Archive for the ‘Mets’ Category

How is this possible?

August 24, 2009

I mean, how is THIS possible?

I mean, from a job performance standpoint, I’d be one of Minaya’s strongest defenders. He fleeced the Twins in the Santana deal. He’s spent a ton of money without wasting a ton of money. Sure, he gave $13 million a year to a highly overrated and declining 70-innings-a-year pitcher, but everybody makes mistakes, and in New York that’s hardly the kind of thing that ruins seasons. Their season was ruined by injuries, not any failure of Minaya’s.

At the same time, though, is he irreplaceable? Consider for a moment how many brilliant baseball people would love to take the Mets’ GM job tomorrow. If you put all of those people in a line, would Minaya stand out? And if you put all those people in a line and knew that one of them had waited way too long to fire a good friend who totally messed up and then tried to blame it all a reporter who was just doing his job, wouldn’t you eliminate that one from consideration?

I don’t know. I just don’t get it. I mean, Minaya is under contract for at least three more years, but even to the cash-strapped Wilpons, Minaya’s salary isn’t the kind of thing that will be missed (he’s making about 1/3 of what they’re paying J.J. Putz. I gotta think Kim Ng and Paul DePodesta are wondering what a body has to do to lose a job around there about now…

A Tale of Two Aces

June 26, 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and all that crap.

Sometimes, the final score of a game not only doesn’t tell the whole story, it totally misses the whole point of that story. And sometimes, when the danged score totally drops the ball like that, GameDay’s got its back.

Chris Carpenter was, as he’s been whenever healthy since first setting foot in St. Louis in 2004, outstanding yesterday. After hitting Alex Cora to start the game, Carpenter retired the next nine hitters, and made it look easy. If you flip through the GameDay link, you’ll see nothing but 92-MPH sinking fastballs at the knees; sharp sliders exactly hitting the low-outside corner against RH hitters or riding in on the hands of LH hitters; and two-strike curveballs suddenly diving into the dirt. For those first three innings, it was like a video game; every pitch he threw (except that first time to Cora) went exactly where you would assume he would’ve wanted it in that situation. He turned human after that, but only a little, still hitting his spots with all his pitches with alarming regularity.

On the other hand, Carp’s opponent yesterday was none other than probably the best pitcher of the ‘aughts (I figure it’s got to be him or Randy Johnson, right?), Johan Santana. And what is wrong with that guy? Through the first two innings, Santana threw 17 strikes and 16 balls. He wasn’t striking out anybody. His GameDay log shows fastballs left over the middle of the plate, and his usually-awesome changeup (which should generally be down in the zone) left well up and away to most hitters. He was all over the place, especially early. He loaded the bases in the second with Albert Pujols coming up, and gave him a 93-MPH fastball right in Albert’s wheelhouse that Pujols came just a few feet short of converting into four runs.

The story is also told by how the pitchers fared against each other: in his first two at-bats, Carpenter singled on the first pitch and then drew a walk. Santana struck out on three pitches and then popped out to very shallow right.

For the day, Carpenter pitched 7 innings; threw only 82 pitches (he was pulled for a pinch hitter; just another persuasive argument in favor of the DH rule), but 64 of them (78%) for strikes; allowed four hits, three singles and a double; and walked none while striking out five. He did hit the one batter.

Santana also threw 7 innings, but required 110 pitches, 74 of them strikes (67%, a huge improvement given his 50/50 start). He allowed 7 hits, one of them a double. He walked three and struck out only three.

But here’s the catch: all four of the hits Carpenter allowed came in the fourth inning. They led to three runs. Ignore that little HBP to lead off the game, and Carpenter authored six perfect innings and one clunker (though it’s not as though he was hit terribly hard even in that inning). Meanwhile, what with the Pujols near-grand slam and all, Santana stranded eight runners on base, permitting only two runs. The Mets bullpen held on (barely, with some nerve-racking wildness by K-Rod), giving Santana the “win” and Carpenter the “loss.”

And today, you’ll probably read about how Santana might be back on track after picking up the win in St. Louis. But that just doesn’t tell the story of this game at all. These are two guys who are going in opposite directions.

In Santana’s last 7 starts before yesterday, he had gone 43 innings, given up 10 HR and posted a 5.82 ERA, striking out 37 and walking 14; that’s 3 fewer innings, 1 more walk, 23 fewer strikeouts and 8 more HR than he put up over his first seven starts. This one will make his ERA over that stretch look a lot better, and it’s nice that he managed not to allow a HR for the first time in eight appearances…but there’s not a lot to feel hopeful about here. This isn’t the Santana of those first seven starts, and you have to start wondering if something is a little wrong with the guy.

Meanwhile, in his entire nine-start, injury-shortened season, Carpenter has been consistently fantastic, with a 1.53 ERA, 43 strikeouts against just 9 walks, and just 3 HR in 58 2/3 innings. Yesterday, he took his second “loss” in his last three starts, and allowed exactly three earned runs for the third time in his last four. But make no mistake: Carpenter has shown conclusively that, injuries and all, he’s still a truly great pitcher. And the “L” by his name in the boxscore and the one unlucky inning don’t change the fact that, in this particular matchup of former Cy Young Award winners on this particular day, he was the better pitcher, and it wasn’t even remotely close.

Gameblog #2: Braves at Mets

May 12, 2009

You might think that a guy with a family and a very full-time job whose blog just got linked to by the great Rob Neyer might realize that he’d already pretty much peaked as a baseball blogger and hang it up right there. Mais non! Not us! Like Pete Rose, we’ll keep selfishly pencilling ourselves into the lineup long after we’ve become pathetic, fleshy mockeries of our old selves. And like Queen Victoria, we’ll refer to ourselves as “we,” if only for purposes of this paragraph.

Warmups
Broadcast: Atlanta; Chip Caray and Joe Simpson.
Pitchers: Atlanta’s Derek Lowe (4-1, 3.98 ERA, 3.60 FIP) vs. New York’s Johan Santana. (4-1, 0.91, 2.02).

With only four games on the night’s entire schedule, how do you pass up this matchup? Atlanta radio broadcaster Don Sutton is a Hall of Famer, and just edges out Lowe for the title of “Second-Greatest Pitcher Involved in Tonight’s Game.”
PeachTree TV isn’t showing commercials to we Extra Innings folk; we just see a silent long view of the field for two or three minutes. I haven’t watched any Braves broadcasts yet; is this normal for them?
Sadly, each team is down one big, aging piece for tonight’s tussle: both Chipper Jones and Carlos Delgado are on the shelf. I have to say, there’s a whole lot stacked against the visitors coming into this one. Atlanta needs Larry much more than Queens needs Carlos.

First Inning

Kelly Johnson swings at the first pitch and makes the first out, which as a leadoff hitter should probably earn him a fine or something. But that’s as good as it gets for Santana, as three of the next four guys come up with singles, the last of which leads to an unearned run on a bad throw by Wright that substitute first baseman Fernando Tatis can’t handle. Probably most important is that, first-pitch out and all, Santana needs 27 pitches to get through the inning.

The graphic says “Derek Lowe – Last Start — Defeated Marlins,” and then gives his line: 5 innings, 7 hits, 6 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Sorry, no: the Marlins hitters defeated Lowe. That he happened to leave with a lead his team didn’t relinquish doesn’t make his performance one in which he “defeated” anybody. To his credit, Lowe himself is very aware of that. He takes 1/3 as many pitches as Santana to get through his inning, following up a walk with an easy double play. It’s good to be probably the most extreme ground ball pitcher in the bigs.

Second Inning

Hey, guess what? Jeff Francouer swung at the first pitch! And the second! And the third! And the fourth! He struck out, but Santana just isn’t sharp so far. Quite a few more pitches, but no damage done.

After the costly first-inning error and a strikeout here, the Mets fans (some of them) are booing David Wright. And yeah, he’s a little down so far (and has been especially horrible in the field, costing his team 1.6 runs already according to UZR), but he’s still your best player and one of the best in the game. Chill out, folks. A good, long AB by Tatis keeps it from being another insanly quick inning for Lowe, but it’s 1-2-3 nonetheless.

Third Inning

Chip and Joe are talking about how hard it is to hit homers here in the Mets’ new park (it is quite big, but ESPN’s park factors, which actually don’t mean anything at all yet, have it at .973 for homers, making it just a tick shy of the average). They both seem to believe that the answer to what they perceive as a pitching shortage is for everybody to build bigger ballparks…but that’s insanely stupid. Santana looks much better now, though he’s still not JOHAN SANTANA tonight.
Derek Lowe facing off against Jeremy Reed, Omir Santos and the pitcher: how do you suppose that went? Faced the minimum through three.

Fourth Inning

Casey Kotchman does his best Kelly Johnson/Jeff Francouer impression, popping out to the catcher on the first pitch. The real Francouer actually takes a pitch, then swings wildly at the next two and flies out harmlessly. He’s a terrible, terrible player, folks. Now Santana is rolling.

The answer to the Toyota Tacoma Trivia Question: the only 3 pitchers in Braves history to have 4 strikeouts in 1 inning are Phil Niekro, Paul Assenmacher, and Mark Wohlers. A question I can’t tell you the answer to: if you’re Jose Reyes, and you walk, and you’ve got an extreme GB pitcher on the mound, how are you not taking second base on the first pitch? He doesn’t run, and Castillo predictably erases him on a DP. If Reyes takes second there, he scores easily on the Mets’ first hit of the night, a sharp single into right by Beltran. Lowe got hit hard this inning, though, and I’m starting to think Santana has the edge again.

Fifth Inning

You can tell by the way Lowe swings the bat that he was born to pitch (preferably in the AL, or as a closer). To be fair, Kelly Johnson doesn’t look much better. Santana loses focus a bit after that, though, walking Escobar on four pitches and throwing a whole bunch of pitches to Martin Prado. Still one-zip halfway through the game.

This is pretty much how an ace pitcher has to get in trouble on a night like this: one sharp single to right, and a bouncer that would’ve been a third double play if it didn’t happen to bounce too high for Kotchman and into right. First and third, one out, and Omir Santos hits a sac fly to Francouer. 1-1 now.

Sixth Inning

Santana throws three straight absolutely unhittable strikes to Brian McCann, the best hitter in Atlanta’s lineup tonight. Caray says “91 pitches for Santana, but that’s not an issue — he’s pitching great tonight.” Um, Chip? You’re dumb. To Simpson’s credit, he immediately points that out (though not in so many words). Diaz singles and Kotchman gets absolutely drilled on the hand because he started to swing, and I hope he’s all right, but that really shouldn’t get you a free base. Guess what, though? Francouer swung at the first pitch! He’s now seen eight pitches and swung at seven of them. Also, he’s dumb. Santana gets out of trouble, but at around a hundred pitches, despite what Chip says, he might be done for the night.

Bottom 6 — nothing at all happens. Lowe is good.

Seventh Inning

Santana does actually come out for the seventh, and immediately goes to 3-0 on Lowe before pumping three BP fastballs down the middle to claim the automatic out that’s rightfully his. Then he gives up a broken-bat single to Kelly Johnson, and then Manuel makes the very curious decision to take him out. Why the hell would you do that then? Parnell is in to face just two batters, and then Manuel goes back to a lefty reliever, so he’s used three pitchers where he probably could’ve used just one. Anyway, it should work, but then Reyes bobbles a ball on about the seventieth bounce, and the bases are loaded. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shortstop boot a chance that easy. Then the wheels kind of predictably come off, with four more unearned runs coming in on a pair of singles. This is looking like yet another tough-luck loss for Santana. Even Francouer manages a hit, off the fourth Mets pitcher of the inning, before they finally limp out of it. Manuel is gonna get skewered in the papers tomorrow for taking Johan out.

Wright leads off with a double off the base of the wall in deepest center that was just destroyed; no doubt the Mets fans and press will get on him for hitting a “meaningless” double…unless of course it ignites a Met rally to help surmount this very surmountable four-run deficit. It doesn’t; Wright scores, and Lowe comes out, but that’s it, and it’s 5-2, and thus Wright is so not clutch.


Eighth Inning

Greg Norton pinch hits and singles, and then Kelly Johnson celebrates not having to face Johan anymore by hitting a grounder to the shortstop position on a first-pitch hit-and-run; that’s what they call “perfectly executed” (but how much control does he have over it, really? How much can Johnson control hitting it to the vacated shortstop position rather than, say, right over the bag, where Reyes has vacated to, for a rally-killing double play?). The few Mets fans remaining are booing rather lustily at no one in particular, but then cheer a sharp Wright-Castillo-Tatis double play, and it’s now 6-2 Atlanta.

Rafael Soriano comes in for the eighth, and this feels like a lot more than a four-run lead. Alex Cora has 0.0 chin, but a lovely .320 or so batting average after that single. There’s some sort of issue with some fans in the outfield, who waved a flag they weren’t supposed to and then flipped off Jeff Francouer. That’s pretty much the highlight of the Mets’ eighth.

Ninth Inning

Ken Takahashi, who I don’t believe is exactly 6’0″ and exactly 200 pounds (but who I do believe is very hittable tonight), is on the mound now. McCann doubles; you’d have to have figured that if this was going to be a fairly big win for the Braves minus Chipper, McCann would be something other than one-for-five with a low-leverage last-inning double. Francouer takes his second and third pitches of the night, then hits a sac fly. 7-2. Takahashi is both hittable and crazy wild, chucking up a wild pitch that bounced most of the way back to him. Jordan Schafer walks to remain the only Atlanta starter without a hit. Another single makes it 8-2, and it looks (because of course the camera only shows the corporate seats) like there are about ten people left in Citi Field.

The excellently-named Buddy Carlyle comes in with a six-run lead to protect and three outs to get. Wright reaches on an infield hit, the throw bounces off him and way up along the wall, and Wright probably could’ve ended up on third, but stays put; Chip says “Wright…thought about moving up ninety feet but he’s gotta play it safe.” Well, nobody’s gotta play it that safe. His playing it safe immediately costs the Mets, as Murphy bounces into an easy DP. Tatis doubles, so Wright would’ve been an easy run if he’d moved up. Smarter fans would boo him for that, not the other stuff. The way this inning is working out, his run could’ve been pretty important; it’s 8-3 with two on and two out, and 8-4 with two on and one out would make this a pretty different feel. Regardless, it ends 8-3, and what was a great game for the first six innings has felt like it’s taken about seven hours to end.

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Lowe gets credited with the win, which is well-deserved; Johan goes 6 1/3 and gives up 0 ER to drop his ERA 13 points to 0.78, and gets stuck with the “loss,” which is pretty much the story of Johan’s life. Fans of both teams ought to be feeling really good about their aces, and really uneasy about their bullpens.