Thursday, October 30, 2008

Your Move, Fred.

For the Mets fan, Wednesday night was the inevitable conclusion to the endless nightmare.

It wasn't bad enough for the Phillies to rip through Milwaukee and LA to get to the World Series, but they went and won it, my pathetic attempt at a reverse-jinx be damned. Turned out I was right on the money, and that quite honestly makes me sick.

You could hash it and re-hash it all you want, but there's no way around it: The Phillies were and will continue to be the team to beat, in our Division, in our League and for now, our entire sport. And it went further than their ability to come through in the clutch or close the deal when it needed to be closed, it's their entire organization. These are heady, sound ballplayers that continually rose to the occasion. Their team is run by people who cared about their fan base, cared about bringing home a title and cared about fixing the obvious problems with the team. They had a fan base that was frustrated and disillusioned for years, and they made them believers. Now, they've been rewarded with a World Series Championship.

On our end, we've got a pair of idiots who care more about dollar signs than a winning team. We've got a GM who cares more about his neckties than his bullpen. We've got players who can get tantalizingly close to the goal, but ultimately fold at that crucial moment. We've got a team that on paper seemed so close to competing for a title, but in reality was so very far away from competing with the real champions.

And what will we have in response?

There's not going to be any sense of security for the Mets, no matter what moves are made. There's not going to be any real enjoyment. After the way the last three seasons have gone, the outlook for Mets fans will be Grim At Best. I don't want to hear about this World Series being somehow flawed, as if the 2-day Rain Delay leading into the abbreviated game on Wednesday will take away anything from the fact that the Phillies won 4 complete games in the World Series. It shouldn't, and if you believe that this was somehow a farcical excuse for a World Series (my argument on Tuesday simply being that the weather created a surreal, farcical atmosphere, and not that the game itself was a farce), well, you're deluding yourself. I can't believe how people on WFAN right now are dumping on the Rays and Joe Maddon for the way he managed the completion of the game. I can't believe how, now, people are saying they should have thrown the 6 innings from Monday out the window. Can any Mets fan possibly in their right mind still actually think that this team was somehow fit to hang with the team that just won a World Series Championship? I'd hope not.

Despite the fact that Baseball is often a What Have You Done For Me Lately kind of sport, and the vacuum in which we operate creates that atmosphere in this City, you are ultimately remembered for the History you create. This particular era has created some fleeting Heroes for the Mets, but in reality, it's created a team that's remembered for their failures rather than their success. For the Phillies, they've created memories of a team that grew together over several years until they finally found the right mix and rode it all the way to last night, when they won a World Series Championship, something we wanted to believe we were closer to than we actually were. Maybe Brad Lidge isn't going to go 48-for-48 next season, but at least the Phillies have a guaranteed closer. Can you even give the Mets 30-for-40 in Save opportunities next year? Can you even guarantee 40 save opportunities without a complete overhaul of the Bullpen?

Nobody, NOBODY in this Bullpen as it stands right now can exist on the 2009 roster without hearing the footsteps of the past. NOBODY on this team right now can think they're the team to beat. The team to beat lies 99 miles South of us. The Mets can do us all a favor and keep their mouths shut until they're playing Baseball in Late October again. I'm not interested in talk. I'm interested in results. I'm interested in finishing the job that we supposedly started two years ago.

Heart, Guts, Balls, whatever. It doesn't matter if you've got a few guys with a lot of talent. Not if you can't finish the job you started.

Philly finished their job last night.

We're still waiting. 22 years and counting.

What's the next move, Fred?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Prolonging the Misery

I haven't had much to say about the World Series to this point, at least in the sense that I haven't had anything printable to say. But given the Twilight Zone feel that this series has taken ever since it's moved to Philadelphia, it's become more of a miserable joke rather than a World Championship matchup.

Given my penchant for late nights, and given that it was a Saturday night, I suppose it only made sense that the only game of the World Series that I've watched from start to finish to this point was Game 3, which was unbelievably played following a 2-hour Rain Delay, beginning at 10pm and, following the comeback by Tampa, the pitching changes, the commercials and Tim McCarver pontificating, lasted a brisk 3 hours, 41 minutes, closing out at 1:47am.

I think it's safe to assume that unless you were a raving Baseball lunatic like me, you weren't watching the conclusion of that game. If you, like me, were hoping that Philly would eat it at home and Tampa would take the lead in the series, you weren't too happy that you stayed up to watch it. The Rays played the kind of game that the Mets would probably have played in a spot like that. Their big hitters failed in key spots, they had to peck and scrape to tie the game, and did so on a freak play, and then lost in the bottom of the 9th when Philadelphia scored without actually hitting the ball out of the infield. Evan Longoria looked positively David Wright-Esque when his desperation dive on a ball that likely was rolling foul turned into a dying quail of a flip to Navarro, which turned into Eric Bruntlett (Unfrozen Caveman Backup Utility Man) scoring the winning run. The only thing that could have made that any more perfect would have been if Shane Victorino hit the dribbler.

That's been it, more or less, for me watching these games, outside of an inning or two. Sunday night, I didn't watch any of the game, and from the outcome I see I didn't miss too much. So, it came down to Monday night, and one more game for Philly to win in order to cap off the Mets nightmare.

I had talked about my post last week (in conjunction with the Tony Paige Theory) with my infamously insane co-worker, and he began talking about how the Mets had beaten the Phillies 11 out of 18, and somehow he had it in his head that the Mets played well against Philly in 2007, which should prove how on the ball he is about these things. It's the wrong argument to make, to say, well, we took 11 of 18 from the World Series Champions. If we're so good, if we're so much better than them, howcome they're winning the World Series, and we're picking our nose and watching them play at 1:47am?

He pointed out to me that the Phillies hadn't won yet. I wasn't fooled.

Or, at least I wasn't fooled before Monday night's game, which started off in a fashion similar to just about every other World Series game I'd seen. Tampa goes down quietly, Philly gets some hits, gets some walks, loads the bases, and then it's my main man Victorino driving in 2 runs. I figured, with Hamels on the mound, that the game was over already, and shut it off, and, for a brief moment, thought to myself, "Gee, that Kazmir deal doesn't look so terrible now, does it?"

That should prove to you how insane the Mets have made me.

So I had the game on the radio, and I was listening with more or less half an ear. It's Jon Miller and Joe Morgan on ESPN Radio, so it's almost like watching Sunday Night Baseball (without the heavy accentuation on Carlos Bel-TRAHN). So I hear the Rays scrape out a run in the 4th. In the 5th, I hear that it's raining. In the middle of the 5th, there's a delay as the grounds crew is sprinkling around the infamous "Drying Agent." At some point, I think I tuned out completely, because I thought the game was in a delay, but then I snapped back when I hear Carlos Pena driving in B.J. Upton, who sloshed around 3rd and splashed into the plate with the tying run, and all of a sudden I realized the magnitude of the situation. The field was a complete mess, almost to the degree of this particular night. I'm hearing about puddles and fans running for cover, and then, they stop the game.

Here we go again. Another 2am finish.

Or so I thought. Whether it was a twist of fate, or yet another lucky break for Buddy Boy (and how hilarious does he look sitting there with his little rule book), Pena's tying hit meant that rather than stopping the game, which would have meant calling it since the forecast called for the rain to continue, which would have meant Philly would have won the World Series in a shortened game (perhaps this would have served them right, but who cares, at this point), and instead of the old rule of calling a Tie Game and starting over, it's a suspended game, resumption unknown. Could be Tuesday. It's supposed to rain all day. Could be Wednesday. Barack Obama night on FOX. Who knows. But they're going to sit around in Philly until they can finish the game up. This poses a few interesting scenarios, not the least of which is that the Rays had checked out of their hotel and were prepared to fly back to Tampa win or lose. But now they're stuck. The hotel they were in is booked out. Someone's got to figure something out, even if it means booking out the Super 8 in Joe Maddon's hometown of Hazelton, PA. The weather has created all sorts of bizarre scenarios in this World Series, and what we saw on Monday Night might have been the most bizarre of them all. From my standpoint, I don't know what to think. On the one side, I think it's great that Carlos Pena got the hit and put the smackdown on a Philly celebration last night. On the other side, it just seems like it's prolonging the inevitable. I'm sure Shane Victorino will get some dinky little hit and put a capper on this Ultimate Nightmare of a season.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Certain Disaster

I might have been one of the few people who felt a little upset Sunday night when the Rays completed their improbable run to the World Series.

Here's why.

I believed that the Red Sox stood a much better chance of knocking off the Phillies in the World Series. They boasted a veteran roster that could easily match the Phils both with offensive firepower and pitching. I had, in fact, figured that the Sox would finish off the Rays with ease on Sunday night, completing yet another miracle ALCS comeback.

But, that didn't happen. Instead, it was the Rays continuing their own Miracle, holding off the Sox behind a simply masterful pitching performance from Matt Garza and David Price (a pair of guys I knew would be good), and instead, it's them going on to the World Series.

It's a pretty far cry from the World Series I'd figured on back in Spring Training. In fact, I think this matchup was pretty far from anyone's radar screen. It's one thing to have picked the Phillies, who were clearly the team to beat in the NL East this season, but certainly didn't have the feel of a World Series contender. The Rays were nowhere and while they showed promise, nobody thought the turnaround would come this quick.

Thus, here we are. The Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays for the World Series Championship.

You don't have to be a genius to guess who I'm rooting for.

Quite honestly, I've had enough of the Phillies. I'd love nothing more than to see the Rays finish off this magic carpet ride and cap off their season with a World Championship at the Phillies expense. I don't want to see Jimmy Rollins standing there with that stupid toothy grin screaming he told us so, I don't want to see that pipsqueak Shane Victorino hooting and hollering and blowing his kazoo, I don't want to see Ryan Howard or his Subway Cheesesteak (a sandwich no true Philadelphian could endorse), I don't want to see Brad Lidge, or Chase Utley, or Pat Burrell or any of them running around with a trophy. I don't think this stance is a surprise to anyone.

That said, I can absolutely see them wiping the floor with Tampa Bay. This has been a great run for the Rays, as I keep saying, but I think the clock is about to strike Midnight on them. I think the ALCS may have taken a little too much out of them. Although Kazmir had a fine outing in Game 5 in Boston, he got knocked around in Game 2, and he's got a little bit of the John Maine-Cant-put-em-away-itis in him. Shields and Sonnanstine can be had by the right team as well, and while Garza was great in the ALCS, he wasn't so hot in the Division Series, and I know that he can run hot and cold after having him on my Fantasy team all season. Pitching tends to be the key in these short series, I know I'm really going out on a limb by saying that, but when Philly can throw Hamels and Myers, both of whom have been on a roll, in the first two games, and then throw them again later in the series, you can see how I think that will swing things in Philly's favor. Hamels has been simply unconscious, the kind of pitcher he's been hyped up to be, of late.

Moreover, figure in that the Phillies will get to use either Dobbs or Burrell as DH in Tampa, getting another one of their potent bats in the lineup. The flipside is that Tampa loses Willy Aybar, he of the clutch late HR Sunday night, when the series moves to Philly.

Yes, Philly has had the week off. Yes, Tampa Bay is ready to roll and hasn't had the rust. I think the ballparks will even themselves out, and I think Philly will take one, and maybe even both of the first two in Tampa, before the series moves to Philly. I think we'll see one ridiculous Citizen's Bank Park game, say 11-7 or so, but I think the series goes to Philly and does not return to Tampa. While Tampa is certainly the sentimental favorite, and I'll certainly be rooting for them, Philly's got the Mojo. They win in 5.

They win in 5, and they rub it in the Mets faces.

I won't go the Tony Paige route and say I hope this happens, but I'm pretty convinced it will. This is what the Mets deserve. We talked enough, we thought we were better, and we weren't. And it wasn't quite as close as we'd like to make it think. But this needs to happen to the Mets. The Mets need to be humbled, and this is how it needs to be. It should have been that the Mets lost 100 games and were a laughingstock, but the reality is that they weren't that bad. But they weren't nearly as good as they thought they were, and certainly not as good as they wanted us to believe. So, it goes this way. Our closest rivals win the World Series at our expense. How, then, do we respond? Well, let's hope that first of all, there aren't any presumptuous preseason statements or challenges towards the Phillies. Let's hope this opens the eyes of Fabulous Freddie and the Boy-King and shows them that there are things more important than a Minor-League team or a new ballpark. You don't hear too much out of the Phillies owners, do you? I don't even know who they are. But they've very quietly created a team that matters to its fans, that they want to support, and in turn, the team has now won for them. What do we have, other than disenchantment? Three talking heads who seem to be looking in opposite directions?

The Boy-King appeared with the Big Guy yesterday afternoon and droned about how he's "looking forward to what moves Omar will make." [sic]

He's looking forward to the moves. The Phillies, who we were supposedly better than, are knocking on Destiny's door, and he's looking forward to some non-specific moves. When asked what he wants to say to the fans, he first talks about providing the fans with a World-Class experience before mentioning the words "Championship team."

Way to light a fire under his ass, Jeffy. Keep counting those dollars. It's nice to know you're so concerned about the team that's going to take the field in Daddy's shimmering new palace next spring. Maybe if we start throwing Shea Stadium bricks through the windows of the Citi Field offices, things will start to happen, but I think it might just be the real fans getting arrested.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Shea Statistics, Mets2Moon Style

It's been a little too easy to be negative around here lately, obviously due to recent events involving the Mets and their rivals, and while I still have plenty to say in regard to this, I think it more appropriate to do a little something I'd planned for a while, which is a summation of my life at Shea Stadium, for 22 seasons and 269 games. I did a brief rundown of my game statistics last year, in commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of my first Mets game in 1987, but that was somewhat bare-bones. It's always been my tradition to buy and keep a scorecard of every game I've been to (This practice has become a pricey proposition as time has passed, but I'm incredibly superstitious about these things), and I keep them stored in a series of binders encompassing the history I've witnessed (Postseason games are kept separately). Shea is being dismantled more and more with each passing day, and though I've done several photo-heavy posts about it, this one's for me.

Highlights of the 269:
Regular Season W-L: 155-109
Postseason W-L: 5-0

The First: August 23, 1987 (Mets 9, Padres 2)
The Last: September 28, 2008 (Marlins 4, Mets 2)

W-L By Team:
Atlanta Braves: 13-12
Florida Marlins: 8-9
Philadelphia Phillies 14-11
Montreal Expos: 10-9
Washington Nationals: 3-3
(Expos/Nationals Combined: 13-12)
Chicago Cubs: 8-8
Cincinnati Reds: 9-5
Houston Astros: 9-4
Milwaukee Brewers: 8-2
Pittsburgh Pirates: 6-6
St. Louis Cardinals: 14-9
Arizona Diamondbacks: 5-3
Colorado Rockies: 10-3
Los Angeles Dodgers: 7-3
San Diego Padres: 6-7
San Francisco Giants: 12-5
Baltimore Orioles: 0-1
Boston Red Sox: 2-3
New York Yankees: 5-4
Tampa Bay Rays: 2-1
Toronto Blue Jays: 3-0
Anaheim Angels: 0-1
Seattle Mariners: 1-0

W-L By Year:
1987: 1-0
1988: 6-1
1989: 6-5
1990: 7-4
1991: 5-4
1992: 5-5
1993: 3-5
1994: 2-0
1995: 5-3
1996: 6-4
1997: 8-4
1998: 18-10
1999: 17-12
2000: 8-3
2001: 8-6
2002: 4-4
2003: 3-3
2004: 6-4
2005: 7-11
2006: 12-4
2007: 8-11
2008: 10-6

Most Home Runs, Mets:
27 - Mike Piazza (Because I'm totally crazy, I give you 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27)
17 - Carlos Delgado
14 - Edgardo Alfonzo
12 - David Wright
10 - Carlos Beltran, Darryl Strawberry
9 - Cliff Floyd, Robin Ventura
8 - Howard Johnson, Todd Hundley, John Olerud
7 - Brian McRae
6 - Butch Huskey
5 - Benny Agbayani, Bobby Bonilla, Todd Zeile
4 - Kevin Elster, Carl Everett
3 - Mike Cameron, Damion Easley, Jose Valentin, Jeff Kent, Kevin McReynolds, Eddie Murray, Xavier Nady, Roger Cedeno
2 - Kurt Abbott, Mike Bordick, Mark Carreon, Ramon Castro, Keith Hernandez, Jason Phillips, Lenny Harris, Marlon Anderson, Matt Franco, Kaz Matsui, Joe Orsulak, Shawn Green, Victor Diaz
1 - Jermaine Allensworth, Moises Alou, Carlos Baerga, Daryl Boston, Rico Brogna, Hubie Brooks, Jeromy Burnitz, Chris Jones, Ryan Church, Vince Coleman, Derek Bell, Darren Reed, Alvaro Espinoza, Dave Gallagher, Bernard Gilkey, Dwight Gooden, Ruben Gotay, Richard Hidalgo, Gregg Jefferies, John Valentin, Luis Lopez, Paul LoDuca, Mark Clark, Mike Jacobs, Mark Johnson, Dave Magadan, Joe McEwing, Jeff McKnight, Lastings Milledge, Melvin Mora, Roberto Petagine, Ryan Thompson, Jose Reyes, Armando Reynoso, Mackey Sasser, Brian Schneider, Dick Schofield, David Segui, Shane Spencer, Garry Templeton, Tim Teufel, Eric Valent, Mo Vaughn, Ty Wigginton, Chris Woodward

(NOTE: Does not include the following Postseason HRs: Edgardo Alfonzo, Todd Pratt, Robin Ventura, Carlos Delgado, Cliff Floyd, Carlos Beltran - 1 each)

Most Starts, Mets Pitchers:
22 - Al Leiter (10-4 record)
15 - Bobby J. Jones (4-5)
14 - Rick Reed (7-2)
13 - Pedro Martinez (5-5)
12 - Steve Trachsel (3-4)
11 - Tom Glavine (3-6)
10 - Dwight Gooden (5-3), Sid Fernandez (1-3)
9 - David Cone (6-2)
8 - Ron Darling (3-2), John Maine (1-4), Oliver Perez (2-2)
7 - Kris Benson (4-2), Frank Viola (5-2)
6 - Masato Yoshii (1-1)
5 - Octavio Dotel (1-0), Dave Mlicki (0-3), Mike Pelfrey (2-1), Glendon Rusch (0-3), Bret Saberhagen (1-2)
4 - Mike Hampton (3-0), Orel Hershiser (1-3), Mark Clark (2-0), Armando Reynoso (3-0)
3 - Kevin Appier (0-1), Shawn Estes (0-0), Pete Harnisch (1-1), Jason Isringhausen (2-0), Hideo Nomo (1-1), Orlando Hernandez (2-1), Bob Ojeda (2-1), Jae Seo (2-0), Victor Zambrano (0-3)
2 - Pedro Astacio (2-0), Aaron Heilman (0-1), Kaz Ishii (0-1), Jorge Sosa (2-0), Kenny Rogers (0-0), Johan Santana (2-0), Pete Schourek (0-1), Frank Tanana (1-1), Paul Wilson (0-1)
1 - Anthony Young (0-1), Brian Bohanon (1-0), Claudio Vargas (0-1), Bruce Chen (0-0), Reid Cornelius (0-1), Jeff D'Amico (0-1), Jeremy Griffiths (0-0), Jeremi Gonzalez (0-0), Jose Lima (0-1), Matt Ginter (0-0), Pat Mahomes (0-0), Pete Smith (1-0), Chan Ho Park (0-1), Bill Pulsipher (0-1), Alay Soler (0-0), David Telgheder (1-0), Willie Blair (0-1), Wally Whitehurst (0-1)

(Note: Does not include the following Postseason starts: Darling (0-0), Leiter (0-0), Bobby J. Jones (1-0), John Maine (0-0), Tom Glavine (1-0))

10 innings: 4-4 (96, 96, 98, 00, 01, 03, 04, 08)
11 innings: 4-2 (95, 98, 98, 01, 04, 05)
12 innings: 5-2 (91, 99, 02, 02, 06, 07, 08)
13 innings: 3-0 (88, 06, 08)
14 innings: 3-0 (89, 99, 06)

1988: 1, 2
1989: 1
1990: 1
1991: 1
1992: 1
1993: 1
1995: 1
1996: 1, 2, 3
1997: 1
1998: 1, 2
1999: 1, 2, 3, 4 (+1 Postseason)
2000: 1, 2
2001: 1, 2
2002: 1
2004: 1
2005: 1
2006: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
2007: 1
2008: 1, 2, 3, 4

Field: 14 (Last, June 1, 2007)
Loge: 50 (Last, September 24, 2008)
Mezzanine: 51 (Last, September 28, 2008)
Upper: 149 (Last, September 10, 2008)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

For a fan base that was already disillusioned and frustrated, and more or less fed-up with the manner in which the team has been run, the events of last night are, I suppose, just another kick in the ass for the Mets fan. But let's face it. Just when you thought we'd reached a low as Mets fans...
This just makes it worse.

Meanwhile, we're buying bricks and pumping oodles of dollars into the pockets of two fools who have no idea what the hell to do with it.

I'm waiting to hear what sort of damage control comes out of this. I'm sure it's going to be the same asshole arguments we've been getting all season. Well, you know, we beat the Phillies 11 out of 18 times this season! We won a lot of games in their ballpark! As Mets fans, we should know better than to cite regular season results once the postseason starts. Right now, we could have beaten the Phillies 18 out of 18 and it wouldn't mean a damn thing. I don't want to hear how we think we're better than them. This morning, the Philadelphia Phillies are in the World Series. The place we seemed to think we were good enough to get to. Where are we this morning? We're buying fucking bricks.

I don't think we're the better team. And I'm not sure this is going to change.

Thanks, Freddie. Thanks a lot.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Shea Goodbye, Musically

A few years ago, Nirvana released a box set of unreleased songs and live recordings, after years upon years of legal battles and delays caused by Kurt Cobain's insane widow.

Being a child of the Grunge era who never really grew out of it, I, of course, bought it. On one of the discs was an early demo recording of the song "Milk It," which appears on the In Utero album, and contains a chorus in which Kurt Cobain screams "TEST MEEEEEEEEEAT!" over and over. This demo version, however, contained lyrics vastly different from the finished product, and a chorus in which Cobain screamed over and over, but he was screaming something else. I had to listen to the song a few times before I could figure it out. But when I did, I was even more confused.

Apparently, Kurt Cobain is screaming "SHEA STAAAAAAAAADIUM!"

Being from Seattle, and not being a sports fan, I thought it rather odd that Kurt would be screaming about Shea Stadium. In fact, he's probably not. But as far as I can make out the words, he is.

This anecdote probably further proves my insanity and has little to do with the latest single from Prog-rocker Marnie Stern, "Shea Stadium," which, although you might not be able to tell from listening to it, is actually all about Shea Stadium. It's definitely not the traditional stadium anthem, with a grinding guitar against a frenetic drum beat, with lyrics echoing throughout, but as it was pointed out to me, and I agree, it's a hell of a lot better than "Everybody Clap Your Hands" or "I'm A Believer." Much in the Cobain vein, the lyrics take a few listens to understand, but Stern is trying to convey her message in the music just as much as in the words.

There seems to be a recent vogue towards writing songs about Major League baseball teams. The Mets had two such songs a couple of years ago, one an embarassing rap that quickly vanished, and the similarly annoying Lucas Prata (OK, I admit I thought it was pretty good when the Mets were in the midst of the postseason, but he basically names the entire roster in the song, and after that year was over, it didn't make too much sense anymore). Now, you have that stupid "Can't Stop The Blue" song in LA, the Dropkick Murphys making an entire career around the Red Sox, and even Eddie Vedder writing about the Cubs. There was a Yankee Stadium tribute song by former Springsteen cohort Nils Lofgren floating around.

But where was a Shea song? Nobody wrote one, or so I'd thought. Turns out Marnie Stern's song has been kicking around for about a month or so, but unless you were a fan of hers, or hung around the New York Indie Rock scene, you wouldn't have noticed. But knew enough to pick up on it. So, why was it never played at Shea? Unfortunately, the chances of that happening are over, and with the Mets apparent desire to eradicate any memory of Shea, this song may never see the light of day at a Mets game, and that's a shame. Songs about the Mets are few and far between, and good songs about the Mets are rarer still.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Monsters and Miracles

The ALCS, I suppose, could be considered the Miracle vs. The Monster, both literally and figuratively. On one side, the Boston Red Sox, who are just about on the cusp of becoming their own dynasty. Since they won the World Series in 2004, this whole Red Sox Nation thing has sort of blown up and turned into a giant hype machine that seems to regenerate every time the Red Sox play a big game.

Thing is, it's starting to seem like every game the Red Sox play is a big game.

I noticed it last year, during the ALCS, but it seems like the hard line Red Sox fans (the crazy guys like Bill Simmons and everyone who posts on the Sons of Sam Horn) seem to be fading into the background, while every drunken Jonathan Papelbon wanna-be is front and center. These are people that couldn't be found for the better part of 86 years, and as soon as the Sox won in 2004, they exploded. It's made the Red Sox the kind of team they were trying to avoid becoming: The Yankees. It's really easy to want to root against the Red Sox, and I actually kind of like the Red Sox. But I wonder how much of it is that I actually like the Red Sox, and not simply that I hate the Yankees, and I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for the Sox for the way they kicked the Yankees in the nuts in 2004.

Then, we have the Rays, who aren't supposed to even be here, right? They're too young, too inexperienced, too inept...nobody even knows who half these guys are.

I know who they are.

They're a team that was built through year after year of strong drafts that finally came to fruition combined with shrewd trades that brought in the missing pieces. They're a team that boasts four, yes, four top-flight young starting pitchers, who work deep into games and do the job they're supposed to do. The hitters charge along undaunted and relatively unaware that there's some sort of pressure to these games. Case in point: Evan Longoria, who didn't even make the team out of Spring Training this season, comes charging out and hits 2 HRs in his first 2 ABs against the White Sox.

These two teams don't like each other, and you could easily see how there's a little bit of a bully mentality behind the Red Sox, and the little guy fighting back in the Rays. You think about the AL East, it's the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Yankees aren't here, and it's basically because of the Rays coming out of nowhere to get to this point. It's prime time for an organization that couldn't get out of their own way for 10 seasons. Now, they're 4 games from the Woooooooooooooooooooooooorld Serieeeeeeeees, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone outside of Red Sox nation who's rooting against them.

Yeah, we come back to Red Sox Nation. One of the problems is that it's so widespread that it's hard to find too many people who are rooting for the Rays outright. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that there's going to be more than just a smattering of Red Sox fans in Tampa. If you're a Mets fan, it's win-win to a point. You have to consider that, on one side, the Rays are a great story, in the vein of the '69 Mets. But, every time Scott Kazmir takes the mound, it just turns that knife a little bit more, doesn't it. I know it's been 4 years and we should have gotten over it, but we can't and we won't. Misery loves Company (Press slogan for the 2009 Mets?). If the Sox win, it pisses off the Yankee fans, and of course there's nothing wrong with that. So I'll go into this ALCS with the same feelings I had for last year's ALCS. No real vested rooting interest, and if either team wins, I'll be fine with it. Chances are, the winner of this Series will go on to win the Woooooooooooooooooooooooorld Serieeeeeeeees anyway.

But if I must make a pick, and I believe I must, I'll say Red Sox in 6. Split 2 in Tampa, Win 2 of 3 in Fenway, come back in Game 6 and close it out behind Beckett back in Tampa.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Root for Nobody

Sometime on Thursday night, when I was watching the Phillies pound C.C. Sabathia, watching Shane Victorino hit a grand slam and watching the fans in Philadelphia have a collective mass orgasm, it hit me.

I can't watch this shit. I can't even root for any of these stupid teams.

Particularly in the National League, this was really the case. I just didn't want to root for any of these teams. It all came down to who did I hate less, and I guess that's why I sort of halfheartedly threw myself behind Milwaukee and LA, because I was still fuming at the Cubs fans for acting like they'd already won the World Series last week at Shea, and the Phillies, well, that needs no explanation. So, when the Dodgers rolled into Chicago and promptly kicked the Cubs in the nuts, I have to admit I did feel a little better, even if it is somewhat taboo to root for the Dodgers in these parts. Here's a short list of good things that it accomplished:

1) Schadenfreude
It's nice to know that, in Cubs fans, there is, in fact, a fan base that is more miserable than the Mets fans.

2) Torre
Don't get me wrong, I still have no love for Joe Torre. But, Torre's success with the Dodgers has to rankle the Yankees and their fans so badly, I can't even imagine. Plus, Torre's taken some very subtle jabs at the Yankees and the Steinbrenners, saying things like "Winning feels fun again." You gotta love that.

3) Get Over Yourselves
I know I probably shouldn't be attacking the Cubs fan, because, as I mentioned above, they've suffered enough. And after the way the Mets performed, I don't have much to say. But you know what, screw them. After the way the majority of them behaved last week at Shea Stadium, walking around like they own the joint, screaming and yelling and whooping it up, and that goofball at Junction Blvd who danced and laughed at me, with their chests puffed out and acting like they were going to the World Series just by showing up, well, this is what happens when you get too far ahead of yourselves. As a team that hasn't won in now 101 years, you should know better. And the way you people acted last week made me root for the Dodgers purely out of spite.

So, OK, I could throw myself behind the Dodgers a little bit, even though I feel I'm somewhat betraying my Brooklyn roots. But, my aforementioned insane co-worker, who remembers when the Brooklyn Dodgers still existed, believes that there should be no ill feelings for doing so. Particularly considering the other Division Series.

Begrudgingly, I rooted for the Milwaukee Brewers, although there really wasn't any other choice, other than just ignore the existence of this series (not impossible, I managed to do a very good job of pretending that the 1999 World Series never happened), but given that one of these teams was going to move to the NLCS, I guess I had to pay some degree of attention. I thought the Brewers would put up a better fight than they did, however. I think Philly just pistolwhipped the Brewers in every facet of this series, only slipping up in Game 3. Hamels and Myers pitched great, they got key hits from Rollins and Burrell and Victorino, they beat up Sabathia, who was probably gassed after too many outings on short rest (Where was that last Sunday when it would have helped!?), they beat up Suppan (still a twitchy-faced jackass, and rooting for him was like chewing on a flourescent bulb) and I jabbed an ice pick into my eyes repeatedly. No, I'm not bitter, why do you ask?

So, it sets up an NLCS that I really don't particularly want to watch very much. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver announcing the Dodgers and the Phillies. Boy. Can't wait for this one. It'll be a good series, I think, and like most series, it's going to come down to which team's starting pitchers can rise to the occasion. The Dodgers beat the Cubs because they got solid outings from Lowe, Billingsley and, surprisingly, Hiroki Kuroda, who went from crying on the mound at Shea Stadium to shutting down the Cubs lineup. They also seemed to beat the Cubs by singling and doubling them to death, which is in stark contrast to the Phillies, who basically won because their starters held the line, the Brewers didn't hit, and the Phillies hit a few HRs, like they usually do. Lidge also recorded a couple of hairy saves. This is why I'm picking the Dodgers to win. The Phillies basically didn't unveil any new wrinkles, and they didn't do anything that surprised me. The Dodgers seem to rally around Manny; clearly he makes the players around him perform that much better, and they seemed to get contributions from everyone in their lineup throughout the series. Usually, when a team clicks like the Dodgers suddenly did, that's the team that does the most damage in the Postseason. So, I'm going with the Dodgers, and I say they do this in 5 games. Split 2 in Philly, and then go to LA and win all 3 at home. It sounds a little too lopsided, I know, but you have to consider the team with the hot hand in the postseason trends to win and continue to win, even in close games. Boston did this in '04, the White Sox did it in '05, and although they lost, Detroit and Colorado did this the past two seasons. There's always one team in the Postseason that gets overlooked, and then suddenly turns it on and goes way farther than anyone thought. The Dodgers are that team this year. Which means we'll get more Joe Torre, and more Billy Crystal. WHAT A PUNIM!!!

Coming tomorrow: ALCS Preview.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

2008 Mets: The Longest Season

I don't know that, in all my years as a Mets fan, I've been through a more difficult season than 2008. Coming off of last year's miserable ending, with the heightened expectations after the Santana deal, this season held a lot of promise and even more pressure. Being in the Media Vacuum of New York City didn't help matters, but it seemed like every victory was met with cheers and chants of an imminent World Championship, while every loss was met with Gloom and Doom and Ill feelings. There wasn't any relaxation watching this team, and although there might have been great times and great individual performances, and great team moments, there didn't seem to be an overwhelming amount of fun.

At the outset, I likened the Mets to getting back together with an emotionally abusive ex-girlfriend. You knew she had all the potential to screw you over and break your heart again, and yet, you had to take that chance; you loved her far too much to just say no. But she went and did it again, didn't she? As the season was winding down, we began to hear more and more about how the fans were easily dissuaded from the team, they were detached from the team, and so on. I think the fans were afraid to get too attached to this group. We knew the assumed risks. There were flaws on offense and in the bullpen. And it was easy to want to detach yourself from the team. They were far too confident for the talent they had. Far too cocky for their own good. Trading high, perhaps, on the results of years past. We learned just how much other teams, teams that they had to play an awful lot, really hated them, and really took a lot of joy in sticking it to them. We were the guys who talked a lot of junk, but ultimately couldn't live up to our own hype. In the end, Philly pulled away, Atlanta beat us up, Washington pushed us around and Florida finished us off. And at the end, there we were again. New year, same stupid result. Another loss at home on the final day to send us home for the Winter. A lot of questions, few palatable answers.

So, with that, the ratings for the 2008 Mets:

Willie Randolph - F
Willie basically started this season off with a gun to his head, and I think it's safe to say that he managed as if he literally had a gun to his head. The fun Willie was gone. Willie this year was constantly embattled, constantly making excuses and eventually ran out of options. He lashed out when it appeared he wasn't long for the team, and his firing was more or less going to be a relief to everyone. So, of course, Omar Minaya picks the most asinine moment possible to fire him, making Willie into some sort of bizarre Martyr and making the Mets even more of a laughingstock than they already were. But Willie certainly didn't endear himself to anyone by fully buying into the bullshit, writing a sob story by-line, and then showing up all smiles back at Yankee Stadium for the All Star Game and the Closing Ceremonies. 34-35 with a team that had World Series aspirations wasn't acceptable. He's proven himself incapable of handling criticism and I don't see another team giving him a shot as Manager. But I'm sure he'll always have a place in the Bronx. They're welcome to him.

Jerry Manuel - B-
I'm going to be a little harsh on Jerry, but hear me out. Yes, the team played vastly better under Manuel. Yes, Manuel is a funny guy who kept the team loose. Yes, Manuel was almost totally hamstrung by the issues in the bullpen. But, Jerry Manuel did a pretty substandard job of managing the team. I don't mean the players, I mean The Team as a whole. Manuel's method is far too much "By the Book" managing. There's no real outfoxing Manuel when the game comes down to strategy. In fact, even Willie did some more unconventional things than Manuel. There was too much willingness to stick to his plans, which down the stretch seemed to involve playing Ryan Church when he was clearly clueless at the plate, and having too quick a hook on his starters far too often, which led to a maddening succession of relievers who couldn't get the job done. The Mets may have played better under Manuel, and they may have enjoyed playing for Manuel, and they may continue to do so in the future. But while Jerry Manuel may be able to get the Mets to win, the Mets aren't going to win because of Jerry Manuel. I'm leery about bringing him back. There's a good chance he'll be exposed.

Brian Schneider - B-
Let's be honest. We knew what we were getting out of Schneider. Solid defense, spotty offense. There weren't too many surprises to his game, but more often than not, he proved to be a liability because his offense was so sparse. He went through a brief power spurt in late August, which was nice, but considering he could only muster 19 extra base hits for the season, he made the bottom of the order a virtual black hole, harkening back to the days of Rey Ordonez.

Ramon Castro - C
Too injury prone. He could have stepped in and taken some of the pressure off of Schneider, particularly against lefty pitchers, but he played in only 52 games this season. Not good.

Robinson Cancel - A-
Because he actually played a hell of a lot more than anyone would have thought he would (27 games) and actually chipped in with a key hit in a couple of spots. Not bad for a guy who hadn't played in the Majors in 9 seasons. I'm not at all advocating that he should be involved in any future plans, but given the porous nature of the Mets clutch hitting, ANYONE who delivered in notable spots should be given due notice.

Raul Casanova - C-
Tolerable while filling in for Castro early in the season.

Gustavo Molina
I think he started once. Didn't he?

Carlos Delgado - A-
At or around June 25th, we were all ready to throw Delgado under the bus, never to be heard from again. He was either hitting fairly meaningless Home Runs or striking out, looking like a shell of his former self. Which is why his turnaround was so impressive. Beginning with his 9-RBI outburst at Yankee Stadium on June 27th, Delgado went on a streak that saw him drive in something like 66 runs in his next 66 games. I don't know if it was because the wrist and elbow injuries he'd had over the past year just took that long to heal, or whether he was more motivated after the firing of Willie, but it was a revelation. Not only was he hitting with authority like the old Delgado, he was making his hits count. Much moreso than Wright, Delgado is the kind of player who can come up in a big spot, lean back and hit the big home run, because that's the kind of hitter he is. In fact, he did this so often in the 2nd half of the season, that he began to earn chants of MVP. And it wasn't even Home Runs he was hitting, he was chipping in with hits to create and extend rallies, and drive in even more runs. He was and probably is now even more of a longshot for MVP, but if nothing else, he's proven to everyone that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

Damion Easley - C
Good, heady player off the bench once again, who got hurt and fell flat at the end of the season. This probably hurt the team more than you might think, given the situation at 2nd base, and his unavailability combined with the desire to not play Castillo at any cost left the Mets with few, if any, palatable options at 2B. And that's not saying that Easley was a standout anyway. But at any rate, Easley got hurt, and then got thrown up to the plate in some "emergency" situations during the final week, and looked pretty bad at the plate. That wasn't so good either.

Luis Castillo - F
He's like a no fun Cliff Floyd with no power. He was always hurt and his presence in the lineup somehow always managed to bring the team down. Fell into such disfavor that it wouldn't surprise me at all if, should he be untradeable (not impossible given the asinine nature of his contract), the Mets would be better served just cutting bait and getting him the hell out of here.

Argenis Reyes - B-
He can work a count, but all too often he can't parlay that into a hit. Excellent defensive player, however, with a good chance of making the club as a backup MI next season. I don't, however, forsee him becoming a starter or a long term solution.

Ramon Martinez - A
For two reasons: 1) Another one of those guys who came out of nowhere and somehow contributed more than anybody thought he would. Thrust into the lineup based on Manuel's Anybody But Castillo policy, somehow Martinez chipped in with a pair of clutch, run scoing hits in Met victories in the final week. 2) The Speedy Gonzalez music they played when he came to bat was just hilarious.

Jose Reyes - B
"As goes Reyes, so go the Mets..."was the statement we heard all too often. I have to give Reyes a lot of credit for understanding his responsibility towards the team and putting a lot of pressure on himself to stay focused and stay prepared after the way last season fell apart for him. He's still got a lot to learn, but he did make significant strides this season towards becoming a more complete ballplayer. But, down the stretch, he fell into an extended patch of inconsistency, and that, more than anything else, was the key to the team's success, or failure. The difference in the Mets performance when he was getting on base and scoring runs and not getting on base was staggering. And all too often, during the final month, Reyes wasn't getting on base. It wasn't as exaggerated and obvious as it was in '07, and that's a good sign. In fact, it was mostly during the final week that Reyes seemed to sputter and burn out. But Reyes is the kind of player who will play in 159 or 160 games a season, barring any unforseen injuries. He's got to be able to finish the job down the stretch, otherwise he's just going to continue to be the laughing, dancing jester that's the poster boy for every other team's hatred of the Mets.

David Wright - B
Maybe this is a little harsh. But David Wright is our guy. He's the Golden Boy, the face of the franchise, the leader of "The Core," whatever you want to call it. And anyone who goes .302/33/124 deserves a great deal of credit. But Wright seemed to put it all together in a somewhat hollow fashion. Looking deeper within his numbers, you'll see that Wright hit a paltry .243 with men in scoring position. .241 with 2 strikes. .167 with men on 2nd and 3rd. .200 in the 9th inning of games. Wright seemed to abandon the approach at the plate that had made him so successful in '06 and '07. He stopped taking pitches and driving them the other way and got pull-happy. His swing got long and he was pulling off pitches he used to hammer. His killer instinct with 2 strikes was gone. But worst of all was that he tried to do too much. Yes, he hit .340 in September. But when it seemed to matter most, Wright appeared to be squeezing his bat to sawdust and taking wild, undisciplined hacks. Someone should have pulled him aside and told him to relax a little bit. Where was the batting coach to get him out of his bad habits? I refuse to believe that Wright is deserving of these A-Rod Choker comparisons. Let's be realistic. The guy's 25, not 33. He's got the talent and the desire to get it together. But there's a fine line between caring about the fate of your team, and trying to carry the team when you're not mentally prepared to do so. Maybe Buster Olney is right when he says Wright should visit a Sports Psychologist. I'm not sure. Wright has appeared so polished and perfect since the day he arrived in the Majors that it's often been tough to find places he could improve. But a player can always improve. I don't think Wright has seen his best years yet. I don't think the Mets should give up on him because he's performed poorly in key situations. Two years ago, he had 4 walkoff hits in the span of a month. He's got clutch ability. But he's the face of the team, and one of the best players we have, and as such, he gets graded on a tougher curve.

Abraham Nunez
One of those guys who mysteriously shows up on the team stats page and you think to yourself, "Wait, he played this season?"

Carlos Beltran - A-
I'll be straight. I'm tired of people dumping on this guy. I'm tired of people getting on him for the way 2006 ended. I'm tired of it. We know what we're going to get out of Beltran. He is and will always be a streaky hitter, but he's the kind of streak hitter that when he's down, he will compile respectable numbers very quietly and when he's hot, he's going to carry the team. And down the stretch, Beltran was as hot as he'd been all season, and far too often, he was the only guy who was getting the job done for the Mets. But think about it. How many times has he come up in a big spot and gotten the job done. I know all everyone would like to remember is him freezing on that final curve from Wainwright, but let's face it, nobody was hitting that pitch. People like to use that to discount Beltran's ability in key spots. But how about that final Thursday night, when he scalded the game winning hit virtually through Hoffpauir's glove? How about the Grand Slam off of Kevin Gregg in Florida? How about the final Sunday, when he was the only hitter who bothered to show up for the Mets? He's not flashy and he doesn't say much. But when he does talk, he does his best to try to back it up. He bangs himself up chasing down fly balls and refuses to come out of games. He missed one all season. I defy you to find another Center Fielder who could even come close to replacing him on this team.

Endy Chavez - B
Endy is what he is. An incredibly popular and heady ballplayer, with at best marginal offensive talent and beyond exceptional defensive talent, who has an uncanny knack for making a key play in a big spot. I'll never count on him as anything more than a defensive replacement, but, man, is he a guy you love to put out in Left Field in a close game or what?

Marlon Anderson - F
Another one of those guys who played well down the stretch last year and everyone wanted back, only he came back and we realized that he wasn't as good the second time around. I had a long argument with El Guapo about this one night late in the season, as Marlon pinch hit and flailed away, that it's difficult to be a pinch hitter, and if he were a better player, he'd be playing every day somewhere. But Anderson had already cut his niche as a pinch hitter with this team, only he would come up as a pinch hitter and he had this annoying habit this season of NEVER GETTING A HIT IN A PINCH!!!

Ryan Church - C-
It's difficult to grade Church because what was a promising start for him got submarined when he ended up with his 2nd concussion in 3 months in May, and then the team botched handling him after it happened, and he ended up spending the better part of 3 months on the DL. He was absolutely the team MVP for the first two months of the season, before his collission with Yunel Escobar. Then, he came back and had about two good games over the final 6 weeks, and his presence really hurt the team more than it helped. But, for some reason, Manuel insistently continued to play him, despite the fact that he was killing rallies and other teams were pitching around Delgado and Beltran to pitch to him. There were also some rumors floating around that he didn't like New York, he didn't like the team, and he didn't feel comfortable, which were even more disheartening. But at some point, he should have been removed from the lineup, or at least platooned against lefties. His only shining moment over the last half of the season was slipping around a tag and then flopping back to touch home plate. He followed that game up by striking out in 5 consecutive at bats, and then making the final out of a miserable season. I don't know what we have and I don't even know if he'll be back. I'm inclined, based on just how bad he was over the final month, to think that he played over his head earlier in the season, and his norm is something closer to his performance last year with the Nationals, which is perfectly middling.

Moises Alou - F

I know most of us advocated for bringing him back, but we were all wrong. It was a bad idea.

Daniel Murphy - A-
A 3rd Baseman by trade, Murphy took a crash course in Left Field so as to ease his path to the Majors, and then came up and started to hit like a house afire, earning him the fans' eternal adoration. He did come back to earth in the last couple of weeks, partially because, stuck in a platoon, he didn't play for about a week when the Mets faced nothing but lefties, and then scuffled when he did play, but I like his approach at the plate. He knows how to take pitches and it seems like his hits always seem to count, even if the guys behind him can't follow it up.

Nick Evans - C+
Lacks the patience and polish of Murphy, and might have been a bit over his head, particularly the first time he was called up from AA. I'm not sure what he would project to, and he's got a lot to learn. Could be good. Could also be good trade bait. I'm not sure which.

Fernando Tatis - A
Because nobody expected him to come up with as many big hits as he did. He sort of supplanted Damion Easley in the "Don't Panic" role, and managed to parlay that into the starting Left Field job for a few months. He came back to earth a little bit and got lost in the rookie shuffle in LF, but losing him for the season in September probably did more damage than we realized; he likely could have spelled Church down the stretch against lefties.

Trot Nixon
He actually played in 11 games with this team. Were things really that bad?

Angel Pagan - B
He did have a nice run at the beginning of the season, but things had already started to catch up with him when he got injured in LA and ended up disappearing from our consciousness.

Brady Clark

Apparently he only made the team because Fernando Tatis hadn't had enough time in Spring Training. Joe McEwing type without the Joe McEwing charm.

Chris Aguila
His most notable moment came in the infamous June 11th game, where, in the 9th inning, his single was celebrated as his 1st Major League hit. People were cheering and the ball was taken out of play. Except that when I got home and checked Baseball Reference, I found that it was not his 1st Major League hit. It was his 52nd Major League hit. The Mets made a huge stink about Chris Aguila's 52nd Major League hit. I should have known we were doomed right then and there.

Johan Santana - A+
As advertised. He has proven himself someone who can simply will his team to victory any time he takes the mound. His 16-7 could have easily been 22-7 if the bullpen had held things for him. Even more tantalizing, his 2.53 ERA, which led the league, by the way, was the lowest ERA of his career. Pitched a 3-hit shutout with the Mets backs against the wall, on 3 days' rest, in the rain, with a torn meniscus. Heart, Guts, Balls. This is an Ace, in every sense of the word.

Pedro Martinez - C
I'll give Pedro this high of a grade because he wasn't as terrible as he sometimes looked. And sometimes, he looked like he was pitching on fumes. He definitely had some major 1st inning problems, particularly with the longball. But if he could get through the 1st inning relatively unscathed, he would often settle down and keep the game manageable, which was all you could realistically expect. But, let's face it, he's a shell of his former self, he can't be counted on to pitch a full season, and he probably won't be back.

John Maine - B-
Counted on to build on his success of 2007, Maine tried, and didn't quite follow through. Too often, Maine would be unable to put hitters away, and would waste a frustrating amount of pitches early in the game, and then have his pitch count up too high by the 5th or 6th inning. Then, we found out he'd been pitching with a bone spur in his shoulder that was screwing him up. I wonder just how long he'd been pitching with it? I still have a lot of faith in Maine, particularly since he had successful surgery and will be ready for Spring Training, and he put a lot of pressure on himself to try to come back. But he needs to learn to put hitters away, or at least be better at pitching to contact and letting his fielders do the work behind him.

Oliver Perez - C+
Similar to Maine. Oliver Perez was, well, Oliver Perez. Enigmatic. Unpredictable. Brilliant one day, putrid the next. There was no consistency and no pattern to any of his outings, but you could usually tell which Oliver Perez you were getting after 1 or 2 batters. If he got the first two batters out pretty quickly, then it was Good Oliver. If he went to a 3 ball count or walked a guy, or gave up a hit, look out. He still had the knack of pitching well in big games, including taking a shutout into the 6th inning on that final Sunday, the kind of outing you prayed for, except that his offense didn't back him up. Followed up a 15-10, 3.56 potential breakout with a 10-7, 4.22 regression. And, of course, it's his walk year, and he's a Scott Boras guy. Lord only knows what sort of ridiculous contract he's going to want, but the Mets have to draw a line and stand firm. Let someone else give him $12 million a year if that's what he wants. I like Ollie and it would be nice if he could stay, but I'm not going to be too heartbroken if he leaves. You can afford to let him walk, particularly because of...

Mike Pelfrey - A
If, at the beginning of the season, someone asked you who, of the following three pitchers would be the best young pitcher in New York, out of Joba Chamberlain, Philip Hughes or Mike Pelfrey, chances are, you wouldn't have said Pelfrey. He wouldn't have even been on your radar screen. But by the end of the season, not only was he the best, it wasn't even close. Pelfrey's maturation process was stunning. Not because of a lack of talent, certainly not. But consider how dramatically he turned things around for himself. After getting beaten around by Florida on May 26th, Pelfrey stood at a miserable 2-6, with an ERA of 5.33, and was hanging onto his job by a thread. But he quietly began to turn the corner with a solid 7-inning outing against LA on May 31st. He followed that with 6 strong in a loss to San Diego on June 5th. Then, came the outing of June 11th. I've written about this game alot, and I think we can point to this game as the game where Pelfrey truly broke out. But in what appeared to be a mismatch, Pelfrey completely outdueled his mound opponent that night, Brandon Webb, over 8 magnificent shutout innings. All of a sudden, he wasn't trying to blow people away, he was mixing his pitches. He was using his fastball to set up the power sinker that hitters would just keep pounding into the dirt. He was doing the kind of things that Brandon Webb was supposed to be doing on the mound that night. Yes, Wagner blew the lead and he took a ND. But rather than regressing, Pelfrey built on that night, and never looked back. In the span of 10 days in July, Pelfrey allowed 1 run over 3 games and 22 innings against St. Louis, San Francisco and Colorado. In August, he began to elevate his game, pitching to even more contact and keeping his pitch count manageable to the point where he threw two consecutive complete games. Before our eyes, Pelfrey had developed into the kind of pitcher we were told he'd be when he was drafted in 2005. Even when it came down to the end, Pelfrey persevered, despite reaching a number of innings he'd never thrown in a season before. Although he didn't win after August 25th, he pitched admirably well each time out, despite his offense providing him with 3 runs or less in 4 of 6 starts, and the bullpen blowing another outing. Even if he was a little gassed, he can't be blamed. The future is tantalizingly bright for Pelfrey, and it's not so outlandish to say that he's easily the #2 pitcher on this team, and if Santana weren't here, he'd be the Ace. Hell, there's a number of teams that he'd be the Ace of, unquestionably. He's begun to pitch with confidence and fearlessness, and won't back down when challenged. And he's got the stuff to make you believe that he's not going to look back.

Aaron Heilman - F
Clearly the whipping boy and he deserved it. There are no excuses for how often he came into a game and promptly allowed 2 singles and then a 2-run double, or got 2 outs, then walked a guy and gave up a 2-run HR, or walked in runs, or whatever. I thought he should have been dealt last year, and I still think he should be dealt, but I don't know who the hell would want him at this point.

Luis Ayala - D
If you'd told me that he would have been the de facto closer at the end of the season, I would have laughed my ass off. Yet, there he was, closing out games down to the end, or at least attempting to close out games. Another one to throw to the wolves.

Joe Smith - C-
Smith might be the only guy in the bullpen that I'd be relatively comfortable bringing back, if only because it seems like he can get guys out on a relatively consistent basis, and has some ability pitching to both sides of the plate, as opposed to being another of the dreaded "Specialists." Then again, he wasn't that great against lefties...

Pedro Feliciano - F
As I mentioned the other night, El Guapo had mused about a time when we believed Feliciano was the best guy in the bullpen. The scary thing is that he still might be the best guy in the bullpen. He was the only guy I actually thought could get guys out from both sides of the plate, except that he got so overworked so early in the season that by the time things were winding down, he was having difficulty getting anybody out, lefty or righty. I still disagree in using him as a lefty specialist, but then again, let him make me believe he can still get lefties out and maybe I'll change my mind.

Duaner Sanchez - F
Go away. You and your jackass idea of what constitutes a good pitch. Let me tell you something, idiot. A good pitch is the kind of pitch that gets the batter out, not the kind of pitch that the batter hits 400 feet.

Scott Schoeneweis - F
I know that, on the final day, he was going through some difficult personal problems. But that doesn't excuse him from the remainder of the season when he was at best, barely passable, and at worst, miserable. I can't believe I actually stuck up for him earlier this season. There was no reason to be nice. And what does he do? He goes and TURNS BACK INTO THE HUMAN GAS CAN!!! AAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!!!!!

Billy Wagner - C+
When I named Billy Wagner one of the 5 Key Mets for the season, I had no idea how prophetic my words would be. I was somewhat fearful of him coming down with an injury, and the Mets not having a proper contingency plan, and that's exactly what happened. It's not so much that Wagner was totally lights out, but it helps when you have a real closer who can come in to finish a game. We got a frightening taste of this in July, and then when he went down for good in August, the entire bullpen was thrown into a state of chaos from which it never recovered.
Nelson Figueroa -

Claudio Vargas - C-
Pitched admirably well in a spot start that El Guapo and I attended. Then, Heilman pissed it away for him, and he didn't really do much to distinguish himself after that.

Brian Stokes - C+
Gets this high of a grade because, I'll be honest, the fact that he'd been cut by Tampa Bay didn't inspire much confidence in me, and yet somehow he pitched passably enough to earn the 8th inning role by the end of the season. Then again, he was alternately good and bad and there wasn't an in between with him, so it could just have been that he sort of lucked his way into a key role because he didn't screw it up all the time, just some of the time.

Carlos Muniz - D
Up and down I believe 5 times this season. Didn't pitch much in September, and by the time September had come around, I wasn't sure I remembered him pitching well or not.

Jorge Sosa - F
Somehow won 4 games despite a 7.06 ERA. Earned all the vilification he got. Cut outright in May after signing a 2-year contract. Long forgotten by the end of the season. I seriously doubt he would have helped.

Jonathon Niese - Inc.
Work in progress. Shoved into some spot starts in key games and didn't do so well. I think he has a nice looking arsenal of pitches and he certainly proved himself capable of dominating with his strong performance against Atlanta. Worth a look at the back of the rotation next season.

Brandon Knight
I still think it's weird seeing a guy on the Mets in a Knight jersey that's not #22.

Tony Armas
I think I fell asleep during the game he started.

Matt Wise
Not wise.

Bobby Parnell
Promising, and probably earned himself a few outings late in the season simply because he was able to record 3 outs in succession, something that was beyond the realm of the other guys in the bullpen.

Ricardo Rincon
Stole Edgardo Alfonzo's At Bat music. Another lefty specialist who had the annoying habit of not being able to get lefties out.

Eddie Kunz
Come on, could he have been worse than any of these other clowns?

After the final game, I mused to El Guapo as to whether or not this team was ever any good. Maybe, I thought, 2006 was their fluke. They were overachievers two years ago, but really little more than a good team with a chance to contend to the end of the season. Maybe this is my own overreaction, but consider that the Mets and Phillies have sported more or less the same team for the past 3 seasons. The Phillies have been to the playoffs twice, the Mets once. And I don't know anybody who thinks that the Phillies are a better team outright. There's problems with the Mets that go deeper than arrogance and deeper than problems with the supposed core.

It's not outlandish to say that there are truly only three players on the Mets that you'd consider "Untouchable," as far as you can't deal them as it would do great harm to the team's chances. Santana, Beltran, Pelfrey. These are your guys. But it seems to consistently come back to "The Core," which is a term that I don't think anybody ever referred to before Sunday, and will probably be the defining term of this offseason. We can't move The Core. Or can we? I'm not advocating for it, it certainly wouldn't be a popular move, but should the right offer come along for Wright, or Reyes, or Delgado, why wouldn't the Mets take it? It's too easy to just say that the Mets need a Left Fielder, or the Mets need a Right Fielder, or the Mets need a Second Baseman, or they need to overhaul the Bullpen. The Bullpen always has a different look from year to year, and it's hit or miss. The Mets were fortunate, in 2006, to have outstanding years out of guys like Darren Oliver, Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano. You just have to bring in guys and hope for the best. There are guys the Mets could bring in at these other positions that would certainly help, but for the most part, if "The Core" remains intact, this team will pretty much look the same.

And considering that the guys in Philly have already demonstrated an ability to find themselves and string together victories when it matters most, and considering that Florida stands to be vastly improved as they mature as a team, and the Mets are oddly right back where they were at the end of last year, even with Santana. They're not much better than a 3rd place team that could compete until the end, but lack that killer instinct to finish the job. And I don't know what needs to be done in order to bring the justifiable swagger they had in 2006 back.

This offseason is going to tell us a lot. But right now, I don't have a great deal of confidence in the 2009 Mets.