For the fan in enemy territory

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Great NY Sports Debate: Realism vs Optimism

Every baseball season we hear the phrase 'spring hopes eternal'. As if the consistent rhetoric of it will spring forth the team we root for into a upward spiral of victory. The same holds true for any sport and any fan base in the beginning of their team's season.

The New York Rangers went into the season feeling that they had answered the scoring questions of previous seasons and could elevate themselves into this years playoffs. It was not to be this year. The New York Islanders and the New Jersey Nets, both are team I never discuss, are in the middle of rebuilding and may be some time away from contention.

The New York Knicks have been rebuilding and noticeably positioning themselves for the big free agent class of the summer. The New York Jets are coming off of an foreseen ride that has hurled them into the spotlight and their young players into stardom. The New York Giants are coming off of a disappointing season to say the least.

The New York Yankees have had their share of glory. They have shared the title of 'toast of the town' with the a fore mentioned Jets. After winning the World Series, the parade was just as glorious as the victory.

Then, we come to the New York Mets. A team mired in expectation and mediocre results. They are also a team who has been wallowing in their own excuses of injuries. They have had a very inconsistent beginning to the season, much to the dismay of their fan base, whose expectations are very high. The expectations seemed to be just as high in the club house until a recent quote surfaced. When asked of his thoughts on the upcoming series with his Mets against the St Louis Cardinals, the General Manager, Omar Minaya had stated,

"St. Louis is always tough. If we can win 2 out of 3, that will be outstanding. If we win 1, I’ll take it"

This is a statement that thus far has been greeted with much controversy. Many fans are reacting as if this is unacceptable. That it is perfectly fine for them to be able to criticize and be honest about the team they cheer for, but it is not acceptable for a realistic opinion from the architect of this current roster to be so truthful.

The truth is the Cardinals are a better team at this point than the Mets. Why is that so hard to accept. The Cardinals are in a better position in their division and will be in such position for the remainder of the season due to the strength of their division. The Mets are in a stronger division and are not playing up to the expectations of that division.

The Mets are without several players, and have been in such a position for quite a while. They are able to be more competitive than they have been showing so far, so this is not an excuse, but in comparing rosters, the Cardinals are clearly the better team right now. Why then, is this so difficult for the fan base to accept as an honest answer from their franchise builder.

This is a franchise that has had so many instances of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Why then, would the one who has been centered around so much of that be berated now that he is being upfront? Many fans will wholeheartedly disagree with me. They will call me crazy for this, but I must in this instance applaud Mr Minaya.

I have to on this occasion give him the benefit of the doubt. For once. Make no mistake, I have been the biggest proponent of his ineptitude. In this case, he is right. I completely believe in optimism. That is wonderful. In the words of the great Tug McGraw "You Gotta Believe". However, you also have to look yourself in the mirror and see you for what you are. That is the only way you will change for the better.

Perhaps this is what Omar was trying to do. Maybe he was trying to be honest and point out their opponents strengths and compliment them, thereby pointing out their own weaknesses and devising a plan to work on them. Keep in mind the old sayings, 'a ship is only as good as its' weakest bolt' and 'a house is only as strong as its' loosest nail'. In other words, a team must look within itself first for change to be stronger, before it can look outward at comparisons.

Optimism is a glorious thing to have. However honesty is rare and a necessity, as Billy Joel once wrote, 'honesty is such a lonely word, everyone is so untrue.' 'Honesty is hardly ever heard and mostly what I need from you', at least from the teams we cheer for anyway.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Is it time to panic? For Mets pitching it is.

The New York Mets have had a very bad start to the season. It has been mostly due to the inconsistencies of the pitching staff. All phases of the staff have been less than spectacular. Every pitcher has been accountable. From the ace to the most overlooked reliever, the entire pitching staff has been questionable a best.

The team has had one two good pitching performances thus far. The first coming on opening day from the arm of Johan Santana, the other coming a few days later by rookie Jonathan Niese. Both pitchers have had their struggles in the next start after those however. Oliver Perez and John Maine have been on short leashes.

The jury is still out on Mike Pelfrey, and Niese as well despite his first start. The bullpen has been stable, but has given up late runs. This includes a couple of extra inning games. The walk off home run last night given up by rookie sensation Jennry Mejia was just another example of why this team is off to such a bad start.

I have been reminded by many fans that this season has just begun. That is true, but although, it is a long season, it will seem even longer if they fall even farther down than they already are by this time next month. By mid May, if the team is down by ten games in the division, will people still say there is so much baseball left to play?

They start today's game down already by four games in the standings. This is an unacceptable scenario. The team is not aiding themselves either by showing no interest in available free agents such as Jarrod Washburn. Nor by watching pitchers like John Lackey, Jason Marquis and Joel Piniero perform well on other teams, knowing that any of them could have been on this team with a little more aggressiveness.

John Maine is beginning to look like he could be done. He has stated that his mechanics are the problem, and he hopes to fix this. Let's hope so. Speculation is now building that Mejia may be sent down and even a resurfacing of Pedro Martinez is not out of the question. The team needs much more than digging into the old bag of tricks and picking out a relic.

They need heart and execution. All of the Jerry Manuel positive thinking in the world is not going to help, unless you execute. Thus far, the team really hasn't done so in any phase, but in pitching especially. Should they win today, and have a good pitching performance, it will still be losing at a rate of two out of three.

That's abysmal to even think that a team with such a payroll and such ability would only be playing at a rate of .330% winning percentage. A bad start will lead to an even worse ending if they are not careful. It could lead to three scenarios.

One, the team struggles so badly, that they fire Jerry Manuel in the middle of the season, much like they did with Willie Randolph and perhaps they fire Omar Minaya too. By doing this, they will be again rebuilding. They will have to reshape their identity around yet another manager. This could be good but it will also take some time to adjust for the players and fans as well.

The second scenario is, they are playing near .500% baseball and they panic. They look for a player to put them over the top and they trade some of the farm system to get him. Three, they rebound from this start to the season and respond to it with a hot streak. Then, they either make some small moves to get them into playoff contention or they whither away and fire Omar and Manuel in the off season.

Any of these options is unacceptable. This team needs to hold people accountable and to be able to foresee such scenarios and be more aggressive in negotiations. If not, they will continue to struggle in mediocrity for years. They will continue to not only be a average team, but an expensive average team. Which is even more of an embarrassment. That would be something to panic about.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mets have a bumpy road ahead

The New York Mets have not had a highly successful first week of the regular season. It was one filled with uninspiring play and comebacks that fell just short. We've seen grand slams and staff aces get booed at their home park. We've even heard stories of the manager, Jerry Manuel claiming to not be prepared for his team to face a pitcher that they had just pitching for them. It was indeed a inconsistent week.

The team is currently standing at a 2-4 record. It is hardly the time to panic, but when one sees the upcoming schedule, one may want to limber up their fingers in preparation to press the button soon. The team is coming off of an off day on Monday as they travel to Colorado.

Unfortunately, they are not playing the South Park Cows. They are playing the Colorado Rockies. A team that is young, scrappy and hungry. The type of team the Mets don't fare well against. A team that also sports a certain bullpen pitcher that could currently have been pitching in Queens had the Mets given him a respectable offer. The pitcher is Joe Beimel.

The Rockies are an especially dangerous team at home. They do something that the Mets, thus far in a little over a year of playing in their new pad, can't do. They utilize the ballpark to their advantage and build their team around the style needed to be played in that park. They are a high scoring team with decent pitching and sound fundamentals. They are also a perennial playoff contender, which makes this an even more intriguing early season series.

After a trip to the mile high city of Denver, the team will then embark on a visit to an even more complete team that plays in the midwest, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals are not only a favorite by most to win their division, but a favorite by some, including me, to be the National League's representative in the World Series. They are a complete team from top to bottom.

Many people will argue the Philadelphia Phillies are a better team, and they may be right to some degree. However, the Cardinals are stacked in their lineup every bit as much as the Phillies and they have a more complete and proven starting rotation. They have a solid bullpen with a consistent and healthy closer.

Much like both the Rockies and the Phillies, the Cardinals know how to use their home ballpark. I will be surprised if the Mets walk away from this six game road trip with a 3-3 record, which would make them 5-7 overall. It is more realistic to think they may lose four out of the six again and fall to a more probable 4-8 record.

That, also, would not be the onset of the next ice age and Armageddon , but it would put the team in a very deep hole, very early. The team's plan is primarily focused on a make shift lineup until they can be entirely healthy and see the likes of Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy return to prominence and to form.

The problem with this logic is, that by the time they are able to return, the current team's play may not make the team worth returning to all that much. The possibility of heads rolling and a fire sale will most certainly be prevalent if this becomes the case. This season, I do not believe that ownership will accept injury and team fate in the hands of the baseball gods as an excuse.

They will most definitely become impatient should the team struggle. This is the reason that I stated in the last article "Mets need a win to salvage first week", that games in April and May are just as important as those in August and September. Seasons can be won and lost in April too.

The team will be having the rest of the rotation primarily on exhibit this week. Staff ace Johan Santana, fresh off of his shellacking at the hands of Josh Willingham, will most likely only be pitching in one of those games. So it will be up to the entire team to unite and put up a fight if they want to avoid a deeper hole than that in which they have already dug for themselves.

I expect home runs for all the teams involved, but I also expect a few lopsided losses too. They may be able to rise up and find something inside of themselves that makes them capable of playing to not only their fan's expectations, but that of themselves as well.

It is entirely possible, that the Mets find themselves and that this becomes an early turning point toward success. That they answer a symbolic war cry and charge into battle, swords in hand, ready to vanquish their adversary. This is, however, the Mets and that means that it is highly likely that if they do charge into battle this week, it will be on limping horses and wielding dull swords. It is in fact most likely, that they will not charge at all, but rather briskly jog onto the battle field looking around for the first signs of a battle cry and then inevitably, walk off wondering why they lost.

It is indeed a tough road that they will be embarking on over the next week, but it is also a necessary one. An early crossroads. An intersecting path between victory and despair. Between triumph and tragedy. The choice is theirs and theirs alone. Let's hope that they choose wisely their path.