Beasts in the East

It’s no secret that the American League East has been the superior division in Major League Baseball for quite sometime. For the past decade or so the Yankees and Red Sox have ruled that division, winning either the wild-card or the division. The Tampa Bay Rays broke onto the scene in 2008 and stole the division title away from both the Yankees and Red Sox. The once powerful American League East became a three pony race. This year in 2012, the Rays are currently in the lead of the division, while everybody else is looking up at them. The disparity of the division is only 3 games from worst to first and all the teams are donning winning records. The Baltimore Orioles are in second place! Yes, the same Orioles who last year scrambled together 69 wins. Just 54 games into the season and they are almost half-way to last years win total. I previously said that through the first quarter of the season Buck Showalter was the Manager of the Year in the American League. Of course there is plenty of baseball left in the season and anything can happen. That old three pony race might come to life again. Then again the three ponies could have different names this year. It will be exciting to watch the rest of the season and to see if the powerhouse teams will ultimately outrun the once bottom feeders of the division.

The best division in the National League this year is easily the East as well. The Atlanta Braves ruled the division for what seemed like eternity until 2006, when the Mets ran away with the division title. Then in 2007 Philadelphia became the “team to beat” in the National League East and have yet to relinquish the title. The Division always seemed like it had a clear favorite to win it each year, but 2012 has brought a change to that outlook. Many experts picked the Phillies to win the division yet again, while claiming the Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves, and the highly touted pitching staff of the Washington Nationals to fight and claw for second place. The New York Mets were written off and were doomed to claim last place in the division winning 70 games at best. My argument there is a whole other blog in itself and I wrote about it before the season started. The National League East right now as it stands is separated by 3.5 games. The favorite Phillies are holding down the last spot, mainly due to injuries, while the Nationals, Mets, and Marlins are all tied for first place. Like I said before, there is still a lot of baseball to be played and there is no telling what the dog days of summer and pennant races will do to a team’s psyche. I still believe my Mets can win anywhere from 82-90 games barring no detrimental injuries, although a few setbacks have already taken place. The Nationals pitching staff is outstanding right now and I overlooked their great manager Davey Johnson. Mets fans know him all too well. The Marlins seem to be streaking and the Braves will continue to fight.

The East is by far the best in baseball. Just check out the winning percentages of the divisions. The National League East currently has the highest winning percentage in baseball at .554 and the American League East sports the second highest with a .543 winning percentage. There are no other divisions in baseball with a winning percentage over.500 and the third closest is almost .100 points lower than the American League East. Maybe it helps that the three highest paid teams are in these divisions. Maybe it helps that in order to compete in these divisions you need to have good pitching and pitching is what wins in this league. Especially in the post steroids era where scoring numbers are down, pitching is key. The beasts in the east all have pretty exceptional rotations. With the expansion of an extra wild card team, don’t be surprised if three teams from each division make it to the playoffs this year.

For MLB standings go to:
http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/standings/index.jsp

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No-Han Makes History

50 years. 8019 games. The New York Mets have never thrown a no-hitter. A franchise rich with pitching for decades, including Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman, and Doc Gooden; no member of the Mets has ever achieved this feat. Seaver and Nolan have thrown plenty of no-hitters, after they left New York. The Mets took the field for game 8020 in its franchise with Johan Santana taking the mound. Friday nights game was slated to be a pitcher’s duel. Two pitchers, Adam Wainwright and Johan Santana, missed all of 2011 due to injury. Before their injuries they were both revered as two of the best pitchers in the game. One of them maintained their part in pitching like an ace. Johan Santana made Mets history.

Johan Santana missed all of 2011 due to a major shoulder surgery. He was struggling all year to secure wins despite pitching very well in almost every one of his starts. Friday night, he made sure that any run support he received would be enough. Terry Collins had previously put a pitch count of 115 on Johan. Friday night Terry Collins would have to eat his words for the sake of his ace pitcher. Johan, 33 years old, has started 273 games before Friday night and his 274th start will be his most memorable to date. After pitching in almost 2000 innings he has never thrown more than 125 pitches. After a career high 134 pitches he became the first pitcher in Mets history to throw a no-hitter.

Former Met, Carlos Beltran made a bid for a hit to leadoff the 6th inning, but the call was blown by third-base umpire Adrian Johnson. The replay showed the ball landing on the chalk down the third-base line. A spectacular catch was made by Mike Baxter against the outfield wall in the 7th inning. He would have to be pulled out of the game due to what is now being called a left shoulder bruise. Johan struck out David Frese on a 3-2 count with 2 out in the top of the 9th to seal the no-hitter. Johan threw 134 pitches with 5 walks and 7 strikeouts. This came after coming off of his 4 hit complete game shutout of the Padres.

Baxter’s amazing catch and the missed call by Adrian Johnson helped aid Santana and the Mets in obtaining their first no-hitter. Friday night was a memorable night for every Mets fan.

SIDE NOTES:

Philip Humber who was traded for Johan Santana also threw a no-hitter earlier this year.

13 No-hitters have been thrown by former Mets.

The Mets have thrown 35 one-hitters.

6 No-hitters have been thrown against the Mets.

The Cardinals have not been no-hit in 22 years before Friday night.

Wherever I Wind Up

I have recently finished reading, Mets starting pitcher, R.A. Dickey’s memoir. What a great read it was and during my college years I was not known to be a reader. Maybe it’s different when you choose to read up on subjects that interest yourself, rather than being forced to read material of a professor’s choosing. If you’re not a baseball fan this book is still for you. If you’re not a Mets fan this book is still for you. If you think that you have struggled in life this book is for you. If you want to know what adversity truly is and a way for you to handle it is, well then this book is for you too.

R.A. Dickey, born Robert Allen Dickey, is not an overnight success story. He’s not even close. He comes clean about several “demons” he has faced in his life. If you are at all familiar with this book, R.A. Dickey, or heard about his tribulations, you know that R.A. Dickey was molested by a 13-year-old babysitter and a 17-year-old male. He held that secret in for decades before telling anyone. This has nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with life and the inhumane feelings a young boy felt. He was robbed of his innocence. He grew up in a home where his parents were separated and his mother battled alcohol problems. He cheated on his wife and as an adult he had thoughts of suicide because of how he deeply felt like a failure. He one day he tried to swim across the Missouri River. Half way through his swim he thought he wasn’t going to make it and drown right there. He went under and bounced off the ground before paddling his way to the side. It was at this moment R.A. Dickey felt like he was reborn, like he had just been baptized, ready to start anew. On the mound today R.A. Dickey doesn’t appear to have battled any of this, but he battled so much more.

R.A. Dickey was a star athlete in basketball, baseball, and football. He played point guard and quarterback in high school. He was probably a better pitcher than anything else and that’s what he pursued. He attended the University of Tennessee and majored in english. He was a student there the same time that Todd Helton and Peyton Manning attended. Those two have been household names for over a decade. R.A. Dickey is barely a household name now, but it almost seems like he just broke on the scene. He was drafted in 1996 by the Texas Rangers. He received an offer for $810,000 before the team and Dr. Andrews found out that he didn’t have a UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament). Then rescinded their offer and later offered him a measly $75,000. Remember Dickey was one of the top prospects coming into the draft. He was drafted in 1996 and didn’t make an MLB appearance until 2001. His first start was record-breaking, only in the way that you don’t want to be remembered for. He had allowed 6 long balls in just three innings. Dickey referred to himself as a four-A pitcher, meaning he was too good for Triple-A but not good enough for the Majors. He was starting to rack up records in the minor leagues which isn’t a good thing. It meant that he had spent too much time there.

I don’t want to give too much of the book away, but it was a great read. It is inspiring to know that someone who was thought to be a phenom and then a reject could persevere. He overcame great hardships as a young boy. He found God and his way into the Majors. He fought persistently to realize his dream. Dickey’s story is inspiring to anybody that has doubts about achieving their dreams. His long journey finally came to fruition at an age in baseball, particularly for pitchers, where it’s just about time to hang it up. Fortunately for Dickey, his knuckleball, will add years of life to his career and let him enjoy the moments he dreamed of his whole life.

Mets 2012 Season in Preview

The 2012 MLB season is upon us with spring training underway and opening  day less than a month away.  Every team has reason to be excited because they all are equals as of right now.  Each team has a clean slate and expectations that they could be the team this year to take the title of World Series champions.  Unfortunately, 29 teams will go home empty-handed.

I’m a huge Mets fan, that’s no secret.  I grew up watching the Mets in the early 90’s when they were terrible, make a run in the early 2000’s, then watch them collapse in the late 2000’s.  This season I’m sure I will be disappointed once again and will find myself shying away from watching games in September because quite frankly I hate watching my team lose, but after years of witnessing this you build some thick skin.  Last year with the arrival of Terry Collins and his message to Mets fans and the organization that he will make sure that the team does not become complacent and they will hustle on every play whether they are up 10 or down 10, I was excited we had a coach to light a fire under our players and get them to play to their full abilities.  Jerry Manuel never really had the pulse of the team and rarely pushed the right buttons to get them to perform.  Terry Collins was a man of his word and in my opinion was one of the most underrated managers in the game last year.  How can I say that about a team that finished 77-85?  A team that had the 19th best record in all of baseball?  Terry Collins finished 8th for the Manager of the Year.  He managed a team that did not feature its best pitcher in Johan Santana.  He started the season off at 5-13 and managed his team to .500 record as late as August 8th.  I know mediocrity should not be something to celebrate, but the team dealt with so many injuries and was written off before the season started that you have to be somewhat shocked at their performance.  Key injuries to star players like David Wright and Jose Reyes as well as DL stints by other players like Daniel Murphy hindered the club.  A season without first baseman Ike Davis and Johan Santana and the eventual trade of Carlos Beltran did not help either.  Health was one big issue the Mets had last year.  Quite frankly they had a few more issues than that but we’ll get into that later.

The 2012 season for the Mets has already had headlining issues.  Many Mets fans such as myself are still in disbelief that we let one of our franchise players, Jose Reyes, leave without even trying to retain him.  The state of the Wilpon’s financial situation has been closely watched.  After Judge Jed S. Rakoff ruled that Fred Wilpon pay up to $83.3  million to the victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.  Both sides are set to go to trial on March 19 for a possible ruling of an additional $303 million that trustee Irving Picard is requesting.  The verdict will be an interesting one and one that Mets fans will want to know the details of.  Mark Cuban anyone?

There are so many questions that Mets fans have to wonder heading into this season.  How will the new field dimension play to the Mets offense?  Will David Wright and Jason Bay bounce back after a woeful 2011?  How will the Mets handle the loss of Jose Reyes?  Will Ike Davis be healthy? If he is will he stay at the pace he was early last year?  Will Lucas Duda have a break out year?  Will the bullpen meet the expectations of Sandy Alderson?  Will Johan Santana be Johan Santana?  How good will the pitching staff be?  These are all valid questions.  A LOT of questions.  Possibly too many to answer and any team with that many questions can’t be favored to have a great season.  There are some reasons to believe that the Mets can excel this year even after all the question marks surrounding them.

I just want to say that they deserve more credit than the expected 60-70 wins that I am hearing many experts make.  Last year the Mets Pythagorean W-L record was 79-83, which is the estimate of games won and lost based on runs scored and runs given up.  This record relates to how lucky or unlucky a team was and the Mets fared relatively well in the luck department being they only finished 2 games under that number.  Did I just say Mets had some luck last year?  Couldn’t be.  They had zero luck when it came to health.

The new dimensions at Citi Field will get rid of the Mo’s Zone which I never understood why they implemented in the first place.  The high outfield walls in left field will be lowered to 8 feet and moved in slightly.  Sandy Alderson is taking a page out of the field changes made to Comerica park where they moved their left field fence in from 395 feet to 370 feet, a huge difference that goes from warning track power to going…going…gone.  How the new dimensions will play to the Mets offense particularly Wright and Bay to left field and Davis and Duda to right field will be looked at early and often.  Lucas Duda has been talked about at the Digital Domain Park, the Mets Spring Training Facility, as he has been said to be showing some power to right field.  I look forward to seeing him hit a few home runs at Citi Field and project him to hit somewhere near 2o long balls this season.

The loss of Jose Reyes hurts, but I think it only hurts in a morale stand point.  Reyes is an explosive player, no doubt about it. He’s electric.  He’s one the most exciting players to watch in the game just ask Alex Rodriguez.  I’m just as offended as Reyes is that the Mets did not give him a formal offer.  I have reason to believe that Reyes wanted to stay in New York even if it was for a few million less than other ball clubs offered him.  The 6 years $106 million that Reyes accepted from the Marlins was not going to be matched by the cash strapped Mets organization.  Would he have taken a 4 year $80 million deal with and an option for a 5th year?  I don’t know.  Could the Mets even offer that to him? I don’t know the answer to that either, but they owe it to him and Mets fans to have at least extended some kind of offer.  If he says no you live with it and move on.  If you knew you weren’t going to give him an offer why did they not try to trade him for a prospect much like they did with Carlos Beltran.  I think that’s what disturbs me the most about all of this.  You knew you couldn’t afford to keep him yet you didn’t try to get anything in return.  I’m sure you could have found a suitor for Reyes for a draft pick or two or three.  He’s that electric. All that being said, how much will the Mets miss him?  Reyes only has a 6.2 WAR.  WAR stands for win above replacement meaning how many more games one would win over a replacement player.  If you took that number and subtracted it from the Mets win total last year we should win 72 games.  Ruben Tejada has a WAR of 1.7 so lets put 2 wins back on the board that’s 74 wins.  Tejada also had a slightly better fielding percentage than Jose Reyes.  Remember were at 74 wins.

know the Mets didn’t get any big name free agents or even attempt to this offseason.  We are however getting back  a two-time Cy Young award winner.  The last year he pitched in 2010 he had a WAR of 4.4, in 2009 a 3.6, and in 2008 he posted a 6.4.  That’s an average of 4.8 wins above replacement.  Add 5 more wins and that’s 79 games.  I’m not sure how well Santana will perform and if he will pitch the whole year, but if he’s anything close to his previous numbers it’s a far improvement over what they were throwing out on the mound as their #1 starter.

Guess whose who.  Player A .302 AVG .383 OBP .925 OPS; Player B .299 AVG .366 OBP .906 OPS.  Player A is Ike Davis and player B is Albert Pujols.  Ike Davis only played in 36 games last year and only had 129 at-bats.  It’s a small sample, but the kid shows some promise and I believe he’s an all-star caliber player.  If you give him 550 at-bats his power numbers jump to about 30 bombs and 100 RBI’s.  That’s like getting an all-star caliber player in free agency. He’s also above average with the leather.  Remember those over the dugout catches he had his rookie season?  He’s not Pujols with the glove but he’ll only be 25 by the time the season starts.  He has a high ceiling for growth and as a Mets fan you have to love it.

The Mets bullpen last year was inconsistent to say the least.  They blew 24 saves last year and completed only 64% of save opportunities.  That’s why Sandy Alderson made sure he got some bullpen help.  Jon Rauch is 6’11 and gives many hitters trouble as the ball seems to drop out of the sky and rarely walks hitters.  Frank Francisco is one of the better control relievers without sacrificing speed and walks very few batters, walking only 18 batters in 50.2 innings, while striking out 53.  Ramon Ramirez, one of the trade pieces in the Angel Pagan deal, is a good bullpen arm with a nasty slider, who was a formidable piece of the Giants bullpen.  Terry Collins often had to leave starters in a little longer than he may have wanted to last year because of the lack of depth in the bullpen.  Theses three arms will help in those situations and then you put guys like Bobby Parnell in situations that better suit them instead of asking them to come into situations that they are not ready for.

If the Mets win have the games in which they blew saves that would give them 12 more wins, bringing it their win total to 91.  Do I expect the Mets to win 91 games.  Absolutely not, but it is possible.  That’s their ceiling 91 wins.  In the NL East, the best division in the NL, 91 games won’t win you the division.  The Phillies will probably win around 100 games again, but the loss of Ryan Howard for the start of the season could hurt them.  The Atlanta Braves have a lot of young talent, but it isn’t known if they will stay consistent throughout the year.  The new look Marlins made some key acquisitions that should help them climb out of the cellar of the division.  They added a few starting rotation arms in Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano.  Josh Johnson is slated to come back this year and I would equate some of their success to his health.  The Nationals have some good young prospects and shored up their starting rotation with the signing of Edwin Jackson and the trade for Gio Gonzalez along with the reemergence of Stephen Strasburg.

The Mets should look to add some arms to their staff in case of injury or under performance.  Rumors have been going around that the Mets are looking to possible bring back Chris Young, who pitched well for the Mets last years before being shut down for the year.  There was also word that they were watched Scott Kazmir throw a few bullpen sessions.  Sign him to a minor-league deal, invite him to camp, and see how he performs.  It couldn’t hurt and having too many starting pitchers has never been a problem in the Majors.  If the Mets  don’t make any of these moves I’ll still be content with the surplus of young arms that we have in our farm system and Jenrry Mejia slowly coming back from Tommy John surgery the future for our starting pitching looks very bright.   It’s possible that we will see some of these prospects come September, but I much rather watch them next year so they can learn to be consistent in the minors.

In ESPN magazine’s latest issue, One for the Money, Jon Niese is given a 28% chance to reduce his ERA by .5 from 4.30 in 2012.  He is also given a 25% chance to reduce his WHIP by .1 from 1.44 a year ago.  There is a another positive thing to look forward to this year.  As for the Mets cutting the most payroll in history in one year, $19 million on the books last year was for Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez.  Another $9 million was for Beltran and K-Rod whom they traded late last season.  That’s $28 million, so really they are only cutting $24 million.  It doesn’t make it any better I know, I’m still mad too.  Let’s stay positive though and let’s look for some power numbers from some players, consistent play, aggressive base running as we’ve seen early this spring training, and Terry Collins getting players to hustle on every play.  All that being said I say the Mets finish 82-80 this year and we will at least be able to watch games through September without being out of it in early August.