For the fan in enemy territory

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mets need a win to salvage first week

The first week of official major league baseball action is almost over. In this first week, there have been a few pitchers flirting with no hitters. There have been a few hitters with multiple home run games. There has even been an incident of a home team creating controversy with promoting ticket sales for fans of a rival.

In this week, locally, the New York Mets have had a lackluster week at best. A roller coaster of extremes to be sure. They lost two games to the division rival Florida Marlins. But are in position to take their first series of the season against the Nationals. In the words of Meatloaf 'two out of three ain't bad'. That's what the Mets are hoping for after a week of uninspiring baseball.

Opening day was a splendid experience, as I'm sure the fans who crossed the gates on Monday would attest to. The combination of staff ace Johan Santana and capitalizing on mistakes, led to an exciting win. The night opener was an entirely different story. John Maine was horrific. His ineffectiveness was the catalyst to an embarrassing loss.

By the third game, the fan base was beginning to feel slightly uneasy. A gutsy performance by Jonathan Niese was ruined by missed opportunities, cold bats and extra innings. Another loss, but the fan base was hopeful. His performance revealed that he could pitch well at the major league level. That was the biggest question going into the game for some.

By game four, the fans were starting to feel the moans of seasons past, as word was spreading of a potential injury to Luis Castillo. The revelation sparked debate after debate of whether to keep youngster Rueben Tejada with the club, or cut Frank Catalanotto. Even questions arose whether to demote Fernando Tatis to the minors.

Mike Pelfrey answered some of the questions surrounding him. He had a solid performance and took advantage of an explosion of power by Jeff Francoeur and Rod Barajas who combined for four home runs, a pair each, to earn the win. The fifth game was a lot closer than the score would indicate, as Oliver Perez once again struggled to find the strike zone.

A late game rally was thwarted with good defense by the Nationals and poor clutch hitting abilities by the Mets. The return of Jose Reyes from injuries after nearly a year's absence and a much heralded off season was uneventful. The record after five games now stands at 2-3. Hardly impressive to say the least, however it is still a hopeful position to be in.

They are a game under the benchmark of .500 and have shown inconsistencies in every facet of the team at different points of the week. The team has shown some fight and some grit, but some lack of focus and some lack of fundamentals. The fans are also showing some lack of patience already. I must admit, I have been one of those fans this week. But with cooler heads now prevailing, I am able to properly evaluate the situation and report damage control.

There are several pieces of good news. First, staff ace Johan Santana pitches tomorrow. Second, there is no rain, so far, in the forecast. Finally, they are playing the Nationals. This is a team that is already weaker than most in the league, who during Saturday's game had to replace their captain, Ryan Zimmerman, at third base due to a slight twinge he felt in his hamstring, according to WFAN's game broadcast.

This all adds up to a win. If Johan can be as sharp or even better than he was on opening day, they may even flirt with a no hitter. Then, I think the fans would forgive the entire results of the season, should those results be a poor showing. Either way, a win on Sunday would accomplish two things.

One, it would bring them back to an even record and avoid an early hole in the standings. I realize that it is far too soon to discuss standings, however, when the injured Beltran and Murphy come back to help, how far down will they be? Standings must be at least mentioned because, contrary to popular belief, you can lose divisions and playoff spots in April just as much as you can in August and September.

Every game is important. Particularly those against divisional opponents. A record with 7 to 10 games down by the end of April, could lead to a deeper hole than they are capable of climbing out of immediately. The earlier the hole, the more time they will have to dig out of it, but they would have to play at an even higher level to make up the ground they've lost. Even in April and May. If the start is bad enough, they may be sellers in July's trade deadline.

Second, a win on Sunday, could build confidence as they prepare to go out on the road. The team will be embarking on a six game road trip that will take them to both Colorado's era inflating Coor's Field and the devastating offense of the Cardinals in St. Louis. Both teams are an enormous challenge, in a young season, for a team who's pitching rotation has so many questions. Especially with the ace, Johan Santana, projected to pitch only one of those road games.

They will have a travel day on Monday, which will be a little amount of time to rest up and prepare for the grind that is to come. On Tuesday, the team will have to have the type of confidence they need to succeed in their division and in the National League. They can possess such confidence and develop that needed swagger with a win.

It can be a second start. It all starts with Johan. A .500 record in week one will be better than several teams have and a decent start to a season that has already started with such turbulence. Buckle up Mets fans, it's been a bumpy week.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Too late for Figgy, not for Washburn

The New York Mets most recent starting pitching performance was in a word, disappointing. It came as a stunning blow after a dominant outing just two days before from staff ace Johan Santana. However, it has long been speculated that the team was in dire need of starting pitching over the offseason. They were more importantly in need of a starting pitcher to follow Santana in the rotation. The team needed that special one, two punch that so many playoff caliber teams have so effectively.

The off season came and went. So did the options. One by one. John Lackey. Gone to Boston and goes six scoreless against the rival Yankees in his debut. Joel Piniero. Gone to Anaheim, is set to make his debut on Thursday. Randy Wolf to Milwaukee. Where in his debut struck out eight and earned a win despite giving up four runs in six and two thirds of an inning.

Jason Marquis, who wanted to be on the Mets, also is gone. To the division rival Nationals. He made his debut Wednesday and was lit up for six runs in only four innings against the Phillies. An auspicious start, but he is a decent pitcher, and it is the Phillies lineup after all. The team decided that they could wait and hope.

Wait for the existing roster pitchers to recover from various injuries and hope they rebound back to form. If John Maine's first start is any indication of the rest of the staff, that plan has more holes than swiss cheese. Maine, against the Marlins in his season debut was torched for three home runs in five innings. This is the pitcher that just a few weeks ago said that he wasn't 'into it', when used as a middle innings pitcher and failed miserably at it.

The team saw multiple pitchers battle for the fifth starter role in the rotation. One of those who didn't win it was released just days ago. Nelson Figeuroa. He was just signed by the pitcher hungry and division rival Philadelphia Phillies.

Personally, I think the Mets must have seen that coming and therefore, should've kept him in the organization and traded him to a team outside of the division. If they felt they had no further need for him, they should not have allowed themselves to be put in a position where he could divulge team information to a rival team or hurt them in games against them.

He is now scorned and will be more than happy to ruin the Mets chances every chance he can get. This is a situation they caused by mismanaging a player. It's not the first time and it will not be the last, judging by this current administration's track record. I believe that the starting staff, as is, will be ineffective.

Outside of Johan Santana, they are not enough of a competitive foursome to make any noise in the division. All of the team's options are seemingly gone, but one. As far as I can see, there is one starting pitcher still on the market that is valuable and can make an immediate impact. Jarrod Washburn.

Here's a pitcher that throughout his career has averaged an era of 4.10 and also has an average of a 2 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. He is not the most spectacular pitcher around, but he is reliable. That's what this staff needs. A reliable veteran. There is also Braden Looper available, but his previous stint with the club forbids me to really go into details of his capabilities. Although it was as a closer and he has found new success as a starter.

Washburn is easily the better of the two. He is a solid option that can be obtained, by simply out bidding a smaller market Seattle Mariners team that low ball offered him into desperation. Now with news of Cliff Lee going to the disabled list, I'm sure their offer will be reevaluated, so now is the time for the Mets to enter into the equation.

Simply by convincing him, the Mariners didn't want him until they were desperate, may be enough to cause him to consider a move to another time zone. They need to act just as desperately, because if John Maine and Oliver Perez are their answers to the rest of the division's rotations, the Mets will need more than health. They'll need a prayer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The impatience of an off day

The New York Mets opened their season yesterday afternoon with a decisive 7-1 victory over the division rival Florida Marlins and their ace pitcher Josh Johnson. From the beginning of the game fans had a feeling that it was their day. When David Wright went deep early, that feeling was confirmed.

From the first pitch to the last pitch, opening day delivered the excitement and intensity that was promised. After five months of torture and waiting, the Mets delivered. Now, we wait some more. Thus the true definition of being a fan. Torture. I asked myself, do I get tortured because I'm a fan or because I'm a Mets fan. I think it's a little of both.

First, I'm a fan of the sport of baseball. I love baseball and have since I was very young. Much like every other fan. I waited and waited for opening day, after my team was so rudely interrupted from their 2009 playoff plans. I felt torture and pain seeing not only my divisional rival fans celebrating and laughing in my face, but the fans of my team's city rival as well.

Now, the imaginary clean slate. Everyone in Mets land and baseballdom for that matter are still riding high on the whirlwind that is spring hope. The hope that their team will not crash and burn, embarrassing themselves and their fans in the process. For heaven's sake, the Pirates fans are optimistic. That is only the tip of the iceberg, though.

The biggest reason I am tortured is because I'm a Mets fan. Every off season, the Mets try to not trip all over themselves, but usually fail miserably at it. This off season was no different. Between, thyroids, secret surgeries, weak arms, and too many minor league catchers, they couldn't keep out of the headlines.

There's a saying, 'there's no such thing as bad press'. In other words all the types of media attention is good, whether it's a negative story or not. This is not true. They have been riddled with not only injury, but bad press. This has made them a laughing stock to other teams and other team's fans. Being a Mets fan is hard enough sometimes, but to be one in Southern New Jersey, where all the fans here are Philadelphia fans, is especially difficult.

I often find myself in a sea of red and white, with uninformed and uneducated fans that seem to yell rather than debate. They always end it with, 'well at least my team won the world series'. I just have to sigh. One game is not going to silence them. Only a few months, with head to head games can start to do that. It's a day off for the Mets, but not for me. And not for the average fan.

It is a day to speculate on the rest of the starters in the rotation. A day to wonder whether the offense is good or not, whether the hit parade yesterday was just a mirage. Too many questions for answering now. Time will tell, and the answers will unfold. For now, we can enjoy the first win. Tomorrow, however, will be another chance to question.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Countdown to baseball 2010 is almost over

It's almost over. The waiting for months and months. The final countdown, as the band Europe would say. This is Opening Day Eve. A holiday in itself. Much like New Year's Eve or Christmas Eve. It is the day before the celebration. Let the celebration commence. Tomorrow is just a few hours away.

It will be a time of hope and optimism. A time for renewed energies toward your passion and your community. It will be baseball. The time honored tradition known as the national past time. Forget football, baseball is still the national past time for those who truly love America. Loving America means loving it's history.

No other sports or organization has documented this country's history like baseball. From the war efforts to segregation to the drug epidemic. Baseball has seen us all through the most horrific chapters in ours lives. It will, once again see us through. In just a matter of hours, the umpires will yell 'play ball'. The crowds will stand to their feet to see a celebrity, any celebrity unathletically throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

They will eagerly applaud, just as they did for whatever young former boy band and American Idol cast off sings the National Anthem, as they mouth along with the words, not fully knowing them all. They will hold, hot dogs, soda, beer, cotton candy and more in their hands as they jump up and down to cheer their home team taking the field.

A new chapter, a new opportunity for success and for hope. Not just hope for a good year, but for many fans, a hope to erase the demons of seasons past. It is a new beginning to an older journey. A journey that is in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and people throughout the world, as for one single day, we all are fans. One single day, we all are children again, believing in the innocence of a past time without blemish.

A past time without stain, a game that reminds us of a time when we were without worry and blemish. We were without troubles and stain. It is a simpler time that we all yearn to return to and for one day, if only for one day, we can. It all starts when that man yells 'play ball'.