Frankly, the Mets should be ashamed of themselves.
It’s not just about losing one game either. It’s about playing embarrasingly bad baseball for two straight Septembers, about coughing up a three-and-a-game lead over your last 17 games, about losing six of your last nine to conclude a summer of disappointment, and about scoring a grand total of six runs in the final series of the season. Six runs. The Mets had everything to play for over the weekend, the Marlins had nothing to play for but pride, and yet the Mets could muster only one win–supplied almost single-handedly by the great Johan Santana on Saturday.
Other than Santana and Carlos Beltran, few of the Mets seemed to show up over the weekend. With the season hanging in the balance and capacity crowds on hand to bid farewell to Shea Stadium, the Mets played with all the intensity and effectiveness of a B-team in spring training. The main culprits? You can certainly point to the offense, which garnered a grand total of four hits in Sunday’s finale, and you can certainly point to that dreadful bullpen. At a time when the Mets needed two or three relievers to step up in the absence of Billy Wagner, only Subway Joe Smith provided a boost to Jerry Manuel, who tried just about everyone he could lay his hands on. As much as some observers want to pin goat horns on Omar Minaya for failing to acquire an effective reliever down the stretch, I’ll place most of the blame on Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano. If those two had pitched remotely close to their potential–let’s say the level we saw from them two years ago–the Mets, not the Brewers, would today be wild card winners.
A second straight September collapse must sting badly for Mets fans. I hope it stings just as badly for the players. After all, they are the ones responsible for this mess of underachievement. They blew it, plain and simple.
So who has the advantage between the Brewers and Mets, who are currently locked in a flat-footed tie for the National League wild card? Both teams will be at home for the final weekend, but both face potentially annoying competition. The Brewers will host the Cubs, the best team in the league this season, in a three-game weekend series at Miller Park. Even though they’ve already clinched a division title, the Cubs will field their A-lineup against the Brewers, but they really have no tangible incentive to play all-out this weekend. The same could be said of the already-eliminated Marlins, who will engage the Mets in their Shea Stadium swansong, but would love nothing better than to play the role of spoiler against New York. No one needs to remind the Mets that it was the Marlins, angered by the showboating of Jose Reyes, who eliminated them on the final day of the season in 2007. I see a different outcome this time, with Jerry Manuel providing a calm hand, Carlos Beltran delivering at least two big hits, and Luis Ayala emerging as a bullpen savior over the final weekend…
It’s amazing to me how many baseball bloggers–some of whom I enjoy reading frequently–simply can’t resist talking politics on the eve of the November elections. Will Carroll and Scott Long of Baseball Toaster, along with Steven Goldman of the YES Network, have regularly included political commentary relating to the Obama-McCain race for the White House. On the one hand, their decisions to mix politics with baseball talk are understandable; the blogs belong to them, and they can do what they want. On the other hand, they do bill themselves first and foremost as baseball writers. In a sense, it’s a kind of false advertising, creating an expectation of baseball conversation for the reader, then using a bait-and-switch and turning the talk over to politics. My opinion on this issue remains the same. There are plenty of avenues for political discourse across the Web, ranging from the Keith Olbermann side of the equation to the Bill O’Reilly perspective. I believe that the large majority of people want baseball from a baseball site, which is why I will continue to refrain from offering political sermons at MLB.com. I’m not pretending to be Ariana Huffington or Sean Hannity here. Besides, I’d much rather discuss the merits of Rico Carty, Tommy Davis, Robinson Cano, or David Wright…
Speaking of politics, there was no discussion of that topic–absolutely none–at last week’s Hall of Fame “Voices of the Game” event featuring Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Robert Wuhl and Bull Durham director Ron Shelton. After film critic Jeffrey Lyons interviewed the four film notables, the Hall solicited questions from fans, who were asked to write down their questions. Several fans submitted written questions about the Hall’s 2003 boycott of Robbins over his anti-Iraq War stance, but those queries were not used during the program. There was also no opportunity for fans to converse with the actors one-on-one, since no photo session was held afterwards, as has often been the custom at such Hall of Fame events. Instead, Robbins, Sarandon, and company were whisked away to their cars immediately after the program.
I think the decision to avoid political discussion during the program was a smart one, but the Hall should have at least broached the subject at the beginning of the event. A Hall of Fame spokesman could have briefly explained the reasoning behind the 2003 boycott and how that rationale changed in 2008–and then be done with the issue. I believe that such an announcement, which would have effectively served as a disclaimer, would have satisfied most reasonable fans.
I can’t recall a player seemingly resurrecting his career in mid-season the way that Carlos Delgado has for the Mets in 2008. By the middle of June, I had joined the chorus of doomsayers who had declared Delgado finished, the victim of a slowing bat and fading reflexes. Some extreme pessimists had actually recommended the Mets deal Delgado to the cross-town Yankees for the equally slumping Jason Giambi. Three months later, Delgado has emerged as a National League MVP candidate, albeit a darkhorse after the likes of Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, Chase Utley, and Mets teammate David Wright. Delgado has been on a tear since late June, averaging an RBI a game over his last 65 games while lifting his slugging percentage to a season-high .504. Delgado’s two home runs on Sunday gave Johan Santana all the cushion he required, helping the Mets to a much-needed series-salvaging win against the Phillies. There are plenty of theories that attempt to explain Delgado’s rise from oblivion; some say that Delgado has benefited from the managerial change that saw Willie Randolph give way to Jerry Manuel, while others credit a shortened swing. I tend to favor the latter explanation, but the reasons don’t really matter to the Mets, who are benefiting from the slugger’s remarkable turnaround, or to Delgado, who is earning himself a nice contract for 2009. Amazing…
In a season filled with disappointing mediocrity, the Yankees may have suffered their largest embarrassment over the weekend, when they lost two out of three to the sinking ship known as the Mariners. The losses were bad enough, but the way they lost the games brought the Yankees an extra level of humiliation. In the first game, the Yankees barely avoided a no-hitter against Brandon Morrow, who was making his first major league start after a mid-season conversion from the bullpen. In the third game of the set, the highly paid Yankees fell victim to the pitching of the unpronounceable Ryan Feierabend, who had compiled a lifetime ERA of over 7.00 before improving his statistical lines against New York’s anemic offense. Including the debacle against Feierabend, the Yankees have now lost three of their last four games, further cementing their non-playoff fates in 2008…
One of the few bright spots for the Yankees in recent days has been the pitching of Alfredo Aceves, who will make his first major league start on Tuesday and figures to play some kind of role on New York’s 2009 pitching staff. Aceves represents one of the Yankees’ few ventures into the Mexican League since the days of the good-field, no-hit Celerino Sanchez. A veteran of six Mexican League seasons, Aceves has moved quickly through the Yankees’ farm system this summer and figures to have more long-term impact than Sanchez, who played parts of the 1972 and ’73 seasons before fading from the major league scene. At six-three, 220 pounds, Aceves throws four pitches, including a live fastball that ventures into the mid-1990s and a hard-breaking curveball that bends the knees of opposing hitters. Here’s one possible scenario for Aceves: he starts 2009 in the rotation and then moves back to the bullpen in June, reversing roles with the equally versatile Joba Chamberlain…
Finally, a link to one of baseball’s most colorful teammates passed away on Sunday. Former major league infielder and manager Don Gutteridge, the last surviving member of the Cardinals’ “Gas House Gang” of the 1930s, died at the age of 96. A versatile infielder, Gutteridge played for the Cardinals from 1936 to 1940 before playing for the American League champion St. Louis Browns in 1944. Gutteridge also managed for two seasons before becoming a scout, his career in baseball spanning more than 60 seasons.
For fans of New York City baseball, Tuesday eroded into the worst night of the summer. The Yankees lost the first game of their critical series with the undermanned Red Sox, putting their season on the brink of extinction and forcing them to win the next two games against Boston–or else. A couple of hours later, Scott Schoeneweis put the finishing touches on a disastrous 8-7 loss for the Mets, who couldn’t protect a seven-run lead against the Phillies and thereby fell a half-game out of first place.
First, let’s take on the Yankees. If they don’t win the next two games of the Sox series, their playoff hopes will have come to a realistic end. That scenario that should force GM Brian Cashman to entertain any and all trade offers for Jason “I Can’t Throw the Ball” Giambi and Bobby “I Fear the Wall” Abreu before the September 1 deadline. Both players are eligible for free agency; both are expected to be shown the exit door at season’s end anyway. The Yankees won’t be trading Alex Rodriguez, who remains one of the top three players in the game despite a nightmarish outing against the Red Sox. A-Rod accounted for seven outs at the plate and made an error in the field, as the Yankees fell to Boston, 7-3. Frankly, the Yankees should expect more from a player making an average of $27 million a season. When the Yankees badly needed their best player to turn in a star-like effort, he instead flopped in a way that was all too reminiscent of his recent playoff performances. I’ve been a Rodriguez defender for years, but he needs to come up bigger in such near must-win situations, given his enormous talent–and matching salary.
In what has been a season-long theme, A-Rod and the rest of the Yankees struggle to hit in the clutch. The Mets struggle to hit at all in the latter part of games. Over the last nine innings of last night’s epic with the Phillies, the Mets went scoreless while hitting into three stomach-kicking double plays. Pedro Martinez allowed most of a seven-run lead to evaporate and interim “closer” Luis Ayala, who had pitched well in prior outings for New York, failed to protect a ninth-inning lead. How bad has the Mets’ bullpen situation become? One recent caller to WFAN Radio recommended, in all seriousness, that the Mets sign John Franco, to which someone else sarcastically responded, “Why not Jesse Orosco?” A more realistic solution could be found at Triple-A New Orleans, where rookie right-hander Eddie Kunz and veteran retread Al “The Taser” Reyes are getting ready to wind down the Pacific Coast League season.
Clearly, the Mets will have to try something different, because the current options aren’t working–and might cause them to finish just short of the playoffs once again.
Having watched Sunday night’s extra-inning thriller between Los Angeles and Philadelphia, I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s wrong with the Dodgers. Despite banging out 13 hits, the Dodgers managed to score only two runs at the hitter’s haven of Citizens Bank Park. They also blew a ninth-inning lead, effectively capping off their third straight loss at the hands of a good-but-not-great Phillies team.
How is this Dodgers team, with its talent base of established veteran stars and prime young talent, not winning a weak division like the NL West by five or six games? The Dodgers field a lineup that includes two legitimate All-Stars in Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez, two young studs in Matt Kemp and James Loney, and two future Hall of Famers in Ramirez and Jeff Kent, the latter still a productive player. Rounding out the starting nine are Andre Ethier, who leads the team with 16 home runs, and third baseman Casey Blake, who is at least a league-average player. There is only one position that can be called a black hole; that is shortstop, where the Dodgers continue to audition the Angel Berroas of the world because of injuries to Rafael Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra.
In terms of the pitching staff, injuries have taken away Brad Penny and Takashi Saito, but there is still plenty in the way of talented arms. The starting rotation features two solid veterans in Derek Lowe and the newly acquired Greg Maddux, along with the live young arms of Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw. The bullpen is vulnerable without Saito, but still has Jonathan Broxton’s 98 mile-per-hour fastball and a top-shelf left-hander in Joe Biemel. Throw in the unheralded duo of Corey Wade and Hong-Chi Kuo, and a surprisingly good Chan-Ho Park, and you’ve got the makings of a very good bullpen.
And yet, in spite of this assemblage of talent, the Dodgers are now a mediocre 65-65, having lost three straight games to fall three games off the pace in the NL West. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how this team is still playing only .500 ball with the calendar just a few days shy of September…
When you give up home runs to Brad Ausmus and Darin Erstad in the 10th inning of a tie game, you have to figure that you’re not very good. Mets fans had already come to that conclusion about the New York bullpen prior to Pedro Feliciano’s implosion on Sunday afternoon against the Astros; they’re now absolutely fit to be tied after Feliciano fell victim to Ausmus (he of 78 career home runs in 16 seasons) and Erstad (who hasn’t reached double figures in long balls since 2002).
So what is Jerry Manuel to do? He is facing heat from Mets fans who have criticized his bullpen use (didn’t we hear much of the same about the deposed Willie Randolph), but he doesn’t have any surefire options to lock down the opposition in either the late innings or extra innings. Feliciano is an excellent situational reliever, but has never been asked to assume the role of bullpen ace, which requires the handling of right-handed hitters, too. The same can be said for fellow southpaw Scott Schoeneweis. Aaron Heilman has the best stuff of any Mets reliever, but he is also the most enigmatic, prone to walking batters or giving up tape-measure home runs at inopportune times. Duaner Sanchez has not thrown with consistent velocity since returning from shoulder surgery. And then there’s newcomer Luis Ayala, who has made four scoreless appearances since coming over from the Nationals, but has little experience as a closer (ten saves over five seasons).
Perhaps Manuel should roll the dice with Ayala. His Nationals’ numbers were not good, but he had been a highly effective middle reliever over his first four major league seasons. It might also be time to call up Al “The Taser” Reyes, who is tuning up at Triple-A New Orleans after being signed off the waiver wire. Reyes pitched decently as the Rays’ closer in 2007 before running afoul of the organization because of his involvement in instigating a bar room fight, followed by a stretch of poor pitching. At this point, the Mets may be willing to try anything…
I’m sure I’ll get in trouble with Hunter Wendelstedt again, but that interference call by Doug Eddings against the Rays on Sunday afternoon was highly irregular. Rays third baseman Willy Aybar was called for interfering with the White Sox’ A.J. Pierzynski during a crucial 10th inning rundown, negating what would have been the second out of the inning. I saw the replay twice afterward; it seemed pretty obvious that Pierzynski initiated the contact, which was fairly minimal, with Aybar. Eddings, who made the call against Aybar, should have made no call at all, allowing Pierzynski to suffer a more legitimate fate on the basepaths.