Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2014 Mets: Small Steps Forward, Part II

Part 2 of the Mets 2014 Report Card. Now, for the Pitchers. The Mets used 22 of them this season, down from 29 in 2013. Part 1, the hitters, is here in case you missed it.

Bartolo Colon - B+
Well, hey, he won 15 games at age 41 and proved himself consistently entertaining just about every time out, not quite the same way that Pedro was entertaining, but because it was generally just amusing to watch a guy so comically out of shape pitch well and then try to do things like bat. Usually he was given a rousing ovation simply for making contact, but when he managed to get a couple of hits, it brought the house down. But in all seriousness, Colon pretty much did everything that could have been expected of him. He wasn't going to replace the void left by Harvey, but if nothing else, he ate up his share of innings, topping 200 for the first time since 2005, only walked 30 batters and although the ERA at 4.09 was a bit high, simply based on some instances where he really didn't have it and got bombed, more often than not he rather effortlessly worked his way deep into games and kept things competitive.

Jon Niese - C
Niese had another typically annoying season where all too often, he was getting into jams and letting them snowball out of control, leaving him to mope around the mound with a Marcumesque puss on his face. Though he did manage to keep his ERA down, matching his career best at 3.40, a particularly bad stretch in July and August, in which he went 2-6 and routinely found himself struggling to get through games kind of took the starch out of his season. At age 27 and now one of the veterans on this pitching staff, as well as the only lefthanded starter the Mets have, it's getting to the point where Niese needs to put up or shut up. We know he can pitch better than what he's displayed over the past two seasons, but for whatever reason, the kind of success he had in 2012 has eluded him. There's enough depth around that he could be viewed as a tradeable commodity should the situation present itself.

Zack Wheeler - B+
Wheeler's first full season was about what you'd expect from a 24-year old well-hyped prospect: Flashes of brilliance combined with flashes of youth. Wheeler, whose biggest problem among Mets fans may simply be that he's not Matt Harvey, displayed a spate of control issues throughout the season which prevented him from working deep into games on many occasions. But, as the season progressed and he got his legs under him, he did managed to grit his way through a majority of his outings. That he went from 3-8 with an ERA of 4.25 at the end of June to finish up with a record of 11-11 and an ERA of 3.54 is a testament to Wheeler growing and improving as the season drew on. Still has tantalizing stuff and still has a good amount of upside, which he did display, although not quite often enough. Obviously, once he can make the necessary corrections and stop throwing too many pitches too early in games, things like durability will follow, but he's not quite put it all together yet.

Jacob deGrom - A
The revelation of the season, deGrom ascended to the Majors in May and although he didn't pitch especially badly at first, he took losses in 4 of his first 6 starts. But once he finally got his first win out of the way on June 21st, deGrom took off from there. Displaying a fan-friendly moppish hairstyle and a fine array of pitches, deGrom quickly became a Dickey-like folk hero, running off a string of victories and sterling efforts, barely missing a beat when he found himself on the DL for 2 weeks in August. He saved his best efforts for the end, closing his season by first tying a Major League record by striking out the first 8 Marlins to face him en route to a 13K performance on September 15th, and then on September 21st, finished off his season with a 10 strikeout effort in Atlanta. Finished up 9-6, impressive enough considering he started 0-4, with a 2.69 ERA, including an ERA of 1.99 over his final 15 games, and 144 Ks in 140.1 IP. In a year that didn't feature a breakout candidate, it's probably a crime if he's not voted NL Rookie of the Year.

Dillon Gee - C-
Gee, like Niese, had a year that brought more frustration than good vibes. After being named the surprise Opening Day starter and getting off to a solid start, Gee's season went off the rails after an oblique injury kept him on the shelf for 2 months. When he returned, his consistency was gone and he fizzled out with a series of poor starts and no-decisions, a far cry from the pitcher that looked so good for a majority of the 2013 season. Finished up a disappointing 7-8 with an ERA that ended up at 4.00 after sitting at a nice 2.73 when he got injured. Still serviceable depth for the Mets' rotation, but as things get more crowded, you have to wonder how much of a future he has with the team.

Jenrry Mejia - B+
If ever there was a tale of two seasons, it would be Jenrry Mejia's 2014 campaign. Mejia won the 5th spot in the rotation out of Spring Training and all he did was start out with a record of 3-0 and a 1.99 ERA in his first 4 starts. Then he had a pair of starts in which he gave up 6 runs to Florida and 8 runs in Colorado, and the bloom was off his rose. Rather quickly, Mejia was pulled from the rotation—an odd move at the time considering he'd only had a couple of bad outings and there are certainly plenty of pitchers who have continued to start games with less success (see Marcum, Shaun). But instead of moping around, Mejia instead grabbed an opportunity to close games and ran with it. Before too long, Mejia's end-game stomp became a regular occurrence, as he eventually racked up 28 Saves to go along with 98 strikeouts in 93.2 innings. 41 walks was a bit high, but considering 20 of them came in his 7 early-season starts, I think we can look past that. Going forward, has to be considered the favorite to maintain the closer's role even with the likely return of Parnell.

Rafael Montero - C
Montero, who was thought of as the top name among the second tier of Mets pitching prospects, hit the Majors in late May, the same time as deGrom, but unlike deGrom, Montero had a rough time of things in New York. Of particular concern was the fact that he walked 23 in 44 innings pitched, a clear departure from a pitcher who'd boasted a WHIP of 1.066 in 4 Minor League seasons. He was also tagged for 8 Home Runs, including 3 in one particularly bad game against Washington (although in his defense, everyone on Washington hit Home Runs against the Mets). He did finish out with 3 solid outings in September, among them his first Major League win over the Colorados and a fine 1-run effort against Houston, but by that point, he'd become a bit of a forgotten prospect based on his struggles measured against deGrom's success. At 24, there's still room for some upside, but just as much of a chance he could be better utilized as a trade chip.

Carlos Torres - B+
Deceptively good might be a good way to describe Carlos Torres this season. Torres has never boasted eye-popping stats or stuff, but for the most part he was effective whenever he was called on over the course of the season. His WHIP at 1.3 wasn't great, an indicator of his general hittability, but he's shown a knack for being able to get out of his own jams, as indicated by his 3.06 ERA, which was down from 3.44 last season, and his 96 strikeouts in 97 innings pitched, which means he was able to get key strikeouts when he needed them. Sure, he had his moments, as any reliever is apt to do, but in general Torres managed to acquit himself well enough to stick around the season, and he'll probably be back, at least until he hits Free Agency and some team offers him a multi-year contract.

Jeurys Familia - A
Familia, perhaps even moreso than Mejia, took a major step forward in establishing himself as a key member of the bullpen. Though he started slow, with an ERA in the 4s through an April in which he looked more thrower than pitcher, Familia very slowly found his way and started pitching like he meant it. From May 1 on, Familia threw to a 1.86 ERA with better than a strikeout an inning, bringing his season totals to an outstanding 2.21 ERA with 73 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.12 over 77.1 innings and 5 saves in instances where he spelled Mejia. He certainly established himself as the front end of a very talented 8-9 inning tandem; the sort of pitcher that a contending team almost always has (see Herrera, Kelvin).

Vic Black - B-
Black didn't quite live up to the fireballer hype that he came over from Pittsburgh with, and a frustrating season for him that started out with a Spring Training in which he got repeatedly shelled and didn't make the team ended up with him surfacing in May and generally throwing hard with not much control. The 2.60 ERA he put together in 41 games and 34.2 innings featured some good (32 strikeouts, only 2 Home Runs) and some bad (19 walks and several outings in which he couldn't finish out an inning) before his season kind of ground to a stop after an injury of which type I can't remember. 

Josh Edgin - A-
Edgin, who still hasn't quite put it all together, did have a fine season this year, pitching to a 1.32 ERA in 47 games, mostly as a lefty specialist. Didn't emerge until May after a poor Spring and also battled a couple of nagging injuries that ended up cutting his season short, but 28 strikeouts and a WHIP under 1.0 in 27 innings was a welcome sight in the right direction for a guy who's suffered from a bit of inconsistency over the early part of his career.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - B+
Though Dice-K certainly doesn't come with the panaché he boasted when he came over from Japan, he can still entertain, whether it was his 3-inning warmup that started with him throwing without his cap before cranking it up, or throwing some key multi-inning relief efforts, or making some spot starts. Pitched in 34 games, making 9 starts. 83 innings, 78 strikeouts and a 3.89 ERA and even picked up a Save in the process.

Buddy Carlyle - A
A "Scrap Heap" special! Carlyle, who hadn't pitched in the Majors since 2011 and when he did hadn't found a great deal of success, shined in a kind of a multipurpose role coming out of the bullpen, chewing up innings (31 in 27 games), throwing strikes (only walked 5 guys) and not allowing many runs (a 1.45 ERA). Strikes me, however, as one of those guys who's going to be brought back as a middle-inning guy and give up 3 runs on Opening Day and get released in May. But I've been wrong before. 

Gonzalez Germen - C-
Germen, who pitched rather well as a Rookie in 2013, did not find similar success in 2014. Of most alarm was his Home Runs allowed, which jumped from 1 in 34.1 innings last season to 7 in 30.1 innings, which led to a 4.75 ERA, which led to him being shuttled between AAA and the Majors 3 times over the course of the season and didn't exactly inspire much confidence.

Dana Eveland - B+
Hefty Lefty Eveland surfaced in June as another of Alderson's patented "Scrap heap" guys, but he actually pitched reasonably well as compared to, say, Farnsworth or Valverde. Lefty specialist performed reasonably well, striking out 27 in 27.1 innings over 30 games and rang up a 2.63 ERA after not pitching in the Majors at all last season.

Jose Valverde - F
Valverde was one of those calculated gambles that Sandy Alderson took, because every year there's always a few of them when it comes to cobbling together a bullpen. Successful teams can make these sorts of gambles work out. For the Mets, well, they ended up with Jose Valverde. The natural choice to grab the closer role when Parnell went down, Valverde saved a pair of games in the first weeks of the season before vomiting up a trio of terrible performances and getting demoted to the back of the bullpen, which for all intents and purposes was his rightful place. Released in late may following more outings in which he either got the side in order or gave up 4 runs with not any in-between. 20 innings yielded a nice-looking 23 strikeouts to go along with a completely putrid 5.66 ERA.

Kyle Farnsworth - D
Farnsworth's 3.18 ERA in 19 games kind of belies the fact that he was very up-and-down. He had a stretch in April where he was actually one of the better relievers on the team and parlayed that into briefly holding the closer's role and actually picked up 3 Saves in the process. But once it became evident that there were better options available to the team for the later innings, Farnsworth was deemed expendable and released.

Scott Rice - F
Rice, last year's feel-good story did not build on his success, pitching 13.2 innings in 32 games, as any lefty specialist is wont to do, but they were 13.2 bad innings. These innings included 5 Wild Pitches, 15 hits, 12 walks a 5.93 ERA and, not surprisingly, a June demotion to AAA from which he did not return after suffering an elbow injury. At 33 by next Opening Day not likely to resurface but, then again, this is the team that kept Manny Acosta around for 4 seasons...

Erik Goeddel
Goeddel didn't exactly distinguish himself in the Minors, pitching to a 5.37 ERA in AAA, but somehow he parlayed this into a September call-up where he was spotted mostly in low/no-pressure situations. Pitched reasonably well in his 6 games, which included 6.2 IP, 6 K and a 2.70 ERA but whether or not that's a mirage remains to be seen. 

John Lannan - F
Long Beach, NY's own John Lannan probably shouldn't have been on the team at all. He certainly shouldn't have been given serious consideration for the #5 spot in the rotation when he clearly wasn't as good as competitors Mejia or Matsuzaka, but he had that whole "being a lefty" thing going for him. Given the results the Mets got from him out of the bullpen—5 games, 4IP, and a comically bad 15.75 ERA, it's not really surprising he didn't last much longer than the first couple of weeks of the season. 

Dario Alvarez
September callup who only surfaced in 4 games for 1.1 innings where he was used as a lefty specialist and though his 13.50 ERA might indicate a struggle, his Major League Debut consisted of him being put in a situation with men on base and he gave up an inherited run in a game the Mets won, and then later being used as a sacrificial lamb in the 9th inning of a blowout loss against Washington. One of these guys I'd never heard of prior to the season who could end up going the route of, say, Willie Collazo

Bobby Parnell
I can't in good faith give Bobby Parnell a grade based on one inning, but that one inning certainly was telling as far as the way the season was going to go for him. Entrusted with a 1-run lead on Opening Day, Parnell was a strike away from closing out the Nationals, blew the save, and before the paint dried on the game he was done for the season with the Big Boy Surgery. In his place, a couple of strong candidates emerged, namely Familia and Mejia, to challenge him for the closer role, so he's got to earn his way back into the spot. But, it's worth considering that Parnell, who had a fine season in 2013, with 22 Saves and a 2.16 ERA, could end up being combined with these guys and give the Mets one hell of a bullpen if he returns strong next season.

And, for good measure:
MANAGER
Terry Collins - B
Once again, Collins was sort of left to fend for himself with a limited amount of pieces to work with, but for the first time in his tenure as Manager, the team actually improved from a win-loss standpoint, jumping from a pair of 74-88 seasons to 79-83. Not quite the 90 wins Sandy Alderson had somewhat blindly called for, but if nothing else, it's a step in the right direction. He did have his usual problem of sometimes pulling his starters too soon in favor of guys like Valverde, Rice, Farnsworth or Black and that had a tendency to blow up on him, but his handling of Familia and Mejia is to be commended, particularly considering Mejia's preference to remain a starter. But, after what essentially amounts to a 4-year mulligan, the Alderson/Collins regime is going to have to start producing results in 2015. Collins has proven himself to be reasonably effective as a manager and I don't think sentimental favorite Wally Backman is going to make this team any better than Collins will—Backman might be more lively but that's about it. Now, he's got some players here, he's got to get the results.

So, that finishes it up for the Mets in 2014. Now, let's see what happens over the next few months to make this group winners in 2015.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday Magic

Brandon Lloyd has had a bit of a checkered career that's led him from a reserve with the 49ers that had a penchant for acrobatic catches, to the trappings of stardom with Washington, Chicago, Denver, St. Louis and New England, to out of Football completely last season, and now back to the 49ers as a kind of change-of-pace guy, a deep threat to complement an already strong receiving corps. Last week, against Kansas City, he showed he still has the ability to make the jaw-dropping catches. On Monday night, in St. Louis, he had the catch of the day, reeling in an 80-yard Touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick with :14 seconds to go in the 1st half. Before his clinical roasting of Janoris Jenkins, the 49ers had had a difficult time of things in St. Louis, as Austin Davis and his group of speedy, young backs and receivers had kept the 49ers off guard and in check, dominating the clock and running out to a 14-0 lead. The Rams appeared primed to take a 14-3 lead into the half, particularly after Rams Punter Johnny Hekker pinned the 49ers back at their own 5 yard line with under 2 minutes to play. But instead of sitting on the ball, the 49ers took a shot. Kaepernick connected with Lloyd, Lloyd took it to the house, and the 49ers grabbed the momentum and ran with it, spinning their 14-0 deficit into a decisive 31-17 victory in St. Louis, their 3rd win in a row and 7th consecutive victory on Monday Night Football, where their prime-time players generally play their best.

Early in the game, however, the 49ers didn't really look their best. The intrepid Rams, who boast an out-of-nowhere Rookie Quarterback in Austin Davis, jumped on the 49ers early. The 49ers fell into some of their usual bad habits as the Rams embarked on an opening drive that took up nearly half the 1st Quarter. They committed two penalties, one of which wiped out an Ahmad Brooks sack and another which negated a key incomplete pass, and also allowed the Rams to convert a pair of 3rd downs on a drive that ultimately ended in a Bennie Cunningham Touchdown that gave the Rams the lead. The 49ers offense came out and did nothing on their first drive, and although they appeared to be moving on their second drive, things fell apart when Vance McDonald, after a rare reception, fumbled the ball and James Laurinitis recovered for the Rams near midfield. The Rams then gashed the 49ers behind Tre Mason for a pair of big gains, and then Davis ran a brilliant play fake and was able to find an absurdly wide open Lance Kendricks for a 22-yard Touchdown to put the Rams up by 14.

Down by 14, the 49ers responded by punting. Fortunately, the 49ers defense began to wake up, as Dan Skuta sacked Davis twice on their ensuing possession, and the 49ers partially blocked Hekker's punt to put themselves in good field position. Still, they couldn't move the ball at all, went 3-and-out, and ended up settling for a long Phil Dawson Field Goal to get them on the board. By this point, the Rams had basically dominated the game, dominated the clock and seemed primed to run out the clock on the half and take a double-digit lead into the locker room. But their ensuing drive was cut short after a questionable Offensive Pass Interference penalty called on Jared Cook. This, of course, led to the sequence that led to Brandon Lloyd's Touchdown that for all intents and purposes tilted everything into San Francisco's favor.

The game after Halftime was basically all 49ers. Though the 49ers had a difficult time establishing the run game with Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde, Colin Kaepernick had no problem throwing the ball around against an inexperienced Rams secondary. He spread the ball around to multiple receivers on the 49ers first drive of the 3rd Quarter, ultimately throwing his 2nd Touchdown pass of the game on a play where he had to scramble around the backfield to avoid the Rams pass rush. Eventually, he bought himself enough time to whip a pass into the back of the end zone and into the arms of the trusty Anquan Boldin, who reeled it in for his 1st Touchdown catch of the season. Boldin's Touchdown gave the 49ers their first lead of the game, although by that point it almost seemed a foregone conclusion that they would find a way to take control. The Rams had no particular response, except for Davis getting sacked by Ahmad Brooks, and after punting back to San Francisco, Kaepernick hit Stevie Johnson for a pair of long completions to kick off a drive that finished with Michael Crabtree catching a crisp pass from Kaepernick on a post pattern in stride and waltzing into the End Zone for another Touchdown that put the 49ers ahead by 10 points.

The 4th Quarter of the game was mostly academic. The 49ers basically held court, mostly running the ball behind Gore and Hyde and eating up the clock. The Rams tried in vain to get themselves back into the game. Ultimately, they did manage to close the deficit to 7 points when they drove down and scored on a Greg Zuerlein Field Goal, but by that point, barely 2 minutes remained, and when the 49ers recovered the ensuing onside kick, they took even more time off the clock and forced the Rams to use their remaining Time Outs. The 49ers did punt the ball back to St. Louis, but their last second desperation drive was cut off rudely when Dontae Johnson intercepted Davis and ran the ball back for a 20-yard Touchdown that put the finishing touches on the 49ers 31-17 victory.

The 49ers now sit at 4-2 and things certainly look a lot better now than they did 3 weeks ago when the team was 1-2. Sound familiar? It should, since they did the same thing last season. This wasn't a perfect performance by the 49ers, and they still haven't clicked on all cylinders this season, but Kaepernick certainly had a great game, completing 22 of 36 passes for 343 yards and 3 Touchdowns with no Interceptions. He was generous with the ball, with Boldin catching 7 passes, Johnson 5 and Crabtree 3. Lloyd of course had his one show-stopper and Vernon Davis returned to action with 3 catches. Defensively, though Patrick Willis was lost for the game after Halftime with a toe injury that hopefully won't linger, the 49ers had a solid performance, holding Davis and the Rams to 3 points after the 1st Quarter and sacking him 5 times, two each for Skuta and Ahmad Brooks, and one for Antoine Bethea.

So, now, the 49ers will keep their Prime Time presence going when they're featured on the Biggest Game In The Galaxy next Sunday night, a game that stands to be an even bigger hype-fest because they're voyaging to the rarefied air of Denver to take on Peyton Manning and the Denver PeytonMannings PapaJohnsPizzas MeatCutters Broncos. That should be fun.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Same Story As Before

If you're like me, and you've had enough of the St. Louis Cardinals, that's too bad, because here they are, back in the NLCS for the 4th year in a row. It doesn't matter who's in their lineup or who's pitching for them, or who they face in the postseason, they always seem to find a way to win the necessary games. That includes beating Clayton Kershaw twice, because when you're the Cardinals, and you basically shit gold at every turn, you do things like that. In Game 1, they basically singled him to death in an 8-run, 7th inning rally. In the series finale on Tuesday, Kershaw was again cruising along until the 7th inning, when he gave up 2 singles, and then a massive 3-run Home Run to the Cardinals Duda-like 1st Baseman Matt Adams that gave the Cardinals a lead. The shell-shocked Dodgers could not recover and the Cardinals advanced once again.

The Cardinals are playing in their 4th NLCS in a row and they won 2 of the 3 prior. The team that beat them happens to be their opponent in this year's NLCS, the San Francisco Giants. The Giants, who have this every-other-year thing going on, are in the NLCS for the 3rd time in the last 5 years, and haven't lost one in that time period. In 2012, these two teams met, and although the Cardinals ran out to a 3 games to 1 lead and appeared primed to annoy their way into another World Series, the Giants fought back and won the final 3 games, shutting out the Cardinals twice and ended up riding their mojo all the way to a World Series Championship.

So, to boil it down to simple facts, there have only been two teams that have won the last 4 National League Championships. They're both playing for the pennant in 2014. How little has changed. Where the American League Championship features fresh teams and new faces, this series is teams that we as Mets fans don't like and have seen too much of. This is what I have to pick from? What happened to the Pirates? What happened to Washington? Well, both of them were victimized by The Giants, specifically Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Yusmeiro Petit and other, lesser known players like Brandon Belt and Joe Panik. Bumgarner pistolwhipped the Pirates in the Wildcard game, which was non-competitive. After beating the Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS, Petit and Belt conspired to win an 18-inning marathon in Game 2, which featured a sterling 6 scoreless innings from the former, and a game-winning Home Run from the latter after a 9th inning comeback. The Giants dropped Game 3, but unfazed came back and waited around for the Nationals to predictably self-destruct in Game 4, which they did, and the Giants won the game and the series.

And now, here we are again. Which team do you dislike less I suppose is the key thing here, and for me, it's the Giants. Not that I have any particular reason to dislike them, but I will say that their recent run of overwhelming success has brought a spate of annoying fans out of the woodwork, which I suppose can happen to any team that finds success. Except for the Cardinals, whose fans are overbearing and annoying no matter how the team is doing (although let's face it, I find fans of just about any team that's not the Mets annoying, but to be fair, there are plenty of teams that I've never actually met a fan of). So because I'm sick of the Cardinals, I'm going to pick the Giants in this series, partially because I think they're the better team, and partially out of spite. It's nice to be well-informed about these things. Giants in 5-6.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mighty KC

The 2014 ALCS has been set since Sunday, when two teams that I'm quite certain nobody picked to be here clinched their spots by finishing off shocking sweeps of their supposedly superior opponents.

I'd already gone into the curious case of the intrepid Kansas City Royals, led by their intrepid star Eric Hosmer, who made the brilliant decision of getting on a raging hot streak just as the playoffs were beginning and he'd be playing in games in front of a National TV audience. Hosmer hit another Home Run on Sunday night in Kansas City, as did Mike Moustakas, KC's two Extra-inning heroes. But the key hit came very early for the Royals, courtesy of their George Brett-like Outfielder Alex Gordon, whose 3-run double in the 1st inning cleared the bases, chased Angels starter C.J. Wilson from the game, and gave the Royals a lead they wouldn't relinquish. This was after Mike Trout, whom I last week said was not chosen by the Playoffs to succeed, made me look somewhat foolish by hitting a Home Run in his 1st at bat, but then continued to prove my point because that Home Run ended up being his only hit in the series. In the end, the Royals stepped on the Angels' throats and piled on from there, winning 8-3, and if you like verisimilitude, there was Mike Trout striking out for the final out of the series, as the Royals and their fans basked in a rain-soaked victory.

That was their first Postseason series win in 29 years. That's because it was their first Postseason period in 29 years, we all know that. On the other side, there are the Baltimore Orioles, who haven't had quite as dramatic a postseason drought. They were in the ALDS in 2012, losing to some other AL East team that's no longer relevant, but before that, the last time they were in the Postseason was 1997, when they made it to the ALCS and lost. But when it comes to World Series Championships, the Orioles have neither won one or sniffed one since 1983, back in an era where their roster consisted of Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray and Mike Boddicker. The Orioles still seem to do it with pitching, keeping a potent Tigers lineup mostly quiet through their 3-game ALDS while they put together a pair of 8th inning rallies to win the first two games at home, and rode the power of Nelson Cruz and the pitching of Bud Norris and their bullpen to win Game 3. These Orioles are built in a similar fashion to the Royals: Not a lot of stars, but a collection of players that do everything well and Pitchers who are generally very tough all the time. We all know about Nelson, who's one of those guys that was chosen by the Postseason back when he was with Texas. He's been helped out by Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop. Pitching, they did it with Chris Tillman winning the 1st game and Norris in the 3rd game. Wei Yin Chen was hit hard in Game 2, but he's pitched well otherwise. Like KC, who boasts a bullpen full of guys who throw really hard, Baltimore had their ass saved in Game 2 by their bullpen, specifically Kevin Gausman, one of those guys playing the "starter who's coming out of the bullpen in the Playoffs" role.

Bottom line is neither of these teams can be slept on, and they're here because people slept on them. The talk, in general, is which of these teams is the team of Destiny. Either one of them can be viewed as such, because neither of them had the Look of a Champion much throughout the season. True, the Orioles, behind Buck Showalter, led the AL East most of the way and won their division with ease. The Royals had a more treacherous road here, didn't clinch a spot in the Postseason until the final week of the season, and we know what they overcame in the Wildcard game, but sometimes all it takes for a team is just getting there, and then you take it from there. That can often be the best recipe for success in the Postseason. That, and having a guy get chosen by the Postseason to somehow make The Leap and become a guy that catches national attention. Right now, that's been Eric Hosmer. I know that most of what I've read has been touting the Orioles as more of a team of Destiny than the Royals, and that ultimately they'll be the team that's going to emerge out of what looks to be a really fun ALCS, but I'm going the other way and picking the Royals. When you keep coming back in games, when you keep winning games in Extra Innings, and when you have the guy that's become The Guy for your team, that tends to be the recipe for success in a Championship series. So I pick the Royals, 6-7 games and yeah, I know those games are in Baltimore, but that doesn't seem to matter when you have teams like this.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

2014 Mets: Small Steps Forward, Part I

2014 for the Mets started out with about as much promise as the 5 years before it. That is to say there wasn't much. This was supposed to be the year that things finally started to get better for the team, but amid the emergence of some good young pitchers came the unfortunate and untimely injury that shelved Matt Harvey for the season and a general lack of activity to improve the roster in the offseason—particularly the offense. Curtis Granderson and Chris Young were brought in but did not make the impact that was expected. Shortstop and Left Field continued to be a black hole. Others suffered through difficult seasons. But amid the offensive uncertainty, the pitching staff thrived and tantalized with a number of young arms that found themselves at the Major League level. Even without Harvey, the Mets boasted a wealth of exciting young arms that kept the Mets in games throughout the season, and many of them seemed to improve as the season went on.

The Mets improved by 5 wins over last year and the general consensus is that now is the time to strike—make the necessary improvements to set the team up for actual, tangible success in 2015 and beyond. A lot of the foundation has been laid and a lot of the names that served to make 2014 a small step forward will be there next year, and will hopefully build on what they started this season. Phrases like "change the conversation" have been thrown around a lot as it pertains to the Mets and their chances going forward—it depends on what Sandy Alderson can do—what he's able to do in order to improve some areas on the team that have been heavily neglected for as long as he's been running the show here.

As usual, the Mets used 45 players this season, and now it's time to grade everyone. We'll start with the position players, pitchers will be forthcoming. Read and enjoy!

CATCHERS
Travis d'Arnaud - B
On June 6th, the day he was sent down to the Minors, Travis d'Arnaud was hitting .180, with 3 Home Runs and 9 RBI on the season. He returned on June 24th after tearing up AAA ball for a few weeks and promptly socked a 3-run Home Run off Scott Kazmir that led to a Mets victory. This was the first step in what turned into a solid second half of the season for d'Arnaud, and probably saved him from getting a D and me writing about his general failure to live up to expectations. After returning from the Minors, d'Arnaud hit .272 with 10 Home Runs and 32 RBI, finishing up with .242/.302/.416 with 13 Home Runs and 42 RBI, not eye-popping numbers, but respectable considering his poor start, the fact that he was a Rookie, and the fact that he's a Catcher and took the predictable beating Catchers usually take. Defensively, still figuring it out. Too many passed balls and a lousy time throwing out would-be basestealers. But he's developed a great rapport with a majority of the pitching staff, particularly Wheeler, and he just has the look of a guy who, once he's got a few years under his belt, is going to be one of these snarling Jerry Grote-types who will chew out Pitchers and not smile very much on game days. I'm looking forward to more.

Anthony Recker - C
Generally unimpressive season, much like last year, although he did come through with the occasional key Home Run, which sometimes fools people into thinking he might be better than he is. A good backup to have around for token Sunday afternoon starts. 7 Home Runs and 27 RBI in a part-time role is great, but don't look too far past the .201 BA and 64 strikeouts in 174 ABs.

Taylor Teagarden
Failed ex-prospect who ascended when d'Arnaud went down to the minors. I saw him hit a Grand Slam in his first game with the Mets which was a) completely shocking and b) the high point of his Mets tenure. Hit .143 in 9 games, which included the Grand Slam and 1 RBI otherwise. 

Juan Centeno
Forever remembered as the first Catcher to throw out Billy Hamilton, Centeno returned in September of this year and continued to play reasonably good defense in very limited opportunities. Hit .200 with 2 RBI, but considering that this was accomplished in 30 ABs I don't know how much stock you can put in it.

INFIELDERS
Lucas Duda - A
I'll happily admit that I was wrong about Lucas Duda. After spending the better part of two seasons relentlessly flogging Duda and decrying his presence on the team, Duda finally put it together in 2014. After a season in which he looked generally clueless both at the plate and in the field, where 14 of his 15 Home Runs came with nobody on base and he struck out 102 times in 318 at bats, Duda opened the season on the bench as a guy without a role, basically just as mysterious as the other two 1st Basemen on the roster. Sure, he was named the everyday starter after 4 games, and he responded with a 2-Home Run night against the Reds, but even after Davis was traded to Pittsburgh and the starting job was his alone, Duda still couldn't get his act together. At the end of May, Duda was hitting .230, with 7 Home Runs, 24 RBI and 42 strikeouts. But something funny happened as the calendar turned: Duda finally figured it out. His approach at the plate, generally very passive, changed to a more aggressive tact, and the result was that he cast himself in a whole new light. All of a sudden, Duda was now a dependable power source in the middle of the lineup, and not only was he hitting Home Runs with men on base, he was also getting extra base hits with runners on base. Though he cooled somewhat in September, he managed to close out his breakout season with a walkoff Home Run on the second to last day of the season, and Homered again in his final at bat, earning himself a curtain call that nobody thought he would get when he struck out on Opening Day. A second half in which he hit 18 Home Runs and drove in 51 helped him finish with a career best 30 Home Runs and 92 RBI. Quite a turnaround.

Daniel Murphy - B
The Mets' lone All Star in 2014, Murphy was on his way to perhaps his finest season in the Majors before getting injured in August. When he returned, his general mojo seemed sapped, as he ended up finishing with a .289 BA after spending most of the season hitting over .300. In general, this was more or less the norm for Murphy, lots of multi-hit games, lots of doubles, lots of instances in which he had one of his trademark spastic fits of Murphyness and defense at 2nd Base that was occasionally brilliant and sometimes frightening. Finished with 9 Home Runs and 57 RBI, a bit of a dropoff from last season. While at this point, Murphy has proven himself a perfectly serviceable 2nd Baseman, and could be considered among the better 2Bmen in the National League, at 29, it's not likely that he's going to become anything more than he already is. With players like Flores and Herrera on the ascension, it could conceivably be that Murphy's best value to the Mets is as a trade piece.

David Wright - D
Look, nobody is going to say David Wright doesn't play hard, or that he lacks hustle or desire. But what Wright's problem has been for several years is that he somehow feels like he has to do everything and be everything to this team. You can live up to the team Captaincy off the field just as much as on, and Wright's done that, but Wright really killed the team and killed his season by refusing to rest a sore shoulder that eventually caused him to be shut down in early September, ending what was by far and away the worst season of his career. When a 2-week DL stint in June might have fixed the problem, Wright played through and watched as his numbers took a major tumble. He finished with a .269 BA, which was un-Wright like enough, but then there were the 8 Home Runs and 63 RBI, numbers poor enough that it's got many people concerned that maybe it wasn't the shoulder injury, maybe it was because he's getting older and starting to break down. I suppose the answer remains to be seen, but let's say he did more damage to his shoulder by playing through this injury, or at 32 on Opening Day 2015, he's finally burned himself out from trying to carry awful teams on said shoulders. We'll see what happens.

Ruben Tejada - C
Ruben Tejada gets a C this season, because even though he wasn't very good this season, he was if nothing else better than people expected him to be after a season in which he was hurt most of the time and hit .202 with 10 RBI. Although Tejada was buried on the bench for multiple extended stretches of time during the season while the Mets experimented with other options at SS, they seemed to keep coming back to Tejada. Again, Tejada wasn't especially good this season, but he did manage to play slightly better than he did in 2013, hitting .237 with a surprising 5 Home Runs and 34 RBI and performed slightly better in the field than he did last year. All that being said, nobody's convinced that Tejada is the solution here any longer and there's a pretty good chance that he's going to end up being non-tendered and the Mets will go after a flashier name at Shortstop who can actually hit with some consistency.

Ike Davis - D
I was going to give Ike an F, but that seemed too cruel since he only appeared in 12 games and did hit a walk-off Grand Slam in one of them. But in a season that kicked off with him getting an attack of the runs and running out to the field late on Opening Day, it sort of seemed like Groundhog Day for Ike Davis, as his slow start ultimately got him shipped out of town to Pittsburgh. Yet, when he was traded, I thought the Mets had made a mistake and dealt the wrong guy. WRONG! Davis was no better in Pittsburgh, while the guy the Mets kept ended up having a career year.

Josh Satin - F
After a good season as a role player in 2013, it wasn't illogical to think Satin could be counted on to repeat that performance in 2014. Sadly, after a season in which he mustered all of 3 hits and 3 RBI en route to a batting average of .086, logic was thrown out the window. At least 2 of those 3 hits were doubles. 

Eric Campbell - C
So since Satin was so awful, the Mets turned to Eric Campbell to take over the Josh Satin role as the right handed utility infielder off the bench, and Campbell responded with a season that wasn't dissimilar to the one Satin had last year. Campbell spelled Wright at 3rd and Duda at 1st and also played a little Outfield for a while, ended up with 190 ABs in which he hit .263 with 3 Home Runs and 16 RBI. That's all well and good, but if he comes back next season and hits .086, well, don't say you weren't warned.

Dilson Herrera - Inc.
After being primarily known as "the other guy" in the Marlon Byrd trade, Herrera distinguished himself by rocketing through the Mets farm system, beginning the season in A ball and finishing up in the Majors after generally destroying pitching straight up the line. Sparkplug type who was among the youngest players in the Major Leagues, came up with a bang, although he only hit .220 before a leg injury ended his season a week early, he did hit 3 Home Runs and drive in 11 in his brief cup of coffee. Next year probably won't be his time to ascend, but I expect he'll earn himself a role on the team before too long. 

Omar Quintanilla - F
I was sort of amazed he was still around and mystified that he was on the roster on Opening Day, but there he was. Somehow made it into 15 games before the Mets finally cut him, after he unsurprisingly hit .207, but still managed 6 hits to Satin's 3. Finally made useless by the presence of Flores and Herrera among others.

Wilmer Flores - B-
Flores still has a ways to go before he can be considered legit, but given a chance to play everyday in the latter half of the season, he made his playing time count. Although he remains suspect at defense and at times struggled to find offensive consistency, he did finish strong, hitting .260 with 5 of his 6 Home Runs and 22 of his 29 RBI after August 1st, including a 2 Home Run, 6 RBI game against the Marlins. Good chance he receives first crack at solving the SS mystery next season.

Wilfredo Tovar
Second year in a row he was called off his couch in Venezuela with a week left in the season to come back and play ball. Didn't play as much this season because the Mets actually had other options available.

OUTFIELDERS
Curtis Granderson - C-
I had kind of an ominous feeling that Granderson would come to the Mets and struggle, mostly because he was switching leagues after a season in which he was injured most of the year. And yes, he went through deep slumps and his numbers, .227, 20 HRs, 66 RBI, weren't very good, but much like the Pedro Martinez signing prior to 2005, this was a necessary signing for the Mets to make, not just for a fan base tired of watching the Mets do nothing in the offseason, but for other potential Free Agents to see that the Mets are willing to spend money, and established players like Granderson want to play for them. Hopefully, the remainder of his 4-year deal ends up slightly better than Pedro's did. Or at least he's better next year than he was this year. 

Juan Lagares - B+
Lagares can certainly stake his claim on a Gold Glove, as his defense remained superb. His offense was better as well, early in the season, but of concern is his general inability to stay healthy. He made multiple trips to the Disabled list that short-circuited his fine start, and ultimately he slumped offensively, finishing with a .281 BA after hitting around .320 for a while, but 4 Home Runs, 47 RBI and 13 steals did represent an improvement. He's certainly earned himself the CF job, but the question is if he can keep himself on the field for a full season.

Eric Young, Jr - C+
Young wasn't nearly the sparkplug he was last season, and ultimately he was reduced to a bench role, which is fine, because he's probably best suited for a bench role. Still managed to steal 30 bases but only hit .229 with a .299 OBA, numbers that would never work as a full-time leadoff hitter. 

Kirk Nieuwenhuis - C
Unexciting 4-A/4th OF type who seems to bounce between the minors and majors every season and doesn't do much to distinguish himself, outside of those first couple of months in 2012 when he came up, hit a lot and tantalized everyone before regressing. .259 better than the .189 he hit last year, but 3 Home Runs and 16 RBI wasn't an improvement at all.

Chris Young - F
I get the logic behind this signing but ultimately this was grasping at straws. Alderson clearly had some blind hope that a change of scenery would help Young turn into Chris Young circa 2010 but that didn't happen and after hitting a miserable .205 with 8 Home Runs and managing all of 12 hits from July 1st until August 7th, it's not really surprising or unjustified that he was released on August 8th. 

Matt den Dekker - C
I sort of have the sense that den Dekker is basically Kirk Nieuwenhuis with a better glove, and it's not even that much of a better glove. Another way to look at it is to say that the Mets have the market cornered on lefty-hitting Outfielders that can hit .250 without much power. 

Andrew Brown - C-
Andrew Brown's entire season basically happened by accident, when Chris Young couldn't answer the bell on Opening Day and in his stead, Andrew Brown hit a 3-run Home Run off Stephen Strasburg in the 1st inning. Brown did nothing to dispel the idea that that was some kind of weird, flukish thing that happened. After being sent down in late April after hitting .185, Brown returned in June, Homered in his 1st game back and then was done for good after lowering his average to .182. 8 hits for the season trumped both Satin and Quintanilla, though.

Bobby Abreu
Swan song for the Pro's pro Abreu, who went from years as a hated rival with the Phillies to sage veteran in the clubhouse at Age 40, still able to come off the bench on relative occasion and slash a line drive. Retired at season's end and provided a nice moment on Closing Day when he singled in his final At Bat and was able to walk off the field on a high note. 

Part 2, the Pitchers, forthcoming!