Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No, Really ... Who Am I Rooting For?

DJ emailed me earlier today and and asked me that tried-and-true hypothetical question - gun to my head, who am I rooting for in this World Series? I answered her back eloquently (she even told me so!) and I meant to transcribe to the blog, but got caught up with other things.

As I was watching Game 1, Rockstar sent me a text with his thoughts:

Me? I go phillies.
1) You beat me out, ya better go take it.
2) National league ball.
3) Underdogs.

That's all I got

Great minds think alike. Here's what I told DJ hours before Rockstar's text.

Yes, its the worst match-up for a Mets fan and I'm not happy for either team. But maintaining a rooting interest in this World Series isn't going to be difficult at all. Who am I rooting for?
the Phillies.
No contest, really. I almost always root for the National League in the World Series because I am a National League guy. The Mets, as the product of the first expansion, don't have "historical rivals" like the original 16 franchises do. Therefore, the Phillies aren't exactly bitter rivals - you'd be hard pressed to find another five-year period in Met history where both teams didn't suck.
And what have the Phillies really done to the Mets anyway? Am I supposed to be mad that they won the NL East by playing like men down the stretch in 2007 and 2008 while the Mets played like little girls? Nope. That's all on the Mets.
So when I get home tonight after the gym - yes, I'm going to the gym first - I'm sitting down with a cold beer and putting on my Cliff Lee jersey. Go Phils!!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Who Am I Rooting For?

That's a question that I've been asked several times in the last few days. With the Yankees and the Phillies kicking off the World Series on Wednesday night, friends and family have been keen to find out how I will manage my emotions for the next week to 10 days.

Do I root for the Yankees, by virtue of the fact that they represent New York and that they will be trying to derail a bitter rival's quest for back-to-back championships? Do I root for the Phillies, who by winning the Series would shut the mouths of the legions of "diehard" Yankee fans that have suddenly re-appeared this year?

My answer so far has been that I will simply be rooting for a meteor to strike Yankee Stadium right before the first pitch of Game 1 is thrown. My real answer is a lot more complex.

In a perverse way, I am actually glad that the Yankees and Phillies are their respective league champions. It's a nightmare scenario for Mets fans, of course, but it is also a nightmare scenario for ownership and management. The Wilpons seem to react only to shame and embarrassment, and watching the Mets' crosstown rivals do battle with the three-time NL East champions allows those feelings to cut even more deeply.

Fred Wilpon is still more interested in enjoying his debilitating Jackie Robinson/Brooklyn Dodgers fetish than he is with satisfying his own franchise's fanbase. Jeff Wilpon is still too obsessed trying to convince himself that he isn't the product of blatant and outright nepotism to hire the best management people available and to let them work free from his interference.

The result? The fanbase is disgusted and demoralized, baseball operations are a mess from top to bottom and the Mets are a 70-win team that inexplicably thinks that it's just a few bad breaks away from being a 95-win team. Meanwhile, the Yankees and the Phillies - two organizations that are run better than the Mets in every single facet imaginable - are squaring off for a championship.

The Wilpons deserve this, even if Mets fans do not.

So I am rooting for a thrilling seven-game series, one that captivates the imagination of the nation and vaults both the Yankees and the Phillies into the national spotlight, cementing their status as the two iconic teams of their respective leagues. I don't even care who wins. I just want it to be crystal clear to every baseball fan, even two people as remarkably dense as Fred and Jeff Wilpon, just how irrelevant the Mets have become in comparison.

From there, I am rooting for change.

I am rooting for the 2009 World Series to mark the turning point in the historical timeline of the New York Mets. If the Mets first took the field as a member of the National League in 1962, let that season become known as 47 B.A. (before The Awakening). Let the year 2010 become 1 A.A. - the year in which this franchise began the rebuilding process in earnest and laid the foundation for becoming the most intelligently-run sports franchise in American sports history.

It can be done. The Mets have a beautiful new stadium that, with several important design tweaks, can become a monstrous revenue generator that the fanbase can actually be proud of. The Mets have a television station that can showcase their product on a daily basis and inspire a new generation of fans to declare their loyalty to the Orange and Blue.

The Mets have financial resources unmatched by anyone except the Yankees - and the potential revenues of both franchises are a lot closer than either the Wilpons or the Mets fans would like to admit. If it is true that the Mets have in fact made a small profit from the Madoff schemes, then money truly is no longer an object.

From that foundation, the structure can be built. Ownership can ask a simple question - "who are the New York Mets?" - and relentlessly go about the task of answering that question in a way that will make this franchise perennial championship contenders.

Older baseball fans remember "The Dodger Way" and "The Oriole Way." It was the blueprint of an organization that dictated how a professional ballplayer should look and act from the moment he signed a minor-league contract to the day he left the organization. It is time to create "The Met Way" - and for that to mean something other than being an injury-prone and overpaid underachiever who is as trained in the science of baseball fundamentals as he is in the science of quantum physics.

Mets fans, turn on your televisions on Wednesday night. Enjoy a terrific matchup between two great teams and two great starting pitchers (CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee). Do it again for Game 2 and Game 3 and for every game thereafter. Enjoy the game of baseball played at its highest level.

And then, when it is over, regardless of who wins and who loses, turn your eyes to Fred and Jeff Wilpon. Ask them, in whatever fashion you can, these very simple questions.

When are you going to stop tearing at the very fabric of this organization and trying to stitch it back together with temporary and insufficient patches? When are you going to put your gigantic egos aside and contribute more of the only thing that a baseball owner should ever contribute to the operation of a franchise - money? When are you going to realize that you are an active and ongoing detriment to the good fortune of this organization and that you are driving away an entire generation of Mets fans in the process?

When are you going to turn the New York Mets into winners - just like the Yankees and the Phillies are?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Alfredo Aceves

I love the way that Yankees manager Joe Girardi has used reliever Alfredo Aceves this season. On a team with three great bullpen options already, Girardi showed a great deal of faith in Aceves and was rewarded handsomely for doing so.

Aceves made only 42 relief appearances in 2009, yet pitched over 80 innings in relief. In 15 of those appearances, Aceves recorded seven or more outs (pitching 2.1 innings or more). Such usage is practically unheard of in modern baseball, which stacks bullpens with specialists and role players who are rarely asked to earn more than three outs at a time.

Why is this a big deal? First and foremost, Aceves was effective. He won 10 games and finished with a 1.024 WHIP - a wildly successful year for a relief pitcher. What Aceves's usage suggests, however, may be far more important than the results during the 2009 regular season. It is a reminder that relievers can be effective in longer stints, given the proper rest between appearances.

Instead of handing the sixth, seventh and eighth innings of a game to three different pitchers with varying degrees of effectiveness, a reliever like Aceves can bridge the mythical gap to the closer all by himself. A team that features a traditional closer and multiple relievers with the ability to pitch two or three innings in a single appearance can concentrate the majority of relief innings pitched in its best options. This would reduce a manager's reliance not only on specialists, but also on the fifth and sixth-best options in the bullpen.

It's simple, really - the more you use your best relievers, the better your team will be.

There is another perspective to consider, of course. Why was the fourth-best reliever in the Yankees' bullpen used like the best relief aces from the 1970s, and each of the better options Girardi had were used in more traditional roles?

Mariano Rivera is unquestionably a better reliever than Aceves, although considering his age and the mileage on his arm, I understand why Girardi would be reluctant to use him over extended periods of time. Phil Coke is a lefthander whose splits suggest that he would be exposed over longer appearances. (He held southpaws to a .195/.218/.366 line, while righties posted a more successful .227/.346/.432 line.)

There's no excuse, however, for not using Philip Hughes in a similar fashion as Aceves. Hughes has been a starter for most of his professional career, so there's no reason to believe that he could not handle an extended workload in a single appearance. Instead of annointing Hughes the "set-up man," the Yankees would've been better served by using Aceves and Highes in the same fashion. Anytime from the sixth inning on in a close game, Girardi could've called on either man to pitch multiple innings in the hopes that Rivera could be used to shut the door.

For his part, Hughes could've made fewer appearances, but pitched more innings. The back of the bullpen - guys like David Robertson and Brian Bruney - could've made fewer appearances and pitched in less important situations.

The Yankees won 103 games this season, so there's not too much to quibble with, but the margin of error is much smaller in the playoffs. If the Angels win the ALCS because of successful at-bats against the likes of Robertson and Bruney, Girardi will have the entire off-season to wonder if traditional thinking did his team in.

God Save Us All

"Discipline is training which makes punishment unnecessary." - Carolina Military Institute

I lack the discipline required to manage a solid and consistently updated blog. This is an unfortunate truth that I have had difficulty admitting to myself. I spend too much time in front of a computer at my day job, which makes me reluctant to get back in front of a computer when I get home and focus enough to put together a well-written and coherent post on a regular or even a semi-regular basis.

Here are a couple of quick hits that I hope to expand upon at some point, but honestly do not know if I ever will:

* LCS picks - Angels in 6 and Dodgers in 7.
* If Peter Gammons is to be believed - and I have no reason to believe that he shouldn't be - Jeff Wilpon is the de facto general manager of the New York Mets. What a frightening concept.

I'm still going to try to do a more detailed preview of the two league championship series, which I think are both going to be wonderfully entertaining affairs. I'm also sticking to the script I laid out earlier in the month for the off-season. I just hope things slow down enough here that I can write a little more frequently.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Playoff Predictions: Phillies vs. Rockies


Prediction: Phillies in 5.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Playoff Predictions: Cardinals vs. Dodgers

The American League boasts three evenly matched playoff teams that, if they suddenly jumped ship to the Senior Circuit, would run roughshod over the competition. The National League has four evenly matched teams, one of whom will survive a two-round playoff gauntlet and will immediately be tabbed as an underdog in the World Series.

The Dodgers are a more well-rounded team, but the Cardinals boast three starters that give them a puncher's chance in any series they play. Chris Carpenter came back from two injury-plagued years to claim the mantle of best starter in the National League. He is the ace of the St. Louis staff, but is capably backed up by emerging star Adam Wainwright and reclamation project Joel Pineiro. The front three in the rotation combined for a 51-24 record; they hold the key to St. Louis's postseason fortunes.

Los Angeles had the best team ERA in the National League, but the pitching staff is in flux. Hiroki Kuroda will miss the Division Series with various ailments, paving the way for a Game 3 start from punching bag Vincente Padilla. Chad Billingsley has fallen apart since mid-June, but he should be on the mound for Game 4. The Dodgers really need Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw to win the first two games of the series, and then will hope that they can steal a win in St. Louis.

The Dodgers may have the best lineup in the National League, but manager Joe Torre has to shuffle the lineup to get Rafael Furcal out of the leadoff spot. Torre has written Furcal's name at the top of his lineup card 105 times this season, which means he has batted his eighth or ninth worst hitter at the top of the lineup each and every time he has done so. The Dodgers can no longer afford to make this mistake, especially in a short series.

Other than Furcal and Russell Martin, who is inexplicably regressing at age 26, the Dodgers have solid, professional hitters at every other spot on the diamond. Manny Ramirez still inspires fear, even if he has not been the same since returning from his drug suspension. Andre Ethier may be the best hitter on the team, even if Matt Kemp still has the biggest upside. Kemp still hasn't completely solved right-handers yet; expect Carpenter, Wainwright and Pineiro to control him throughout this series.

The Cardinals have Albert Pujols, of course, which means they have the best hitter in baseball in their lineup. Matt Holliday was rejuvenated after a mid-summer trade from Oakland, and he put up a .353/.419/.604 line as a Cardinal. It makes for a devastating combo, but St. Louis simply doesn't have anyone else in the lineup to be feared. Ryan Ludwick started hitting after July 1, but even then only put up an .802 OPS. Yadier Molina had a career year offensively, and still finished with a .383 SLG.

To make matters worse, the Cardinals have struggled against left-handers this season - and they will be facing southpaws Wolf and Kershaw in the first two games of this series. They will absolutely need to beat one of the lefties in L.A. to win this series. I just can't see a scenario where the Cardinals come back to Dodger Stadium in Game 5 and beat a rested Wolf or Kershaw. I also can't see a scenario where the Cardinals lose a game at home against Padilla and Billingsley.

Prediction: Cardinals in 4.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Playoff Predictions: Red Sox vs. Angels

This matchup is the perfect argument against a Best-of-5 series. I want to see two terrific teams like this playing a full series to determine the winner, and a race to three wins always feels somewhat artificial to me. What you have are two very evenly matched teams that, if they were in the National League, would have over 100 wins and would be prohibitive World Series favorites. I give the edge to the Angels, though, mostly because I believe they are the most dangerous team in baseball right now.

The acquisition of Scott Kazmir in late August may wind up bringing the Angels their second championship of the decade. Kazmir struggled early in the season before spending a month on the disabled list, but put up a 6-5 record with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.181 WHIP since returning to action at the end of June. He joins John Lackey, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders in the Angels' playoff rotation, which for my money is the best foursome in the American League.

The Angels can hit too - eight of their nine regulars are hitting .285 or better. There isn't a lot of power (only Kendry Morales has more than 30 home runs), but every single player in that lineup is a threat with a bat in their hand. The Angels like to run (third in the American League in stolen bases) - and Boston catchers Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez will be hard-pressed to keep the Halos from running wild. Keep a close eye on second baseman Howie Kendrick, who has put up a .348/.391/.524 line since June 1; I'm predicting that this postseason will be Kendrick's coming-out party.

This team's one weakness is its bullpen. Brian Fuentes has not had a good year, despite notching 48 saves. He nearly lost his job earlier this month to Kevin Jepsen, and manager Mike Scioscia is smart enough not to blow a playoff series by playing the "proven veteran" card.

Boston, meanwhile, will put up a tremendous fight. Staff ace Josh Beckett has a 6.02 ERA and a 1.429 WHIP in his last nine starts, but his postseason track record suggests that he will put it all together when the lights are brightest. He has been surpassed by Jon Lester as the titular staff ace, and the Red Sox have a number of intriguing options (Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Paul Byrd chief among them) to fill out the postseason rotation. Buchholz has already been tapped as the third starter; manager Terry Francona may not trust Matsuzaka or Byrd enough to give them a start in this series.

The Sox have a better bullpen, even though closer Jonathan Papelbon has had an off-year. They do have a live young arm in Daniel Bard, who could play an important role in October. Throw veterans like Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez into the mix, and don't be surprised if Francona asks his relievers for four innings of shutdown ball at least once in this series.

Boston has a terrific lineup as well, with a starting nine that compares favorably with the Angels. The key may be David Ortiz, who has 28 home runs this season but has struggled otherwise. If he can find a way to channel his former greatness for three weeks, the Sox could win their third championship in six years.

Both teams can hit, but I believe in the Angels' pitching more than I believe in the Red Sox. This series will go the distance, but the Angels will win Game 5 in front of their home fans and will advance to meet the Yankees in the ALCS.

Prediction: Angels in 5

EDIT: An anonymous reader kindly pointed out that Justin Masterson was traded to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez deal, so he obviously won't be on the postseason roster. I think I confused Masterson with Michael Bowden, another hard-throwing youngster who isn't quite as advanced as Masterson and is unlikely to make the Sox's playoff bullpen.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Playoff Predictions: Yankees vs. Tigers/Twins

The Tigers lead the Twins by one game with two to go, so the American League Central championship is still up for grabs. The winner will face the Yankees, baseball's only 100-game winner. Neither team has a chance.

The Yankees, after eight years without a championship, have assembled a starting lineup good enough to slug them into the Promised Land. Melky Cabrera (.273/.336/.418 with 13 HRs) is the closest thing to a weak spot in the lineup; every other position player has an OPS+ of at least 122. Gopherball-prone starters simply will not survive three turns through the Yankees' lineup, not with seven regulars boasting at least 20 home runs.

The pitching is a little less stellar - the only hope that a team has of beating the Yankees in a short series is to bludgeon them to death. CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA, 1.104 WHIP) is the ace of the staff, but has a 7.92 ERA in five postseason starts. AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte boast WHIPs north of 1.35 in 2009; good lineups have the potential to send both to the showers before the end of the fifth inning. Can Joba Chamberlain be an effective fourth starter - or will the Yankees have to pull him after 3 innings to "pwotect his widdle arm?"

The bullpen is unheralded, but still effective. Mariano Rivera remains a nonpareil; Phil Hughes has done a wonderful job setting him up. The middle relievers are relatively unknown, but surprisingly good. Prospective conquerors would do well to knock the starters out quickly and not to put the game in the hands of the bullpen.

It is amazing that the Twins are still in this race, considering the relatively mediocre roster that Minnesota began the season with and the injuries they've suffered from since. Only Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn have made 30 starts for the Twins, and only Baker (15-9, 4.18 ERA, 1.186 WHIP) has pitched well. Things got so bad in the rotation that Minnesota had to import Carl Pavano from the Indians to help down the stretch. Admit it - you want to see Carl Pavano walk to the mound to pitch a playoff game in Yankee Stadium, don't you?

The Twins' offense is carried by MVP candidate Joe Mauer (.367/.442/.593 with 28 home runs), who is putting up offensive numbers that put even Mike Piazza's best seasons to the test. Only Mike Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are legitimate major league hitters outside of Mauer; the Twins will be without former American League MVP Justin Morneau for the rest of the season.

The Tigers have a better chance against the Yankees, but only if they can set their rotation up to pitch Justin Verlander in Games 1 and 5. Verlander is scheduled to pitch the final game of the season, but if the Tigers can win on Saturday they can save him for the opener of the Yankee series.

Verlander, after a hiccup in 2008, has become the true ace he was predicted to be. The league leader in strikeouts with 264, Verlander also boasts an 18-9 record with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.179 WHIP. He can go nine against any lineup, even one as powerful as the Yankees, which is a good idea considering the sorry state of the Tigers' bullpen.

The key to a Yankees-Tigers series will be starters Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello. Each have had breakout seasons, but neither are playoff-tested and Jackson in particular has faded badly in the second half. If each had to pitch twice against the Yankees (as they would in a seven-hgame series), Detriot wouldn't have a prayer. But because both have the potential to put up seven innings of one-run ball against any team in baseball, the Tigers could make a short series interesting. No team in baseball wants to face Justin Verlander on full rest in the deciding game of a playoff series.

Predictions: Yankees in 3 (if they play the Twins); Yankees in 4 (if they play the Tigers)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sifting Through the Wreckage

September is a very difficult month for student conduct administrators, and this has been my most difficult September in five years. Even if the entire Mets organization hadn't disintegrated into something resembling a cruel joke, I still wouldn't have been updating much here.

Things are finally starting to slow down now, so I'm hopeful that I can get back to writing on a more regular basis. The off-season plan is simple:

* Playoff Previews for each round
* A look at each player on the Mets' 40-man roster and their performance in 2009
* A series of articles loosely collected together and called "The Blueprint" - a look at how I would like to see a major league baseball franchise being run

I'll continue doing Roster Moves, of course, since I am expecting a lot of player movement this off-season. I can only hope that there will be another general manager making the moves, but I am resigned to three more years of Omar Minaya and one more year of Jerry Manuel. The future of this franchise looks very, very bleak right now.