Friday, February 29, 2008

The All-Ballclub Team, 2008 Edition

In the interest of carrying on a tradition begun by Ballclub Emeritus El Guapo (yes, it was only one year and one time, but nevertheless), and in the interest of keeping this blog up to date with the current face of Major League Baseball, I thought it best, on this Leap Day, to offer up the 2008 edition of the All-Ballclub Team. As El Guapo noted last year, these aren't the best players in Baseball, they're not my particular favorite players, they're just a group of 40 players who, I feel, best represent The Ballclub and what we stand for here. You can click here for the 2007 list.
Although it's several months after the fact, I think it is fair and proper to award Ryan Howard the Ballclub player of the Year award, and Jonathan Papelbon as the Ballclub's Pitcher of the year for 2007. Yes, it sticks in my craw to do so, but such a title is earned, and these players have earned it.

And now, the All-Ballclub Team for 2008, in alphabetical order:
  1. Carlos Beltran
  2. Robinson Cano
  3. Endy Chavez
  4. Joba Chamberlain
  5. Carl Crawford
  6. Jermaine Dye
  7. Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. Yunel Escobar
  9. Sal Fasano
  10. Tom Gorzelanny
  11. Curtis Granderson
  12. Ken Griffey, Jr.
  13. Bill Hall
  14. Cole Hamels
  15. Josh Hamilton
  16. Brad Hawpe
  17. Matt Holliday
  18. Ryan Howard
  19. Torii Hunter
  20. Tim Lincecum
  21. Francisco Liriano
  22. John Maine
  23. Nick Markakis
  24. Pedro Martinez
  25. Joe Mauer
  26. David Ortiz
  27. Jonathan Papelbon
  28. Hunter Pence
  29. Hanley Ramirez
  30. Jose Reyes
  31. Mariano Rivera
  32. C.C. Sabathia
  33. Johan Santana
  34. Alfonso Soriano
  35. Ichiro Suzuki
  36. Nick Swisher
  37. Mark Teahen
  38. Dontrelle Willis
  39. David Wright
  40. Delmon Young
A good non-baseball example of a Ballclub Player would most likely be Antonio Pierce of the New York Giants. Again, this isn't a who's the best list. I'm not out here to crown people. It's just a list. Take it for what it is.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Vote For Pedro!

This is #3 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2008 Season.
I've heard it said by more than a few people that the signing of Pedro Martinez prior to the 2005 season was a waste. Not so. I will and we at the Ballclub have defended this signing in the past, and will continue to do so long after Pedro has retired. Yes, when Pedro was brought in, he was not the dominant, badass Pedro that he was for so many years with the Expos and Red Sox, and it was a signing based more on reputation than on expected performance. Not only did the Pedro signing arguably give the Mets a leg up in bringing in some other key players, it brought back a few things to the Mets that had been sorely lacking in the few years prior. Those things were Energy from the fans, and Hope. For those first couple of seasons, every Pedro start was an event. Things were always happening. Pedro was brilliant, or sprinklers were going off on the infield, or Pedro was pointing at fans and acting silly, or whatever. The signing was a necessary one at the time it was made. Whether or not he's earned the $53 million is, at this point, academic.

At the time, Pedro was counted on to be the Ace. With Pedro now entrenched on the latter half of his career, and also entrenched as the #2 starter behind Johan Santana, Pedro will be counted on less as The Man, the guy who's going to eat innings and dominate, and moreso as the #2 guy, who is going to be himself, as he always has, pitch out the season, have his rough spots, but more often than not, give the Mets the 6 innings needed to win a game.

It's clear that, unlike in Boston, 2004, when Curt Schilling was brought in, there is no sense of "Dueling Aces" going on between Pedro and Johan. Pedro and Johan certainly appear to have a great deal of respect for each other, and for what they both will bring to the Mets in 2008. It appears that Pedro has willingly ceded the #1 starter status to Johan, and rightfully so. Pedro isn't going to rear back and kill you with a stream of 95MPH heaters, deadly curves and mind-numbing changeups. He's not that kind of pitcher anymore. His best days will see him touch 90-91. But as he has gotten older, Pedro has managed to successfully re-invent himself as a pitcher. Pedro is a rare breed: A power pitcher who knows how to pitch, rather than just throw (I cite Oliver Perez as an example, not as a knock on Ollie, just an example). One such game late in 2005 saw Pedro shut out the Atlanta Braves on a mystifying array of off speed and breaking pitches, and the gas at the right moment. But this sort of effort from Pedro seemed to elude him as the 2006 season wore on, and his health was an issue. That, again, was nothing new. As a pitcher with a slight build, Pedro's arm health was always that thing that nagged in the back of your mind, be it as a Sox fan from 2001-2004, a Mets fan following, or anyone who owned him in a Fantasy Baseball league. And in 2006, that major injury bug finally hit him, when he went down with a balky hip and, eventually, a Rotator Cuff injury.

2007 could basically be considered a wash for Pedro. He returned to the Mets in September, perhaps as the cog that would finally push the Mets away from the pack in the NL East. That didn't happen. But it wasn't Pedro's fault. Yes, the first few efforts he turned in were uneven. But like John Maine has been able to bank on his fabulous finish, so, I believe, can Pedro. With the Mets desperately hanging on, playing a makeup game against the Cardinals on September 27th, Pedro came out and pitched his heart out for 7 courageous innings. With the Mets offense providing him with nothing, the crowd apoplectic and the margin for error nil, Pedro pitched to the absolute best of his ability that night. Yes, he gave up 3 runs on some soft singles and shoddy defense. But what more could possibly have been expected from him on that night? His effort alone brought some faint glimmer of energy to the fans at Shea that night—and yes, it comes back to that one thing—Hope.


So now, we turn ahead to 2008. The final year on Pedro's 4-year deal. Pedro has come to training camp feeling great, full of pep and energy and his usual vinegar. He has brazenly said that he feels better than he has in years, provided us with the quote of the year when asked about steroids, and even boldly threw a side session with his eyes closed. But what, then, can we expect from him once the gun sounds? Again, with Santana in the fold, Pedro doesn't have to be an ace, he just has to be good. Santana's going to be the guy. He's going to eat innings, be his own bridge to Heilman, Feliciano and maybe even all the way to Wagner. But maybe he's better than good. Maybe, just maybe, Pedro has one last, great season in him. And wouldn't that make the Mets golden? Wouldn't that ease the burden on an already questionable bullpen? Wouldn't that serve to back up Carlos Beltran's statements? Woudn't that shut Jimmy Rollins and the Philly fans up?
The odds certainly wouldn't dictate that Pedro would be able to be the dominant, badass Pedro of old, that's for sure. But given that Pedro is very likely feeling better than he has in years, that he won't have the pressure on him of having to live up to his past, and the fact that Pedro is, perhaps, the smartest pitcher of his generation, wouldn't it just make sense for Pedro to shock the hell out of everyone, come out and put up 15-18 wins and a 3.30 ERA? Wouldn't it make sense to see Pedro come out and toss 7 innings and give up 3 runs, 2 earned on 7 hits and 1 walk on a regular basis?

He did that last September when hope was hopeless. Hope isn't hopeless anymore in Mets camp.

Monday, February 25, 2008

That's My $12 Ace

You know, the guy on the right.

The keepers for my Fantasy Baseball league were due in today. After my 9th place finish last year, I figured it was time to rebuild. But there was one pitcher I decided to keep. He lasted the entire season in my starting lineup, despite some slumps, and rewarded me with an all-around great season.

That's John Maine. Last year, he was a Key Met. We weren't sure what we were going to get from him. But he showed us he was the goods. Now, with that successful season under his belt, he's out for more. Billy Wagner, for one, believes he's well capable of it. The article in today's Daily News certainly makes that clear. This year, there's no "whatif he can..." for John Maine. In 2007, he came through time and again in big games, games the Mets needed to win, and saved his best outing for his final start of the season. Yes, there were some bad moments. Every pitcher has them. But Maine still finished up with a sterling 15 victories, a 3.91 ERA and a team-leading 180 Ks. But for a bad inning here or a bullpen flameout there, Maine could have added to those numbers. And right now, there's no reason to believe he won't.

That's why I'm keeping him around. Perhaps I'll pop $25 or $30 for a Roy Oswalt or a C.C. Sabathia at the draft, but I'll know what's what. I've already got my $12 Ace.

John Maine is Mets Ace in the hole
[Daily News]

Friday, February 22, 2008

INVADERS!


Opening Day is more than a month away, but things are already starting to get interesting.

Jimmy Rollins arrived in Phillies camp this week and wasted no time in firing back at Carlos Beltran and the Mets, and the war of words that has begun to erupt between these two teams.

Beltran's comment about the Mets being the team to beat obviously didn't sit well with the defending MVP, who accused Beltran of plagiarism, before proclaiming that not only would the Phillies repeat as NL East Champions, but they would win 100 games in the process.

I've made my feelings about Steroid Field #2 (AKA Citizen's Bank Park) be known. The Phillies might score like a 100-win team, but will they pitch like one? I'm inclined to think not, unless Freddy Garcia somehow morphs into, well, Johan Santana. Don't think that's happening.

But this sort of brashness out of Rollins? No, never.

It stands to be 19 very, very interesting games between these two teams that don't seem to like each other very much.

19 interesting games between two teams whose fans seem to like each other even less than the teams do.

While the war of words begun between players, a turf war of sorts has broken out between the rival factions, and it's starting to get pretty ugly pretty fast.

On Wednesday, Metsblog beseeched Mets fans to buy up tickets at SF2 before the Phillies fans could get them, thereby flooding the joint with Mets fans. This is nothing new. Even at The Vet, Mets fans would raid the stadium in droves, driving down the Jersey Turnpike to catch the Mets on the road. When one, or both teams were horrible, not a rare occurrence, it was routine to hear "Lets Go Mets!" chants in Philly.

In fact, there's a campaign going already to flood SF2 with Mets fans for the nationally televised April 19th Game, among other dates the Mets will be in Philly.

Well, the Philly fans caught wind of this, and they're firing back themselves. In between taking pot shots at Beltran, the New York Times, and Shea Stadium itself, the folks at the 700 Level are planning a Shea Takeover of their own, on September 6th, another nationally televised affair. They've even got a Facebook page set up, with over 500 Philly fans raring to take over Shea and show us that they're tired of us invading their turf. How dare we show such support for our team in great numbers, while nobody in Philly bothers to come up here and mess with us.

Mets fans fire back by stating that the Phillies will just be battling Atlanta for 2nd place by then. Philly fans retort by saying look at what happened last year.

I've never been one to travel around to exotic places to see the Mets. Outside of a few games in the Bronx, I've never been to a Mets game outside of Shea. And I don't anticipate sojourning down to Philadelphia to see the Mets, where I'd likely be spat on, cursed at, dowsed with beer and be told 77 different ways about how the guys in the row behind me did my mother last night. At least they won't tell me to take my hat off during the National Anthem. Besides, my irrational anger would likely get the better of me, and I would run the risk of doing something stupid and getting myself thrown out of SF2. I'll stay in New York, where I have much more back, and what's besides the point, my schedule at the current time only allows me to get to see Philly during their first trip into New York (assuming I procure my seats for Opening Day, and my 7-pack seats for April 10).

But I digress. I'll take my chances watching the games in Philly either from the comfort of my own home, or from Ballclub HQ, East Village Bureau with a few Guinnesses (my days of dancing with Gin Martinis are over following an ill-advised incident at the end of last season). At least this way, should things turn bad, I can just order another beer to numb things out, yell at a cab driver and pass out.

To break up the tension, however, I can always count on the good people at the Tao of Stieb. Although the Blue Jays have put together an admirable squad, they're hopelessly stuck behind the Arms Race from Hell in the AL East, so rather than griping about it, they're praising the physiques of the talented Alex Rios and the lovely Jenny Lewis, and being challenged to eat raw bacon, all the while bashing their own idiotic PR staff for hawking tickets to Tigers and Red Sox fans. As if they didn't have enough problems already. Sorry, guys.

Yeah, this is getting pretty damn ugly. It should be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's a Shame About Reyes

This is #2 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2008 Season.

It seems like a bit of a recurring theme for these Key Mets, but it's valid. After a great 2006 season, these players regressed in similar spots in 2007.

Jose Reyes is a prime example of this.

In 2006, Reyes seemed to have the Baseball World at his fingertips. The season he put together led all of us to believe that he would only get better and better as his career progressed. To go along with his .300 BA, Jose boasted a .354 OBA, 19 HRs, 64 steals and a whopping 81 RBI out of the leadoff spot. He hit for the Cycle in June, 3 HRs in a game in August, and an exciting play pretty much on a daily basis. The smiles, the handshakes and the winning attitude permeated throughout the Mets dugout.

And in 2007, while the SB numbers remained lofty, it seemed like Reyes regressed.
After starting off April looking every bit like he was going to smash the career highs he'd set in '06, all of a sudden Reyes drifted into a funk, beginning at the end of May, that lasted through the remainder of the season. And suddenly, with Reyes not getting on base and creating havoc and runs, the rest of the team seemed rather lost. Even worse, it seemed like Reyes wasn't enjoying himself. There was the much-publicized benching by Willie Randolph in July after Reyes failed to run out a ground ball. Line drives were caught. He wasn't hitting grounders. His swing looked completely screwed up, like he was trying to uppercut the ball. This was a bad habit Reyes had gotten into earlier in his career. It had appeared he'd righted the problem, but fell into it again as he obviously became more frustrated in '07. I've made the argument that Reyes could have been slightly jealous over all the ink Endy Chavez got for his HR against the Yankees. Whether or not that's true, or just another of my cockamamie theories is moot at this point. Whatever it was, Reyes did very little of what he was expected to do in '07, and was a prime culprit of the lazy, listless play the team displayed at the end of the season.


His low moment, perhaps, could have been in the 9th inning of the September 25th game against Washington. With the Mets miserably trailing the Nationals 10-3, Reyes was seen laughing and smiling on the field as the team crumbled. Gary Cohen noticed this and promptly tore Reyes a new one on SNY. Howie Rose did the same on WFAN. How could Reyes be laughing when he's been the picture of lackluster play? Reyes came up in the last of the 9th and whacked a 3-run HR, leading to a furious 6-run rally, a day late and a run short. It was frustrating to watch, but when Reyes appeared to behave like a petulant moody teenager, it bordered on the unacceptable. On the final day of the season, Reyes was among those booed the loudest and the longest. And although I rarely condone booing your own players, this time, it was deserved.

Following the season, Reyes deservedly took a lot of heat for his performance. It was suggested that Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph needed to give Reyes a stern talking to about keeping his focus and remembering what his responsibility to the team is. The revelation that came out, echoed in a December New York Times article, was that Reyes was exhausted by the end of the season, but refused to sit, and refused to discuss his need to sit with his manager. The blame for this falls both on Willie and Reyes, Willie for not recognizing it and sitting Reyes for a day or two here and there, and Reyes for not being up front about it. When Reyes was tired, he lost focus, and when he lost focus, he made dumb mistakes and fell into bad habits.

Clearly, this can't repeat itself if the Mets are going to return to prominence in 2008.


Reyes, like most of the Mets position players, reported to camp early this year, and one of the encouraging signs we've seen out of him so far is accountability. That is, he's willing to admit to, and accept his role in last season's collapse. "I lost focus. That's Baseball," he says. "It happened at a bad time, and hopefully, it won't happen again."

True, but with all that's been said, by Willie, by Omar, and by Reyes himself, it's incumbent upon him to make sure that it won't happen again. Without Reyes providing the spark for this team, getting on base, being a smart baserunner and showing sound fundamentals, the Mets are screwed.

Jose Reyes knows what he has to do. Now he's got to shut up and do it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Metsitude

After just a few days of camp being open, it's pretty clear that there is a different attitude around the Mets this year. Normally stoic and reserved, Carlos Beltran stepped to the forefront over the weekend, firing a salvo at Philadelphia normally expected from someone like Pedro Martinez.

"This year, tell Jimmy Rollins WE'RE the team to beat."
This quote served to let everyone around the Mets, and to the Phillies as well, know that it's on. The Mets haven't forgotten what went down at the end of last year, and with the acquisition of Santana, the Mets are determined to turn the page and deliver some payback to Philadelphia for a pair of indignant sweeps late last season. There was the killer instinct on Philadelphia. Jimmy Rollins' quote last year raised the bar for them, and when the Mets let them hang around, the Phillies went and took it. They're the new Braves now. And as such, they're going to draw the ire of Mets fans. And we can expect similar treatment in Philadelphia, assuming their fans will fill their tiny little abomination of a ballpark, where even puny little Shane Victorini can pop HRs. "I don't care," Beltran says. "They boo me in Houston. One more city won't make a difference." But I digress. Bringing Santana to the Mets, a flawed team that nearly won its division last year, makes them the prohibitive favorite to win the Division once again. Philadelphia has made some nice little additions to their team, but they are also pinning a lot of hope on the return to dominance of Brad Lidge, the effectiveness of Freddy Garcia and one more year out of Jamie Moyer.

On the other side, Santana has not only bolstered the Mets rotation, he has also inspired his new teammates with a different type of confidence, a new attitude. We'll call it "Metsitude" for lack of a better word. It's been exuding from Mets camp ever since he showed up on Thursday. By Saturday, this new swagger had spread all the way to Beltran. Beltran has, in the past, been a reluctant poster boy for the team. In 2005, he was the man leading the New Mets, and he struggled. But blended in with Delgado, Wright and Reyes and he shined in '06 and was nearly as good in '07. In '08, he will now be counted on to make his words stand up. If the optimism of the last few days has been an indication, I wouldn't bet against it.

This team is Pissed. I like that in my Ballclub.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Mango and The Egg


"I can breathe. It's like a big glass of cold water when you're thirsty. That's how bad we wanted Johan. I'm glad he's on our side. He's somebody who, now, everybody can rely on. Actually, he's somebody I'll love to be around. He's a great person. I'm really proud to have him here. I can't wait to give him a big hug and say, 'Hey, we're together now.' One from the left side, the other from the right side."

-Pedro Martinez

The fanfare surrounding the unofficial opening of training camp yesterday in Port St. Lucie naturally focused on a pair of pitchers, both primed and ready to return the Mets to prominence as the dominant team in the National League.

It's an enviable position to be in right now, especially with Johan Santana showing up, tossing a ball for a little while, but basically letting his actions do the talking. What's there for him to say? He's not here to say much. He's here to perform. The talking can certainly be left to another pitcher, occupying a locker two stalls to the right of Santana's. A pitcher with a sterling track record of his own, and a reputation as an irreverent and loquacious individual.
Pedro sounded off on several issues. He's glad Santana is here with him. Who wouldn't be? Where Pedro silently feuded with Curt Schilling as the dueling aces in Boston brought home a Championship in 2004, there appears to be no animosity between these two who will anchor the top of the Mets rotation. Pedro knows. He's not the pitcher he was in 2003, and with Santana now here to supplant him as the #1 guy, Pedro can now focus on just being Pedro. He knows his role on the ballclub has been solidified, and with Santana ahead of him to eat innings and, hopefully, save the bullpen, Pedro can relax, knowing that his 6 inning efforts may indeed be sufficient enough to earn a victory.

Pedro sounded off on a number of different things yesterday, not just on Santana. With the Steroid Circus coming to a head on Wednesday, Pedro himself stood up to some questions. Despite his slight build, Pedro thrived for many years throwing over 95 MPH. But since, he has broken down. The 95 turned to 88, and Pedro became a master of deception on the mound, still able to thrive on smarts. But when asked about Steroids, Pedro provided us with a typical Pedro answer:

“Yeah, I hurt because I did it clean, because I never had anything against the clean game of baseball. That’s why I was a prima donna. That’s why I hurt. That’s why I don’t pitch 33 outings every year. Because I have a small frame, and I did it clean. And all I could take was two Aleves or two Advil, a cup of coffee, a little mango and an egg, and go out there and let it go and face everybody that’s out there. And you know what? That’s the era I dominated.”

Once again, we see the Mango playing a pivotal role in Pedro's life. As a child, he sat under the Mango trees in the Dominican Republic. He threw the mangoes with his brother, Ramon. His first kiss, perhaps, came under the mango tree. And now, the truth comes out. For all the wisdom Pedro may impart on Santana or any other pitcher on the Mets, perhaps they will do it over a dish of mango. It has to be the mangoes that made him great. From his humble beginnings to now.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Written Traditions

Before Keith Hernandez plied his trade on television, becoming a maven of unintentional (and sometimes very intentional) comedy and general smarminess, he was one of Baseball's greatest on-field minds. To watch him at the plate was to appreciate his strategy: Lie in the weeds, then attack. To see him field was like watching a Gene Kelly dance routine: Graceful and flawless. Both of these traits about Hernandez are made evident in the first of two books he wrote about Baseball, "If at First..."

With Pitchers and Catchers set to report to Port St. Lucie tomorrow (Johan Santana among them), it is almost time for me to pull out my dog-eared, raggedy paperback copy of "If at First..." for my annual Spring Training reading. I have read this book every march for the past 5 seasons as a way of getting me primed and ready for the Baseball season from a thinking man's standpoint.

The book, a journal-style chronicle of the Mets 1985 campaign (the paperback has a final chapter regarding 1986), gives you a great deal of insight into how Keith dealt with a lot of the outside circumstances in his life. 1985 was not a particularly good year for him off the field, with a messy divorce and the Pittsburgh Drug Trials taking place at various points during the season. Hernandez handles it all with class, never allowing it to greatly affect his performance on the field. "On the ballfield, I'm free," he says before Opening Day. Minor details that might have been missed to the general public are discussed. Hernandez discusses his relationship with the other players on the team. Tough on young Darryl Strawberry, who will eventually battle the same problems Hernandez had earlier in his career. Chummy with Rusty Staub, the newly-acquired Gary Carter, Ron Darling and Jesse Orosco. Moments are mixed in with anecdotes from his prior days coming up through the Cardinals system. Of course, his relationship with his father, who was tough on him to the point where they wouldn't speak for several weeks on end. Although I am too young to remember the 1985 season with any great detail, having read this book makes me feel like I was there for every game.

It's just about time for me to pull it off the bookshelf once again. It's a nice reminder of what to look forward to.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Delgado Believe

This is #1 of 5 Key Mets players for the 2008 season.

Carlos Delgado came to the Mets prior to the 2006 season in a salary dump deal with the Florida Marlins. His resume at the time pretty much spoke for itself. To that point, he boasted 9 straight seasons in which he hit over 30 HRs and drove in over 90 runs. His consistency and power put him among the league's elite. Delgado didn't disappoint at all over the course of 2006. In addition to his 38 HRs and 114 RBI, his mere presence in the lineup helped to make the players around him better. Carlos Beltran, for one, seemed to reap the benefits of having a feared slugger hitting directly behind him, as his power numbers surged as well. And in the playoffs, he started off with a 4-for-5 performance and a mammoth HR in Game 1 of the NLDS, and never looked back, hitting with more consistency over that playoff run than anyone else on the team. It could easily be said that Delgado was the missing piece to the offensive puzzle for the Mets that season that put them over the top and helped them drive all the way down to Game 7 of the NLCS.

There was no reason to expect anything but the same from Delgado in the 2007 season. Yes, there were a pair of surgeries, one for Carpal Tunnel syndrome and another for Tennis Elbow after the '06 season ended, and in Spring Training, the distraction of the impending birth of his first child. But coming into the 2007 season, Carlos Delgado certainly was far from a concern for the Mets.
After Opening Day in St. Louis, where Delgado drilled a ringing double to drive in the Mets first runs of the season, it seemed like everything was OK.

Wrong.

Delgado appeared to have absolutely nothing going at the plate. Fly balls that were sure HRs in 2006 died at the warning track. He didn't hit his first HR of the season until April 23rd, finishing the month sporting a miserable .188 BA, 1 HR and 12 RBI out of his perch in the cleanup spot. He played better in May, but seemed to regress in June. It was frustrating and perplexing to watch, and the Mets performance suffered because of it. With Delgado not hitting, and clearly not himself, the Mets just muddled along. Beltran's production slipped and he began getting pitched around. Delgado was benched at times, other times moved down in the lineup to 5th or 6th, with Wright and Alou hitting ahead of him. There would be moments where Delgado did come through with a big hit, and when he had two 2 HR games in late May, it appeared that he had finally turned the corner. But that was just a mirage. Delgado regressed in June, got hot in July, hitting .323 for the month, and fell flat again in August. With Delgado unable to maintain a consistent hot streak for more than a few games at a clip, Delgado was finally shifted out of the cleanup spot for good. A big 3-run HR in Atlanta at the end of August once again made us think that Delgado would regain his form in September, but just as it appeared he was going to put it together, a hip injury undercut him and knocked him out of the lineup for two weeks when the Mets really needed him. He returned with a week to go and the Mets desperate, but it was too little, too late. And on that final, miserable day, his horrendous season ended with the indignity of having his wrist broken by a Dontrelle Willis pitch. Delgado grumbling with pain outside the batters box on that afternoon seemed to be a microcosm of his entire season: Pain and Frustration.

Add in that Delgado is going to be 36 in June, and it's easy to see why Carlos is the #1 Key Met for the upcoming season. After seeing how his presence had such a positive effect on the team in '06, and how his awful season in '07 screwed things up, it's clear that the Mets offense needs Delgado to step it up and return to form in 2008. But it's not clear whether or not he has anything left. Jeff Matthews at MetsGeek put forth a compelling hypothesis based on the wrist and elbow surgeries he had after '06, and his numbers compared with another slugging 1B, Fred McGriff. What Matthews arrives at is that it's not impossible for Delgado to have a big bounce back season—he neglects to mention that it's also a Contract year for Delgado—but that his performance might be closer to that of the second half of '07. Decent numbers, but not the kind of numbers you're used to out of Carlos Delgado.

Which would mean that the Mets offense wouldn't have quite the same punch it had in '06.

Which would mean that the Mets lineup after David Wright in the cleanup spot looks pretty pedestrian.

Which would mean that if the top of the order can't carry the brunt of the load offensively, the Mets are in for a lot of frustrating 4-2, 3-1 losses where they get a lot of hits but can't drive in any runs.

I've made the "Stand up, Delgado!" joke a few times in this forum, but it's appropriate, especially going into the 2008 season. I'd accept numbers close to his career average if not quite the same numbers he put up in '06. 30 HRs and 90 RBIs would do, with a .265 BA. But you can't at all say that you know he's absolutely going to do that now, and that's what makes this a scary proposition.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Happy Ballclub Day!

Rejoyce with us, Mets fans! For not only did we celebrate the arrival of our Franchise's Future this week, but today is the one-year Anniversary of the inception of The Ballclub.

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has supported us, linked to us and generally appreciated us in general over the past year. I hope that everyone out there who's read us has enjoyed what I've had to offer just as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Although the first season of The Ballclub did not yield the ending we would have liked, we're raring to go for 2008. What's past is archived away, only to be looked at in happier times. I am looking forward to picking apart another season, one that will hopefully bring us an extended October run.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Who is Santana?

On Monday Morning, I went into a Modell's near Grand Central. There was a line out the door with people waiting to buy Giants Super Bowl items. I was there for a different reason. Much of the merchandise on the main floor had been moved out of the way, replaced by a large, well-staffed table piled high with T-Shirts, Hats and whatnot depicting the Giants logo. Tucked away on a pillar, I found what I was looking for. I approached the register.

"I guess I'm the only one in here not buying Giants stuff, huh?" I said to the cashier.

The cashier looked at the shirt I was buying. "No," she said. "People are buying a lot of these too. Who is Santana? What's the big deal with him?"

"Well," I replied, "The Mets just traded for him. He's a pretty big deal."

Another cashier told her to get with the program. A couple of other Modell's workers chuckled at her. Not a Baseball fan, I suppose, but you'd have to be lost under a rock to avoid the talk now.

My exchange was rung up and I was on my merry way, my requisite pre-season Mets merchandise purchasing done for the moment.

And with today's Press Conference at Shea, and the ensuing media crush, I guess you can say that, at least in New York, the 2008 Baseball season has officially begun. The Giants have had their moment, but it is time for Football to step aside and make way for the true King of New York: Baseball.

Yes, we're still 7 days away from seeing Pitchers and Catchers in Florida, and more than a month from tangible competition, but today sets everything in motion, everything that this season will hold and everything that will play out will draw from today.

Today, the Mets served notice to the rest of the National League that last year's miserable conclusion will not be forgotten, and will not be taken lightly. This team has made major changes to ensure that it will not be repeated.

With their introduction today of Johan Santana, the Mets showcased a player that will hopefully be the solution to so many of the pitching troubles that plagued the team last season. No longer will Pedro Martinez be counted on to perform as the Pedro of old. No longer will El Duque be forced to shoulder the load of a 30+ start season. No longer will the bullpen, still a question mark, have to bridge game after game, inning after inning for repeated stretches. For today, the Mets introduced a pitcher that will not only win games, but solve problems in the process. For each time Santana can take a game into the 7th or 8th inning, he saves valuable innings for guys like Feliciano, Sanchez, Heilman and Schoeneweis for those days when Pedro, Perez or El Duque can only go 5 or 6 innings. The more he can bridge these gaps in games, the greater effect he will have on the entire team. A Great pitcher, a Game-changing pitcher, signed, sealed and delivered to our doorstep this great afternoon. It is truly the signal of the dawn of a new season, and the dawn of a new era for the Mets. An era we hope will lead us to the Promised Land.

That's who Santana is.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Ballad of Freddie Mercury

You can't write this stuff up.

Improbably, the Giants completed their miracle run on Sunday night with a 17-14 victory over the to-that-point undefeated New England Patriots. I don't know how they did it. I basically spent an hour after the game saying, "How the Hell did the Giants win this game?" Somehow, they did it. They're World Beaters and World Champions.

Give all credit and congratulations to the Giants, their fans and their downright nasty defense. Watching the game, in all honesty, I saw what was for the most part a hideous football game that was marred by two teams that played the game as if they were asleep for just about 53 minutes.

Yes, the Giants defense rose to the occasion of all occasions, keeping Tom Brady et al off balance and off the scoreboard for the entire game, save the Patriots next-to-last drive. But for the most part, both teams seemed to be rusty and ineffective, and both defenses feasted upon offenses that looked out of sorts. But the Giants were able to offset their own effectiveness well enough to hang around, and hang around, and hang around...until Eli Manning escaped from a sack and lofted a miracle 3rd down pass to David Tyree...until Manning lofted that last pass into Plaxico Burress' arms with :35 left...until Brady's final, desperation pass sailed incomplete and the Giants, somehow, someway came away with the upset of upsets, the victory of victories, keeping the Patriots from perfection and immortality. Two weeks ago, I called the Giants victory in Green Bay one for the Ages. But that win was outdone by their victory last night.

Yes, I had no vested rooting interest. Within, I wanted to see the History of an undefeated season. I never realistically thought the Giants had a shot to win, let alone keep it close. But here we are and here they are. 3rd Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets is basically a police state right now. The street is littered with confetti and tissue paper and whatever sort of debris was strewn about by people, many of whom I believe barely would know a Football if it hit them in the head, let alone be able to name 5 players on the Giants not named Eli, Plaxico or Amani. I was in a bar in the East Village briefly following the game, where a well-heeled circle of inebriated folk joined in a chorus of Queen's "We Are The Champions." The bartender, a Steelers fan, silently chuckled. I, in my Jerry Rice jersey, shook my head.

I hope to sing that same song sometime in Late October.

Upcoming soon: Back to Basics: 5 Key Mets for 2008, Spring Previews and Ruminations on the real King of New York: Baseball.

Friday, February 1, 2008

WELCOME TO NEW YORK (officially)!


Steve Somers reported it from Ed Coleman on WFAN mere minutes ago, and it is confirmed on MetsBlog.com. The deal is done. Johan Santana is indeed here.

Contract terms, blah, blah, blah. Doesn't matter. Take a deep breath and have a celebratory drink. JOHAN HAS ARRIVED!

(Is it just me, or does anyone else think that the Post's back cover from Wednesday is simply a picture of Santana's head photoshopped onto Pedro Feliciano's body, then airbrushed to reflect the correct uniform number?)

Waiting Game



ESTRAGON:
And if he doesn't come?
VLADIMIR:
We'll come back tomorrow.
ESTRAGON:
And then the day after tomorrow.
VLADIMIR:
Possibly.
ESTRAGON:
And so on.

From "Waiting for Godot," by Samuel Beckett

That selection basically sums up my afternoon. I woke up feeling eerily similar to the way I did the morning of Game 7 two years ago. Without the hangover headache from Game 6. An afternoon with Mike & the Mad Dog did nothing to provide any insight to progress between the Mets and Santana. But as the deadline came and went, bits and pieces trickled in, and it appears now, since the Mets have asked for and were granted a 2-hour extension, that a deal seems near. Currently, the distance is what sounds like a relatively manageable $10 million (relatively manageable, I say), and the guarantee of a 6th year.
The whole thing has made for a rather tense afternoon, and enough to make me cross reference Johan Santana with Samuel Beckett for a second time. I don't care. I'm making up nonsense words again and the Mets aren't even in the damn playoffs. Just get this thing done already!

Had things been a bit less hectic, I might have taken the opportunity earlier in the day to offer up my Super Bowl pick. Waiting for the Super Bowl is a similar game to waiting for the Johan news, however it's a much more tedious, air-filled, annoying wait that is finally just about over. We've heard all the stories, all the puff pieces, heard about Tom Brady's ankle and his girlfriend and his hair enough, we've broken down Plaxico Burress's mouth enough. Now, it's time to just shut up and play.

The Giants have had a memorable, magical ride through January, and rode their momentum all the way to this point, where they're facing off against a Patriots team that seemed to be predestined to reach this point. At 18-0, the Patriots are deservedly a huge favorite, having made history to get to this point, and need one victory to finish off the job. The Giants overcame huge odds and a media that seemed ready to bury them at any given moment, winning three Playoff games on the road. They come in with a world of confidence, and more people than I thought think that they can beat the Patriots after hanging close with them in December.

I suppose I could break things down a bit more in depth, but in reality, everyone has heard every angle. The Patriots offense is Great. The Giants defense is good. In a shootout, there's no way the Giants will be able to keep up. The Giants can try to contain Moss, but as we saw in the Patriots games against Jacksonville and San Diego, the Patriots can just pick you apart with their short passing game and Maroney. On the other side, the Giants can run a similar offense, but they lack the overall talent to keep that same pace as the Patriots can. It is a trademark of Belichick's winning teams to take away one facet of a team's offensive game, and force the opponent to beat him with the other. I believe the Pats will gang up on Bradshaw and Jacobs and force Eli Manning to beat them. Eli has proven that he is up to the task of managing the game, but has not, in this run, been forced to win the game on his own. He will, much like Favre in the Championship game, invariably be forced into a mistake, which is something that cannot be done against the Patriots. It has been a fabulous run to cap off a wonderful season that nobody expected out of the Giants. But I don't think they have enough to pull off the final Miracle. The Patriots are too good and they didn't come down here to lose this game.

My pick: Patriots 36, Giants 20. Close in the first half, but I think the Patriots will go on one of their 8-minute drives in the 3rd or early 4th Quarter, score a TD, and then pick off Manning on the next Giants possession, and that will be the dagger. The 4th Quarter will quickly turn into garbage time as the Patriots pull away. Tom Brady will cap off his landmark season with his 3rd Super Bowl MVP.

Enjoy your Turducken!