been bugging me that Luis Rojas has been batting Cano third in the lineup. The Mets are lucky enough to have some very good hitters on the club right now, and Cano shouldn't be batting third unless he's producing like an elite hitter. Sherman goes on to ask the fair question if Cano should be in the lineup at all.

Last year Cano put up an OPS+ of 96 for the season. He also played below average defense at second base. Historical comparisons aren't kind to 37 year old ballplayers coming off a bad season. Sherman does list a few who did bounce back, and that's obviously the hope for Cano. The Mets will be paying him a lot of money for 3 more years. I'm sure Rojas is batting Cano third in the lineup as as show of faith from the manager, and I get that, too. But how long does he stay there if he continues to produce at last year's level?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Thoughts Heading Into the Final Days of Camp

The Jed Lowrie
Action Figure
Some thoughts on the Mets as we are only a few short days away from the start of the 2020 season. First of all, I'm going to avoid coming to conclusions based on this weekend's exhibition games. In a normal spring training I try not to read too much into those games, and there are a lot more of them to evaluate. The Mets didn't really look ready to start the season yesterday, but I'm not sure how ready it's reasonable to expect them to be after only a couple of weeks preparation. In a season that is sure to be chock full of weirdness, I'm not sure what to expect from the Mets once the games start counting.

I think I would expect the pitchers to be a little ahead of the hitters when things get underway. I thought Rick Porcello looked pretty good last night. I also liked the way Familia pitched. His stuff looked solid. It's harder to evaluate relief pitchers in exhibition games, because they're not pitching with regular season adrenalin and you only have a few pitches to go by, but I'm hoping Betances has a little more in the tank than he showed in that game.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Rusty Was One of the Greats

In the spring of 1972, I was getting ready to begin my fourth season as a fan of the New York Mets. The incredible rush of the 1969 Miracle Mets had been eclipsed by the disappointment of the oppressive mediocrity of the following two seasons. The Mets had finished in third place both years with identical 83-79 records. The pitching, other than Tom Seaver, had slipped a bit, and the offense was still pretty bad. The two stars of the position players, Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee, were seeing their careers slowly eroded by injuries.

The start of the 1972 season was delayed by the first baseball strike, which lasted from April 1 - April 13. It ended when MLB agreed to an increase in pension payments and the introduction of salary arbitration. To make matters much worse, Mets manager Gil Hodges died of a heart attack after a round of golf on April 2 and was replaced by Yogi Berra. To a young fan like myself, it felt like the world was falling apart.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Bullpen Thoughts

Nice piece in the New York Post yesterday about Jeurys Familia's attempt to bounce back from his awful 2019 campaign. Familia is trying to recapture the effectiveness of his splitter. Back when Familia first emerged as the closer for the Mets that was a very effective pitch for him, generating a lot of swing and misses.

Interesting, though, is the note that Familia is working at taking something off the splitter, to use is more as an off-speed pitch. If you remember back when he first started using the splitter, he threw it quite hard. One of the things that made it work for him was that it looked so much like his fastball, but had a lot of late dive to it. The article didn't mention whether he had abandoned the hard split completely or was going use it both ways. Last year he didn't have much success at all with the pitch, so I assume he's going for the complete makeover.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The A-Rod and J-Lo PR Blitz Intensifies

For a pair who supposedly didn't have the highest bid in the first round of bidding for the Mets, Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez sure got a lot of attention in the news today. First, there was a somewhat ridiculous piece in the Post from yesterday that assures us that "Sports insiders think Jennifer Lopez’s Mets bid could bring out team’s glam side". The tediously written article breathlessly quoted "entertainment insiders" that Jennifer Lopez "would add a missing ingredient to Citi Field the others can’t offer — glamour."

This is obviously some sort of PR work, but it made me curious about who they were trying to sell. Is it supposed to convince Mets fans? Because, I have to tell you, I could care less about more glamour at Citi Field. You know what I like about being a Mets fan? The fact that any celebrity that gets spotted at a Mets game is there because they actually like the Mets, not because they're trying to be seen because it's "glamourous" to be at the ballpark.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Mets Do Some Stuff Right

Tim Britton had a really excellent piece at The Athletic yesterday that went into a ton of detail about the Mets' successful 2020 draft. It was a fascinating read, primarily focusing on two men: Marc Tramuta, director of amateur scouting, and Tommy Tanous, Vice President of amateur and international Scouting for the Mets.

As we all well know, the Mets were faced with a huge challenge this year. Thanks to the coronavirus, the opportunity for in-person scouting was non-existent. With social distancing in place, they were unable to get the scouts together in a room to plot draft strategy. Like many businesses, the Mets depended on video conferencing software in place of in-person meetings. They also used zoom chats to interview potential draftees.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

If You Have to Ask, You Can't Afford It

At The Athletic today, Daniel Kaplan poses the question as the whether the bids being offered on the Mets reflecting a "pandemic discount". Specifically, Kaplan points to the $2 billion bid that Steve Cohen is rumored to have placed in the just completed first round of bidding, 23 percent less than the $2.6 billion that Cohen bid on the club back in February.

Kaplan goes on to refute the idea that the pandemic will affect the long-term value of sports franchises, citing experts at franchise valuations and bankers that the effects from the virus will be short-term. Unfortunately for the Wilpons, they aren't in a position to hold onto the team until the outlook clears up in a couple of years.

Monday, July 13, 2020

What The Future Might Bring

I was doing my morning reading and came across this mailbag column by Mike Puma in the New York Post. One reader asked about the possibility of signing Yoenis Céspedes to a new contract, as long as he proved to be healthy this year and the DH remains in the NL.

It's an interesting question that I've spent some time thinking about myself. As far as I know, there is no guarantee there will be a DH in 2021. When MLB and the Players Association were trying to come to an agreement last month, there were proposals that included both this year and next which would have ensured a DH in the National League next season. Since there was no agreement on any proposal, my understanding would be that a DH next season is not a foregone conclusion. It would have to be negotiated before next season.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Great Pitchers Require a Great Catcher

Yesterday I wrote about how I became a Mets fan at 10 years old. I didn't know much about baseball when I started watching it, but I liked the game and I picked things up fairly quickly. One of the earliest lessons learned was the value of great starting pitching. I knew from early on that Tom Seaver was really special, and I quickly came to appreciate the talents of Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and, later on, Jon Matlack.

It took me longer to realize the importance of having the right guy behind the plate, managing your pitching staff and calling the game. It was over a period of years that I slowly came to appreciate the superb talents of the the man who caught most of the games those pitchers threw, Jerry Grote.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

When BC Meant Before Cable

I spent some time today thinking about how I became a Mets fan. After more than five decades in rooting for this team, it seems that this was just somehow meant to be, but that's certainly not true in my case. I grew up without a father, so there was no family tradition of fanhood handed down to me. I was never even taken to a live sporting event of any kind until I grew up, got a license and a car, and took myself.

I grew up in Hamden, Connecticut, a suburb of New Haven, in an area that was fairly divided in sports loyalties between Boston and New York. New York was closer, and subsequently had more fans, but in the late 1960s that meant primarily Yankee fans. You could probably find more Dodgers and Giants fans still than Mets fans, despite the fact that both teams had been in California for a decade.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Fractured Fairy Tales, 2020 Edition

Interesting story by Victor Mather in the New York Times today. As the title of the piece stated, the Mets really do have "a colorful financial history." I've been reading for years that Nelson Doubleday felt that Fred Wilpon had dealt with him in a less than honest manner. Some of that is detailed in this article. Also interesting was Doubleday's claim by in 2002 when Wilpon was attempting to buy him out of his remaining share of the club:
Doubleday claimed he had been "double-crossed" by a "sham process." He claimed in legal papers that Major League Baseball and the Wilpons were "in cahoots" in a scheme to keep team values down and manufacture "phantom operating losses" to make the game seem less financially sound and in that way create an advantage in negotiations with the players' union. (Baseball dismissed the claim as "nonsense and a complete fabrication.")

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Nutmeg Can Barely Contain Her Excitement

So today is the deadline for all first round bids on the Mets to be placed. I've had to drop out of the bidding, as I was told a four-figure offer just wasn't going to cut it. I tried sweetening the pot by offering up the world's laziest hound as a sweetener, but apparently that just wasn't enough to steer things my way. So I guess Nutmeg the wonder dog is stuck with me for a while more.

According to an article in the New York Post last night, the initial round of bidding will feature "indicative offers", which means the bids won't be binding. The purpose, apparently, is to see what the offers might be and, perhaps, weed out some of the lesser bidders. I kind of resent being dismissed like that, and Nutmeg was so angry about being passed over that she briefly woke up and shifted her position slightly. Trust me, that's a full-on temper tantrum for her, and the most movement we've seen out of her since a guest accidentally dropped their burger on the ground at a barbecue last summer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Step Forward By Matz Would Be Huge

When I heard earlier today that Yoenis Céspedes was working out at first base I wondered if Manager Luis Rojas had lost his freaking mind. I was glad to learn later on that this wasn't the case. Apparently he did it on his own, just for fun. We keep hearing how well Céspedes has been doing, and that seems to be true. I'm getting a little giddy picturing a Mets lineup built around Céspedes, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto. If Robinson Cano can bounce back to some approximation of what he was a couple of years ago, and Dom Smith and J.D. Davis produce close to what they did last season, this could be a really good hitting lineup. Pretty well balanced, also.

Then the big questions move to pitching. There was a nice piece on Steven Matz in the Post today, documenting how Matz was able to stay in decent shape while the game was shut down. He feels as if he'll be ready to pitch at full strength when the season begins. Obviously, the more the Mets can get out of their starters early, the better off they'll be down the road. In a sprint with few days off, not overtaxing the bullpen early on would seem crucial.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

On Corona, Joe West and Other Deadly Plagues

I really, truly want to write about baseball. Sadly, after weeks of writing about collective bargaining failures, I now find myself writing about failures in MLB's COVID-19 testing program. MLB supposedly had solidified their testing by buying in to that Utah lab. The idea was that they could handle all of the testing for baseball and there was even going to be excess testing available for the general public. That way MLB could avoid negative publicity from utilizing extensive testing (every other day for players, coaches and support staff) while the rest of us still have trouble getting tested once.

Monday, July 6, 2020

When Trying Your Best Just Isn't Good Enough

It was quite disappointing to see the problems that MLB is having with their testing plan right out of the gate. As Brittany Ghiroli reports in The Athletic, teams have had to delay or cancel workouts because of problems with COVID-19 testing. The problems have ranged from incomplete results coming back from the lab in Utah that MLB has been using to testers not showing up as scheduled on Sunday. The Nationals and Astros were still awaiting test results from Friday. With no plans to lock down the players in a quarantine, MLB's health and safety plan is entirely dependent on frequent testing with rapid results. Quite obviously, they will need to do much better than they have done this past weekend.

Under the current guidelines, players are tested every other day and results are supposed to come back in 24-48 hours. Given the rise in coronavirus infections in many places where MLB teams operate, keeping COVID-19 from shutting down the season was always going to be a huge challenge. If MLB can't get the testing right, they have virtually no chance. They need to get the ship righted quickly. Teams can't afford to miss workout days with such an abbreviated "summer training." Also, we're likely to see more players who are on the fence about playing opt out if the testing delays and mistakes continue.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

No Offense Required

Yesterday I wrote about Doug Flynn, a Met who provided most of his value with the glove. It made me think about a Met from an earlier era who fit the same description. Like Flynn, Don Hahn played an important up-the-middle position on the diamond, center field. Unlike Flynn, Hahn played for a memorable Mets team that made the postseason.

Donald Antone Hahn was a 17th round pick of the San Francisco Giants in the 1966 Amateur Draft. He was picked up by the Montreal Expos in December 1968 in the rule 5 draft, and the 20-year-old Hahn was the starting CF when the Expos clobbered the New York Mets 11-10 in their first game ever April 8, 1969. Hahn batted eighth and went 0-3.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Too Bad the Bat Didn't Come With Instructions

There have been plenty of light-hitting players that have played for the New York Mets organization. Their teams in the early 70s always seemed to feature great starting pitching, Tug McGraw, and a bunch of guys with .220 batting averages and single-digit home run totals. An extra base hit was an offensive explosion in that era.

As bad as those teams were, the ones the Mets fielded in the late 70s through early 80s kicked things up a notch by featuring light hitting and bad pitching. Honestly, to this day it shocks me that they never produced a 100-loss season to add to the 5 from the 1960s. It wasn't for lack of trying, however. They lost 99 games in 1979, 98 in 1977 and 97 in 1982. They just couldn't make it under the hump to achieve that sublime level of infamy.

Friday, July 3, 2020

It Will Be Different, Not Easy

With baseball summer camps opening up today, there have been a few stories coming across my feed about how different everything looks with the safety protocols in place. Baseball as we know it won't exist in 2020. It has been replaced by Pandemic Baseball, where everything looks different, sounds different, and can be taken away from you at a moments notice on the whims of a virus that only creeped into our consciousness about 6 months ago.

Jeff Passan had a piece at ESPN today about some of the challenges ahead. According to Passan, at some point today MLB will announce the number of positive COVID-19 tests from all of the teams around the league. However many there are, these players, coaches and other support personnel will all start off the festivities quarantined. There will undoubtedly be more positive tests as the season goes on.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Rob Manfred Inserts Foot Firmly in Mouth

Rob Manfred went on the Dan Patrick radio show yesterday and essentially admitted that MLB never negotiated in good faith regarding the length of the season. So, basically, Manfred is letting us know that the excruciating weeks we just lived through, where MLB was constantly leaking offers for longer slates of games but included such poison pills as revenue sharing, drastic pay cuts beyond prorated salaries, and lower regular season pay if the playoffs were cancelled, was all just a huge waste of everyone's time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Questions Answered, Answers Still to Come

I had questions, he had answers. Specifically, a mailbag column from Anthony DiComo at Mets.com today answered a question that I had on yesterday's post. I wondered whether reliever Dellin Betances had recovered enough to give the Mets a dependable bullpen option. DiComo quoted GM Brodie Van Wagenen on Betances' progress:
We are extremely excited about where he is physically. He's been one of the players that has been off a mound and able to face real hitters here over the course of the last couple weeks in live batting practice, simulated games, however you want to describe it. He's had multiple sessions where he's faced Major League hitters over the course of the last couple weeks, and he's encouraged. Our performance staff evaluated him over the last couple of days, and we're ready to see what he looks like when we start going here.

Closer to Home

I grew up in a very unconventional household. I don't retain the warm memories of home and family that most folks have. I don't live...