Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Not Buying It

The Chicago Cubs of 2016 feel like something that's been foisted on us, sort of like Taylor Swift, the Cronut, or any dopey meme. Society told you that you have to root for the Cubs. They're the "loveable losers!" They "Haven't won since 1908!" Nobody's actually sure why they're supposed to root for the Cubs, but of course everyone seems to kiss their feet anyway. Since Day 1 this season, it's felt like everyone was supposed to just capitulate to the Mighty Cubs, get out of their way and run for their lives. For a team whose fan base already acted completely beknighted, well, this season they've been beyond obnoxious.

Unfortunately, the Cubs steamroller couldn't be stopped. They broke from the gate like a house on fire and didn't let up. They won the NL Central mostly by formality and by this point the Media Machine took hold and essentially turned the Postseason into the Cubs Coronation. The National League portion of the Postseason was totally unbearable. I liked none of the teams to begin with. The Cubs predictably beating the Giants was of scant consolation after what the Giants did to the Mets. I did enjoy watching the Nationals get beaten by the Dodgers and even more getting to see them lose another deciding game in their home ballpark, but the result of that, a Cubs/Dodgers NLCS, was just one shit show ending and another beginning. I rooted for the Dodgers, not so much because I wanted them to win, but because someone, anyone had to put the Cubs in their place. I would have loved to see the Mets get a crack at them, even in their mostly-neutralized state, but that didn't materialize. Of course, the Dodgers knuckled under themselves, and on Saturday night, Clayton Kershaw caved to the momentum and the Cubs won the pennant. Did you know that this was their first pennant since 1945? Well, even if you had no idea who the Cubs were before Saturday, everyone and their brother made sure you did.

So, now we're on to the World Series, and if you can believe it, there is another team here that the Cubs have to play, and they're a pretty good story in their own right. The intrepid Cleveland Indians, a team I've always had a soft spot for, somehow navigated their way through the American League playoffs in spite of the loss of two of their best pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, and boasting a lineup of few, if any, household names. Compare this to the Cubs, whose entire roster has been shoveled down our throats. But make no mistake, the Indians didn't make it here by accident. This is a good team, led by Terry Francona, who's been in this situation before.

This is of course a matchup of teams with checkered pasts. Did you know that the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908? Oh, wait, you did. Everyone told you that 418,614 times over the last week. But the Indians haven't won since 1948, now the second-longest drought. So one of those streaks is going to end this season.

Conventional wisdom has you picking the Cubs. Or did someone just tell you that the Cubs were the team to pick. Whatever it is, I'm picking the Indians. Never mind my disdain for the Cubs or my dislike for their annoying fans. Never mind the fact that I'm still steaming over the fact that the Mets didn't get another crack at them. I just think the Indians are better put together for this kind of a series. They attack early on offense, don't strike out much, and have an absurdly good bullpen, led by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, that can shorten games and will put pressure on the Cubs. The Cubs are a strikeout lineup which is masked by the fact that they're also a Home Run lineup, and guys like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and hotshot newcomers like Javier Baez and Addison Russell who have used this Postseason as their personal coming out parties.

So, yeah. This is going to be a really good series, and I don't think a short series. But if you can wipe away the Cubs Pie that's been shoved in your face all season, you'll be able to look beyond the hype and the insistent assertion that the Cubs are the "Team of Destiny" and see that the Indians are going to win in 7.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

2016 Mets: Resiliency & Character, Part II

OK. Enough dawdling and wallowing in the misery caused by not being able to get to the Giants bullpen. There's a second half of the report card to be done and we must get to it. The Mets used 22 Pitchers over the course of the 2016 season, and if you're surprised and think that's kind of a low number given the amount of injuries, well, you're not the only one. This is down from 26 Pitchers in 2015, and oddly matches the total of 2014. But if it makes you feel better, the 2013 Mets used 29 Pitchers and maybe 4 or 5 of them were any good. The 22 that surfaced for the 2016 Mets were far better than that. Or at least they were when they were healthy.

Thank you. Here's Side 2.

Bartolo Colon - A+
Bartolo will continue to get high grades for as long as he continues to defy logic as far as age and physical conditioning is concerned. There is simply no explanation as to how a 43-year old man who pushes 300lbs can not only win 15 games and lead the team, but also make 33 starts and not miss a single one all season. Viewed as a swing guy at the beginning of the season, Colon wound up being the constant. Never complains, always positive, great mentor for the younger guys. Hit his first Major League Home Run in May in what was one of the great moments of the season. 15-8, 191.2 IP led the team. 3.43 ERA. 128 Ks, 1.210 WHIP isn't great but included only 32BB, and someone who pitches the way he does will give up his share of hits.

Noah Syndergaard - A
Some time last offseason, I was discussing the spate of Pitching the Mets had and I mused that Syndergaard, just based on his performance in the Postseason, could easily be the best of the group. Now, close to a year later, I'd say I was probably right. I would have given Syndergaard this grade even before his outing in the Wildcard game. Yes, he had some uneven moments and a few instances where he simply didn't have it, but that's to be expected when you have a young star Pitcher in his first full season in the Majors. More often than not, however, Syndergaard was brilliant and fully justified the lofty hype placed on him. All business on the mound, totally unafraid to make an ass of himself off the field. Not afraid of the spotlight and slowly gaining the reputation as a big game pitcher. 30 starts, 14-9, 2.60 ERA led the team. 183.2 IP, 1.149 WHIP included 43 walks, 218 Ks also led the team.

Jacob deGrom - B
For a year when he really never looked quite right, deGrom continued to acquit himself as one of the best pitchers in the NL for most of the Summer. His season was slow to get in motion due to some family business, but once that settled and he got his sea legs under him, he was as good as anyone for about 3 months. Still, battled a lot with some lost velocity and mechanical issues that really seemed to bother him more than it should have. But he persevered, which is a testament to just how good a pitcher he is. But, at the end, it caught up with him and his final three outings featured him getting knocked around but good, and he was last seen doing the last thing any Mets fan would want to see him doing and willingly waving for Ray Ramirez. Of course, shortly thereafter, it was announced he was lost with ulnar nerve surgery, which I believe is what knocked Bob Ojeda out of the 1987 season. Not really worried about him going forward since if nothing else, he's proven what he can do with less than his best. 24 starts, 148 IP, disappointing 7-8 record, a 3.04 ERA and 1.203 WHIP more indicative of his late struggles, 36 BB, 143 Ks.

Steven Matz - B
You could probably copy and paste everything I said about deGrom here. After getting bombed off the mound in his first start, ran off two months of total brilliance when I thought he'd run away with the NL's Rookie of the Year. But then stumbled, which I initially chalked up to simple regression, but then it was revealed he had a bone spur issue in his already-troublesome elbow. Gamely tried to pitch through it and reeled off a series of inconsistent starts. Ultimately shut down in August after a shoulder injury flared up after a game in which he took a No Hitter into the 8th inning. Now, the shoulder is healing and the bone spur has been removed. Time to show what you've got. 22 starts, 132.1IP, 9-8, 3.40 ERA/1.209 WHIP, 31 BB, 129 Ks.

Matt Harvey - D
Ugh. Harvey getting cuffed around by the Royals on Opening Night was just a harbinger of a lost season. A year where Harvey struggled with all sorts of mechanical problems ended in July with him getting blasted off the mound by the Marlins and then shelved with a rather disconcerting vascular issue that pitchers haven't exactly had a good track record returning from. Stopped pitching with confidence and often looked confused and uncertain on the mound. Lightning rod for rumors based on his personality and off-the-field behavior, but in reality probably just an insecure headcase that needs to spend some time with a Sports Psychologist. 4-10, 4.86 ERA and 92.2 nasty innings included a 1.468 WHIP, 111 Hits and 76 Ks. 

Logan Verrett -  C-
Woefully unexciting fill-in type who had a great April and was only marginally useful thereafter once the league caught up with him. Was at one point the first option for swing starter but got passed over as the season went on and other options presented themselves. 35 games, 12 starts, 91.2 IP. 3-8 record, 5.20 ERA, 1.560 WHIP. 43 BB, 66 K.

Seth Lugo - B+
There was no particular logic that dictated Lugo would perform as well as he did. A decidedly-fly ball pitcher, this obviously worked for him at Citi Field but he made it translate into success on the road as well. Not a guy on anyone's radar at the beginning of the season but was enormously important down the stretch, winning 3 games and running off a sub-3 ERA in September. Overall 17 games, 8 starts, 64 IP. 5-2 record, 2.67 ERA, 1.094 WHIP. 21 BB, 45 Ks. How this holds up in the future I'm not sure but if nothing else he proved himself a legitimate option in case of emergency.

Robert Gsellman - A-
Lugo and Gsellman might be considered interchangeable just based on how they surfaced with the Mets this year, but while Lugo's sustainability is questionable, I think Gsellman showed he's a bit more the real thing. Consider that his Major League debut involved him getting thrown into a Nieseian Mess in the 1st inning of a key game in St. Louis and all he did was stop the bleeding and allow the Mets to win the game. From there, took a spot in the rotation and ran with it. Yes, I took to calling him "Fake deGrom" because I couldn't pronounce his name. But he showed he can hack it here. 8 games, 7 starts and the 8th may as well have been a start, 44.2 IP, 4-2 record. 2.42 ERA, 1.276 WHIP, 15 BB, 42 K.

Rafael Montero - F
He actually made a couple of relief appearances in April. He wasn't very good and was returned to the Minors rather quickly, so quickly that when he returned in late August to take a start against the Marlins, I'd forgotten he had pitched this season altogether. Made 3 starts and again wasn't especially good. Bloom's off his rose, I'm afraid. 9 games, 3 starts, 0-1, 8.05 ERA, 2.053 WHIP, 19 IP, 16 BB, 20 K.

Jeurys Familia - A-
I'm not including his performance in the Wildcard game in this evaluation. Frankly, I'm more inclined to chalk that up to his having a bad night at the worst possible time. Without Familia and the performance he had this season, the Mets probably aren't in that position in the first place. After emerging as a star closer last season, Familia improved on himself this season, not blowing a Save until late July and in several instances pulling himself out of his own hot water. Still, prone to off nights here and there and sometimes he's not quite game enough to fix his own messes. Also one of those closers with a weird non-Save Situation Thing that I can't figure out. But, all that being said, after so many years of dealing with 2nd rate guys filling the Closers role, it's nice to finally have someone with legitimate teeth coming in for the 9th inning. 78 Games, 77.2 IP. 3-4, 2.55 ERA, 1.210 WHIP, 31 BB, 84 Ks, 51 Saves set a new club record.

Addison Reed - A
I'm not sure where this season came from, I know Reed closed games with the White Sox and has had some prior success, but he did essentially arrive with the Mets as a castoff last year. I'm not complaining, though. Reed took off with the 8th inning role real early in the season and never looked back. In spite of some occasional hiccups, steadied games and more often than not locked down games in front of Familia. 80 games, 77.2 IP, 4-2, 1.97 ERA, 0.940 WHIP included an eye-popping 13 BB and 91 Ks. And 1 Save.

Hansel Robles - C+
Robles is, as far as I can tell, the antithesis of a relief pitcher. Has great stuff but is a goddamn headcase and you can never tell whether he has it from one day to the next. Would follow up games where he was totally lights out with games where he'd walk 4 guys and give up 3 runs. Very little in-between. Could stand to learn a little more maturity as well, or at least not let the sophomoric behavior of his opponents get in his head. 68 games, 77.2 IP (nice grouping), 6-4, 3.48 ERA, 1.352 WHIP included some bad, 36 BB, and some good, 85 Ks. Also 1 Save.

Jerry Blevins - B
Fine job in general as a lefty specialist. Had some rough moments but also looked really good for most of the season. 73 Games, 42 IP, like a true lefty specialist. 4-2, 2.79 ERA, 1.214 WHIP, 15 BB, 52 K, and even picked up 2 Saves.

Jim Henderson - C-
Started out looking like he was going to be the season's big surprise after a strong start, but ultimately showed he couldn't be depended on multiple days in a row, and then got hurt, which was disconcerting after he'd missed two seasons with major shoulder problems. Came back and was mostly pedestrian. Sort of got lost in a crowded bullpen. 44 Games, 35 IP, 2-2, 4.37 ERA, 1.400 WHIP, 14 BB, 40 K.

Antonio Bastardo - F
Brought in to be a lefty specialist or a swing guy, I guess. Absolutely excruciating to watch. Worked at a pace to rival Trachsel or Matsuzaka. Traded back to Pittsburgh after spending the month of July getting blasted. 41 Games, 43.1 IP, 4.74 ERA, 1.420 WHIP, 21 BB, 46 K.

Erik Goeddel - D
Goeddel is just one of these guys who "Trades high" because he has "Great stuff" but routinely can never get it together on the Major League level. Feels like it's always something with him. I could see him getting either non-tendered, pawned off on some other team, or given one more shot but I have no idea what to expect. 36 games, 35.2 IP, 4.54 ERA, 1.318 WHIP, 14 BB, 36 K. 

Gabriel Ynoa - D+
Seemed a bit overwhelmed at times. One decent start in an emergency situation, followed up by a start where he was pulled after the 2nd inning. 10 games, 3 starts, 18.1 IP, 1-0, 6.38 ERA, 1.800 WHIP. 7 BB, 17 Ks.

Sean Gilmartin - F
Feh. 17.2 IP, 7.13 ERA, rest of numbers won't tell you anything redeeming. 

Fernando Salas - A
Appeared in one of those Waiver Trade deadline deals from the Angels. Fine work in a variety of roles. 17 games, 17.1 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0.635 WHIP, 19 Ks and actually didn't walk anyone in his time here. 

Josh Smoker - B
Liked very much what I saw out of him. Fearless, hard throwing guy who seems to have a decent head for pitching. Numbers kind of look uglier than they should due to one bad outing. Probably better than a specialist particularly since he was markedly better against righthanders than lefties. 20 games, 15.1 IP. Won 3 games, 4.20 ERA, 1.304 WHIP, 4 BBs, 25 Ks. 

Jon Niese - C
This is another one of those instances where I'm giving someone a better grade than they deserve for snarky reasons. See, Niese was supposed to not be our problem anymore. The Mets traded him away, he made some obnoxious sour grapes comments as he was leaving, and he was now toiling (poorly) for Pittsburgh. But somehow he ended up back here, with a massive egg on his face and the same old noodnick we remembered him being. He started in the bullpen and then had to start a couple of games and was perfectly terrible, pitching to a 11.45 ERA in 11 innings that encompassed 6 games and 2 starts. But in that second start, as he was in the process of handing a 3-run lead back to the Cardinals, he got hurt, left the game, and was never seen again, and as a result the Mets instead got 7 starts from Gsellman, which ended up working out a lot better for them than 7 starts out of Niese would have.

Josh Edgin - D
Convinced he's a lost cause and probably never recovered mentally from that Home Run he gave up to Ryan Howard 4 years ago. Returned from the Big Boy Surgery, yes, but was eminently hittable. 16 games, 10.1 innings, 5.23 ERA, 1.548 WHIP, 6BB, 11K. Take it or leave it. 

And, of course,
Terry Collins - B+
Over the years, I've become more and more supportive of Collins, and really, I'm not sure there's a single more divisive person involved with the Mets right now. Mets fans either like Collins or they can't stand him, and it's a pretty good barometer of just how smart that Mets fan is. If, like me, you realize that a manager is only going to be as good as the players he's got, you realize Collins' value. For 4 years, Collins had virtually nobody on the team and still managed to keep them moderately competitive for parts of seasons before harsh reality set in. Then, last year, he took the Mets from out of nowhere to the World Series, and this season took a team that was just decimated, kept them together, kept them playing hard, got meaningful contributions out of guys fresh off the bus and got them to a Wildcard game. I know that some of this is beyond Collins (and guys like Frank Viola deserve a wealth of credit as well). And I know that Collins has his limits tactically, but the moments I could call a move he's made truly stupid are pretty rare. People may not like it, but a Manager's job isn't to please the fans. As such, the more I started to hear fans yell and scream for Wally Backman because he was going to "Show some fire" and "kick some ass" and "flip over tables," and because he's a beloved '86 Met, the more I began to dislike Backman and support Collins even more. I know that some fans I've spoken with were at least curious as to what Backman could bring to the team, but in reality, he probably wouldn't have been much better than Collins. I had no sense as to whether he'd be an actual improvement. If the other option were someone of the Bobby Valentine ilk, I could see it. The telling thing for me about Backman was that if people really felt he was cut out to be a Major League Manager, someone would have hired him years ago, and that never happened. Even the Marlins, a team who's entire existence is based around pissing off the Mets, never hired him, and they have a new Manager every two years.

Point here is, I think that Mets fans ought to be a little more appreciative of the job Collins has done here over his 6 seasons. It's been far from perfect but at the same time he's kept teams together and kept them playing hard, and even in instances when it seemed like things were completely hopeless.

So, that's that for 2016. Hope you've enjoyed the summation. Now, we have to sit back and watch what should be a completely unbearable NLCS, and I'm saying that before we even know who the Cubs are going to face. We'll always have last year, though.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Static and Silence

Sometimes, all the superstitions, and good karma, and good omens and signs that you try to build up prior to a Baseball game can be no match for the irrepressible talent of the participants in the game itself. We got a bitter taste of this first hand last night as the Mets fell to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants 3-0, losing the Wildcard game and rather abruptly ending their season for 2016.

I've been to more than plenty Postseason games over my years with the team, but I'm not sure I'd ever been to a game quite like this. I am, generally, nervous before these games, and I know I'm not the only one. But going in to Citi Field last night, I was a different kind of nervous. Generally, it's more like the need to jump around and release energy and scream a lot. Like last season against the Dodgers. Last night...I'm not sure. It was pretty close to legitimate fear, and probably because the Mets were going into a win-or-go-home game against a guy whose raison d'ĂȘtre is coming up big in these kind of games.

That was the mood in the audience all night. At introductions, they were roaring. As the game progressed and Noah Syndergaard matched Bumgarner zero for zero, everyone was with it. Fans were standing and jumping from the player introductions straight through the middle of the 1st inning. Up on every 2-strike pitch. Up for entire innings. I know. I have the knots in my calves to prove it.

This was a crowd of 44,747 that literally had their assholes tighten up every time a pitch was delivered, and I mean this was legitimate. Whether it was Syndergaard or Bumgarner, each time they wound up, 44,000 sphincters collectively went SHOONK! The entire stadium would go silent to the point where you could hear Noah's heat crack into Rene Rivera's glove all the way up in Section 509, row 16.

There is no shame in how this game played out. Bumgarner's track record speaks for itself and while the Mets approach early in the game—to be aggressive and try to attack him early—was well-intentioned, in execution it ultimately spelled disaster. Bumgarner sliced through the Mets on a paltry 21 pitches through the first 3 innings, and though the Mets did what they could to wait him out from there, they'd already played into his hands.

I'm not sure I could properly put into words just how good Noah Syndergaard was in this game. You can anoint guys, and give them a persona just based on potential, but as a capper to his first full season in the Majors, I'm not sure you could throw a much better game than Syndergaard did short of going the full 9 innings. There were days I'd watched Harvey go out and pitch like he had smoke coming out of his ears, and that's how Syndergaard looked in this game. Everything was working from the 1st inning. By the 6th, he still hadn't allowed a hit, but I don't know if anyone was cognizant or even cared about that—we just wanted him to keep striking guys out and keep the Giants scoreless. Only when Denard Span singled with 2 out in the 6th did the Giants notch one in the H column, and that went nowhere as Brandon Belt's horrifically scary-looking fly ball was run down by Curtis Granderson at the Center Field fence, sending everyone into a frenzy and eliciting screams of "Endy Chavez, JR!" from me, among others.

Syndergaard ended up with 10 strikeouts against a lineup that doesn't strike out all that much, which only illustrates just how on he was...but also illustrates the fragility of Pitching in this day and age, because by time he hit the 7th inning—and cracked 100 pitches—he was out of steam, and it wasn't really up for much debate. We'd already gone through sending the guy back out there and the ensuing chaos, but there wasn't any particular good use in sending Syndergaard back out there if he was starting to tire out. Particularly when you have Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia specifically to work these innings. Reed did his job, in spite of getting hosed by Mike Winters' erratic strike zone. Familia came in for the 9th and there was no reason to think he wouldn't do his job as well...

And that, of course, is where the clock struck midnight on the Mets for 2016. The Mets normally reliable closer had a bad night where he couldn't find the plate. He left a pitch up to a 8th-place hitting journeyman. The air was sucked right out of the building. Bumgarner came back out and finished what he started. And that, my friends, was that.

These Postseason games at Citi Field have sort of turned into a total Shit Show as far as egress is concerned, but maybe that's not a bad thing. It is helpful for me, at least, and George as well, to slowly exit the stadium after a game like this, process it all, and then start to get over it. Most people, I'd like to think, used this time to do that, but I think a game like this brought out some of the best, but also some of the worst in Mets fans. Some were anointing Familia as the new Benitez. Some blamed Terry Collins for not leaving Syndergaard in, or not taking Familia out, or using Eric Campbell and Ty Kelly as pinch hitters in the 8th inning. Or because they stepped in gum. Or Yoenis Cespedes for not hitting. Or whatever. I can understand that just making it to this Postseason Arena is enough to make you greedy, because if the Mets could overcome what they had to overcome just to get to this point, well, hell, let's see how far we can go. Especially on the heels of 2015. It makes it very easy to lose the perspective of just how miraculous it was to get her altogether. If 2015 was amazing because the team had a young core that gelled really quickly and sort of overachieved, I think 2016 is just as amazing because all the young core guys (and several other not-so-young guys) got hurt and the team basically had to rebuild itself on the fly...and still managed to make it to a Wildcard game. Blame blame whoever you want, everyone involved deserves some credit for keeping this thing going to this point.

But I am disappointed. By the 9th inning, I had visions of a walkoff, and pulling my hood over my head, wrinkling my face into a scowl and in my best Bill Belichick voice mutter "On to Chicago." And I was looking forward to having the opportunity to watch the Mets ruin the Cubs' Dream Season. But that's not going to happen, and that's really a shame. I know the Mets were undermanned and overmatched, but they managed to carry on.

There's ultimately a lot of pride that Mets fans should take away from a loss like this. First of all, as I said, the fact that they got to a Wildcard game in the first place is incredible given that they were trotting out 4th options in many places most games down the stretch. But these guys play, and more importantly they've now had that crucible. I said it before but the depth the Mets have developed in certain areas is pretty impressive all things considered. It's a privilege to be able to play in this Postseason arena and teams that make it every year might take this for granted, but this is only the second time the Mets have made it this far in consecutive years, and really, if you look at everything that's gone on this past season, between injuries and bad luck and more injuries, just think about what would have happened if the Mets were healthy all year. Hearsay, yes, but the way this roster is put together right now, is it so outlandish to think about 3 Postseason years in a row? Overly optimistic, perhaps, and it's very much a long way away from now, but that's how this team has been set up.

So, that's it for the Mets in 2016, about a month sooner than I would have liked. But, that's life on the Lower East Side. This year, I gave Citi Field my traditional farewell pound and said to the old joint that I'll see you again on April 3rd, 2017. When we'll start this story over. And hopefully, we'll get it right.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Fight Test

I realize I've promised Part II of my season report card but those take a long time and the Mets have a game now. So it will have to wait, win or lose.

I've been to 11 Postseason games (of which I consider a separate entity from the 400 Regular Season games I attended), 6 of which came just last year--the benefits of being a ticket plan holder--and of those 11, 4 of those had the potential to be series-ending games, and 3 of them ended actually being series-ending games. Wednesday night will be #12, and of course the first time that I'll be attending a game where one team's season is guaranteed to be over.

I find it interesting to look back on these numbers and figures and potential results of things to see if there's some sort of pattern going forward. There really isn't any that I can look at here. Especially when you consider tonight's game is, for all intents and purposes, a 1-game Series, winner take all. 

The only way to look at this game, I suppose, is the same way teams have a tendency to play out most Playoff games, which is to do everything that's absolutely necessary to win that game and then worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. In this case, I suppose it's do whatever you can and then a little bit more, because unlike losing the first game of a Division Series or Championship Series if this one slips by, it's see you next April.

But that's the fragility of the Postseason and in particular the fragility of being in a Wildcard situation. It's not like 1999 and 2000 when the Mets won the Wildcard and got to hop right in to the NLDS. Now, they have to get through the Giants and Madison Bumgarner who you might have heard has a decent track record in the Postseason. This hasn't been shoved down our throats at all. Nor has the fact that the Giants have a whole Even Year thing going.

This is mostly antimatter for me; the Mets have plenty working for them, too. For one, the team as a whole was the hottest team in Baseball over the last 6 weeks of the season, a skein that started while the Mets were playing the Giants out in San Francisco. The Mets also have their answer to Bumgarner pitching in Noah Syndergaard. True, Syndergaard doesn't have the track record of his counterpart, but it's not as though he hasn't been in this arena before.

These are two pitchers you really don't want to fuck around with. Last time Bumgarner was seen in the Postseason he was pitching 5 innings of shutout relief in the 7th game of the World Series on 2-days' rest. Syndergaard's last dance saw him buzz Alcides Escobar with a 97-MPH fastball under his chin before leading the Mets to a win. And yet, both could be had on the wrong day. The Giants had a game earlier this year where they ran him to death. The Mets ambushed Bumgarner one night in San Francisco.

The focus lies on the starting pitchers here so much so that we're not paying attention to the other players in this game. The Giants would do well to try and make contact, get on base and distract Syndergaard. The Mets best shot is to try and make Bumgarner waste a lot of pitches early in the game and get into the Giants' awful bullpen. Neither may happen. Both could happen. That's Baseball.

The only sure thing is I won't sleep much tonight and I'll be at Citi Field around 8pm to watch this all unfold.

Monday, October 3, 2016

2016 Mets: Resiliency & Character, Part I

As was the case last season, I'm writing out this Mets Report Card before the story of the 2016 has been completely written. 2016 started out well enough, but after a strong April, the Mets stagnated for a good 3 1/2 months, looking very much like a team that was tired and suffering from World Series Hangover. Players were injured, others were underperforming, and the whole thing was a mess as the season continued to unravel.

But, something funny happened. The Mets never died. They just kind of hung around, took advantage of other slumping teams around them and then caught fire at the exact right time. They went from a listless 60-62 to run off a 27-12 record over the last 6 weeks of the season in order to catch and pass four teams in front of them and clinch the top National League Wildcard spot on the second to last day of the season.

How do you describe it? Breathless? Improbable? I keep thinking of adjectives, but in the end, I keep coming back to the fact that it's just Baseball and it's the nature of the game for things like this to happen. What it will lead to, I have no idea. But for only the second time in the history of the team, they've managed to make the Postseason in consecutive years and sometimes, it doesn't matter how you get there, just so long as you get there.

So, Rapid Fire Report Card time is upon us again. The Mets used 46 players in 2016. I know it seems like they used way more than that and if you want to have your mind blown, the Mets actually used 49 players over the course of the 2015 season. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. More impressive is the fact that of the 46, only 22 were pitchers, and 24 were position players. We will, as usual, begin with the position players and the pitchers are forthcoming.

Travis d'Arnaud - F
It's now been a few years of waiting on d'Arnaud to really have that kind of breakout year we think he's capable of, but instead what ends up happening is that he gets hurt about 2-3 weeks into April, misses about 8-10 weeks, and then comes back and it takes him forever to get on track. Last year, down the stretch, he got it together. This year, he never did. He had a passably good August...and then went back in the tank. This isn't now where we can count on him going forward. It's now crossroads and one more chance to get it together. .247/.307/.323, 4 HRs and 15 RBI in 251 ABs isn't going to cut it for anyone.

Rene Rivera - B+
I wouldn't use this disparity in grades between d'Arnaud and Rivera to say that I think Rivera was demonstrably better than d'Arnaud, because offensively, he wasn't. But given that Rivera was a scrap heap pickup that turned into a reasonably solid defensive solution (and personal catcher for Syndergaard), that provided sporadic offensive sparks, well, you can't ask for a great deal more from him. .222/.291/.341 isn't eye-popping but 6 HRs and 26 RBI in 185 AB is better than d'Arnaud generated this year.

Kevin Plawecki - D
I'll be hard on Plawecki too, because this is now twice he's really had a major opportunity to show he's an every day Major League Catcher dropped right in his lap and he hasn't picked up the reins and run with it. Because d'Arnaud keeps getting hurt, I'd love to be able to say that the Mets could simply hand the job over to Plawecki and run with it from there, but while his defense has been OK (let's say somewhere in between d'Arnaud and Rivera), he just hasn't hit much at all, so...now what?.195/.299/.258, 1 HR 10 RBI in 128 ABs. I always think it's a weird sign when a guy's OBA is higher than his slugging percentage. Take from that what you will.

James Loney - B
I feel like I'll be doing this a lot this season, parsing out some higher grades than you think a certain player might merit just based on the fact that he wasn't on the team or wasn't expected to do much and delivered slightly better results. I give Loney this benefit based on the fact that he wasn't even in the Major Leagues at the beginning of the season, came here basically in an absolute emergency situation, stepped in and did OK. Not great, not off the charts, just OK. But that was all the Mets needed him to do, just be OK and not be a negative. His defense for the most part was fine, he came up with some important hits and at times when nobody else was doing much of anything, popped a few key Home Runs and took it from there. We weren't expecting to need 343 ABs from James Loney. But the .265/.305/.397 with 9 HRs and 34 RBI is about as good a return as could be expected.

Neil Walker - B+
Walker's fine season sort of gets swept under the rug a little bit, partially because of the back injury that ended his season a month early, but primarily because the enigmatic fellow that he replaced had a career year of monumental proportions and shoved it in the Mets' faces on a regular basis. But it's not as though Walker was a slouch. Ostensibly, Walker was Murphy with a lower Batting Average, fewer puzzling mental mistakes and no instances of hopping around the field like a scalded dog. Walker, like basically everyone else on the team, slumped badly in June and July but he was great in April, great after the All Star Break and carried the team for a spell before he got hurt. Only managed 113 games and 412 AB, but tied a career-high with 23 HR and went .282/.347/.476 with 55 RBI. Free Agent to be so his status is sort of unknown but I wouldn't have a problem with bringing him back.

Asdrubal Cabrera - B+
Not sure where, exactly, this season came from for Cabrera, but I'm not complaining. This was one of the more under-the-radar signings that the Mets have ever made and it turned into absolute Gold. Cabrera loses some points because he slumped pretty badly in the middle of the season and had that whole RISP issue. And then he got hurt in July and from the way it looked when it happened I assumed he was done for the season. Somehow, he was out but two weeks, and when he came back it was like a different player. Hitting between Reyes and Cespedes just rejuvenated him and all of a sudden over the last 6 weeks of the season he turned into Mr. Clutch. Also better D than expected for the most part and in general a steady, reliable presence on the field and a real leader-type off the field. And depending on how things go from here that 11th inning Home Run against Philadelphia could end up turning into one of the more iconic moments in team history. .280/.336/.474, 23 HRs set a club record for SS and 62 RBI.

Jose Reyes - B+
To paraphrase Jack Kerouac, "You never should have left the Mets. But now, you're back and everything is OK again." I've said it a few times before but I'll say it once again. I absolutely get why people might hate Reyes now. What he did to his wife was despicable and shouldn't be condoned. And I admit I was as skeptical as anyone when he was brought back here. But the more time passed and Reyes got to doing Jose Reyes things again, sentimentality just got the better of me. I can only imagine how fast he must have run to get back to the Mets and having him back here just feels right. I know that this isn't 2006 Jose Reyes anymore and he's never going to be that dynamic guy again. But he came in here and injected an energy to the Mets offense that just didn't exist. He was the leadoff hitter they didn't have, he started getting key hits, and he all of a sudden became the ringleader of this bizarre Three Caballeros thing with Cabrera and Cespedes. You want one of the key reasons the Mets managed to make it back to the Postseason, Jose Reyes is it. .267/.326/.443, 8 Home Runs, 24 RBI in 255 ABs.

Lucas Duda - C
I was sorely tempted to grade Duda lower, if only because before he got injured in May, he hadn't really done much and didn't go on one of his trademark hot streaks where he hits 8 Home Runs in 5 days, but then he got hurt and for a while there it looked like he was going to fade out into oblivion, but somehow he came back right in the middle of the final weeks and no, he didn't do much, and durability-wise he was shot, but at least he came back, so I have to give him some credit for that. 47 Games and 153 ABs led to .229/.302/.412, 7 HR, 23 RBI. It doesn't say much by itself but the potential from his bat was definitely missed over a large swath of the Summer.

Wilmer Flores - B
Flores started off the season as one of those players that the Mets weren't quite sure what to do with. The one thing they couldn't do was get rid of him, because he's now so firmly entrenched as a fan favorite that there would have been a revolt if he were dealt. Plus, to be clear, I am still firmly on the Flores bandwagon and I think the Mets would be short-sighted to not find some place for him somewhere, and ultimately they did, because people kept getting hurt. To his advantage, Flores can play every Infield position reasonably well, which is to say it's an adventure but he won't embarrass himself. Also I believe ended up being the Mets best hitter against Left-handed pitching to the tune of a .340 BA and 11 HRs. Unfortunately, his season ended up getting short-circuited in Atlanta when Collins forgot to remove him for a Pinch Runner and he subsequently wound up getting thrown out at Home Plate on a close play in a close game and in his ensuing collision with Pierzynski injured himself in so many different ways that it's ended up shelving him for the duration of the season. Which might become a big problem on Wednesday night. 307 ABs, .267/.319/.469, 16 HR, 49 RBI. Now project that over a full season...

Kelly Johnson - B+
Returned in June as the Mets had to essentially hand over more Prospects to Atlanta to make up for their short-sightedness in not re-signing him in the first place. Returned and was gangbusters off the bench, though his .178 BA as a pinch hitter might not indicate as such, he did hit 4 HRs and drove in 11 runs in that role so he made his hits count. It's tough to know what to do with someone like Johnson, who at this point in his career is best suited for the role the Mets have given him, but the propensity with guys like that is to go with someone younger and/or cheaper. But it's hard to argue with someone who came in mid-stream and in 183 ABs hit .268/.328/.459 with 9 HR and 24 RBI with as many doubles (9) as Neil Walker.

David Wright - C+
I give Wright a higher grade than maybe he deserves because it's not really his fault that Management expected him to be able to play out a full season given his spinal stenosis, his age and the fact that he began to move with the grace of Ryan Howard. I'm also not surprised that once he did go down, that was it for him. The 37 games and 137 ABs he got only produced .226/.350/.438 with 7 HRs and 14 RBI. I mean, yes, in a similar vein to Reyes, for sentimental purposes we all wanted Wright to come back and turn back the clock to 2006-2008 David Wright, who was young, and happy, and peppy and hit everything in sight. Those days are unfortunately over and at this point it's not even clear if we'll see Wright on the field again, which on the one hand would be a shame, because I think he deserved a better ending than this, but on some level might also be a bit of a relief because as a team the Mets could move forward.

T.J. Rivera - A-
Rivera is clearly Daniel Murphy for the new generation. Undrafted kid from the Bronx, drifted through the system mostly un-noticed, called up late in the season, started hitting and eventually hit his way into the lineup on a regular basis as players fell around him. Clearly a Murphy-type, hits line drives all over the place and scares the hell out of you on defense. So far, fortunately, I haven't seen him try to steal second before the Pitcher throws the ball or field a ground ball in Right Field and take a flying leap and try to throw a runner out at 3rd Base. But 105 ABs produced .333/.345/.476 with 3 Home Runs and 16 RBI.

Matt Reynolds - B
I grade out Reynolds well simply based on the fact that I'm under the impression he was another all-glove, no-hit Shortstop and he did display a little bit on offense, most notably a Home Run to win a game vs KC in June and another one when he spent the entire night leading up to the game on airplanes. To the best of my knowledge played reasonably well defensively. 89 ABs, .225/.266/.416 but 3 HR and 13 RBI so he made his hits count.

Eric Campbell - D
Still not quite sure why he's here. Basically a Josh Satin clone without the eyebrows. Fortunately we weren't exposed to him for any more than 75 ABs this season, as opposed to 173 last year and 190 the year before. 1 HR, 9 RBI, .173/.284/.227. Yawn city.

Gavin Cecchini
When you're the 46th of 46 guys and you only get 6 ABs, most of them in mopup situations, you don't get a grade just yet. Purported to have a good enough bat to play somewhere but nobody's quite sure where yet. Did hit .333 and both his hits were doubles.

Curtis Granderson - B-
Granderson probably had the most uneven season of anyone, as he spent the first half of the year stuck in a 2014-esque quagmire, then he got shifted down in the lineup and started hitting again in the 2nd half of the season and down the stretch was one of the more potent bats the Mets had going for a while. As usual never complained and always smiled. Somehow managed to end up this season with 30 HRs to go along with 59 RBI, a side effect of hitting out of the leadoff spot half the season. Even hit a pair of electrifying walk-off Home Runs over the course of the year. .237/.335/.464 and maybe he's not done just yet. 

Yoenis Cespedes - A
For as good as Cespedes was last season, he was equally as good, if not better, this season. I realize that his season gets lost amid groundbreaking seasons from other guys in the NL, but the fact that he's not discussed among MVP candidates is totally asinine because for 4 months he absolutely carried the team even when he was essentially forced to play out on one leg. More importantly seems to genuinely enjoy playing here and doing Home Run dances with Cabrera and Reyes. Even if he opts out the Mets have to figure out a way to keep him here. It's just too good of a fit. If you really need to back it up with numbers, 479 ABs produced .280/.354/.530, 31 HR, 86 RBI, all totals that led the team and in most cases by a significant margin.

Michael Conforto - D
One month into the season, Michael Conforto looked every bit like he was ready to make The Leap into the upper echelon of young stars. But after being mostly spotted in against left handed pitching, which wasn't exactly well-advised in the first place, Conforto was thrown out against Madison Bumgarner, who made him look silly, and after that it seems he was never quite the same. He hit .365 in April, and followed it up by going .169 in May and .119 in June, and then was back in AAA to try and get it back together. After a strong performance in the Minors, he came back and again was inconsequential. So the cycle repeated. He returned in September and started to get his luster back a little bit, but by this point it was too far gone to make much of a difference. It feels like a wasted year overall. I still think that at age 23 he still has the potential to be as good as he's displayed at times but it's also a cautionary tale about messing around with the development of young talent. Part of me thinks that Conforto, among other Mets, needs a therapist as opposed to a hitting coach because slumps like this induced by one bad instance often seem indicative of a mental issue, not a mechanical issue. I know people, particularly athletes, don't like to make this acknowledgement but sometimes it's more helpful than they realize. 304 ABs, .220/.310/.414, 12 HR, 42 RBI. Wouldn't have thought that at the end of April.

Alejandro De Aza - C
Wouldn't have graded him this high except that after I brazenly predicted that he'd be the first Met to be DFA'd this season he proved me wrong by sticking around all year. That's not to say he didn't deserve it at times but come the second half he did some useful things. 234 ABs, .205/.297/.321, 6 HR, 25 RBI.

Jay Bruce - C-
It took close to 2 months but Bruce finally shook off the cobwebs of being traded during the last 8 or so days of the season when he hit 4 Home Runs and batted close to .500 during the most crucial week of the season. Give him credit for this, particularly since he spent the first 7 weeks of his Mets tenure in an absolute fog, where he barely hit anything, wound up getting booed mercilessly by impatient Mets fans, benched, and pinch hit for in key situations. You can't say that going .219/.294/.391 with 8 HR and 19 RBI in 8 weeks here is great for him but, again, think about Flores for a second. It's not exactly easy getting uprooted from the only team you've ever known in the middle of a season so I'm sure it was jarring for him to get moved even if he expected it coming.

Juan Lagares - D
The bloom, I think, is officially off the Lagares rose. Now two years removed from a Gold Glove season, he can still play CF well but doesn't seem to be capable of much else. Never really developed offensively like many hoped he would and also missed a significant part of the season hurt much like last year. I mean if he could be counted on to come off the bench and do something meaningful offensively I'd feel more in his corner but do the Mets really have room for another Outfielder who might not hit? Limited to 142 ABs, .239/.301/.380, 3 HR, 9 RBI.

Brandon Nimmo - B
Is he or isn't he? I'm not quite sure. First time he came up, he played regularly and performed reasonably well, happened to coincide with the Chicago series and he had his hands all over that weekend by driving in a game winning run in one game and hitting a 3-run Home Run the next game. Sent down and didn't see much burn when recalled. Did have some key pinch hits down the stretch. I'd say give him a longer look but I don't know where he fits. 32 Games, 73 ABs. .274/.338/.329, 1 HR, 6 RBI and not enough to go into deeper splits to try and tell a story.

Ty Kelly - C
Woefully unexciting utility guy, sort of out of the Danny Muno mold because I guess every season the Mets need to have one of those guys. Mostly a 4-A type that will keep getting called up and sent back to AAA because he's liable to get overexposed in a longer sample. In short stints, he's fine. .241/.352/.345, 1 HR, 7 RBI in 58 ABs. More PT wouldn't have proven anything.

Justin Ruggiano - B
When he was here, he did hit, to the tune of .350/.409/.650, with 2 Home Runs (one of which was a grand slam off of Wednesday Night's opposing pitcher) and 6 RBI. But the problem was, he was barely here, as indicated by the fact that he played in three games, got hurt, came back two weeks later, played in another 5 games, got hurt again and that was it for Ruggiano. 8 games, 20 ABs. Lefty masher that's been cast off from several teams and isn't really a masher. Do with that what you will.

Tune in shortly for Pitchers!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Silent Finale

The Mets finished out their 2016 Regular Season campaign with an innocuous 5-2 loss in Philadelphia, the second time in a week in which the game might be more remembered for the emotion displayed by the home team and their fans. This wasn't the abject sadness of last Monday in Miami, this was your more standard Baseball Farewell, as the Phillies gave Ryan Howard the grand sendoff in what would be his final game with the team. So the game itself, which was as Keith Hernandez noted early, being played by teams that have one foot on the bus already, was background to a series of ovations afforded to Howard.

Our stance on Howard here is rather predictable. After hitting 131 Home Runs and driving in 784 against the Mets, we wish him well and hope he signs with the Anaheim Angels, far, far away from us.

The focus now of course turns to the San Francisco Giants, who wrapped up the second National League Wildcard spot by virtue of a rather easy 7-1 win over the Dodgers. This was sort of pick your poison for the Mets. In one respect, I suppose you'd rather play the Cardinals, just based on the fact that the Giants will have Mr. Postseason, Madison Bumgarner, pitching for them on Wednesday night. But the Cardinals appeared to be gearing up for another stupid Postseason run of their own, where they get every break and any team that gets a little peppy immediately is turned to mush by one of Genius Mike Matheny's LaRussian Mind Tricks. So I'm glad that they're not relevant in this story altogether.

That being said, Bumgarner is no treat for the Mets. Noah Syndergaard is no treat for the Giants either, however, and sure, you can point to Bumgarner's track record, but it's not as though Syndergaard hasn't been through the crucible of the Playoffs before. Remember this?

He should be OK.

Meanwhile, the other noteworthy farewell on this day was that of Vin Scully, who called his final Dodgers game this afternoon in San Francisco after 67 years with the team. I talk a lot here about awful announcers, especially those who are feted on a National stage, and part of the reason it's easy for me to pick on bad announcers is because I've been spoiled my entire life, having grown up listening to Bob Murphy, and for a generation having Murph and Gary Cohen on the radio, and now for the past decade, Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith.

But can you imagine what it must be like for the Dodgers now? I would have to guess that for close to 75% of Dodgers fans, this is all you know, absolute and utter brilliance from the booth on a daily basis. And I know that in recent years Vin hasn't done road trips East of the Rockies so maybe that's something, but man, that's really going to be a culture shock.

Vin Scully will of course always hold a warm place in the hearts of Mets fans as he's the one who manned the mic for NBC back in 1986, and so it's his voice that we hear every time we go back to that year. He usually let the pictures tell the story; to wit, he goes silent for about 2 1/2 minutes after Ray Knight scored the winning run in Game 6, but perhaps his ability to sum things up afterward goes overlooked.

Someone uploaded some uncut footage of NBC's Broadcast of Game 7 of the World Series from '86, and we know what went down, but as time passed and NBC eventually signed off the air, back came Vin for one final word. I have no idea if this will start in the right place but if it doesn't, just forward to about 10:00 in and listen.

Now That's what I call a signoff.

Saturday, October 1, 2016


So if you can believe it, the Mets, after sitting at 60-62 on August 20th, have now not only clinched one of the National League Wildcard spots, but they'll be hosting the game outright on Wednesday night. A team that was basically spinning into utter 2001-ness somehow reached back and rolled out a 1973 finish, steaming home on a 27-12 run that has seen contributions come from all sorts of strange faces, many of them unfamiliar.

How did they do it? Mostly, it's been resiliency. This is a team that probably could have thrown in the towel at any number of points during the season, but they never did. They lost 4/5ths of their starting rotation and didn't fold. For the clinching game on Saturday, 4 of the 9 players in the starting lineup were there on Opening Day, and 3 of those 4 spent large chunks of time on the DL. Somehow, Terry Collins and company kept this team playing together, and these players kept playing for each other, and now they've been rewarded by earning themselves a trip back to the Playoffs, only the second time in the history of the franchise that they've reached the Postseason in back-to-back years.

It's different from last year. Last season was a second-half groundswell that had been building for months, but didn't take off until Yoenis Cespedes arrived, and once they got going, they just couldn't be stopped. This season had the feel of a slow descent into oblivion, the more players got hurt and the team didn't hit. But the thing was, for as bad as things were going, they were never out of it. And then they were 60-62, and they started getting these injured guys back. Cespedes. Asdrubal Cabrera. Jose Reyes. Who the hell figured Jose Reyes was going to play a key role on this team, especially after his shameful off-field conduct? Steven Matz goes down. Seth Lugo picks up the slack. Jacob deGrom goes down. Robert Gsellman picks up the slack. Bartolo Colon continues to reel off victories like he's 23 again. T.J. Rivera starts getting big hits. Alejandro De Aza gets big hits, one night it's Kelly Johnson, another it's Michael Conforto, another it's James Loney. Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce start to turn back into themselves. They come from 5 1/2 games back and hop over 4 teams, and now here they are.

After the six years of Met Hell, we've now been rewarded with a pair of golden years. Of course, I have no idea what will happen to the Mets from here. This could be a short-lived period of Postseason euphoria or this could be the greatest story the Mets have ever written. I already went through the long, strange trip the season is last season.  The only guarantee right now is that the Mets have a game tomorrow, which is meaningless. Then, they have a game on Wednesday night, at Citi Field, with Noah Syndergaard on the mound and 44,000 Mets fans that will literally be roaring for more. Just, after the weird, incongruous season that they've had through 161 games, I guess it does make sense that the Mets have managed to pull this feat off. Because that's Baseball. That's just Baseball.