Monday, September 15, 2014

Bears Get You

For the better part of 3 quarters on Sunday night, the 49ers appeared primed to open up Levi's Stadium the same way they closed out Candlestick Park: With a rousing victory in front of a National, Prime Time audience. But in a rather stunning collapse, Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the team unraveled in a rather unsettling sequence of turnovers and missed opportunities, allowing the Chicago Bears to slip back into the game, ultimately take the lead and end up stealing a 28-20 victory.

From the point Phil Dawson kicked a Field Goal that capped off a 14 play, 9+ minute drive that started out the second half, the Bears outscored the 49ers 21-0, capitalizing on a pair of bad interceptions thrown by Kaepernick and riding the wave of Jay Cutler's passing and Brandon Marshall's repeated clutch catches to overcome what was, at an earlier point in the game, a 17-0 San Francisco lead.

The game couldn't have started much better for the 49ers. After forcing a 3-and-out from the Bears on their first drive of the game, Aaron Lynch shot across the left side and blocked the Bears punt, setting up the 49ers in prime field position at the Bears 7-yard line to begin their night on offense. Quickly, they made it into the End Zone, with Colin Kaepernick hitting Michael Crabtree on a fade route for his first Touchdown reception of the season.

The next six Bears possessions similarly did not accomplish much. Justin Smith chipped in with a sack, and Matt Forte couldn't get anything going rushing the ball against the 49ers defensive line. The 49ers moved smartly down the field to kick a Field Goal on their second drive. Colin Kaepernick threw an Interception on one possession on a play where he basically underthrew Anquan Boldin, and on their next possession, Kaepernick fumbled while scrambling, as Jared Allen flew in and jarred the ball out of his grip. But none of these turnovers proved consequential, as the Bears continued to do nothing against a 49ers defense that appeared strong. A Bears punt late in the 2nd Quarter was returned by Bruce Ellington well into Bears territory, and after a long pass from Kaepernick to 3rd string Tight End Derek Carrier moved the ball to the 8 yard line, Frank Gore smashed the ball into the End Zone. With 2:22 to play in the first half, the 49ers were ahead 17-0 and things were going great.

But at this point, the Bears decided to abandon running the ball with Matt Forte and try to let Jay Cutler do something. With Marshall and Alshon Jeffery both hobbled by injuries, this was a dicey proposition, but somehow the Bears made it work. In spite of the fact that Cutler was drilled by Quinton Dial and looked half dead when he finally got up, Cutler managed to thread a pass in to Marshall, who made a leaping one-handed grab for a Bears Touchdown just before halftime.

Still, no worry. Particularly after the 49ers came out in the second half and rolled methodically down the field in a drive that took more than 9 minutes off the clock. But in prime position to punch it in for another Touchdown that could have iced the game, the 49ers called a pair of run plays that didn't accomplish much other than set up Dawson's Field Goal.

And that, my friends, is where everything fell apart.

After getting planted by Dial, Jay Cutler found his rhythm and began picking apart the 49ers secondary. Already shorthanded without Tramaine Brock, Cutler picked on players like Dontae Johnson and Perrish Cox, guys who had found success against Dallas but struggled against the Bears. Cutler capped off a somewhat sloppy 13-play drive with his second TD pass to Marshall that cut the 49ers lead to 20-14. Not a minute later, the Bears had the lead. On the first play following the TD, Kaepernick threw a pass for Crabtree that was more or less stolen away by Kyle Fuller and returned down to the 49ers' 3-yard line. Cutler made it count by throwing a Touchdown to Martellus Bennett on the following play.

Before the 49ers could realize what had hit them, they were behind, and the game was slipping away. Kaepernick tried to lead the 49ers back, but Kyle Fuller intercepted him again on a pass intended for Derek Carrier, and once again, Cutler led the Bears right through the 49ers defense for another Touchdown, their 3rd in the 4th Quarter, extending their lead to 28-20. Kaepernick led the 49ers on one spirited, final drive, working the ball down inside the Bears 20 yard line, but on 4th down, Kaepernick's pass into the End Zone intended for Crabtree led his receiver just a little too far and the ball bounced off Crabtree's outstretched hands and fell incomplete, and the game was lost along with it.

For all the good that the 49ers displayed against Dallas in Week 1, there was an equal amount of disturbing things that cropped up against the Bears. Kaepernick had perhaps his poorest performance since becoming the Starting Quarterback, throwing 3 bad interceptions and had a potential 4th pick overturned on replay. He also Fumbled. The defense forced no turnovers in response. The 49ers were penalized 16 times in a game that appeared dictated by the referees more than any normal NFL game should logically be. These penalties handed the Bears over 100 yards. The cornerbacks, Cox, Johnson, Chris Culliver and company, were mostly toasted by a pair of receivers nursing leg injuries. Vernon Davis was lost in the 4th quarter with an Ankle injury, diagnosis unclear. His replacement, Vance McDonald, continued to display nothing of value and departed with an injury of his own. Carlos Hyde, who displayed an exciting blend of burst and elusiveness in Dallas, managed very little against a Bears defense that stood up strong against the 49ers rushing attack. And, if all that wasn't bad enough, the 49ers blew a 17-point lead, at home, in the first game at their new stadium, on the same day that their chief Rival, the Seattle Seahawks, were upset on the road in San Diego.

These things combined add up to a lot of concern for a team that seems to generate a lot of concern, because of all the turmoil that seems to have followed them around over the past several months. It's easy to forget that the 49ers got beaten rather badly in Weeks 2 and 3 last season before reeling off 11 wins in their final 13 games, but that was a different team with a different schedule and a different set of circumstances. Right now, the 49ers sit at 1-1, coming off an embarrassing home loss and going on the road to play a tough, game Arizona Cardinals team that's 2-0 and looks like a team that's not going to go away easy. This season could get off to a similar start as it did last year. You just wonder if the 49ers have it in them to shove the words and the pain and the poor performances aside for another season.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Boring and Snoring

Having picked up their annual Home Win over the Nationals on Friday night, the Mets went back into their proverbial shells over the weekend in a pair of forgettable games that I barely watched and in a long-recycled comment, I clearly didn't miss very much. The Nationals inched themselves ever closer to their 2nd National League East Championship in 3 seasons with a 10-3 win on Saturday and a 3-0 win on Sunday.

These games proved the Nationals to be quite a versatile team, and even if they're not a versatile team, the Mets do a great job of making them look like one. Zack Wheeler was the victim of Saturday's bludgeoning, surrendering a Home Run to Bryce Harper in the 2nd inning and didn't improve from there, departing after 4 innings with a 6-0 deficit. A multitude of pitchers finished the game only allowing 4 runs, which I suppose can be considered a moral victory but not really.

Sunday, Jon Niese took the loss in a game where he was simply outpitched by Jordan Zimmermann. Niese matched Zimmermann zero for zero into the 7th inning, before Wilson Ramos did what he usually does against the Mets and hit a 2-run Home Run, breaking the ice and for all intents and purposes winning the game for Washington. That was all Niese allowed in his 7 innings of work, but the Mets had no means of response against Zimmermann, or subsequent pitchers Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard or Lil' Billy and thus the game ended with the Mets being shut out.

The Mets, believe it or not, still have 3 more games left with Washington on their schedule, which doesn't seem fair because it seems like the Mets have played Washington pretty much every other series since the beginning of August. The Mets sit at 3-13 against them for the season, which would be a poor enough record to earn them a top Draft Pick were they an NFL team. Unfortunately, they aren't, and 3-13 against Washington is poor enough to note that the Mets are actually over .500 against the rest of Baseball. That's worth thinking about, but not too hard, because the Mets are going to have to play 18-19 games a season against Washington no matter how good or how bad they are against other teams, so they'd be wise to improve their level of play against these guys.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Amazin!

As was the case on Thursday night, I didn't see very much of the Mets/Nationals Friday night affair. But with the Mets actually ahead of Washington and the game moving to the 9th inning, and with me just arriving home, I had to put it on and see how this would play out. Would Jenrry Mejia be able to finish off the job and end this absurd losing streak, or would the Nationals prevail, with someone like Anthony Rendon or Ian Desmond hitting a Home Run off the Acela Club windows.

The answer was that Mejia would finish the deal, in spite of a staggering effort that saw him allow a hit and intentionally walk Adam LaRoche (although for at least 3 of the 4 balls thrown it seemed like he wasn't actually trying to walk LaRoche), Mejia struck out Met Nemesis Ian Desmond for the game's final out, finishing off the Mets first win over Washington in their home ballpark in their last 13 tries, beating the Nationals and Gio Gonzalez 4-3.

The victory was pretty far from a thing of beauty, from what I'm gathering. That's not surprising. You had to figure that if the Mets were finally going to beat Washington and end this streak, it was going to be in the least aesthetically pleasing way possible. The Mets jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks to a Travis d'Arnaud 3-run Double, but Washington tied it against Dillon Gee, slowly but surely. They had two run-scoring hits off Gee in the 3rd, and in the 5th inning tied the game when, shockingly, Anthony Rendon hit a Home Run.

The Mets grabbed the lead back in the last of the 5th thanks to a Juan Lagares RBI double that scored Eric Young Jr, who's played surprisingly well of late particularly considering that he basically appeared exclusively as a pinch runner for a majority of the last two months. But when he's played, he's done a reasonably good job. That being said, it's the curse of the small sample; other Mets that have fallen victim to this are Endy Chavez, Alex Cora and Scott Hairston. Let's not make that mistake again with another 4th Outfielder-type.

Gee departed the game with 1 out in the 6th and 2 men on for Washington, a situation that probably dictated a 3-run Home Run on a different night, but with the planets aligning for the Mets, Carlos Torres came in the game and got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending Double Play. Torres continued his yeoman effort by inducing Ian Desmond to hit into another DP in the 7th, in another situation where on another night he probably hits a Home Run in that spot. Jeurys Familia did the job in the 8th and we already went over Mejia's 9th inning.

So, the streak is over. The Mets have finally beaten the Nationals at Home, and for only the 3rd time all season. That's hardly something worth getting excited over, going 3-11 against a division rival, but I guess you just have to take what you can get. Maybe this will lead to a couple more victories over the weekend. That would be Amazing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Usual Story

I was out for a majority of the evening last night and didn't actually get to watch the Mets/Nationals affair, but based on everything I read and heard, I didn't miss anything of particular importance. As they usually do, the Nationals came in to Citi Field, bombed a bunch of Home Runs, Bartolo Colon and Terry Collins were ejected from the game in the 4th inning, and the end result was the Nationals 13th consecutive win at Citi Field.

This was the kind of game I usually find myself attending late in the season, against Washington, where there's about 4-5,000 people in the seats and the Mets do nothing particularly well, and the Nationals end up coming away with a victory. Whether it was because this was a weekend series or I'd wised up against willfully choosing to attend a September Mets/Nationals game, I have no tickets for this weekend's series, and with an assortment of other pressing matters coming across my docket, it's unlikely that I'm even going to see any of these games going on over the next few days. Something tells me, particularly based on the way things went tonight, that I'm probably doing myself a favor.

There are plenty of teams that seem to have been the Mets' nemesis over these several miserable years, among them the Phillies, although their tide has turned for the worse as well. The Marlins have always been annoying, particularly when they play in Miami, which affects me little. The Cardinals and Dodgers also always seem to give the Mets a good kick in the pants. But nobody seems to typify these years of futility quite like the Nationals at Citi Field. Even in the seasons when the Nationals were bad, they still managed to come in to New York and beat the Mets, and to make matters worse, they do so by blasting Home Runs all over the place. Last September, the Mets were swept in a 4-game series in Citi Field where the Nationals hit 41 Home Runs over the 4 games. I believe Ian Desmond hit 6, Adam LaRoche and Wilson Ramos hit 5 each, and Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth each hit 3. It's almost reached comical proportions—you can't get too upset because it's not like the Nationals are keeping the Mets from participating in something resembling a pennant race—but from what my memory serves, this has been going on pretty much ever since the Nationals moved to Washington 10 years ago.

Perhaps this is just one more reason I feel so nostalgic for the Montreal Expos. Never mind my love for Montreal as a City, but at least when their Baseball team came to New York, you at least felt as though the Mets had a fighting chance. Now? You just hope that the Nationals don't hit 4 Home Runs in any given game. True, tonight, they only hit two, but this got them out to a 6-0 lead by the 4th inning, and each Home Run was followed by Bartolo Colon hitting the subsequent batter. When he struck Jayson Werth in the 4th following Anthony Rendon's Home Run, whether he was doing it on purpose or not, he was tossed from the game while Werthless preened and postured like he was going to charge the mound.

The Mets were offensive on offense against Tanner Roark and whoever else the Nationals threw out there, and so that 6 run cushion Roark was given was more than enough. No more needs to be said on the matter.

In fact, let's just not say any more about this game in general. Someday, the Mets will figure out how to beat this team at home, but maybe it's just not worth paying attention to anymore, at least for this season.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Forgotten Prospect

Few Mets might be quite as forgotten in the way this season has played out as Rafael Montero. Montero, who began the season at the forefront of our consciousness as the top of the second tier of Mets prospects, behind Harvey, Wheeler and Syndergaard, but ahead of deGrom, Matz and others, ascended in May, struggled, went back to the Minors, returned in August and was eventually shifted to a bullpen role before earning another start last night against the Colorados. One thing that's worked against Montero is that Jacob deGrom has been so good over the past few months while Montero got lit up but good a couple of times, particularly his last time up against Washington. But given a chance against the Colorados and their stripped-down lineup, Montero thrived, striking out 7 in a 5.1 inning effort in which he didn't allow a run and only 3 hits (4 walks didn't help). In the process, Montero picked up his first Major League win as the Mets held on for their second consecutive 2-0 victory over the Colorados.

The story before the game was, of course, the ensuing lineup shifting that came about due to last night's news that David Wright would be lost for the remainder of the season with the shoulder injury that hasn't let him go most of the season. There's not much to be said on this front, other than it's just as well; Wright has been patently awful this year and clearly it's because he insistently played through this injury rather than getting the rest he needed and the result is that his 2014 season ended up looking about as bad as his 2009 or 2011 season, years that were also derailed for him by injury. While some wishful thinkers might like to point out that the Mets, who are now only 4 games under .500 for the season at 71-75 and in 3rd place in the division, are only 5.5 games out of the second Wildcard spot, let's be realistic: The chances of the Mets making that deficit up and leapfrogging the several teams ahead of them to grab it are pretty slim and given that, there really wasn't much to argue about when it comes to Wright taking the remaining 16 games in 2014 off.

The discussion, then, turned to who would replace Wright for those 16 games. Certainly, both Eric Campbell and Josh Satin had experience playing 3rd base, but last night, the nod went to Daniel Murphy, who also had experience at the hot corner, though never at the Major League level, as far as I can remember. The thought process, I assume, is that it allows the Mets to showcase Murphy for a potential trade while at the same time allowing Dilson Herrera to remain in the lineup at 2nd Base to get his feet wet. It's a fine plan as far as I'm concerned and if anyone really wants to complain about it, well, you may need to re-evaluate certain aspects of your life.

Then, there was a game, which was pretty boring for a 2-0 game. The Mets scored a run in the 2nd on an Eric Young, Jr RBI triple and a second run in the 6th (I think) on a Juan Lagares Sac Fly against Tyler Matzek and a few other lesser Colorado Pitchers (ie Yohan Flande). Montero navigated through the Colorado lineup and after he left the game, Dario Alvarez, Carlos Torres and the Jeurys Familia/Jenrry Mejia report followed up and finished the job without much of a peep from the Colorados. Mejia shook off the mess he'd created for himself last night and this evening had a nice, peaceful inning that he didn't need to be rescued from, and the Mets finished off their sweep of the Colorados, the second year in a row that they've taken all three games in New York (and thank God for that).

But, for the three games they won, the Mets managed to score all of 7 runs. This works against a team like the Colorados who came in here with their entire starting lineup on the DL. It will be a different story against Washington, who generally start their games at Citi Field up 4-0. Fortunately, I don't plan on subjecting myself to any of these games in person.