Tuesday, August 9, 2011

These Mets sure know how to take a punch — and deliver one

I was talking with my brother over at Optimetsic recently about this Mets team, and how — despite all that's gone on with injuries, and the rough start — enjoyable the season has been, how players like Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy and Dillon Gee have stepped up, how they never give up, how Terry Collins has the team playing hard every game.

But while I have enjoyed what the Mets have done, I admit I want more. I've been pointing to the final third of the season, with a majority of games at home, and three series left against the Braves, as being the Mets' final chance to prove to the naysayers that they were far from finished, that they could still have a run in them.

Then the Mets lost four in a row to the Nationals and the friggin' Marlins, and dropped the opener of the Braves series, and I have to say, it was rough. Here it was, their big chance to at least start to make up ground, and they were blowing it, the last three losses coming at home, which made things doubly frustrating. And of course, losing to the Braves is always painful.

And yet, the Mets battled back again, winning Saturday night with four home runs and 16 hits, and you thought, OK, there's still some hope.

I tuned into Sunday's game late, hearing on the radio that Willie Harris was in for Jose Reyes, who left with an injured hamstring. WHAAAA? We get to my mom's house, and within a half-hour, Daniel Murphy gets spiked and injures a knee, and you knew just from the look on his face that he was done for the year. SERIOUSLY?

And yet, the Mets still battled, but ultimately let the Braves take it when Bobby Parnell allowed a broken-bat single, a walk, and then for some reason threw three straight sliders to Chipper Jones, who of course rolled a 15-hopper past second in the top of the ninth for the win.

Immediate thoughts were that Citi Field must be built on an indian burial ground. Ike Davis wasn't hurt here, it was in Colorado, but still -- that was a seemingly innocuous collision with David Wright that's kept him out all season. Murphy hurts his other knee covering on a stolen base — when does that ever happen? Just plain bizarre. And Reyes again? Something's up. If there really are Phillies jerseys buried in the foundation, dig 'em up.

I lost it, especially with Parnell, who I thought would benefit by having a Frankenstein-like implant of Jason Isringhausen's head onto his 100-mile-an-hour body. Parnell went to the well once too often with Chipper, which he has a tendency to do. He hasn't learned to pitch, and that's what keeps guys like Kyle Farnsworth bouncing from team to team.

And yet, the Mets still battled. They could have packed it in, but instead rallied to take game one of the Padres series on Monday, recapped nicely here by Optimetsic. Two in the eighth, two more in the ninth. Lucas Duda is going to get a huge opportunity to be the left-handed power-hitting first baseman that Davis was supposed to be, and this audition will go a long way toward him possibly being the right field starter next season. Duda has met the challenge.

He came through again Tuesday night, with two more hits, but more importantly, a huge sacrifice bunt in the eighth that set up the game-tying sac fly by Nick Evans (keep this kid around, please). Best of all, Collins said Duda asked him if he wanted him to bunt. Anything for the team, coach.

Then there was the game-winning run on a bases-loaded walk to Ruben Tejada, who has shown that he has a pretty good eye.

Everyone contributed. Pagan homered for the second straight night. Hairston had a big hit. Jason Bay continues to hit. Carrasco got out of a jam.

Collins has said over and over that this team doesn't give up, and they've proven that over and over again. If any team deserved the YOU GOTTA BELIEVE mantra, it's this one. And so, I continue to be greedy and perhaps too unrealistic. Ten games out with 11 to play? THERE'S STILL A CHANCE.

*** And yes, I know the video above is in Spanish. Damn YouTube "embedding disabled by request." It still translates.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Know when to hold 'em, Sandy

Prior to the season, there were two things we wanted Sandy Alderson to do — release Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. He did, and it sent a message that things were going to be different under this new regime.

Fast forward to July. The Mets have hovered on the fringe of the wild card race despite missing David Wright for two months and Ike Davis longer than that, with no Johan Santana at all. Terry Collins is getting the most out of his players (except for Angel Pagan and Jason Bay), but with the trade deadline approaching, two players loom large as Alderson balances the present and the future — Frankie Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran.

K-Rod has a clause in his contract that has a $17 million option for 2012 triggered by 55 games closed. Beltran is a pending free agent who by contract cannot be offered arbitration, meaning the Mets get no draft picks for him if he goes elsewhere next season.

Alderson managed both situations perfectly. He quietly moved K-Rod during the All-Star break for players to be named later, and then got a premier starting pitcher prospect from the Giants for Beltran.

Both moves were necessary for the future. As for the present, the Mets had closing options in Jason Isringhausen and Bobby Parnell, and moving Beltran gave Lucas Duda a chance to show why he was the organization's player of the year last year (and maybe provide the lefty power missing since Davis left).

The Mets have dealt with the changes extremely well, and swept the Reds in Cincinnati. As of Thursday night they are 6 1/2 games behind the Braves at 54-51, with 57 games remaining and three days left before the trading deadline.

Now what we want Alderson to do is: nothing.

The future is secure. There's tons of money off the payroll next season. The team is playing well, and despite what many have to say, the Mets are certainly in the playoff hunt. The chemistry is good. Daniel Murphy and David Wright are hitting machines. Bay had a huge day Thursday and is destined to get hot, as he usually does each season (except last year).

Sandy, stand pat.

You did what you had to do. There are 33 home games left and this team is fun to watch. Keep what you've got and give the fans a reason to come to the park and spend money. Keep this team as it stands now intact and see if it can't make a run in the final third of the season. See if Davis, who says his ankle is pain-free, can come back. See if Johan Santana, who threw three solid rehab innings today, can join the rotation by September.

No one in the clubhouse is waving a white flag. Isringhausen and Byrdak can contribute to this team making a playoff push, not someone else.

Job well done, Sandy. Now sit back, relax, and see what these kids can do.

We might be surprised.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

No Beltran, no problem as Mets continue to man up

I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying Wednesday was the pivotal day of this season, perhaps the most pivotal in the Mets' last few seasons.

The day began with intensifying reports that a Carlos Beltran trade was imminent. By the afternoon, word was out that Beltran was traded to the Giants for 21-year-old pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, with the Mets throwing in around $4 million to pay most of Beltran's remaining salary.

Beltran reportedly took his teammates out to dinner Tuesday night in anticipation of the deal, and said his goodbyes in the clubhouse an hour before Wednesday's game against the Reds. Lucas Duda started in right field, and after saying he was most comfortable in left and at first base than in right, manager Terry Collins responded, "He better get comfortable real fast."

So what happened? The Mets responded the way they have responded to adversity all season. Duda homered, a laser to right. Daniel Murphy, batting third, had four hits. David Wright, batting fourth, homered and drove in four. Angel Pagan, Beltran's protege, doubled in two runs in the first to give the Mets the lead. Jose Reyes had two hits and two runs. And Mike Pelfrey tossed a complete game, his best start of the season, helping the Mets win their third straight in a four-game series in Cincinnati that ends Thursday afternoon.

Man up. That's what Collins has preached all season. The bullpen has an example in Jason Isringhausen of how to bear down. R.A. Dickey is a bulldog. Justin Turner brings the grit. The four relievers who closed out Tuesday's win did so in blue-collar style.

It's old school. Mex loves it. I love it. The Mets draw walks, hit for average, steal bases. They don't get a lot of home runs but they score. They win on the road. If they can figure out how to win at home again — and here's where the fans can help by, you know, showing up to support them — then maybe we've got something here, Beltran or no Beltran.

Anyone criticizing Sandy Alderson's performance so far is an idiot, plain and simple. He quickly defused the K-Rod situation and got a top-40 prospect with top of the rotation talent for a rental player. You can't argue with that. Suddenly, the Mets' farm system has a bunch of future starters in Mejia, Familia, Wheeler and Harvey, not to mention Gee and Niese.

A few words about Beltran. He's one of the best players the Mets have ever had, hands down. Best center fielder, no question. Effortless. A great hitter. Clutch — look up the numbers. Unfortunately, some people remember only his slow start his first season, the called strike three in 2006 and the injuries that derailed 2009 and most of 2010. That's unfortunate. The guy was a professional and classy and in his last seasons a mentor. He will be missed.

But I don't expect the team to roll over. Collins won't allow it. Wright and Reyes and Bay and Murphy and Dickey won't allow it. It's a tough assignment, what with the Braves staying hot and getting ridiculous calls in their favor. But the Mets are still in it and this team will continue to fight. Lots of home games left to make things interesting.

Wednesday was a good day for Beltran, a good day for the Mets and a good day for Mets fans. A win-win-win, which is exactly what the Mets have done to the Reds. Hopefully, it continues.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

They ain't dead yet

I stopped listening to Benigno and Roberts on WFAN back in May because (1) Benigno is a moron and (2) for guys who claim to be Mets fans, they are awfully negative. But because the FAN is the No. 1 AM station on my car stereo, when I head out to grab lunch, out of habit I'll tune in to 660 and occasionally catch a bit of their show, against my better judgement.

So there I was this afternoon, running out to the Landmark Deli for an "Emeril Calling" roast beef wrap, when I turned on the radio just in time to hear those paragons of positivity declare several times, while discussing what kind of return the Mets could get for Carlos Beltran, that the Mets are dead.

I'll admit that my optimism borders on the lunatic. I'm the kind of fan who will hold on to every last shred of hope until mathematical elimination is nigh. But really, with more than a third of the season left to play, we're calling the Mets done?

Sure, Atlanta was 7 1/2 games ahead of the Mets in a crowded field for the Wild Card entering Tuesday's second game of a four-game set in Cincinnati. But 60 games is a lot of baseball left, so could we please hold off on the shovels? Good Lord.

Yes, to win 90 games the Mets would need to go 39-21 over their final 60 games while the Braves go no better than 30-29 in their final 59. Unlikely? Maybe. Impossible? Not at all.

The Mets took a step forward and improved to 52-51 with an 8-6 win over the Reds Tuesday night in a game that featured some sloppy play by the home team and some very gutsy work by a shorthanded Mets bullpen, with Beato, Acosta, Igarashi and Byrdak combining to save a win for Jon Niese, who imploded in the fifth after four solid innings.

The Mets have had a tough schedule so far, particularly since May 27, when 14 of the 18 series were against playoff contenders. The only games that weren't were against Oakland and the Dodgers (Mets went 5-2) and five against the Marlins (the Mets won just once). In that stretch of 51 games, the Mets went 26-25. Not bad, considering the strength of schedule and the lack of David Wright, Ike Davis, and for a bit, Jose Reyes.

The rest of the way gets easier, providing the Mets get better at home. After this road trip the Mets will have the final third of the season left, 54 games, and 33 will be at Citi Field. They play the Braves nine times, six at home. That's an opportunity.

Terry Collins has expected his players to step up when needed all season, and when Beltran is traded, that just means Lucas Duda and Jason Pridie will have a chance to show what they have. Collins mentioned this week that if Beltran leaves and he senses any negativity in the clubhouse, he'll move quickly to squash it, noting that most of the players are fighting not only to win games now but for a spot on the roster next season. So there's dual motivation.

As for Beltran, we keep hearing that the Mets won't get top prospects for a two-month rental, but the fact remains that among the outfielders who will be available, Beltran is the best player and the biggest impact bat. So Sandy Alderson is smart to wait this out to the end to see who coughs up the most.

But I'm at a point where if the offers for Beltran are that underwhelming -- and especially if the Mets can pick up another game or two between now and Friday -- the Mets should just keep Beltran and ride the season out. (As I finish this, the Mets could pick up another half game and move to 6 1/2 games out if the Pirates can beat the Braves, but it's the top of the 18th inning. Yikes.)

With so many home dates left, the Mets should consider the value of keeping its top players and going for it. If it doesn't work out, so what? They lose out on a couple of middling prospects.

But if the Mets can catch fire? How much are all those "meaningful games" worth, not just in dollars but in karma?

Like I said, I'm a lunatic. Or fanatic. A fan.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Can the Mets get the band back together (without K-Rod)?

So I took a week off from the blog, for a couple of reasons. One, after the Subway Series the Mets went to the West Coast and, frankly, I can barely stay awake to watch the games than blog about them afterwards. Plus, we were away for most of that week, and then there was the All-Star break, so I figured I'd just take a breather and come back with a post after the midsummer classic with a look toward what the second half of the season could bring.

I didn't have to wait long for the first gift.

Within an hour of the conclusion of the All-Star game (won by the NL), the Mets dealt Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers for cash (later reported to be $5 million, or what he's owed the rest of this season) and two players to be named later.

This shocked absolutely no one since we all knew there was no way the Mets would be paying K-Rod his $17 million salary next season, which would kick in once he finished 21 more games. Sandy Alderson did what he had to do, and dumped the salary, and really, if either of the two prospects the Mets pick up ever make the big-league club it would be a bonus.

So next year's payroll will not include the $17M for K-Rod, nor the $19 million made by Carlos Beltran, nor the $12M for Ollie Perez nor the $6M for Luis Castillo. That's $54 million. Considering the payroll this season was around $138 million, that's a huge reduction.

Think $7-8 million of that could go to Jose Reyes? Yeah, we think so.

The K-Rod deal doesn't raise the white flag on the season in that everyone knew K-Rod was going at some point, and the Mets do have a couple of possible closers in Bobby Parnell and Jason Isringhausen (we're thinking Izzy to Parnell is the way to go, if only because we'll find out whether Parnell really has the stuff to close).

Is Beltran next? It's likely, but with David Wright and Jose Reyes coming back in a week, it would be nice to see whether this team can hang in there. At 7 1/2 games out of the wild card with 71 games left, there's still plenty of time and plenty of fight left in the dog. And it seems that there is a chance that Ike Davis could be back, and then maybe Santana in August. The Brewers are going for it, and they're just 2 1/2 games ahead of the Mets. Fans (this one at least) aren't ready to concede anything just yet.

The team is on the precipice, though, and it will be a challenge to win the series against the Phillies as shorthanded as they are. Certainly, Alderson has to think long term, and dealing K-Rod and possibly Beltran, who will not be back in 2012, are moves for the future.

But we're still in the present. Terry Collins, like coach Norman Dale in "Hoosiers," doesn't worry about who's not in the lineup. His teams compete regardless of who's starting.

"My team is on the floor."

That team hasn't had Davis or Wright in a long while and has been surviving without Reyes for more than a week and they are still in the mix. Can we let this team play it out? Sure, we could get a couple of players for Beltran, but no top prospects for a rental.

Why not let Beltran honor the rest of his contract and enjoy his final resurgent year in Flushing, and see what happens when the band is back together?

Again, 71 games left. Nine against the Braves and six of those at home.

Collins has talked all season about guys getting the opportunity to show something. Turner and Murphy have taken advantage. Parnell is about to. The Mets as a team can do the same.


Just a note about the video up top. I wanted to use the scene from "The Blues Brothers" where they tell Mr. Fabulous at the Chez Paul that they're getting the band back together, but that and most other clips from the movie on YouTube have embedding disabled. So I found this one, which is a great song, but you'll notice at the end that it was recorded off the TV in some foreign language (Spanish or Italian, I think).

Friday, July 1, 2011

Subway Series: Confidence level is high

I don't follow the Yankees very closely, or the American League at all, which confounds one particular colleague at work who will ask me what I think of Ivan Nova, or if I saw that Twins-White Sox game.

The only Nova I have any opinion on is Aldo Nova, and since I am in an NL-only fantasy league, I couldn't care less about what goes on in the junior circuit. I have enough to worry about with the Mets and the two-time champion Winslow Homers.

But since it's Subway Series time again, I took a closer look at the boys from the Bronx, who will play this series without their beloved Captain (who always kills the Mets but is otherwise playing like an aging No. 8 hitter).

Did you know that 3/5ths of the Yankees rotation is made up of Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon? A youngster with a WHIP of 1.4 and two retreads? That cannot be sustainable. And those are the three starters the Mets will face this weekend.

Confidence level: HIGH.

I'm thrilled that the Mets will have Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and R.A. Dickey pitching in the series. And while Mike Pelfrey is much, much better at home than he is on the road, I don't mind seeing him sit this one out.

The Mets just won four of six on the road against two of the three teams that have been in first place in the AL, and the Yankees will be No. 3. The Mets currently have a better road record than home so far this season, but that figures to turn at some point, and what better than now, when the team is scoring double digits per game?

I'm less than thrilled that two of the three games will be national broadcasts, on Fox and TBS Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Sunday I'll be at a barbecue at a friend's house and won't be able to hear the audio anyway, and we'll have to work something out for Saturday because Joe Buck gives me a twitch.

If you think about the stretch of games the Mets are in the middle of — three first-place AL teams, followed by four games in LA and then three at first-place San Francisico — that's a pretty tough run. And yet the Mets are in a good position to come through that with a winning record for the trip and plus-.500 at the All-Star break, with David Wright ready to return right after that.

Think of where this team was two months ago. Amazing.

NOTE: Since I mentioned Aldo Nova at the top I wanted to include the music video for "Fantasy," but embedding was disabled. So you can find it here. Aldo's leopard jumpsuit is worth the clickthrough on its own, and if anyone can tell me what the deal is with the hunchback guy carrying Aldo's guitar, I'd appreciate it.

Instead, in the spirit of the Subway Series, enjoy "Let's Go, Mets, Go!"