Wednesday, February 28, 2018

N.Y. Islanders: A Revolt Grows in Brooklyn

From the desk of:  NO SLEEP TILL BELMONT


TONIGHT
New York Islanders
vs.
Montreal Habitants
FROM
The Great White North

New York Islanders: Time for Jon Ledecky to learn sign language.

Fans have every reason in the world to be furious with Garth Snow.

There are nineteen games left in the regular season, the team is heading in the wrong direction, and their franchise player John Tavares has yet to sign a contract extension.

Once again, the Islanders are among the league's top teams in scoring, but remain among the league's worst in terms of goals against.  That's been the ongoing condition under Garth Snow, whom once again effectively did little to change it.


SNOW MUST GO
PAID FOR BY LONG ISLAND HOCKEY FANS
The billboards are up - one at Sixth Avenue and Flatbush Avenue,
the other at Atlantic Avenue and Classon Avenue.  
I'll probably swing by tomorrow and snap some pics. 
In the meantime, you're stuck with my version.


Snow sent the Edmonton Oilers a 2019 third round draft pick in exchange for 26-year old blue-liner Brandon Davidson.

Listed at 6'2" 208 lbs., he is a minus-five over 137 NHL career games played.  Davidson was originally drafted by Edmonton in the sixth round of the 2010 entry draft.  He was traded in Feb. 2017 to the Montreal Canadiens.  By December, however, he was back at Edmonton when the Oilers claimed him off waivers.

Garth Snow also acquired center Chris Wagner from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Jason Chimera.

Net result ~ zero impact.

I'd be pissed off, too.

The Islanders are on thin ice.  They've lost three straight, and have slipped into a ninth place tie with the Carolina Hurricanes.  Both are four points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets in the race for the second Wild Card position, and nine points behind the seventh place New Jersey Devils (whom Tuesday night defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins for the second time this season).

Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers are right behind them with 64-points and have suddenly become the hottest team in hockey.


*Hope Street mural, Williamsburg


Northeast Conference Quarterfinals: Battle of Brooklyn

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH



NORTHEAST CONFERENCE
QUARTERFINALS

Saint Francis College
vs.
LIU/Brooklyn
FROM
THE WRAC

THE BATTLE of DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN

With regards to the Northeast Conference tournament, this marks only the fifth time these charter members will clash on the court.

Saint Francis and LIU last faced each other in the 2015 NEC tournament when the top-seeded Terriers knocked off the Blackbirds.  The Terriers advanced to face second-seeded Robert Morris in the conference final that year, but fell short of winning their first ever NEC championship upon losing a tightly contested 63-66 affair against the Colonials.

They're back in the tournament to face LIU after failing to qualify for post-season play last year.

The Blackbirds are making their fourth straight tourney appearance.  They have won five conference titles in their history, and are the only NEC team to ever win three straight (2011-2013).


The teams split their regular season match-up.  Both games took place this month.  Saint Francis struck first with an 84-79 victory at home.  The Blackbirds avenged that loss a week later with an 81-76 victory at the WRAC.

Both teams posted identical 10-8 conference records.  LIU, however, finished with a 15-16 overall record, while Saint Francis finished up with a 13-17 overall record.  The Wagner Seahawks won the regular season title with a 14-4 conference record, and a 21-8 record overall.


The Blackbirds were 10-4 at the WRAC this season, while the Terriers were 3-11 on the road.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

N.Y. Mets: Catching Hell

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


Mets Still Waiting For Their Backstop of the Future

SPRING TRAINING

New York Mets: Travis d'Arnaud still battling himself for the starting spot behind the plate.

We've been at this for five years now.

Travis d'Arnaud if far from being a novice.

He turned 29-years old earlier this month, but has yet to exceed 115 games or 400 at-bats in any season.  In fact, after his debut in 2013 Travis has only played in 362 of a possible 648 regular season games (56%) over the last four seasons.

Injuries are squarely to blame.  I hear (former Islanders goalie and present ESPN radio personality) Rick DePietro say many times an athlete's best ability is his availability.  Words never rang more true.

Travis d'Arnaud's medical chart is lengthy.

Minors:
  • 2010 - herniated disk lower back
  • 2012 - torn posterior cruciate ligament left knee
Majors:
  • 2013 - fractured left foot
  • 2014 - concussion; bone chip right elbow
  • 2015 - fractured right hand; hyper-extended left elbow
  • 2016 - right rotator cuff strain
  • 2017 - right wrist

That's a lot of physical depreciation over a short span of time.

If nothing else, though, he has demonstrated offensive ability.  If you blend together his 2014, 2015, and 2017 seasons, he averaged 18 doubles/13 home runs/46 RBI in just 324 at bats.

But what good is that if he can't stay on the field?

Even then, offense is a secondary issue for me.  I'm a firm believer in having a supreme receiver behind the plate.  And quite frankly, his positional skills and ability to game-manage a rotation leave much to be desired.

The Mets main strength is their starting rotation.  It's a formula that has worked well for them in the past.  Therefore, I need a catcher who will be to Syndergaard, Harvey, Matz, deGrom, and Wheeler, what Jerry Grote was to Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, and Jon Matlack, and what Gary Carter was to Doc Gooden, Sid Fernandez, Ron Darling, and Rick Aguilera.  Whereas Grote and Carter actively helped their pitchers become better, today's clutch of Mets pitchers have gained their varying degrees of notoriety in spite of Travis d'Arnaud.

It's a badly kept secret that at least one Mets starting pitcher does not particularly like throwing to Travis.  Some pitchers seemed ambivalent over the years, while others appeared kindly agreeable at best.  That strikes me as problematic.

Granted, d'Arnaud has improved since leading the National League in 2014 with twelve passed balls.  But his inability to neutralize base runners can not be overlooked (unless he's hitting and producing runs).  Travis only threw out 17% of would be base-stealers last season - ten points behind the league average (27%) - and he only averages 22% for his career.  Jerry Grote, meanwhile, averaged 38 percent for his career.  At his best, he threw base runners out at a rate of 40%.  Gary Carter averaged 35% caught stealing for his career, and led the National League in caught stealing percentage three times.

Sandy Alderson has long defied one of the most fundamental team building precepts - being strong up the middle.  It has been one of my biggest gripes.  Travis is arbitration eligible through the 2019 season, so I don't expect Alderson addressing this anytime soon.

*     *     *

If a catcher can hit .260 in the major leagues, he's worth at least a discussion.  Kevin Plawecki did just that last season.  Perhaps he's finally becoming comfortable in his major league skin.  Now 27-years old, Kevin was 26 for 100 with five doubles, three home runs, and 13 RBI.  If you play along and multiply by five, that projects to 25 doubles, 15 home runs, and 65 RBI over 500 at-bats.

Like d'Arnaud, however, Plawecki only threw out runners last season at a rate of 17%.  His career rate is 23% over 158 total games.


Monday, February 26, 2018

N.Y. Rangers: Everything Is Deteriorating According To Plan

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS


TEX's RANGERS: UNDER RENOVATION

New York Rangers: Jeff Gorton Trades Rick Nash; Extracts Two More Draft Picks From Boston Bruins.

MONDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE:
Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller Traded to Tampa Bay Lightning

Three cheers for another loss ... this time against the Detroit Red Wings.  That makes seven in a row, and gives the Rangers a sorry-ass 2-10-1 record for February.

Hey!  Hey!  Hey!

It's just a shame it had to happen on the same night Jean Ratelle's sweater was hoisted to the rafters at Madison Square Garden.

They'll nevertheless finish out the month with one last game against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.  After which, less than twenty games will remain in the regular season.

As of close of business Sunday, the Rangers 60-points are seventh worst in the league.  Eleven points separate them from the 30th ranked Buffalo Sabres, while fourteen points separate them from the 31st ranked Phoenix Coyotes.

And, yet, there's still hope this can get worse.  Jeff Gorton, fans like myself, and the future of the next Cup contenders are counting on these guys to really suck down the stretch.  So, just keep them losses coming, fellas, and let's hope a little draft lottery luck comes our way.

In the meantime, Jeff Gorton's deconstruction seems to have gained momentum.  Hopefully there are a few more transactions coming before Monday's trade deadline.  And the more draft picks Gorton acquires, the better.

So far, he's reeled in a nice catch.
  • February 20: Nick Holden remarkably traded to Boston in exchange for defender Rob O'Gara and Boston's third round pick of the 2018 draft.  I wouldn't have given the NYR three pucks and a roll of tape.  But that's just me ...
  • February 23: Michael Grabner traded across the Hudson River to rival New Jersey Devils in exchange for defender Yegor Rykov and Newark's second round pick of the 2018 draft.
  • February 25: Rich Nash traded to Boston in exchange for three players (Ryan Spooner, Matt Belesky, and prospect defender Ryan Lindgren), plus the Bruins first round pick of the 2018 draft, and their seventh round pick of the 2019 draft.

But Gorton also did a good job acquiring three young defensemen.
  • D - Rob O'Gara is 24-years old, 6'4" 215 lbs.
  • D - Yegor Rykov is 20-years old, 6'1" 205 lbs.
  • D - Ryan Lindgren is 20-years old, a stocky 5'11" 203 lbs.

The Captain, Ryan McDonagh, continues missing games (as a precautionary measure in the event of another deadline trade).  Like I've said, I'm not buying into his upper-body injury jive.

I'd like to think Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Kevin Shattenkirk, and perhaps a few other Rangers could and will garner some interest.   But it's very unlikely Henrik Lundqvist goes anywhere, that is unless a team is willing to take on the full brunt of his contract.

Let's put it this way ... the only players I want the Rangers retaining are Pavel Buchnevich, Mika Zibanejad, and Brady Skjei.


UPDATE:

  • February 26: Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller traded to Tampa Bay Lighting in exchange for forward Vladislav Namestnikov, prospects Libor Hajek and Brett Howden, the Bolts first round pick of the 2018 draft, and a conditional second round pick in the 2019 draft.

Vladislav Namestnikov was selected by Tampa in the first round (27th) of the 2011 draft.  A natural center, the 25-year old is listed at 5'11" 180 lbs.  He is in the midst of his best season with 20 goals and 24 assists through 62 games.
  • D - Libor Hajek is 20-years old, 6'2" 196 lbs.
  • C - Brett Howden is 19-years old, 6'2" 193 lbs. 

The Rangers now own three number one picks; a pair of number two picks, and two number three picks for the upcoming 2018 June entry draft.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

N.Y. Rangers: Jean Ratelle Honor Is Long Overdue

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS..!!

*   *   *  19  *   *   *
336 Goals ~ 481 Assists ~ 817 Points

Career: 491 Goals ~ 776 Assists ~ 1,267 Points
ELECTED to HALL OF FAME: 1985

Games Played: 6th
Goals: 2nd
Assists: 3rd
Points: 3rd
Plus/Minus: 4th


NEW YORK RANGERS: Jean Ratelle Finally Getting Sweater Hoisted to the Rafters Alongside Blueshirt Greats.

Jean Ratelle was a member of the famous GAG line (Goal a Game line) featuring Rod Gilbert, Vic Hadfield, and Ratelle at center. 

He recorded six hat tricks during his Rangers career.  In 1971-1972 Ratelle slashed 46/63/109, while leading the NHL with 40 even strength goals, and a 25.1 shot percentage.

I only saw Jean Ratelle play for the Rangers during his final season with the club.  In 1975, he and Brad Park were famously traded to the Boston Bruins.  This occurred shortly after the Rangers parted ways with the great Eddie Giacomin. 

Had I been a little older at the time, I'm sure I would have gotten upset over the situation.

Then again, maybe not.

Jean Ratelle was 35-years old at the time of the trade.  Perhaps the Rangers front office (The Cat) did the right thing.  As a kid, I nevertheless knew this was a huge deal.  After which, I continued becoming only somewhat familiar with Vic Hadfield, and a little more so with Rod Gilbert, whom retired after the 1977-1978 season.  By then I had finally become a full blown, albeit still young Rangers fan.  In exchange for Ratelle and Park, the Rangers received Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais.  And it was those ensuing Rangers of the mid to late 1970s featuring Espo, Ron Greschner, John Davidson, Nick Fotiu, Don Murdoch, Walt Tkaczuk, Dave Maloney, Ron Duguay, et al, that I first became hopelessly passionate about.

Jean Ratelle is the ninth player to have his sweater retired by the Rangers, but only the eighth number being hoisted up to the rafters.  The number nine is retired in honor of both Adam Graves and Andy Bathgate.

And for that, I must digress ...

... because the Rangers have gotten this all wrong.  And believe it or not, for a change it's not Jim Dolan's fault.  The sweaters of Harry Howell (3), Andy Bathgate (9), and Jean Ratelle (19), all should have been retired by previous owners long ago - certainly before those of Mark Messier (11), Mike Richter (31), Brian Leetch (2), and Adam Graves (9).

Blame Sonny Werblin, or Gulf+Western, or Paramount, or ITT Corp., or whomever.

This honor is long overdue.


When Will The Rangers Finally 
Raise Ron Greschner's Jersey 
Among The Greats?




The Borough of Misfit Toys





The Darker Side of Toy Homelessness






















Saturday, February 24, 2018

N.J. Devils: Hail Patrik and Hello Grabner Night at the Rock

From the desk of:  THE BRICK CITY STYX


PATRIK ELIAS
1995 ~ 2016
New Jersey Devils All-Time Leading Scorer
1,240 Games ~ 408 Goals ~ 617 Assists ~ 1,025 Points
Two-Time Stanley Cup Champion


NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Patrik Elias Jersey Joins Those of Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur, and Scott Niedermayer in the Prudential Center Rafters.

Tonight, Newark celebrates the twenty-year career of New Jersey Devils left winger Patrik Elias.

His jersey featuring number 26 is being hoisted up to the rafters this evening alongside those of Devils greats Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur, and Scott Niedermayer.

Elias is the club's all-time scoring leader.  He and Daneyko are the only two of the five to have played their entire careers solely in a Devils uniform.

A durable and great two way forward, Elias scored at least 20 goals in a season ten times and topped 30 goals four times.  In 2000-2001, he netted a career high 40 goals, and registered an NHL best plus/forty-five.

With a centering pass from the right corner, Elias assisted on Jason Arnott's Stanley Cup clinching goal in double-overtime of Game Six against the Dallas Stars.


TONIGHT
New York Islanders
vs.
New Jersey Devils
FROM
THE ROCK
NEWARK


Michael Grabner sure does know his way around the metropolitan area.  Once they drop the puck this evening at Newark, and his skates touch ice, Grabner will officially become the eleventh person to ever play for all three local hockey clubs.

Led by Taylor Hall, the young New Jersey Devils have spent the regular season defying expectations.  With a 31-22-8 record and 70 points to date, Newark enters tonight's action in seventh place of the conference standings - five points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders, both of whom are tied for eighth place with 65 points.  

Now with the acquisition of Michael Grabner, they seem to have all but silenced any lingering questions regarding their staying power.

Famous last words ...

Grabner, 30, is a good two-way player who was leading the Rangers with 25 goals and a plus-eleven through 59 games played.  Last season, he scored 27 goals in 76 games for the Rangers.  General manager Ray Shero sent the Rangers a second round draft pick and 20-year old defensive prospect Yegor Rykov in return.  Even if Grabner (a potential unrestricted free agent) only turns out being a springtime rental, it is a worthy price to pay.  

He will reportedly be lining up with Travis Zajac and Pavel Zacha.

It doesn't matter where they stick him.  This is a fine acquisition.

And who knows - being that Grabner is so familiar with the area, he just might give the Devils a required home town discount for sake of potentially fitting into their future plans.

This will be the Devils fifteenth straight game without starting goalie Cory Schneider - out since Jan. 23 with a groin injury.  The Devils have gone 7-7-0 in his absence.  Keith Kinkaid has made ten starts in his place; Eddie Lack has started three games; and Ken Appleby one start.

The streaky Devils enter this evening's game fresh off two straight home losses against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild.


NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Josh Bailey's Six Year, $30 Million Dollar Contract Extension Better Mean John Tavares' Deal Is Next.

There's no way the Islanders would open a new arena at Belmont Park without him, right?

At least Bailey's deal is a sign of life.  People were beginning to wonder if Garth Snow was actually showing up for work.

Now how about getting on the phones and try shoring up this defense by the deadline, huh?  The team is fourth in the league in scoring for Lord Stanley's sake ... yet are near last in the league in goals against and the penalty kill.

Like the Devils, the more desperate Islanders are trying to snap a two game skid.



N.Y. Mets: Ninth Inning Closer Need Not Apply

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


THE BULLPEN: CLUB CALLAWAY

Previously:

New York Mets: Mickey Callaway Reviving the Role of Fireman.

I recall a time when Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez was tiring, and manager Grady Little left him in during this particular game because he didn't trust his bullpen.  Needless to say Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS goes into extra-innings, and the next thing you know ... the New York Yankees are heading to the World Series.

Hearing "bullpen by committee" always makes me think back to those 2003 Boston Red Sox.  Entering that season, then general manager Theo Epstien said something to the effect they didn't need a closer - that bullpen by committee would work, and serve them well.

Executives lacking a legitimate closer tend to say stuff like that ...

Did he learn his lesson?

In January of 2004, Theo signs free agent reliever Keith Foulke, who went on to save 31 regular season games, and threw the final pitch in the Red Sox 2004 World Series clinching victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Mets have an MLB legitimate closer in Jeurys Familia.  Therefore, this has everything to do with Mickey Callaway's and pitching coach Dave Eiland's plan to implement a closer by committee system - which is quite different than bullpen by committee.  Unless you're the 1990 Cincinnati Reds featuring the Nasty Boys; Randy Meyers, Rod Dibble, and Norm Charlton; for me the term bullpen by committee is a nonstarter.

Coach Callaway, however, sounds intent on reviving the old-school role of fireman ... and I'm absolutely cool with that.

How many times have managers held their closer back because it wasn't the ninth inning?  And how many potential victories have gone up in smoke as a result?

Of course, every situation is different and therefore such a scheme requires proper planning.  But if game threatening conditions present themselves in the seventh/eighth innings, it would occasionally make sense to call upon your fireman.  Why not let Jeurys Familia literally and figuratively save the game in the seventh/eighth if needed?  If all goes well, the next reliever in line then faces a less dire situation in the ninth inning, preferably against a less imposing portion of the line-up.

I'm indeed agreeable with this thinking, I guess, because what qualifies these days as a save situation, a non-save situation, and the save rule itself (as presently written) is pure science fiction.

Under the old save qualifications, one needed enter with the tying or go-ahead run on base or at the plate; preserve the lead and finish the game; or pitch three full innings while preserving the lead.  Today, all a closer must do in order to qualify for a save is simply finish the game and protect a three run lead.  This is precisely Goose Gossage's gripe with today's closers - and quite frankly, I agree with him.  Goose would routinely put out fires in the seventh or eighth inning, then still pitch the ninth.  That also goes for Rollie Fingers as well as other top relievers of that era.

Alas, they were firemen.

We have Tony LaRussa to thank for much of today's bullpen dogma.  Above and beyond any of his contemporaries, he's the one most responsible for inaugurating the age of strict relief specialization.  He created the one inning/ninth inning role back when he managed the White Sox, then perfected it with the Oakland A's and (HOF) Dennis Eckersley.  If you want to partly blame someone for the inane suggestions being floated around to speed up pace of play, he's your guy.

My point is Mickey Callaway's and Dave Eiland's idea is a refreshing break from the modern LaRussa model.  As a fan, I know a save when I see one, regardless of the inning.  I therefore am in lockstep with Coach Callaway regarding this matter.

As presently constructed, Mets bullpen success lies in the arms of Jeurys Familia, Anthony Swarzak, Jerry Blevins, and AJ Ramos.  They will be joined by either Zack Wheeler or Jason Vargas - depending which of the two earns the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

Barring another veteran acquisition, the rest of the bullpen will otherwise be manned by farmed products still attempting to establish themselves - Hansel Robles included.  This is where the redundancy of hiring Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland comes into play.  The pitching staff is in better hands due to the simple fact Dan Warthen is gone - no offense intended, but truth is truth.  So I'm curious to see how Robles, Paul Sewald, and maybe Cory Oswalt, respond under their tutelage.

Next is the matter of over-taxation.  Jerry Blevins is the lone left-hander in the bullpen, which could prove problematic.  But there's also Sandy Alderson's information squad whom floated the idea of limiting certain starters to just two turns through the line-up.  Metrics in fact indicate a starter's ERA skyrockets when facing line-ups a third time.  This strategy potentially applies to Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and even Matt Harvey.

All I can say is let's just wait and see what happens.


THE PROBABLE SEVEN
  • JEURYS FAMILIA
In 2015 and 2016, Familia led the National League in games finished, and in 2016 also led the circuit with 51 saves.  However, an arterial clot in Familia's right shoulder limited him to just 26 appearances last season.  I still have plenty of confidence in Familia, and so I have no real issues.
  • ANTHONY SWARZAK
On paper, this appears to be a savvy acquisition by Sandy Alderson.  Last year was Swarzak's first taste of the National League after previously spending 7 1/2 seasons with the Chicago White Sox.  The right-handed 32-year old appeared in 29 games for the Milwaukee Brewers.  He posted a 2.48 ERA and 12.11 K/9 average, while allowing 21 hits in 29 innings pitched.  In 70 total appearances last season, Swarzak posted a 2.48 ERA and 1.034 WHiP, allowing just 58 hits and fanning 91 batters through 77.1 innings pitched.

Yet, the Brewers granted him his free agency.  Money was likely an issue.  Swarzak went from earning an average of $900,000 over the last three years, to signing a two-year $14 million dollar pact with the Mets.

He's strictly a fastball/slider pitcher.  He threw his fastball 48.5 percent of the time clocking in at a career high 94.7 mph, and threw his slider at a rate of 51.5 percent, likewise clocking in at a career high 87.1 mph according to Fangraphs.
  • JERRY BLEVINS
Jerry is the lone southpaw of the lot.  He has turned in back-to-back solid seasons for the Mets.  In 75 appearances and 49 innings pitched, he posted a 2.94 ERA and struck out 69 batters for a 12.7 K/9 average. However, he walked batters at a 4.4 K/9 clip.  Walks are always problematic.
  • AJ RAMOS
His performance slipped last season after his acquisition from Miami, where he owned a 3.73 ERA and a 10.7 K/9 average through 40 games and 39.2 innings pitched.  In 21 appearances for the Mets, however, Ramos registered a 4.74 ERA while allowing 19 hits in 19 innings pitched.  While he posted an 11.8 K/9 average, last year's 1.632 WHiP is a concern heading into this season.
  • HANSEL ROBLES
I truly believe under Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland, Hansel Robles will take a huge leap forward in his development.  According to Fangraphs he threw his fastball 65.8 percent of the time last season but clocked in at a career low 94 mph.  His slider which averaged 85.5 mph accounted for 24.8 percent of his pitches.  He otherwise tinkered with a change-up eight percent of the time, which perhaps Callaway and Eiland can help further develop into a viable third pitch.
  • PAUL SEWALD
Sewald made his major league debut last year, and the The Mets are hoping for an improved  sophomore season this year.  In 57 appearances, he posted a 4.55 ERA, allowed 58 hits, and averaged a 9.5 K/9 over 65.1 innings pitched.  He offsets a 92 mph fastball, with an 83 mph change and slider - FangraphI'll be paying close attention to his development under Callaway and Eiland.
  • CORY OSWALT
Oswalt was the Mets seventh round selection in the 2012 amateur draft.  Last season was his first stint at double-A Binghamton where he posted a 12-5 record in 24 starts, with a 2.28 ERA and 1.176 WHiP over 134.1 innings pitched.  He was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, and the Sterling Organizational Pitcher of the Year.  For the moment, the Mets starting rotation is well stocked.  Therefore Oswalt's spring training performance will perhaps dictate whether he returns to Binghamton to resume work as a starter, or if he makes the club and pitches out of the bullpen.


THE USUAL REINFORCEMENTS
  • Seth Lugo
  • Robert Gsellman
  • Rafael Montero

ACQUISITIONS
  • Twenty-three year old Jamie Callahan was acquired from the Red Sox in the Addison Reed deal.  He owns a 4.71 ERA in 384 innings pitched over six minor league seasons.
  • Twenty-four year old Jacob Rhame was acquired from the Dodgers in the Curtis Granderson deal.  He owns a 3.07 ERA in 261 innings pitched over five minor league seasons.


Friday, February 23, 2018

Filming of MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN at Henry Street



Filming in Brooklyn


MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
Adaptation of Jonathan Lethem Thriller/Novel
Directed/Screenplay by Edward Norton
Scheduled for Release: 2019

Starring:
Edward Norton
Bruce Willis
Willem Dafoe
Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Alec Baldwin


Henry Street
BETWEEN
Pineapple Street and Orange Street

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS


































By Far My Favorite Picture!
Woman on iPhone in 1958




Wednesday, February 21, 2018

N.Y. Mets: Jason Vargas is a Sensible Acquisition

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET




New York Mets: Addition of Jason Vargas Suddenly Gives Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz Something Else to Think About.

I) - Why did Jason Vargas become available?

The Kansas City Royals signed him as a free agent entering 2014 to a four-year $32 million dollar contract.  

He completed a full compliment of thirty starts during his first season with the Royals, posting an 11-10 record with a 3.71 ERA and a slightly problematic 1.273 WHiP. 

Then in the summer of 2015, he blew out the UCL in his left elbow in mid-July requiring Tommy John surgery, from which he returned in September 2016.

Last year, he made a full compliment of 32 starts again, posted a career best 18-11 record but with a 4.16 ERA, and an elevated 1.330 WHiP in 179.2 innings pitched.  He started strong, going 12-3 with a 2.22 ERA through June.  From July 5 through Sept. 5, however, Vargas went just 2-7 and saw his ERA spike to a 4.23 mark.  Over his final five starts of the season, Vargas finished 4-1 with 3.79 ERA, while surrendering 22 hits, fanning 24 batters and walking twelve over his last 26.1 innings pitched.

He turned 35-years old this month, and so Kansas City granted Vargas his free agency in November.  On Feb.18 he signed with the Mets for two years (with a club option) for the same yearly $8 million dollar salary he earned during his final season with the  Royals.


II) - What does his acquisition mean for the Mets?

Even I have to admit, Jason Vargas adds needed veteran rotation depth, on a short term deal and at a very reasonable price.

Vargas mainly brings a measure of competition for the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation.  Several pitchers, namely Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz (and Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Rafael Montero), maybe find themselves needing to reprove themselves in the eyes of new manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland - which is not a bad thing.

And he's left-handed!  Can't have too many of those.  Vargas and Matz now give the Mets two potential southpaws in the rotation.  That could mean Zack Wheeler opens the season in the bullpen.  But this is a good problem for Coach Callaway to have.  Wheeler, though, has his own work cut out for him.  He needs to cut down on his walks, and address his overall WHiP.  He surrendered 97 hits (15 home runs) and issued 40 walks in just 86.1 innings pitched last season.

Otherwise, let the better pitchers with the jobs.

That's what Spring Training is for.

According to Fangraphs his fly ball/to ground out ratio leveled out after arriving at Kansas City, where as he previously was categorized as more a fly ball pitcher.  In 2014 (the season prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery) his fastball clocked in 87.3 mph, and his change-up came in at 80.4 mph.  Last season (his first full season post recovery) his fastball was clocked at 85.6 mph, while his change-up came in at 79.5 mph.

Moreover, last season he threw his fastball a career low 40.7 percent of the time, where as he relied on his change-up a career high 20.3 percent of the time.

He additionally only mixes in a curveball about nine percent of the time, and so his lack of a representative fastball concerns me.  Perhaps he adds a change of pace considering the Mets rotation mainly features hard-throwers, but that remains to be seen.

In any event, this is where Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland come in.  They're being paid to help these pitchers realize their potentials.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Happy President's Day


President's Day
BROOKLYN MONUMENTS

George Washington
Williamsburgh


Ulysses S. Grant
Bedford


Fighting George
(wall paste)


Presidents Born in New York
Martin Van Buren
Millard Fillmore
Theodore Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Donald Trump


N.Y. Mets: The Five Hurlers of the Metropolis

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


Will the Real 
Five Hurlers of the Metropolis 
Please Stand Up.

Spring Training: First Word

NEW YORK METS: Is this the season Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom, all finally endure the grind of a full season together?

Many fans including myself thought this group would already be dominating the National League by now, and not still attempting to get this thing off the surgery table drawing board.  

Obviously that's not the way things worked out over the last few years.  As such, this still theoretical Fearsome Five of Flushing have yet to fulfill their collective promise - much less share the same Citi Field mound together for any worthwhile period of time.  

Injuries - some precipitated by a lack of organizational oversight - are largely to blame for that.

A deteriorating situation came to a head last year.  Sandy Alderson occasionally found himself short for words when hounded by media questioning the sometimes ponderous and inexplicable health issues afflicting his club, particularly the starting pitching.  Despite good intention, even preliminary information would often times devolve into misinformation and thus further exasperate matters.

Alderson finally acknowledged at season's end that everything ranging from medical diagnosis, to preparation, conditioning and recuperation, to field management and communication, to player/coaching supervision, right down to pitch selection and execution, had effectively gone awry.  

He therefore spent the off-season implementing a wide range of alternative reform aimed at realizing maximum player potential through the incorporation of advanced medical sciences and training; staff turnover; updating operational philosophies; and modifying interpersonal relationships.  

Part of this comprehensive overhaul specifically involved hiring Dave Eiland to replace Dan Warthen as pitching coach.  Alderson also opted for the unconventional by replacing former field manager Terry Collins with yet another pitching coach - Mickey Callaway - hired away from the Cleveland Indians.  Ideally speaking, the Mets primary strength is after all their starting pitching.  That's the way Alderson designed his club, and therefore I understand and even respect his attempts at surrounding this pitching staff with redundancy.

Did Sandy Alderson arguably wait too long before undertaking corrective measures?  

Maybe.  

I was never a big Terry Collins supporter, but was at least agreeable in so far as him being suited for piloting a rebuilding club.  Heading into 2015, however, Mets fans were already clamoring for change.  The thinking was in order to achieve higher ground, a new manager was needed to lead the way.  But a funny thing happened that season.  The Mets clinched the National League pennant, essentially earning Collins an obligatory two-year extension.

But it turns out there may have been a more disturbing issue at play involving front office autonomy.  Marc Carig of Newsday wrote back in September how Fred Wilpon shielded Terry Collins from Sandy Alderson and COO Jeff Wilpon whom sought TC's dismissal at various points during his tenure.

So much for Alderson implementing change ...

Even under the most promising conditions, it's hard enough keeping a starting rotation intact from April through September as it is - much less through October.  That goes for all teams.  That's why they say it takes a 40-man roster to win championships.

And that's what makes Mickey Callaway's challenge so daunting.  Jacob deGrom was the only one of the aforementioned five starting pitchers last season to make thirty starts.  The other four totaled a combined 56 starts.  Robert Gsellman was otherwise second on the team with 21 starts, which  certainly wasn't the plan.

Games Started: 2017
  • Jacob deGrom - 30 starts.
  • Matt Harvey - 19 starts.
  • Zack Wheeler - 17 starts.
  • Steven Matz - 13 starts.
  • Noah Syndergaard - 7 starts!

But there's yet hope for the potential Fearsome Five of Flushing.  Zack Wheeler's return last year finally marked the first time all five ever started games together in the same season.  Obviously nothing went according to plan, but it was a "first" nonetheless.

We've seen a little from each of these pitchers - some more than others.  Now we need a lot more from all of them.  But because we're familiar with their histories, it's fair to say we should expect the occasional setback or two.  At some point, the services of Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and Rafael Montero will be called into action.  And of course the acquisition of Jason Vargas imposes sudden competition for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.  

But if we're still pursuing this dream rotation, then Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler, must each contribute at least 22 to 25 starts apiece.  It's reasonable to expect deGrom and Syndergaard fulfilling their complement of thirty starts.  And if the Mets get all that, they should be in great shape by the end of September.

However, time is suddenly also of the essence.  This could very well be Matt Harvey's last go with the Mets.  Therefore if the mythical Five Hurlers of the Metropolis are indeed destined to elevate the Mets to their first World Series championship since 1986, then 2018 needs to be the year.  Because if Harvey isn't traded first, stupor agent Scott Boras will surely seek employment for his client elsewhere once the season is through.


Noah Syndergaard
  • I called it last season while writing for website Rising Apple.  I knew it then, feeling absolutely sure Syndergaard would get hurt.  I wrote at the time that his off-season conditioning program was complete folly.  What the hell was he thinking?  And that circles back to when I eluded about players getting hurt due to lack of organizational oversight. 

Matt Harvey
  • Mickey Callaway is right.  We do not need a return of the Dark Knight; we just need a healthy Matt Harvey.  The most promising thing I've heard came from Harvey himself.  He said it was nice going through a regular off-season for the first time in a while.  I do not believe he's capable of recapturing his elite form of five seasons ago - not after all he's gone through.  But that does not preclude him from reestablishing himself as an effective pitcher.  In fact, he should be a very motivated pitcher considering his future is very much up in the air.  He needs an above average season as badly as any pitcher in major league baseball at this point.

Steven Matz
  • He finally went ahead and underwent surgery to re-position that nerve meandering around his  elbow.  With that out of the way, Matz and the Mets might finally tap into his potential.  When he's on, the youngster has demonstrated he can pitch well.  In 2016, he posted a 3.40 ERA through 22 starts.  But during last year's compromised effort, he posted an unsightly 6.08 ERA in just 66.2 innings pitched, and his strikeouts were very noticeably down.

Zack Wheeler
  • He missed all of 2015 and 2016, then returned to make 17 starts last season.  Zack is also taking injections in his stomach in order to improve bone strength.  I find that a bit weird, but as I stated Alderson overhauled organizational oversight, particularly on the medical and training side of operations.  So I do believe the Mets were aware of Wheeler's unconventional treatment at all times, and even signed off on it, which may be right in step with the Mets incorporating modern medicines and sciences?  Actually, all Wheeler needs to work on is cutting down on base on balls, and he should be okay.

Jacob deGrom
  • He's the one pitcher with no real issues to speak of.  Last season was the first in which he reached 200 innings.  Although his K/9 increased by two full points to a 10.7 mark, his ERA spiked to 3.53, up from 3.04 the previous year.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

N.J. Devils: Eddie Lack Short Circuits Tampa Bay Lightning

From the desk of:  THE BRICK CITY STYX



FINAL
Devils       4
Lightning  3

New Jersey Devils: Look what Newark did to the Tampa Bay Lightning ... again!

The Devils were cruising along with a 22-9-6 record at the time of their Dec. 29 victory over Buffalo.

On Dec. 30, general manager Ray Shero quietly acquired goalie Eddie Lack from the Calgary Flames in exchange for expendable blue-liner Dalton Prout.  At the time of the trade, starting goalie Cory Schneider nor back-up Keith Kincaid had yet experienced their respective groin injuries still to come.  Although Kincaid recovered and continues making starts, Schneider remains sidelined.  On Saturday against the Lightning at Tampa, Eddie Lack rewarded Shero with a very timely and rather heroic effort against one of the league's elite.

Playing in only his third game with the Devils, the opposing Eastern Conference leaders pelted Eddie Lack with 51 shots on goal.  New Jersey mistakes additionally afforded Tampa six power play opportunities.  But despite the Lightning converting twice on the man advantage, Eddie Lack otherwise short circuited the Bolts best efforts by making 48 saves against the league's top scoring team.

The Devils and Bolts traded goals in the first.  Ben Lovejoy opened the scoring just 2:49 into the game.  Despite a quick tying goal by Tampa, the Devils closed out the period with furious action in the Lightning zone.  New Jersey then fell behind only 2:47 into the second session, but Devils rookie Nico Hischier would answer back a mere 36-seconds later.  Pavel Zacha then put the Devils ahead again a little over three minutes later.

The early scoring trend continued in the third.  Newark's Miles Wood scored his 16th goal of the season just 1:24 into the session.  Within minutes, though, Steven Stamkos got the Lightning within one again with a power play goal at the 5:15 mark.  But Tampa would get no closer despite launching one last assault in the closing minutes.

What these young New Jersey Devils essentially did Saturday was prove their first meeting against Tampa, in which they outlasted the Bolts 5-4 in a shootout way back in October, was no fluke.

At 30-20-8 (66-points) the Devils wake up this morning tied with the Flyers for fifth in the Eastern Conference standings.

Twenty-four games remain in the regular season.  Today, they play the Carolina Hurricanes whom enter the game tied with Columbus, both one point behind the New York Islanders for the second Wild Card spot.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

N.Y. Islanders: Garth Snow's Seat Getting Hotter

From the desks of: 
FIVE FOR FLATBUSH  and  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS

THE RIVALRY - III
Islanders lead series 3-0
I - NYI 4; NYR 3*
II - NYI 7; NYR 2
III - NYI 3; NYR 0
*shootout

I read in Friday's Newsday how the Islanders are now 10-1-0 in their last eleven games against the Rangers, and that Jaroslav Halak is 13-1-0 in his last 14 head-to-head match-ups against Henrik Lundqvist.

There you go ...

Look what the Islanders did to the Rangers ... again!

Josh Bailey scored on a power play less than five minutes into the opening period of Thursday's game at Barclays.  Jordan Eberle and Thomas Hickey added goals in the second and third periods respectively.

Halak, meanwhile, turned away all fifty Rangers shots on goal to best Henrik Lindqvist, whom faced 35 shots but only made 32 saves.

The Islanders have now outscored the Rangers this season by a 13-5 margin through nine periods of regulation hockey.

Flatbush blew into Carolina like a hurricane the very next night.  The Islanders equaled Thursday's output with another three goals against Cam Ward and the Canes.  But the eye of this storm was goalie Thomas Greiss.  He followed Halak's golden effort with a 44-save effort of his own.

Playing in his fifth game back after missing all of January, the sorely missed Johnny Boychuk opened the scoring in the second period with his fourth goal of the season.  Second year winger Anthony Beauvillier scored his fourteenth goal of the season midway through the third (he scored nine goals in 66 games last season as a rookie).

John Tavares capped off the scoring with an empty-netter in the closing minute of regulation.  It was his 30th of the season, marking the fourth time in his nine year career in which he's achieved thirty or more goals.  The number one overall selection of the 2009 entry draft, Tavares notched the 600th point of his career on Feb. 13 against the Blue Jackets.

JOHN TAVARES
600 POINTS

That makes four huge points when they needed them most.  The Isles leveled their record in February to 4-3-1, but more importantly temporarily elevated themselves back into the playoff picture.  As of Saturday night, the Islanders are eighth in the conference standings, one point ahead of Columbus and Carolina, and four points behind the New Jersey Devils.  The Islanders and Devils face off next Saturday at Newark.

MATHEW BARZAL
60 games; 16 goals; 46 assists; 62 points
Joins Mike Bossy and Brian Trottier 
as only NYI rookies to achieve 60 points


Snow Must Go ... is now an official movement.

In his twelfth season as general manager, Garth Snow's seat is getting hotter by the day.

Fans are pretty fed up with the team's defense; their two-headed goalie situation is what it is; and even head coach Doug Weight has his detractors.  But fans want Snow active as the trade deadline draws near and being sellers is strictly out of the question. 

They're already riddled with anxiety over the seeming lack of progress in the John Tavares contract negotiations.  Snow arguably has the Islanders well positioned for the near future.  He has a couple of extra picks in the first two rounds of the June draft.  I would stay the course, though, and ensure Tavares gets signed. 

Otherwise, Garth Snow is in a real bind.  If he fails to upgrade the team by the deadline, fans may light his chair on fire (not that I'm trying to give them ideas).

I'm a Rangers fan ... what would I know.

The "rebuilding" Rangers, continue skating in the opposite direction.  They have now lost seven of their last nine games - outright (no overtime; no shootout).  After recent losses against the Wild and Islanders, they got scrubbed again on Saturday by the Ottawa Senators.

Good!

ICYMI: Read This!

Ryan McDonagh was a scratch for the fifth straight game.  I'm not buying this crap he's suffering an upper body injury.  But I also think it's pure coincidence that he hasn't played since Feb. 7 after infamously lashing out at team mates fresh after sustaining a 6-1 drubbing against the Bruins.  I simply believe a trade for McDonagh is being negotiated and the Rangers are not risking injury.

In the meantime, the Rangers continue getting poor two-way play; they don't hit; they don't pick up the hangers; and Alain Vigneault continues letting teams take point blank shots at Henrik Lundqvist.

I was beginning to rant ... sorry.

There's just something about losing 6-3 against the fourth worst team in hockey.

Watching Derick Brassard playing for Ottawa also reminds me of this team's piss-poor cap management.  I'm just saying ... Brassard was a salary cap hit same as Keith Yandle; Carl Hagelin; Brandon Prust; even Colton Orr!  The list goes on - all in the name to shave a buck.

I'm still shaking my head over Yandle.

The Rangers are firmly anchored to last place of the Metropolitan Division, and have fallen to eleventh in the conference standings.