Saturday, September 29, 2007

All tied up

The Mets woke up Saturday in second place for the first time in more than five months. They did all they could not to stay there for long. The offensive was explosive from the start. John Maine was absolutely brilliant. And with a little help from the Washington Nationals, the Mets are once again tied atop the NL East with one game to play.

Maine's performance was the best by any Mets' starter this year and very nearly the stuff of legend. He walked a batter in the top of the first only to see him erased on a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play. He retired the next sixteen batters in order before allowing another walk with one out in the seventh. He got the next two batters to end that inning and the first two to start the eighth. At this point his line read seven and two-thirds innings, no hits, two walks and a career-high fourteen strikeouts. He had already thrown over 100 pitches but it looked like nothing would stop him from finishing this game. Then backup catcher Paul Hoover, in his thirty-fourth major league at bat, only in the game because Miguel Olivo was ejected for instigating a bench-clearing fracas in the fifth inning, hit a weak little dribbler down the third base line. David Wright charged and barehanded it, but there was nothing he could do. For the 7311th consecutive game, a Mets starter failed to pitch a no hitter. Still, it was a tremendous performance by Maine and he deserved every bit of the standing ovation he received as he walked to the dugout with two outs in the eighth.

Of course, the Mets' offense gave Maine a bit of breathing room right from the start. They scored twice in the first and at least once in every inning but the fourth. In total, they put up thirteen runs on nineteen hits and four walks. Lastings Milledge had three hits including two home runs. Ramon Castro had two hits with a longball of his own. It makes one wonder what the division standings might look like if these two hadn't been banished to the bench for the past week. Luis Castillo and David Wright each had three hits and two of Castillo's were doubles. Maine was the only New York starter without a hit, but he did draw a walk and score a run. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran were the only other starters without at least two hits. Quite often this month the Mets have gotten great offensive production only for the pitching to fail them anyway. A couple of times they got good pitching but the offense dried up. This time both came through in an absolutely crucial game. Hopefully there's a little left in the tank for tomorrow.

It'll be Tom Glavine vs. Dontrelle Willis with the season on the line for the Mets. Willis has not had a good season, but he's been solid in his last couple of starts. Glavine, meanwhile, allowed ten runs in ten innings his last two times out. By Sunday night the Mets could be anything from outright division champs to part of a four-way tie with the Phillies, Padres and Rockies. All they can do is win. We'll worry about Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday) when we have to.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ya gotta believe

What else can ya do?

The Mets lost again, this time to the the last place Florida Marlins, while the Phillies beat the Nationals to claim sole possession of first place in the National League East. For the first time since the thirteenth of May, the Mets are not in first place. They have lost eight straight home games and now need help to even manage a tie for the division lead.

Oliver Perez was excellent against the Marlins last Saturday, but this time he was not nearly as sharp. He allowed six runs in three and two-thirds innings on six hits, two walks and three hit batsmen. All three of those occurred in third inning, including two with the bases loaded. Overall, Perez has had a very good season, but he failed to come up big tonight and it cost the Mets the division lead.

The offense did not have a great night either, but at least they improved over Thursday's performance by putting four runs on the board. David Wright, Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green each had two hits while Luis Castillo had three. Carlos Beltran hit his thirty-third home run of the season. The team had its chances to put more runs on the board, though. In the seventh inning, the Mets had two runners on and only one out but failed to score. In the fourth and sixth innings, the Mets had runners on base with the pitcher scheduled to bat. Willie Randolph chose to use his two worst pinch hitters, David Newhan and Jeff Conine, in these situations. Newhan grounded into a double play and Conine flied out to end the inning. Ruben Gotay also failed to get a hit with a runner on later in the game, but Lastings Milledge and Endy Chavez never stepped into the batter's box. Paul Lo Duca left the game in the ninth inning, having apparently injured his left knee earlier in the game, but he did manage to waste one at bat while clearly in pain. I guess part of being a leader is staying in the game when you're clearly not helping in order to look like a tough guy.

All the Mets can do now is win their two remaining games and hope the Phillies don't do the same. Saturday afternoon John Maine will take on Chris Seddon. The Mets scored two runs in five innings against Seddon on Sunday and wound up winning the game. Maine gave up three runs in five innings and got a no decision in that game. This seems like a good matchup for the Mets, but that could have been said about so many games this week that the Mets wound up losing.

Things look bleak, but the Mets franchise has overcome worse. In 1999 the Mets trailed the Wild Card-leading Reds by two games with just three to play. That team came back to tie and then won a one-game playoff in Cincinnati. If the Mets earn a tie this year, there won't be any Al Leiter rested and ready to pitch on Monday. But that doesn't matter now. All the Mets can do now is win tomorrow's game. Anything less is unacceptable.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

It'll all be over soon

The Mets got a well-pitched game for the first time in ages (or five days) but it was not enough as they were shut out by Joel Piñeiro. As a result of this and the Phillies' 6-4 win over the Braves, they are now tied atop the NL East and one game behind the Padres in the NL Wild Card race. The Mets still control their own destiny as all they have to do is win all of their remaining games to win the division. The only problem is that now one of those games might take place on Monday in Philadelphia.

Pedro Martinez was not perfect, but he was very good. A Luis Castillo error allowed a run to score and forced Pedro to throw 25 pitches in the first inning. But he moved past that and got through seven innings on 105 pitches, allowing a total of three runs on seven hits and one walk with eight strikeouts. He allowed two doubles to Albert Pujols, one of which drove in a run, but got the only threat in the Cardinals' lineup to fly out with two on and two out in the seventh. Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano each pitched a scoreless inning in relief.

Unfortunately, the Met bats chose this night to make Joel Piñeiro look like Johan Santana. They managed just three hits and one walk in eight innings against the man who entered the game with a 4.50 ERA and hadn't pitched as many as eight shutout innings in a game since July 26, 2003. David Wright doubled in the first and walked in the fourth, never advancing past second base. Carlos Delgado led off the fifth with a single only to be erased by the inevitable Paul Lo Duca double play. Shawn Green followed this with an infield single, but Pedro couldn't keep the inning alive and the Mets' offense was done for the evening.

This role reversal was astounding and at the same time completely unsurprising. If the Mets (87-72) have done anything consistently this year, it's been finding ways to lose games they should win. They've got three more of those on the schedule with the Marlins (69-90) coming to town having lost three straight to the Mets last weekend. Oliver Perez (15-9, 3.32), John Maine (14-10, 4.07) and Tom Glavine (13-7, 4.14) will take the mound for New York against Byung-Hyun Kim (9-8, 6.11), Chris Seddon (0-1, 6.89) and Dontrelle Willis (10-15, 5.20). It all comes down to this. If the Mets can't wake up against the last-place Marlins, they will be remembered forever as chokers. And rightly so.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It is not easy to type from the fetal position

I don't know why I even care if the Mets make the playoffs. There's no way they could go anywhere with pitching this astonishingly atrocious. Thirty-two runs allowed in three games to the Washington Nationals in this series. Fifty-seven runs allowed in six games in the last two series. To the Washington Nationals.

Four games left. One game up. Tomorrow it's one game against the Cardinals. Pedro vs. Joel Piñeiro. If Pedro can't save us, no one can.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

So close and yet so far

Nothing comes easy for these Mets. This week they scored fifty runs in seven games and barely managed to escape with four wins. They allowed 47 runs, 19 of which were scored against the bullpen. They led in each of the three losses and nearly blew a fourth on Sunday. But an extra-inning win left them with a 2.5 game lead and a magic number of 5 with seven games to play. All seven are at home and against sub-.500 teams, so missing the playoffs at this point should not be easy. Still, nothing this team might do would shock me.

David Wright continued to play like a player who is more valuable than any other player you might name, hitting .452/.486/.613 this week and driving in Sunday's game-winning run in the eleventh. His continued excellence is all the more important given than neither Jose Reyes nor Carlos Beltran did much with the bat this week and Carlos Delgado only returned from injury on Friday.
Wright did have some help, though, as Moises Alou continued to prove that if he's healthy enough to step on to the field, he will hit. This week he hit .414/.469/.483 and extended his hitting streak to a team-record 27 games. Somewhat more surprisingly, Shawn Green and Paul Lo Duca combined to go 18-for-36 this week with three home runs and four doubles. Green is actually hitting .396/.491/.604 for the month of September, his best month in terms of OPS since June of 2002, which was his last year as a serious power hitter. Lo Duca is also having quite a month at .324/.316/.574, but it was still nice to see Ramon Castro finally return and homer in Saturday's game.

The Mets needed every bit of that offense as only one starting pitcher lasted more than five innings in a game this week and the bullpen was no help. Aside from Oliver Perez's terrific eight-inning, two-run, eight-strikeout, no-walk performance on Saturday, every starter struggled. Brian Lawrence pitched so badly on Monday that he got designated for assignment despite the fact that the AAA season is over and thus there isn't anywhere to assign him to. John Maine gave up eleven runs in 9.1 innings over two starts, though the second one was definitely an improvement over the first. Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez each gave up four runs in five innings, though only three of Pedro's were earned and he did strike out seven. The Marlins' offense is one of the best in the game and I'll still take my chances with Pedro and Glavine against anyone in October, but asking the Mets' bullpen to pitch 26.1 innings this week was a bit much.

Of those nineteen runs they allowed, seventeen were earned, adding up to a 5.84 ERA. Guillermo Mota somehow pitched 4.1 innings without allowing a run, but everyone else had a rough week. Billy Wagner only pitched twice and he gave up a run both times. Aaron Heilman pitched in five of seven games and was doing fine until Sunday when he gave up two runs on two hits and two walks in one inning. Perez's great start on Saturday gave most of the bullpen a rest, but for some reason Heilman had to pitch to preserve a five-run lead in the ninth. That didn't work out too well on Sunday when the Mets wound up using eight different relievers. Pedro Feliciano is supposed to be the third good reliever in this bullpen, but this week he gave up three runs in two innings on four hits and two walks. This pen might not be any good even if it is well-rested, but it sure would be nice if a few starters pitched at least seven innings this week. With Mike Pelfrey and Philip Humber scheduled to start two of the next three games, that may be asking a lot.

The week will start with the Mets (87-68) hosting those pesky Nationals (69-87) for three games. Pelfrey (3-7, 5.24), Glavine (13-6, 3.97) and Humber (0-0, 3.00) will face Matt Chico (5-9, 4.74), Jason Bergmann (5-5, 4.30) and Shawn Hill (4-5, 3.42). The Mets nearly have a second straight division title in their grasp, but as this season has proven time and time again, it ain't over 'til it's over.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Weighing in on 5 ways

In March I provided 5 simple ways the Tigers could be better/worse than 2006. Let's do a quick review.

For better, the 5 simple ways were:

1. Sheffield wears out pitchers. OUTCOME: After a slow April, he did, when healthy.

2. Maroth makes successful return from elbow surgery. OUTCOME: Successful enough to pitch, not enough to stay in Detroit.

3. Granderson blossoms into top leadoff man. OUTCOME: That, and more.

4. Bonderman ascends to ace status. OUTCOME: Maybe we meant to say Verlander?

5. Casey in clubhouse and lineup for full season. OUTCOME: Great presence, sporadic stick.

For worse, the 5 simple ways were:

1. Sheffield wears out welcome. OUTCOME: He did, but only in NY.

2. Rogers, Jones, Pudge, Casey, Mesa, Sheff all start to feel their age. OUTCOME: Mixed bag; Mesa didn't make it out of April and Rogers and Sheff battled injuries.

3. Inge and Monroe don’t come near duplicating 2006. OUTCOME: Monroe was sent out of town and Inge, for the most part, struggled with the bat.

4. Injuries. OUTCOME: Wounded included Kenny Rogers, Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, Gary Sheffield, Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman. Nuff said.

5. Leyland loses magic touch. OUTCOME: Kept banged up team with mediocre bullpen in race until final week.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Star arrival

As DTFT readers know, Curtis Granderson was long touted here as a star in the making. Today, Sports Illustrated arrived with a glowing feature about Granderson and what a great player, and guys, he is. Hooray. There is no one more fun to watch leaving the batter's box than Granderson. I hope it continues.


No matter what happens the last handful of games, the Tigers will have a number of decisions to make entering next year.

Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones are at the end of their deals. I think Rogers should be signed again, as long as the price is right and he can overcome the injury trouble that doomed his season, and probably Detroit's, this year. Jones is a roller-coaster ride, but another year wouldn't be the worst thing. There are very few top-shelf, worry-free relievers out there. And Zumaya isn't ready.

All reports point to Carlos Guillen moving to first base, ending the term of The Mayor. It would be sad to see Casey go simply because he's a great guy and busts it every night, but there's no question Guillen's bat is a huge upgrade. It seems Ramon Santiago would be the SS. He can't hit a lick, but is a very good glove man. He'd better be. Jim Leyland loves defense up the middle.

Brandon Inge just signed a long-term deal, so he would seem safe at 3B -- unless the Tigers might consider moving him to LF? I haven't heard anything about a move, but Inge has played CF, so why not consider it. I hope not, because I love Inge's D at 3B. But it might be easier to sign a 3B than OF. Mike Lowell would be a possibility, although he might demand a big-money contract off this season, and I'd be worried because he's 33.

Some of this also depends on what the future holds for Ryan Raburn and Cameron Maybin. If Maybin is going to be in the Show next season, will it be in LF or CF? I would hope Curtis Granderson's historic season and strong play in CF will merit leaving him alone.

Here's a look at the list of potential free agents I found.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The final nail

That's what Jhonny Peralta drove into the Tigers' coffin last night, I fear. Cleveland feels the magic, much like Detroit did last season. The Indians have won 18 of their last 23.

Detroit's bullpen, in this case Joel Zumaya, failed again. Zumaya was pitching for the third consecutive day for the first time in his short career. These numbers tell a story: The Indians have converted 78% of their save chances (42 of 54) while the Tigs have converted 67% (43 of 64). That's 7 more blown saves than last season. What would 7 games mean to Detroit right about now?

Sure, the Tigs could get white hot and win 9 of 11, but even then they would need a lot of help to reach the postseason. Nonetheless, it's hard to complain when a team keeps you interested into the final two weeks. It's just tough to look back on all those missed chances.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wake Me Up When September Ends

The Mets' play against the Phillies recently has been nothing short of embarrassing. The bullpen has been awful. The defense has been sloppy. The offense has been shut down by some very ordinary pitchers. Thinking rationally, it is obvious that the Mets are not this bad and the Phillies are not this good. But right now I would rather these two teams didn't meet in the NLCS.

The bullpen, which so spectacularly failed the Mets a couple weeks back in Philadelphia, took the loss in all three of this weekend's games. On Friday and Saturday, the Mets got excellent starting pitching, including six brilliant innings from Pedro Martinez on Saturday. But the bullpen wasted little time in giving those games away and when the Mets overcame a poor start from Oliver Perez on Sunday to put tie the game at five, the bullpen blew that, too. Altogether, Met relievers pitched 8.2 innings in this series, allowing ten runs (eight earned) on six hits, eight walks and two home runs. Last year the Mets' bullpen was among the best in the game. This year many of the names are the same, but the results have been very different. The starting rotation is better this year than last year, perhaps a lot better by the time October rolls around. But if the 'pen continues to perform as they have recently, that may not matter. And if Guillermo Mota makes the postseason roster, someone should probably be fired.

The defense, another apparent strength of this team, completely let them down in this series. Three unearned runs were scored and a total of eight errors committed, including six in Sunday's debacle of a game. Errors by people like Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green and Jeff Conine aren't surprising. But Jose Reyes's two errors on Sunday just seemed like a continuation of the overall decline in his game. Even if he hadn't been charged with an error in a long time, he hasn't looked nearly as sharp lately as he did early in the season. This is also true offensively, where the line drives and walks of the first half have been replaced by a lot of pop flies. The Mets have been beating teams other than the Phillies pretty often lately, but if that's going to keep up for another month and a half, Reyes needs to get back on track.

Offensively, this series closely resembled the one in Philadelphia with the Mets' bats being held in check by pitchers they should really have pounded. They finally got to Adam Eaton on Sunday, but eleven runs in three games is pretty sad against the Phillies' staff. David Wright did hit his thirtieth home run of the season to become the third 30/30 man in Mets' history, but that was the only real offensive highlight. The lineup just has a black hole in the sixth and seventh spot right now with Shawn Green and Paul Lo Duca back-to-back most days. When Conine plays first, things don't get any better. These spots went one for twenty with three walks in this series. Carlos Delgado's return doesn't appear to be imminent, but all indications are that Ramon Castro is healthy enough to play. Hopefully he'll be back on the roster and in the lineup very soon.

The Mets (83-65) now lead the division by just 3.5 games, but their schedule is about to get a lot easier. They don't have a day off for the rest of the month, but they only have one day on which they play a team other than the Marlins (65-84) or the Nationals (66-83) and that one day will see them take on the Cardinals (70-78). The Mets are 20-9 against these teams so far this year. The leisurely stroll to October begins Monday in Washington. The Mets will send Brian Lawrence (1-2, 6.31), John Maine (14-9, 3.72) and Mike Pelfrey (2-7, 5.23) to the mound against Tim Redding (3-5, 3.45), Joel Hanrahan (4-3, 5.83) and Matt Chico (5-8, 4.61).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The skipper speaks

Jim Leyland: "I mean this sincerely, and it sounds crazy: In some ways, I am prouder of this team than the one last year, because nobody packed it in and they busted their butts every day. They've made no excuses, no whining about who we lost. I'm proud of that."

Doing the math

It would seem the playoff hopes for the Tigers have all but faded. Detroit has 15 games remaining and would need to win 12 to reach 92 wins, which is what I thought (probably erroneously) would be necessary to win the Central.

Detroit is 5 behind NYY in the loss column for the wild card. Even if the Tigs went 10-5 down the stretch, the Yanks could go 8-9 and hold on. NY has 6 games remaining with the O’s, so that means going 2-9 or 3-8 vs. all others. At this point, you’re more likely to see Britney in undies than an O’s win.

The Tigers need to win 2 of 3 at Minnesota and sweep in Cleveland in their next 6 games to have any chance at anything. Cleveland ends the season with KC; maybe the Royals can do to the Tribe what they did to Detroit last season. Cleveland’s magic number is 11. The Indians could go 8-8 in their final 16 and hit 93 wins.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Willie's Choice

The Mets are going to win the NL East. This much is obvious. They have a lead of seven games and a magic number of 11 with seventeen to play. The Braves and Phillies took their shots and came up woefully short. Now it's time to figure out the postseason roster without getting anyone hurt.

The biggest question right now surrounds the starting rotation. Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez are basically guaranteed spots if they can remain healthy enough to claim them. Their doing so could be described as almost certain, increasingly likely and a little dicey, respectively. Glavine has been quite consistent in both performance and health, holding the Astros to one run on three hits in seven innings in his thirtieth and most recent start. Pedro followed up his promising season debut by blanking Houston for five innings on six hits and one walk with four strikeouts. And El Duque returned from injury on Tuesday to get lit up by the Braves for eight runs on six hits and four walks in three innings. El Duque could make the Mets' decision for them by continuing to pitch like this, but if he gets it together, they may have to make a tough choice to pare their rotation down to four in October.

Oliver Perez and John Maine have both stumbled in the second half after strong starts, but they both pitched well against Atlanta this week. Perez allowed two runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts in seven innings in Monday's win. Maine allowed one run on three hits and three walks and five strikeouts in six innings on Wednesday in a game that the bullpen tried but failed to give away. Perez has been the less awful of the two in the second half, but the fourth spot in the Mets' playoff rotation seemingly remains up for grabs. Both came through on the brink of elimination in last year's NLCS but only one is likely to get a shot at an encore.

The Mets (83-62) do still have some regular season games left to play. Despite El Duque's struggles and an injury to Carlos Delgado, they have heated up in September, winning nine of eleven and scoring more than five runs per game. This weekend they'll host the Wild Card-hungry Phillies (76-69) who only two weeks ago closed to within two games of first place. Glavine (13-6, 3.95) Pedro (2-0, 1.80) and Perez (14-9, 3.42) will start for the Mets against Jamie Moyer (13-11, 5.23), Kyle Lohse (8-12, 4.47) and Adam Eaton (9-9, 6.31). I know I said this last time, but I like those pitching matchups.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Time to roar

Detroit starts a key 3-game series against Seattle tonight. At least the Tigers have the rotation in their favor with Verlander, Robertson and Bonderman throwing. It would be nice if Robertson and Bonderman flashed a little 2006 form.

This, obviously, is a big series between 2 of the wild card contenders. The Yankees travel to KC, then Toronto and Boston, so Detroit needs to make a run right now.

Were the past 2 dramatic wins a sign of things to come, or just something to provide false hope? This in Detroit's favor -- although the Tigs have got a doubleheader on Sept. 11 vs. Texas, they've got off days for the final 3 Thursdays. That could be huge. The Yanks and Mariners both only have 1 day off during that span.

No luck

The Tigers have a make-up game against Toronto scheduled for Monday. The Blue Jays are expected to start Roy Halladay.

Seay me

Tigers reliever Bobby Seay picked up wins on consecutive days as Detroit won in 11 innings on Wednesday and rallied for a 9th-inning victory Thursday. Seay had 2 wins in his entire 6-year career entering this week.

Rescue me

Blown saves in 2007 for AL wild card contenders

Yankees 17
Record: 78-62

Seattle 14
Record: 74-64

Detroit 20
Record: 75-65

Monday, September 03, 2007


A lot can happen in four days. For four days last week it seemed like the Mets would never win another baseball game. The last four days have given reason to reevaluate that assessment.

First there was a shocking three-game sweep of the Braves at Turner Field, not a place where the Mets have played particularly well over the years. The offense, starting pitching and bullpen all performed more consistently than in the Philadelphia series, with the Mets outscoring the Braves 15-4 in the series. John Maine had his best start in a month, Mike Pelfrey had his best major league start ever and Tom Glavine continued his solid second half. The bullpen had the most surprising weekend, giving up just one run in eight innings.

While a sweep of the Braves in Atlanta was satisfying, especially in light of what came before it, nothing could top what happened on Monday. Pedro Martinez made his first major league start in eleventh months and looked quite capable of helping this team through September in beyond. He threw just 76 pitches by design, 47 of them for strikes, and lasted five innings. He allowed three runs, two earned, on five hits and three walks, one intentional. The Mets did not play good defense behind him, but he struck out four, including the 3,000th of his career, and pitched out of trouble more than once. As promising as the results was the way he did it. His fastball was in the low eighties in the first inning, but by the fifth he was consistently at 88 and 89 MPH, even hitting 90 once. If he can put his pitches where he wants to, he won't need any more velocity than that. Of course we'll need to see more than one start before we anoint Pedro World Series MVP, but start number one was very encouraging. Last year the Mets were scrambling to come up with starting pitchers in the playoffs. This year they may find themselves deciding whether Maine or Oliver Perez heads to the postseason bullpen.

Those two will take the hill for the Mets (77-60) in the final games of this series against the Reds (62-76). Perez (12-9, 3.39) will take on Matt Belisle (7-8, 5.33) on Tuesday night and Maine (14-8, 3.57) will face rookie Tom Shearn (1-0, 4.76) on Wednesday afternoon. Thanks to the Phillies losing three of four, the Mets' division lead is back up to five games. Now they'll try to win five straight for the first time all season. With Pedro back in uniform, anything seems possible.