Sunday, March 31, 2013

New York Mets: Year Fifty-Two Of Orange And Blue

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

Next Stop - Roosevelt Avenue


FIRST OPENING DAY:  April 9, 1976 - With Tom Seaver on the mound, the Mets defeated the Montreal Expos 3-2.  Buddy Harrelson drove in two runs with a double.  Tom Seaver pitched seven innings, allowing one run. five hits, and one walk.  He struck out eight batters.  Skip Lockwood, one of my favorite Mets at the time, earned the Save.

FAVORITE OPENING DAY:  April 5, 1983 - Tom Seaver Returns.  I was sitting between first base and right field towards the back rows of field level.  Upon completion of his pregame warm-ups, Tom Seaver walked from the bullpen to the dugout.  The fan ovation was special.  The game was also notable because we were facing the Philadelphia Phillies featuring three future HOF players; Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton; in addition to Pete Rose.  The Mets shut-out Philly 2-0.  Seaver got a no-decision.  In he return to Shea, he pitched six innings, allowed only three hits, walked one, and struck out five.  Doug Sisk got the win in relief.  The unremarkable Brian Giles and Mike Howard drove in the Mets two runs.

MOST RECENT OPENING DAY:  April 13, 2009 - A 6-5 loss to the San Diego Padres.  Adrian Gonzalez was the only Padre worth mentioning from that team.  Ponderous.  Mike Pelfrey started but took a no-decision.  David Wright homered in the losing effort.....Played at night - Terrible!

OTHER OPENING DAYS ATTENDED:  1977 - 1978 - 1979 - 1980 - 1981 - 1984 - 1990 - 1997 - 2005 - 2006 - 2008.

Monday, April 1, 2013
San Diego Padres
Flushing, Queens
A very strange season is about to begin off Roosevelt Avenue.  Mets fans are being teased now more  than ever.  Both the team and fans are patiently waiting for some new, young, talented players to fill roles, and seats, at Citi Field.  Then for whatever his motivation, the owner announced a clean(er) bill of financial health heading into (and here's the catch...) next season.  To the club's credit, they are fresh off enriching their third baseman and additionally naming him Team Captain - a well deserved appointment earned by David Wright.  Money-wise, Sandy Alderson also actively pursued Michael Bourn during the off-season, who would have cost a handsome dollar.  So perhaps, finances are indeed easing up.  Over the winter, ownership secured some fancy all-inclusive refinancing they believe will give them ample flexibility moving forward.  I have my suspicions regarding their math and sustainability.  But with Spring Training at its end, it is time to delve less into that, and more into winning baseball games during the upcoming season.
In spite of a spring filled with injuries, the Mets fifty-second Opening Day roster is just about set.  Word is David Wright satisfactorily recovered from his rib strain, and will play Monday.  Daniel Murphy on the other hand, should not.  That's just me talking though.  His own strained intercostal muscle considerably hampered his entire Spring Training regimen.  Until he gets up to game speed, I feel he should miss a few games.  Regardless of what I think, the latest from the club is Murph will play on Opening Day.  In the bullpen, Pedro Feliciano is literally contemplating his baseball future, while Frank Francisco and his elbow are nowhere near ready to resume his former role as team closer.  The starting rotation's depth was originally thought to be facing a major dilemma when Jeremy Hefner was struck on his elbow by a come-backer.  He now appears fine.  As Johan Santana's replacement, Hefner has a fan in me.  Shaun Marcum's reliability however, looks to pose a problem.  But without a doubt, the biggest news of Spring Training started and ended with Johan Santana.  He is headed towards a second surgery this Tuesday.  His season, and Mets career, are now all but over.

The hope entering Opening Day and the 2013 regular season is that Jon Niese will come into his own.  All indications point to this being the season that happens.  At twenty-seven years old, his ability and mentality look to finally be in sync.  Stardom may elude him, but Jon Niese has the potential to become a highly respected pitcher this season.  With Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey no longer serving as Mets ace, the onus is on Jon Niese to fill that role by leading Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee, and Jeremy Hefner through a long season.  Ditto goes for Zach Wheeler upon his promotion.  I'm openly backing Jeremy Hefner, and therefore say the Mets have four young quality starters to begin the season with.  When Zach Wheeler arrives, they'll have five.  Starting pitching is clearly the team's strength.
Is there such a thing as growing into the closer's role, or, are certain pitchers just better suited than others to finish-off opponents and end games?  This will be Parnell's 2013 challenge as he embarks on his third shot at becoming the team's closer.  For a third consecutive season, someone else's injury is opening the door to an opportunity.  But in his first two attempts, Parnell generally failed to seize the moment.  As the team's interim closer this year, Bobby Parnell will be as successful as his  knuckle-curveball allows.  The knuckle-curve is relatively new to his arsenal.  So maybe with it will come different results.  In order for his "Knerve" to be an even more effective pitch however, he needs to add some more bite to it.  Last season it looked like a two-to-eight o'clock breaking slurve.  The pitch needs an adjustment because if he doesn't throw it for a strike early in the count, batters have been doing a good job laying off, and waiting on his fastball instead.
The bullpen as a whole appears to be better stocked than last year.  A better relief corp can potentially be a season maker, as the Mets blew nineteen saves last season.  As noted, Pedro Feliciano is out.  So the Mets will be substantially short from the left side.  Entering his second season, Josh Edgin is already an indispensable member of the bullpen.  With Robert Carson assigned to Las Vegas, Scott Rice becomes the next southpaw in line.  If Aaron Laffey makes the team, he can spot start as well as relieve from the left side.  From the right side, LaTroy Hawkins is making the team.  He will join a plethora of righties heading north which include Scott Atchison and Brandon Lyon.  The new Odd Couple - Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia continue to be two very curious specimens.  Lost in all the Harvey and Wheeler hoopla, fans still do not know what to make of these two.

Terry Collins announced to start the season, there will be no platooning in the outfield.  The initial plan is to go with Lucas Duda in left, Collin Cowgill in center, and Marlon Byrd in right.  Only one of them is out there on a sink or swim basis however.  No one will be more be scrutinized this season than Lucas Duda.  After a Grapefruit League start that drew early moans and groans, Duda bounced back to put together more than just a respectable spring.  He finished batting .270 in 63 at-bats.  The good news was Lucas tied with Collin Cowgill for the team lead in home runs with five.  Lucas Duda also wound up leading the Mets in RBI with thirteen.  That's exactly what the Mets need from Duda - slugging, power and run production.  With another bad season, he could very well play himself out of Flushing.  But with a move to left field and another year of experience under his belt, he could also finally acclimate himself to the big leagues, and start to excel.  Since baseball is a game of averages, Lucas should be given the entire season in left, regardless of struggles or success.  A full season will  better help determine Lucas Duda's future in Flushing once and for all.

Collin Cowgill was my surprise player of Spring Training.  His Grapefruit League efforts definitely warranted a starting job to begin the season.  At least on this team they did.  Perhaps Collin Cowgill is benefiting from having escaped a crowded situation in Oakland.  In any event, his new challenge is to translate a good spring into the regular season.  Jordany Valdespin's Grapefruit play suggested he should have been the next outfielder in line.  The right field job however will go to veteran Marlon Byrd.

I won't say Ruben Tejada's mighty struggles in this year's Grapefruit League went unnoticed.  But they did go largely unspoken.  He finished Spring play with a .098 batting average, managing only five hits (two doubles and one home run) in fifty-two at-bats.  I'm quite sure Terry Collins noticed though.  If you ask me who I think Terry Collins is toughest with, I would immediately answer - Ruben Tejada.  Coach Terry was not all too pleased with either his conditioning, or that Ruben famously felt "tired" last season.  Tejada reported to camp very early this year.  But that didn't translate into a productive spring.  I am by no means concerned.  Baseball is like that.  I expect Ruben to continue along his career averages.

Without a catcher, you're going to have a lot of passed balls - I love that line.  The Mets have a good situation behind the plate.  Of course, the future now lies in the mitt of Travis d'Arnaud.  Until he receives his bus ticket to Flushing, John Buck is no less a fine improvement.  Interestingly, both he and Travis d'Arnaud, along with Jordany Valdespin and Marlon Byrd had perhaps the most consistent springs trainings.  With Anthony Recker serving as back-up until the d'Arnaud era begins, the Mets turned the position of catcher into a strength.  All three catchers have a little pop, and can provide protection in the bottom of the order.

There is no secret - the Mets corner infielders will be the cornerstones of their overall offensive  production.  The grand failures or fortunes of the Mets offense lie in tha bats of David Wright and Ike Davis.  Wright's WBC mishap aside, both David and Ike enter the 2013 season healthy, and together.  With both wielding hot bats, the Mets can make life miserable for a number of opponents.  There is not much else to say here.  A vintage season from David Wright would be nice.  I think most fans agree he still has the kind of years he posted from 2005 through 2010 within him.  Meanwhile, after a horrendous first half at the plate, Ike Davis finished the 2012 season with fury.  If he can somehow get off to the kind of start he did in 2011, and couple that with his 2012 second half, now we're talking about a total package.  Realistically, a .275 average, thirty-five home runs, and 110 RBI would be suit everyone just fine.  If these two do not produce up to the Mets needs, the outfield will become a season long source of derision.

As we know, the team the Mets start with, may not necessarily be the one they finish with.  Zach Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud are on the horizon.  For Terry Collins, their arrivals can not come too soon.  For the last two seasons, he has managed a club being stripped of virtually all its high profile players, while forced to nurture younger, unproven players.  He additionally has no contract assurances beyond this season, and the general manager seems in no rush to address his field manager's situation.  In fact, the Mets only have two players under contract beyond the 2014 season.  That means Terry Collins isn't just your traditional lame duck manager.  He is roasting over an open flame.  Under Terry Collins, the team has become known for spirited starts and horrific finishes.  In each of the last two seasons, there even came a moment where the manager seemed to crack.  Overall though, Terry Collins has been a good dude.  A bad start to the upcoming season may doom him, and open the door to his successor.  Then again, a good start, reinforced by the arrival of Wheeler and d'Arnaud could possibly save him.  Maybe.  At best, I'd describe Terry Collins' situation as fluid.  Wally Backman is at the gates.

Let's Go Mets!


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