Betty's No Good Clothes Shop And Pancake House
Monday, May 28, 2007
  At least the Yankees lost again today

It is Memorial Day and I, like much of America, did not have to go to work today. So of course the best baseball team in the biggest media market in the country did not play a game. Bangup job, MLB.

The Mets did have a pretty good week as far as the standings went as they won four of six and extended their division lead to four and a half games despite losing their third straight series to the Braves. Whenever this team is struggling a little bit, a series against the Marlins seems to be all they need to get back on track. (Note to many, many sportscasters and writers: yes, "untracked" is a word, but it doesn't mean what you think it means.) This week did bring some new and exciting injuries for the team to deal with but the literal and figurative returns of a couple of key players helped ease the pain.

The Mets' outfield is in tatters, to the point that Damion Easley started a game in left over the weekend, as Shawn Green appears headed to the disabled list with a broken bone in his foot and Carlos Gomez is dealing with a strained hamstring. Ben Johnson (.282/.367/.436 in New Orleans) will come up to take Green's spot on the roster for a few days until Moises Alou is ready to return. That the Mets are dealing with injuries is hardly surprising given how old two-thirds of their opening day outfield was, but things like Green's broken bone and the injuries to Gomez and Lastings Milledge fit better in the category of freak occurrences than predictable events. Luckily, Endy Chavez's offensive production has been just as freakish at .337/.385/.482 so far, giving the Mets some room for error.

While Alou may not be ready to return from the DL just yet, the Mets did get one of their elder statesmen back this week. Orlando Hernandez took the mound on Friday in Florida and pitched six shutout innings on just two hits with four strikeouts and no walks. And though the Marlins may not have put up much resistance against the Mets so far this year, they have scored the third most runs in the National League, so shutting down their offense is hardly an easy assignment.

The same could not be said of Carlos Delgado for most of this season, but this past week may have seen him finally turn things around. Prior to the Atlanta series, he was hitting .214/.294/.321 with three home runs on the year. At the time, fewer than twenty players had enough plate appearances to qualify for their league's batting title and a lower OPS than Delgado. Such offensive powerhouses as Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones had him beat. This week he went nine for twenty-five with two home runs, raising his season averages to .234/.306/.359, passing both Pierre and Jones and nearing the lofty heights of Mark Ellis and Ryan Freel. As odd as it sounds that the Mets need someone to make up for Shawn Green's production, that is the case and Delgado may be just the man for the job.

The Mets (32-17) return home this week to get some fresh duct tape to hold their outfield together and host the San Francisco Giants (24-25). While the starting lineup may feature a question mark or two, the same cannot be said of the rotation as the Mets will send out the best they've got. A red hot Oliver Perez (6-3, 2.45) starts game one having shut out the Braves for seven frames in his last start. Perez is now in the top five in the league in wins, ERA, WHIP (1.059) and strikeout rate (8.42 per nine innings). He'll take on rookie Tim Lincecum (2-0, 3.08), who's also had a pretty good month of May. Tom Glavine (5-2, 3.39) and El Duque (2-1, 2.13) will face Barry Zito (4-5, 4.70) and Matt Cain (2-4, 3.23) in the final two games of the set.
Monday, May 21, 2007
  Maybe playing the Yankees six times this year isn't such a bad thing

Watching the Mets beat up on the National League and win a series against the Yankees is a lot of fun. This weekend's series provided both a tight pitchers' duel, with great performances from Oliver Perez and Endy Chavez, and an offensive explosion led by David Wright. But part of the fun of being a Mets fan is having a player or two on your own team to hate.

Even during last year's great run we could choose from Jose Lima or Chris Woodward or Michael Tucker at various times. And of course Shawn Green really hit the spot in the playoffs. This year, David Newhan has put up a pretty good showing in an attempt to fill this role. But this past offseason, Omar Minaya ensured that Mets fans would be able to get their hate on for years to come when he handed a three-year, twelve million-dollar deal to Scott Schoeneweis.

Last year, Schoenweis had a 4.88 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 24 walks in 51.2 innings. How this got him a three-year contract rather than a Spring Training invite, I don't know. In his career, he has been good at retiring left-handed hitters, holding them to a mere .229/.303/.298 prior to tonight's game. Of course, righties have historically smacked him around at a .291/.364/.465 clip. Spending four million dollars a year on a guy to only face lefties might be somewhat defensible if the Mets didn't already have Pedro Feliciano, who does it just was well for less than one-sixth the price and isn't a complete disaster against righties. As it is, Schoeneweis provides Willie Randolph with a pitcher he can use in games he's not particularly interested in winning and gives fans a direction in which to focus their ire when everything else is going pretty well.

This Saturday was such an occasion as the Mets built up a six-run lead against a parade of Yankee pitchers. The Big Scho entered the game with one on and none out in the seventh and wound up facing seven batters before being removed in the eighth. Of the four lefties he faced, he retired three and walked the fourth. The three righties hit a single and two home runs, turning an 8-2 game into an 8-5 game. The late innings of a blowout are a reasonable time to use the worst pitcher in your bullpen, but when that pitcher is a lefty specialist, letting him face Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez in that situation is not quite as reasonable. Schoeneweis now has a 6.50 ERA with 15 walks and 9 strikeouts in 18 innings.

Still, the Mets (28-15) won two of three this weekend while the Braves (26-18) lost two of three, giving the Mets a 2.5 game lead in the division as they head to Atlanta for a three-game series beginning on Tuesday. The Mets will take advantage of this day off to skip the fifth spot in their rotation, sending Jorge Sosa (3-0, 2.25), Oliver Perez (5-3, 2.90) and Tom Glavine (5-1, 3.43) to the mound in this series. The Braves' starters will be Kyle Davies (1-2, 5.17), Chuck James (4-3, 4.15) and John Smoltz (6-2, 2.85). The Mets have a definite edge in those first two matchups and game three should be another fun Glavine/Smoltz matchup. These two teams seem to be the class of the National League and the Braves have won four of their six meetings this season. Hopefully the Mets can begin to turn that trend around with this series.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007
  Hi, we're the replacements

One of the keys to the Mets' success in the first quarter of the season has been the good play of their reserves. The team has had to deal with significant, if not surprising, injuries and the way some guys have stepped up to fill the holes has allowed the Mets to just keep rolling. This has never been more true than in the games of the last two days.

After splitting the first two games of a four-game series with the Cubs, the Mets turned to Jorge Sosa who joined the rotation when Orlando Hernandez went on the disabled list. Sosa responded with the best of his three 2007 major league starts, allowing just one run on one hit and three walks in seven innings. He's now 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA. Sosa's career stats aren't those of a guy likely to keep this up, but with Mike Pelfrey in the minors and Jason Vargas failing to distinguish himself on Thursday, he'll get plenty of chances to try.

Willie Randolph was apparently so impressed with Sosa's performance that he decided to fill almost his entire lineup with backups in the series finale. Shawn Green shared the outfield grass with Endy Chavez and Carlos Gomez while Carlos Delgado was joined on the infield dirt by second baseman David Newhan, shortstop Roben Gotay and third baseman Julio Franco. Even Damion Easley, who's been the poster boy for surprising fill ins, excelling in Jose Valentin's place, got the day off. Ramon Castro got the start behind the plate, but that's not much of a downgrade from the starter at this point.

While Vargas's Mets debut went a little better than Jose Lima's last year, that's about all that can be said for it. He gave up five runs in seven innings of work, four of those coming on two sixth-inning two-run home runs. It seemed a bit much for the Mets' lineup of scrubs to overcome. Then the Cubs brought in their closer to preserve a four-run lead.

Newhan, inexplicably batting sixth instead of, I don't know, ninth--Vargas is a career .310/.341/.381 hitter compared to Newhan's .253/.316/.383--started the ninth inning with a single and after he narrowly avoided getting doubled off first base on a Castro lineout, the Mets were off to the races. Gomez singled, Carlos Beltran pinch walked and Chavez drew another free pass to bring home a run. Randolph then let Gotay hit with the bases loaded instead of using Jose Reyes or David Wright but it worked as he drove in run number two with a single. After Lou Piniella removed Ryan Dempster in disgust, Wright got a chance to hit for Green and drove Scott Eyre's first pinch into center to bring the Mets within one. Delgado took a ball before grounding a single into right to bring home two runs for the win.

Hopefully the Mets will never start a lineup like that again, but it was certainly was a fun way to win three out of four from the Cubs. Easley, Chavez and Castro are all having good years off the bench which is a good thing given that they all back up guys who are either injured or not hitting very well right now. Franco and Newhan are off to pretty bad starts but the Mets still seem to have assembled a pretty decent bench.

Having dispatched one team struggling to reach .500 the Mets (26-14) host another one this weekend. The Yankees (18-21) will face the business end of the Mets' starting rotation as Oliver Perez (4-3, 3.00), Tom Glavine (4-1, 3.31) and John Maine (5-1, 2.15) get the starts. Andy Pettitte (2-2, 2.68), Darrell Rasner (1-2, 3.28) and Chien-Ming Wang (2-3, 4.54) will tangle with the NL's top offense.

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Monday, May 14, 2007
  There's no such thing as too many Carloses

Another week, another four wins for the Mets. They slipped to second place, a half-game behind the Braves, and Moises Alou got hurt again but otherwise it was another good week for New York's leading baseball franchise.

It was a pretty ordinary week for the offense as they scored thirty runs in six games. Not so ordinary was the contribution of David Wright, whose bat seems to be finally coming alive. The Met third baseman had nine hits in twenty-four at bats including three doubles and a home run and he also stole four bases including three in Sunday's game. He's still hitting just .262/.358/.404 for the season, but at least he's starting to come around. Carlos Delgado is even further from respectable numbers at just .209/.287/.328, but at least he hit a couple of home runs this week.

Not all struggling Mets will get as many chances to succeed as those two as Mike Pelfrey found out this weekend. After a Saturday start in which he gave up four runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings, Pelfrey was sent down to AAA New Orleans. In six starts he went 0-5 with a 6.53 ERA. He gave up 36 hits and 17 walks in 30.1 innings and struck out just twelve. I have little doubt that Pelfrey will be back in the majors at some point this season, but he clearly has a lot of work to if he's going to develop into a successful starter.

With Pelfrey in the minors the Mets are left with just four starters for the time being as they called up outfielder Carlos Gomez to replace Pelfrey on the roster. The twenty-one year old Gomez entered the season as one of the Mets' top prospects and held his own at AAA despite his youth, hitting .286/.363/.414 in thirty-six games. He got the start in right field on Sunday and wasted little time in making an impression at the major league level, hitting a double and a single, stealing a base and looking very good defensively. Gomez is probably not long for the Mets' roster as they'll need a starting pitcher on Thursday. He's better off playing every day at AAA than sitting on the bench in the majors anyway and he still needs to add some power to his offensive game before he'll really look like a major league corner outfielder. But what he showed on Sunday gave Mets fans a glimpse at a very promising future. The Mets have a rather old outfield now but there may be some very exciting reinforcements from the minors in the next couple of years with Gomez, Lastings Milledge and eighteen-year-old Fernando Martinez all looking like potential major league regulars.

Also giving fans something to be excited about on Sunday was Oliver Perez, who bounced back from a rough start earlier in the week in which he gave up eight runs in one inning thanks in large part to some awful defense behind him. With a terrific outfield of Gomez, Carlos Beltran and Endy Chavez backing him up, he flirted with a shutout, allowing just one hit to the opposing pitcher in the first eight innings. He allowed a solo home run and left the game with one out in the ninth but it was still a brilliant performance. In addition to the two hits, he gave up two walks while striking out six and lowered his season ERA to an even 3.00.

Up next for the Mets (23-13) is a four-game series at home against the Cubs (17-18), who lost two of three in Philadelphia over the weekend. Tom Glavine (4-1, 2.98), John Maine (5-0, 1.79) and Jorge Sosa (2-0, 2.77) will start the first three games for the Mets. Hopefully game four will not be a repeat of the Chan Ho Park experiment. For the Cubs it will be the inexplicably sucessful Jason Marquis (5-1, 1.70) along with Carlos Zambrano (3-3, 5.83), Rich Hill (4-2, 2.51) and Angel Guzman (0-0, 3.57).

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Sunday, May 06, 2007
  Roger who?

A week ago, the Mets held a half-game lead over second place Atlanta in the National League's Eastern Division. A tumultuous week in which the Mets went four and three against the Marlins and Diamondbacks only served to reduce that margin by half a game. Now some health concerns leave the Mets' shared spot atop the heap as tenuous as it's been in a while.

Orlando Hernandez and Jose Valentin hit the disabled list this week and the results from their replacements have been mixed. Chan Ho Park had an awful start in which he allowed seven runs in four innings on Monday, though with a little help from his defense his line would have been a lot less ugly. Nevertheless, he was quickly returned to AAA New Orleans in favor of Jorge Sosa, who pitched a solid six and one-third innings on Saturday, charged with just two runs on four hits and two walks. Neither Damion Easley nor Ruben Gotay did much hitting out of the second base position, though one of Easley's two hits this week was a home run that keyed Thursday's ninth inning comeback win. Easley probably isn't going to be as bad as this two-for-twenty week might indicate but then Sosa probably probably won't be as good as his first start for much longer either.

Fortunately, even without El Duque the Mets' pitching staff has some room for error thanks to three guys pitching well and one guy sort of getting by. Tom Glavine had his worst start of the season on Thursday, giving up four runs in six innings in a game the Mets wound up winning anyway, but overall he is 3-1 with a 3.27 ERA in 41.1 innings. Oliver Perez continued to put memories of his disastrous second start behind him with an electrifying performance on Wednesday. He gave up three runs in five and two-thirds innings, but two of those runs were the direct result of an error by David Wright on a play that should have ended the sixth inning. Had Wright caught Joe Borchard's line drive, Perez would have finished the sixth inning with just one run allowed on three hits and three walks with ten strikeouts. As it is, he's got a 3.41 ERA with 36 Ks and 10 walks in 29 innings.

Of course, neither Glavine nor Perez quite compares to John Maine, who gave up one run in six innings this week and saw his ERA go up as a result. His 1.37 mark is still fairly comfortably the best in the majors. Maine's certainly had some luck on his side as far as balls in play finding the gloves of his teammates with a batting average on balls in play of .232 compared to a league average of .299. But he's also striking out more batters than he ever has in the majors at 8.5 per nine innings. He's also walking more than ever at 4.1 per nine, but he's cut that down significantly in his last three starts, allowing just six free passes in 21.2 innings. Maine is probably not going to keep his ERA under two all year nor even contend for a Cy Young Award, but I think the questions about whether he can be a solid major league starter can be put to rest for a while.

The same cannot be said of Mike Pelfrey, who had another difficult week. The twenty-three year old gave up six runs in 11.2 innings over two starts this week, which looks a bit like progress. If Pelfrey could give the Mets an ERA around four and a half this year, he'd be a perfectly adequate fifth starter. Unfortunately, the way he pitched in these two starts makes him unlikely to maintain even that modest level of success. He gave up eight hits and seven walks and struck out just four. He also hit three batters. His apparent strategy of "pitching to contact" to generate ground balls is just not going to work for very long if he keeps putting this many runners on base. There's no reason he can't still have a very bright future, but if he doesn't start showing some improvement soon he will likely need to spend some quality time in AAA.

The Mets (19-11) head to San Francisco next to take on the Giants (16-13). The Mets will come out firing with the cream of their pitching crop--Perez, Glavine and Maine. The Giants will respond more or less in kind with Barry Zito (2-3, 3.52), Matt Cain (1-2, 3.08) and Matt Morris (4-1. 3.20). Former Giant Moises Alou missed the last three games in Arizona with a swollen keen, so who knows if he'll be back to take on his old team? As for Barry Bonds, he's hit .325/.433/.563 in 80 at bats in his career against Glavine, but he's just one for seven with three walks against Perez and has never faced Maine.

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Disseminating descriptions and accounts of New York Mets games without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball or the New York Mets since 2003.

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