Monday, March 19, 2018

N.Y. Mets: Spring Training Previews and Another METSian Podcast #6

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

Spring Training 2018


  • Topics of Discussion: Our brand new podcast jingle..!  The business of Spring Training; Michael Conforto; Brandon Nimmo; Rocky Mountain high; dysfunction; Juan Lagares; another potential trade/CF; Sandy Alderson; land of confusion; ownership; Rafael Montero; Pedro Martinez; injuries; Ed Randall said; one hit wonders; Negative L.I. Mike calls in; and the passing away of Ed Charles.  (Fifty-five minutes).

Sunday, March 18, 2018

N.J. Devils: Raining Fire and Brimstone Upon the West

From the desk of:  THE BRICK CITY STYX

California Screaming..!

New Jersey Devils
Anaheim Ducks

New Jersey Devils: Straight Outta Newark..!

There's a reason why the chase is always more fun than the catch itself.

So just live in the moment and give the Devils their due!

Newark is presently in possession of the second Wild Card.  With eleven games left, the Devils enter Sunday night's action five points ahead of the ninth place and surging Florida Panthers, and just one point behind both the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively.

The Sunrise Cats are twelfth (NHL) in scoring, and are 15-5-1 since February 1st.  They potentially have their own ace up their sleeves, as the Panthers have two games in hand over the competition.  The Devils therefore, must strive to at least open a six point lead over Florida by the time their own regular season expires on April 7.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets and Flyers woke up Sunday morning tied for sixth/seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings with 83-points each.  Entering the new calendar year, the Flyers were playing in the second division.  Since the New Year, they've leapfrogged over seven teams to gain their present standing (but have been knocked down a notch by the Pens).  However, their big push might be losing steam.  After posting a 17-5-2 record through January and February, Philadelphia is just 2-6-1 in March.  Columbus on the other hand is riding a seven game winning streak, and are 10-4-0 since Feb. 18th.

Here's Newark's problem: of the Devils remaining eleven games, none are against the Flyers, Blue Jackets, nor Panthers.  In lieu of playing them face to face, the Devils must instead battle the schedule makers, and more importantly, their own resiliency.

I have no doubt fans experienced a measure of dismay after home losses against the Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets, knowing a six game road trip to the western edges of NHL hell loomed ahead.

Three games in, though, the Devil's have sacked Nashville and Las Vegas, then marched on Los Angeles and besieged the Kings.  They outscored the trio by a 13-5 margin through nine periods of regulation play, and in doing so gained six crucial points within the last seven days.

On Saturday, the Los Angeles Kings peppered Keith Kincaid with 38 shots on goal.  He repelled a furious opening attack by the Kings, whom out-shot the Devils 19-4 in the first period alone.  Newark also forced themselves into six penalty kill situations through the first two periods.  Keith Kincaid withstood all of it en route to his first shutout of the season.

Tonight New Jersey faces the Anaheim Ducks, whom awoke Sunday morning enmeshed in a four way tie with the Avalanche, Kings, and Stars, for sixth place in the Western Conference standings (thanks in part to yesterday's Newark win over the Kings).

*Devil's Playground graffiti, Bushwick

N.Y. Mets: Amed Rosario Has Stage All To Himself

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

There's something to be said for a plan coming together, 
despite the Mets front office.

New York Mets: Let the Amed Rosario era begin.

Amed Rosario represents an instance where the Mets actually did something right.

They signed him at the age of seventeen as an international free agent in 2013, upon which Rosario promptly logged 58 games at Kingsport of the (R)-Appalachian League.  I got my first up-close view of him the following summer when he played here in Brooklyn with the Cyclones.  He would then skyrocket over the next three seasons through the ensuing levels of the Mets system.

Amed made his much anticipated MLB debut least season on August 1, 2017, at Coors Field, in which he batted seventh in the order, and went 1 for 4 with a strikeout.  He would go on finish out the season at shortstop, but exceeded rookie limits with 165 at-bats, and therefore will not be competing for the ROY award this season, which is somewhat unfortunate.

So far, this is all fairly standard stuff ...

Here's the part the Mets got right - upon completion of Amed's minor league development, they ensured the position was cleared out in preparation for his arrival at Flushing.  It sounds simple, but the Mets are well practiced in the art of ponderous transitioning.  This time, the plan was handing off the position to Rosario, and they actually followed through.

Asdrubal Cabrera was effectively vacated from the position, and made to embrace the hot corner for the remainder of the 2017 season.  Otherwise, there's no lingering stopgap veteran forcing Rosario into playing out of position; or forcing him to ride the bench; nor forcing him into wasting anymore unnecessary time at Las Vegas.  Amed will be the Opening Day shortstop for the Mets.  The position is his.  And the matter is not really open for debate.

Even then, it may behoove Rosario to plant his flag firmly early in the process.

Catcher is the only other position where the Mets have exercised complete commitment to the original plan (to what degree of success, or lack thereof, is another matter).  Point being the Mets insist on playing Michael Conforto playing out of position.  Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores were never given fair opportunities for establish themselves.  Dom Smith has already been ostracized.  And with the emergence of Rosario, Gavin Cecchini has since been transitioning to play second, which in turn bogs him down behind a backlog of the previously eluded to stopgap and patchwork players (i.e., Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera).

All that being said, I'm excited for Amed Rosario to get his first full major league season underway in a timely manner!

  • On a side note, Asdrubal is now relegated to playing second base ever since the off-season acquisition of third baseman Todd Frazier.  At first Cabrera appeared agreeable with the continuing change in developments, but suddenly changed course and expressed his displeasure.  But being that he's in the final season of a three year deal, he perhaps thought better of the matter and backtracked just as quickly, and is now back to playing good soldier again. 

The Mets are in dire need of a prototypical lead-off batter, but I'm not so sure Amed can be that guy.

So far, Amed Rosario is having an average go of it in Grapefruit League play.

He missed a few games after being hit by a pitch earlier this month.  But as of close of business Saturday, he is 8 for 30 (.267) through twelve games of Grapefruit League play with four extra base hits (against a preponderance of double-A and triple-A pitching because that's just the nature of spring training).  Amed is also sporting a suspect .313 OBP.  He has fanned five times, but has only drawn one base on balls.

In fact, Rosario has never really been one to take a free pass.

He split the 2016 season between Port St. Lucie and Binghamton, logging his most games played in one season through that point of his minor league career.  He posted an overall .374 OBP in 527 total plate appearance (which included a .392 OBP in 237 plate appearances with Binghamton), but only walked forty times all season.  He then posted a .367 OBP last year at Las Vegas despite only walking 23 times over 425 plate appearances.

Once called up by the Mets, he only drew three walks in forty games and 170 plate appearances.

At the same time, strikeouts are something Amed Rosario has managed to keep somewhat under control (comparatively speaking, that is).  He owned a .187 strikeout average over 1,775 career minor league at-bats.  If you compare that against one of the organization's greatest ever lead-off hitters in its history, Jose Reyes maintained a .122 strikeout average during his best seasons with the Mets.

Not unexpectedly, Rosario received a rude welcome from opposing major league pitchers last year.  Amed fanned 49 times in 165 at-bats for a .296 average rate.  Let's chalk that up to being a rookie, and instead circle back to his minor league trends.  Lest we forget he is still only 22-years old.

In each of Amed Rosario's five minor league seasons (with one exception), he registered incremental increases to his OBP/batting average differential:
  • 2013 - OBP plus .038 over BA (R)
  • 2014 - OBP plus .046 over BA (A-)
  • 2015 - OBP plus .049 over BA (A+)
  • 2016 - OBP plus .050 over BA (A+, AA)
  • 2017 - OBP plus .039 over BA @ Las Vegas ?

None of those differentials stand out, and are far from ideal.  What this confirms, though, is that Amed Rosario's OBP is primarily bolstered by his batting average.  Which also means Ahmed is all about seeing ball, and hitting ball.  The man is a free swinger, but at least makes considerable contact.

Is he a threat on the base paths?  He stole seven bases in 46 games last year for the Mets.

Minor League highlights:
  • 2013 - 19 stolen bases/120 games.
  • 2016 - 13 stolen bases/105 games.
  • 2017 - 19 stolen bases/94 games.

As a still unproven prospect, he's at least agreeably adept at making contact, and it's been demonstrated he will not work the count all that much (unless new hitting coach Pat Roessler successfully encourages him into making adjustments).  Therefore, I believe Amed Rosario would be a far more effective two-hitter in the batting order (as would Travis d'Arnaud if he could somehow manage to stay on the field).

In the meantime, the search for a lead-off hitter continues.

However, the era of Amed Rosario at shortstop begins now.

Friday, March 16, 2018

N.J. Devils: The Ides of March

From the desk of:  THE BRICK CITY STYX

It's Now a Twelve Game Season

New Jersey Devils did not survive the Ides of March unscathed, but have emerged alive and well, and remain Wild as ever.

Some of these young demons couldn't grow beards even if slapped in the face with seeds and fertilizer.  If they start now, maybe over the next 23 days they at least develop a representative five o'clock shadow.

Because on April 7 the NHL regular season comes to an end, giving the upstart Devils exactly twelve games left to either establish themselves as a worthy post-season participant, or end up as just another team that fed off a great October harvest but in the end ultimately came up one serving short in Spring.

The latter would be an unfortunate narrative for a team that, after all, is in the midst of a full-blown rebuild.  But when you're this close to the end, and can see the finish line, no one wants to hear about rebuilding.  Apparently neither did Ray Shero, and that's why he fortified the team before the trade deadline.

That being said, the Devils playoffs started in earnest the day they fell out of sixth place of the Eastern Conference standings.  Since then, they've maintained a precarious grip on the Wild Card.

Indeed, two losses against Las Vegas and Winnipeg at the Rock chimed ominously like bells suggesting the time for turning into a pumpkin would soon arrive.

However, the Devils obviously have a different ending in mind, and so far have hit the road like bats out of hell.  Facing off against the league's best of the West, Newark first took a huge bite out of the menacing Predators at Nashville, then doubled-down at Las Vegas with an 8-3 victory over the President Trophy candidate Golden Knights.

Next on their itinerary is Los Angeles, where a desperate Kings team will host the Devils this Saturday afternoon.  After which, the Devils travel to Anaheim, San Jose, and back to Pittsburgh for another showdown against the Penguins, then must host the Tampa Bolts the very next night.

The Devils opened this road trip achieving two huge victories.  But the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Flyers Thursday, bumping the (inactive) Devils down a notch  into eighth place of the conference standings.

To date, Newark is 36-26-8, and their 80 points are a dwindling three points better than ninth place Florida.  The Panthers have 77 points, but have two very important games in hand.

Newark and Florida do not face off against each other again, and so the Devil's are effectively engaged in a battle against time.

This is a photo finish in the making.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

N.Y. Mets: Todd Frazier Restores Order at Third Base

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

The Curious Case of Todd Frazier vs. Wilmer Flores

New York Mets: If we're talking about Todd Frazier playing third base, it means we're not talking about David Wright.

In the context of life, baseball careers are transient in nature.  Unfortunately, oft times the end is not always pleasant.  More players fail to leave the game on their own terms than those whom retire more gracefully and personally satisfied with their body of work.

When the situation involves a locally venerated player such as David Wright, conflicting emotions and opinions usually rule the day.  In truth, no graceful manner exists for reconciling the physical condition of David Wright and his continuing inactive status among (us) Mets fans, the organization, nor Wright himself.

That's why at this juncture in David's career, I prefer he solely focus on quality of life issues beyond the diamond.  David is still young in the game of life.  There's no reason for him to risk a future potentially compromised by physical limitations when an honest, introspective, responsible assessment of his ongoing condition can prevent just that.

I'm no doctor, but, yes, I'm suggesting one of the greatest Mets players of all-time finally retire.

He's done enough.

At the same time, I'm also not looking to disparage or cast blame over what has transpired at third base in Wright's absence.

The Mets essentially spent much of the 2015 and 2016 seasons crossing their fingers, and adopting a wait and see approach with regard to Wright, whom was limited to just 75 total games over that time.  Then, of course, he missed all of the 2017 season.

At least ten different players have manned third base over the last three seasons in lieu of Wright, with none seizing it outright.

  • Eric Campbell; Matt Reynolds; Jose Reyes; Juan Uribe; Wilmer Flores; T.J. Rivera; Ty Kelly; Daniel Muno; Kelly Johnson; Neil Walker; Asdrubal Cabrera.

Therefore, it can be argued positively that signing Todd Frazier was a pragmatic, proactive off-season acquisition, and that the matter of third base is, for the moment, closed.

Frazier is 30-years old, a third baseman by trade, and a veteran of seven major league seasons.  He provides a short term yet solid solution - just the way I like it.  And at $17 million for two seasons, he is also price worthy - just the way the Mets like it.

He provides the line-up with a measure of protection, and particularly helps break up the left-handed bats of Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Nimmo, and Adrian Gonzalez/Dom Smith.

Over the course of a full season, none of the aforementioned back-ups to David Wright quite match up to Todd Frazier's career 162 game averages ...

Unless you're Wilmer Flores, that is ...

Here are Wilmer Flores' and Todd Frazier's overall totals for the last two seasons:

  • Flores: 213 games; 697 at-bats; 31 doubles; 34 home runs; 101 RBI; .269/.313/.478.
  • Frazier: 305 games; 1,064 at-bats; 40 doubles; 67 home runs; 174 RBI; .219/.323/.446.

Wilmer is still only 26-years old.  There is a part of me that still believes he can yet approach the .300 hitter he often demonstrated himself to be throughout his minor league career.

He played a career high 137 games as a 23-year old in 2015, slashing .263/.295/.446, with 22 doubles, 16 home runs, and a career high 59 RBI.  He is averaging .267/.307/.455, with 15 home runs and 53 RBI in 375 at-bats over his last three seasons in the majors.  And last year, he established career highs in home runs (18), slugging (.488), and batting average (.271), in just 336 at-bats.

Intriguing ... isn't it?

Defensively, though, not so much.

Todd Frazier owns a career .965 fielding average at third base.  Wilmer owns a .943 mark in 133 career games at the hot corner, and last year posted an unsightly .929 FA through 59 games at third.

I just feel the Mets have done more to hinder Wilmer Flores than help him.  Then again, performance trumps all.  And that's why the Mets went off campus in order to stabilize third base.

Frazier is the better known and more reliable variable in this equation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds: March Madness Begins Now

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

 *  *  THE FIRST FOUR  *  *

#16 LIU Brooklyn 
Northeast Champions ~ (18-16)
#16 Radford University 
Big South Champions ~ (22-12)

Tuesday, March 13, 6:40pm
The winner faces #1 Villanova Wildcats @ Pittsburgh.

These team previously faced each other only once in their respective history during the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament on Nov. 19, 2011 in which LIU emerged victoriously by a convincing 81-59 final margin of victory.

This is the Blackbirds seventh ever appearance in the NCAA tournament, and their first since getting knocked out of the First Four round in 2013 by the James Madison Dukes.  They are yet to win a tourney game in six previous attempts.  The Blackbirds nevertheless enter Tuesday's game winners of five straight, including their most recent upset over top seeded Wagner in the NEC Final.  They were 5-11 on the road this season, and split two games at neutral sites.  Joel Hernandez is LIU leading scorer, averaging 20.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.  He averages 46 percent shooting from the field, and 38 percent three point range.

Radford is making third ever trip to the dance, and their first since 2009.  They are presently in the midst of a seven game winning streak.  The Highlanders are 7-10 road, and 4-0 at neutral sites.  Ed Polite Jr. is the team's leading scorer, averaging 13.5 points per game, and 7.7 rebounds.

Julian Batts ~ Julius Van Sauer ~ Raiquan Clark ~ Joel Hernandez ~ Jashaun Agosto


Monday, March 12, 2018

N.Y. Mets: Whole Lotta Second Guessing Going On

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


New York Mets: What's On Second?

Once upon a time, the future of second base belonged to a minor league prospect named Dilson Herrera.

I wish that were still the case.

Instead, the Mets traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in 2016 in exchange for slugging right fielder Jay Bruce.

I was opposed to the trade at the time due to the particular cost involved.  I preferred Sandy Alderson remain true to the rebuild despite the Mets winning the National League pennant the year prior.

Herrera could have potentially eliminated much, if not all, of the uncertainty presently afflicting second base.  After all, the original plan was to have Dilson Herrera teaming with Ahmed Rosario up the middle.

Then again, maybe not ...

Dilson underwent shoulder surgery last season, and has yet to play the field this spring.

But there are also collateral matters regarding this situation.  I was somewhat dismayed Bruce was coming to play a position for which the Mets had no particular need.  However, the Mets were in the midst of their second straight pennant race, and therefore I do not want to come off as being overly critical of the general manager's attempts to upgrade the team.

After all, one could rightly argue the Mets were playing with house money.  Dilson was originally acquired in 2013 from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Marlon Byrd.  Two years later, the Mets acquired second baseman Neil Walker (for Jon Niese) in yet another exchange with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Both trades were a coup in my opinion.

Today, however, neither second baseman plays for the Mets as Walker's employment here wound up being transient in nature.  And by the way ... he's still available on the open market.

Point being, had the Mets retained Herrera, Michael Conforto would likely be playing a corner outfield position where he's more comfortable.  In turn, Sandy Alderson could have been seeking out a legitimate center fielder/lead-off hitter.

Therefore, my point is about team building.  I'm not at all satisfied with the way this club is presently constructed up the middle.  But with the outfield situation being what it is - with Conforto slated to play center - the last position Sandy Alderson had room to maneuver and address the lead-off spot in the line-up was second base.

Then there's the curious matter of Jason Kipnis.  A potential trade that would have brought Cleveland's second baseman to Flushing in exchange for reliever Paul Sewald was reportedly nixed by ownership according to The Record.

This development quite obviously deserves a post unto itself.  But if the report is true, this means Sandy Alderson does not have complete autonomy, and that all fingers point to Jeff Wilpon.  Per the report, it was then Alderson was forced into seeking alternatives.  Kipnis is still owed $30 million dollars over the next two seasons (with a 2020 club option).  Instead, the Mets signed Todd Frazier for $17 million dollars over two years to play third base.

Where it concerns second base, we therefore must continue speaking of Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Flores, Jose Reyes, and Gavin Cecchini.

In December 2015 the Mets signed a thirty-year old free agent infielder whom many outside the organization speculated had effectively reached the end of his career.

Asdrubal only recently turned 32-years old last November.  Meanwhile, all he's ever done since arriving in Flushing is play at least 135 games a season and quadruple-slash above his career average.  In fact, he's been one of the Mets best clutch hitters.  His famous bat flip is now part of Mets lore.  And because of his gregarious nature, the veteran Carbrera has also been a tremendously positive influence in the clubhouse.  And so I welcome his presence again this season.

Asdrubal at least stabilizes the position, and should work well with Ahmed Rosario at short - or so we hope.

Cabrera has now appeared in 276 games in a Mets uniform, but has only started 32 games for them at second base.  Over his career, though, he has logged 242 career games at second and owns .995 fielding percentage, which has generally ranked ten points above the league average.

Wilmer has become an indispensable role player capable of filling in anywhere around the horn.  That's important considering the Mets may at times carry an extra reliever, therefore making bench space limited and precious.

Since we've already spent several seasons decrying his defensive inefficiencies, we might as well leave his inability to field these positions well for another time.

In the meantime, Flores is still only 26-years old.  There is a part of me that still believes Wilmer can be the .300 hitter he demonstrated himself to be throughout his minor league career.  So far, he is trending .267/.307/.455, with 15 home runs and 53 RBI in 375 at-bats over the last three seasons.  Last year, he established career highs in home runs (18), slugging (.488), and batting average (.271).

The Miami Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, and Colorado Rockies, all took their turns paying Reyes over $100 million dollars just to make him go away.  In fact, Colorado still is.  Otherwise, no other team seemed interested in his services during the off-season.  And so Jose will quietly go about his business playing perhaps for the only city and team that would accept him.

Now 34-years old and a veteran of 15 major league seasons, his days of bold face italic numbers on the back of his baseball card are long gone.  Reyes served as a jack of all trades last season, starting games at third, shortstop, second, left field, and center.  He slashed .246/.315/.413, with 25 doubles, 15 home runs, 58 RBI, and 24 stolen bases.  For $2 million dollars, Jose is price worthy - if not lucky.

The Mets selected Gavin in the first round (12th overall) of the 2012 draft.  He made his major league debut in 2016, and has since participated in 36 games for the Mets.  Originally a shortstop, he only began transitioning to second base in earnest last season, due in part to the emergence of Ahmed Rosario.

He's presently having a fine spring training, batting .350 (7/20), with four extra base hits and five RBI.  Although he already has 227 games and 899 at-bats worth of triple-A experience, he is likely headed to Las Vegas for yet another season.  If the Mets go with twelve pitchers, they'll only have roster space for five bench players.  After Kevin Plawecki, Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo, Jose Reyes, and Wilmer Flores, it would seem Cecchini is the odd man out.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

WWE Wrestlemania 34: Last Chance for the Reigns Experiment

I first became hooked on wrestling as a single-digit midget in the mid 1970s when all territories fell under the umbrella of the NWA and kayfabe still ruled the day.  Our local territory was then known as the WWWF, and was owned by Vince McMahon Sr.  At the time, his son Vince Jr. was doing little more than cutting promos and announcing. When Daddy Mac decided he'd had enough, he made Vince Jr. promise to not break up the territory system.  So what did Sonny Mac do?  He swallowed up the competition with haste thus ending the territorial system.  Vince Jr. would argue in the same spirit that Brett Hart screwed Brett Hart, the various territory owners killed the territories.  My son and I constantly debate the evolution of wrestling from when I was a kid through today's era of Sports Entertainment.  It is therefore my honor and privilege to introduce to you the newest contributor of the Brooklyn Trolley Blogger, my son, Michael III.  

I hereby dub this department of the Brooklyn Trolley Blogger:

Sierra Hotel India Echo Lima Delta, SHIELD.  That intro is synonymous with the greatest WWE faction to come out since the NWO was throwing Rey Mysterio at trailers back in the old WCW.  Emerging from the audience decked out in riot gear, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns broke out of NXT with a purpose and into the WWE Universe’s collective memory for years to come.  Coming out of the crowd and delivering a Triple Powerbomb to Goldberg….whoops, I meant Survivor Series 2012, the Shield made it clear that they were here to make a statement and run roughshod over the WWE roster.  Ambrose: the charismatic psychotic on the mic, Rollins: the high flying indie darling, and Reigns: the strong, silent powerhouse. All together, the best possible combo to take the company by storm.

For the next year and a half, the Shield would destroy almost all of WWE’s heroes. Everyone from John Cena to the Undertaker would fall victim to the destruction caused by the NXT rookies.  But then on June 2nd 2014, everything changed. Seth Rollins would betray the Shield and align himself with Triple H and the Authority, becoming the biggest heel in the company.  Ambrose would strike out on his own and seek revenge on his former partner Rollins. Rollins and Ambrose would go at it for months, complete with new ring attire, theme songs and attitudes.  The only member of the Shield with no clear direction after Rollins’ betrayal was Reigns.

Roman Reigns did not seek revenge against Rollins.  He did not stay aligned with Ambrose and pursue the tag titles.  Hell, he didn't even change his entrance and ring attire. No, instead Reigns immediately started facing off against established main eventers and competing for the top chip in the company.  Why did Reigns immediately shoot into the main event while his former brothers faced off against each other in a much more compelling story? The answer lies with the owner of the company, Vinnie Mac himself.  See, Vince McMahon saw something in Reigns. Main Event status. Stone Cold and Rock status. Top Babyface and top merchandise sales status. So the Powers That Be launched Reigns straight into the main event with no conceivable build up, story line or fan approval for that matter.

Reigns was booked to win the 2015 Royal Rumble without having won a single singles title or cutting a decent promo in his career prior to that.  Reigns had the unfortunate luck to win a Rumble that featured the comeback of Daniel Bryan who was unceremoniously dumped out early on. The hardcore Philly crowd booed the rest of the match especially the man that they saw clearly was meant to win the match: Roman “Corporate Creation” Reigns.  Reigns won obviously and went on to challenge Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania 31. With that match, Roman Reigns should have been crowned as the official Face of the WWE. Alas it was not to be. The “WWE Universe” had spoken out in the utmost defiance against Reigns and declared this was not the champion they wanted.  Seth Rollins, in this writer’s opinion, the best current pure wrestler in the WWE, would cash in his Money In The Bank Contract and interrupt the main event battle, pulling off the heist of the century and become the WWE World Heavyweight Champ. Rollins not only robbed the title but he robbed Reigns of the moment that was supposed to cement him as “The Man.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  I think Reigns is a talented guy and has the ability to carry the WWE as one of its top guys.  I just don’t think he currently has the ability to carry the brand as THE GUY. Reigns certainly wasn't ready back in 2015 and although he has improved since then he is still not ready now.  Since ‘Mania 31, Reigns has had opportunity after opportunity to become the top guy in the company. Multiple world titles, U.S titles, Intercontinental titles and big wins over the company’s most established legends.  John Cena has put him over. Triple H has put him over.  Vince McMahon even had The Undertaker further taint his legendary Wrestlemania streak by putting over Reigns over at last years big event.  And even after all that nonsense, Roman Reigns is not over with the crowd at all. He gets a big reaction but about 80% of it is people booing the holy hell out of him. Vinnie Mac may see this as “any reaction is a good reaction” but this truly isn't the case. John Cena, the previous “GUY” of WWE, has dealt with mixed reactions almost his entire career.  The difference between him and Reigns is Cena has earned the respect of the hardcore fans through hard work, mic skills and match quality over the last couple years. Reigns has done nothing to endear himself to the hardcore internet fans of the WWE.  

Roman Reigns is a guy that may never win over the hardcore fans but the sad reality is he is here to stay.  With a victory in the most recent Elimination Chamber PPV, Cena 2.0 is set to face off against Lesnar again at ‘Mania in a rematch 3 years in the making.  Both guys lay claim to the fact that they are the only two wrestlers in history to cleanly pin the GOAT (Undertaker) at Wrestlemania. Reigns is a better wrestler and talker now than he was back when the system tried to initially force him down the fans throats.  In all honesty, this match is THE MONEY MATCH at this year’s Wrestlemania. The sad truth is that this truly is the last chance that Reigns has to win over the WWE Universe.

Years of bad booking, unnecessary pushes, and holding back of stars the fans want to see succeed (ahem Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Finn Balor and more Balor) have led Reigns to another coronation. They tried at Wrestlemania 31 and had to call an audible due to fan backlash. They tried at Wrestlemania 32 against Triple H and Reigns’ victory was met with a symphony of boos and jeers.  They tried last year by having Reigns seemingly retire the Undertaker in an absolutely garbage match.  Now here we are, almost 4 years since the Shield’s destruction and the beginning of Vince McMahon’s never ending hard on for Roman Reigns.  Fans are still not on board but management seems to show no sign of slowing down on their plan. Vince McMahon has shown over 50 years in the business that he knows what it takes to be a top talent but he has also shown his ego sometimes gets in the way of common sense.  He had faith in Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Brock Lesnar, Edge, Randy Orton and John Cena. Those names all paid off as top guys in the company. He’s also had faith in Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, Diesel, Sycho Sid, Kane, Big Show, Batista, The Great Khali, Alberto Del Rio, Jack Swagger, Sheamus and Jinder Mahal.  Those names failed to hold up the business even when Vince and the writers thought it was a good idea.

This year’s Wrestlemania is the last chance Roman Reigns has to succeed as the top face in the WWE.  Will he finally win over the fans and become the face of the company? Who friggin knows. Taking the big belt off perennial part time Brock Lesnar should be a good thing but putting it on Reigns may not be the best thing for the company.  The Powers That Be have to make us believe Reigns is a worthy successor to John Cena and so far they have not done so. 2018 will either be the year we look back and see it as the year Roman Reigns became the Rock of his generation or the Diesel of his generation.  WWE has to do something totally balls to the wall with the next inevitable championship run of Roman Reigns to change the opinion of the hardcore fans. If not, fans will continue to serenade Reigns with boos and indifference and you can BELIEVE THAT.

LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds Win Northeast Conference Title

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH


2017 - 2018
Northeast Conference Champions
1984      1997      2011      2012      2013

LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds: Derek Kellogg leads Flatbush to its sixth ever NEC title in his first season as head coach.

Wagner and LIU had previously split their regular season series with each team successfully protecting home court.  LIU outlasted Wagner back in January at the WRAC, then bowed to the Seahawks at Staten Island.

To date, that remains LIU's last loss.

Since falling to Wagner on Feb. 17, the Blackbirds proceeded to win four in a row in the games leading up to last Tuesday's Northeast Conference final.  However, all four victories occurred home at the WRAC.  Brooklyn had only gone 5-11 on the road this season, and were headed back to Staten Island for one last game (which only gave them a roughly 22 percent chance of winning).

Blackbirds  71
Seahawks    61

It took 2:48 minutes, but top-seeded Wagner finally opened the scoring with a three-pointer.  They still maintained a 9-7 lead by the 13:19 mark.  But after a Joel Hernandez jumper put LIU ahead 9-8 just over a minute later, the Seahawks would never again lead in this game. 

Raiquan Clark closed out the first half with a three-pointer giving LIU a 34-18 lead and a sixteen point advantage.

Wagner shot a mere (7/33) 21.2 percent from the field, and were just (2/14) 14.3 percent from three-point range in the first half.  Despite seven less field goal attempts and getting out-rebounded, the Blackbirds were (13/26) fifty-percent from the field, and (4/11) 36.4 percent from beyond the arch.

In the second half, the best the Seahawks would do is get within seven points of LIU, but no more.  A pair of Wagner free three throws at 4:37 made the score 57-50 in LIU's favor, whom then went on an 8-2 run to go up by thirteen with 2:20 remaining on the clock.  Wagner again made it a seven point deficit with 1:04 to go.  But Brooklyn would effectively close things out at the free throw line en route to a ten point margin of victory.

Just as in the first half, Wagner put up more shots than did LIU but continued failing at finding their range.  The Seahawks were only a slightly improved (14/37) 37.8 percent from the field, but just (4/19) 21.1 percent on three-point attempts in the second half. 

Brooklyn, meanwhile, improved to (12/21) 57.1 percent from the field in the second half.  They only put up a trio of three-point attempts, but more importantly converted on (12/17) 70.6 percent from the charity line.

Overall, Wagner out-rebounded LIU, scored more second-chance points, created more steals, scored more points off turnovers, committed less turnovers, distributed more assists, and even outscored LIU 43-37 in the second half.  They simply picked a bad time to lose their touch.  They shot just (21/70) thirty percent from the field, and connected on just (6/33) 18.2 percent from three-point range. 

Although LIU took 23 less overall shots, the Blackbirds were 53.2 percent from the floor, and 35.7 percent from beyond the arch.  Brooklyn also managed 24 attempts from the free throw line, seven more than Wagner whom finished with 17 attempts.

Joel Hernandez was named NEC tournament MVP after leading all players with 32 points, and securing seven rebounds.  He played a particularly major role from the free throw line, converting on eleven of his game high fourteen attempts.  Raiquan Clark was second with seven attempts from the stripe.  He added twenty points and eight rebounds (seven defensive).

From fourth seed to champion, the LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds defeat the NEC's regular season champ and number one seed Wagner College from Staten Island.  The Battle of the Boroughs is done. Brooklyn wins their sixth Northeast Conference title, and their first since 2013 when they capped off a three year run as NEC champs.

  • Quarterfinals: LIU 73; Saint Francis Brooklyn 50
  • Semifinals: LIU 78; Fairleigh Dickinson University 77
  • Conference Finals: LIU 71; Wagner College 61

This will be head coach Derek Kellogg's second ever trip to the NCAA tournament.  However, he wins his first ever conference title in only his first season with the Blackbirds.  Prior to Brooklyn, he previously coached the UMass Minutemen for nine seasons whom qualified for the 2013-2014 NCAA tourney as a buy-in.

The Blackbirds are now 18-16 on the season, and winners of five in a row.

Monday, March 05, 2018

LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds Advance to Northeast Conference Finals

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

Knights       77
Blackbirds   78

LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds: Flatbush fends off FDU Knights; Set stage for Battle of the Boroughs versus Staten Island's Wagner Seahawks to decide Northeast Conference champion.

Winning the opening tip and scoring the first basket, Fairleigh Dickinson set Saturday's NEC semifinal game at the WRAC in motion.

After misfiring on their first possession, LIU's Joel Hernandez put Flatbush on the board when he connected from beyond the arch for three.  The Blackbirds continued setting the initial pace, jumping out to an early 16-6 lead.

Roughly five minutes into the fray, however, the Knights began settling down.  And by the midway point of the half, FDU was in the midst of a 14-0 run that would change the complexion of the game.  Led by forward Kaleb Bishop's ten points and eleven rebounds, FDU built a fourteen point lead with 1:04 remaining in the half.

The Knights stayed on target through the first twenty minutes, shooting 48.6 percent from the field, and fifty percent (4/8) from beyond the arch.  The Blackbirds, on the other hand, were just 34.4 percent from the field, and just twenty percent (3/15) from three-point range.

Raiquan Clark, Joel Hernandez, and Julian Batts, were the only Blackbirds to register first-half points.  Clark kept LIU moving along with sixteen points, but not before having to iron out a rough start in which he committed five of LIU's six turnovers.

With the Blackbirds trailing 23-18, a Julian Batts steal led to a fast-break the other way.  However, Batts failed to pick up Clark trailing the play.  Batts elected to keep it and wound up earning a trip to the stripe, but not before Clark voiced his displeasure with Julian over the play.

Later in the half, I also witnessed Raiquan in the paint jawing with Knights forward Mike Holloway Jr. after a physical sequence in LIU's end.  It was then the game paused for a TV timeout, and I estimate the ref spent ten seconds having a one-sided conversation with Clark whom stood positioned at the free throw line.

With time winding down in the first half, Joel Hernandez converted a pair of free throws with 0:31 left to at least bring the Blackbirds within nine points by the intermission.

In one respect - just one - the second half played out no differently.  The Blackbirds never did come up with an answer for Kaleb Bishop, whom finished up with a game-high 22 rebounds and a complimentary nineteen points.  LIU, meanwhile, had 33 rebounds all game.

Otherwise, the second half was an entirely different story.

The Blackbirds found their range over the final twenty minutes, shooting 51.4 percent from the field and fifty percent (6/12) from beyond the arch.  Whereas the Knights effectively performed an about face.  An intensified defensive effort on behalf of LIU is partly to blame for Fairleigh Dickinson dipping to 37.5 from the field, and for being limited to six three-point attempts in the second half.

It should be noted, though, Coach Kellogg utilized a four man bench and asked them to contribute 37 minutes.  Whereas Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Greg Herenda effectively implemented a one-man bench, freshman Elyjah Williams whom logged thirteen minutes.  Four of FDU's five starters played at least 39 minutes; freshman forward Noah Morgan played forty minutes.

Flatbush began chipping away at FDU's lead, and by the 13:01 mark, Raiquan Clark was assisting on Julian Batts' three-pointer, thus reducing LIU's deficit to just one.  Joel Hernandez then picked the Knights pockets clean on their ensuing possession, and punctuated his thievery with an emphatic dunk at the other end.  That gave the Blackbirds their first lead of the second half which they extended to seven points through the 5:30 mark.

FDU then made their final push, going on an 11-0 run.  Kaleb Bishop converted a pair of free throws to put FDU up by four with 1:58 remaining in regulation.

Before long, however, Julian Batts' three-pointer tied the game, 76-76, with 1:13 left to play.

Zach Coleman's fifth personal foul of the game put FDU's Mike Holloway Jr. at the line with just 0:49 left on the clock.  Flatbush caught a break when Holloway missed on his first attempt.  He connected on his second attempt putting FDU up by one.

Joel Hernandez launched a wayward three on LIU's ensuing possession.  Kaleb Bishop secured the rebound and the Knights called for time.  After the thirty second break, Raiquan Clark fouled Bishop with 0:09 seconds left in regulation.  But in the end, the only one seemingly able to thwart Kaleb Bishop proved to be Bishop himself.  The game's star to this point ponderously missed both free throw attempts to FDU's dismay - LIU's Julius Van Sauers secured the rebound off the second attempt.

Then, with just 0:03 seconds left, an overzealous Mike Holloway Jr. fouled Jashaun Agosto whom converted both free throw attempts giving the Blackbirds a 78-77 lead, and their ultimate margin of victory.

There's something to be said for having your legs under you.  It has always been my understanding when you have no legs, your shot is the first to suffer.  And if you consider what I'm suggesting with regard to Coach Herenda's lack of substitutions, this could have potentially factored in the Knights second half demise.  They were just 16/24 from the line in the second half, and just 2/6 over the final 1:50 of the game.  Kaleb also missed a layup with 0:50 left.  And Noah Morgan missed from three-point range as time expired (as previously noted, Morgan was the only one to play forty minutes).

Raiquan Clark wound up leading all players with 28 points, to go along with seven boards and four assists.  Joel Hernandez was the game's second leading scorer with 25 points.  Julian Batts was only 3/8 from three-point territory, but his three conversions couldn't have been more timely.  Jashaun Agaosto led the team with six assists.

The quest to win this season's Northeast championship now becomes a Battle of the Boroughs.  Brooklyn's LIU Blackbirds will face Staten Island's number one seed Wagner Seahawks in the conference final, on Tuesday, March 6, at the Spiro Sports Center.

The teams split their regular season match-up, with both protecting home court.

  • 1/13 @ Brooklyn - LIU 69; Wagner 76
  • 2/17 @ Staten Island - Wagner 78; LIU 74

Fourth seeded Flatbush is vying for their sixth NEC championship.  A charter member of the conference, they are the only men's program to ever win three consecutive NEC crowns (2011-2013).

The top seeded Seahawks are winners of their third ever regular season title.  They captured their one and only NEC title back in 2003 over Saint Francis of Brooklyn.  Wagner led the conference with a 14-4 record, and a 28-3 record overall.


Richmond County

Saturday, March 03, 2018

N.Y. Mets: Who Making Bid for First Base Job

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

Who's On First
Can Adrian Gonzalez still wield a productive bat?

New York Mets: On the Recent Past, a Questionable Present, and the Potential Future at First Base.

When Ike Davis recorded 32 home runs and 90 RBI in 2012, a bunch of us fans thought the Mets were set at first base for years to come.  However, health issues would hasten his unfortunate demise.

The Mets then passed the torch to Lucas Duda.  One of the most streakiest hitters in recent memory - if not all-time - he often amassed most of his numbers within just two to three offensive outbursts per season.  Otherwise his home run to RBI correlation was generally a source of chronic exasperation.  There's no denying he was well liked.  But unless Duda proved himself ultra-worthy of a long-term extension, the front office plan was to expend all his controllable years until Dominic Smith could take over.  Thus, Duda is now with the Kansas City Royals.

Meanwhile, Smith's Mets career has gotten off to a somewhat bumpy start.  Last year, Sandy Alderson's 2013 first round draft selection (11th overall) was taken to task over his conditioning, and this year has recently been disciplined by Mickey Callaway over tardiness.  He's presently nursing an untimely (quad) injury.

Enter Adrian Gonzalez.  The position of first base appears his to win.

This is a classic example of trying to strike lightning in a bottle - no harm in the Mets present situation.  They're paying him the major league minimum, and therefore have absolutely nothing to lose by bringing him aboard.

Gonzo will turn 36-years old in May.  He was still a productive player as recently as two seasons ago when he slashed .285/.355/.435, with 31 doubles, 18 home runs, and 90 RBI for the Dodgers.  He was compromised last year by injury which limited him to 71 games played.

Best case scenario: he regains health and anchors the middle of the line-up.  I'd also gladly settle for reliable production lower in the order.

Worst case scenario: the end of Gonzo's long individually successful fifteen year is confirmed.

That's why Dominic Smith is by no means out of the picture.  The less Adrian Gonzalez potentially pans out, the more starts Dom will surely make.  On the flip side, the better Adrian does the more Dom can expect to stay active at Las Vegas.

The Mets will have everywhere-man Wilmer Flores, and to a lesser degree Jay Bruce available to fill in at first if needed.

That's why it would behoove Smith to learn from Gonzalez while the two are still in Florida.

In any event, it now seems as if both Gonzalez and Smith are merely holding down the position until prospect Peter Alonso further develops and ideally takes over ... perhaps as soon as the 2019 season.

Alonso was the Mets second round selection of the 2016 draft.  After 82 games last season at Port St. Lucie, he was promoted to (AA)-Binghamton where he played 11 games for the Rumble Ponies.

He slashed .286/.361/.516, with 16 home runs and 58 RBI through 82 games and 308 at-bats for the (A+)-Port St. Lucie Mets.  He then slashed .311/.340/578, with four doubles, two home runs, and five RBI in just 45 at-bats with Binghamton.

If he excels at Binghamton over the first half of the upcoming season, I suspect the Mets would promote Alonso to Las Vegas - creating more reason for Dominic Smith to get his act together.

I briefly caught a close-up view of Peter Alonso in 2016 when he played for the Brooklyn Cyclones and loved what I saw.

In the meantime, the rest of spring training will determine who opens the season at first base.

First baseman Peter Alonso with Binghamton

Friday, March 02, 2018

NEC Semifinals: LIU/Brooklyn hosting Fairleigh Dickinson

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

Terriers       50
Blackbirds  73

LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds surfing home court advantage; seeking to extend win streak at WRAC to four games in NEC semifinals against #6 Fairleigh Dickinson.

Bring on the Knights.

With Wednesday's commanding 73-50 victory over neighboring Saint Francis/Brooklyn, the Blackbirds advance to Saturday's Northeast Conference semifinals where they'll face #6 Fairleigh Dickinson.

After jumping out to a 35-23 first half lead over the Saint Francis Terriers, LIU would cruise to a 23-point margin of victory.  

The Blackbirds were 43.9% from the field, and 40% from beyond the three.  Afflicted by poor accuracy, however, the Terriers shot a problematic 27.6% from the field, and just 4 of 21 (19%) from beyond the arch.  The Terriers were credited with just six team assists all game, and were also outworked 33-47 on the boards.

Blackbirds Joel Hernandez led all scorers with 26 points.  Jashaun Agosto contributed 12 points, seven rebounds, and led all players with five assists.  Zach Coleman scored seven off the bench, and tied for a game-high ten rebounds.  LIU inflicted particular damage on the run with eleven unmatched fast-break points.

#7 Fairleigh Dickinson
#4 LIU/Brooklyn
Ashland Place

The Blackbirds and Knights split their regular season head-to-head match-up, with each team gaining victory on the other's court.
  • Dec. 29  FDU 82 @ LIU 71
  • Jan. 11   LIU 90 @ FDU 85

Fairleigh Dickinson finished the regular season with a 9-9 conference record, and a 13-17 record overall.  They upset #3 Saint Francis (PA), 84-73, in the quarterfinals improving to 5-12 on the road.

Saturday's game is the Blackbirds fourth consecutive game at the WRAC, where they closed out the regular season with victories over Saint Francis/Brooklyn and Sacred Heart University, then another over the Terriers in the quarterfinals.  They're presently 11-4 at home, and 16-16 overall.

The #1 seed Wagner Seahawks are hosting #7 Robert Morris in the other NEC semifinal match-up.  Wagner knocked off #8 Central Connecticut State University in their quarterfinal match-up, while the #7 Colonials upended #2 Mount St. Mary's setting up Saturday's showdown at Staten Island.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Another METSian Podcast #5

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


*     *     *     *     *

with SAM, RICH, and MIKE

Rich and I taped what we thought was our regularly scheduled podcast last week, 
only to find out the show didn't record.  Hence, take two.


Injuries ~ number five starter ~ lead-off hitter
Wilmer Flores ~ firemen ~ my Travis d'Arnaud rant 
Mickey Callaway ~ Noah Syndergaard ~ Matt Harvey ~ Dan Warthen
Tom Seaver ~ Jerry Grote ~ Gary Carter
old school ~ Yoenis Cespedes ~ generation lost
and much more.

Show Time: 80 Minutes


N.J. Devils: Let The Madness Begin

From the desk of:  THE BRICK CITY STYX


Devils       3
Penguins  2

Look what Newark did to the Penguins ... again!

Sidney Crosby opened Tuesday night's scoring 8:17 into the first period with his 21st goal of the season.  Four minutes later, Kyle Palmieri answered right back.  Taylor Hall and Pittsburgh's Matt Hunwick traded goals in the second period.  Stefan Noesen then gave New Jersey a 3-2 lead at the 5:01 mark of the third.  That's the way things would stay - barely - thanks to some traffic management in the crease by Andy Greene, and a pair of huge saves by Keith Kincaid with under twenty seconds left in regulation.

It was Newark's second victory over the Penguins this season in as many games.

New Jersey Devils: Ray Shero Ringing Hell's Bells.

On Feb. 19 of last season, all hell broke loose in Newark.

The Devils had beaten the Islanders the previous night, improving their record to 25-23-10 with 24 games left in the season.  But the Islanders struck back with a victory the very next night at Barclays Center.

That Devils loss was the first of what turned into a ten game losing streak.  By the Ides of March they had fallen to 25-31-12, after which, they closed out the season with another 11 losses over their final 14 games.

One year later, the Devils are 33-22-8 (74 points), and presently occupy seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings.

General manager Ray Shero thought enough of this team to warrant the acquisitions of forwards Michael Grabner from the Rangers, and Patrick Maroon from Edmonton.  Grabner adds scoring and good two-way play, while Maroon (6'3" 225 lbs.) brings much needed grit and toughness.  Both will be unrestricted free agents come summer, but are nonetheless great rentals that will no doubt impact the Devils final push.

That being said, it's March.  Less than 20 games now remain in the regular season.  A spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs is theirs to lose. 

Let the madness begin!

To date, the Devils are 13-14-2 overall against the other 15 playoff contenders.  Twelve of the their final 19 games are against this group.  They otherwise have games remaining against Florida, Carolina, Montreal, the Islanders, and Rangers.

They are 9-9-2 against the other seven Eastern Conference contenders, with games remaining against Tampa, Toronto, Washington, and two against Pittsburgh.

They're 4-5-0 against Western Conference playoff contenders, with games remaining against Nashville, Winnipeg, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and two against Las Vegas.

From March 10 through the 23rd, the Devils will attempt to cross their Rubicon - six straight road games against Nashville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, and Pittsburgh.