PITCHING, PITCHING, PITCHING

As much as I have a man-crush on R.A. Dickey, when his knuckler isn’t knuckling, he’s is not a very good pitcher. Take today’s start against the Braves. First inning looked like he would be his usual reliable self. But the rain started falling harder and he couldn’t get the pitch to work right. The rest of his arsenal amounts to nerf balls, so he got absolutely pummeled. 

One thing I’ve noticed so far this season, the Mets staff goes the way of the starter. If the starter is good, the bullpen is good. But if the starter is bad (yesterday and today as examples) then the bullpen can’t carry the team. That has to change. Sometimes the ‘pen has to be able to pick up for an off day by the starter. The snowball can’t keep rolling downhill like this. Someone has to put the brakes on this runaway train. Ok, enough with the hyperbolic metaphors. 

One other note, this one to Tim Teufel. Dude, play it a bit more conservative and know that Daniel Murphy (who’s had 2 knee surgeries) isn’t Jose Reyes. Teufel sent runners home twice today who were thrown out at the plate. Both killed rallies. The coach’s job is to allow his players to succeed, not set them up for failure. Here’s hoping Teufel learned his lesson.

BACK TO REALITY

Come on, you knew it couldn’t last. A 4-0 start by this team was way more than anyone could have hoped for. Then David Wright fractured his pinky and that exposed the Mets for what they are, a young team with a bunch of potentially good players and no real leader or depth at any position. Today was a perfect example. Young power hitters in the middle of the lineup were overmatched by a great pitcher. Ike Davis and Lucas Duda will be great one day, but now they are easy outs without Wright in the lineup. Jason Bay is the Oliver Perez of hitters. Big contract, small results. He is lost and may never find himself again as long as he is a Met.
It’s still early, and hope remains alive. On to Philadelphia… Oh boy.. This may get ugly.

WELL, THAT’S ONE

I hope I’m wrong about this, but this image could be the best news for the Mets all season. Johan Santana on the mound and
dealing like we remember he can. Johan pitched 5 scoreless innings. He struggled in the last inning, but overall it was great to see him out there and pitching like he can. The pitching was outstanding today. Could it be a case of pitchers being ahead of hitters on Opening Day? Maybe, but who cares. After last year, the starting pitching and the bullpen showing any signs of life is encouraging.

I wish the offense was as encouraging. Ike Davis, Jason Bay and Lucas Duda went O-fer today. Granted it was against Jonny Venters, who is nasty against lefties, but Davis and Duda looked particularly bad in their final at bats. The better news is that David Wright looked like the David Wright of old. Going the other way, driving in runs. It was satisfying. Daniel Murphy raked. The rest of the offense struggled, but a win is a win.

One concern is Andres Torres’s calf. He strained it again chasing a triple and had to leave the game. Could we see Kirk Niewenhuis soon? That leaves Murphy or Ruben Tejada as potential leadoff hitters. Murph will hit, but has zero speed. So if that is the scenario, we’ll see a lot more bunting and hit and runs.

Enough with the negative. Today was a “W” and a nice start to the season.

Saturday is R.A. Dickey.

LET’S GO METS!

WHOA, DUDA!

I know it is only spring training, but I’m really starting to love Lucas Duda. He hit an opposite field bomb against Stephen Strasburg to put the Mets up 1-0. Then after Ike Davis drove home Jason Bay (don’t get too excited, it was only a walk), Duda got an opposite field single to put runners at first and second with two outs. Justin Turner flew out to right to end the inning. What has me excited is that Duda is showing great discipline and plate awareness. When the pitch is outer half, he goes that way rather than trying to pull everything like most young hitters. Keep it going Lucas!

In the same game, Dillon Gee went 5 2/3 scoreless innings, then Frank Francisco pitched an inning of shutout relief. Finally the pitching seems to be coming together a bit. Still early, but it is an encouraging sign. When you are a Mets fan, you look for silver linings wherever you can.

TWO WEEKS TO GO!

Well, the Mets have a day off today, so I figured it was time to evaluate what I’ve seen during Spring Training so far. Uh, yeah. This ain’t going to be pretty.

Maybe it is a coincidence that I have decided to post this on the same day the Wilpons and Saul Katz settled their lawsuit regarding their involvement with Bernie Madoff. A fresh post for a fresh start. Fred Wilpon said all the right things today about moving forward and focusing on bringing the Mets back. Trouble is they will still have to pay several boatloads of money as penance for their involvement with Ponzi Bernie. So anyone expecting them to start a spending spree, forget it. Not gonna happen.

So, lets move to the field where all we care about is winning. Right. Winning. Winning is not in the cards for the Mets this year. They have huge question marks at every position.

Pitching: Will Johan Santana’s arm fall off? Will Mike Pelfrey ever learn to throw strikes and trust his incredible talent and stop licking his fingers? Will Jon Niese’s nose job and better physical condition allow him to complete a full season? Is Dillon Gee as good as he was when he first arrived, or as bad as he was at the end of last season? And will R.A. Dickey bolt for an ashram after his trek to Kilimanjaro in the off season?

Infield: Will Ike Davis succumb to the ravages of Valley Fever? Will Daniel Murphy stick his knee where it doesn’t belong again and cut short a promising season at the plate, because he can’t learn to play Second Base. Is Ruben Tejada ready to play Shortstop full time? And will David Wright stay healthy enough to take advantage of Citi Field’s new dimensions? Will Josh Thole be the hitter he can be and play defense well enough to stay in the lineup?

Outfield: Speaking of the new walls at Citi Field, will Jason Bay ever hit a home run at home or will his contract replace Bobby Bonilla’s as the worst ever given to a free agent? Can Andres Torres recapture what he had in San Francisco in 2010, or will he be the player that got optioned to the minors in 2011? And can Lucas Duda surprise everyone and make us forget about that guy named Beltran?

Bullpen: Can Jon Rauch and Frankie Francisco be the answer at the back end of the bullpen? Will Bobby Parnell finally take advantage of his enormous talent and stop the Buffalo to Queens shuttle? Will Manny Acosta stop giving up home runs in key situations? When he returns from knee surgery, will Tim Byrdak give up pitching and become the new Hulk Hogan?

I wish I had some answers. I have seen some encouraging signs this spring. Santana looks healthy. Niese has yet to have a truly bad outing. Gee has been solid. Murphy is making progress in the field. Davis looks completely healthy. Thole is hitting and working hard on his defense. Torres looks better than last year. And Duda is going to be a beast.

But David Wright, Jason Bay, Ruben Tejada are surrounded by question marks that have yet to be erased. With each start, Pelfrey looks worse. And the bullpen looks like a house of horrors that won’t be able to hold any lead. I’m hopeful the last couple of weeks of Spring Training will provide answers. But, I’m a Mets fan. I am sure I won’t get the answers I want or that other fans deserve.

THAT CHAMPIONSHIP FEELING

It’s less than a week until spring training opens for the New York Mets. A week until questions begin to be answered. A week for the anticipation and optimism to build. If you follow any of the links I’ve posted on my blogroll, you already know that David Wright, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Johan Santana and more have already showed up in Port St. Lucie and have begun doing drills and working out. Santana will test his surgically repaired arm on Friday. None of this gives me that championship feeling. I’m realistic about the Mets. I anticipate another mildly competitive season with expectations occasionally raised, but more often dashed. A .500 season seems an optimistic goal for the 2012 season. Last place seems much more likely.

I don’t mean to be a doom sayer, rather I am just lowering expectations. Trying to be realistic. I am familiar with this pre-season ritual. You see I am also a fan of the New York Giants. “Lowering expectations, for a Super Bowl Champion?” you may be asking. Well, with the Giants it is something of a ritual and at no time more necessary than in the summer of 2011. A lockout, lots of unanswered questions and a recent history of mediocrity left me feeling like I have come to feel about the Mets. Hopeful but not optimistic. Yet, we all know what the Giants did this year.

I still have that championship feeling whenever I think about the Giants (I am writing this post wearing a blue hat with the Giants block “NY” on the front). It’s a feeling of joy and happiness and pride in a team that surprised everyone, including its most loyal fans. And I think what makes this championship even sweeter is what the Giants overcame to win it.

And that brings me back to the Mets. Imagine if they could capture the kind of magic the Giants did. Terry Collins and Tom Coughlin seem cut from the same cloth. Tough, uncompromising and the smartest guys in the room. The questions surround the players. Will David Wright step up and become a leader and elite player like Eli Manning. Will Ike Davis return from a year of injury and display a return to form similar to Osi Umenyiora. Who will fill the Victor Cruz role… Ruben Tejada.. Lucas Duda… some unknown minor leaguer (like Kirk Nieuwenhuis maybe)? The point is that anything can happen. The malaise can be broken. Expectations can be turned on their collective ears. That is why baseball fans always have hope. 162 games is a long season and if the Giants proved anything, it’s that staying close and being the best at the end is really what matters. That kind of thinking will give Mets fans that championship feeling Giants fans will enjoy until at least July.

THE JOURNEY

It is 13 days until pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie. That is when it begins. The first hint of baseball is in the air. The anticipation begins to build because everyone has a shot, everyone has hope. But being a Mets fan, one learns to temper that hope with realism. The reality this year is bleak. The Mets made no big moves in free agency, and there are constant reports of the team’s dire financial situation. That doesn’t  mean that the Mets can’t be competitive. Baseball is a funny game where even the worst team can be competitive over a long season because players sometimes play out of their heads. But more on that as spring training gets closer. For now, pull another page off the calendar.

ABOUT

What does it take to be a fan?  Especially when your favorite team is 2812 miles away.  This blog will be a chronicle of my journey through the 2012 New York Mets baseball season.  I’m not a baseball expert.  I played and had one all-star season– when I was 12!  But I am a fan.  A big fan.  I follow the Mets through blogs and newspaper websites.  I also subscribe to MLB.TV (the dislocated fan’s best friend), so I’m able to watch or listen to all the games.  I’m not going to analyze David Wright’s swing or Johan Santana’s delivery.  I’m going to be the ultimate annoying fan and speak for the fans.  Thanks for joining me on this odyssey.

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