It somehow fits that the Mets downfall was caused by their completely unreliable bullpen, a lack of clutch hitting and almost no production from any part of the lineup other than the first four hitters....*
* I have to stop here for a moment because as I was writing this, the TV was on with the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium and I got up to have a look at the players being introduced after hearing the names Nolan Ryan, Hubie Brooks, Mookie Wilson, Ray Knight etc. expecting to see the former players walking out and waving and instead saw cameras panning the stands, the outside of the stadium, the bullpens and whatever as if it were the stock footage that used to fill the screen in the 60s and 70s while people onscreen were having sex. Can they do anything right?
...and any team that gets no performance from their bullpen and no production from half their lineup cannot expect to win. A gutty effort from the erratic Oliver Perez was wasted; a clutch homer by Carlos Beltran to tie the game was wasted; and a solid job of managerial mixing and matching by Jerry Manuel was wasted. It can be argued that the Mets were lucky to get as far as they did with that bullpen; as far as they did with that patched together lineup laden with journeymen and rookies; as far as they did with only 2 1/2 reliable starting pitchers; but winning teams don't complain; nor do they find excuses as to why they lost. The Brewers had every reason to throw their hands up in the air with problems that were almost identical to those of the Mets, but they rode their courageous ace C.C. Sabathia and clutch hitting from Ryan Braun into the playoffs. Their current circumstances don't bode well for them to get past three or four games in the playoffs, but at least they're there; at least they're going to be able to say they made it and they'll give their young players that experience for however long it lasts. There are hitters that it's acceptable to give up a home run. I don't consider Wes Helms to be among their number and it's a testament to the Mets problems that Scott Schoeneweis was unable to retire a mediocre infielder with little power simply because he's right-handed. Then Luis Ayala, who did pitch well more often than not for the Mets, allowed another homer to Dan Uggla, effectively sealing the Mets fate. There are many ways to dissect why the Mets didn't make the playoffs again. It could be said that they were too reliant on one superstar starting pitcher and their stars in the lineup; it could be said that they pushed the envelope too far and wasted too much money on ancient veterans like Moises Alou and Orlando Hernandez; it could be said that they waited too long to replace former manager Willie Randolph; but that might have been the case whether they made the playoffs or not. That they didn't make the playoffs and that fact being a direct result of a combination of these factors doesn't alter the reality; and that reality is they were outgunned in the bullpen and tried to make do with pitchers and players who weren't able to handle their jobs and there were too many question marks in their lineup and on their bench. Some of that was due to a misreading of talent; some was due to injuries; but whatever the cause, the end result is that those faults cost the Mets a playoff spot. The implications of similarities between the collapse of 2007 and the loss of 2008 are inaccurate and unfair. They played as hard as they could with what they had, but simply didn't have the performers to get the job done. Instead of whining about what might have been, they can move forward in their new ballpark and take steps to correct those issues so they won't be in that exact same position for a third year in a row in 2009.
Brewers 3-Cubs 1:
There will be vitriol from Mets fans directed at Cubs manager Lou Piniella for his choice of pitchers in a game that meant nothing to the Cubs and everything to the Mets and Brewers. This would be unfair...to a point. There are two ways of looking at the situation: A) Piniella owes nothing to anyone including the Mets or Brewers and all he's required to do is use the players he feels are available for the game and keep them healthy and manage to the best of his abilities to win with the players he intends to use; or B) since the Marlins were doing everything they could to win the game against the Mets, the Cubs should've followed their lead and used their best players to keep the integrity of the pennant race intact. It would be a knee-jerk reaction to overtly blame Piniella for the Cubs loss, but it wasn't exactly sporting of him to treat the game as a spring training exercise and use seven different pitchers, none of whom are going to be relied upon heavily (if at all) in the playoffs during do-or-die situations. While it's understandable for Piniella to rest catcher Geovany Soto before the playoffs begin, Mark DeRosa, their best hitter this year, couldn't play? They couldn't use Kerry Wood? They couldn't use Carlos Marmol? Was one game going to bother them either way heading into the playoffs to maintain the integrity of the pennant race? Sabathia's heroism probably would've been rewarded somehow no matter what Piniella did; the Brewers were playing with a little more than destiny on their side as they overcame everything from a collapse that was worse than that of the Mets in 2007, a desperation managerial change and functioning with only one reliable starting pitcher, they deserve to make the playoffs; but Piniella didn't help the cause of competitiveness by not taking the lead of the Marlins and Nationals and fighting to the best of their abilities to keep the game pure. Might Piniella have had it in his mind that he'd rather face the Dodgers than the Mets and Johan Santana in a short series? It's certainly possible and he's well within his rights to try and manipulate the situation to his team's best possible advantage in the playoffs, but that doesn't mean that it's completely fair. The Mets did lose their game, so if they wanted to avoid having to rely on another team andanother manager, they could've taken care of their own business and kept destiny in their own hands, but the situation is what it is. This isn't an accusation of any wrongdoing on the part of a great and honorable manager in Lou Piniella, and his team is heading to the playoffs so he has a justifiable argument for holding out his most imperative stars, but that doesn't make it appear any better in the box scores to see those names when there were the names Marmol, Wood and DeRosa available just as the Marlins were fighting to win the game as if they were the ones in the pennant race.
Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished. He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.
How many times is anyone given the opportunity to correct a mistake? To be put into the exact same position they were at an earlier time and right what once went wrong? And how many seize that opportunity and redeem themselves? Tomorrow, at 1:10 PM on the last regular season game ever to be played at Shea Stadium, the New York Mets will have that chance. It was the last day of the regular season last September 30th that the New York Mets, beginning the day tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for first place in the National League East and with a chance to avoid the most monumental collapse in the history of baseball, took the field to play the Florida Marlins. Before anyone had a chance to sit in their seats and settle in to watch the game, the raucous Shea Stadium crowd was silenced as Tom Glavine, in his last start as a member of the Mets, allowed seven runs in 1/3 of an inning. The Phillies, emboldened by the gift bestowed upon them by both Glavine and the Marlins, defeated the Nationals 6-1 to claim the NL East crown leaving the Mets to sit in stunned silence from that first inning onward, wondering how everything fell apart so completely that their season came down to this. It was no consolation that the Phillies were swept out of the playoffs before their hangovers from the division clinching celebration had subsided; nor did it matter that the Mets went out and acquired the best pitcher in baseball specifically to avoid the fate that befell them in 2007. Until they're able to exorcise the ghosts from that collapse----new manager or not; new players or not----it will always be there. Now, in the midst of another collapse, a small glimmer of light is shining for the Mets. Receiving the help they needed today in the form of a masterful, three-hit shutout by Santana on three days rest and a Cubs 7-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, tomorrow morning when they head to the ballpark, the Mets will be tied for the Wild Card lead and hold destiny in their own hands. Facing that same Marlins team provides the Mets with a unique shot at a do-over; a chance to let the world know that they're not going to close Shea Stadium with a second consecutive collapse. Glavine is gone; manager Willie Randolph is gone, but the ghosts still remain. The ghosts that haunt the remaining players from last year's roster can be exorcised tomorrow. Oliver Perez, in what is likely his last regular season start as a member of the Mets, will have a chance to go out in the way Glavine wanted to; in the way that his former teammates will remember him fondly and say, "that guy came up big when we needed him," instead of inspiring the head shakes and sideways glances that Glavine received with his indifferent reaction as he dismissed the devastation felt by the Mets and their fans and hustled back to Atlanta to rejoin the Braves as quickly as possible, a place he never truly left. Last year at this time, the Mets were breathing a sigh of relief having been given a gift by the Washington Nationals as they beat the Phillies on that Saturday; the Mets had angered the Marlins with their excessive celebrations and a bench clearing fight marred a dominating performance from John Maine in a 13-0 Mets win. Now the shoe is on the other foot. The Marlins are the ones who have succeeded in making the Mets look sympathetic with their relentless yapping in the newspapers about how sweet it's going to be to knock the Mets out of the playoffs again. The circumstances are identical; will the Mets rise to the occasion, or will they be struck by that lightning for a second year in a row and allow the Marlins to walk all over them and gloat about it for another year? 2008 is a mirror image of 2007, but the Mets are a year wiser; a year tougher and they've been presented with that Quantum Leap moment; a chance to put right what once went wrong and exterminate those ghosts that would haunt the site of the demolished Shea Stadium forever and they can close the place right, without leaving any ghosts, by seizing this rare chance at redemption.
The situation: the Mets are behind the Brewers by one game in the Wild Card. The reality: if they lost today, their playoff hopes would likely be gone. The solution: Johan Santana on three days rest. The result: A complete game, three-hit, 2-0 masterpiece. And the Mets are still alive.
After the Mets bats failed to capitalize on another game rife with opportunities against a rookie pitcher (albeit a good one in Chris Volstad), they're now in a predicament in which they have to look at the needs of the team in the short term as opposed to the long term. Johan Santana volunteered to take the mound on three days rest this afternoon to try and save the season. Here are the objective realities of such a maneuver:
He can't be counted on to go deeply into the game unless he keeps his pitch count very low--Santana's record in the few games he's pitched on short rest in the regular season is not good, but that's actually misleading. In three starts, his record is 1-1 with a 6.14 ERA and five homers allowed in 14 2/3 innings. That being said, the numbers were bloated due to a terrible start in 2002 in which he got shelled allowing three homers to a White Sox team that could really hit. That was also Santana's first year in the starting rotation at age 23 before he became Johan Santana. In the other games he pitched on short rest, he pitched quite well. And one of the starts was in April of 2000 when he was a rookie and the three days rest came after a relief appearance of one inning. The final time he did it in the regular season was also after a relief appearance four days earlier in 2003. Santana also pitched on three days rest in the 2004 ALDS vs the Yankees and pitched well in both appearances in that series. The pitch counts were important then as well because he only threw 93 pitches in game one and lasted five innings and 87 pitches in game four. His history has little to do with how he's going to fare today, but clearly he's going to have to be watched closely after throwing 125 pitches on Tuesday.
Santana isn't a short-term investment--Santana is 29-years-old and is signed to a very lucrative, long-term contract to be the Mets ace as they enter their new ballpark; he's one of the cornerstones of the organization and an asset as they try to lure free agents. Overtaxing him for short-term needs and risking injury a few years down the line isn't worth it. That's the difference between the Brewers repeatedly throwing C.C. Sabathia on three-days rest and putting Ben Sheets out there this afternoon----what difference would it make to the Brewers if both Sheets and Sabathia get hurt after signing huge money contracts elsewhere? It's not their money and they're comfortable in the knowledge that the two pitchers aren't going to beg out of such important games and still be able to look their present and future teammates in the eye; plus I don't think Sheets is going to be able to last very long today given the ominous statements coming out of Milwaukee of how he's going to "give it a shot". That brings me to the next point... The Brewers are still in a shaky position--They haven't the faintest idea of what they're going to get from Sheets if he indeed gets out to the mound to pitch; nor do they know how long he's going to be out there; the backup pitcher they're mentioning, Dave Bush, has been adequate but not great lately and in two of his three starts this season against the Cubs, they've done a number on him. The Brewers have gotten yeoman work from their rotten bullpen over the past week, but how long are they going to be able to count on that? Plus Cubs manager Lou Piniella looked very agitated with the mental and physical mistakes his team made last night and won't want to enter the playoffs with his team flopping around on the field like, well, like the Mets.
The Mets have no choice--With the way they've played behind every pitcher not named Santana over the past few weeks and the reality of a loss eliminating them from contention, they have to roll the dice, put Santana out there and hope that they jump on Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco (a pitcher they've consistently pounded), get a lead big enough to entrust to that bullpen (that would have to be a pretty big lead) and get Santana out of there after 80 or so pitches. They're going to have to make a choice if the score is 1-1 in the sixth inning and Santana's scheduled to bat after having thrown 90 pitches; other than that, they can only hope to get a lead, put some pressure on the Brewers who are scheduled to start at 3:55 and win their own game. The only other thing they can do is a rain dance around Shea Stadium so Santana will be able to pitch on his regular rest tomorrow and hope that the Brewers lose today. Actually, that's probably the best of all possible scenarios aside from a Mets win and Brewers loss.
Indians 11-White Sox 8; Roals 8-Twins 1:
With all the ridicule the Mets receive for their back-to-back collapses, the White Sox are authoring a collapse of their own. They started the Twins series up by 2 1/2 games with seven to play and only one win away from effectively sealing the deal and they lost all three games; then they returned home to play the retooling Indians and a rookie starter in Scott Lewis and got pounded for eleven runs. And all of this was going on while the Twins were losing 8-1 to the Royals. Javier Vazquez is scheduled to start for the White Sox today, but after his showing in the high-pressure game against the Twins (and in other high-pressure games throughout his career) and with how manager Ozzie Guillen has been so open in his low opinion of Vazquez's courage, I wouldn't expect much other than a quick hook. Even with all of that, there's a window of opportunity for the White Sox just as there is for the Mets; Glen Perkins is starting for the Twins and he's been knocked around in his past four starts; pitching for the Royals is Gil Meche, who's been very good in his last two starts and generally always gives a gutty effort. I have a feeling that this division is going to come down to Monday afternoon as the Tigers play that makeup game against the White Sox and if that's the case, then the White Sox are in trouble because veteran teams who've had a rotten year like the Tigers would like nothing better than to have another team (especially one with a manager who's despised throughout the league) to join them in their misery. In a way, it would be far worse for the White Sox to have their season come down to Monday afternoon because the Tigers have known that they were going home after the regular season ends; the White Sox expected to be in the playoffs and it would be a kick in the gut if they got knocked out the day after the season ended by a team that had nothing to play for other than the satisfaction of knowing they've knocked out one of their division rivals whom they don't like all that much to begin with.
The job security of Nuclear Ozzie Guillen has been put into question before and the White Sox responded to such suggestions by giving their manager a very long-term contract extension. Despite his over-the-edge rants; propensity for publicly chastising and calling out his players; and frequent back-and-forths with everyone ranging from his own boss, to opposing players, to the media, Guillen has always been a good game manager. But one has to question when the final nail will be pounded into the coffin. This year has been relatively quiet for Guillen (in comparison to his usual out-of-control behaviors on and off the field), but it hasn't been without controversy. There was the calling out of his own hitting coach, Greg Walker, early in the season and the demand to GM Kenny Williams that something be done about the White Sox impotent offense; and most recently the manager chose the most inopportune time to call out a mentally fragile pitcher in Javier Vazquez just as he was preparing to take the mound for a start that, had he won, would likely have ended the Twins hopes of catching the White Sox. Vazquez got pounded and lost the opening game, setting the tone for the series on a bad note for the White Sox. Then, after employing the questionable strategy of pushing closer Bobby Jenks to a third inning, losing the game and first place and presumably rendering Jenks unavailable for tonight's game against the Indians, Guillen is having another verbal battle with one of his own players in Orlando Cabrera----Sun-Times Story. Taken individually, these things wouldn't be cause to dismiss a manager who: A) really is a strategically solid tactician; and B) has had such success including a World Series win; but when are GM Ken Williams and owner Jerry Reinsdorf going to say that enough's enough and Guillen's unique style is a case of diminishing returns? The White Sox may right the ship this weekend, but it's not going to be easy; the Indians are coming into Chicago hoping to finish the season above .500 and if necessary, there's going to be a make-up game on Monday between the Tigers and White Sox. The Tigers (specifically Magglio Ordonez) would probably like nothing better than to knock Guillen and the White Sox out of the playoffs. While all that is going on, the Twins will have the Royals coming into the Metrodome for three games. The main thing that would concern me is that the Twins are playing with a whole load of luck (and that accounts for a chunk of their unbelievable success with runners in scoring position above any other reason) and that they're a well-schooled, close-knit group that plays the game correctly, while the White Sox are always a powder keg ready to explode, usually with a spark from their manager. If the Twins take the division, would that be the end of Guillen's managerial tenure? It's been speculated before that the manager might be in trouble, but eventually he is going to wear out his welcome and be replaced. The results of this weekend could dictate whether it's going to be now or later.
Was Guillen bothered by Tony La Russa's visit to Yankee Stadium as a guest of White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf?
Guillen played for La Russa as a rookie and while there would be no obvious reason for La Russa's visit to see Yankee Stadium one last time as a threat to Guillen, one has to understand the inherent paranoia that comes with being a manager. Guillen's not stupid; he has to know that La Russa is unhappy with the Cardinals penny-pinching and that Reinsdorf has openly expressed his regret that he allowed then-GM Hawk Harrelson to fire La Russa in 1986 and the duo would probably like to end La Russa's managerial career where it began back in Chicago with the White Sox at some point. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Cardinals would allow La Russa to leave if that's what he really wanted to do (especially if he was going to manage in the other league) and that Guillen would be fired if the White Sox blow their division. On the surface, I'm sure that Guillen didn't mind La Russa's visit, but deep down, he had to be threatened by it because it's just a natural reaction and not without merit.
Just another ho-hum night in the lives of the New York Mets; trying desperately to screw up their entire season with another late September swoon; getting stunning contributions from such ne'er-do-wells (or rare-do-wells) like Ramon Martinez and Robinson Cancel; having Daniel Murphy miss a sign, bunt with two strikes and strike out (which emitted a rare show of emotion from stoic manager Jerry Manuel); Ryan Church's bizarre, unintentional end-around slide that looked like the dance John Belushi was doing at the end of Animal House; and coming back from a 6-3 eighth inning deficit to win on a Carlos Beltran single in the bottom of the ninth. The Mets are playing with fire just about every night now; usually it's with the bullpen, but now it's become clear that Pedro Martinez is no longer able to provide anything more than six innings and (if they're lucky) four runs. It's like throwing darts at a dartboard to see which reliever to use and Manuel guessed right tonight with Joe Smith (who's usually reliable anyway). As for the appearance of the 35-year-old Ramon Martinez in the starting lineup----why not? He couldn't be any worse than Luis Castillo's been over the last month and the bloom is off the rose from the "find" made by the Mets stat-guys in Argenis Reyes. (There are generally reasons why players are relegated to the minor leagues for the majority of their careers.) There's no point in quibbling with anything as long as they win. Whatever works is going to be seen as the correct move and with the way the team is patched together with pitchers 3-14 on the staff, a win is a win is a win.
Brewers 5-Pirates 1:
The game just ended about a minute-and-a-half ago and the Pirates are rotten. Just plain awful. The Brewers relievers did an above-and-beyond the call of duty job by keeping the game close (admittedly against a Pirates lineup that would never be confused with the 1927 Yankees; or the 1627 Yankees----and I know they didn't exist then, that's the joke), but like the Mets, a win is a win is a win. The problem the Brewers now have is that they have no choice but to pitch Jeff Suppan tomorrow night against the Cubs and play while the Mets are likely to get rained out. The Cubs, while resting their regulars periodically in the Mets series, didn't use Carlos Marmol last night or tonight and will undoubtedly be looking to get him some work in the Brewers series; they'll also want to make sure to play the games to win just as they did against the Mets. After the way this last month has gone, I'm not even going to speculate on what might happen this weekend with either the Brewers, Mets or Phillies. Anything can happen and I wouldn't be surprised to see a playoff game on Monday or even playoff games on Monday and Tuesday if all three end up tied----a realistic possibility.
The incoherent Sarah Palin:
I generally don't indulge in capricious ridicule, but I'm trying to figure out what the John McCain campaign is trying to pull with Gov. Sarah Palin. They've kept her in a cocoon for a month now, only letting her do select interviews with select reporters; keeping her under tight constraints and hoping to use her attractiveness and extreme right wing views as a shield for the fact that she's not only unqualified to be vice president, but she's incoherent, ludicrous and offensive to those that are able to look past their own agendas to accept what is best for the country. For those that are still defending her after the video of her in church with a pastor whose sermons are far more frightening than anything Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor ever said, how is it possible to watch the two interviews that played today and still entertain the notion that she would be able to handle potentially being president of the United States in January? The brief time she spent at the podium following her tour of the World Trade Center site this afternoon showed her sticking to the basic, non-specific talking points of "taking the fight to the terrorists over there" rather than risking another attack. That was bad enough, but the interview with Katie Couric in which Gov. Palin sounded like a twelve-year-old taking an oral exam and trying to say a whole load of nonsensical stuff in the desperate attempt to hit on a couple of the answers to the questions and score some points was inexplicable. Palin was quite literally making no sense whatsoever in her ramble about how Alaska is close to both Russia and Canada and how Russia utilizes Alaskan airspace, etc. And Katie Couric ain't exactly Mike Wallace when it comes to interviewing. At best Palin sounded incoherent and unprepared; at worst she sounded imbecilic. Normally, this wouldn't be such a problem, but the circumstances surrounding this election make the Palin choice so dangerous that there's no way to know whether or not her blatant stupidity is going to result in a win for Obama. For all the polls that show Obama to be leading, there is always that possibility that people are saying one thing with the intention of doing another when they enter the voting booth. It may be because they're embarrassed, don't want to be seen as racist or whatever. Obama is so new, so different that it's hard to believe the polls wholeheartedly. Add in that Sen. John McCain is 72-years-old; not in the greatest of health and is evidently so desperate to get elected that he'll do and say anything to achieve that end, and this is a recipe for a dangerous disaster. It takes a lot to frighten me, but the very idea of Sarah Palin as the president of the United States is terrifying. She's not just inexperienced anymore; every time she opens her mouth, she's proving herself to be woefully unprepared and bottom-line uninformed and unintelligent. The incoherence of her answers in every interview she does would normally disqualify her and by proxy, the man who picked her as his running mate. I have to believe that enough secular republicans are going to look at the situation and realize that the risk is too great and vote for Obama with an eye on 2012, but that's not necessarily what's going to happen. I've made it clear that I'm not a supporter of McCain (I liked him in 2000 and this isn't the same guy), but I could live with him as president if he'd picked Mitt Romney or someone who would be a competent president. That is not the case with Sarah Palin and I can only hope that people watch the interview and put personal beliefs aside and send her back to Alaska because she's completely inept and a true danger to us all.
I don't think anyone who's watched the Mets for any significant length of time and has any baseball intelligence at all didn't see what was coming after they failed to score in the bottom of the ninth inning with a runner at third base and no outs. This is not an isolated incident with the Mets as they find situations in which it's difficult not to score, yet find a way to accomplish the feat. Apparently, the "MVP candidate" David Wright has never heard of the term "shortening your swing based on the situation" because with Daniel Murphy on third base, Wright was hacking away as if he were looking to get his face time on SportsCenter with another walk-off home run instead of simply driving in the winning run with a fly ball. But, that's not why the Mets are the baseball equivalent of a natural disaster. Like a hurricane or earthquake, there's no judgment or intent to injure; like any natural occurrence, what is simply is. Anyone who knows the Mets knew what was going to happen after they failed to score with that tailor-made opportunity in the bottom of the ninth. Just like the game against the Phillies in which they blew a 7-0 lead and ended up in extra innings, there was no way they were going to come back and win. The situation was such that I stopped watching the game. So confident in the Mets ability to demolish their playoff chances in the most painful way possible and quite likely give up a home run, I went downstairs to empty the dishwasher rather than watch it happen, because I knew what was going to happen and didn't have to watch. Unlike the writer Stephen A. Smith, who claimed that he "didn't have to" watch the end of a Jets-Patriots playoff game in January 2007 because, he wanted to imply, his innate football knowledge gave him the foresight to see the future but he was in reality talking out of his posterior, I truly knew what would happen...*
*I have to make a note here about Stephen A. Smith. As much as I rip him for his lack of even the most basic knowledge of baseball and football (he didn't know which team was in which division during his ill-fated TV show on ESPN), I read his column in ESPN the Magazine and the man's a very good, talented writer; skilled with the language, coherent and well-organized.
...because of that, after emptying my dishwasher, I walked back upstairs, looked at the TV and saw Derrek Lee standing on second base, that the score was 7-6 and with Aramis Ramirez at the plate said, "Uh oh"; seconds later Ramirez deposited a Luis Ayala pitch into the left field bleachers to effectively end the game right there and then. This isn't a function of any collapse; it's just the Mets being the Mets; being the thing that they are with no other definition necessary; whether or not they pull themselves out of this is another aspect of the Mets. As a franchise, they've fought out of worse situations than this (1973, 1986, 1999); and they've stumbled under the weight of themselves (1988, 1998, 2006, 2007). Which version they'll be this time will be discovered in the coming days, but no one who knows the team can feign surprise, because this is the Mets, for better or worse.
Brewers 4-Pirates 2:
I'd suggest putting the brakes on the idea that these two wins against the Pirates (and three in a row overall) have righted the Brewers sinking ship. C.C. Sabathia is showing far more courage than his body can handle and these taxing starts on three-days rest are going to haunt him in the coming years if he's not careful.*
*One note about pitchers. I contend that it's not the number of pitches per se that are causing the injuries, but when the pitcher gets physically tired, loses his leg drive and proper mechanics and deviates from throwing properly and as stress-free as possible, thereby overtaxing his arm and getting hurt; and Sabathia, while in shape for baseball, isn't exactly a bastion of physical fitness; but the Brewers know that they're not keeping him, so what do they really care about what happens with him after 2008?
Watching chunks of these two games made me see how bad the Pirates really are. I would be deeply concerned with the new management team because in addition to this embarrassing tete-a-tete betwen Scott Boras and team president Frank Coonelly as to whether or not Pedro Alvarez agreed to a deal or not, the deals that GM Neal Huntington made at the trading deadline to shed the remaining marketable veterans on the Pirates roster are getting a horrible review in the short-term. In dealing Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees as part of one deal, the return had to be equal or better than what they would've gotten if they'd dealt both separately. With both players being in heavy demand and playing positions that were desperate needs for so many teams, the Pirates have to hope that Jose Tabata regains his lost luster as a prospect; that Dan McCutchen develops (and he's about to turn 26, a bit too old to be a "prospect"); that maybe the talented Ross Ohlendorf can become a useful pitcher as a starter or reliever (I'd make him a starter); and realize that Jeff Karstens is a soft-tossing journeyman. The return on that deal looks weak. Then there was the three-way deal in which Jason Bay ended up with the Red Sox and Manny Ramirez on the Dodgers. Andy LaRoche (whom I'm convinced the Pirates were as interested in the marketing ability of uniting him with his brother on the corners of their diamond as they were a cornerstone to their rebuilding project) has looked overmatched at the plate and clueless in the field. Brandon Moss and Craig Hanson have talent, so they may end up as useful pieces; and young Bryan Morris is at least three years away from the big leagues. The fact that the Dodgers gave up on LaRoche so quickly would be a red flag for me because the Dodgers development people have the results to indicate they know what they're doing and even though they were getting a star like Manny, wouldn't have just dumped a player they had as high an opinion of as everyone else seemed to as was the situation with LaRoche. In essence, that Pirates lineup isn't at all scary, so the Brewers should be beating them. Now tonight will be a major test because they've activated Yovani Gallardo to take the start. Gallardo was supposed to miss the entire season with a knee injury, but has returned. The Brewers don't have much of a choice than to try Gallardo (unless they want to put Sabathia out there again), but I'd question what kind of performance they're going to get from him (his numbers in his minor league rehab starts weren't very good), and they're not going to be able to get him too deeply into the game, which will put things in the hands of that awful bullpen.
Will the Mets recover from this? Will the Brewers seize their opportunity? And how will the weather forecasts in New York affect everything?
It's a four game season now with everything all even. The game tonight will depend on whether or not the Mets score some runs early and get a decent performance from Pedro Martinez. The fans and media grasp tightly to what happened the day before more than the players do. Once the game starts, there's not going to be any "what-if?" lamenting on the part of the players. They might try a little too hard with runners in scoring position; they might hold their collective breaths when the bullpen enters the game, but it won't be as a direct result of one game. With the Brewers beating up on the Pirates, it has to be remembered that they're going to play the Cubs this weekend and while Cubs manager Lou Piniella is being prudent with his players, he's also managing the games to win. That they're going from playing one contender in New York to Milwaukee also adds into that equation because Piniella's not going to give the Brewers an easy time after the way his team battled against the Mets. The Brewers "recovery" from their dreadful slump will be judged by how they play this weekend. The weather forecasts in New York are also very important. It's supposed to rain all weekend to the point that the games are in jeopardy. The media is suggesting that the possibility of rainouts and doubleheaders are a disadvantage for the Mets, but I see it the opposite way. If the Brewers are forced to play while the Mets are sitting in their clubhouse playing cards, the pressure will revert to the Brewers. Add in that the Cubs----knowing that if tonight's game is rained out, there's a very real possibility of having to play a makeup game in New York on Monday to decide who's going to the playoffs----are going to do everything possible to avoid that and play as hard as they can to eliminate the Brewers if necessary actually gives the Mets an advantage. And at this point, I don't think the Mets would refuse any divine intervention to get them into the playoffs because what they're doing on the field isn't working, so maybe if they sit around and watch the Brewers implode, they'll have more success. They can't do much worse than they have in the past two Septembers if they're not playing. Mets manager Jerry Manuel's a spiritual guy, raising his arms to the sky and saying, "Let it rain!!!" wouldn't be such a bad idea since they've tried just about everything else.
Here's the headline of the ESPN Story about the Rays:
Rays sell out first two home games of NLDS
Um, okay. Let's see if I can explain this. Either it took moving the Rays to the other league to get some sellouts for the playoffs, or this is an unconscionable mistake from the "worldwide leader in sports". You be the judge. They're in the American League; therefore, they'll be playing in the ALDS.
One of the reasons that Tony La Russa has been such a successful manager over the long term is that he isn't a slave to the supposed "book" that he's blamed for co-authoring. The push-button, computerized managerial handbook that exists only for those that aren't confident enough in their baseball savvy or are too paranoid to make a risky decision because it's just easier to explain to geniuses in the media and meddlesome owners why he did something that appeared to be correct, but didn't work. La Russa, as much as he plays percentages, rolls the dice more than people realize. He's earned the right to chafe at having those decisions questioned by the press, but he's not making his moves based on safety-first because he's always been the same type of manager from when he took over the White Sox in 1979 at age 34, as he is now managing the Cardinals at age 63. I still remember one incident when there was an insider's profile on La Russa and he was being recorded as he managed; a young pitcher had just been recalled and it was a clear bunting situation, but La Russa called to the bullpen and just as the pitcher settled into the batter's box, La Russa asked urgently, "Can he hit?" after receiving the response which, presumably, was that they didn't know, La Russa said, "Well, he's swingin' now." I don't know what happened in the at bat, but how many managers would have had the nerve to pull something like that with a pitcher about whom they had no clue? The point to all of this is to illustrate the difference between a Hall of Fame manager like La Russa and what I was watching last night as the Brewers and Pirates held a managerial screw-up convention. There were so many bizarre decisions made last night that they have to be compartmentalized. The decision of when and with whom to bunt shouldn't be all that hard especially for guys like Brewers manager Dale Sveum and Pirates manager John Russell, who played the game as fringe big leaguers and had to do everything they could to maintain a spot on the roster; and have also managed in the minor leagues. First, there were the bunt plays. To me, getting a leadoff batter on and then bunting him to second is an iffy proposition unless the pitcher or a notoriously weak hitter is batting. A runner on second base isn't going to score unless one of the next two hitters gets a base hit or something strange happens. Staying out of the potential double-play is a consideration, but that's all the more reason to try something like a hit-and-run instead of ordering a straight sacrifice. In the eighth inning with the Pirates leading 5-4, J.J. Hardy singled to lead off the inning off of Pirates lefty John Grabow. Right-handed power hitter Corey Hart was batting and manager Sveum had him bunt Hardy to second base. The bunt is an explainable strategy; but to bunt with a batter who has 20 homers and 89 RBI against a lefty pitcher was just overmanaging in a panicky sort of way. Add in that Hart can run and the double play is only likely if he hits the ball right at someone. The bunt was successful and it ended up working because the light-hitting Jason Kendall doubled to tie the game, but it wasn't the right move. The power hitters are there to drive in runs and had Kendall not gotten that clutch, two-out hit, the Brewers would've lost. Then it was Russell's turn to mess around with an unnecessary bunt. In the top of the ninth, after Nyjer Morgan reached on an infield single, Freddy Sanchez was batting. Sanchez squared around to bunt as if he were a starting pitcher sacrificing the runner to second and the Brewers were charging in from the corners and shifting their infield all over the place like it was the worst hitting pitcher in history trying to advance the runner. Why is it that managers are so entrenched in what's safe that they don't look at each situation individually? Sanchez is a former batting champion who rarely strikes out; Morgan runs like the wind; why not have him steal as the infield is moving all over the place? Why not have Sanchez square to bunt and chop at the ball to try and dribble it through the infield? Or why not put on a hit and run, having Morgan trying to steal the base as Sanchez chops at the ball? If they'd done that and Sanchez got the ball through the infield, Morgan might've been able to score from first base. Then there were the pitching decisions. There's no way to give Sveum a hard time for using Guillermo Mota in the eighth inning; he's in the same situation as former Mets manager Willie Randolph was with Mota a year ago as Randolph kept using him despite his failures; the Brewers, like the Mets of 2007, don't have any alternatives other than to use Mota and hope for the best. As for the Pirates, Russell brought in T.J. Beam, a 27-year-old career minor league journeyman who might one day have some use as a long reliever. After Ryan Braun reached on an infield hit, Prince Fielder was at the plate. Russell walked out to the mound to talk to his pitcher and catcher about how to handle Fielder and with the first two pitches so far outside that it was clear that they wanted nothing to do with Fielder and were hoping that he'd be overanxious and chase a bad pitch, why didn't they just walk him after the second ball? And I don't want to hear about how you don't put the winning run on second base because just before I changed the channel, I saw the winning run score right before Fielder jumped into the circle of teammates waiting at home plate to greet him after his game-winning homer landed in the right-center field bleachers. I don't know about you, but I like the Beam-J.J. Hardy matchup better than I like seeing Beam throw anything anywhere close to the strike zone for Fielder to handle. Of course it's easier to make the safety-first moves like bunting runners into scoring position or refusing to walk a winning run into scoring position, but that doesn't make it right for the manager or team to be so weak-minded that they're going to let concerns about what's going to be said about them dictate what decisions they make, even if the opposite of what they did would've been correct. They may have lost or won anyway, but that doesn't validate gutless, simple-minded adherence to a non-existent book of maneuvers.
Brewers should not pitch C.C. Sabathia again on short-rest, and Sabathia shouldn't agree to it:
Moving C.C. Sabathia up to pitch on three-days rest for the second time in a row is an understandable decision given the Brewers current predicament, their porous starting pitching and the injury to Ben Sheets, but Sabathia should think of himself as well as the team; and the Brewers should look at their situation and decide that one pitcher isn't going to be able to carry them through the post-season no matter how dominant he's been. Sabathia is clearly tired. His stuff in his last two starts wasn't as sharp as it was since the trade to the Brewers and he has to, at some point, consider his own situation before risking injury as he's weeks before untold millions in free agency. To go out to the mound and run on fumes and guts to help save a sinking ship is admirable, but there comes a point where there are diminishing returns. Are the Brewers going to pay Sabathia if he gets hurt helping them try and save a playoff spot? They've squeezed every single pitch they possibly can out of the big lefty knowing that they're not going to have him after the season and Sabathia isn't the type to out-and-out say that he's concerned about his personal future at the expense of his current team's goals; but he should at least consider it before running this risk of overtaxing such a valuable commodity as his left arm. The Brewers have to accept the fact that they're going to need to get winning performances from more than one starting pitcher if they're going to get to the playoffs. What good does it do to have Sabathia go out to the mound tired, diminish his stuff and get him at less than 100%, only to have to use one of their other pitchers in the coming days? They have to win after tonight one way or the other, why weaken the one strength out of desperation? Sabathia and the Brewers have manhandled the Pirates this year and that Pirates lineup isn't exactly intimidating, but that's all the more reason to give Sabathia his full rest and pitch him on Thursday; add in that Paul Maholm is a pretty good pitcher and there's a real chance that the game's going to be close and Sabathia won't be able to pitch late into the game due to exhaustion; the Brewers bullpen will again be called upon to record key outs either way. It's a bad move all the way around, no matter what happens.
Yankees 3-Blue Jays 1:
Is the Blue Jays front office seeing reality yet? The reality that without the ten-game win streak in early September, they're a .500 team? That Scott Rolen has been a disaster while Troy Glaus is closing in on 100 RBI? That a team who has hot streaks once any chance of contention is gone is not a good team? That they're an also-ran year-after-year? Or are they going to move forward in a difficult decision with the same strategy and expect a different result? Anyone home? Hello?
Twins 9-White Sox 3:
I understand what White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was doing when he issued a media-delivered challenge to last night's starter Javier Vazquez. Among other things, Guillen said Vazquez "hasn't been" a big game pitcher in his career. Guillen's off-the-wall rants are largely a matter of design in the hopes of making his players angry enough that they perform with a greater determination to prove him wrong; the problem is that these types of psychological ploys don't always work with certain personalities. Vazquez isn't the type of guy who seems to like having people screaming in his face. In fairness to Guillen, Vazquez hasn't been very good in the few opportunities he's had to pitch in important games, but that doesn't justify hanging that reputation around his neck right before he's making a very important start against the closest division competitor to the White Sox on the road in Minnesota. These allegations are ignored by some players; taken as a challenge to others; and used as a reason to go out and perform timidly and badly by some who just don't like being challenged that way. Part of being a successful all-around manager is being able to read the players and respond to what they specifically need to perform; Guillen is a successful manager, but he misread his player in this case. Vazquez might've gotten shelled anyway, but Guillen's comments certainly didn't help.
Rangers 6-Athletics 4:
No matter how the Rangers end this season, why do I get the feeling that team president, the cold, deliberating and ruthless Nolan Ryan is out in the shed sharpening his axe?