Monday, September 29, 2014

Trust Frank

After two consecutive losses, the 49ers came back to Levi's Stadium in fairly desperate straits, needing to right the ship against a Philadelphia Eagles team that was coasting in at 3-0. In spite of the fact that the 49ers had multiple breakdowns on Special Teams and an Interception from Colin Kaepernick that led to three Eagles Touchdowns, the 49ers rallied back from a 21-10 deficit, solved their second half issues and ultimately put forth an inspired goal-line stand to finish out the game and come away with a sorely needed 26-21 victory to even their record at 2-2.

The 49ers won this game primarily behind the effort of Frank Gore, who broke out of an early season slump with 119 rushing yards and also a career-long 55-yard Touchdown reception that gave the 49ers a temporary lead in the 2nd Quarter. In the second half, Gore, who'd voiced his displeasure over a lack of carries in Arizona, gashed the Eagles defense and helped to set up a pair of Phil Dawson Field Goals that would ultimately win the game. For Gore, just another feather in the cap, really. This is the sort of performance he's made a career on. Gore doesn't boast the flash or panache of bigger-name backs in the league, he just pounds the ball consistently, he's done that year after year, and now in his 10th season in the league, he showed he can still have an impact on games. Trust Frank! That's what the 49ers needed to do offensively in order to get over their second half doledrums. The problems they'd had were well-documented, but on Sunday, they were the ones doing the damage, outscoring the Eagles 13-0.

The other reason the 49ers won this game was their defense, still mostly in patchwork mode thanks to the missing names, but Patrick Willis and company still managed to keep the Eagles offense off the scoreboard. The Eagles, by virtue of a few busted plays, had run out to a 21-10 lead, but that wasn't on the defense. The 49ers first drive fell apart after Colin Kaepernick was sacked back at his own 2 yard line. Andy Lee's subsequent punt attempt was blocked in the End Zone when nobody made any particular effort to block Trey Burton, and Brad Smith fell on the ball for an Eagles Touchdown.

Though the 49ers would eventually take a 10-7 lead on Gore's 55-yard TD (a busted play in its own right; Kaepernick had scrambled out to his left before turning and throwing the ball essentially sideways across the field to a wide open Gore, who was able to take the ball to the End Zone virtually untouched), they began to crumble in a particularly bad sequence midway through the second quarter in which they handed the Eagles 14 points without their offense even setting foot on the field. First, Kaepernick, on a 3rd down play, threw a pass that was supposedly intended for Brandon Lloyd, though it seemed more intended for Malcolm Jenkins. Unfortunately, Jenkins plays for the Eagles, and he was able to run his easy interception back for a score. After responding to this with a penalty and an incomplete pass, the 49ers punted the ball back to the Eagles, where the always dangerous Darren Sproles shot down the sideline for another Touchdown that put the Eagles up 11.

At this point, things really looked bad for the 49ers, already struggling, with Kaepernick unable to move the offense and the specter of their 3 second half points in the first 3 games. But after trading punts, the 49ers finally strung a decent drive together shortly before halftime, aided by Gore for one, with Anquan Boldin making a pair of key catches and Michael Crabtree keeping a play alive in spite of his helmet being ripped off his head, and ultimately ending in a Dawson Field Goal to make the halftime score 21-13.

The 49ers finally caught a second half break early in the 3rd Quarter. After punting on their first possession, they forced an Eagles Turnover when Nick Foles hit Zach Ertz for a short gain. But Antoine Bethea punched the ball out of Ertz's hands and directly into the hands of an eagerly waiting Perrish Cox to set the 49ers up in great position. This time, they finally managed to punch the ball into the End Zone courtesy of a brilliant tightrope catch from Stevie Johnson, who reeled in Kaepernick's 11-yard pass for his first score with the 49ers and cut their deficit to 21-20. More importantly, it was a second half Touchdown that seemed to break the ice for the team.

After once again forcing the Eagles into a 3-and-out, the 49ers leaned on Gore to get them down the field and in position for Dawson's 3rd Field Goal of the day to give them back the lead at 23-21. With the lead, the defense, which had been playing well all game, finally started to really give the Eagles offense problems. First, Bethea registered his first Interception with the 49ers, picking off Foles on a deep pass intended for Jeremy Maclin. Later in the 4th Quarter, the 49ers forced another 3-and-out and drove down for Dawson's 4th Field Goal to give them a 26-21 lead.

With time left for one last shot, the Eagles then embarked on what was easily their best drive of the game. The 49ers defense, which had held high-flying Running Back LeSean McCoy and Foles and his galaxy of speedy stars in check, allowed the Eagles to slowly but surely work their way down the field. Not that they made it easy, Ian Williams regsitered a sack on Foles, but eventually, the Eagles worked themselves into position to score a potential winning Touchdown. McCoy couldn't punch it in, though, and with two chances from the 49ers 1 yard line, Foles ended up getting chased around by assorted 49er defenders before throwing the ball away, allowing the 49ers to take over on downs. Though they would have to punt back to the Eagles, the 49ers ended the day when Perrish Cox intercepted Foles on a desperation pass and the 49ers had gutted their way to a win that, to call it much-needed might be an understatement. At 1-2 and trailing 21-10 at home, things probably couldn't have looked much worse. But the 49ers got off the mat and finally started to hit back when it counted, and the result was the kind of win that's been emblematic of the Harbaugh era.

Kaepernick, in spite of another semi-erratic outing, managed to net 218 yards passing and 1 Touchdown, spreading the ball around to Boldin, Crabtree, Johnson and Lloyd with regularity. Derek Carrier again had a solid performance, particularly after Vernon Davis departed with a rather scary-looking back injury. Defensively, Bethea and Cox served as the standouts, each coming up with a pick of Foles and pitching in on the key 3rd Quarter fumble that may have tilted the game in the 49ers favor.

So, the 49ers have snapped their 2-game losing streak and are now back at .500. Next week, they remain at home to play the Kansas City Chiefs, who will be bringing old friend Alex Smith with them in his return to San Francisco.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Into The Sunset

It was a sublime final act for the 2014 Mets this afternoon. From Bobby Abreu's final hit and exit off the field and into retirement, to Bartolo Colon's fine season-ending effort, to the influx of Casey Stengel, to Lucas Duda's show-stopping 30th Home Run to cap off a season-ending 8-3 Victory over the Astros, Sunday's season finale couldn't not leave every Mets fan with good feelings all around heading into the offseason.

The closing day crowd was in a mostly festive mood, which was good to see. I feel like I've talked a lot more about the finality of the final weeks of the season, like the end of the season has come up quicker than normal and seems to be striking me differently. There are many reasons for feeling this way; one such reason is Hope. After 6 seasons in the wilderness, there's actually a number of pieces in place that can legitimately make the Mets fan feel a little positive. There's still a lot of work to be done in order to legitimize that hope, but nonetheless, there's a lot more of that word being thrown around here now than there's been in years. So, perhaps, this closing day is going to mark the closing of the door on a truly terrible era of Mets baseball.

As I'd mentioned, I was in attendance this afternoon, the 14th time in the last 20 years that I've been to closing day (and 4 of those were missed because I was in College and not in the City), and for the 3rd year in a row, I was accompanied by my other half to my final game of the season. The games aren't necessarily as enjoyable for her as they are for me (We moved yesterday and I had to essentially roll her out of bed in order to get her ready for the game), but she still comes and sticks it out with me. The lure of a 2015 schedule magnet helped, as well as the Casey Stengel Bobblehead (whom she insists is my long-lost Grandfather). I, on the other hand, will show up even when nothing is being given away, so my presence at the game was long since assured. How could I not be there? It's my last chance to see the Mets up close until April 13 of next year.

So, there we were, and there were the Mets, sending Bartolo Colon to the mound on the season's final day, which seems fitting since it seems like I saw him substantially more often than other pitchers on the roster (this was the 5th time he started in my 17 games), against Nick Tropeano for the Astros, a Rookie with Long Island roots and the large rooting section to prove it. In the 4 previous Colon starts I'd attended, the Mets had not just won, but won fairly easily, another good omen for the day. Early, it didn't seem as though this game would necessarily follow suit; the Mets scored in the 1st inning when Matt den Dekker led off with a double, advanced on a Bobby Abreu ground out and scored on a Daniel Murphy Sac Fly. The Astros responded with a pair of Ground-rule doubles in the second from Jon Singleton and Max Stassi to tie the game. The Mets went back ahead in the 3rd, only to see the Astros tie the game again on an RBI double from Jose Altuve, who wasn't supposed to play, but tweeted his way into the lineup and justified his presence by picking up two hits and the AL Batting Title.

Lucas Duda took matters into his own hands in the 5th inning, first by hitting a 2 out, 2-run double off Tropeano. This rally was started by Bobby Abreu, who inside-outed a pitch into Left Field for a single, which was immediately followed by an extended standing ovation, because we all knew what was coming. Abreu hadn't played much, if at all, of late, and he announced Friday that he would be retiring after the game today. Obviously, he earned the start this afternoon based simply on that fact and once he got one final hit, he'd get his ovation and be removed from the game. True, Abreu's career was spent mostly with the Phillies, but in his 16-year career, he established himself as a fine player well worthy of the respect of Mets fans, and you could tell he appreciated that. Abreu departed for pinch runner Eric Young Jr., stepping off the field and into retirement. Following that, Murphy walked, setting the stage for Duda to line a shot down into the Right Field corner to score both runs easily, and also brought Duda to the magic 90 RBI plateau.

But Duda wasn't done. Though the Astros drew back to within a run on another Stassi RBI, Duda came up in the 8th inning with Murphy aboard, facing the Astros' Fidrych-like reliever Michael Foltynewicz. Certainly, with the Familia/Mejia Report doing their thing, this stood to likely be Duda's final at bat of a fine season, and everyone kind of had the sense that maybe he'd be swinging for the fences with the 30-Home Run mark sitting right there for him. Foltynewicz kept trying to jam Duda, but eventually made a mistake, and Duda jumped all over it, smashing the pitch out over the bullpen for that 30th Home Run, earning himself perhaps the day's loudest ovation and even a Curtain Call in acknowledgement of his breakout year. Who the hell would have thought that back on Opening Day?

Ruben Tejada closed out the Mets scoring for the season with a Home Run of his own, his 5th of the year to make the score 8-3, and Jenrry Mejia very quickly set the Astros down in order in the 9th to close out the season and send the Mets off for the winter with one final wave and some caps tossed into the seats.

So, after a pair of 74-win seasons, the Mets ticked slightly upward, finishing with a record of 79-83. This record, amazingly, was good enough for them to finish in a tie for 2nd place in the division with the Atlanta Braves, and if you want to get technical about it, they do finish ahead of Atlanta based on the fact that they won the season series. After so many years of 4th place finishes, 2nd place seems a hell of a lot better, even if it's not good enough for the Mets to make the Postseason, it represents a step in the right direction. A lot of things that happened this season represent a step in the right direction.

But now the conversation has to change for the Mets. They've done about as much rebuilding and retooling as can be expected, now it's time to get some payoff from all this work. There's great pitching in place and some decent offensive parts. Now, Sandy Alderson & company need to put up or shut up. This stands to be one of the more interesting offseasons the Mets will have in many years.

Coming up, my annual Mets report card (if I can get my act together), some more thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers, and odd observations of the MLB Playoffs.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

From The Ashes

The Mets won their penultimate game of the 2014 season solely on the timely and virtuous power hitting displayed by Lucas Duda. In a season where he's become one of the happier success stories in recent Mets history, Duda, who's slumped a bit down the stretch, sent himself into the offseason on a high note, belting a 2-run Home Run off lefty Tony Sipp with 2 outs in the 9th inning, providing the Mets with their entire evening's output of offense in a 2-1 victory that put everyone in a good mood, even if they weren't in attendance to see the season's final postgame concert.

My other half and I moved apartments this morning, and fortuitously cable was installed in the afternoon, and although nothing was in a shape for us to do so, we were too exhausted following the day's events to do anything beyond sit on the couch and watch tonight's game. For a Saturday night, next-to-last-day-of-the-season game between two teams that will finish with over 80 losses, the crowd seemed lively at Citi Field, and it was discussed at length by Keith and Gary that the draw was mostly of young girls to see teenybop sensation Austin Mahone. Who knew. I've never heard of Mahone, not like I've been aware of other Met Postgame Concert series participants, and when I first saw this on the schedule, I wondered if this particular ploy would sell tickets. It seems his presence is, indeed, enough to get people out to Citi Field on a Saturday night in Late September. Not me, I personally try to avoid concert games like the plague (also, I don't think Nirvana is available to perform at Citi Field), but for those that like that kind of music, I'm sure the game couldn't get over with fast enough.

Far as the game, which did happen, Rafael Montero took the Jacob deGrom spot in the rotation and pitched reasonably well over his 5.1 innings of work, allowing only one run, which occurred in the 6th inning when Dexter Fowler, who was last seen pogo-sticking his way around the bases in one of many Met debacles in Colorado, hit one of those terrible slow rollers up the 3rd base line that you can only sit and watch and hope it rolls foul, except that it never rolls foul. Daniel Murphy did his best Lenny Randle impression but to no avail. Jason Castro followed with a double up the gap that scored Fowler with, to that point, the lone run of the game. This remained the lone run of the game until the 9th inning, and for that the Mets can thank Montero, Buddy Carlyle and the Jeurys Familia/Jenrry Mejia Report, who kept the Astros off the board. They can also blame Samuel Deduno, a Twins castoff that resurfaced mysteriously with the Astros, probably because they needed a warm body who could throw strikes, followed by Jake Buchanan, Kevin Chapman and Jose Veras for not allowing them to score any runs on their own.

But then came the 9th, and Tony Sipp for the Astros. Eric Young tripled with 1 out, which was good, because it put the tying run on 3rd with Daniel Murphy coming up. But Murphy only popped out, which as a Met he is generally wont to do, and so it came down to Duda. Duda, who for years has been a particular flog of mine, and someone whom I've heaped loads of disdain upon, and mostly it's been justified. Because I, like most Mets fans, want him to do better, know he can do better, and don't quite understand why he doesn't do better. And when Davis was traded back in April, I was skeptical as to whether or not that was really the right thing to do. But based on what's happened since then, clearly it was; Duda has come of age this season, and it's been a delight to see and wonderful to have him prove me wrong. Duda has not only hit for power, yes, in fits and starts, but that's how power hitters generally are, but he's driven in runs and he's gotten key hits. Things he had not done consistently prior to this year. And he rolled all of these things into a bow to cap off his season when he lined a 1-0 pitch from Sipp off the Right Field foul pole to win the game for the Mets, 2-1, earning himself a rousing ovation from everyone watching in person and on TV, and a couple of pies in the face from some enterprising teammates.

So, one more for the season, tomorrow afternoon, which I'll be at. If Lucas Duda can come up with one more Home Run, he'll finish off with a nice even 30 for the year, and 90 RBIs if he can do so with someone on base. If the Mets win, they can finish off the season with 79 wins, 5 more than last year, and also hand me my 11th win of the season, something I haven't enjoyed since 2006.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Soft Coda

It seems somehow fitting that the Mets would be finishing up their season against the Houston Astros. The Astros, as we fondly remember, are the Mets expansion brethren, but through the machinations of Bud Selig and an ownership change have now found themselves stuck in the American League West. So, though it may seem very incongruous and weird for the Mets to be playing Interleague Games to close out their season, at least they're doing so against a team that used to be in the National League.

Not that you'd recognize many of these Astros. By now it's fairly common knowledge that the Astros are still in the midst of one of the most dramatic rebuilding projects in the history of Baseball. Faced with an aging roster and a barren farm system, the Astros strategy has basically been to tank it for 4 years now, dealing away basically every single Major League quality player in their system for prospects and fattening up on high draft picks. The result is that after middling seasons of 74-88 in 2009 and 76-86 in 2010, the Astros basically fell into the abyss, going 56-106 in 2011, 55-107 in 2012 and, in their first year in the American League last season, 51-111. But this season, these young guys, that have basically been plonked in the Major Leagues long before they were probably ready, are now starting to gel and tick upward. The Astros won't lose 100 games this season—they come in to Citi Field with a record of 69-90—and they won't finish in last place thanks to the Texas Rangers. Players like Jose Altuve, who's on the verge of a batting title, Jon Singleton, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Chris Carter and Robbie Grossman, the sort of names you've never heard of (partiularly since their Chris Carter is not our Chris "The Animal" Carter who was so productive off the bench in 2010) now, but you might if you keep paying attention to this bunch and they continue to work towards respectability.

The Mets are in a similar position, we know that, although their rebuilding hasn't been quite as massive an undertaking as the Astros, but if nothing else, it makes for something resembling an interesting storyline in a weekend series between two teams going nowhere to finish off the season. Tonight, the Astros came out on top, 3-1, in a game that fell apart on the Mets primarily because Jon Niese, who capped off an annoying season, ended up exiting the game with an elevated heart rate in the 6th inning, and Carlos Torres ended up allowing 3 runs rather quickly thanks to hits from Altuve and Carter. The Mets, facing Brad Peacock, another one of these young Astros arms that probably is a year or two away from actually being well-equipped enough to pitch in the Major Leagues, also wasn't long for the game in spite of the fact that he only allowed a solo Home Run to Curtis Granderson. He departed in the 5th, turning things over to a quartet of relievers, Kevin Chapman, Jorge de Leon, Tony Sipp and Chad Qualls, who lack in name recognition (OK, Qualls has been around for a while, but the rest of these guys?), allowed nothing to the Mets the rest of the way, and so that was how the night went. An incredibly unexciting game played by two mostly unexciting teams, and yet you feel you have to watch, simply because the season is now down to just two games, and by opening pitch of Saturday's game, the season will be over in less than 24 hours (barring some sort of weather-induced issue or a 20-inning game, that might be too fitting for these two teams, and since I have tickets to Sunday's affair, maybe I should keep my mouth shut).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Only Game Worth Watching

I'd heard there was a big, important game going on tonight in New York, something about someone retiring, but I can't say I had any idea as to who they were talking about, or the team or where the game was being played. I only knew that the Mets and Nationals were playing the nightcap of my favorite thing in Baseball: the Day/Night Doubleheader. This was an important game for the Mets; in spite of the fact that they've been eliminated and are just finishing out their season at this point, they do want to finish strong, and one particular player I was hoping would finish strong was Zack Wheeler, who was making his final start of the season in this nightcap.

Wheeler unfortunately didn't get a win; not so much that he pitched especially poorly, but the start did seem somewhat typical of many of his starts this year. He worked too many deep counts early in the game, got burned in one inning—the 4th—where he gave up 3 runs without allowing any run-scoring hits, and he was finished after 5 innings. Against Gio Gonzalez, the Mets failed to hit, and thusly, Wheeler's season ended in a rather disappointing 3-0 loss.

Wheeler's future still remains bright, I think, because although he seems prone to having control issues and gassing himself too early in games, we saw this happen much less frequently as the season went on. To wit, at the end of June, Wheeler found himself having a year to rival, say, Jason Isringhausen in 1996. Wheeler sat at 3-8 with an ERA of 4.25. But over his final 15 starts of the season, Wheeler improved dramatically, to the tune of an 8-3 record and an ERA of 2.80, including 92 strikeouts in 90 innings. The end result is that although the won-loss record is unimpressive at 11-11, the 3.54 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 185 innings in his first full season in the Major Leagues is indicative of a guy who seems likely to show continued improvement as he matures.

But enough waxing poetic about Wheeler, there was another game played today, in the afternoon, in front of about 35 people in Washington, and me at home celebrating Rosh Hashana, and the Mets actually won, beating Washington for just the 4th time this season in a 7-4 decision. This was one of those games that was 37 different kinds of ugly, from the weather, which seemed perfectly damp and miserable, to the game itself, which saw the Mets jump ahead multiple times against Blake Treinen only for Dillon Gee to hand his lead back to the Nationals. Gee finished after 5, ending a kind of forgettable season for him, and turned the game over to Carlos Torres, who ended up picking up a victory when Matt den Dekker and Wilmer Flores ambushed Tyler Clippard on the way to homeroom and shoved him into a locker, scoring 2 runs to take a lead they would ultimately not relinquish. Very few people may have been in the stadium watching it, but the Mets did beat the Nationals, I saw it happen.

So, finally, the Mets are done with Washington, who will be going on to October while the Mets will be going home to play the Houston Astros and then fade into the background of Baseball consciousness as the calendar turns. I don't know if it's just me, but it seems like this September has seemed much more fleeting than most, as though the end of the Mets season seems to have come far too quickly for my liking.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

See It Through

I don't know if it's just me, but it seems like the Mets have managed to avoid rainouts this season. I know the Mets haven't played very many doubleheaders to this point this year, and I believe they only had one make-up game this year, which was in Philadelphia, after a series when they were already scheduled to be there, so they didn't have any random 1-game stopovers like last year when they had to go to Colorado on their way home from Los Angeles and Minnesota on the way home from San Diego. So Wednesday night's rainout in Washington seems like a bit of an anomaly. Of course, Playoff-bound Washington gets to act all salty and nick their fans for a Day-Night Doubleheader tomorrow, even though I think we all know that there's going to be approximately 20 people at the opening game.

But, even without a game to watch, the Mets still managed to keep themselves in the general consciousness by announcing that both Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins would be returning for 2015. Alderson, in fact, earned himself a nice 3-year contract extension. 

I'm guessing that the skeptics among us aren't too thrilled by this news, but I can see why the deals were done. True, in the 4 years of the Alderson/Collins regime, the Mets have been pretty bad. After basically laying down and dying in the second half of 2011 and 2012, the Mets were perfectly middling throughout the season last year, and though they stand to tick upwards slightly this year as far as wins and losses are concerned, there wasn't exactly much in the way of suspense when it came to the Mets' chances of making the postseason. So, after 4 years of basically nothing and a streak of lost years that has now reached 6 seasons, why keep these guys around?

For years, we've been hearing about how Alderson and Collins haven't had much to work with at the Major League level. Even this year, the roster has been limited (lest we forget starting the season with Jose Valverde, John Lannan and Ike Davis on the roster and Andrew Brown hitting 5th on Opening Day) amid some good stories of younger players finally starting to show their potential. But that's probably the key reason these guys are staying around. The Mets were already dead when Jerry Manuel was at the helm in 2010, and there was no particular hope in sight. Whether it was Collins, Manuel, Wally Backman or whoever, very few managers would have been able to save the team over the past several seasons (even Bobby Valentine would have been hard-pressed). Alderson has come in and basically rebuilt the farm system from the ground up. He wasn't nearly as dramatic in doing so as the Houston Astros have been, but that's basically what he did. And slowly but surely, these prospects have begun to ascend to the Majors, and we're starting to see a little bit of payoff. Matt Harvey was obviously the first to hit the scene, and while it remains to be seen just how he comes back from a lost year, we know what he's capable of being. Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom took major steps forward this year. Travis d'Arnaud and Lucas Duda found themselves after slow starts. Juan Lagares, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia thrived in their roles. These are all guys that are key pieces in the future of the team. Others, like Dilson Herrera and Noah Syndergaard are ready to ascend.

The majority of these names, of course, were brought in by Sandy Alderson. Not all of them, but most of them. But now that the foundation is laid, it's time to get serious about bringing in the necessary parts to make the Mets a winning team again. It's no longer going to be acceptable, with a healthy, young pitching staff, to throw a lineup bereft of talent in several spots, out there day after day. And that's going to be the big story of the coming offseason. What is Alderson going to do to improve a lineup that's been without much teeth on most days? We've been going over the problems with Shortstop and Left Field and Right Field for a few years. It's high time something substantial was done about it. What that's going to be, I don't know. But instead of Alderson leaning back and working on minor deals to patch holes, now he's going to have to make some impact moves that will make a difference.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The String

The Mets, who are trying not to appear as though they're just playing out the string, have a hard time accomplishing this when they are playing the Washington Nationals. The Nationals have continually and thoroughly handled the Mets and they did so once again tonight, winning 4-2 over Bartolo Colon. The Nationals upped their season record against the Mets to 14-3.

Part of the reason they've done so poorly against Washington this year is because of Adam LaRoche, who I don't believe has actually made an out against the Mets this season, or if he has, it's probably happened at least once or twice. He's hitting at least .942 against the Mets this season with probably about 1/3rd of his Home Runs and RBI output for the season. Tonight, Bartolo Colon was victimized by LaRoche in the 5th inning, when he hit a 3-run Home Run with 2 outs in the 5th inning, breaking a 1-1 tie and pretty much removing any and all suspense from the game.

Colon didn't particularly help his cause leading up to this particular Home Run by failing to cover 1st Base on a Kevin Frandsen infield hit that should have been an out. Frandsen subsequently scored on a double by Michael Taylor, who still looks like he's 16 and should be going to dissect frogs in Biology Lab. Colon was then an out away from getting out of this mess, but then he walked Jayson Werth and then LaRoche happened. That spelled Colon's doom right there.

Another reason the Mets are basically playing out the string while the Nationals are gearing up for a Postseason run is because this particular game seems to be formulaic of just about every Mets/Nationals game this season. The score isn't always the same, and usually the game involves more Nationals Home Runs and more games where Ian Desmond or Anthony Rendon go 4-for-4, but basically what happens is the Mets take a lead, the Nationals capitalize on one Met mental mistake and then the floodgates open from there, and the Mets basically have no recourse to respond. It's been discussed a lot already and I have a feeling you're going to hear a lot of talk in the offseason about how the Mets were 3-14 or whatever record they finish with against the Nationals this season—maybe it's a little too defeatist to say 3-16 but I wouldn't bet against it—and 73-57 against the rest of Baseball and maybe if they can turn those numbers around against Washington we wouldn't be in this mess. But until that happens, we can only grouse about it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Trouble And Panic

Last season, the 49ers started their season with a resounding victory, followed by a pair of absurdly frustrating losses that left them at 1-2 with all sorts of questions surrounding where the team was going. They followed that up by winning 11 of their final 13 games. This season has gotten off to a similar start; as the 49ers lost their second consecutive game in Arizona yesterday, as once again they suffered through a second half meltdown and could only watch as the Cardinals came back on them to win 23-14.

Simply by the luck of the schedule, the 49ers have happened to be on TV in New York each of the first three games this year (and thanks to the Giants being scheduled for a Thursday night game, they will make it 4 for 4 next week), so once again, I got to witness first hand just how this game fell apart for San Francisco.

Where in Week 2 against the Bears, Colin Kaepernick simply came unglued in the second half, throwing a pair of severely damaging interceptions among his 4 turnovers overall, Kaepernick rebounded well. He started the game on a roll, completing his first 11 passes en route to leading the 49ers on a pair of lengthy Touchdown drives, one of which was capped by a pass to Michael Crabtree, and the other a run by Carlos Hyde, in which Hyde absolutely plowed through a defender on his way into the End Zone. At this point, with 5 minutes to play in the 2nd Quarter, the 49ers led 14-6 and everything appeared to be going swimmingly.

But then the second half happened and everything basically turned to mush. The 49ers have scored but 3 second half points thus far this season, while allowing 52. This didn't matter much when they led Dallas 28-3 at Halftime, but this loomed large last week and again on Sunday, when the Cardinals, behind backup Quarterback Drew Stanton and a series of clutch catches from Michael Floyd and Rookie Receiver John Brown, came back to score 17 unanswered points.

Or was it that the 49ers, who were nailed for 16 penalties against the Bears, once again self-destructed in a series of yellow flags that either killed their own drives or extended Arizona's?

You be the judge. After scoring a Touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-13, Arizona forced San Francisco to Punt and took over after another fine Andy Lee effort at their own 34-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Stanton took off and scrambled, diving to a stop at the Arizona 45-yard line, where he was then hit by Dan Skuta. Skuta, who had already lowered his shoulder in order to make a tackle, couldn't stop his momentum and although he ended up hitting a sliding Stanton in the shoulder, rather than the head, Skuta was flagged for unnecessary roughness, handing the Cardinals 15 yards. On the following play, the 49ers blitzed and Patrick Willis ended up getting a good shot on Stanton as he released a pass that ended up being incomplete. But again, despite Willis neither hitting Stanton with his helmet nor hitting Stanton in the head, Willis earned a flag for roughing the passer, handing the Cardinals another 15 yards. Not surprisingly, after being handed 30 free yards, the Cardinals went on to score another Touchdown and take the lead.

The 49ers did respond with a fine drive, and were in position to perhaps score a Touchdown of their own and regain the lead. But after Kaepernick hit Anquan Boldin for 6 yards down to the Arizona 6 yard line, Boldin was subsequently flagged for head-butting a Cardinals defender. This was more a case of Boldin being Boldin, since he's generally know for talking a lot on the field, but it cost the 49ers another 15 yards and ultimately led to a Phil Dawson Field Goal attempt that was blocked. The 49ers didn't threaten again.

After the game, Boldin in particular expressed his frustration with the officiating, which has played a heavy role in these last two 49ers losses, sure, but that's not an excuse for an offense that has scored 3 second half points in 3 games, particularly when you consider that they've scored 59 points in the first half of their games. It makes no sense, and it makes even less sense when you consider that Kaepernick, after his disaster of a performance in Week 2, was nearly flawless in this game, finishing 29 for 37 with 245 yards and a Touchdown. In fact, the 49ers didn't turn the ball over at all, and forced one of their own when Michael Wilhoite forced Larry Fitzgerald to fumble about halfway through the 4th Quarter with the game still in reach. But when it was needed most, the 49ers could move the ball no further than their own 10 yard line, including a damaging sack on Kaepernick, and they were forced to punt the ball away.

There's no good explanation for it all except to say that the 49ers aren't playing very well right now. But, again, they weren't playing very well after 3 games last year either and we know how that ended up. All you can do right now is try to regroup—Vernon Davis, generally a key cog in the 49ers lineup, missed the game with an ankle injury—get healthier and hope that next Sunday's matchup against the Eagles, who currently are sitting pretty at 3-0, goes a little better. This will be on TV here, although it happens to coincide with the Mets final game of the Season, so one may take precedence over the other.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Knockout Punch

So, the Mets may have been eliminated from playoff contention for the 8th straight season on Friday night, but over the weekend, they made sure that the Barves would be joining them on the golf course beginning on September 29th. With a pair of weekend victories over the weekend, the Mets swept a series in Atlanta for the first time since 2007, won the season series from Atlanta for the first time since 2006 (or at least it feels that way) and capped off a September in which the Barves, who spent much of the season being fawned over by a lot of talking heads, basically spent 3 weeks sleeping through games and earned themselves a restful October. In fact, if they keep playing at this pace, the Mets could conceivably catch and pass them for 2nd place in the NL East, which isn't exactly where you want to be at the end of the season, but for a team like the Mets that have been chasing 4th place for years now, 2nd place certainly seems like a step in the right direction.

The Mets stifled the Braves with pitching, mostly, although they did score 10 runs on Sunday. Saturday, Jon Niese did the job, pitching shutout ball into the 8th inning before tiring, and Josh Edgin allowed a couple of runs to score on his ledger. But by that point, the Mets had taken a 4-0 lead, thanks mainly to Home Runs from Dilson Herrera and Curtis Granderson. Herrera then later departed the game with a calf injury, which is likely going to finish him for the season, but after a month in the Majors in which the 20 year old certainly proved he can play. But I digress. The Braves trimmed the Mets lead to 4-2, but got no closer; Carlos Torres came in and rescued Edgin, and Jenrry Mejia finished out the Braves in the 9th inning to pick up his 27th Save of the season. That number jumped out at me. Mejia has 27 Saves!? When did that happen? That's a pretty solid number from a guy who wasn't even closing at the beginning of the season, on a team that's likely going to finish out with a losing record. Sure, he's had his hiccups, like any closer will, but let's give him credit. He didn't want to close and he probably could have loafed and pouted, but he's embraced the role and along with Jeurys Familia has become a solid tandem to finish out games.

Sunday, let's just cut to the chase and say Jacob deGrom, Jacob deGrom, Jacob deGrom. deGrom deGrom deGrom, and although he didn't deGrom the first 8 batters like he did last deGrom, he did deGrom 8 of the first 11 deGrom en route to another deGrom. It remains to be seen whether deGrom will be sent to the deGrom for the remainder of the season or if he will make his final deGrom of the deGrom next weekend against Houston. I would think, for sentimentality's sake, that Collins would allow him to make his deGrom, but then again, deGrom has had a fine deGrom and let's let him take that, stick it in his deGrom and have a good deGrom. If this is it for deGrom, 6 innings, 2 runs and 10 strikeouts is a fine way to finish out his deGrom. On the opposite side, where deGrom wasn't involved, the Mets jumped on Ervin Santana early and often, running out to a 5-0 lead and tacking on more runs in the 6th, 8th and 9th en route to a 10-2 wipeout. Ruben Tejada hit a Home Run, Anthony Recker in his trademark Sunday Start had 3 hits and drove in 3 runs, and other guys like Kirk Nieuwenhuis contributed to putting the final nail in the Barves coffin and support deGrom on the way to his 9th victory of the season.

The season has now dwindled down to a final 6 games, 3 of which happen to be against Washington. We know how well the Mets have done against them. At 76-80, the Mets have surpassed their mediocre 74-win total of the last two seasons, although a finish of over .500 is probably too tall a task at this point. But perhaps they can get close.

Friday, September 19, 2014

True Colors

After an entire season about hearing how wonderful the Barves are, and how great their pitching is, and how Craig Kimbrel is the second coming of The Great Rivera, and how Andrelton Simmons is God's Gift to shortstops, and how they're a mortal lock to win the division for years to come, the Braves got to September and immediately fell apart. Now, with their chances of making the postseason on life support, the Mets had a golden opportunity to come in to their house, kick them in the nuts and for all intents and purposes put them out of their misery. In fact, with a sweep, the Mets would pull to within a half game of Atlanta for second place in the division. On a night where the Mets officially were eliminated from Postseason contention, they did their best to try to take the Barves down with them, as Zack Wheeler and company combined on a 5-0 shutout to extend Atlanta's misery and give the Mets a win in the series opener on the road.

Wheeler, who seems to have the number of his home state's team, threw 6 shutout innings en route to his 11th victory of the year and appears on his way to finishing his season with a bang. Wheeler, who's been a little inconsistent as the calendar turned to September and his inning count mounted, righted himself this evening and looked a little more like the pitcher who was really starting to turn into one of the NL's better Righty pitchers and the guy we thought would be #2 in the Harvey-Wheeler 1-2 punch.

But Atlanta's Julio Teheran matched zeroes with Wheeler into the 6th inning, until Lucas Duda reached him for a 2-run Home Run, his 28th of the season. This probably would have been enough for Wheeler, who finished out the 6th before turning things over to Carlos Torres and the Jeurys Familia/Jenrry Mejia Report. The Braves did nothing off of this bunch, but just to make sure, the Mets rallied for 3 runs in the 9th against dainty, toe-tapping Jordan Walden, who came in, pranced around the mound and couldn't throw a strike, walking in a run before being removed from the game in favor of Luis Avilan, who surrendered two more runs on his ledger when Eric Young, Jr. hit a 2-run single to close out the scoring.

This was the sort of game that, far as I'm concerned, showed the true colors on both sides. The Mets, behind Wheeler and some timely hitting, gutted this game out and tried even though this was the night where they were officially eliminated from any sort of postseason contention. The Braves, who've been getting all sorts of smoke blown up their collective asses for years now, folded like a deck of cards when faced with a game against a team they're supposed to be so much better than. After dominating the Mets early in the season, now the Mets have fought back and in spite of the fact that the Braves were this supposed great contender, the Mets are actually 8-9 against Atlanta for the season and if they do their job and play like they did tonight for the rest of the weekend, they can flip the season series in their favor. Sometimes it's nice to play spoiler and kick a team in the nuts that really deserves it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Slightly Fishy

The Mets closed out their season series with the Mickey Mouse Marlins by losing a sleepy affair, 4-3, in a game where they fell behind early and didn't hit enough to catch up.

Though the Mets did end up winning the season series from the Marlins, 11 wins against 8 losses, this particular series sort of speaks to the inconsistencies the Mets have shown this season. Monday night, they hit enough to put themselves in position to win, but the bullpen blew the lead. Tuesday, they bludgeoned the Marlins en route to a 9-1 victory. Last night, they pitched reasonably well, behind Dillon Gee and 4 relievers, among them Jeurys Familia, who rebounded from his poor outing Monday with a fine inning, and Jenrry Mejia, who pitched a scoreless 9th, but try as they might, they couldn't get enough key hits to scratch across a tying run, in spite of the fact that they had opportunities to do so.

The Marlins went up early against Dillon Gee, and with the Mets not accomplishing much against Henderson Alvarez, the story of the game then turned to Kevin Burkhart, who was given a rousing sendoff after 8 seasons with the team on SNY by The 7 Line crew, among many others. Kevin is, of course, moving on to much greener pastures on Fox Sports, having established himself as an excellent play-by-play guy on NFL Broadcasts and has also done some studio work for their overproduced Baseball games as well. Perhaps he's in line to unseat the painfully boring Joe Buck, but not likely—Burkhart, for his talents, doesn't possess Buck's lineage or matinee-idol looks, so he's likely going to remain in a second-fiddle role with Fox, but that's OK. Burkhart established himself enough on Fox's NFL coverage that he earned himself a playoff game, a high honor considering the number of broadcast teams they have (although I've gone into how none of them are that good—Burkhart by comparison is Gary Cohen). But Burkhart's contribution to the SNY team has been invaluable over the years. We at The Ballclub will miss him and wish him the best as he moves on to a new chapter in his career, and it's well and proper that SNY gave him proper acknowledgement on the day of his final Home Game broadcast, and the fans did as well.

It's unfortunate that the Mets couldn't send Ol' Kevin off with a victory, but, hey, I guess you can't ask too much from the Mets. So their penultimate Homestand of the season is now over and it's off to Atlanta and Washington for the season's final road trip.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lucky 10th

Tuesday night's game was my 16th of the year at Citi Field, and my final weekday night game of the season. I've talked in some depth about how these September games have a bit of a wistful feel to them. Over the past few years, as the Mets seasons have basically fallen apart into muddled messes with too many things going wrong to even count or want to remember, September Games at Citi Field have become somewhat lonely affairs. I have a hard time cajoling anyone into going with me and I see I'm not the only one, as the crowds at Citi Field in September seem to have dwindled to the 5,000s or so. And that's sort of how you know the end is near. The sun, which can go down as late as the 4th or 5th inning at the height of the Summer, is now going down in the 1st inning, or perhaps even prior to the first pitch. That light chill, which is so prevalent in April, is back in the air. Concession stands in the Promenade Level are mostly shuttered, except those that allowed fans the general bare necessities. People stop showing up, and for my penultimate game of the season, I more or less have Section 512 to myself. Certainly, there wasn't anyone else in my row.

My season record, which has more or less been break-even for as long as Citi Field has been in existence, stood at 9-6 coming into Tuesday's game. 9 wins for a season was as good as it had gotten for me since 2009. The last time I'd witnessed 10 wins in a season was back in 2008, at a whole other Stadium, with a whole other team that was actually a contender. Since then, I'd suffered through 5-11 in 2009, a better 9-5 and 8-5 in 2010 and 2011, and break-even 8-8 and 9-9 records in 2012 and 2013. But 2014 has surprisingly been better, and by winning at least one of my final two games, I'd net my first 10-win season at Citi Field.

Bartolo Colon, who seems to have become my "pitcher of the year" for this season, was on the mound; I'd lost count but it seems like probably the 5th or 6th time I'd seen him this season. Generally, he's pitched rather well when I have been there, and last night was no exception. Though the Marlins were rather annoying and kept getting men on base, Colon managed to weave his way into the 8th inning, departing after 7.2 innings of work, striking out 7 but allowing an incongruous 12 hits. The 12 hits, however, only produced 1 run, as Colon also induced the Marlins into 3 Double Plays to kill whatever rallies they got themselves into.

On the other side, the Mets jumped on erratic Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi for 4 runs in a 4th inning rally that saw Travis d'Arnaud kick things off with a Double and then score the Mets first run when Wilmer Flores hit a screamer that banged off the wall for another double. Ruben Tejada resurfaced from Met Oblivion to finish the inning off with a 2-run single.

In the 5th, the Mets rallied again, knocking Eovaldi from the game in favor of the resurfaced Brad Penny. Penny didn't do much better than Eovaldi; after striking out Lucas Duda with 2 men on, he allowed a no-doubter of a Home Run to Wilmer Flores, and two innings later allowed a second Home Run to Flores, this one a 2-run shot. This, then, gave Flores 6 RBI on the night, the second such time he'd driven in 6 in a game this season, a Mets Rookie Record of some minor note.

When the dust cleared and Flores hit Home Plate, the Mets had run away with the game at 9-1. Buddy Carlyle and Rafael Montero finished up for Colon, and I had indeed locked down that elusive 10th win of the season at Citi Field. Those 10 wins also happen to include 7 wins in my last 8 games, a streak that seems rather impressive when you consider that this is the Mets we've been dealing with, and for a large chunk of the season, winning games at home has been a dicey proposition for them. But 10 wins is definitely something worth hanging my hat on. It's a number of some appreciable note considering it doesn't seem to happen that often.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cover Your Eyes

When your starting pitcher, a guy who wasn't in the Major Leagues at the start of the season and over the course of the year suddenly emerged as a phenomenon, begins a game by striking out the first 8 opposing batters that come to the plate, you figure that ought to be the story of the game, right?

Unfortunately, when said phenomenal pitcher is a Met, that isn't always a guarantee. On a night when Jacob deGrom struck out the first 8 Marlin hitters in succession before allowing a single to the opposing pitcher, Jarred Cosart, he ended up with a no-decision in a game where the Mets ended up blowing multiple leads en route to an annoying 6-5 loss.

When you lose a game after a start like deGrom had, it's frustrating, although at this particular point in the season there's not much more you can do aside from throw up your hands. The loss isn't especially damaging except for the psyche of Jeurys Familia, who suffered an 8th inning meltdown, but even that's not the first time it's happened to him, nor will it be the last and it can't take away from the fine season overall that Familia has had. But handed a 2-run lead against a team like the Marlins, playing without their best player, Giancarlo Stanton, following his ugly beaning last week, Familia couldn't seal the deal.

By time this had happened, of course, deGrom had already stolen the show by tying a record set by unremarkable Astros lefthander Jim Deshaies all the way back in 1986 and striking out the first 8 batters he'd faced. For deGrom, this was just another feather in his cap, continuing a string of sterling outings that have catapulted him into serious contention for National League Rookie of the Year. It's now to the point, particularly considering the fact that his chief competition, Billy Hamilton of the Reds, has only been marginally good, that if deGrom doesn't win, I'd be inclined to think he was robbed and it would certainly be a letdown. deGrom's 8 Ks in the first 3 innings were the story, but he did manage 5 more over the course of his 7 innings of work, giving him a career high (and Harvey-like) 13 Ks for the night.

Unfortunately, he departed losing the game. Wilmer Flores had provided him with a 2-run lead thanks to a first inning double, but other than that, the Mets hadn't done much. So when the Marlins reached him for 3 runs in the 7th, including two off the bat of former prodigal son Jordany Valdespin, it appeared that this would all be for naught. But the Mets responded by scoring 3 runs of their own in the bottom of the 7th to put deGrom in position to get a win. Travis d'Arnaud, another Met rookie that's going to end up having had a fine season, played a key role in this rally with an RBI double, and A.J. Ramos, one of those annoying Marlin pitchers, walked home another run.

We know what happened from there.

With but 11 games left in the season and the chances of playing beyond those 11 games just about nil, it's hard to get too worked up. I think I mentioned that already. But you do want to at least have those 11 games turn out a little better. There's some good things going on in general around here so maybe before too long these losses become wins and it starts to add up from there.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bears Get You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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