Betty's No Good Clothes Shop And Pancake House
Thursday, August 30, 2007
  I think the sword could take this pen

Now I am a little bit concerned. The Mets' bullpen is a complete disaster. It would be so based on the performances of the pitchers alone, but Willie Randolph seems intent on making things worse.

On Thursday afternoon, Orlando Hernandez had a rare bad start, giving up five runs in three innings. Randolph had little choice but to bring in Aaron Sele given that Jorge Sosa had pitched two innings the previous night. Aaron Sele had little choice but to give up three runs in an inning and two-thirds given that he's Aaron Sele. But the Mets put ten runs on the board, more than they had in their previous four games combined, and led by two entering the bottom of the eighth inning.

Randolph brought in Billy Wagner, who hadn't pitched since last Friday due to a "tired arm," to pitch the eighth. This was pretty odd, but could be interpreted as smart. Using your best reliever against the heart of the Phillies' lineup in the eighth, as was the case here, makes a lot more sense than saving him to pitch to the bottom of the lineup in the ninth so he can earn a save. Unfortunately, Wagner gave up a solo home run to Patt Burrell in the eighth. But he escaped the inning with the lead intact, having thrown twenty-two pitches.

Wagner did strike out two in the eighth, so it's not as if he was clearly pitching poorly. Still, sending he and his recently tired arm out to pitch the ninth when Aaron Heilman was available and had warmed up earlier in the game was pretty strange. Things got stranger as Wagner allowed a leadoff single to Jayson Werth and still no one stirred in the Mets' bullpen. After Wagner got one out, he and Paul Lo Duca let Werth steal second and third. Another single brought in the tying run. Still no action in the bullpen. Then a walk. No Heilman. Forty-five pitches and four outs in, Wagner gave up his fourth hit which drove in his third and losing run.

The last time Billy Wagner threw as many as forty-five pitches in a regular season game was more than six years ago. Obviously he pitched badly as twenty-two of those forty-five were balls. And this was not a shock as he's now allowed runs in four straight appearances--a total of seven runs in four and one-third innings. But it's hard to fathom what Randolph was thinking letting him pitch that long in such a big game without even warming anyone else up. Given how Wagner's felt and how he's pitched lately, a shorter leash, hell, any leash at all, would have seemed reasonable.

Four losses to the Phillies, each more excruciating than the last, have left the Mets (73-60) with a mere two game lead in the NL East. Now they head to Atlanta to face the Braves (69-65) and their two best pitchers. Tim Hudson (15-6, 3.23) and John Smoltz (12-6, 3.06) will serve as the bread in a Chuck James (9-9, 4.22) sandwich while the Mets send out John Maine (13-8, 3.68), Mike Pelfrey (0-7, 5.92) and Tom Glavine (11-6, 4.15). I think winning one game would be a triumph at this point.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
  New World Emerging Blues

After a disappointing homestand in which they won just three of six from the Dodgers and Padres, things have only gotten worse on the road for the Mets. Monday's 9-2 loss was neither surprising nor disappointing given than Brian Lawrence was the Mets' starting pitcher. Lawrence has been an adequate short-term fifth starter, but there was never any reason to expect much from him against a good offensive team in a good offensive park.

Tuesday's 4-2 loss in ten innings was a lot more troubling. First of all, the Mets scored just two runs in a game started by Adam Eaton. Only three Mets had a hit in this game and one of them was Tom Glavine. Glavine, Moises Alou and Carlos Delgado did each have two hits, including a Delgado home run that accounted for both runs, but the top four hitters in the lineup went hitless in sixteen at bats. The recently hot New York offense has scored just six runs in its last three games and fifteen in its last five.

Then there's the bullpen. Over the last eight games, the only Mets relievers with ERAs under six are Aaron Sele, who's pitched two scoreless innings, and Aaron Heilman, who's given up six hits and a walk in his last three and one-third innings and allowed an inherited runner to score the tying run in Tuesday's game. It seems no one in the Mets' pen can be trusted right now as even Billy Wagner appeared mortal this week, blowing one save and one tie game. And of course, Willie Randolph's bullpen management has not helped matters. On Tuesday he used Guillermo Mota in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game and got away with it only to tempt fate and send him out to pitch to Ryan Howard in the tenth. As the inevitable walk-off home run sailed the hundred or so feet it takes to reach the fence in Citizen's Bank Park, one couldn't help but wonder where Wagner was, or why Scott Schoeneweis is even on the team if someone like Mota is going to pitch to one of the best lefties in the league in extra innings.

The Mets still have a four-game lead in the NL East and favorable pitching matchups in the final two games of this series with Oliver Perez (12-8, 3.34) and Orlando Hernandez (9-4, 3.07) taking on Jamie Moyer (11-10, 5.16) and Kyle Lohse (7-12, 4.47), respectively. But neither Perez nor El Duque is likely to pitch a complete game and the Mets' offense seems incapable of building a big enough lead for their bullpen to protect right now. The Mets still have a much easier road to a division title than the Phillies, but they're going to have to play better than they have the last week to reach its end.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
  Seeing Daylight

New York pitching was shaky again this week, but the offense exploded, enabling them to win five of six from two of the National League's weakest teams. After a spectacular bullpen implosion cost the Mets a sweep of the Pirates on Thursday, there was plenty of reason to worry about this team. But a weekend sweep in the nation's capital leaves the Mets with a five-game lead in the division, tying their largest of the season.

The Mets scored forty-three runs in six games games this week, hitting .318/.400/.516 as a team. This is all the more remarkable given that Carlos Delgado only played two games this week and either Mike DiFelice or Sandy Alomar, Jr. started every game at catcher. Carlos Beltran, apparently back to his 2006 form, led the way with four home runs and a .292/.379/.917 line for the week. David Wright and Moises Alou each also had an OPS over 1.000 and Marlon Anderson went four-for-ten with two doubles off the bench. This offense is finally starting to resemble the 2006 version, scoring 6.47 runs per game in the month of August, second best in the NL. With Beltran dominating again, Wright and Jose Reyes both slightly improving on their 2006 campaigns, Alou making up for the decline in Delgado's production, Lastings Milledge providing some offense out of right field and Luis Castillo playing the Paul Lo Duca role of "guy who gets on base enough to make up for the fact that he has no power," this offense could be just as dangerous as last year's.

Unfortunately, the pitching staff is also starting to look like something we've seen before. Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez have pitched well lately and Brian Lawrence has not been a disaster in the fifth spot. But John Maine and Oliver Perez each had another unimpressive start, allowing a total of six runs in ten and two-thirds innings. There may be some help on the way for this starting rotation, but I would feel much more confident if one or both of these guys put a few consecutive good starts together. The Mets may be able to win some 8-6 games in October, but I'd rather they didn't have to.

The lack of success and innings from the starting pitchers is all the more troubling given the recent performance from the bullpen. Billy Wagner has been dominant and Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano have been pretty good. Jorge Sosa has also looked a lot better since moving to the pen. But the rest of the relievers, Scott Schoeneweis, Guillermo Mota and Aaron Sele, have been awful. Combined, they've allowed 148 hits and 54 walks in 127.2 innings with 88 strikeouts and a 5.29 ERA for the season. Schoeneweis and Mota have both been good against lefties, but if Willie Randolph isn't going to use them accordingly, what does that matter? Joe Smith has a 2.57 ERA in seven innings since being sent to New Orleans, but his 4:4 K:BB ratio does not inspire a lot of confidence. Lawrence might make a better long reliever than Sele and if certain other plans work out, Perez or Maine could find himself in the playoff pen as well. Aside from that, there isn't any help on the way. The sixth, seventh and eighth innings of October are likely to be extremely tense affairs.

The Mets (70-53) now return home with Ramon Castro and Damion Easley having joined Paul Lo Duca on the disabled list. Maintaining their offensive pace won't be easy as the Padres (65-57) bring the best pitching staff in the league to town. Maine (13-7, 3.59), Lawrence (1-0, 5.06) and Glavine (11-6, 4.12) will start in this series for the Mets. Chris Young (9-4, 1.93), Clay Hensley (2-3, 6.70) and Jake Peavy (13-5, 2.19) will go for San Diego.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
  Make it stop

The Mets continue to be an extremely frustrating team to root for. This week they lost their fourth straight series to the Braves in agonizing fashion and followed it up by doing no better against the Marlins. Thanks to a ten-run outburst on Sunday, they wound up outscored by just one run in these six games, but their lead in the division will be three games at most at the end of the day. The Braves and Phillies may never take advantage of the Mets' struggles, but no team they face in October is likely to be so forgiving.

One of the major problems in the second half and this week in particular has been the starting pitching. Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez are each pitching a little bit better in the second half than the first in terms of ERA and each was solid this week. John Maine and Oliver Perez, however, have not maintained their first half success at all. Maine has an ERA of 6.46 in six post-break stats, more than twice his first half 2.71. Perez's ERA has gone from 3.14 in the first half to 4.33 in the second half. It's not too surprising that Maine has cooled off, given that he's never pitched nearly as well in the majors as he did in the first half of this year and he's already pitched more innings this year than he had in his entire major league career prior to this year. The magnitude of his collapse is still quite disappointing given how good he looked in the first half. Perez was able to maintain his effectiveness through 196 innings three years ago, but since then he's been anything but consistent, so his struggles aren't exactly stunning, either. Still, both were very good for much of this season and a six-start stretch isn't enough to convince me that either is a lost cause. If the Mets are going to play deep into October this year, they will need these two to get it together.

The offense did have a decent week, scoring 31 runs and hitting .281/.338/.433. It was not exactly a dominating performance, especially before Sunday, but there were some good signs. Carlos Beltran returned from the DL and hit a home run, though it was the only hit he had in ten at bats. Jose Reyes, at .360/.429/.520, and David Wright, at .333/.423/.762, both had excellent weeks. And Moises Alou, with three home runs, continued to prove that he'll hit as long as he's healthy. Unfortunately that might not be very long if Willie Randolph keeps having him start every single game. Even with Beltran back, there should be plenty of playing time for Lastings Milledge given Alou's age and injury history and Shawn Green's general lack of ability at the game of baseball, but Randolph doesn't seem to agree. Paul Lo Duca going on the DL on Sunday should also have been a boon to the offense, but Ramon Castro left Sunday's game after just one at bat with "mild arthritis" in his back. He is listed as day-to-day, but I fear the Mike DiFelice era may be upon us.

The Mets (65-52) failed this weekend in their first shot at beating up on the dregs of the National League. They will get a couple more chances in the coming week, starting with a trip to Pittsburgh where the Pirates and the worst record in the National League (48-66) await. El Duque (7-4, 3.05), Maine (12-7, 3.53) and the so-far-adequate Brian Lawrence (1-0, 4.09) will start for the Mets. Ian Snell (7-10, 3.87), Proven Veteran Matt Morris (7-7, 4.53) and Tony Armas Jr. (2-3, 6.13) will go for Pittsburgh.
  Free: Ramon Castro

Paul Lo Duca has been placed on the disabled list with a straight right hamstring and the Mets have called up Mike DiFelice to take his place on the roster. Willie Randolph is still doing everything he can to keep Shawn Green in the lineup despite his being one of the worst starting right fielders in the majors, but at least we won't have to watch Lo Duca ground out to second base for a couple of weeks. Ramon Castro stumbled a bit when given a chance to play every day a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully he'll take more advantage of the opportunity this time. I have little doubt that he'll at least add some more power to the lineup.

At the time of the emancipation:

Lo Duca: .267/.310/.355, 344 at bats
Castro: .285/.326/.538, 130 at bats
Monday, August 06, 2007
  300 is a magic number

Tom Glavine pitched well in both of his shots at win number 300, but on Sunday he got enough support from his offense and his bullpen to etch his name in the record books. He gave up two runs on six hits and one walk in six and one-third inning and exited with a four-run lead, much more comfortable than the one-run margin he left with on Tuesday. He was relieved by Guillermo Mota and Pedro Feliciano, the two men most responsible for blowing Tuesday's lead, and they weren't much better on Sunday, letting two runs cross the plate. But the offense tacked on three more runs and Aaron Heilman, Jorge Sosa and Billy Wagner helped the 8-3 score hold up.

It hasn't always been easy rooting for Tom Glavine. As a Mets fan, seeing him come over from the hated Brave was a somewhat awkward moment. And the way he pitched his first year in the blue and orange--9-14, 4.52 ERA--could've made one wonder whose payroll he was really on. But in 2004 he really turned things around, posting ERAs under 4.00 for three straight years. In 2007 he and his casual relationship with the strike zone have not always been easy to watch. But he's played a significant role in the Mets' return to respectability. And anyone who made it through the Art Howe years with his sanity intact deserves respect. So hats off to another terrific Tom in Mets history. Even when his Hall of Fame plaque is unveiled with that evil A adorning the hat, I'll applaud.

I'll also applaud the Mets as a whole, who did a fine job to win four of six on the road from the two teams battling for the NL Central lead. They outscored the Cubs and Brewers 37-24, including three games in which they scored at least eight runs. They only did that twice in the entire month of July. Ramon Castro finally got a chance to play regularly, starting the first five of these games. This didn't go all that well, as he had only three hits in twenty-three at bats, but he did hit two home runs, or as many as Paul Lo Duca has hit in his last thirty-eight games. Lo Duca had a single in five at bats on Sunday. Lastings Milledge also had a good week filling in for Carlos Beltran in center, hitting .368/.400/.474.

It's back to divisional competition on for the Mets (63-48) on Tuesday, as the Braves (59-53), who trail the Mets by 4.5 games, come to town. Oliver Perez (10-7, 3.00), Orlando Hernandez (7-4, 3.00) and John Maine (12-6, 3.27) will start for the Mets. Buddy Carlyle (6-3, 4.20), John Smoltz (10-6, 3.04) and Tim Hudson (12-5, 2.95) will go for Atlanta.
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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