Betty's No Good Clothes Shop And Pancake House
Monday, July 30, 2007
  Still one day left to make a terrible trade

With less that twenty-four hours remaining before the trading deadline, Omar Minaya made a deal that, in a break from Mets July tradition, seems perfectly reasonable. Minor leaguers Drew Butera, a twenty-three year old catcher, and Dustin Martin, a twenty-three year old outfielder, are on their way to the Minnesota Twins organization in exchange for Luis Castillo, who will play, and likely bat, second for the Mets. Neither Butera nor Martin will be missed and the addition of Castillo's salary is not going to hamstring the Mets so the only real question is whether or not adding Castillo to the major league roster makes the Mets a better team.

At .304/.356/.352 for the year, the thirty-one year old Castillo is not the hitter he once was. From 1999 to 2005 with the Marlins, Castillo put up an OBP of .379 and occasionally hit a ball for extra bases. Neither is he the hitter Ruben Gotay has been so far this season (.350/.382/.504). On the surface this may seem like another instance of the Mets choosing Veteran Presence over plain old performance (see also: the case of Castro v. Lo Duca).

As much as I like Ruben Gotay and think he could be a long term solution at second base for this franchise, he is not going to keep hitting .350. He hasn't hit higher than .290 at any level since 2001, when he hit .315/.398/.457 in 184 at bats in the Gulf Coast League at age eighteen. He is on a hot streak that is bound to come to an end at some point. I would have been quite content for the Mets to just stick with Gotay at second base for the rest of the season, but Castillo is definitely a safer bet to keep getting on base for the next three months. Castillo is in no way big upgrade over Gotay offensively, as Gotay clearly has more power, but Castillo will be a solid hitter for Willie Randolph to stick in the two hole every day.

Of course, if offense was all that Castillo brought to the table, I wouldn't be happy about this deal at all. But, as Minaya has stressed in explaining this move, Castillo represents a significant defensive upgrade. Gotay is just not a good second baseman. He might be someday, but he is not now. Castillo has a strong defensive reputation and by all accounts is still at least solid with the glove. That is a lot more than can be said for Gotay.

This deal isn't anything to get too excited about, but it does improve both the infield defense and the bench, where Gotay can be a serious impact bat. The Mets' offensive issues remain and are unlikely to be addressed by four PM tomorrow afternoon. But if someday Carlos Beltran returns to center field, Lastings Milledge takes over in right and Ramon Castro gets a few more starts at catcher, Luis Castillo will look pretty good at second base.

It was also announced today that Pedro Martinez will make his first rehab start on Wednesday, throwing 45 pitches for the St. Lucie Mets. If he toes the major league rubber this season, it will not be for a few more weeks. But I am still a lot more excited about this than I am about Luis Castillo. The end of July might not be such a bad time to be a Mets fan this year.
  And to top it all off, I got a sunburn

Even more disappointing than winning just two of three from the Pirates is splitting a four-game series with the Nationals. As has happened so often this season, the New York bats were shut down by some less than distinguished starting pitchers. The Mets got excellent starting pitching from Orlando Hernandez and John Maine in games two and four, respectively, but Jorge Sosa and Mike Pelfrey failed to shut the Nats down in one and three.

The offense continued to suffer from a distinct lack of Carlos Beltran, who may soon hit the disabled list, though Lastings Milledge did a solid job in his stead. Also beneficial to the offensive cause were the return of Moises Alou and an injury to Paul Lo Duca. Alou had just one hit in the series, a double on Friday. Ramon Castro started two games and went three for seven with a double and a home run. Lo Duca hit two singles in seven at bats, strained his hamstring and is threatening to be back by Tuesday so that he can catch Tom Glavine's potential 300th win. Altogether, the Mets put up just fifteen runs in three and a half games, including Sunday's rain-shortened win, against Washington's below average pitching staff.

My Shea Stadium experience was somewhat more pleasant than the Mets' as I got to see a 3-1 win from the front row of the upper deck without a drop of rain on Saturday afternoon. Of course, in lieu of rain, we got plenty of sun, heat and humidity. If the people building CitiField could figure out a way to air condition an outdoor stadium, I would really appreciate it.

Next up for the Mets (59-46) is a tough six-game road trip that begins in Milwaukee against the Central division-leading Brewers (57-49) who have lost three straight. Glavine (9-6, 4.51 in 2007; 299-197, 3.49 career) will take on Jeff Suppan (8-9, 5.08) in the opener on Tuesday. Oliver Perez (9-7, 2.84) vs. Dave Bush (8-8, 4.91) and Sosa (7-6, 4.59) vs. Claudio Vargas (9-2, 4.30) will be the matchups in games two and three. The Mets' division lead stands at 3.5 games over the Phillies, who will also spend the week playing the Cubs (55-48) and Brewers.
Thursday, July 26, 2007

When is winning two of three a disappointment? When you're the New York Mets playing the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets' offense fared well enough against some decent starting pitching. But one bad inning from Oliver Perez on Thursday brought an end to dreams of the team's first series sweep in a month. The Phillies and Braves are doing all they can to keep the Mets comfortably in first place, but every time the boys from New York seem about to get on a roll they go and do something silly like lose a game to the Pirates.

The Mets did put eighteen runs on the board in three games despite losing Carlos Beltran to an abdominal strain before game two and seeing Moises Alou's return from injury delayed yet again. I think this time it was the gout. Possibly polio. Lastings Milledge started the final two games in center and had a terrific overall series with six hits including two home runs and a double. Paul Lo Duca actually outhit Ramon Castro over the course of this series, going four for eight with three doubles compared to Castro's two singles in four at bats. In general, the offense seems to have woken up a bit, scoring 5.14 runs per games since the All-Star break, more than half a run better than their pre-break average.

John Maine had the best start of the series, allowing two runs in seven innings on five hits and a walk with seven strikeouts and hitting his first career home run. But Tom Glavine was good enough to get career with number 299 on Wednesday, allowing three runs in six innings on eight hits and three walks with two Ks. Then there was Perez, who absolutely dominated his former team for five innings, allowing one hit and striking out eight, before coming undone in the sixth, when he allowed five runs that will all count as unearned due to his own throwing error. Then Scott Schoeneweis and Joe Smith combined to give up three runs of their own in the seventh as a result of which Smith has been sent to AAA for the first time in his professional career.

The Mets (57-44) remain four games up on their nearest competition and once again boast the best record in the National League. If that's not enough to make a Mets fan feel better after Thursday's game, the next four games on the schedule feature the Washington Generals...I mean Nationals (43-58) providing the opposition. Jorge Sosa (7-5, 4.36), Orlando Hernandez (6-4, 3.14), Mike Pelfrey (0-7, 6.12) and Maine (11-5, 3.04) will start for the Mets against Mike Bacsik (3-6, 4.39), Tim Redding (1-2, 2.92), Billy Traber (2-1, 4.09) and Jason Bergmann (2-5, 4.56). I am planning to be at Shea Stadium for the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, so of course the forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms. But if you happen to be at the game or just watching at home and you see a handsome you man sporting stylishly long hair and a 1987 Doc Gooden #16 road jersey, feel free to say hi. If you're watching at home, say it pretty loudly or I won't be able to hear you.
Monday, July 23, 2007
  Obviously Rick Down was the problem

The Mets' latest trip the the west coast began inauspiciously with losses in two of three games in San Diego. But the offense finished up strong to help them win three of four from the Dodgers and come out ahead for the week. They're still not quite running roughshod over the National League, but taking four of seven on the road from a couple of playoff contenders is a step in the right direction.

For once, the offense had to bail out the starting pitchers, who did not have a particularly good week. Among starters, only Orlando Hernandez and Oliver Perez had an ERA under six for the week. Tom Glavine's attempt at win number 299 was especially disastrous as he gave up six runs and didn't make it out of the third inning. I'm not too worried about the starting pitching as I think with Perez, Hernandez and John Maine, the Mets have the personnel to forge a formidable playoff rotation. I am a little worried that Glavine could be the fourth or fifth best starter on the team and get the first or second slot in that playoff rotation.

Of course, if the bats come through like they did this week, that might not be a problem. After all, the Mets did win that game Glavine started. They scored forty runs in these seven games with the heart of their lineup leading the way. Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado hit a collective .329/.391/.634 with seven home runs this week. None of the other regulars did much with the bat this week, though Ramon Castro did get two starts and go three for nine with a home run. Paul Lo Duca had four hits in the other five games and all of them were singles. Ruben Gotay, who will be the starting second baseman for the foreseeable future thanks to Jose Valentin's broken tibia, did have six singles in eighteen at bats.

The offense may also get a boost when the Mets return to play on Tuesday as Moises Alou will likely make his long-awaited return from the disabled list. Alou went one for four for the Brooklyn Cyclones on Sunday and apparently made it through the entire game without injuring himself. As long as Alou is healthy, he should hit and the Mets can certainly use some offense out of an outfield corner. Neither Shawn Green nor Lastings Milledge has hit consistently well, though Milledge has come through in some important situations, driving in eight runs with just eight hits so far this season. Given that Green has been awful (.195/.263/.264) against lefties this year and Alou will need regular days off, finding Milledge playing time shouldn't be a problem.

The Mets (55-43) stretched their division lead to 3.5 games on Sunday with a win and a Braves loss. They will have a chance to extend it further this week as they play two of the worst teams in the league in the Pittsburgh Pirates (41-56) and the Washington Nationals (42-56). The Pirates will send Ian Snell (7-7, 3.31), Tom Gorzelanny (9-5, 3.20) and Paul Maholm (6-12, 4.57) to the mound to try to tame the resurgent Mets offense. The Mets will counter with Maine (10-5, 3.07), Glavine (8-6, 4.51) and Perez (9-6, 3.00).
Monday, July 16, 2007
  If Rickey was the hitting coach, they'd have won all four

The second half of the season began with a bang for the Mets as hitting coach Rick Down was fired and Rickey Henderson was hired to replace him. The Greatest Of All Time has already done some occasional coaching for the Mets, working with Jose Reyes in particular in Spring Training. Reyes is having his most Rickeyesque season yet, with his OBP a career high .389, so I can't wait to see what Rickey can do with the rest of the team.

This move paid immediate dividends, as the first two Met hitters of the second half, Reyes and Ruben Gotay, homered. Then it turned out Rickey was to be the first base coach and Howard Johnson the hitting coach and the Mets only scored twelve more runs the rest of the weekend. That was enough to win a barely acceptable three of four from the worst team in the NL thanks to three good starting pitching performances.

Orlando Hernandez and the recently disabled Oliver Perez each pitched six innings and allowed two runs. El Duque earned a narrow 3-2 win on Thursday while Perez was the beneficiary of a veritable offensive explosion as the Mets put five big runs on the board on Sunday. The best performance of the weekend came from Tom Glavine who allowed just one run on two hits with five strikeouts in eight innings on Saturday. This was barely enough to earn his 298th career wins as the Mets pushed across their second and final run of the night in the bottom of the eighth.

In spite of the presence of Rickey, the Mets' offense in this series closely resembled the one that got Rick Down fired. Overall, the team hit a decent .273/.367/.422 for the series. But with runners in scoring position, they hit just .216/.310/.270. On Saturday night they had eleven hits and two walks but scored just two runs. Entering Sunday, the team was hitting .250/.340/.378 with RISP for the season, compared to .268/.333/.419 overall. The National League as a whole was hitting .260/.350/.406 with RISP, .261/.329/.412 overall. There's little reason to believe the Mets' lack of clutchness is anything more that just bad luck. The Mets' fortunes with RISP should begin to even out and their numbers in these situations will more closely resemble their overall numbers, as is the case with the rest of the league. But right now it is awfully frustrating to see the Mets get a runner to third base with nobody out and strand him time and time again.

There was some good offensive news as both Lastings Milledge and Roben Gotay started all four games of this series and each hit well. Milledge had four hits including a double and a home run and either scored or drove in the winning run in each Met win. Gotay had six hits including a double and a home run. Really, every Mets starter had a decent series with the bat aside from Paul Lo Duca and Carlos Beltran, who combined for just three singles. Beltran did draw five walks in the series. Ramon Castro started Sunday's game and was on base more that Lo Duca in the three other games combined, hitting a double and a single and drawing a walk.

Things get a bit tougher from here as the Mets (51-40) take their 1.5-game division lead to San Diego (50-40), home of the best pitching staff in the NL. Jorge Sosa (7-3, 3.92), El Duque (5-4, 3.20) and John Maine (10-5, 2.91) will start the three games for the Mets. David Wells (4-5, 4.31), Jake Peavy (9-3, 2.19) and Greg Maddux (7-7, 4.35) will go for the Padres.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
  Season half-full

The Mets reached the artificial midway point of the season two games ahead of their nearest competition and lucky to be there. After a strong start that left them with 34 wins and 18 losses at the end of May, they've gone 14 and 21. They are only two games behind their pace from last season in which the division race was decided somewhere around the middle of June. But the significant decline in all areas of the game over the last two months does not inspire confidence going forward.

The offense has been the biggest problem. What was one of the top few run-scoring apparatuses in the league last year and at the start of this year has fallen to the middle of the pack, eighth in the league in runs per game. Carlos Delgado's decline has been the most glaring--.265/.361/.548 in 2006, .242/.305/.435 in 2007--but several other players have also dropped off significantly. Paul Lo Duca has gone from a surprising .318/.355/.428 to a more predictable .274/.321/.372. Jose Valentin was a revelation in 2006 at .271/.330/.490 but in 2007 he's a thirty-seven -year-old man hitting .243/.297/.388. And Carlos Beltran has thus far failed to replicate his monster 2006 in which he hit .275/.388/.594, falling to just .264/.340/.477.

All of this is especially problematic given that no one else has stepped up with a big improvement to compensate. Jose Reyes is getting on base more at .387 compared to .354, but his slugging has dropped off from .487 to .439. David Wright's .292/.373/.506 line is basically the same thing he does every year, though he's stealing more bases and looks improved defensively. And after a hot start--.355/.412/.538 in April--it turns out Shawn Green is still Shawn Green at .275/.325/.428 for the year.

So several important hitters are having down years, the Mets still aren't getting anything from their corner outfielders and no one is having a huge year. So why are things going to be okay? Well, for one thing, Ruben Gotay and Ramon Castro are providing more offense off the bench than any 2006 reserve did. More even than He Who Is Called Endy. Secondly, Lastings Milledge is finally ready to return and rescue left field from the David Newhans of the world. Moises Alou could theoretically return at some point as well. But most importantly, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado are just better than this. Beltran has battled some minor leg injuries and Delgado had wrist surgery in the offseason and missed most of Spring Training. This may not excuse or even explain their performance thus far, but both seem healthy now and I think it is very reasonable to expect more of them in the second half.

The bullpen has also been something of a disappointment after a hot start. Billy Wagner has been great all year in non-All-Star competition and Pedro Feliciano has done almost as good a job of making Scott Schoeneweis obsolete as Schoeneweis himself. But everyone else has struggled at one point or another. Joe Smith got off to a phenomenal start but has cooled off recently, perhaps as a result of being overworked or the league just catching up to him. Aaron Heilman has been quite ordinary. Guillermo Mota has pitched like a guy who's not taking steroids anymore. Aaron Sele has been fine as the long man. As I may have mentioned, Schoeneweis has pitched poorly and been utilized ineptly.

The saving grace of the team has been the starting pitching, with an ERA of just 4.05. The Mike Pelfrey Experiment has not gone well thus far as the twenty-three year old has an ERA of 6.10 in eight starts with more walks than strikeouts. But aside from Pelfrey, the team's worst regular starter has been Tom Glavine with a 4.36 ERA. Glavine hasn't been much more than solid overall, but he has been durable as usual, leading the team in innings pitched. Jorge Sosa has been a surprisingly decent replacement for Pelfrey with a 3.92 ERA in eleven starts. Orlando Hernandez has occasionally been either injured or awful, making just thirteen starts and giving up five or more runs in four of them. But he's also been brilliant at times, allowing two or fewer runs in his other nine starts including four starts in which he pitched at least six shutout innings. This all adds up to a 3.22 ERA in 78.1 IP. Nothing El Duque could do in the second half would be shocking, whether it be getting blown out, getting injured or pitching a no hitter. Maybe he'll even do all three.

The stalwarts of the rotation have been two men who inspired much doubt prior to the season. Oliver Perez has a 3.14 ERA, 85 strikeouts and 37 walks in 94.2 innings. John Maine is at 2.71 with 93 Ks, 40 BBs and 109.2 IP. Perez has been somewhat inconsistent in his last few starts and has missed a bit of time with a minor injury but Maine has been healthy and excellent all year. The starting rotation was the team's biggest question mark prior to the season but right now, thanks in large part to these two, its ERA is more than half a run lower than in 2006. With the return of a certain future Hall Of Famer perhaps only a month away, this rotation could carry this team awfully far.

Now all the remains is for the Mets (48-39) to play about 74 more regular season games, weather permitting. The first four of these will take place at home against the Reds, who are tied for the worst record in the National League at 36-52. El Duque, Maine and Glavine will start the first three games for the Mets with Perez possibly making his return from the DL to pitch the Sunday finale. Bronson Arroyo (3-9, 4.84), Matt Belisle (5-6, 5.28) and Aaron Harang (9-2, 3.67) will start the first three for Cincinnati.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
  Gimme a break

After two straight winning weeks, the Mets stumbled into the All-Star break losing five of their last seven. The offense continued to struggle as they scored just twenty-six runs. The pitching got absolutely slaughtered in a three-game sweep at Colorado, giving up thirty-four runs but they settled down a bit, allowing just seventeen in a four-game split in Houston.

Carlos Delgado did have another good week at the plate, hitting .345/.394/.552 with one home run. But the only other Met regular with an OPS over .700 for the week was David Wright at .353/.353/.559. Ruben Gotay and Ramon Castro did both have good weeks in part-time roles.

It would be nice to see both of these guys get more playing time in the second half of the season as neither Jose Valentin nor Paul Lo Duca is doing much of anything with the bat lately. Finding out if Gotay and Castro can continue to hit with more playing time could also pay dividends next year when both Lo Duca and Valentin could be gone. Castro will probably never be much more than a solid part-time bat, but at just twenty-four years old, Gotay has a chance to be the Mets' second baseman of the near future. He won't provide nearly the defensive value of a healthy Valentin, but he does appear to have some power in his bat. His .514 slugging percentage is second only to Castro's .538 for the team lead. The stop starter is Wright at .506.

The bad news this week wasn't just limited to the scoreboard as injuries continued to pile up. Jorge Sosa and Oliver Perez each went to the DL with supposedly minor injuries, leading to Jason Vargas and Dave Williams making starts in the majors. Each pitched three and one-third inning with Williams allowing eight runs and Vargas nine. Perez and Sosa should be back after the break. Carlos Gomez will be out quite a bit longer with a broken bone in his left hand. As of Sunday, the Mets only had three outfielders on their major league roster and one of them was David Newhan of the .291 slugging percentage. Why they would send Ricky Ledee down but keep both Newhan and Sandy Alomar, Jr., a third catcher, on the roster eludes me, but I figure there will be a little roster rearrangement before they play another game. Lastings Milledge did finally play some baseball games this week as he went eight-for-nineteen with a double, a triple, a home run and a stolen base for AA Binghamton. Hopefully he'll be back in New York in time to start in left field on Thursday.
Monday, July 02, 2007
  This is less fun

I guess more than one consecutive week of good news is too much to ask for. After sending Jorge Sosa to the DL over the weekend, the Mets' starting rotation has been dealt another blow. The sore back which kept Oliver Perez from starting as scheduled on Sunday will shut him down for fifteen days. Jason Vargas will take his spot on the roster and start Tuesday's game in Colorado. Perez's injury doesn't appear to be too serious, but given the way this year has gone, who can say for sure? On that subject, Metsblog is reporting that Moises Alou should be back in about two weeks, but I will believe that when I see it. As far as I can tell, Lastings Milledge followed Ozzie Smith into the Springfield Mystery Spot.
  This is more fun

The Mets salvaged the month of June after a poor start thanks to a return to National League competition. They went a respectable 8-7 in interleague play, and if the World Series is changed to a best-of-fifteen format I like their chances, but they've put up a much healthier 38-27 record against the NL. This past week they took five of seven from the Cardinals and Phillies, finishing June with twelves wins and fifteen losses and extending their division lead to four games over the second place Braves. Sadly a Sunday loss meant a streak of five straight wins continued to elude them.

The key to the Cardinals series was pitching, as the Mets scored just seven runs in three games but they took a bit more advantage of Citizen's Bank Park's cozy dimensions, scoring twenty-two runs in four games. The worst starting pitching performances of the week came from Jorge Sosa and Mike Pelfrey on Saturday and Sunday as each gave up three runs in five innings. Sosa got a win and Pelfrey a loss. John Maine had the best start of the week, limiting the Phillies to just two runs, one earned, in eight innings on Friday, with four hits, no walks and six strikeouts.

Several Mets had good weeks at the plate, including Carlos Beltran with four home runs in two games on Friday and Saturday and David Wright hitting .273/.414/.636 in the seven games. But perhaps most surprising was the man who led the team with eight hits on the week, Carlos Delgado. It was not quite an offensive explosion, but the struggling first baseman hit .308/.379/.692 for the week with a pair of home runs. He's had brief flashes like this before and is still hitting a paltry .232/.296/.424 for the year, but a good week is a good week and if he can continue to be productive, the Mets could regain their status as an offensive juggernaut.

This week's episode of bizarre bullpen management came in Tuesday's loss to the Cardinals. Willie Randolph brought Scott Schoeneweis in to pitch to a right-handed batter in the top of the eleventh inning. To the surprise of no one aside from perhaps Randolph, the game did not remain tied for long as Mr. Three-Years-$10.8-Million allowed the first batter he faced, Brendan Ryan, to hit his first major league home run. I understand that as long as he's on the team, he has to pitch once in a while--though Aaron Sele might beg to differ--but Randolph consistently uses Schoeneweis is situations that do not play to his meager strengths. Entering Sunday, righties were hitting .339/.437/.729 against him. Basically, he turns every right-handed hitter into Sammy Sosa circa 2001. There's no reason he should pitch to anyone but lefties. And even then only if Pedro Feliciano is unavailable or the Mets are at least four runs ahead or behind.

In happier news, four Mets were chosen for the National League's All-Star squad. Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran were chosen by the fans to start and Billy Wagner joins five other closers on the pitching staff. While John Maine was clearly robbed--he's a top five starter whether your stat of choice is wins, ERA or Baseball Prospectus's VORP--the Mets will have a solid contingent of players trying to make sure game one of the World Series takes place at Shea.

The Mets (46-34) will conclude the first half of the season on the road with series in Denver and Houston. Game one against the Rockies (39-43) will take place Monday night and pit Tom Glavine (7-5, 4.12, 297 career wins) against Jason Hirsh (3-7, 5.21, 6 career wins). Oliver Perez (7-6, 3.14) and Maine (9-4, 2.74) will finish up the series for New York against Aaron Cook (4-5, 4.70) and Josh Fogg (3-6, 5.31), respectively.
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.

Location: Hatboro, Pennsylvania, United States
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