May 23

Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper Are Sorta Good

One way we argue that a pitcher is performing well is through strikeout totals. If the totals are high enough, or if the pitcher reaches double-digits in K/9, we can typically make a reasonable assumption that the pitcher is doing okay. Carlos Carrasco has struck out 10.58 per nine with an ERA nearing five. FIP accounts for that, though, and Carrasco’s FIP of 2.62 is seventh in the Majors for all qualified starters. Clayton Kershaw (my first Kershaw mention this season!) has a fairly ridiculous K/9 of 11.26 with an ERA at 4.32, but I have a suspicion that Kershaw will be okay by season’s end.

I don’t think K/9 really mean all that much when it comes to Max Scherzer, though. When I watch him pitch—and each of his starts is becoming can’t miss at this point along with any Matt Harvey start—I’m amazed that at any given time, Scherzer could as easily strike out the side as cruise through an inning on five pitches. When Scherzer decides to be cruel and embarrass hitters, he can throw a mid-90s fastball to either side of the plate, fool a batter with the change, or simply spin a slider and let slip the mounds of WAR (or make a batter flail and strike out, which is great for FIP, whatever). Or, when the batters are feeling especially helpless that day, they’ll just jump on the first fairly hittable pitch and hope for the best, and in that scenario, Scherzer will toss his late breaking change and watch another fly ball reach Denard Span’s mitt. Scherzer is one of the few starters whose pitch count could be between 50 and 150, and it wouldn’t matter one bit to his effectiveness.

He’s that good.

Because of the hefty price tag associated with Scherzer, his seven year $210M dollar contract being behind only Kershaw’s 7yr/$215M dollar extension, it seems as though we (particularly me, admittedly) have been waiting for Scherzer to dominate at $30M dollar a year level. Where’s his Corey Kluber-esque game where he strikes out 18 batters and joins Jordan Zimermann as the only Washington Nationals to ever throw no-hitters (not that Bill Stoneman, Charlie Lea, and Dennis Martinez tossed no-hitters as Expos with Martinez’s being the franchise’s only perfect game)? Heck, Scherzer doesn’t even have a game score that hits the top 30, much less the top 5. Through no fault of his own, strictly by unreasonable expectations, it’s as though he’s been pretty good but not great.

Well, look again. One week out from the end of May, and Scherzer leads the Majors in fWAR by a fairly wide margin. His score of 2.5 is a half win greater than Kluber, and Kluber has only turned it on of late. The narrative early in the year was what’s wrong with Kluber, but that’s long past. It’s funny how striking out 30 across 17 innings in your last two starts will do that sort of thing. Kluber has his memorable game, that absolute moment of dominance, but can we point to a moment like that for Scherzer?

Yes. It’s called 2015.

In nine starts this season, Scherzer has allowed two or more earned runs twice. He’s allowed more hits than innings pitched in one game. He’s already struck out 10 or more batters three times, something that he did seven times last season, and he’s been sending right-handers back to the dugout with such regularity (there hitting .156/.184/.256) that they might as well try a reverse John Kruk and swing from the left. Not that left-handers are faring much better. The .242/.283/.325 slash line only looks promising in comparison. Ask Ryan Howard (video below) or Grady Sizemore how lefties are treated.

What amazes me about that pitch is that Scherzer has no regard for burying a mid-80s changeup down and in to a lefty. What’s it matter? When the pitch before was a 95mph fourseamer with nasty tailing action, good luck.

Notes:

Bryce Harper’s homerun last night was his 16th on the season, but what’s most impressive is his ability to hit with power to left.

bryce_harper_2012_2014

Between 2012 and 2014 Harper hit a total of six homeruns to left (not including left-center) while in in 2015 he’s already performed that trick twice.

bryce_harper_2015Look at this homer from last night.

Maybe that ball just clears the wall and doesn’t look impressive, but with the wind blowing the way it was at Nationals Park, that was an impressive hit. He’s always been able to crush the fastball (entering the year, 39 of his 59 career homeruns, including the postseason, were hit off of fastballs, which accounts for roughly 2/3.), but this season, he’s already hit seven homers off of pitches defined as either offspeed or breaking balls, as per BrooksBaseball.net, with the other nine either fastballs or sinkers.

Both Scherzer and Harper lead their respective categories in fWAR currently, and the only drama in D.C. this season might be who finishes first.

May 22

Jacob deGrom: the One-Hit Oneder

The last time the Mets won a series outright against a team with a record above .500 was the three game sweep of Atlanta to cap their 11-game winning streak.  Since matching the best start in franchise history at 13-3, the Mets have gone 10-15 while being outscored 80 to 95.  My math isn’t necessarily the best, but 80 runs amounts to an average of 3.2 runs scored per game, and even that modest figure sounds like an offensive dynamo compared to the nightly no-shows by the team’s “hitters.”  In those 25 games since April 23rd (the last game of the Atlanta series) the Mets have scored three or fewer runs 17 times.  They’ve been shut out four times and scored one run four times.

I guess what I’m trying to say is if it takes Jacob deGrom tossing eight innings of one-hit ball to earn a split with the St. Louis Cardinals, the team with the best record in the NL, then I guess that’s what needs to happen.  deGrom was brilliant on Thursday afternoon, hitting the corners with a fourseamer that topped out at 97 and mixing in his slider and a sharp breaking curve that fooled Kolten Wong in the third.  His best pitch, and one that reminded me of when deGrom was at his best last season, was a knee-high fourseamer to Matt Adams in the first.1 The pitch touched black on the outside corner and was impossible to do anything with.  deGrom worked the corners all day, striking out Jhonny Peralta twice on fastballs that just nicked the outside corner (a rather generous call on Peralta’s strikeout in the first led to him swinging at that same pitch for a strikeout in the fourth).

Over the last four to five starts, deGrom’s motion looked off.  He appeared to be slinging the ball more across his body, which in turn elevated his pitches.2  In the four starts prior to his start against Milwaukee, deGrom allowed 24 hits in 22 1/3 innings, surrendering five home runs in the process.  He’d also allowed a slash line of .276/.350/.460 to opposing batters in those games. Well, he did significantly better than that Thursday, and in his last two games, he’s allowed six hits in 14 innings while striking out 17. His game score of 91 yesterday was the second highest of the season (behind only Corey Kluber’s brilliance) and the only other game score reaching into the 90s. It was also the first time this season a Mets starter has struck out 10 or more batters, something deGrom did four times last year.

Last season left-handed batters hit a lowly .193 against deGrom’s fourseamer with an ISO of .102.  This season the batting average is lower, .167, but the ISO is .214. This is the point where i state that an ISO above .200 is considered great—for hitters, not deGrom. He’s allowed three homeruns (thanks Mark Texeira) to left-handed batters while last season he allowed two in over twice as many at-bats. That’s just on his fastball.  Lefties are feasting on every other offering as well.  When he throws a lefty a change up there’s a 50/50 shot the batter is ending up on first. Yikes. One of the reasons why is he wasn’t keeping the ball down.

deGrom_2015_LHThe image shows deGrom’s fastball to left-handers this season. Notice all that red up and outside? He’s also been hitting a lot of the plate. Where he hasn’t been notably effective is that low and outside pitch.

Here’s the same image from 2014:

deGrom_2014_LHIn 2014 he was hitting that outside corner at the knees with more regularity and also missing outside, middle down. He wasn’t elevating his pitches. Let’s hope that the deGrom that showed up yesterday with his location stays around a while.

Other notes:

Maybe it’s not surprising to you (it wasn’t to me), but yesterday was the first time Juan Lagares walked more than once in a game this season. Considering he’d walked five times all season, that’s not shocking. It’s good to see Lagares take some pitches. The criticism against Lagares has always been his chasing breaking balls in the dirt, and he’s still doing that this season. One way to prevent that, though, is work his way into hitter’s counts.

Lucas Duda hitting two home runs in the game is the second time a player on the Mets has hit multiple home runs in a game this year.  Anthony Recker hit two homers against the Cubs way back on May 14th in a 6-5 loss.  Over the last two years, the Mets have had seven games where a player has two or more (nobody on the team has hit three homeruns in a game in that span, and the last Met to do so was Ike Davis in 2012) and Duda has three of those games.

  1. This is the moment when you pause, watch the video below, and try to imagine hitting that fastball to Adams.
  2. I would do neat things like show animated gifs to prove this point if I actually had a laptop that wasn’t complete garbage. Sigh. I never believed the stories that Windows 8.1 was all that bad until buying a laptop with this horrid OS installed. I hate using it and refuse to put in any extra effort struggling through simple things like, oh, using the internet. WTH? Does anyone like this product? Maybe it’s because I primarily work with Red Hat Linux at work, but I find doing anything in 8.1 onerous and needlessly difficult. There’s a reason why things like networks and databases should be installed on Unix-bases operating systems. They work. I can’t wait until my MacBook arrives. I should have just spent the extra money up front for a quality product.

May 14

Mets Offense Still in O’Hare

There was a moment last night, early in the second inning, when I thought that Matt Harvey had no-hit stuff. His curveball was sharp as Starlin Castro flailed helplessly at it while Harvey’s fastball did Harvey fastball things. Miguel Montero promptly singled, and “folks, there goes the no-hitter” as F.P. Santangelo almost always says, but there was that moment that I believed. Ah, the glory of belief.

Who knew that the only way the Mets could win a game is that Harvey would need to do that very thing. In the end, he allowed just two hits over seven innings while striking out nine. On Wednesday night, he was roughly half the man Corey Kluber was against the Cardinals (one hit allowed and 18 strikeouts in eight innings), but that seems sort of fitting. The Mets are roughly half of a team: there’s the pitching, which has been even better than anyone could have reasonably hoped, and there’s the hitting (I won’t even discuss fielding since that’s an entirely different subject all together), which since the beginning of May has been shut out twice, scored one run three times, and scored more than three runs in a game three times. The Mets have scored 27 runs in May, tied with the Rockies for the fewest in the Majors, and that’s an average of 2.45 runs per game. If there’s good news, it’s that the team’s wRC+ of 71 in May is tied with the Rockies for second worst.

So, there’s that.

In 11 May games, the team has hit seven homeruns. If you think about that, the team has hit as many homeruns in 348 team at-bats as Bryce Harper has in his last 23 at-bats dating back to May 6. Harper’s RBI total (16) in his last six games would place him two shy of Daniel Murphy’s team leading 18 and that’s in 110 fewer at-bats.

It’s a little depressing to think about.

Watching the game last night I kept thinking that opposing pitchers immediately become better against the Mets. Jason Hammel went from a solid third starter to a #2 immediately by facing a lineup where Curtis Granderson’s batting line of .234/.358/.360 looks too damn similar to the .241/.307/.371 Michael Cuddyer brings with him nightly. Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ line of .088/.139/.147 might make that the least imposing trio of outfield “sluggers” in baseball at the moment. Fangraphs currently lists the Mets outfield as ranked 28th in the Majors in wRC+, but that’s with Juan Lagares included. At least Granderson and his 22 walks is 9% better than league average in creating runs. Lucas Duda and his wRC+ of 146 is the only other healthy Mets regular that can make a claim to be above average in creating runs, and he’s hit .220/.256/.366 in May with one homerun and a single RBI.

If the measure of player’s power can be summarized with ISO, and an average score of ISO is roughly .140, then the Mets have two players flirting with average (Wilmer Flores and Duda) with Dilson Herrera hovering close.

Remember how early in the season, notably during that 11-game winning streak, it seemed as though the team recorded big hits almost at will?  Runners on second and third with two outs?  Hey, no problem.  Well, whatever Merlin type magic the team had working for it in April has settled into an Ergo The Magnificent like bumbling ever since. As per Baseball-Reference, the team is tied for 25th in the Majors with a .188 batting average with RISP and two outs and their .027 ISO in similar situations means that if they do get a hit, it’s likely a single and likely scoring one.

Just for goofs I checked the teams’ splits for the first two months, and the Mets team .226 batting average is third worst in May and five spots ahead of Houston for worst this season.  Their .281 OBP is 53rd (out of 60 of course), slugging of .333 is 58th, and ISO of .107 is 56th. I don’t mean to pile on here. The team was without three regulars last night, and you have to believe that David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud would provide some improvement to those numbers.

It’s just a bad situation that even when they return won’t fix the offense entirely.

I haven’t done the math yet, but I’m curious to know how much better an average starter becomes when facing this team. It’s not a project I’m eager to start.

Anyway, the Mets stood in a Soviet bread line for hours last night to scrape together a run, and Carlos Torres gave it back in the eighth. The good news is that Kris Bryant didn’t hit another homerun. That was nice. Also, Murphy’s play to almost nab Bryant on a slow grounder in the fourth was pretty. At least Murphy actually tried last night, so that was an improvement over Tuesday night’s obligatory Bryant infield single.

Let’s just hope on Thursday Travis Wood doesn’t immediately turn into the second coming of Dallas Keuchel.

May 07

Notes: Mets, Jacob deGrom, and Pitching

Just some notes on last night’s game and pitching in general:

Jacob deGrom allowed one earned run in seven innings last night. He also struck out nine. The nine strikeouts were his most this season, topping his previous season best of eight against Miami on April 18, and the most he’s thrown since he struck out 10 in his final start of 2014 against Atlanta. Of course, everyone struck out 10 or more Braves last season, so that’s not a particularly notable achievement. Okay, for degree of difficulty, it was the second most strikeouts thrown by deGrom in a game since the September 15th game against Miami when he struck out the first eight batters, tying a Major League record in the process.

Yesterday also marked the third time he’s allowed one or fewer runs in a game this season, which seemed a pretty impressive feat except that it’s second on the team (tied with the ageless Bartolo Colon) behind Jon Niese who has four such games, and is a couple starts behind the five Dallas Keuchel has thrown already. Not surprisingly, deGrom is 3-0 with a 0.44 ERA in those three starts. deGrom would likely be tied with Niese, one off the Major League leading Keuchel if not for defensive issues suffered in the Washington game last Thursday. I also like to call that the game that forced me to not watch baseball for a few days to save my marriage because I couldn’t handle one more routine grounder improbably booted. Is screaming at the television healthy? My wife didn’t find it all that amusing.

Anyway, the Mets are tied with St. Louis, San Francisco, and Detroit with 10 games in which they’ve allowed one or fewer runs. They’re 8-2 in those games, losing twice to the Nationals 1-0 of course. It’s the sixth time in franchise history the Mets have allowed one or fewer runs in the team’s first 28 games and is the first time they’ve pulled off the trick since 2007.

In 1968, the Mets staff allowed one or fewer runs 15 times in the team’s first 28 games, managing to go 9-6. In 1968, teams scored 3.42 runs a game, which was the second lowest since 1914 according to baseball-reference. In ’68, the Mets lost 1-0 three times and 2-1 and 3-1 once each. The ’68 squad’s 15 games led the league, though the .600 was a tad bit lower than Cleveland’s .929 (13-1 record) or Baltimore’s .786 (11-3).

Thanks to a clutch ninth inning three-run homerun by Daniel Murphy in Miami last week, the Mets didn’t match the ’68 squad with three 1-0 losses, so, you know, there’s that at least.

May 07

Mets Win First Series in 2 Weeks

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Mets are starting a 24-year old rookie catcher and a 21-year old rookie second baseman, and though we’ve been discussing the pros and cons of Wilmer Flores for years now, he’s still a 23-year old kid who’d played a grand total of 105 games prior to this season. For all of the talk about the team’s young pitching staff of the future, the infield isn’t exactly populated with seasoned vets.

On Tuesday, it was Kevin Plawecki who delivered the key hit when he scorched a two-run double down the leftfield line that gave the Mets a 3-0 lead, and Wednesday it was Dilson Herrera playing hero, driving in the game’s first run with a RBI single in the second (past both a diving Jimmy Paredes and a diving Everth Cabrera) and then hitting his first homerun on the season with a two-run shot in the sixth. The secret to Herrera’s night, apparently, was to hit the ball anywhere Adam Jones couldn’t catch it.

On the night, Herrera went 3-for-3 and drove in three runs, which you’d probably think would both be firsts for a kid two months past his 21st birthday, but you’d be wrong. Already in his 24 game Major League career he’s had one prior three hit game and a three RBI night as well. So instead of firsts for Herrera the team will settle with their first series win since sweeping Atlanta to finish off their 11-game winning streak. If you’re counting that was 13 days since the team won a series, and I refuse to look up how many errors, botched double plays, and balls thrown in the dirt to first base.

Last night also marked the first time the team has hit multiple homeruns since they hit three against the Yankees on April 25. It also just so happened to be the first game the team scored five runs since that Yankees game. The secret to motivating the Mets, then, is starting former All Stars and top five finishers in the Cy Young and let the bats come alive. Against the Yankees it was C.C. Sabathia, and last night they faced Ubaldo Jimenez (Herrera’s homer came off of Brad Brach).

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating that even when David Wright returns or presumably when the bats really start clicking this isn’t a team that will hit for power. As the season slowly progresses, the Mets slip farther and farther down the leaderboards in homeruns (tied for 24th in the Majors with 19) and ISO (24th at .125) while their total of 95 for wRC+ is tied with the Red Sox for 22nd. Other than Lucas Duda, there’s no one single person in the lineup that terrifies an opposing pitcher. Maybe Wright when he returns. He’s not the same hitter he was in the mid aughts, obviously, but he still has some pop.

So, after an off day, the team travels to Philadelphia for three before running the NL Central gauntlet with series against the Cubs, Brewers, world-destroying Cardinals, and Pirates. That’s a 20 day stretch without an off day capped off with a three-game series against Philly. Ugh. The end of May will be interesting.

Apr 30

Streaking: Mets Drop Third Straight Road Series

So far this year the Mets pitchers have had zero answers on how to pitch to Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton. Coming into Wednesday night’s game, Gordon was batting .440/.440/.520 against the Mets with three RBI and two runs scored. Stanton was batting .292/.320/.625 with two mammoth opposite field homeruns, five runs scored, and five RBI. Both players were at it again last night as Gordon finished 2-for-3 and Stanton went 2-for-4, driving in the first three Marlins runs and crushing a homerun to left field in the first that brought back memories of Albert Pujols and Brad Lidge in Houston.

You’ll probably read this a lot from me this year, but it was the defense that cost the team early. Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy couldn’t turn a double play in the first that led to Stanton batting with a runner on. Flores wasn’t particularly aggressive in either trying to charge that ball or expeditiously toss the ball to Murphy, but the good news is that he recorded at least one out, so there’s that. In the fourth he made his fifth error on the season on a weak grounder by Ichiro Suzuki. He did charge that one. Maybe that’s the end result if Flores has to charge the ball, and the one sure out was the priority.

Also, on a positive note, Eric Campbell did not throw one away and Curtis Granderson did not bobble the ball in right. Hooray!

In any event, Stanton came to the plate with a man on, and for the only time all night Bartolo Colon (4-1) decided to challenge him inside. That worked about as well as you’d expect. On Tuesday, Rafael Montero had some success coming inside, but he had Stanton fooled enough early looking for that slider on the outer half. Needless to say, for the rest of the game, Colon threw Stanton a steady diet of high 80s fastballs on the outside corner.

I don’t want to get too deep into any of this. It was a relatively horrid road trip with the Mets going 2-4 and looking completely lost in the field at times.The team has now lost their third straight series on the road, and this is one of those streaks I hope ends soon.

Defense is going to be an issue for this club—as I’ve noted many, many times—so I want harp on that because, honestly, what’s the point? Defense undermined a great start by Montero on Tuesday. Defense ruined any chance the team had on Sunday. Defense cost the team early last night after Michael Cuddyer spotted the team a two run lead with a homerun in the first. I feel a little like Jan Brady discussing baseball here: “Defense! Defense! Defense!” There’s really little left to do other than sit quietly and hope for the best with each play.

There was one decision that left me puzzled, however. In the eighth, with two outs and Cuddyer on first, I was wondering why Terry Collins didn’t bring in John Mayberry to pinch run. The Mets were down 4-3 at that point, and if Murphy hit a ball into the gap it was less likely that Cuddyer would score from first than Mayberry. Mike Dunn was pitching and he was all over the place in the inning, so there was also the remote possibility of a passed ball or one that bounces away from J.T. Realmuto. Cuddyer had hit the ball well early, but it was late in the game and Mayberry’s defense would have been an improvement. It wasn’t as though Collins didn’t have other players to pinch hit in the ninth.

Murphy ended up grounding out to Martin Prado at third, so it didn’t amount to much, but it seemed like a wasted opportunity.

Apr 28

Gee, Murphy Lead Mets in Miami

From a fan’s perspective, I’ve always found 1-0 games a mixed bag. The casual observer benefits from the expedited game time, zipping through innings as though the teams are late for a party, and unless every inning includes multiple full counts and a scattering of walks the games end just over two hours. These are entertaining. When a baseball game doesn’t turn into the real-life equivalent of a Ken Burns’ documentary it’s a win. Speaking of, if your team wins, it’s a great time. Your starting pitcher was amazing and your guys gutted out a tough fought game, showing some hidden reserve of fortitude by winning a close one.

Losing these games, however, is awful.

Echo above your starting pitcher being amazing, but now your team is offensively challenged. The difference is a single run, but a shutout is sad and depressing and a sure sign of ineptitude. My guys can’t hit!

I was certain it would end that way on Monday. The Mets finished the Sunday night error-fest against the Yankees around 11 P.M., landed in Miami in the wee hours of Monday morning, and according to the SNY crew probably received, on average, around 4-5 hours of sleep. Take it from a guy who has trouble sleeping. It’s the worst to only get a few hours. Everything seems slow, including thoughts and reactions. Take that general grogginess, ask these guys to bat against Jarred Cosart who’s slinging his cutter to the corners at 95mph and breaking off a curve that broke south as though suddenly weighed down with ball bearings and it’s little wonder the Mets managed two hits through eight.

In reality, those two hits came in the second and third innings respectively. Between the fourth and eighth, the team was napping.

Dillon Gee, though, pitched so well none of that mattered. Here’s the play-by-play for the first inning: Dee Gordon grounded out to second. Martin Prado grounded out to second. Giancarlo Stanton grounded out to second.

I’d keep going. Except for a Jacob Realmuto flyout to Juan Lagares in the second, the Marlins, a team well rested after a 1 P.M. home game against the Nationals on Sunday, attacked the strike throwing Gee early in the count and wore out the infielders’ mitts for their troubles. On the evening Gee recorded 15 ground ball outs, but through five, Gee had induced 12 ground ball outs, the one flyout, and two strikeouts. Coming into the season Gee had recorded nearly 25% of his outs via groundballs, so it was telling that his sinker had so much movement and life Monday night. It was great to see him pitch well.

Gee was hitting the outside corner with regularity, mixing in his sinker and change effectively. If he felt any pressure with the call up of Rafael Montero who is scheduled to start on Tuesday you couldn’t tell from last night. With two outs in the eighth, Gee had retired 14 straight Marlins. Then the Marlins recorded three straight hits, scored a run, and Gee’s night was over. He was at 70 pitches. Let that sink in. Gee had thrown 70 pitches through 7 2/3, and he was agonizingly close to his first complete game since 2013. With the way the Mets offense was going Gee would have needed to pitch 10 or 11 innings, but that wouldn’t be a problem. At that rate, he was good for two or three more innings. Carlos Torres (1-0) threw one pitch in relief to the always dangerous Stanton, and the inning was over.

In the ninth, as you’re well aware, Daniel Murphy hit a three-run home run that erased all that yuck from the last half inning.

Look at the grin on Murphy’s face as he nears home plate. That’s great to see. This season has been frustrating for him so far with the bat and the glove, but this sort of makes things better, right? If the rest of the team was napping from the early morning travel Murphy’s bat awoke in time to provide a shot of espresso.

Losing 1-0 would have been frustrating. After Sunday night, I thought it would be nice for the team to win on the road against a Marlins team that had won five in a row. It wasn’t critical, of course, because it’s only April, but these intra-division games are always important no matter when you play them.

Thanks to Murphy’s heroics, the team could sleep well after all.

Apr 27

Run, Campbell! Run! Wait…Back!

I’m still trying to process that Michael Cuddyer throw in the second. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like that before. There’s a part of me that believes that Cuddyer didn’t really cost the Mets a run in that situation, that throwing the ball like a cricket pitch and letting it roll to the infield actually prevented more runs from scoring. Jon Niese (2-1) had allowed four straight hits, three of them doubles, and Mark Texeira was due up next. (No one, except Cuddyer perhaps, knew that Texeira would line the ball back to Niese the next inning. At hat point in the game, with Niese laboring, maybe Texeira lines one over the wall.)  Cuddyer knew he had to do something drastic.

Alex Rodriguez underestimated Cuddyer’s bocce game, was gunned down at third to stop the bleeding, and the Yankees were up 5-2 instead of the 15-2 they were destined for without the savvy veteran move.

Let’s just say Cuddyer’s throw didn’t look anything like Yoenis Cespedes.

Overall, I didn’t think Niese looked particularly bad against the Yankees. His curveball looked sharp, and while the results don’t show it, he pitched relatively well. In five innings he allowed six runs, four earned, on eight hits and a walk while striking out three. Two of those were Carlos Beltran, so only one non former Met. In that ugly second, Gregorio Petit doubled on a good pitch while Chris Young reached on an infield single.

The Yankees added another run in the fifth when Daniel Murphy booted a ball that would have turned into a sure double play and Brett Gardner scored from third when Wilmer Flores threw away the next gift wrapped double play. Gardner would have scored from third (not if Murphy makes the initial play, but it wasn’t a particularly easy play for Murphy) if Flores doesn’t throw it five feet over Lucas Duda’s head or not, but the main point here is that the defense did their collective best to make Niese work.

In the top of the sixth Murphy made another mental mistake not sliding into second when Eric Campbell grounded to Stephen Drew. One awkward flip later, Petit tags Murphy out where a sliding into the bag probably gives the Mets men on first and second with no outs. Oh, at least Campbell forgot there was only one out and ran on a Flores’ flyout to Beltran, getting doubled off first in the process. At least he hustled.  I’m sure he would have slid too if he thought it was necessary.  Just to recap, the Mets fail to execute not one, but two double plays the half inning before and then somehow get doubled off on a flyout to right field. Well, at least the Mets only allowed one homerun to Rodriguez on the night—he can tie Willie Mays against some other team—and those road blue uniforms looked spiffy. I have to admit that I’m a big fan of the Mr. Met patch on the left sleeve.

On the positive side, Curtis Granderson led off the game with his first home run of the season, Murphy doubled twice, and Juan Lagares recorded another two hits. Murphy’s double in the third really was a beautiful piece of hitting. He lined the ball into left centerfield almost as if directing it there with his bat on purpose. Last year I remember thinking that Asdrubal Cabrera had this great ability to keep his bat head on the ball longer than other hitters, as though even through initial contact he hadn’t quite decided where he wanted the ball to land and kept the bat there a little bit longer to find an available opening. Murphy can do that same thing—although at much higher skill level with the bat—and you can see in moments like that how dangerous of a hitter he can be when things are going right.

The Mets bullpen also looked good. Erik Goeddel struck out three in two innings, and on the season has allowed two hits and walk in 4 1/3.

The Mets now travel to Miami to play the red hot Marlins. We’ll see Rafael Montero (0-1) make his first start of the year on Tuesday, so let’s hope that doesn’t ruin whatever mojo Dillon Gee had working in his Monday start.

Apr 26

Mets, Harvey Win in the Bronx

On Saturday Matt Harvey (4-0) came as close to having all four of his pitches working as we’ve seen all season. With the ability to hit 98 mph on a fastball with movement (Harvey struck out both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner looking in the sixth on fastballs that ran back toward the plate to catch the inside black) and a changeup sitting around 88 with more left-to-right movement and downward bite (Alex Rodriguez struck out in the first off one particular nasty change) Harvey tossed 8 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out seven. He also came within one Mark Texeira homerun in the seventh from adding to his historical run of allowing one run or fewer in 20 of his first 39 starts (would have been 21 of 40), but Harvey settled for allowing two earned runs.

#HarveyDay – when two earned runs is settling.

In the middle innings Harvey began working his curveball more, and though it wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen in earlier contests (notably that first inning against the Phillies when Odubel Herrera simply flailed helplessly at one to strikeout) it kept the Yankees from sitting on his fastball, a pitch they feasted upon Friday night with Jacob deGrom. Harvey’s slider was okay, missing mostly though he struck out Stephen Drew in the fifth on a nice one, and it does make you wonder how excited we’ll all be when Harvey gets the feel and command back of a pitch batters hit a lowly .199 against back in 2013.

What’s interesting to note is that in 2015 batters are swinging and missing on his slider only 10.53% of the time, down significantly from 2013 when it was 17.66%. It’s early (I have that phrase set with a hotkey by the way), and it will certainly take time (considering it), but I point these things out as I work through my fan anxiety.

The early lead helped. Up 5-1 by the fourth, Harvey could begin starting the Yankees batters with breaking balls and work through his pitches. Also, if you’re worried about Harvey allowing hits to the opposing team’s pitchers (like in his last start against the Marlins Tom Koehler) or against Didi Gregorius, the Yankees equivalent, don’t be. Questionable Daniel Murphy defense led to Gregorius being rewarded with a bunt single in the second. Murphy made a nice flip to second to turn a double play, and Drew would have scored regardless, but Murphy is doing some odd things in the field lately.

Sign of concern? Let’s hope all the talk of Dilson Herrera and the surplus of young talent doesn’t undermine the start of a great year.1

Scoring runs with two outs was critical in this game. The Mets scored their first five runs of the game with two outs, including Lucas Duda’s second homerun of the season in the first inning and Kevin Plawecki’s first big league homerun in the fourth. According to the Fox Sports crew, it was the first time in Subway Series history when a player hit his first Major League homer during one of the games.

The Mets as a team hit three homeruns during the game. Eric Campbell hit his first on the year in the sixth. It was the first time this season the Mets have hit three homers in a game—of late, if the team hit three homeruns in a week I’d consider it a display of unimaginable power—and it was the most since last September 5th when they clubbed five homers against the Cincinnati Reds played at Great American Ballpark. Of course, Texeira has as many homeruns in the series as the Mets as a team, but at this point I’ll take what I can get. The three homeruns moved the Mets from tied 28th in the Majors in team homers to 20th (tied with the Royals).

Eventually, Michael Cuddyer and Daniel Murphy are going to start hitting. Cuddyer, historically, has not been one to strike out 25% of the time. For the season he’s struck out in 25.4% of his at-bats. Over his career that number has averaged 17.9% with Cuddyer not being anywhere close to 20% since 2006 with the Twins. He’s 36, so if that number hovered closer to 20 it wouldn’t surprise me. Still. Suddenly this guy morphed into Ian Desmond but without the upside of power. Cuddyer did hit a nice line drive up the middle for a single in the fourth, so maybe he’s starting to come around. I’ll conveniently ignore his next two at-bats where he struck out and grounded to short.

How about Juan Lagares? On the day he went 4-for-4 with a triple, a RBI, and three runs scored. In the sixth he was his own offense as he singled, went to second on a wild pitch, went to third on a pop-fly to Stephen Drew down the right field line, and then scored on another wild pitch by Yankees reliever Esmil Rogers. Coming into the season two of my biggest concerns for this team were the possibility that last season were career years, offensively, for Duda and Lagares. In 2014, Lagares’ strikeout rate dropped below his career average (down to 19.2% from 21%), he’d hit a healthy .341 on balls in play, and he rarely walked (4.4%). Well, in 2015 he’s striking out more (21.6%), walking less (2.7%), and hitting .375 on balls in play. Needless to say, I’m still concerned that his .296/.311/.338 slash line is sustainable without an ability to stop chasing breaking balls in the dirt.

He’s so fun to watch, though, that I ignore a lot of that. Is he right for the second spot in the batting order? Eh. I’d like to see Terry Collins move Plawecki up to the second spot until Wright returns to take advantage of his ability to make contact without striking out a lot, but Lagares has so far had a knack for the dramatic, so another week or so batting second won’t hurt anything.

Notes: Just in case you were wondering (I know I was), yesterday was the first time the Mets have hit three home runs and hit at least one triple since August 24, 2014 in an 11-3 win against the Dodgers. In the history of the franchise, they’ve done that 79 times and they are 68-11 in those games. Is that important? No. I thought it might be sort of uncommon, which it is, and it usually results in good things happening.

  1. This has to be a future blog topic, so I’ll stop right now.

Apr 24

Mets, 11 Wins & Counting

I guess if anyone needed further proof that A.J. Pierzynski is a 38-year old catcher not exactly known for speed Thursday afternoon provided ample evidence. In the second inning he was thrown out at home attempting to score from first on an Andrelton Simmons double to deep right-center. The play was close, and eventually the out call was overturned because Anthony Recker was called for blocking the plate without the ball, but wow. I’m pretty sure Daniel Murphy’s relay throw had enough airtime to mimic a Jamal Crawford jumper. Then, in the sixth, came this beautiful piece of performance art:

Announcers are always discussing how athletic Bartolo Colon (4-0) is, and I do think we tend to let his appearance cloud our perception of his skills. Still. I’m more amazed that Pierzynski broke early against a righty. Was he running on first windblown shirt movement? Let’s just pause and take a moment to look at Fredi Gonzalez after the play:

Fredi Gonzalez

Fredi Gonzalez, not amused.

And Simmons:

Andrelton Simmons

Andrelton Simmons, sort of owning the Mets pitching this year. Why is Pierzynski running again?

It’s difficult to blame Pierzynski if you’re a Braves fan. He had to be tired. It was the sixth inning of a game that at the point had been over two hours. He sat through two innings where Braves starter Julio Teheran (2-1) had thrown 32 pitches (the first and the third), and if the temperature was anywhere close to being spring like Pierzynski likely would have needed fluids pumped in intravenously between innings. As it were, he probably wanted to jog a little bit in the 17mph wind to freshen up a bit.

That was a long game.

Game time officially states 3:18, but you felt every bit of those 198 minutes as the first few innings had two long delays, some long Lucas Duda at-bats that resulted in walks, Teheran walking the bases loaded in the first and then walking two more in the bottom of the third, and then there was the fourth where Murphy threw home on a grounder that screamed “double play” only to see Nick Markakis scamper back to third. Ugh. I’m still confused by that play since at that point in the game you trade a run for two outs, but maybe he was as tired by the long bottom of the third as the fans were.

Maybe he was thinking of the first inning, remembering fondly his bases clearing double.

Colon pitched well. He allowed seven hits over six, which was amazing considering the long breaks between innings and he’s 41-years old and possibly threw all fastballs except for rumors of a changeup sighting. He struck out the side in the first with Freddie Freeman, Jonny Gomes, and Jace Peterson all looking and not a single one of those pitches reached 90mph but they had movement, which might have been aided by the wind. According to the SNY crew, Colon is only the fourth pitcher 40-years old or older in the last 80 years to start the season 4-0, joining Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan, and Roger Clemens.

After Colon, the bullpen turned in another three innings of great relief. Buddy Carlyle, Alex Torres, and Jeurys Familia combined to toss three innings of one hit, one walk relief while striking out four. On the season, the Mets bullpen is fourth best in the NL in FIP (2.96), third in ERA (2.79), and fourth in K/9 (9.43). That’s impressive considering they’re without Vic Black, Josh Edgin, Bobby Parnell, Jenrry Mejia, and now Jerry Blevins. There’s room for a lot of regression, however, as the bullpen has allowed a meager .200 BABIP and an extremely low WHIP of 0.90, both tops in the NL by a large margin. With a K% of 27.2%, third in the NL, likely to go up, look for the other numbers to go up as well.

Familia, something of a revelation as the improvised closer, has eight saves on the season, becoming the first Met ever to have eight saves in the span of 10 games. On Thursday he dared the Braves batters to hit his best stuff, and a grounder and two strikeouts later the Mets had finished a 10-0 home stand and capped their third straight sweep. Oh, and there’s that whole 11-game winning streak thing.

For the fifth time in team history the Mets have an 11-game winning streak. Instead of getting into all the details, I’ll just present a table. I haven’t used one of these in a while, so I think it’s time.

Season RS RA RD Final Record
1969 43 22 21 100-62
1972 51 22 29 83-73
1986 70 26 44 108-54
1990 55 28 27 91-71
2015 57 31 26 ?

Mets Franchise History, 11-Game Winning Streaks

Tonight the Mets travel across town to face the Yankees to try to make it 12. The team has never won 12 in a row. Even if you span years, 11 games is the longest in team history. Jacob deGrom (2-1) takes an 18 1/3 inning scoreless streak to face the Yankees, the team against whom he made his Major League debut last season.

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