Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Storm Game

We at The Ballclub are rather fortunate this Tuesday, following the Hurricane that blew through the NYC area on Monday. Headquarters did not lose power, short of a little flickering late in the evening, and in spite of some strong winds, there was no major damage outside of some downed trees, blown-over construction fencing and overturned newspaper boxes. However, I know that many people out there were not as fortunate, so I do hope everyone is OK and on the way to recovering from this mess.

After spending most of the day watching various news outlets for storm updates and damage reports, I flipped away for the diversion of the 49ers/Cardinals matchup. After the debacle against the Giants was followed by only a middling performance against Seattle, the 49ers found themselves matched up with another NFC West upstart in the Arizona Cardinals. A Cardinal victory would have given them the division lead via tiebreaker. Plus, the Cardinals seem to be one of those chippy teams that likes to mouth off a lot, and they don't like the 49ers much. Needless to say, that feeling is mutual. But, the Cardinals are the Cardinals. After spending most of their existence in NFL Siberia, they had a miracle Super Bowl run a few years ago that ended with a last-second defeat. Since then, they turned back into the Cardinals. But, this season, they started off 4-0 and looked like they could be trouble until they lost 3 in a row. They boast a bit of talent, led by Larry Fitzgerald, but they have no quarterback that can adequately throw him the ball, and going up against a Defense like the 49ers, that hadn't allowed an opponent more than 6 points in 4 of their
last 5 games, that should have spelled imminent disaster. The question was, could Alex Smith get his sea legs back and perform at the level he'd been performing at earlier in the season. Could the 49ers get back to that complete team effort for the game? The answer turned out to be a resounding Yes on both counts, as Alex Smith completed 18 of 19 passes (the only incompletion coming on a Delanie Walker drop), threw for 3 Touchdowns, and with a lead could sit back and let the Defense do the rest. End result: A resounding 24-3 victory that re-asserted the 49ers as one of the best in the NFC.

The 49ers started out sticking to the recipe that served them well against Seattle. After an opening punt pinned the Cardinals deep in their own end, the 49ers allowed the Cardinals nothing on the ground. The Cardinals were down to their 3rd Running Back, LaRod Stephen-Hawking, and the 49ers exploited this, allowing him 6 yards on 8 carries for the game, and allowed the Cardinals all of 7 yards rushing in total. The 49ers forced a punt and their second drive, comprised mostly of Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter plowing out yards, culminated in an acrobatic Touchdown catch by Michael Crabtree, who leapt over Patrick Peterson to reel in the pass and land in the end zone.

The following 3 49ers possessions yielded two punts and a Field Goal to extend the lead to 10-0, but not to worry. Arizona Quarterback John Skelton, forced to throw early and often, could only complete short passes to inch down the field, unless he was airmaling his receivers. After forcing yet another punt, Alex Smith set to work to extend the lead, completing 6 of 6 passes to get the 49ers down the field, spreading the ball around to 4 different receivers before finishing with his specialty: a 3rd down pass to Michael Crabtree, who juked Peterson out of his jock and outran him into the End Zone to extend the lead to 17-0 at Halftime.

The second half was more or less controlled by the Defense. The 49ers first offensive drive ended with their final score, featuring Smith hitting Randy Moss on a short pass and Moss breaking a tackle and sprinting away from everyone for a 47-yard Touchdown, where he looked more like 2002 Randy Moss more than 2012 Randy Moss. After that, the defense just stepped on the Cardinals throats, allowing only a field goal and sacking Skelton 3 times as he desperately tried to drag the Cardinals back into the game. But it wasn't happening on this night. Their final drive was the only drive that managed to gain momentum, and even that was halted when his 4th down pass to Fitzgerald ended with Fitzgerald tackled a yard shy of the goal line, allowing the 49ers to take over and run out the clock.

The 49ers appear, at least for the moment, to have righted the ship. At 6-2, they have a 2-game lead in the NFC West, and a 2-0 record in the division. After the bye, they play another long time rival, the St. Louis Rams, before a pair of difficult games against Chicago and New Orleans. Things appear OK for now. The defense has been strong, if not as opportunistic with their turnovers as they were last year. It's been enough, though, that they have been just about impossible to run against with consistency, and most importantly, that they've been able to keep the other team off the scoreboard. This seems to be the recipe that works for them. It certainly worked last night, and proved a most pleasant diversion to the barrage of hurricane coverage.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Of Course It Happened That Way

Of Course. I picked the Tigers to win the World Series in 7 games, and the World Series ends up being a 4-game washout by the San Francisco Giants.

Really, looking back on this blur of a series, I should have known better. Perhaps I was mollified at how easily the Tigers dispatched the hated Yankees, while the Giants battled tooth and nail to beat the Cardinals, but this seems to be how it happens in the World Series. Usually, the team that coasted in hits a wall, and the team that has a crucible ends up catching fire. This seems to have happened in '06, '07, '09, '10 and last year, too. The Tigers, who appeared loaded from top to bottom, a team primed for just this kind of situation, could only watch as their bats collectively went ice cold, while the Giants, the team built to scrape out victories, did just that every time out, winning twice via shutout and once in a 10-inning, 1-run effort.

The Tigers, certainly, must ache quite a bit, but they fell victim to both of the adages I mentioned last week. Good pitching beats good hitting, and you can't win if you don't hit. Detroit pitched admirably well, outside of the one guy you figured would be great in Game 1, and when you allow 2, 2 and 4 runs in 3 straight games, you figure you ought to win some of them. But the Tigers offense barely made a peep, scoring a combined 3 runs over those 3 games, all of them coming in Game 4, all of them coming via the Home Run. The end result was a slow fade into the off-season, with poor Phil Coke, who had saved the Tigers multiple times against the Yankees, saddled with the loss.

But give credit to the Giants. They built themselves to win with their pitching and defense, something that worked for them in 2010, and worked for them again this year. They rode their pitching all year long, and rode it right through the postseason. Their pitching was so deep that Tim Lincecum, perhaps their best pitcher in spite of a poor season, got moved to the bullpen where he turned into a Mariano Rivera-esque hammer that stopped the Tigers dead in their tracks multiple times, eating up middle innings and providing a bridge to Sergio Romo, who simply caught fire at the right time. Ultimately, the Giants made all the right moves at all the right times.

Offensively, though the Giants didn't have the firepower of the Tigers, they constantly got the key hit. Whether it was Pablo Sandoval turning into Albert Pujols in the first game, or Gregor Blanco's bunt staying fair, or Hunter Pence creating havoc on the bases, or Marco Scutaro resurrecting his career, every time the Giants needed a break, they managed to create one.

Nobody seemed to embody the pluck of the Giants quite like former Met Angel Pagan. Not a star, and sometimes appearing only passable as a Major Leaguer, Pagan was basically handed to the Giants in a deal that netted the Mets the useless Andres Torres. Pagan, meanwhile, found himself rescued from Met Hell and had a fine season, played solid defense, and came up with one of the Giants biggest hits of the season, a leadoff Home Run off Chris Carpenter in Game 2 of the NLCS that spurred the Giants on to a victory. In the World Series, Pagan didn't do anything to grab a headline. But he came up with a clutch stolen base late in Game 2, and scored an important insurance run in a 2-0 victory. Now, he's a World Series Champion. He and the rest of the Giants all earned it.

So, thus begins about 5 Baseball free months, kicked off by a major Hurricane hitting the New York area. Nobody has mentioned anything, probably because nobody's there, but I believe Citi Field is in the middle of a flood zone, which seems fitting since the 2012 season ended with them all wet. But I digress. It won't be long until we're convening there once again on April 1, 2013 for Opening Day. Until then, stay dry, all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Old Guard

The Giants 9-0 victory in Game 7 of the NLCS accomplished a few good things. For one, they finally stopped the Cardinals, who appeared to be like a swarm of moths come to eat away at a sweater, constantly a nuisance, refusing to go away. The Cardinals had ceased to be a charming little story of a team that kept coming back, and instead turned into the annoying bunch of David Ecstein-types who you just wished would die. They turned the Nationals into a carcass in the Division Series, and when they took a 3-1 lead over San Francisco, they seemed primed for another deep October run. But these Giants had some comeback-ability of their own. They'd already had their crucible, falling behind 0-2 to the Reds before storming back to win 3 in Cincinnati. So, what happened? They gave the Cardinals a taste of their own medicine, winning the final 3 games of the NLCS by a combined score of 20-1. They appear to be this year's version of the 2011 Cardinals, only with better pitching and a group of players that have already tasted a World Series Championship just 2 years ago. That it's them, and not the Cardinals, who I've long since grown sick of, is a good thing. That they kicked the Cardinals in the nuts the way they did is even better. The best part, perhaps, is that we won't have to be subjected to hours of stories about how the Cardinals did it without the Great Pujols or the Genius LaRussa for the next week. Instead, we'll have the image of Marco Scutaro, arms outstretched, basking in a San Francisco Monsoon as if he were Andy DuFresne just escaped from Shawshank.

On the other side, the Detroit Tigers, who did a pretty good nut-kicking job of their own, sweeping the Yankees and pretty much embarrassing them in the process. That in and of itself is good enough of a story for me.

I  haven't read much in the way of an "experts" comparison of these two teams, but from what I can gather, they seem to be pretty evenly matched. I would not expect a short series between these two teams, unless one of them has a complete meltdown, which I don't foresee. I see the starting pitching as mostly even. This seems a bit odd, considering the Giants have basically built their team around their great starters, but think about it this way: San Francisco will start Barry Zito in Game 1, and then again in Game 5. Their best pitcher, Matt Cain, won't pitch until Game 4. In between, they'll be throwing Madison Bumgarner in Game 2, and Ryan Vogelsong in Game 3. Tim Lincecum won't start at all, but is a great wildcard out of the bullpen. The Tigers open with their hammer, Justin Verlander, who's been all but unhittable this postseason. Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez, both of whom acquitted themselves quite well in the postseason, throw games 2 and 3, and the wildly underrated Max Scherzer pitches game 4. These names don't have the luster of the Giants' staff, but they're no slouches either. I give the Giants an edge in the bullpen, however, since they have guys who do nothing but get outs, and the Tigers sort of have a pu-pu platter and a closer who basically had to be taken apart and put back together on the fly in the ALCS. Should a game remain low-scoring into the late innings, and fall to relief pitchers, the Giants have an advantage.

But it's only so much of an advantage, because one thing the Tigers have that the Giants don't are blinding sluggers who can hit the ball out of any ballpark at any moment. Prince Fielder has made a career out of it, and preceding him in the lineup is some guy who won a freaking Triple Crown. Delmon Young has also been red hot, and guys like Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta are solid veterans who get the job done more often than not. The Giants, in order to win, tend to have to peck and scrape and claw and get a few breaks to score loads of runs. Buster Posey is great, but he can't match the production level of Cabrera or Fielder, and the rest of their lineup is mosty comprised of scrappers like Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro and old friend Angel Pagan. Pablo Sandoval is also a nice bopper, but when he's not hitting, he can drag the whole team down with him.

So, given these comparisons, one might be inclined to throw out the "Good Pitching beats Good Hitting" adage that proves itself true all too often in the Postseason. That's fair, but it's not always true. Good Pitching does beat Good Hitting, but Bad Hitting can often undercut Good Pitching. I felt somewhat inclined to pick the Giants, if only because they have the Home Field advantage and the 7th game would be in their Home Park, but I just have a feeling about this Tigers team. They were laying in the weeds all season and caught fire at the right moment. They were helped by the fact that the Yankees stopped hitting completely, but their starting pitching had a lot to do with that also. I also have a feeling that somewhere in this series, Bruce Bochy is going to make some kind of weird decision with his starting pitching that might bite him in the ass. I flipped back and forth on this for a while, but I don't see this series being short. It's going 6 at least, and probably 7 games, and ultimately I think the Tigers are going to come out on top. So, that's what I'm going with. Tigers in 7. Figure they split the first two in San Francisco, Detroit wins 2 of 3 in Detroit over the weekend, San Francisco wins Game 6, Detroit wins Game 7, probably under the circumstances of Lincecum early and Scherzer on short rest, or something to that effect. Either way, it'll be a good series to watch, and completely stress-free for the Mets fan.

Friday, October 19, 2012


I mentioned on Monday that the 49ers lousy performance against the Giants last week came at a very bad time, because the 49ers had a very short week with which to right the ship and get themselves ready for a rather stubborn division rival in the Seattle Seahawks. For 30 minutes on Thursday night, the 49ers had every reason to be really concerned. Although the defense had been doing just about everything possible to keep the game respectable, the offense was looking stale and stagnant. Alex Smith looked confused by Seattle's pass coverage and was forced to either run for his life or throw the ball away altogether. San Francisco closed the half with 3-and-outs on three consecutive possessions and just couldn't sustain anything. The Defense had done well, if not been a bit lucky that Seattle's receivers couldn't hold on to Russell Wilson's passes. On the ground, Marshawn Lynch, always tough to bring down, had gashed them a few times, allowing them to lengthen drives on multiple occasions. At the half, things looked really ugly, and the 49ers were fortunate to only be trailing by a 6-3 score. This could have been worse, but for a missed Field Goal by the Seahawks shortly before the half ran out.

The only offense the 49ers had been able to generate with any sort of consistency was on the legs of their old veteran warrior, The Inconvenient Truth, Frank Gore. Therefore, the 49ers answer coming out for the 2nd half was Frank Gore, Frank Gore, and some more Frank Gore. It didn't matter whether he was running the ball or catching screens, Gore dug in, as he's done in so many of these big Prime Time games, and delivered the yards that the 49ers needed. After forcing a Seattle punt out of the half, Gore took charge, as he, with Alex Smith and Kendall Hunter chipping in, delivered the long, sustained drive that the 49ers so desperately needed, that they didn't have against the Giants, and finished it off with the night's only Touchdown, a 12-yard pass to Delanie Walker to cap off a massively important 86-yard drive.

With the lead, the Defense, which had been strong all evening, was able to dig in a little more and really play their kind of game. Though Lynch continued to run effectively, whenever Wilson tried to pass, the 49ers cut him off, either by rushing, or by jamming his receivers. Wilson was only marginally effective in the 1st half, and didn't complete a pass in the 2nd half until very late in the 4th Quarter. Or, should I say, complete a pass to one of his own receivers. He airmailed a pass late in the 3rd quarter into triple coverage that was intercepted by Dashon Goldson. Goldson's pick was huge, set up another clock-eating drive featuring Frank Gore running wild, and would have ended in more points had Smith not stupidly tried to force a pass into the end zone that was intercepted. This would have been instant disaster, but once again, the defense rose up, stopped Seattle and forced another punt. And, guess what. More Gore, More clock eating, and a Field Goal that put Seattle in desperate straits. A pair of late drives were cut off by the defense, as well as by the always superb punting of Andy Lee, and the 49ers finished off an ugly, but effective 13-6 victory that was important for a number of different reasons.

Re-establishing Frank Gore was, perhaps, most important. Gore was limited to 8 carries in last week's game against the Giants, as the game got away from the 49ers and they were forced to pass. Gore has made a career off of carrying the load for the 49ers, and though the mileage is building up, he has still proven that he's able to get the job done. Thursday night, he did it once again, rushing for 131 yards against Seattle's tough defense, and also led the 49ers in receiving, catching 5 passes, mostly checkdowns, for 51 yards. By the 4th quarter, he had worn down Seattle's defense to the point where he started breaking off some longer runs. It's hardly news, but when the 49ers are going really well, it's because Frank Gore is able to run effectively, eat yardage and, once the 49ers have a lead, eat the clock.

The 49ers weren't expected to have much competition for the NFC West this season. I still believe they're the best team in the division from top to bottom, and that's probably true. But Seattle has begun to put together a team that's certainly going to challenge the 49ers, and Arizona has been tough in the early going as well. Ultimately, the 49ers won't walk away with the division this season, which is why it's really important for them to win these rivalry games. Seattle is not only tough, they're also chippy. They want a piece of the 49ers. These two teams basically spent the entire game just belting each other. Arizona has been chippy for years, and the 49ers will be visiting them next Monday night. Seattle came out tonight, with the 49ers perhaps still hung over from last weekend, and hit them in the mouth. But for those key adjustments at halftime, this season could very easily have begun to get away from the 49ers. And even though they may have beaten Seattle, Seattle's not going to go away so easily. But that the 49ers were able to go in at the half, adjust their game plan, come back and set everything in motion so well was huge. Jim Harbaugh. after the game, called it the most important 30 minutes of the season, and that may well be true. They had scored 6 points in the past 6 quarters and just looked generally out of sorts. But they responded to this adversity, came back, scored some points and kept Seattle off the scoreboard in the second half and righted the ship, at least for the moment.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Watching the Yankees in the playoffs while the Mets sit at home is an exercise in restraint, mostly. Generally, I have to deal with all sorts of jeers and snibes and whatnot. And every time the Yankees stumble, or I say something derogatory (which happens often) about the wonderful Yankees, I'm generally lambasted with taunts of all kinds, calling me bitter, or jealous, or a hater, and that's about it, since Yankee fans are generally neither humorous nor imaginative with their insults. This year, I've just kept quiet. I know most of my Yankee fan friends are waiting for me to say something, waiting to let their frustrations out, but I've decided not to give anyone the satisfaction.

This year, I'd decided to simply ignore the Yankees in the hopes that they would eventually go away. I hadn't watched much of any of their playoff games. An inning here or there, at best. I saw virtually none of their series against Baltimore, therefore I wasn't subjecting myself to Raul Ibanez pulling wins out of his ass. But if they were able to squeak by Baltimore, a spunky, but lesser opponent, how would they fare against a powerful opponent like Detroit, who could hit and pitch, and may have been peaking.

Well, the result was that the Tigers humiliated the Yankees, sweeping them in 4 games where the Yankees scored in only three out of 36 innings and never once led in any of the 4 games. Still, I kept to my strategy, only breaking it to watch the final outs of the 2nd and 3rd games, and the 9th inning of this afternoon's finale. Each time, ex-Yankee Phil Coke came in and slammed the door, and celebrated by screaming and stomping around the mound in celebration. Today, he took his glove and fired it to the ground, perhaps the best glove toss since Jesse Orosco. So Schadenfreude reigns for the Mets fan tonight. It's now safe for me to open my mouth and come out of hiding. The Yankees are gone, and Baseball is Free.

The Yankee fan, of course, would probably complain that they had no chance after beautiful Derek Jeter got hurt, and A-Rod spending more time picking up women than hitting the baseball, but the fact is that when the entire Yankee team went in the tank offensively, credit has to be given instead to the Detroit Tiger pitching staff. Tiger starting pitchers allowed 2 runs in total, the other 4 runs the Yankees scored came off of Jose Valverde. The Yankees hit a miserable .157 for the series and Tiger pitchers threw to an 0.66 ERA in this washout. It doesn't matter what team you are. When you hit like that in a postseason series, you deserve to get swept. It's the Mets fan's good fortune that it happened to the Yankees this year.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Last Sunday, the 49ers put together a complete effort in blasting the Buffalo Bills at home, 45-3.

Yesterday, the same team went out and got smoked by the Giants, getting many lousy tastes of their own medicine in a miserable 26-3 loss.

Playing against the team that knocked them out of the Playoffs last season, the 49ers came into this game regarded by many as the class of the NFC, and the Giants, perhaps, were viewed as an erratic irritant. Not so. The Giants came in and played a perfect game. Eli Manning proved once again why he's a Championship Quarterback, hitting just about every pass he needed to make, and the Giants running game gashed the 49ers front late in the game to eat up the clock and eliminate any chance of a comeback.

The game started out with an eerie harbinger of what was to come. The 49ers took the kickoff and shot right down the field, something they've done a few times this season. When the drive stalled, they sent out David Akers for a 43-yard Field Goal. But the kick sailed wide right, ending the drive with no points. Though Akers converted his next attempt, giving the 49ers a 3-0 lead, that ended up being the best the offense would look all day, and the only points the 49ers would put on the board.

Everything pretty much went downhill from there. Alex Smith, who had been generally accurate all season long, had his worst day in years, throwing 3 interceptions, all of which resulted in Giants points. The first one, an overthrown deep pass to Delanie Walker, seemed to kick the Giants into high gear. After not doing much their first few times out, the Giants offense dug in, the line stifled the pass rush, and Eli Manning went to work dissecting the secondary like a surgeon. He was spreading the ball all over the field, hitting every receiver in stride and culminating the drive with a bullet Touchdown pass to Victor Cruz.

With the lead, the Giants defense then dug in and set to work overwhelming the 49ers offense. They seemed to have all the right moves, which included jamming Vernon Davis at the line of scrimmage and keeping him well-covered, keeping constant pressure on Alex Smith and not allowing him to make long passes, or else sacking him altogether, and forcing the 49ers into a number of questionable play calls involving Colin Kaepernick, who appeared to be coming into the game at inopportune times and disrupting whatever rhythm the 49ers were generating.

Even when things went right for the 49ers, they managed to screw up the momentup. Down 10-3 just before the half, the 49ers blocked a Giants Field Goal attempt, and immediately followed that with a long completion to Mario Manningham from Kaepernick to set up another Akers Field Goal attempt. But this 52-yard attempt sailed wide left, and instead of creating a momentum swing, they just handed it back to the Giants, who started the 2nd half with a long Kickoff Return and another Touchdown, which essentially put the game out of reach.

This was sort of the opposite of the Jets game for the 49ers. Already in deep trouble, the game just disintegrated entirely when Antrel Rolle ended the next two possessions by Intercepting Smith deep in San Francisco's end, making a pair of brilliant plays on balls that were just slightly over or underthrown. It was scant consolation that the defense was able to keep the Giants to Field Goals. The offense just wasn't doing much of anything. Even after Smith was finally able to hit a deep throw to Randy Moss, the ensuing play saw Kaepernick bizarrely in the game and taking a 11-yard sack. Forced to go for it on 4th down and 15, all Smith could do was hit Vernon Davis on a checkdown for a minimal gain.

The end result was, in addition to Smith's worst day in years, the worst loss the 49ers have had under Jim Harbaugh. There's not much good that came out of a game like this, and considering that the 49ers have to get their act together quickly with a game against Seattle coming up on Thursday, it probably couldn't have happened at a worse time. Rather than their defense controlling the tempo, it was the Giants defense that ran the game. The 49ers could neither run nor pass with any kind of consistency, and when you can't move the ball and score, you won't win, no matter how good your defense plays. The defense wasn't especially bad on this day, but given the fact that the Giants, already one of the league's best offensive teams, had 3 short field opportunities that generated 13 points, what chance did they have?  Not only could they not beat the team that ended their season last year, it appeared that they still haven't improved enough to beat them.

However, it's only Week 6. Last season, the 49ers beat the Giants rather handily in November before their Playoff meeting. Things change a lot over the course of an NFL season. And, not every team can put out an offense that boasts Eli Manning and his plethora of standout receivers. This isn't to say that the 49ers should just pack it in now. They certainly aren't as bad as they looked yesterday, and they looked pretty bad. But they also have played inconsistently this season over many of their games. Sometimes, a real ass-kicking can serve as a wake-up call for an underachieving team. But, sometimes, it can lead to things spiraling out of control. Again, Thursday's game against an opportunistic Seattle Seahawks team that upset the Patriots yesterday hits at a particularly bad moment. How the 49ers come out in response to Sunday's beating will tell us a lot about where they're going and how far they've come. I do feel somewhat concerned.

But, then again, I have other things I can take some solace in.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2004

Part 43 of our 50-year Wunderkind...
What is it: 2004 Topps #520, Jose Reyes

What makes it interesting: Not much from an aesthetic standpoint. If the '03s were a bad '83 rehash, then the '04s are a nightmare revisit of the '88s. The '88s worked from a simplistic standpoint. This has the team name emblazoned across the top, but the name is small, the position is even smaller and then there's this ridiculous etch-a-sketch figure in the lower left corner...ugh.

Jose Reyes was, as Mets come and go, probably the most mercurial of their home-grown players. Signed at 16 in 1999, Reyes made a mad dash through the Mets system, arriving in 2003 just as the Mets were beginning to turn the team over completely. He had the tag of future star, unlimited upside, incredible excitement. Anointed a savior before he ever played a Major League Game, Reyes' major league debut on June 10, 2003 was one day before his 20th Birthday. Though his game had some holes, he rarely took a walk and often seemed to jump out of his shoes at any given moment, Reyes had as good a season as you could expect from a 20-year old, hitting .307 with 5 Home Runs, 32 RBI, 47 runs and 13 steals in just 69 games before an ankle injury ended his season. The potential was undeniable. Reyes even became the youngest player ever to switch-hit Home Runs in a game against Atlanta.

Switched to 2nd Base in an idiotic experiment caused by the Kaz Matsui signing before 2004, Reyes didn't see the field until June because of Hamstring issues. These issues continued throughout the season, and Reyes was limited to only 59 games, where he regressed to a .255 batting average, with 2 Home Runs and 14 RBI, and only walked 5 times for the season. Concerns about discipline and durability were abound. But switched back to his natural position of Shortstop for 2005, Reyes responded with a much better season. Though he did not draw his first walk of the season until early May, Reyes stayed healthy, playing in 161 games, and hit .273 with 7 HR and 58 RBI. His flair for the exciting also took a leap as well; his 17 Triples and 60 Stolen Bases both led the National League.

It was in 2006 when Reyes made the leap to stardom. Entrenched in the leadoff spot, Reyes had his best season to date, batting .300, hit 19 Homers and had an astounding 81 RBI for a leadoff hitter. His OBA jumped to .354, he scored 122 runs, and once again led the NL with 17 Triples and 64 Steals as he paced the Mets to a Division title. He also earned the first of 4 All Star selections, and a Silver Slugger award. Included in his outstanding season were a 3-Home Run game in Philadelphia, an electrifying Inside-the-Park HR, and a Cycle. The chants of "JOSE! JOSEJOSEJOSE! JOSE! JOSE!!!" at Shea Stadium were infectious. Reyes was the table setter for the great hitters behind him and had developed all the tools to change the game. In the postseason, Reyes had a chance to showcase his talents on a national stage. Though he only had two hits in the NLDS vs. Los Angeles, he was able to wreak havoc in other ways. A 7th inning walk in Game 1 led to a key steal and eventually scoring the winning run. He drove in 2 runs in the 2nd game, and singled and scored a run in a late rally in the clinching Game 3. His performance in the NLCS against St. Louis was middling for the first 5 games, but in Game 6, Reyes took control. His leadoff Home Run off Chris Carpenter set the tone, and he later scored a second run in the Mets 4-2 victory.

In 2007, Reyes started off at an even hotter pace, hitting .307 over the first half of the season as the Mets raced out to another lead in the division. But in the second half, Reyes tailed off sharply, inexplicably. The Mets did as well. We know how the season played out. Reyes hit a paltry .256 over the second half of the season, and questions about his attitude and desire began to surface. Reyes was pulled from a game in July for not running out a ground ball, and seemed to spend a good deal of time sulking, or celebrating when he shouldn't have been. Reyes was given credit for the team's success in '06, but when things went bad in '07, Reyes also took a heap of the blame. By season's end, though he once again led the league and set a team record with 78 steals, many were useless, and his numbers tumbled to .280 with 12 HR and 57 RBI. Reyes seemed to be unnecessarily swinging for the fences a lot of the time, thinking he had 25 HR power when he should have been using his speed to leg out hits. Reyes would ultimately finish the season getting booed off the field in disgrace.

In the offseason, a contrite Reyes admitted to losing focus and came into '08 determined to erase the bad memories of  '07. Reyes also had to deal with several jabs from opponents, who criticized Reyes' penchant for dancing around and celebrating on the field and in the dugout during games, although he wasn't the only one around Baseball who did that. Reyes went out and kept quiet for a little while early in the season, but ultimately was encouraged by teammates to just be who he was. And if opponents didn't like it, then so what. So, the dancing was back. In 2008, Reyes had a fine season. The Mets ultimately fell short again, and Reyes' finish was somewhat hot and cold, but overall, he had a fine season, hitting .297 with 16 HRs, 68 RBI, 56 Steals and led the league with 204 hits and 19 triples. He hit the last Double in Shea Stadium. Going forward, though Reyes certainly had his share of critics, and though he was often infuriating to watch, Reyes was clearly the most important player the Mets had, and they were ultimately much better off with him than without him.

Then came 2009.

After a so-so start, Reyes was placed on the DL in Mid-May with a calf injury. Though it was initially thought that Reyes would miss a couple of weeks, eventually Reyes kept getting re-injured and re-examined, and eventually he ended up missing the remainder of the season. The diagnoses of torn calf muscles and torn hamstrings once again called Reyes' durability into question, and some thought he may have just been jaking it with the Mets plodding through a miserable season. Whatever it was, after 4 straight seasons of playing no less than 153 games, Reyes was limited to just 36 games in '09. Reyes' season in 2010 got off to a late start as well, after a thyroid problem limited him in Spring Training. With many of the veterans  Reyes played with early in his career now gone, Reyes and David Wright were now the clear faces of the team. Although he never was the power threat he thought he was, Reyes actually found himself hitting 3rd for a stretch, and he did respond with an All Star season in '10 as the Mets overachieved in the first half of the season. But, the Mets and Reyes fell off miserably in the second half, and Reyes ended up with a rather unexciting .282 average, with 11 HR, 55 RBI and only 30 steals in 133 games, as he appeared to be stealing less in order to protect his legs.

The questions about Reyes remained into 2011. 2011 would be Reyes' walk year, and the fan base seemed completely torn as to what to do. Resign him? Trade him? Let him play out the year and see what happens? Though at the outset, Reyes appeared to be cast as the villain, his hot start eventually won the fans back over. In another All Star season, Reyes hit .354 with 15 triples over the 1st half of the season. Come the trading deadline, Reyes was not dealt, leading fans to believe that efforts would be made to retain him following the season. But yet another second half slide, combined with multiple leg injuries undercut the Mets and Reyes. Once again, Reyes appeared to be playing scared and conservative baseball, not the kind of Baseball we were used to him playing. Reyes tailed off to .305 in the 2nd half of the season, playing in only 46 games and stealing 9 bases with 1 triple. But his hot start had made his numbers respectable, his 16 triples led the NL, and he scored 101 runs. He also became the first Met ever to win a Batting Title with his .337 average. But even that came under questionable circumstances. In the season's final game, Reyes laid down a first inning bunt for a base hit, and immediately came out of the game. Nobody knew how to react. Reyes apparently had planned this himself, and his critics had a field day. And what if that was to be his final game with the team? Was that a way to say goodbye?

The answer to that Whatif was ultimately yes, as Reyes would sign a multi-year contract with the Mickey Mouse Marlins in December. The Mets, though they said they would make him an offer, never did, and Reyes was gone. He left behind one of the more controversial legacies of any Mets player ever. In his 9 seasons with the Mets, he hit .292 with 81 Home Runs and 423 RBI. He had 1300 hits, good enough for 3rd all time. His 370 steals and 99 Triples are club records. Along the way, he provided electrifying moments and great memories all the way around. But many Mets fans were left with a bad taste in their mouths. It could have been so much more. What if Reyes had played up to the performance level he'd shown in 2006? What would that have meant in 2007? 2008? What if he walked more? What if he'd been able to stay healthy? Ultimately, the money Florida gave him was far more than he'd proven himself worth to the Mets. Given the financial situation the Mets find themselves in now, it didn't make much sense to try to match it. Particularly given all the criticisms. Reyes returned to Citi Field with the Marlins late in April 2012 and was booed thoroughly and heartily all season long. Some, myself included, clapped for Reyes. True, he was a case of unfulfilled promise and he appears to symbolize an era of teams that underachieved, but he was a great Met and that does deserve recognition. Then again, he plays for the Fucking Marlins now, so screw him.

Card Back:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2003

Part 42 of our 50-year Rookie Hazing...
What is it: 2003 Topps #372, Cliff Floyd

What makes it interesting: Another multi-colored mishmash, the 2003s are basically the bad, new-era replicant of the 1983s. The '83s looked good in that cheesy '80s way. The '03s are a little too busy for my tastes.

Cliff Floyd is one of those players who was always injured and that probably kept him from an excellent career. Nonetheless, he did manage to play it out for 17 seasons, four of them with the Mets, where he proved to be both a valued teammate and a fan favorite. Floyd arrived on the Mets as a Free Agent in 2003 after many years with the Expos and Marlins. Prior to that, Floyd was mostly known as the guy who suffered a gruesome wrist injury in a collision with Todd Hundley at Shea Stadium early in the '95 season, while with the Expos.

The arrival of Floyd unfortunately coincided with the middle of a number of down seasons for the Mets. After the offseason spending spree prior to 2002 yielded disastrous results, the Mets brought in Floyd and Tom Glavine to try to right the ship. This didn't work, though not because of Floyd. Playing on an injured Achilles, Floyd still managed to hit .290 with 18 HR and 68 RBI in 108 games. With the season a lost cause, and the Mets having turn over the roster to younger, inexperienced players, Floyd opted to end his season in August for Achilles surgery. Nonetheless, in his final few games, Floyd went 11 for 15 with 6 RBI and departed to a standing ovation. The fans knew. Cliff's Met tenure would be marked with similar injury problems, but he often played through them and put up solid numbers as long as he was able.

2004 saw more injury woes for Floyd. In only 113 games, Floyd hit .260 with 18 Home Runs and 63 RBI. Floyd also became a bit more outspoken about the team's struggles. Floyd generally wasn't a complainer, but he was always honest. And he was right, the Mets, at that point, were terrible, and as he put it, there wasn't much "light at the end of the tunnel."

The Mets turned things over once again prior to 2005. Gone were much of the Steve Phillips-era signings, and prospects that weren't really prospects. In came Omar Minaya, Willie Randolph and a lot of new blood, including a young 3rd Baseman named David Wright. Yes, Wright debuted in 2004, but his first full season was in 2005. Floyd seemed to take the young 3rd Baseman under his wing, serving as a mentor of sorts, while at the same time providing him with the gentle hazing task of having Wright carry his luggage all season. Healthy for the first time in several seasons, and also with more lineup protection, Floyd responded with a career year of sorts, hitting .273 with a career high 34 HRs and 98 RBI. He also stole 12 bases and scored 85 runs. Floyd's performance helped to carry the Mets back to respectability, as the finished over .500 for the first time in his time here.

The Mets got even better in 2006, but Floyd was once again plagued by injuries. He got off to a slow start and was constantly in and out of the lineup, playing in only 97 games, and hitting .244 with 11 HR and 44 RBI. Floyd's legs were basically shot by this point  and even when in the lineup, Floyd was often replaced for defense late in games by Endy Chavez. But the team around him picked up his slack and ultimately would run away with the NL East. The night the Mets won the division, on September 18th, it was Floyd who would catch the last out of the game, off the bat of Josh Willingham. Floyd was solid in the NLDS vs. Los Angeles, belting a long Home Run off Derek Lowe to give the Mets the lead in Game 1. Floyd would go on to hit in all 3 Division Series games, and .444 overall, before the Achilles that just wouldn't let him go tightened up on him in Game 3, forcing him from the game and putting his status for the NLCS in doubt. Floyd gave it his best and started Game 1 of the Championship Series vs. St. Louis, but running out a foul ball in the 2nd inning, Floyd's achilles tightened up again. Floyd would ultimately be relegated to the bench for the remainder of the series, leaving the Mets shorthanded. A pinch-hitting appearance under questionable circumstances in Game 7 yielded a strikeout against a wicked Adam Wainwright curveball. And that was it for Cliff Floyd with the Mets.

Floyd would eventually go on to sign with the Chicago Cubs following the '06 season. Though his replacement, Moises Alou, had a better year than Floyd in '07, he was also oft-injured. He also lacked Floyd's presence in the clubhouse, which may have been a detriment to the team chemistry. Floyd returned to Shea Stadium with the Cubs in May of '07. His old teammate, Paul LoDuca, greeted him by tackling him in the Outfield prior to the game. Fans greeted him with a standing ovation. Floyd may have not had the most outstanding career with the Mets, but he always gave his all, often injured, often in hopeless situations. Fans remember these things.

Card back:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

2012 Mets: Same Old Story (Part II)

The second half of the Mets 2012 report card, focusing on the 28 Pitchers the Mets would utilize in 2012.

R.A. Dickey - A+
As if this was ever in doubt. Dickey, perhaps better than anyone else, embodied the spirit of the team. The ultimate underdog, viewed as a castoff, but never quit, never gave up, and eventually was rewarded with a season most pitchers dream about. After a strong finish last season, Dickey started off 2012 on a roll and amazingly only got better. In a string of 5 starts between late May and Mid-June, Dickey was, perhaps, the best pitcher in all of Baseball, allowing 1 unearned run over a stretch that included 3 complete games, 2 shutouts and 2 1-hitters. Moreover, Dickey took an elusive, offbeat pitch and revolutionized it, becoming a master of the Knuckleball in a way that nobody had ever seen. Even on his worst days, Dickey still kept the Mets in games. Dickey's 2.73 ERA was 2nd in the National League, and his 233.2 innings, 230 strikeouts, 5 complete games and 3 shutouts were all League Leading figures. Most importantly, he became the first Mets pitcher in over 20 years, and only the 6th pitcher in Mets history to post a 20-win season. Though he is 37, he's still got plenty of life in Knuckleball years, and should be counted on to anchor the Mets rotation going forward.

Jonathon Niese - B+
Coming into the season, Jonathon Niese was a bit of a question mark. Though he would have occasional solid outings, he never had a really good streak, and his seasons were generally cut short due to injuries of one kind or another. He also tended to fade badly as the season wore on. Talent wasn't the issue, though. The Mets felt highly about Niese, who does have excellent stuff, and in a show of faith gave him a 5-year contract at the beginning of the season. Niese rewarded their faith with his best season to date. Though he did have the same sort of inconsistency for some time in the middle of the season, generally it was simply a bad inning or two spiraling out of control. Niese found his groove in the 2nd half of the season and down the stretch pitched very well, even if he may not have been rewarded with a win for his efforts. The result was that his 190 innings, 155 strikeouts and 13 wins were a career high, and his ERA of 3.40 was a career best. A very solid mid-rotation player going forward.

Johan Santana - A
I don't care. Even if he pitched poorly and once again had his season ended prematurely due to injury, Johan Santana gets an A for life. He has pitched with immense heart and guts from the moment he's arrived here, and this was never more evident than the night he threw the first No Hitter in Mets History.

Chris Young - C+
Young was nothing if not serviceable for the Mets after returning from the same injury Santana had. I'll give him credit for pitching out a majority of the season, though most of the time he pitched to a lot of bad luck, and sometimes just flat out pitched badly. Generally, Young was good for about 5-6 innings, but it usually got pretty dicey from there on out. Finished 4-9, with a 4.15 ERA. He was mostly an afterthought this season and with the ascension of other arms around him probably won't be back.

Dillon Gee - C
The blood clot and subsequent vascular injury that shut Gee down for the season at the All Star break was a blow for him mostly from a development standpoint. Gee, similar to Niese, had a mostly inconsistent first half of the season, but by the All Star break had started to show some improvement. The hope here is that Gee comes back next season and is pushed a bit by the talent around him. Gee has the potential to be a good back of the rotation pitcher, but I'm not sold yet. Finished 6-7 with a 4.10 ERA in his 17 starts.

Jeremy Hefner - C-
Everyone wants to give him credit for coming back from the merciless pounding he took against Philly to pitch well against Pittsburgh and Florida, but, then, it's Pittsburgh and Florida. Consider the competition. Hefner isn't going to be a long term solution, he's just not a good enough pitcher. He may have good outings here and there, but looking over his season, most of his best starts were against bad teams. 4-7, 5.09 ERA isn't going to cut it.

Matt Harvey - A
Rare is the prospect who comes up and is actually better than advertised, but Matt Harvey was better than advertised. Harvey, along with Zach Wheeler, were given close watch all season, but at the start, it was thought that Wheeler had the higher ceiling. Now, that seems to be reversed. Harvey burst on the scene with an 11 strikeout debut and really didn't let up from there, outside of a pair of middling starts against San Francisco and San Diego. Has a fierce competitive spirit and an impassioned aversion to losing, the kind of personality that you rarely see in a young pitcher. 10 starts, 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. The record probably should have been better but for some good outings where he got no run support. He'll be fun to watch going forward.

Mike Pelfrey
Can't really give him a grade because he only made 3 starts before getting sidelined with an elbow injury. He'd started well, with a 2.29 ERA, but Pelfrey was generally hard to figure out. By the end of the season, Pelfrey was a forgotten man and there's a very good chance that he's pitched his last game for the Mets.

Collin McHugh - D
Collin McHugh came up and had a brilliant outing against a miserable Rockies team in a game the Mets managed to lose 1-0. Everyone had a collective orgasm over him, overlooking the fact that he shut down a team that had started a AAA lineup. Ultimately, against stiffer competition, and even against some lesser teams, McHugh would be exposed. Terry Collins likened him to Dillon Gee, but at least Gee showed the ability to get hitters out on a consistent basis, something that may be beyond McHugh's realm. 0-4, 7.59 ERA in 8 games and 4 starts, and after striking out 9 in his debut, he didn't even manage 9 strikeouts over the remainder of the season, finishing with 17 Ks.

Miguel Batista - D
Yawn city. Somehow Batista got into 30 games and made 5 starts for the Mets this season before being released. Did nothing of any general regard except proving he could still make the major league roster of an overmatched team at age 41.

Chris Schwinden - F
Of all the pitchers the Mets used this season, few were as devoid of Major League talent as Chris Schwinden. If Schwinden was awful in his first start, his second was comically bad and led to his merciful release with an ERA of 12.46. But that wasn't bad enough. Schwinden somehow managed to bounce in between the Blue Jays system, the Mariners system and the Yankees system before mysteriously finding himself back in the Mets system by season's end, which is clearly an indictment on the Mets, because if they didn't want him, and 3 other teams didn't even give him a month to stick, what made anyone think he'd be worth bringing back? At least he wasn't given another start.

Jenrry Mejia - C
Acquitted himself reasonably well in 3 starts after basically having two years of development wasted, first by Omar Minaya and second by Tommy John surgery. He has starter-quality stuff which he needs to harness; right now, control seems to be an issue for him. He works too many deep counts and this limits his ability to go deep into games. He could posit as a future closer-type, but apparently he'd prefer to start. If this doesn't work, I figure the Mets will find a role for him somewhere.

Frank Francisco - C+
Saved 23 games, after basically landing in the closer role by process of elimination, so I'll give him some credit for that, but often suffered from a case of Benitez-itis, which led to his ugly 5.53 ERA. Also had multiple DL stints, so durability proved an issue for him. He's not a solution at closer, this season proved him a stopgap at best. Signed through next season, but if there's a better option somewhere, the Mets should probably take it and let Francisco set up.

Bobby Parnell - B-
I really can't decide whether I like Bobby Parnell enough to keep him around, or I can't stand him and want the Mets to get rid of him. Oddly, because he pitched reasonably well this season, posting 61 Ks in 68.2 innings, with a 2.49 ERA and 7 saves, and because he throws in the high 90s, he's one of the few Mets with some decent trade value. He did show improvement this season, though. After many years of just simply throwing hard and routinely getting creamed, Parnell managed to mix his pitches a bit better, which is probably one of the reasons he had some success this year. Next year will tell us a lot, whether he's pitching here or not.

Ramon Ramirez - F
After some solid seasons in San Francisco, Ramirez came here and was generally lousy. Pitched to a 4.24 ERA and a WHIP of 1.4, often had major control problems and also missed time with injuries. Relievers like him are a dime a dozen and the Mets could easily find someone better.

Jon Rauch - B-
Ran hot and cold a lot this season. Pitched to a reasonably good 3.59 ERA but his 3-7 record was indicative of a number of outings where he came in and got bombed. Walked only 12 in his 57 innings, though, so his problem likely stemmed from being too much in the strike zone. If nothing else, you like a reliever who won't come in and walk tons of guys, so that should tilt things in his favor going forward.

Tim Byrdak - C
Typical lefty specialist. Pitched miserably in other situations where he wasn't just facing lefties. Also a miserable 18 walks in just 30 IP this season, but generally pitched to some decent luck, finishing with an ERA of 4.40 before going down with an injury of which type I cannot recall.

Manny Acosta - F
Baffled as to why the Mets have kept him around for 3 seasons now,  because he's basically Chris Schwinden with better stuff. Thing is, Acosta's supposed "great stuff" is accompanied by mechanics so bad that it basically appears that Acosta just runs out to the mound, rears back and heaves the ball to the plate as hard as he can, and his ERA of 6.46 is indicative of this. He was DFAd and nobody would take him. Somewhere, some stathead is going to point out his 46 Ks in 47 IP and say I should keep my mouth shut but I'm not fooled. Any hard thrower can strike guys out. The idea is to mix in other outs, not loads of hits and runs.

Josh Edgin - C
I'm inclined to think, though his performances were up and down, that Edgin can improve, probably with some time and experience in the Majors. Since he's a lefty, he's probably going to be buried with the "lefty specialist" tag, but I think he might actually be good enough to be a crossover guy in the Pedro Feliciano mold. Burned twice badly by Ryan Howard at the end which probably left a bad taste in his mouth. 30 Ks in 25 innings, 4.56 ERA in 25 games. Let's see what happens next year.

Elvin Ramirez  - C-
Another of the Pu Pu platter that got shuffled between AAA and the Majors multiple times. Did nothing of particular distinction. 21IP, 22K, 5.48 ERA

Robert Carson
Lefty Specialist without the Pizza.

Justin Hampson
Lefty Pizza without the Specialist.

Jeurys Familia
Prospect who didn't show a great deal in his 8 games. Only 22 but still needs to harness his stuff. Similar mold to Mejia, could pose as a reliever going forward. Unlike Mejia, actually open to relieving.

Pedro Beato
Pitched just bad enough to be able to net the Mets Kelly Shoppach.

D.J. Carrasco - F
Embarrassingly bad, hotheaded punk, mercifully released before he got David Wright killed.

Jack Egbert
1 game, .2 inning, 0.00 ERA. Never pitched again and I'm not quite sure why if he got people out.

Garrett Olson
1 game, .1 inning, 108 ERA. Never pitched again and I'm quite certain he wasn't missed.

Rob Johnson - !
Pitched the 8th inning of a blowout loss in Toronto. Somehow I blinked and missed this completely, but he threw a 1-2-3 inning and even got a strikeout, which is actually better than Garrett Olson was able to muster.

And one more for good measure,
Terry Collins - B-
It's difficult to grade Collins, honestly, but I'm going to try. The problem is that he was only able to be as good as the pieces he had, and he squeezed a maximum effort out of them for half a season for the second year in a row. Ultimately, that's not good enough. Down the stretch, the Mets were so bad that it appeared they'd simply quit on him and whatever he was preaching about fundamentals and smart, heady play, something they did so well in the 1st half, seemed to just get thrown out the window. Fortunately, the Mets pulled themselves out of it at the end, but by then the damage had been done. Collins will be back in 2013 and hopefully the team he's got will be better. But if the result ends up the same, and if Collins is going to get so much credit for the success, he's going to have to start taking some heat for the failure. Next year will tell  us a lot about Collins going forward. The hope is that maybe if this happens again, he'll go apeshit and flip a table in the clubhouse or something. We'll see.

Monday, October 8, 2012

And Now You Know

Since losing to the Minnesota Vikings 2 weeks ago, the 49ers have outscored their opponents 79-3 en route to a pair of dominant victories. Their win over the Jets was done primarily with defense, and that's not to say that the defense didn't have a good day yesterday (only allowing 3 points is usually a good performance), but more that the offense stepped up substantially, running up a franchise record 621 yards in a 45-3 whipping of the hapless Buffalo Bills.

This was the complete performance that the 49ers have been looking for all season. Back home after a pair of games in the East, the 49ers beat Buffalo with a totally balanced attack. Alex Smith threw for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns, Frank Gore rushed for 106 of the 49ers 311 yards on the ground, six different 49ers scored Touchdowns, and in the process, the 49ers became the first team in NFL History to tally over 300 yards of Rushing and Receiving in the same game.

Yes, this is the kind of game the 49ers needed. Heavily favored to beat the lesser Buffalo Bills, the 49ers defense went out and controlled the game from the outset, allowing Buffalo very little success, and cutting off any potential chances they might have had. Even when the 49ers made their lone mistake—a fumble by Colin Kaepernick—the defense went out and forced a fumble of their own right before halftime, resulting in a last-minute touchdown pass from Smith to Michael Crabtree, opening up a large lead and basically removing any kind of drama from the game.

Offensively, though the 49ers once again started slowly, only netting a Field Goal in the 1st Quarter, things did appear different. The usually run-happy 49ers unleashed Alex Smith early, allowing him to throw the ball around at will through most of the first half, and well into the second half. Where last week, Smith wasn't moving the ball around to his receivers much, he seemed to be able to hit them at will on Sunday, completing 18 of 24 passes before departing in the 4th Quarter with a sprained finger.

Looking at the larger picture, the performance on Sunday, though coming against a putrid team, was something the 49ers needed to prove they were as good as many thought they were after week 1. It's easy to look great in September and then fall apart, particularly when your season is basically 16 weeks under a microscope in the NFL. Teams change, teams adjust, teams gel and teams come unglued, and it happens every season. Parity has made it such that it may not be the best team that comes out on top in the end, it's often just the team that gets it together at the right time. After beating the Packers and looking really good in doing so to start the season, many had anointed the 49ers as the class of the NFL. But since that game, the 49ers hadn't really had a complete victory. They were winning, which helps, but they also had one real stinker as well. A game like Sunday's can go a long way to remind everyone what this team is capable of when everything clicks.

The key for the 49ers, of course, is to keep it going. Particularly with a trio of  big, nationally televised matches coming up, beginning next Sunday with the team that ended their season last year, the New York Giants.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2002

Part 41 of our 50-year Mojo...
What is it: 2002 Topps #65, Robin Ventura

What makes it interesting: Yeesh. In an era where Topps got kind of inconsistent with their designs, the 2002s are a complete clusterfuck. The gold borders are back, and there's these garish banners and swooshes...Yuck.

One of the best Free Agent signees in Mets History, Robin Ventura arrived on the Mets in 1999 and immediately made his presence felt. Arriving after 10 very solid seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Ventura had a reputation as a clutch hitter and an outstanding fielder, boasting 5 Gold Gloves at 3rd Base. For the Mets in 1999, he showed both of those qualities in spades. Few Free Agents had ever come to the Mets and had as good and impactful a season as Ventura did in 1999. He first made headlines on May 20th, when he hit Grand Slams in both games of a Doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers (oddly, Ventura had also hit 2 Grand Slams in one game in 1995). A few days later, Ventura's 9th inning Home Run off Curt Schilling kicked off a 5-run rally. On June 9th, with the Mets down 3-0 against David Wells in the 9th inning, Ventura came up with 2 men on base and proceeded to work Wells for an 8-pitch at bat before nailing a key 2-run single in another game the Mets would eventually win. Later on in the season, Ventura hit another Grand Slam off Livan Hernandez in San Francisco aiding the Mets to  a 12-5 win. His defense was better than advertised. As the unofficial ringleader of The Best Infield Ever, Ventura played in 160 games and committed 9 errors at 1st Base, numbers good enough to net him his 6th career Gold Glove. But perhaps his biggest impact came off the field, where his generally offbeat, easygoing attitude seemed to keep everyone around him loose. This, combined with his veteran wisdom helped to make him a leader within the team. One day, his offhanded comment about the team "having a good mojo working" led to the "Mr. Mojo Rising" refrain of The Doors "L.A. Woman" becoming the Mets unofficial official song for that season. The Mets were winning games, "L.A. Woman" was blaring throughout Shea Stadium. Ventura was on such a great run that he began to garner "MVP" chants from the crowd. It was a good Summer all around. But Ventura injured his knee in August. He slumped in September, as did the Mets. But just when hope appeared to be dead, Ventura came up with another pair of clutch hits in the final weekend of the season, one to win a game against the Pirates in the 11th inning, and the next night drove home the first run in the 6th inning of a scoreless game as the Mets drew even in the Wildcard Race. Ventura's efforts helped the Mets force and eventually win a Wildcard Play-in Game, and the Mets were in the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons. For the year, Ventura had an outstanding season, setting career highs with a .301 batting average and 120 RBI, and also added 32 Home Runs, 38 Doubles and scored 88 Runs.

In the playoffs, unfortunately, Ventura, whose knee by this time had worsened to torn cartilage, slumped badly. He hit only .214 with 3 hits against Arizona in the NLDS, and in the NLCS against Atlanta, spent the majority of the series being foiled by John Rocker. Going into the 5th game of that series, Ventura had gone 0-for the Series. He finally lofted a single in the 11th inning of that game for his first hit, but come the 15th inning of that game, it was Ventura who would provide one of the most enduring images in Mets History. Down 3-2, the Mets rallied to tie the game on a Todd Pratt walk. Ventura followed with the bases loaded and 1 out against Braves Rookie Kevin McGlinchy. Ventura rocketed a 2-1 fastball over the 371 sign in right center field for an apparent game-winning Grand Slam. Ventura saw the ball go over the fence, but it's quite possible he was the only Met who did. After rounding first base, despite Ventura waving for him to round the bases, Todd Pratt tackled Ventura in the middle of the field, and he was subsequently swarmed by his celebrating teammates. Unable to finish his trip around the bases (when asked, he told NBC's Craig Sager, "No thanks, I've had enough."), Ventura would be credited with a Grand Slam Single, an unforgettable finish to a 5 hour, 46 minute marathon of a game.

In 2000, Ventura's numbers slacked off a bit, mostly due to a shoulder injury that limited him to 141 games. But, as usual, he made his hits count. He hit another Grand Slam in April against Milwaukee, and on May 21st, he pinch-hit a Home Run in the 8th inning of a game against Arizona to tie the score in a game the Mets would ultimately win. His defense was sterling as usual. He also chipped in with his usual comic relief, providing some levity in a rain delay by putting on a Mike Piazza jersey and fake moustache, and then running on the field and diving around the wet tarp. Though his batting average fell off to .232, he still hit 24 Home Runs and drove in 84 runs as the Mets went back to the postseason. Ventura's postseason in 2000 was mostly similar to his postseason in 1999, minus the Grand Slam Single. He didn't hit for much of an average, but just about every time he did get a hit, it was important. Against the Giants, Ventura hit a 2-run Home Run off Mark Gardner in the 1st inning of game 4, giving the Mets, and Bobby Jones an early lead, allowed Jones to settle in and wipe out the Giants with a 1-hit Shutout. Against the Cardinals in the NLCS, Ventura rang the Mets 4th consecutive Double in the 1st inning of Game 4, driving home 2 runs and giving the Mets a 3-2 lead. He would add another RBI later on in a 10-6 Mets victory. One night later, Ventura scored from 1st Base on a Todd Zeile 3-run Double and jubilantly jumped around and pumped his fists all the way back to the dugout as the Mets coasted to the World Series. Ventura played a key role in the Mets lone victory in the World Series, hitting a 2nd inning Home Run off Orlando Hernandez.

The Mets hoped for a rebound season from Ventura in 2001, and on Opening Day in Atlanta, he hit 2 2-run Home Runs, including one off his old nemesis John Rocker. Unfortunately, that would be one of the high points of his season. Ventura, much like the Mets, never really got going that season. Although he did have his moments, including his 15th career Grand Slam against the Astros, and a Walkoff Home Run against the Phillies in July, Ventura hit .237, with only 21 Home Runs and 61 RBI as the Mets fell short of the Postseason.

Following the season, believing that Ventura's most productive days were behind him, the Mets dealt Ventura to the Yankees. In his 3 seasons with the Mets, Ventura hit .260 with 77 Home Runs, 260 RBI and left behind countless great memories, and in general, a favorable response from Mets fans. Ventura would go on to have an All Star season for the Yankees in 2002, but after that found his skills diminsh, mostly due to the lingering effects of a terrible ankle injury he suffered while with the White Sox in 1997. Ventura would ultimately be forced to retire after the 2004 season due to this, but a 2005 operation corrected his arthritic condition. Ventura would be on hand for the closing ceremony at Shea Stadium in 2008, receiving a warm welcome back from the Mets fans, who will always remember him for the impact he had in 1999. and the positive mojo he helped to create.

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Friday, October 5, 2012

2012 Mets: The Same Old Story (Part I)

As I mentioned yesterday, I had figured this wasn't going to be an especially good season for the Mets. I'd pegged them for 75 wins. Ultimately, I was a bit optimistic with that number, however slightly, but for a while, it appeared I was selling them short. Over the first half of the season, the Mets mostly played over their heads, winning games in every way possible and turning the pessimists into believers. And then, in the second half, it fell apart. There was no one single culprit, the Mets just turned back into what we thought they were, a young, leaky team with no particular star power and no consistency. Hit and don't pitch, pitch and don't hit. Optimism gave way to frustration as the season dissolved into mediocrity and turned out to be no different than any of the three seasons prior.

We can expect a good deal of turnover by time next season rolls around. Certainly, with the needs of the team so clear, there will have to be. And it may come at the cost of some of the solid pieces the Mets have (because who wants to trade for someone else's crap?). We may see some trades that on the surface we don't like. But now all we can do is speculate while Sandy Alderson and his battalion do their jobs. In the meantime, I offer up my report card for the 2012 Mets.

The Mets used 49 players over the 2012 season, 22 position players and 27 pitchers. Some were good. Some were outstanding. Many were unremarkable. Today, we'll grade the position players and Monday, Part II will cover the pitching staff.

Josh Thole - C-
I was tempted to give Thole a D, but the pitching staff seems to really like having him behind the plate. Camaraderie does count for something. Unfortunately, Thole, who was lauded for his defense the last couple of seasons, provided only middling glovework. His 18 passed balls may have been a result of having to catch R.A. Dickey every so often, but nonetheless, I expected more. His offense was disastrous. He hit over .300 in April, but after that, he basically stopped completely, and every at bat was basically just passing time until he rolled a weak grounder to Second. He also has no power and doesn't drive in any runs. To give you an idea of just how bad he was, just consider how bad he was to finish with a .234 batting average after hitting .317 in April. 1 Home Run, which came in Colorado, 21 RBI. At best a part-time platoon catcher, but he can't be the starter outright again.

Mike Nickeas - D
Thole was bad, but Nickeas was no better, and when the two of them were the platoon, the Catching position was a black hole for the Mets. Also a glove guy whose glove wasn't anything special, and his offense made Thole look like Paul LoDuca. Sent down to the minors in favor of Rob Johnson and then made superfluous by the Kelly Shoppach acquisition. Didn't crack .200 this season, finishing at .174. Made his 1 HR count, since it was a grand slam, accounting for nearly a quarter of his 13 RBI. 

Kelly Shoppach - C-
Add a little power and subtract some defense and that's Kelly Shoppach. 4 passed balls in just 27 games is frightening even if R.A. Dickey is involved. Hit 3 Home Runs, though, which was more than Thole and Nickeas combined, but only 10 RBI and hit .203 after being acquired from Boston for Pedro Beato. I guess he's being pimped out as the future solution at Catcher, but I can't say this really excites me.

Rob Johnson - C
Hey! A Mets Catcher who hit .250! Of course, this was only in 52 At Bats, and it produced no Home Runs and 4 RBI . But he sucked the least and as such gets the highest grade.

Ike Davis - B
After being relegated to 36 games last season following a bad ankle injury and then being diagnosed with Valley Fever in Spring Training, I think I was one of the few people who might have felt Ike's slow start was somewhat justified. Mired under .200 well into June, Ike more than likely was someone who needed to get himself healthy and back into the speed of the game rather than someone who just lost it completely. Given that Ike managed 20 of his 32 Home Runs after the All Star Break, this may be true. I believe Ike's .227 batting average is probably the anomaly. He finished with 32 Home Runs and 90 RBI (and also chipped in 61 walks and 66 Runs) after that miserable first half, just imagine what he could have done if he'd been right all season. Ike is also an interesting case. I believe that Ike is a cornerstone, and probably the kind of player that the Mets need to build around going forward. He hits with power and can hit the ball out of Citi Field and just about anyplace else. But, I wonder if the organization feels that way. Between the smear campaign and the front office's infatuation with Lucas Duda as a First Baseman, Ike may find himself expendable. If nothing else, he's one of the few Mets with legitimate trade value, but that doesn't mean he should be traded. I'm of the belief that he has to stay. We like Ike.

Daniel Murphy - B-
Annoyingly inconsistent all year long, Murphy does deserve some kudos for playing out the entire season without managing to get a season-ending injury playing Second Base. In fact, Murphy actually improved by leaps and bounds as a Second Baseman. That wasn't enough to put him in any sort of an upper echelon, but considering that prior to this season, his defense was notable for being a major liability, any kind of improvement was worthy of notice. At the plate, Murphy was mostly unexciting. He ran hot and cold like a power hitter, except he hit for no power, and most of his game offensively is predicated on his ability to hit over .300. At least he didn't spend 3 months hitting .248 like he did in 2009, but he also didn't hit .320 like he did last season. Ended up at .291 but with an OBA of .332, so he didn't walk a ton, and also only hit 6 Home Runs to go with his 65 RBI. I doubt he's going to be much better than he already is, so whether he's here or a trade chip isn't going to swing anyone's fortunes.

Ruben Tejada - B+
Last season, I started telling people about how I thought Ruben Tejada reminded me of a young Edgardo Alfonzo. One year later, I'm fully convinced of this. He still has a ways to go to reach that level, and I doubt he'll ever have Fonzie's power, but he plays the game with excellent intangible qualities. Rarely does he make a mental mistake. He hangs in and battles every at bat. His fielding is routinely solid. He's already making people forget about Jose Reyes. In his first full season in the Majors, he hit .289, with an OBA of .333, 1 Home Run and 25 RBI, hitting mostly out of the leadoff spot. At age 23 on Opening Day 2013, Tejada appears primed to improve on these numbers steadily as he gains more experience. I don't know that he will walk enough (and he certainly doesn't have the speed) to be a leadoff hitter, but he has the skills to be a solid #2 hitter should that role fall to him at some point.

David Wright - A-
After a few seasons where Wright was injured and inconsistent, and put up mostly middling performances, one wondered whether Wright was past his peak. But Wright started off this season looking, and playing, like he just wanted everyone to shut the fuck up and get off his back. It was like watching the clutch David Wright of 2006 and 2007. He was playing every bit like he was the franchise guy we want him to be. But, once the second half started and the team started to slump, Wright fell back into his old habits of pressing too much, trying too hard and ultimately, the numbers fell off. Still, ending up with a .306 average, 21 Home Runs and 93 RBI to go along with 41 Doubles and a .391 OBA is a pretty good season all things considered. Yes, Wright's had better years, but considering that his best years all came when he had Carlos Beltran in front of him and Carlos Delgado behind him, what do you expect him to do? Wright can't do it all by himself, but going forward, he's the face of the franchise, the drawing card, whatever you want to call him. Clearly, Alderson is going to go all out to sign him to a contract extension, but does he want to stay? This remains to be seen. But if there's no new contract by time the 2013 season starts, it's almost a sure thing that he'll be gone before the 2013 season ends. Mets All Time leader in Hits, RBI, Doubles and Runs scored be damned.

Ronny Cedeno - C-
At some point, one of the Mets announcers was gushing about what a great season Ronny Cedeno was having. I looked at his numbers. He just finished up at .259 with 4 Home Runs and 22 RBI, and I'm pretty sure all 4 of those Home Runs came in the late innings of garbage time losses. Defensively, I don't recall him doing anything special. At best a bench player, but the Ronny Cedenos of the Baseball world are a dime a dozen.

Justin Turner - C
I know that the Justin Turner fans of the world would say that he didn't get enough playing time this season, but then again, he didn't really merit any more playing time than he got. Yes, he missed a chunk of time with injury, and he only ended up with 171 At Bats in 2012 as opposed to the 475 he had in 2011, but his performance this year over 171 At Bats didn't posit to anything better than his 475 At Bats of 2011. The one thing he has going for him over players like Cedeno, however, is that he's very versatile, and can play any infield position, including Catcher, I believe. But, just another player I can take or leave. .269, 2 HR, 19 RBI., .319 OBA.

Omar Quintanilla - C+
Only because he got recalled after 3 other Shortstops got hurt, came up for 29 games and 70 At Bats, and performed reasonably well, including 3 hits in his first game, and chipped in with a Home Run and 4 RBIs. Which, when you consider he was the 4th string Shortstop, is actually OK. Then, of course, he got cut and ended up with the Orioles.

Zach Lutz
1 hit in 8 ABs in an early season cup of coffee. Came up in September and managed another 3 hitless ABs. Buried on the bench thereafter.

Josh Satin
1 AB for the season. Boring player with no place on a Major League roster. BUT, he's Jewish. That should count for something.

Jason Bay - F
What, you're surprised? I understand that Jason Bay broke his ass whenever he was able to play and I know he's giving everything he's got. But that contract and the performance he's put out over the past three seasons now speaks for itself. That he alone is eating up such a huge chunk of the team's payroll is unconscionable. Unfortunately, we're stuck with him for one more season. 194 At Bats, .165 BA, 8 HR, 20 RBI, most of it accomplished off of Mark Buehrle. It's so depressing that I can't even make a snide comment about him.

Andres Torres - F
Torres, on the other hand, I can make fun of plenty. Acquired from the Giants for Angel Pagan, Torres performance made it feel like Pagan hadn't actually left, just mysteriously aged 7 years in 6 months. Torres' presence on the team was a mystery to me from the start, a 34 year old Outfielder who peaked 2 seasons ago on a team that should have been running out younger players is just baffling.  Started off the season by doing the Mets one of the few favors he did them this season by getting hurt and missing a month, allowing Kirk Nieuwenhuis to ascend. Came back and sucked the energy out of the team as a whole, putting up offensive numbers that rivaled Josh Thole in abject suckitude. 374 ABs, hit .230, .327 OBA (somehow, he managed 52 walks), 3 Home Runs, 35 RBI, 47 Runs scored. When you hear a Mets fan talk about a need to improve up the middle, dumping Torres is the first thing you should think of.

Lucas Duda - C-
Mets Management is supposedly really enamored with Duda, and thinks that Ike Davis is expendable, freeing up Duda to move to his natural position of 1st Base. The problem is, after playing out the larger part of 2 seasons, I don't think Duda is as good as Davis either in the field or at the plate. True, in the Outfield he's an adventure, but it's not as though he's been Daniel Murphy-level bad in the Outfield. Regardless, at 1st Base, he's not Ike. Offensively, the thought in the organization is that he's a better average hitter than Ike. Ike hit .227 this season, but Duda only hit .239. Granted, Duda spent 6 weeks in the Minors, and that .239 was generated in only 401 ABs, but the fact is that for someone the Mets are so high on, they had to send him down to AAA for 6 weeks because he was underperforming. They didn't send Ike down even when Ike was hitting .158. For all the hype, Duda hit 15 Home Runs, drove in 57 runs, scored 43 runs and walked 51 times. I just don't think he's going to develop into the kind of player Ike is right now, and I would be very leery about handing the 1B job over to him without him really having proven anything.

Scott Hairston - A
Scott Hairston's 2012 is one of those years like Brian McRae had in 1998. In 1998, Brian McRae hit .264 with 21 Home Runs and 79 RBI, with 20 Steals and 79 Runs for the Mets. Looking back on it, one would think "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa?!" I feel like several years down the line, you'll look at Scott Hairston's 2012 season and have a very similar reaction. At the outset, Scott Hairston was another one of those players who I just didn't like and didn't see why he needed to be around. But he shoved it in my face by putting forth a career year. A known Lefty Masher, Scott actually was forced into playing full time for a while. Though his overall numbers suffered a bit because he's not really an everyday player, Scott performed admirably well. He hit for the Cycle in April, and just kept coming up with big hits all season long. In his 377 ABs, Scott hit .269 with 20 Home Runs and 57 RBI, figures all well above his career norms. This vastly exceeded any kind of expectations I had for him, and probably anyone else's expectations either. That said, I'd be wary of falling into the trap of thinking he could duplicate this season, because I'm pretty sure this would be a case of Moises Alou in 2008 or Jose Valentin in 2007.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis - B-
When Kirk Nieuwenhuis was called up right after Torres got injured on Opening Day, and got off to a flying start, I was almost convinced that the Mets might have their first Rookie of the Year since Dwight Gooden. But, as can happen with the newbies, Nieuwenhuis regressed to the norm, and eventually found himself back in the Minors by the end of  July, and then found himself out for the season with a foot injury, and by the end of the season was a bit of a forgotten man. I still think, however, that Nieuwenhuis has the head to make some adjustments and come back a better player going forward. Though he's 24, he seems to have a reasonable amount of skill and discipline, enough to be better than just another bench player, but I'm not sure if he can be an everyday starter. 282 ABs generated a .252 BA, .315 OBA, 7 HRs and 28 RBI, with 40 Runs scored.

Mike Baxter - B
Fearless, reckless 4th Outfielder type from Whitestone so he's always got the "Hometown Boy Comes Home" angle to fall back on. Made an incredible Endy-like catch to save Santana's No Hitter and injured himself in the process, leading to a 6 week stay on the DL. Won't ever be worthy of an everyday role, as evidenced by his .263 BA, 3 HRs, 17 RBI and 26 Runs in 179 ABs, but he did walk 25 times for an OBA of .365, so there is some plate discipline there, and he can go get it in the Outfield, which is more than can be said for several of the other players on this roster. 

Jordany Valdespin - C-
Jordany Valdespin is all the Jose Reyes flair without the Jose Reyes talent. I'm fully convinced of that. Made his mark by coming up in pinch situations, running into a few fastballs and cranking a few key Home Runs. Then, once everyone figured out how to pitch to him, he just started corkscrewing himself into the ground. Also one of those players who can play a whole bunch of positions, and none of them very well. Wasn't great as a Second Baseman. Even worse as a Shortstop. Middling at best in the Outfield. Plays with the swagger and attitude befitting someone of much greater accomplishment, which rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. He has energy and skill, but no discipline whatsoever, and at 24, I'm not sure if he's capable of developing any kind of discipline. 191 ABs, hit .241 with 8 HRs and 26 RBI, 28 runs scored and an OBA of .286. One of two things will happen: 1) Hopefully the Mets can sucker someone into thinking he's better than he displayed and he can be a trade chip. 2) The Mets end up stuck with him and he becomes Lastings Milledge of lesser acclaim.

Vinny Rottino
Not worth grading. 18 games, 33 ABs, managed to hit 2 Home Runs, made like the good 32-year old journeyman he was and wound up in Cleveland by season's end.

Fred Lewis - ?
Journeyman who found himself in the Mets system this year, arrived in September after a fine season in AAA. Started a few games, did nothing of note.

Tune in Monday for grades on the Pitchers.