Tuesday, March 31, 2015

On A Better Track (2015 National League Preview)

Generally, I do annual season preview capsules that for all intents and purposes are pulled directly out of my ass. It's a good avenue to make some fairly outlandish predictions that don't come anywhere close to being correct. But last year, at least when I wrote out a National League preview, I was actually somewhat on the right track. In addition to correctly predicting all 5 National League playoff teams, I nailed the Mets record right on the nose at 79-83. Of course, in the Playoffs everything went haywire, but that's OK. I still picked a Giants/Pirates Wildcard game, and the Nationals, Cardinals and Dodgers as division champions. The American League, forget about it. I picked the Rays to win the pennant, although to my credit, I did astutely pick the Royals to make the playoffs as a Wildcard team (and then lose to Boston).

So, let's see if the mojo I had last year carries over. As always, the records are a general approximation within 5 or so wins to the good or bad.

1) Washington Nationals (97-65)
I already went into how Washington is going into this season basically having been anointed as the Team to Beat in just about all of Baseball. And why shouldn't they be? Loaded from top to bottom, they added Max Scherzer to a rotation that now boasts 5 pitchers that could easily be #1 starters on other teams. Bryce Harper has another year under his belt. Anthony Rendon has emerged to fill the void left by an aging Ryan Zimmerman and other such names like Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos are still around to wreak havoc on other teams, particularly the Mets if history holds to form. Of course, they're such an overwhelming favorite that you have to wonder if maybe it'll go to their heads a little bit. Either way, I hope they lose and look like schmucks in the process.

2) New York Mets (89-73)
We talk plenty around here about the Mets already so there's not too much that hasn't been said, but I've been all in on this Mets team all Winter. After 6 seasons in the wilderness, the Mets finally have a team that's worth getting excited about. Losing Zack Wheeler for the season might take a little bit of the starch out of the collar, but for all intents and purposes the young and still learning Wheeler is being replaced by Matt Harvey, who looks every bit like he's going to pistol-whip opponents like he did in 2013. The presence of Harvey alone ought to shove the Mets over .500. Add to that the fact that Jacob deGrom looks like he's picked up right where he left off, and all these other good pitchers are hanging around, and you have a staff that could easily compete with Washington. Offensively, they still appear challenged except that they've been beating the tar out of everyone in Spring Training. Michael Cuddyer's looked good, David Wright seems healthy, Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares appear ready to build on strong 2014 seasons, and I'm still on the Wilmer Flores bandwagon. This is a good team as composed right now. Just, nobody wants to give the Mets that kind of credit yet. So people are still thumbing their noses at the Mets, but just wait. Vindication is on its way.

3) Mickey Mouse Marlins (84-78)
This is another one of those seasons where the Marlins spent some money and bought some talent in the offseason, but are any of us really fooled? Look at these names. Dee Gordon. Dan Haren. Ichiro Suzuki. Mat Latos. Michael Morse. Good players, but not the kind of guys that are going to lift the team to new heights. More like players brought in to placate their $325 million dollar man Giancarlo Stanton. Until the Marlins are at .500 in late July and they decide to cut bait on everyone and start from scratch again. You know it's coming.

4) Atlanta Barves (77-85)
So glad these guys are over. After once again proving me right by completely shitting the bed down the stretch last season, the Braves decided a bit of a rebuild was necessary and jettisoned guys like Jason Heyward, who never lived up to his lofty billing, Justin Upton, and Evan Gattis, who continues to trade high based on one month where he hit 9 HRs two years ago. The result is a mostly new look lineup that features a lot of old (Jonny Gomes, Nick Markakis), a lot of the same (Freddie Freeman) and some same that have changed their names in order to confuse people (Melvin Upton, Jr). Of course, since God's Gift to Shortstops Andrelton Simmons and the "unhittable" Craig Kimbrel are still around, maybe some pundits are still tricked into thinking the Braves will be good, but they won't. Don't worry.

5) Philadelphia Phillies (70-92)
Clearly now in their twilight, the Phillies still for whatever reason have hung on to their glory guys Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cliff Lee when they're not going to perform up to their prior levels and even if they did, they wouldn't help a team that's not going to amount to much. The team is now choking on the back end of their contracts and with a mostly barren farm system, help doesn't seem to be on the way any time soon. Too bad.

1) St. Louis Cardinals (93-79)
A recycled comment: Why fight it? But these clowns are so damn full of themselves that Mike Matheny, after two years managing the team, was salty enough to pen a love letter to himself under the title "The Matheny Manifesto," as though he's been a Baseball sage for 30+ years. A testament to the arrogance of this team, and yet they always seem to back it up.

2) Pittsburgh Pirates (87-75)
It may be a slight regression year for the Pirates but I wouldn't expect them to fall off the cliff by any stretch. This is still a team to be reckoned with; their Outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte may be the best in Baseball and they can still through some good quality pitching at you on any given night. Still, some holes in the back end of their lineup and an unsettled bullpen may be the difference between a Wildcard and going home this year.

3) Chicago Cubs (82-80)
The offseason's busiest bees, that's for certain, the Cubs have raised plenty of eyebrows with the myriad deals they struck, most notably to poach Manager Joe Maddon from the Rays and the signing of ballyhooed Free Agent pitcher Jon Lester to go along with their galaxy of top prospects in Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and them other guys. Except that they're getting cute and trying to Super-2 Bryant and Russell and so they'll begin the year in the Minors. Still, the Cubs have been getting an awful lot of ink this Spring, particularly for a team that's fared about as well as the Mets in recent years and has a Championship drought that's now well over a century. Still, it seems as though the Cubs fan knows no such thing as hubris, and this will probably lead to their downfall and another forgettable season.

4) Milwaukee Brewers (80-82)
The Brewers could well be one of those surprise teams that everyone sleeps on because, well, they're kind of a sleepy group. Their entire roster, once you look past their stars, Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez, is pretty sleepy. I mean, the carcass that's Aramis Ramirez is still trolling 3rd Base, Kyle Lohse is pitching for them and they have a 2nd baseman named Scooter. Yes, I know that Scooter Gennett is actually a decent player, but can you take a team seriously when their starting 2nd Baseman is literally named "Scooter?"

5) Cincinnati Reds (78-84)
The Reds, kind of like the Brewers, are a Baseball team with some modicum of talent that's stuck in a crowded NL Central where there aren't any particularly bad teams, but outside of the Cardinals nobody that's especially good. So it's difficult to pick an order among them but someone has to finish last, and I'm going to go with the Reds, because they've steadily regressed over the past few seasons after making the playoffs and getting bounced in the first round multiple times, because they haven't really gotten any better, and because their two best players, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, can't stay healthy.

1) Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68)
This incarnation of the Dodgers is one more Postseason failure away from officially becoming overrated. I mean, sure. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet, but when that calendar flips and he sees that Cardinal red, he suddenly becomes very ordinary. Meanwhile, they still have a galaxy's worth of stars around him, from mercurial Yasiel Puig, to irritable Adrian Gonzalez, to Ãœberprospect Joc Pederson, and that should be more than enough to carry them through to another division title. But can they make their opportunity count this time?

2) San Diego Padres (88-74)
The Padres are a good example of remaking the entire identity of a team on the fly. After basically looking kind of stuck in the mud for the better part of a few seasons, all of a sudden they have this flashy young GM in A.J. Preller who swoops in and turns around the entire team. Gone are Padre mainstays like Franch Headley and Yasmani Grandal. In are some big names like Matt Kemp, James Shields, Wil Myers, Justin Upton and Will Middlebrooks. That right there is half of a lineup of new blood, and good new blood at that to support some of the guys still around like Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko. This should be enough to put the Padres in position to strike as a contending team.

3) San Francisco Giants (85-77)
Since it's an odd year, the Giants figure to regress off their 3rd World Series Championship in 5 seasons. Much of their Championship nucleus is still in place, among them Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, but Pablo Sandoval is gone to Boston and Hunter Pence will miss a chunk of time with an injury. The Giants have won their championships based on a team that's greater as a whole than as the sum of their parts. But when too many of their parts go missing, it creates a hole that even Madison Bumgarner can't fix.

4) Colorado Rockies (77-85)
Once again the Colorados are a team stuck in neutral. They still have Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez on their roster in spite of these two players leading the league in being injured and being rumored to be traded, they still have 13 other guys named Charlie, they have aging Justin Morneau, and from what I'm able to discern, they are about to go into the 2015 season without a Major League Pitcher on their roster, which I suppose is their way of saying that no pitcher is better than whatever they have in their system.

5) Arizona Diamondbacks (73-89)
Some teams are bad. Some teams are boring. It seems like the Diamondbacks are a little bit of both. It's easy for an NL East fan like myself to sort of gloss over an NL West team, but these Diamondbacks seem to be a special case. They made no moves of note in the offseason (unless you consider Jeremy Hellickson of note), they didn't make any effort to protect their two 40 Home Run strikeout machines in Paul Goldschmidt or Mark Trumbo in the lineup, and, yes, Oliver Perez is still on their roster. If that's not enough to make you want to throw in the towel, I don't know what is.

NL MVP: Anthony Rendon, Nationals
NL Cy Young: Matt Harvey, Mets
NL ROY: Joc Pederson, Dodgers

NL Wildcard Game: Mets over Padres
NLDS: Cardinals over Dodgers, Mets over Nationals
NLCS: Cardinals over Mets

Well, hey, perhaps I could be accused of homerism, and that may well be true. But I know a team on the rise when I see it, and the page is about to be turned for the Mets. Plus if Mets fans didn't have enough reason to hate the Cardinals, well, let's turn that knife some more.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Play's The Thing

I rarely use this forum to promote my non-Baseball life, but for those of you who might know me outside of Metsdom, I ply my trade in the Theater business.

I've been known to direct plays here and there and generally I don't like to draw great amounts of attention to myself, but sometimes you fall into a particular situation where it's necessary to do so.

The play, GREAT KILLS, which is written by Tom Diriwachter and directed by me, opens tonight at Theater for the New City in the East Village, Manhattan. It's a bit of a dark comedy with a bit of an "American Buffalo" feel to it, involving three down-on-their-luck men that hatch a get rich quick scheme and what occurs from there. It's a smart, quick-moving 90-minutes of Theater.

I'm fortunate enough to be directing this play with a trio of fine actors, among them the great Emmy Award-winner Joe Pantoliano, whom many of you may know from "The Sopranos" to "The Goonies" to "Memento" and countless movies and plays in between. Joining Joe are Robert Homeyer and Peter Welch, two New York actors of their own renown. Together, we have put together a play that everyone ought to come see and enjoy, whether you're a Mets fan or a Theater fan or both, and with tickets a mere $20, this is Theater that's affordable for everyone.

Though this is mostly off-topic, the play does hold some connection to the Mets. The play makes multiple references to a Mets game being on TV during the course of the play, and there is a surprise cameo from my voice, doing my best bad Gary Cohen impersonation, calling the play-by-play from a fictional Mets/Reds game with Jacob deGrom on the mound. The author, Mr. Diriwachter, is also a Mets fan of long standing, as is Mr. Homeyer, who has been known to sojourn to Citi Field with me on occasion. So maybe this isn't quite as off-topic as it appears.

I'd be remiss after pimping out this show so much if I didn't tell you where, when and how to see it. The play is at Theater for the New City, at 155 1st Avenue, between 9th and 10th Streets in Manhattan. The show runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm through April 12th. Tickets are available on SmartTix.com (click the link) or by calling SmartTix at 212-868-4444, or the Theater's box office at 212-254-1109. Don't miss out; if I'm pimping out my show like this, it's probably worth seeing.

Monday, March 23, 2015

For Openers

The word, which to me seemed kind of inevitable, that Bartolo Colon had been named the Mets Opening Day starter on April 6th was met with certain furor. After all, Colon was, prior to the Zack Wheeler injury, supposed to be the 5th starter in this loaded rotation, and even as it slots out now, he's still probably the #4. Opening Day is generally reserved for the Ace, and on the Mets, that's Matt Harvey and even if it's not, it's Jacob deGrom. It's not Bartolo Colon. Colon is probably being given this assignment based solely on tenure, if not some odd ploy to pump up ticket sales during the first homestand of the season the following week. The move has been derided as stupid and short-sighted and already Terry Collins is getting blasted for screwing things up and the team hasn't even taken the field yet.

But somehow, I'm OK with the move. It doesn't bother me that Colon will get the ball on April 6th, and it doesn't bother me that deGrom gets the ball in the Home Opener on April 13th, and although I'll probably have to buy tickets if I decide to go, it doesn't bother me that Matt Harvey's return to Citi Field will fall on the following night, April 14th.

Colon is the veteran here, obviously, but he's also the only pitcher on the staff right now that has meritable Opening Day experience (Jon Niese in 2013 notwithstanding—Niese earned that particular nod simply because someone had to and he had the tenure). True, the logical choice is Matt Harvey, who's looked so good so far in Spring Training that his stardom is beginning to rocket into other dimensions. But let's hit the brakes on Harvey for a second. He's more than likely going to have many more Opening Day assignments fall his way and although he, and a majority of Mets fans may not like it, it probably makes more sense to ease him back into things, and not throw him out there on a day where he'll be more amped up than he usually is. Jacob deGrom, coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign, would also be a good choice, but he seems to be more of a sentimental choice than the kind of presence you look for on the mound on Opening Day. This isn't a knock on deGrom at all, but the understated deGrom doesn't posit as quite the Hollywood type that, say, Harvey is. Niese and Dillon Gee have also started Opening Day games for the Mets, but among this group, they really don't quite rate.

So, Colon is the choice, and I really don't think it's a bad thing. Colon, for his age and his general lack of conditioning still managed to lead the Mets in wins last season and basically performed as well as we could have hoped for in 2014, and there's no good reason to think he won't duplicate his performance in '15. I don't think we need to vilify Collins or Alderson for the move as much as people are doing. Perhaps this is me drinking a little too much of the Met Management Kool-Aid, but after so many losing seasons, I have to believe in the plan they're feeding us. Part of the team being exciting again is getting the asses in the seats by any means necessary. It's not quite as crazy as it sounds.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Aw, Geez

Injuries, particularly devastating ones to the elbows of pitchers, seem to have become as much as part of Baseball as, say, the Designated Hitter. Nobody likes it, it causes divisive amounts of controversy and there's no good solution to stop it. The Mets have had plenty of their own pitchers shelved due to major elbow injuries that required the Big Boy Surgery over the past couple of years and now they've been hit twice more in the past couple of days. Josh Edgin was diagnosed with a ligament injury apparently caused by a bone chip that was cutting into the ligament and after a second opinion decided to go under the knife. That was bad enough. More disheartening to the Mets chances this season was the news this morning that Zack Wheeler had been diagnosed with a torn ligament in his elbow and would need his own operation.

Word later in the day revealed that Wheeler's elbow had been of concern to doctors, but that a major injury didn't appear imminent. It just required "monitoring." These kind of situations, however, tend to not end well, and that being said, perhaps it's not totally surprising that this is the end result for Wheeler. That doesn't make it a positive by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact for a team and a fan base that's constantly had to deal with injury after injury and disappointment after disappointment it's downright disheartening.

But in the big picture, it's not the end of the world.

When Matt Harvey went down with the same injury in August of 2013, that was really bad. Harvey had emerged among the Best pitchers in Baseball over the course of his brief career, and he was expected to lead the charge when the Mets eventually returned to prominence. His injury for all intents and purposes put things on hold for the team and basically threw the fan base off a collective cliff. Zack Wheeler's emergence helped to lessen the sting of losing Harvey in 2014, but ultimately his strong finish to the season didn't immediately turn the Mets into contenders. Wheeler's larger problem among fans seems to be basically that he's not Matt Harvey and he didn't come up and produce the same results. Wheeler in 2014 had a good season but pitched like a young pitcher who was still trying to figure it out. There were moments where he looked very good, but also moments that he was pretty bad and the goal for this season was more of the former and less of the latter. Matt Harvey came up looking like such a finished product that it was easy to project the same hype onto Wheeler. Not the same kind of pitcher, not the same kind of results.

Point here is that the loss of Wheeler is frustrating and annoying and a sizable chunk of the Mets fan base is probably yelling about "AW THERE GOES ANOTHER SEASON (these are the same people who think they can force the Wilpons to sell the team and continue to harp on how the Mets need to fire Terry Collins and hire Wally Backman tomorrow)," but in the grand scheme of things, starting pitching is the one area where the Mets could absorb a major injury. Wheeler's gone for 2015, and that sucks. Fortuitously, the Mets have a major league quality starting pitcher who can slide right in and take his place in Dillon Gee. Imagine that. For once, the Mets actually have a contingency plan! Sandy Alderson hasn't hit on everything, but the non-move of dealing away Gee or Jon Niese showed a good bit of temperance on his part. Gee won't be Wheeler but in this rotation he doesn't have to be. Gee just has to be Gee, and in certain periods of his career he's pitched rather well. He'll get the first crack at holding down this spot in the rotation, but if it doesn't work out, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are also primed to move up the ladder this year.

So, don't panic just yet. If anything, the Edgin injury is more difficult for the Mets because they don't have another lefty reliever to replace him, or at least not one with any kind of Major League experience. But on the other hand, relief pitchers are like elbow injuries. Annoying and unpredictable.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fare Thee Well

Rumblings on Monday led to a pair of painful announcements relating to the 49ers this afternoon, breaking up the general monotony of Spring Training baseball where no news tends to be good news. One item was expected. The other, a shocker that's kind of left everyone feeling numb.

The surprise retirement of Patrick Willis came mostly out of nowhere. Willis, the unquestioned leader of a defense that has been among the NFL's best the past 4 seasons, hadn't given much in the way of indication that he wouldn't be back from the toe injury that shelved him for a majority of the 2014 season. But as a sign that you can never really know what's in the head of an athlete, Willis instead announced today that he planned to retire to pursue a more philanthropic career. It's noble, and certainly speaks to the character Willis displayed throughout his career, but that doesn't make it any less shocking.

Willis' career has been nothing but one accolade on top of another. Drafted by the 49ers in the 1st round in 2007, Willis was the Defensive Rookie of the Year, a first-team All Pro multiple times and voted to the Pro Bowl every year of his 8 year career except this past season. Willis was a leader in every sense; not so much that he set an example for his teammates both on and off the field, but for the fact that he made everyone around him better. NaVorro Bowman, who from everything I can gather like a little brother to Willis, was hardly heralded as a prospect when he entered the league in 2010, but after playing next to Willis became a force just as strong and together, the tandem helped the 49ers become great again. Bowman will be back, though nobody knows just how strong he will be after his knee injury now over a year ago, and certainly everyone had to think Willis would be there alongside him. But he won't.

Whether it was the wear and tear of playing at the level of ferocity he usually displayed or a religious awakening that became so prevalent across his social media pages, Willis decided now was the time for him to move on. It seems shocking and premature but the best way to look at it is to reflect on the 8 seasons he played and remember what a force he was.

Less surprising, but not less upsetting was the word that Frank Gore was also departing the 49ers after 10 sterling seasons as the team's Running Back. Gore, a Free Agent, wanted to be back and the 49ers certainly indicated they wanted to have him back at the end of the season, but the way things unfolded that seemed to dissolve, because I'm not sure the 49ers ever made him an offer. Over the weekend, it seemed like the hot word was that Gore was headed to the Eagles, but he ended up shunning Philly for an offer from the Indianapolis Colts.

With Gore, the answer of whether to bring him back or not seemed less cut and dry. Gore's 32-year old legs covered a lot of ground over his 10 seasons and at times he certainly didn't have the same juice he did when he was younger. But just when you figured he was through, he'd come out and rip off a 120+ yard game and score 2 Touchdowns and you'd remember that he was still the same Frank Gore who was always going to get the job done. Gore, the 49ers all-time leading rusher and a 5-time Pro Bowler, always ran tough and angry, but accomplished his job humbly, so much so that sometimes it was easy to overlook him. But he was always there in the end to grind out tough yards when the 49ers needed it most.

Most importantly, Gore and Willis were the two key cogs on the 49ers through the latter half of the dark era of 49ers football in the mid to late 00s that toiled through a lot of lean years before finally getting a taste of success in the past few seasons. When the 49ers re-emerged in the Jim Harbaugh era, it was Gore and Willis who stood front and center as the team's leaders and nobody questioned that. These were two players that clearly appreciated every ounce of the winning they got to experience. But as Harbaugh has departed, and now Gore and Willis have left as well, it seems that the window on this era has closed for the 49ers. The 49ers do have the depth and pieces on their roster now to replace these large holes, but will they? It's not the time now to focus on how or why this has happened here, or to start knocking owner Jed York, or whatever. For now, you tip your cap to Patrick Willis and Frank Gore, a pair of great players who always made me proud to root for the 49ers.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Back Where He Belongs

I had, for some reason, blindly assumed that the Mets first Spring Training game of 2015 was today, against the Tigers in Port St. Lucie, and that the Mets had decided to give Matt Harvey the ball to mark the occasion. Turns out I was totally off, because the Mets first game was actually on Wednesday and whether or not it was on TV, I yakked on it completely. I don't know if they won, I don't even know who pitched. Not that it matters, especially. Spring Training games are only useful if you want to see some veteran guys assured of a roster spot half-ass it for a few innings, and then a bunch of young kids looking to make a good impression hit the field in the late innings and play like tigers (not Detroit Tigers, actual Tigers). Turns out that Friday was a first game of sorts, but only because it was the Mets first Home Game of Spring Training, and also the first game of the Spring to be shown on TV.

Then, there's the case of Matt Harvey, who finally took the mound in some kind of a game situation against live hitters that were up there to hit the ball and played for a team that isn't the Mets. I went so far as to DVR the game from 1pm until 2pm, because all I was really interested in was seeing Harvey. Sure, there was a rest of a game to be played, and the Mets ended up winning courtesy of a Matt Reynolds walkoff Home Run, but nobody was tuning in for Matt Reynolds. Even Noah Syndergaard, fresh off his lunch break, was relegated to the undercard. Harvey was the story, and he'll be the story all Spring as he hit the mound for the first time since August of 2013. It seems like so much has happened since then, but the short of it is that Harvey can basically be treated as though he were a Free Agent acquisition, because he's now being added to a loaded pitching staff that fared reasonably well in his absence in 2014.

If Harvey had any lingering ill effects from the Big Boy Surgery he had back in October of 2013, he didn't display them this afternoon, as his two innings of work went off about as well as you could hope for: 2 innings, no hits, no walks, 3 strikeouts, 25 pitches, 16 strikes and touching 99 on the radar gun. The effort was so good, it gave the impression that he'd never left, never been injured.

It's always tough to tell how a pitcher will respond to the Big Boy Surgery, which is why it's so nerve wracking to see it happen to a star player like Harvey. Most pitchers seem to recover just fine and end up back at the level they were before getting injured (see Wainwright, Adam; Smoltz, John; deGrom, Jacob). The fear, as I've said many times, is that the pitcher ends up turning into another coming of Bill Pulsipher, and we as Mets fans are once again left holding our jocks while other teams laugh at us. I know it's one game, and it's a Spring Training game no less, but to see Harvey go out there and look like he was all the way back from this can only be viewed as highly encouraging, and I'm as cynical as any Mets fan can get.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Team To Try To Beat

The Zack-Wheeler-response-to-Bryce-Harper story that's been making the rounds today has, lightly, a smacking of Jimmy Rollins in 2007 to it, so perhaps Zack Wheeler is trying to be a little prescient and stick a little starch into a rivalry that's been rather one-sided over the past few seasons.

I've never been much for wars of words; having been through it already between the Mets and the Phillies in (pick any year between 2007-2009) and having the Mets talk a lot and have it blow up in their faces is a bit tiresome. But maybe there's something to Wheeler and the Mets taking notice of Bryce Harper and the Nationals and the bit of arrogance they seem to be displaying. The Mets were arrogant, once, and after their run to the NLCS in 2006 and being a near-universal choice to go to the World Series in 2007, the Mets fell victim to their own hubris and instead ended up watching as the Phillies embarked on what turned out to be the Golden Era of their franchise. The Mets, to date, haven't recovered.

Now, the Phillies have returned to irrelevance, and it's the Nationals who proclaim themselves the Team to Beat. Bryce Harper, upon learning of the signing of Max Scherzer, proclaimed, "Where's my Ring?!" perhaps anointing the Nationals as the kings of Baseball before a game has even been played. Certainly, the Nationals look the part, boasting a starting rotation that's easily the best in the division and project to win more games than anyone else in the league. The Nationals also have this habit of really bludgeoning the Mets, particularly in recent years. The Mets were 4-14 against Washington in 2014 and since 2012, when the Nationals got good, I believe their record is something like 10-46 against Washington, or at least it feels that way. That includes winning all of 1 game against Washington at home, and routinely sitting by as they come in to Citi Field and belting a dozen Home Runs in a 3-game series. So, why not anoint them as the Team to Beat?

Well, from the perspective of the Mets, and particularly from the perspective of Zack Wheeler, who's found himself on the receiving end of multiple National floggings, it's getting a little tired. Mets fans were already a little tired of seeing these clowns waltz in to our stadium and kick us in the teeth. The players are clearly tired of this too, and it's nice to see Wheeler display the chutzpah to go out there and say something about it. Of course, talk is cheap and now they have to go out there and back it up. Wheeler he wasn't brash enough to say that the Mets were the Team to Beat in the NL East, because they're not quite there yet, but he at least fired a salvo at the Nationals that was enough to say that just because things have been a certain way the past few seasons doesn't mean that that's going to continue.

The Nationals aren't the Phillies of 2007-2011. These Mets aren't the Mets of that era either, although at least one face remains from that time. In fact, if anything would posit a fair comparison, the Nationals are probably the Mets, the team that's on top, the team that's great and isn't afraid to let everyone know about it. The team with real hot dog—Harper—that many people don't like too much. The team that, when they lost in the postseason, many (mostly myself) found it enjoyable. They're the big, bad boys that are favorites to make the World Series. The Mets, right now, seem to be in the role of the Phillies. They're young and on the rise. They have a nucleus of pitching that's ready to strike and ready to interject themselves into the conversation as a contending team. They're the team that seems likely to hang around and hang around and then strike when the find a window. They're the team that, if you, or anyone on the team, would proclaim the Mets as the Team to Beat in the NL East, well, they'd probably get laughed at. Nobody on the Mets seems to be quite that brash yet, but internally, Zack Wheeler said what a lot of players seem to feel. They're not the same pushovers they once were. If Washington expects to win 14 of 18 from the Mets again, well, they've got another think coming. But now, they have to go and prove it.

But it's worth keeping in mind that everyone laughed at Jimmy Rollins when he said the 2007 Phillies were the Team to Beat, and look how that turned out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Eat and Run

I mentioned last week that Spring Training tends to proffer up very little in the way of newsworthy items in the early going. Mostly, what you get are stories of reclamation and/or human interest, with the occasional tale of internal strife that gets blown out of proportion because it's generally much ado about stuffing.

The Mets had one such story come out of camp this afternoon when, during an intrasquad game, an incident occurred when Noah Syndergaard was admonished by David Wright for taking a lunch break while the remainder of the team was in the dugout watching and/or playing in the game.

If this is the most excitement the Mets have going on, I have to say that's fine with me. For one, it means that David Wright has really taken this whole Team Captain thing to heart, and while he still may be mostly unexciting and speak in cliches, he's not just leading by example, he's actually getting on his teammate's cases in order to keep everyone focused and in line. It's a fairly minor offense; the sort of thing that would get a player hung up in Kangaroo Court were it someone of veteran status, but for a younger player who hasn't established himself on a team that's relying on a youth movement to return them to prominence, it's important to set an example of discipline and professionalism, and Wright more than anyone else understands that. Syndergaard wasn't scheduled to pitch and I assume just had a case of the munchies, but if nobody else is chowing down during the game (and I'm not sure why a ballplayer would want to eat during a game), perhaps Noah should have just popped some sunflower seeds and waited it out.

This probably wouldn't have been much of a story had it not happened in front of several members of the 4th estate, who watched and immediately pounced on the story, ready to make it into something more than it actually was. Wright spoke to Syndergaard, and apparently while the two were conversing, Wright was abetted by Bobby Parnell, who took it upon himself to clear Syndergaard's dishes right then and there, immediately ending the youngster's impromptu lunch hour. Later in the day, the press tried to blow the story up as they are wont to do, but Wright was mum on the topic, Syndergaard was contrite and admitted he was in the wrong, and pretty much all the veterans, and Terry Collins, praised Wright for vocally showing who the leader on this team is.

So, that was today's Mets news. Quite honestly, if the Mets drama needs to be artificially pumped up by the media, that's probably a good thing as far as team chemistry is concerned. By tomorrow, there will probably be plenty of jokes about it and we'll all move on.