Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Rivalry: Rangers vs. Islanders - V

From the desks of:
RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS  and  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB

The Rivalry - V


SHOWDOWN
Metropolitan Division
1) N.Y. Islanders  43-21-4; 90 points
2) N.Y. Rangers    40-17-7; 87 points

Islanders lead series 3-1
I - NYI 6; NYR 3
II - NYI 3; NYR 0
III - NYI 4; NYR 1
IV - NYR 6; NYI 5
V - TONIGHT

The Ice of March
New York Rangers
vs.
New York Islanders
from
Uniondale Ice House

Although Long Island's comeback effort against the Maple Leafs prevented this game from being a showdown for first place, Tuesday night's game should no less epic.  The Uniondale Ice House hasn't rocked like this in decades.  A March Rangers/Islanders showdown with very meaningful implications is finally back on the schedule.  The Rivalry is on again!

The Islanders escaped Toronto and bring a 3 point lead over the Rangers into this evening's game.

Long Island has achieved things this season not accomplished since their Cup years.  They have risen to every challenge, answered every call, handled every top competitor, responded accordingly when called for, and have otherwise been one of the consistently dominant teams of the conference - just ask the Leafs...

However, I feel all the pressure entering Tuesday night's clash is on them.  Thing is, the Rangers have three/four games in hand, and the Islanders know it.  Including Tuesday, the Isles have 14 games remaining, while the Rangers have 18 games left in the regular season.

The Islanders have been somewhat pressing recently to sustain their position atop the division.  It certainly seemed that way again when they trailed Toronto by a 3-1 margin in the 3rd period.  But, the resilient Isles scored twice more (3x in the 3rd period) to send the game into overtime.  John Tavares then won it with a power play goal.

Nick Leddy left the game with an injury, and might be a game time decision on Tuesday.

The Isles improved to 2-2 in March, and are 11-5-3 since February 3rd.

But here comes the competition.

Tex's Rangers are surging, and have drawn within striking distance of the division and conference leaders with a 12-2-3 record since February 2nd.

Entering Tuesday's game, Cam Talbot started 15 of the Rangers previous 16 games in Henrik Lundqvist's absence.  On Sunday, he posted his second shutout in his last 6 games; a 1-0 effort against the Flames, and a 1-0 overtime gem against the Blackhawks on Sunday.  Overall, he's made 24 starts this season, and now owns a 14-6-4 record, with a .921 SV% and a 2.33 GAA.

In the meantime, Henrik Lundqvist will surely have some rust to work off upon his return, but he will be well rested for a playoff run.

Jaroslav Halak will be making his 49th start of the season.  He set the Islanders goalie record earlier this season, and is presently 3rd in the NHL with 34 victories.  Thanks in part to the NHL's 3rd ranked offense, Halak owns a 34-13-1 record, but with a less stellar .911 SV% which ranks 26th among goalies with 30+ starts, and a 2.48 GAA which similarly ranks 22nd.

The Islanders indeed own the NHL's 3rd most potent offense.  John Tavares has done his best to minimize the loss of line mate Kyle Okposo.  Tavares now leads the NHL with 72 points, and is 4th with 33 goals.  The power play is a very respectable 11th in the league.

However, despite off-season upgrades, defense, with particular emphasis on the penalty kill, continue to haunt Garth Snow, Coach Capuano, and the Islanders.  They are 23rd in goals against, and a woeful 29th on the penalty kill.

Leading up to the trade deadline, the Islanders acquired goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Mark Louis

The Rangers boast the NHL's 4th most potent offense, and the 12th best power play (both just a tick behind the Isles).  Within the conference, their +43 point differential is second only to Tampa.  With 38 goals, Rick Nash is 2nd only to Alex Ovechkin.

Defensively, the numbers suggest there is no comparison between teams.  The Rangers are the NHL's 3rd most stingiest team, and they rate 9th on the penalty kill.

Although the results remain to be seen, Glen Sather might have pulled off a pair of savvy trades in acquiring forward James Sheppard, and defenseman Keith Yandle.

Derick Brassard continues to have the best season of his career.  He scored the game winning goal against the Blackhawks Sunday.  In 61 games played he now has 14 goals and has established career highs with 37 assists and 51 points - both of which lead the team.  Last season, he scored a career high 18 goals in 81 games.




Mike

Monday, March 09, 2015

Brooklyn Nets: Fading Away

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH



Now 11-games under .500, and fading fast...

BROOKLYN NETS: Look what the Utah Jazz did to Flatbush, again.

Let us tell no lies.

The 2011 trade bringing (then) 26-year old point guard Deron Williams to the Nets was a no-brainer. Negotiated under the cover of night, the transaction even stole headlines away from the Knicks upon their acquisition of Carmelo Anthony.

Despite being limited to just 55 games in 2011-12, Deron Williams' 21-ppg was his best rate as a pro, which continued ratifying the trade as a coup.

Then came the team's relocation to Brooklyn.

Beset by ankle problems throughout, Williams averaged 18.9 points and 7.7 assists in 2012-13, then fell precipitously to just 14.3 points and 6.1 assists per game last season.

Now 30-years old, Deron Williams underwent surgery to both ankles this past off-season and was off to a spirited start this season.  However, he has since been relegated to playing off the bench by Coach Hollins, and is presently only averaging 13.2 points and 6.2 assists per game.

His former team, the Utah Jazz were in Brooklyn Sunday featuring forward Derrick Favors - one of the players packaged in exchange for Williams.

Favors, 23, played a game high 38-minutes and shot 50% on 8/16 from the floor.  He was second on the Jazz with 22 points and 8 boards.  Deron Williams on the other hand, played 30 minutes and was only 2/5 from the floor.  He registered 6 points, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds.

The Jazz 95-88 victory over the Nets Sunday improved their record to 26-36, while the defeat dropped the Nets to 25-36 this season.  At first glance, the teams look relatively even.  The observant fan, however, knows otherwise.  While the Jazz are 10 games under .500, they are young, rebuilding and improving.  The Nets, however, are now 11 games under .500, and devolving at a accelerating rate.

The New Year turnaround experienced under both P.J. Carlessimo and Jason Kidd has failed to transpire under Lionel Hollins.  Despite impressive back-to-back victories over Golden State and Dallas, and additionally strong victories over Toronto, L.A. Clippers, and Washington, the Nets have posted a 10-20 in 2015.

They have now dropped 3 in a row, and are now 11-18 at home.  They've fallen into a second place tie in the Atlantic Division with (another rebuilding team) the Boston Celtics.  They're additionally 2.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers in the race for the Eastern Conference 8th seed along with Boston, both of whom trail Miami.

Even Jason Kidd's team, the Milwaukee Bucks, widely considered a pre-season afterthought, are presently the 6th team in the conference with a (surprising) 33-29 record.

Brook Lopez was finally reinserted back into the starting line-up on Sunday, and responded with 19 points and 10 rebounds.  It was his second straight double/double, as he scored 19 points and pulled down 13 rebounds against the Suns.

While Brook was back in, Joe Johnson was strangely out.  In a very peculiar move, Coach Hollins had Joe Johnson on the bench and put the ball in Jarrett Jack's hands for the final, and potentially game winning shot in regulation time against Phoenix.  Jack's shot rimmed out, and the Nets eventually fell apart in overtime.

Joe Johnson is playing out of position and his game is suffering as a result.  That being said, Lionel Hollins has truly been a brutal presence for Brooklyn's envisioned big three; Johnson, Williams, Lopez.

Obviously, the problems confronting this organization lay above Hollins.  This team was constructed to win in the very near term, but will clearly fail in their five year mission to win a title.  Instead they are fading away, and other than negotiating a sale of the team, the deep pocketed owner now appears indifferent to affecting change.

Translated - Billy King continues unfettered in his present capacity.

That's sad, because all indications say he engineered a bottom third club with little chance of improving.  The Nets are 23rd in scoring, 22nd in rebounds, 27th in assists, and 18th in points allowed.

Yet, Billy King stayed relatively put at the deadline (or arguably got outclassed by his competitors), so it's no surprise the situation continues to worsen.

If that wasn't enough, by negotiating the team's draft picks he's effectively compromised the near future as well.

That puts the real Nets turnaround light years from now.



Mike

Saturday, March 07, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Glen Sather Earns Assist At Trade Deadline

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



39-17-7 (85 points)
2nd place Metro Division
4th place Eastern Conference
#3 Conference Scoring
#2 Conference Defense

NEW YORK RANGERS: Glen Sather Earns Two Points For Making Savvy Trades At Deadline.

Hello, Killjoy here again...

Had I written immediately after the Rangers defeated the Predators, this narrative might have sounded very differently.  But I didn't.

At the time, the Rangers beat a team that lost their previous 2 games.  Nashville has now lost 5 in a row, and were outscored 19-10 over that stretch.  Taking it further, the Predators are 2-7 in their last 9 games, and not only did they lose to the Rangers, they fell to the Devils and Islanders as well.

That's another way of saying the western conference Predators appeared more fearsome from afar, because the team that recently visited the metropolitan area looked and played like pussycats.   They're obviously in the midst of a poor spell.

Trending?  The Rangers also failed to follow up two key victories in a proper manner.  They left a point on the ice against the Canucks after defeating the Islanders, and left another point on the ice against the Red Wings after the Predators.

It's hard to pooh-pooh a quick taste of first place though.  With 3 games in hand and one game left against Long Island, Tex's Rangers have the Islanders fixed in their cross hairs.

They'll proceed forward surprisingly well refortified too.

While I anticipated a quiet trading period for the Rangers thinking Glen Sather generally handicapped himself with his overall salary cap management, he somehow still managed a day worthy of appreciation.

The Rangers acquired offensive defenseman Keith Yandle, along with Chris Summers and a 2016 #4 pick from Phoenix in return for prospect Anthony Duclair, defenseman John Moore, a 2015 #2 pick and a 2016 #1 pick.

Even Killjoy is very high on this trade.

John Moore in particular was becoming a liability, and failed to mesh with Kevin Hayes or Dan Boyle to form an effective third line.  Thus the addition of Yandle corrects a major malfunction - the third defensive pair.  This now gives the Rangers three very solid reliable lines, potentially improves the power play, and perhaps the overall offensive contribution from the blueliners as well.

The money works too.  Keith Yandle will not be an unrestricted free agent until the 2016-17 season, and Phoenix is absorbing half of his salary cap hit.

Of course, it's always nice to have motivated sellers like the Coyotes to deal with.  Nevertheless, this is a good trade for both teams.  Phoenix is going full-blown rebuild and secured themselves a top prospect to move forward with.  The Rangers were arguably a defenseman and a big center away from being true Eastern Conference favorites, and were in position to move such a touted prospect as Duclair to facilitate such improvements.

In a separate trade, the Rangers also acquired James Sheppard and Carl Klingberg for Lee Stempniak.

Klingberg is an inexperienced 24-year old winger taken early in the 2nd round of the 2009 entry draft.  The hook, and someone I think can be a real sleeper is center James Sheppard.  He was the 9th overall selection of the 2006 entry draft taken by Minnesota.  He's 26-years old, and listed at 6'1" and 215 pounds.  He'll fit nicely on the 4th line, and provide much needed size.  However, the knock on him is that he does not use said size effectively.  He better learn quick - he's in the Eastern Conference now.  But, I would certainly agree he's an improvement over Stempniak in both size and potential contribution.

Glen Sather still wasn't done.  Although odd, his initial effort to trade Mats Zuccarello instead wound up becoming a 3-year contract extension for the small forward.  I'm not sure I agree with resigning MatsZucs, but I seem to be in the minority.

The Rangers have now played 15 games and earned 21 points in Henrik Lundqvist's absence.  Cam Talbot has started 14 of those, and thus far posted a 9-2-3 record, which includes a shutout over the Flames.  The Rangers have averaged 3.3 goals for him, while Talbot has limited the opposition to 2.6 goals per game.



Mike

Saturday, February 28, 2015

N.Y. Knicks: For five years, it was Mason Square Garden

From the desk of:  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP



Anthony Mason 
1966 - 2015
NYK
1991 - 1996

New York Knicks: From Queens to 8th Avenue, he was one of us.

Basketball theoretically isn't supposed to be a physical game.  It was originally designed for ball handling, motion, passing, shooting, and yes, defense.  Game officials paid particular attention to obstructive contact, and the rules awarded free throws as a penalty, and deterrent for such undisciplined play.

Then along came Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing, and the New York Knicks.  I know, down deep in my heart, the Chicago Bulls feared these guys.  Their battles were epic; classic.

In Anthony Mason's five years as a Knick, at least to this fan, he cemented himself as one of the organization's Forever Men.

Anthony Mason was my guy.

Beyond just the Bulls, the NBA wound up revamping the rules in response to the Knicks physical style of play - exemplified and effectively executed on either side of the ball by Anthony Mason.

My condolences go out to his family, friends, and loved ones.

Thank you for great times.

Rest well.




Mike

Saturday, February 21, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Don't Look Now, But Here Come the Caps

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS


Adam Graves; 52 goals in 84 games
Rick Nash; 37 goals in 50 games

NEW YORK RANGERS: Still Suffering From Mild Highs, and  Very Telling Lows.

There's a saying that applies to the Rangers 3-1 victory over Buffalo - don't expect a pat on the back for doing what's expected of you.

For the real story, we need dig through the last few days.

Scoring 22 goals in 4 straight victories over TOR, COL, ARZ, and NYI felt liberating, didn't it?   Speaking of the Islanders, sometimes you have to win games by a 6-5 score.  The Blueshirts played with energy and spirit, and came back from being down 5-3; well done.

Despite their record in the season series, the Rangers can obviously play with the Islanders.  But, in this particular case they just needed to show it, because in truth that was their first victory against either the Islanders, Lightning, or Predators - generally regarded as the 3 best teams in the conference this season.

That being said, how did the Blueshirts follow up their impressive victory over the Isles?  They let a point get away against the Canucks - a deflating loss to say the least, considering they blew three different leads.

How did the Islanders respond after being defeated by the Rangers?  They whooped up on the Predators 5-2, and at the time, tied Nashville for the most victories in hockey.

Just saying.....  

But, you can't deny, the Rangers have failed a majority of their big tests this season.   They otherwise have managed to outplay their competition in what continues to prove to be a weak Eastern Conference.

On that note, here comes Washington.  By defeating the Islanders on Saturday afternoon they tied the Rangers for #2 in the division, and for #4 in the conference.  The Rangers have three increasingly interesting games remaining with Washington this season.

Alex Ovechkin is the NHL leader with 38 goals; Rick Nash is second with 37 goals.

Nash's pace of 37 goals in 50 games hearkens back to Adam Graves' 50 goal season of 1993-94.



Mike

Friday, February 20, 2015

Brooklyn Nets: The Dud of Flatbush

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH




Congratulations to Kevin Garnett, 
for Managing to Escape Billy King's Borough of Misfit Toys.

BROOKLYN NETS: Billy King's Deadline Dud.  Was He Outdone By His Contemporaries?

Hail, hail, the gang's still here.

The much anticipated blowup turned into nothing more than a bottle rocket, as trading Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young was Billy King's lone transaction of the day.

Rumors of sending Brook Lopez to OKC in return for Reggie Jackson never panned out.  That means it's back to coming off the bench for Lopez along with Deron Williams (because Jarrett Jack is still here too).

It's hard to believe that after posting a 21-31 record to date, winning only 40% of their games, falling out of the conference standings, and particularly after listening to Coach Hollins repeated criticisms all season, that Billy King would still have that much faith left in Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez to intentionally keep them together.

I'd rather argue there were 14 other general managers busier, or just plain better than Billy King, not only during the time leading up to Thursday's 3:00pm trade deadline, but ever since his initial appointment.

The situation the Nets are left in, without control of their first round draft picks for the foreseeable future can not go under spoken.  And, now that KG is back in Minnesota, we can say with certainty that King's ill-fated trade with Boston was a complete failure, and one that will cost this team for years to come.



Mike

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

N.Y. Knicks: Set Your Clocks According To Melo Time

From the desk of: DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP




NBA worst 10-43 (.189)

New York Knicks: With the All-Star game out of the way, and Amare gone, Carmelo declared no mas.

Dutch pants can't jump, and apparently neither can Carmelo Anthony.

Blame James Dolan...

I do.

He took away Donnie Walsh's proverbial corner office with a view, stripped Mike D'Antoni of his key to the executive bathroom, and handed them both to Carmelo Anthony with haste.

Remember?  In an effort to secure Melo before the Nets did, Dolan stomped all over them like Godzilla through Tokyo.

Once in the fold, Melo has been calling the shots ever since.  He won a scoring title, and also led the Knicks to their worst start in history (of which, the debacle continues).

He certainly didn't want to be coached by D'Antoni, and wound up throwing Mike Woodson under a bus.  He didn't want to play with Jeremy Lin or Tyson Chandler, and he doesn't seem to care much for Tim Hardaway Jr.  If anything, Coach Fisher and the Triangle offense have become merely the latest inconvenience and hindrance to Melo Ball.

When he first hurt his knee, it was said that by playing he would not hurt it further.  Fine.  It was said to be a matter of Carmelo Anthony's pain threshold.  Okay.

But, but...., BUT, you just can't bide time, play 30-minutes in the All-Star Game, which just happened to be played at MSG this year, then decide the pain is too much to continue.

C'mon man!

He knew he would inevitably need surgery (and not a minor procedure at that).  Waiting till after the all-star game was flat-out selfish (IMO), if for no other reason that his recovery may potentially interfere with his ability to participate in the next preseason.

Phil Jackson said the surgery entailed a near 6-month recovery - key word being recovery.  His conditioning is likely to be compromised heading into September and October.

The Knicks were already in the midst of a historically bad season, with Melo in the line-up.  That tells me there was a potential lack of communication, urgency, or willingness to address a lingering situation, on everyone's part.

Here's a lesson learned on the Knicks first time executive: sometimes you have to communicate with players in their language.  It seems with many players, all they understand are money and minutes.  In lieu of a clear plan, Phil Jackson should have initiated a proactive approach by having Coach Fisher curtail his minutes.  In saying Melo dictated the timing of the surgery, Phil Jackson really meant to say that he fell in line like everyone else not named Dolan.

That said, I don't think Phil's Jedi mind tricks are going to work with Anthony.  Melo is focused on Melo - always has been.  Phil's "loser mentality" speech seemingly fell on deaf ears.  This could eventually become a battle of the force (70-yr. old) Phil of the Future might lose.

That's just the way I see it.



Mike

N.J. Devils: A Thousand Cheers for Elias

From the desk of:  ALL MOTHER LEEDS CHILDREN




NEW JERSEY DEVILS: In Recognition of Two Local Greats... Patrik Elias Recently Achieved Milestone Numbers, and Goalie Martin Brodeur Officially Retired.


LW - Patrik Elias

1995 - present

Devils All-Time Leader:
Season: Most Points
Career: Goals, Assists, Points
Playoffs: Goals, Assists, Points 

400 GOALS
600 ASSISTS
1000 POINTS


G - Martin Brodeur
1991 - 2014

Led NHL in Wins 9 Times
Vezina Trophy Winner 4 Times

NHL ALL-TIME LEADER:
Wins - 688
Shutouts - 124
40-Win Seasons - 8




Mike

Monday, February 16, 2015

Rangers vs. Islanders, The Rivalry - IV: NYR looking to snap NYI recent dominance

From the desks of:
RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS  and  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB

The Rivalry - IV



Islanders lead series 3-0
I - NYI 6; NYR 3
II - NYI 3; NYR 0
III - NYI 4; NYR 1
IV - TONIGHT

MONDAY NIGHT HOCKEY
New York Rangers
vs.
New York Islanders
from
Long Island Ice House

The magic/tragic number has been three: In three games this season, the Islanders have recorded three wins over the Rangers, all by 3-goal margins of victory.

Goalie Jaroslav Halak (t-2nd) trails Nashville's Pekka Rinne by two victories for the league lead.
He is one victory away from tying the Islanders single-season record of 32-wins set by Billy Smith in 1981-82, and tied by Chris Osgood in 2001-02.

The Isles are 6-4 in their last 10 games without Kyle Okposo.  They are riding a 4-game win streak entering tonight's game in Long Island.  However, they experienced a pair of big conference losses to the Bruins, and one loss each against the Red Wings and Panthers.

For the moment, the Isles own a 2-point lead over the Pens in the Metro Division, and 4-points over the Rangers.  They trail the Habs and Lightning for the conference lead by a point.
  
Long Island is second in scoring behind the Lightning in the conference, and 4th in the NHL, but the PK is now ranked 30th in the NHL, and their overall defense is 22nd.

Despite Okposo's absence, he still leads the team with 30 assists.  The Islanders have 8 players with double digit goals.

Due to the recent combined play of Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin, and Chris Kreider, the Rangers now have 7 players with double digit goals.  With only 65 SOG, Kevin Hayes (15.4%) is second behind Rick Nash (17.2%) in scoring percentage.

The Rangers sport the NHL's 3rd rated offense, and the 4th ranked defense.  Their PP is 9th, and the PK is 13th.

The Blueshirts are 3-0 during their current road trip that ends tonight in Long Island.  Since Henrik Lundqvist went down, back up goalie Cam Talbot is 4-1-1 in his absence.  Talbot has appeared in 17 games and made 15 starts this season.  He owns an 8-5 record, with a .918 Sv%, and a 2.35 GAA.

Since these teams last met, the Rangers have posted a 9-3-1 record, with losses to top teams such as the Isles, Habs, Predators, and Stars.  They enter tonight's game winners of three in a row with victories over discombobulated Toronto, last place Colorado, and even worse Phoenix (sorry, that's just the way I see it).  However, they posted a very strong, physical victory over Boston on Feb. 4th.

Rick Nash's 33 goals are second behind league leader Alex Ovechkin's 35 goals.  He leads the Rangers with 206 shots on goal, while the next closes players is Carl Hagelin with 126 SOG.

Derick Brassard, 27, is in the midst of his best season ever.  His career year came in 2010-11 with Columbus, when he scored 17 goals, with 30 assists, for 47 points, but posted a -11 for the season.   This year, he is up to 13 goals, and has tied his career high of 30 assists.  He is a +10 so far this season, and is second on the team with 43 points.  He leads the team with 11 PP assists.

The Rangers are sandwiched between the Red Wings and Caps for the Eastern Conference 6th seed.   

They also have games in hand versus both the Islanders and the Caps.

The Rangers last game against the Coyotes was Alain Vigneault's 500th career victory, ranking him 20th on the all-time list.



Mike

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

N.Y. Mets: Trucking Six Years of Baggage Down I-95

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET




Loaded up and truckin' on southbound I-95

2015: Pre-Season
Pitchers/Catchers - Feb. 19
Position Players Due - Feb. 24
1st Full Squad Workout - Feb. 26
Grapefruit League Opener - Mar. 4
SEASON OPENER - APRIL 6
OPENING DAY - APRIL 13

NEW YORK METS: The past 6 years have been trying times in Flushing.  So were the 6 years following the infamous Tom Seaver trade.  I've lived through both periods.  As Yogi once said, it's been like deja-vu all over again.

The Resurrection That Was: 1984

Over the last 6 years, the Mets have averaged 75.5 victories per season.  Their worse mark came in 2009 when they posted a 70-92 record.  Last season, they tied their best mark over that span with a 79-83 record.  That's a net improvement of 9 games, or, a gain of 1.8 victories per season.

Earlier this winter, Sandy Alderson expressed his belief the Mets can improve by 10 games this upcoming season and reach 89 victories.  That's a more realistic expectation than last winter's desire to win 90 games only because several young players gained valuable experience, and hopefully other key players have sufficiently healed.

Even I will admit the upcoming 2015 season finally brings with it realistic expectations for competitiveness after a long deconstruction, and reconstruction period undertaken by Sandy Alderson.  I would argue the rebuilding is still ongoing, but most have had it with excuses, double talk, broken promises, and particularly, finances.

There's a sense the Mets are close.  Close to what is still debatable, but, fans want wins.

To that regard, there's a small measure of good news.

With just 2 more victories last season, the Mets could have reached the elusive .500 plateau for the first time since 2008.  With just slightly better play against the Nationals and/or Giants, that could have been achieved.  Or, instead of blowing 22 saves last season, they could have limited themselves to just 20 blown saves, or this, or that.  Otherwise, the Mets posted a .500 record against the rest of the National League.

The Mets finished 17 games behind the Nationals in the N.L. East last season, while the Giants and Pirates earned Wild Cards with 88 victories.

I would rather the Mets put their minds and efforts towards achieving a .500 record first, but it seems 89 victories is indeed key for a shot at post-season play.

Within Mets history, there's precedent for such a turnaround.

It took Frank Cashen 4 seasons, between 1980 through 1983, to build the Mets into a 90-win competitor in year five.  Frank Cashen benefited from players left behind by Joe McDonald, that he either utilized or traded to improve the team.

Sandy Alderson has likewise spent the last 4 seasons, between 2011 and 2014, rebuilding the Mets, and is now heading into season five.  Like Cashen, Sandy Alderson is benefiting from players left behind by Omar Minaya, by either utilizing them, or trading some in an effort to improve the team.

The Mets won 69 games in 1983, then took a major step forward in 1984 with 90 victories.  We're only asking for half of that in 2015.

Compared to the Mets present situation, the '84 team was defensively superior up the middle with Mike Fitzgerald behind the plate, Jose Oquendo and Wally Backman at middle infield, and with Mookie Wilson in center.  Keith Hernandez had no equal at first, Darryl Strawberry sported the league's best arm in right, and Hubie Brooks was a very good third baseman.  If anyone, George Foster was the lone weak link in left.

Foster more than made up for any defensive shortcomings with his bat.  The middle of the '84 line-up featured Keith Hernandez (.311, 15 HR, 94 RBI), Darryl Strawberry (26 HR, 97 RBI), Hubie Brooks (.283, 16 HR, 73 RBI), and at 34-years old, George Foster turned in 24 HR and 86 RBI.  Between Mookie Wilson and Wally Backman, that team also had effective table setters.

On the mound, 19-year old Dwight Gooden turned in an historic ROY performance with a 17-9 record, 2.60 ERA, and rookie record 276 strikeouts.  He was complimented by Ron Darling, Walt Terrell, and an emerging Sid Fernandez whom combined on a 29-27 record.

In the bullpen, Jesse Orosco was 10-6 with a 2.59 ERA and 31 saves.  Doug Sisk posted a 2.02 ERA and saved another 15 games.

Defense: Edge 1984
Offense: Edge 1984
Pitching: Edge 2015

How does all this translate with regards to the 2015 season?

2014 N.L. Fielding Ranking:
Fielding Average - 12th
Stolen Base% - 13th
Passed Balls - 4th most

2014 N.L. Offensive Ranking:
R - 8th
HR - 9th
Avg. - 13th
OBP - 9th
SLG - 12th

2014 N.L. Pitching Ranking:
Avg. Against - 8th
WHiP - 10th
Walks - 3rd most
ERA - 6th
Saves - 9th

DEFENSE: Passed Balls, A Gold Glove, and Cross Your Fingers.

The Mets ranked 12th in the N.L. in overall defense.  They are particularly flawed up the middle.   While center fielder Juan Lagares won his first gold glove award, the team is debilitated in three other key positions.  

It's easier to hide one defensive liability than it is two; naturally.  Despite Daniel Murphy's overall improvement these last few seasons, he is still an inadequate second baseman.  Now the Mets intend on adding defensively challenged Wilmer Flores to the mix at shortstop.  The Mets turned the second most double-plays last season.  I learned back in the 1970's, teams that usually lead the league in DPs are generally sub .500 teams.  This combination screams trouble, which a young pitching staff such as that of the Mets could find discouraging.

However, this should be a short term problem.  The Mets are near prepared to transition away from Murphy from within.  Unless traded during the season, the Mets have made it clear they will let him walk as a free agent.  I'm sure the Mets would be willing to package Wilmer Flores in a trade as well, if it suits their needs.  Shortstop will remain a major point of contention unless Flores' bat sufficiently mutes the naysayers, or, because the Mets lack a readily available prospect to fill the position, they acquire an off-campus solution.

Behind the plate, the kid gloves are off.  As a receiver, Travis d'Arnaud frames pitches very well, and Met pitchers generally say they like working with him.  However, the Mets were 13th worst at throwing out would be base-stealers, and allowed the 4th most passed balls.  Travis d'Arnaud led the N.L. with 12 passed balls.  To his credit, he was a considerably improved player after being recalled from a demotion to Las Vegas.  This season, however, Travis d'Arnaud, 26, has too much competition behind him to risk a step backwards.  Kevin Plawecki's MLB debut is imminent.

OFFENSE: Now Bordering Insanity.

In a 12 team circuit, the 1984 Mets finished their season ranked 6th in runs, HR, Avg., and slugging.   In a 15 team circuit, the 2014 Mets finished 13th in average, 12th in slugging, 9th in HR, and 8th in runs.  Here's the twist: the '84 Mets scored 652 runs, and allowed 676, while last year's Mets scored 629, and allowed 618.

The Mets are potentially heading into the 2015 season with the same general line-up as they have the last two seasons.  Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of what?

Insanity?

The only off-season enhancement Sandy Alderson has made to the offense was signing Michael Cuddyer.  We know what he's done in his 14-year MLB career.  We just do not know what he brings to the Mets.  Aren't we just banking on him being the next George Foster, Jerry Hairston, or Marlon Byrd?  His addition is an improvement over Eric Young, for sure, but he's hardly enough to make the Mets even a middle of the pack offense (as they became in 1984).

The Mets true fortunes lie with David Wright having a vintage Wright season, Curtis Granderson increasing his productivity under his old batting coach, and with Lucas Duda's, Travis d'Arnaud's, and Juan Lagares' continued improvement at the plate.  Then obviously, Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores will have to provide considerably better bats than gloves.

Juan Lagares is most likely going to begin the season at the top of the line-up.  In 172 plate appearances leading-off, he double slashed .276/.329, with 9 stolen bases.  For now, that's the best the Mets can do, unless, if in their attempts to improve 2B and SS they acquire someone more suitable at the top of the line-up.

PITCHING: A Call To Arms.

This is where I believe today's Mets are ahead of the 1984 Mets; in their depth of rotation.  The Mets have a growing potential to form one of the most formidable starting rotations in baseball (at least by season's end).

Between Batman and Thor, they're starting to read like Marvel heroes.

The Dark Knight of Gotham; the Real Deal; or, as this blog named him, the Time Bandit; Matt Harvey is back.  How close he'll be to the one we remember prior to surgery remains to be seen.  He's a big lift nonetheless; akin to a big off-season acquisition.  As he goes, the Mets will go.  He has the potential to make up 10 games all by himself, but he will be pitching the upcoming season with limits.  This is slowly turning into a wait and see situation.  For the moment, Matt Harvey is scheduled to pitch the home opener on April 13th.

Moving forward, the onus is now on Zack Wheeler to take another step forward, and for 2014 ROY Jacob deGrom to validate himself.

Soon joining Harvey, Wheeler, and deGrom, is a mix that will potentially include Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, with Steven Matz hot on their trail.  Once the Mets get service time and Super-2 hang-ups out of the way, the door will open for any one of their arrivals.

Until then. the Mets otherwise enter the regular season well fortified with Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, and Dillon Gee.  It would seem with all this starting pitching, the team should be able to steer clear of any prolonged losing streaks.  That said, the Mets are looking to deal some of this depth, most notably, Dillon Gee or Jon Niese (or both).

After suffering many hardships, the bullpen is now a team strength.

Final Pitch: Looking Like a Lost Cause.

Even the 1984 Mets were still 2 seasons away from a championship, which means it took Frank Cashen 7 years to get there.

Just saying...

There's also the matter of the field manager.  In 1984, Frank Cashen promoted Davey Johnson to replace George Bamberger/Frank Howard, and become the new field manager of the Mets.  Johnson was familiar, and enjoyed minor league success with many of the young players on the roster and worked well with the veterans.  With Mel Stottlemyer as pitching coach, Johnson guided the Mets five 90-win seasons before getting let go early in 1990.

Many Mets fans, including myself, have clamored long and loudly for Sandy Alderson to replace manager Terry Collins with Wally Backman (and pitching coach Frank Viola) to no avail.  The upcoming season could be distinctly similar to 1984 in this respect: Wally Backman would be the absolute right move and have the absolute right affect on these players, with whom he's enjoyed minor league success on numerous levels.

I feel the usefulness of Terry Collins has passed, and do not necessarily believe he is owed an opportunity to win with this team.

The 2015 Mets, and the future of the Mets, depends on much more bold and definitive decision making on the general manager's part, but first he needs a stronger commitment from ownership. Until those guys step up their efforts, the Mets will continue competing against themselves.

They're merely a condition.  So despite them, there's still a good feeling heading into Spring Training.




Mike

Monday, February 09, 2015

N.Y. Knicks: We Are Irving Beirman

From the desk of:  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP


Have you seen Junior's grades?

NEW YORK KNICKS: There are your typical ingrates, human roaches, and the usual assortment of social disease one must combat to survive life in this city.  Then there's James Dolan; the dreaded Boss' son put in charge of an entity (MSG) seemingly to big to fail.  In return for fan loyalty and their hard earned dollars, he systematically destroyed a charter NBA franchise, and continues to pollute their lives with every breath he takes.., just ask Mr. Beirman.

"Start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks don't want you!"

You know who does this sort of thing?  The boss' son, that's who.

It's unfair though, to lump them all together.  Obviously, that's stereotyping.  This particular case, however, is a text book example.  There's no mistaking this species of SON - one who incites nothing but contempt.

We know them well.

There's John Mara, born and raised in the business; the model for executives of inheritance in this city.  There's Hal Steinbrenner, although somewhat previously removed from the game, he was nevertheless raised in the business by a man famously referred to as The Boss, and evidently understands self-restraint; something his father lacked at times.

Then there's little loved Jeff Wilpon.  But even he has been able to (barely) avoid the level of overt and blatant mismanagement of his father's team, and disdain for the fan base that Dolan routinely exhibits.  Jeff suffers from entitlement and a lack of knowledge for the business of baseball - understandable.   Dolan also suffers from entitlement and a lack of knowledge of the game, but also lacks tact, respect, refinement for someone in his position, which goes hand in hand with his lack of professionalism.

Above all, he lacks a clue, and his emailed response to a fan proves it.

Only the boss' brat son would treat a season ticket holder so shabbily, regardless of the content or character of a letter, because only boss' sons are that far removed from the more common experience.

At least dads understand what it takes to build something from scratch, or in Dolan the Elder's case, building Cablevision, then buying MSG/teams.  That's his right as a capitalist and entrepreneur in this country.  It's cats like that who understand the relationship between provider and consumer is generally fragile, but usually rewarding for both.  It's the sons who come behind them wearing their entitlement like a red badge of courage, and operate as if everything and everyone are beneath them.

Classic.

If there's one person to blame for the pathetic state of the Knicks since 2000, it's James Dolan.  It was the boss' son who put these Knicks in the position they're in; no one else - not his father, not even Isiah Thomas.

The Knicks have been the NBA's longest running joke ever since this man took over operation of the team a little over 15 years ago.

That's roughly one-third of my life time - years Mr. Bierman and I can not get back.

Son of Dolan - who himself underwent drug and alcohol rehabilitation prior to ruining our lives as Knicks and Rangers fans, had the gall to call a disgruntled fan an alcoholic, and accuse him of making his family miserable?

Is James talking from experience?

Go root for the Nets because the Knicks don't want you?

See?  ....Elitist and just plain ignorant.

Father, you've raised an idiot in the most classic sense of the word.  Now, do something about it!



Mike

Serie Caribe 2015: Cuba Recaptures Caribbean Title After 54 Year Wait


Here's my Caribbean Series 2015 Final recap for




Cuba defeats Mexico, 3-2
to capture the 2015 Caribbean Series championship



Hiram Bithorn Stadium
San Juan, Puerto Rico



Mike
senior staff writer/Rising Apple

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Friday, February 06, 2015

The Hoops of Flatbush: Knicks vs. Nets - III

From the desks of:
DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP  and  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH


BIG CITY SHOWDOWN - III


Nets lead series 2-0
I - Nets 110; Knicks 99
II - Nets 98; Knicks 93

FRIDAY
New York Knicks
vs.
Brooklyn Nets
from
BARCLAYS CENTER
Flatbush Avenue at Atlantic Avenue

New York Knicks: C'mon Phil, You Don't Really Expect Us To Believe That.., Do You?

Phil Jackson's work has only just begun.  He hasn't even experienced his first draft as the head Knick in charge yet.  To date, all he's done is rid the roster of some ill fitting players.

That's why I do not buy Phil Jackson's mea culpa one bit.

Phil Jackson didn't need to take this job, and is signed for a lot of money, which invariably means he's not going anywhere.  Therefore, saying the present state of the Knicks is his fault, at the most is a smoke screen, and at the very least, is a non issue, and certainly no skin off his hide.

I think he's just deflecting heat away from his head coach and faltering team.

This is a man who loves playing mind games.  They don't call him the Zen Master for nothing.  He once had Michael Jordan's Bulls sit silently in a dark room for 2 hours.

The merits of the triangle system are still up for debate.  There's something to it, that has nothing to do with the overwhelming brilliance of Michael Jordan.  Shaq says the system unequivocally works, and that it's the Knicks players who fail to understand it.  If Shaq can grasp, and execute Phil Jackson's system, that's good enough for me.

Should the Knicks abandon Phil Jackson's geometry, and let Coach Fisher adapt a style according the strengths of the personnel?

Well, if Phil Jackson does his job, the personnel should surely change by November.

Brooklyn Nets: Is Billy King's Finger On The Button?

There's hope for this team after all.

Right?

That's what a pair of victories against the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors says.  Their previous effort in regulation time against the Raptors on Jan. 30th also did not go unnoticed.

If you want to call Brooklyn's recent effort a turnaround, consider that it came with Jarrett Jack, Alan Anderson, and Mason Plumlee leading the way.

That said, the upcoming trade deadline is fast becoming the most curious moment since the Nets inaugural opening night in Brooklyn.

Should Billy King blow this team up?

You're damn right he should.  The best days of this highly paid group are behind them, or so I think. The Nets tried with the trio of Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez, and failed.

I do not necessarily believe that Billy King deserves to be the one who gets to push the button though.  However, pushing the button is nevertheless warranted.

Joe Johnson is movable because he is perhaps the most dependable player of the group.  Despite an onerous contract, he's a respected, and known commodity.

The same can not be said of Brook Lopez and Deron Williams, whom can't seem to shake nagging injuries.  If teams want any of these three, Billy King should negotiate a deal.

But what if the team really is turning a corner under Coach Hollins?

At this present time, I do not believe they are.



Mike