Saturday, March 31, 2018

N.J. Devils: It's Keith Kinkaid or Bust

From the desks of:
NO SLEEP TILL BELMONT  and  THE BRICK CITY STYX

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


The Islanders quit on Doug Weight some time ago evidenced by their 12-21-6 record since New Year's day, and their 3-8-3 record in March.  This from a team that for most of the season ranked among the top five scoring teams in hockey.  Now officially eliminated from playoff contention, they have little left worth skating for outside of playing the role of spoiler.  But that makes them a dangerous opponent, and Newark knows it well.

With only five games left in their regular season, the Devils need every point they can get.  Ninth place Florida is hot on their tail, just three points behind but with six games left to play.  That puts New Jersey in a bind.

For the moment, John Hynes continues demonstrating confidence in goalie Keith Kinkaid, electing to stay with the hot hand rather than handing duties back over to Cory Schneider, and for good reason.  Schneider is 0-4 since returning to action on March 1.  Upon Schneider's return, Coach Hynes initially started Cory and Keith every other game.  But after three starts, Schneider went 0-3 with an .887 save percentage.  He made one other start on March 20 (a 6-2 loss against San Jose), but none since.

The two goalies are almost even in starts now.  Outside of actual wins and losses, there's not much that distinguishes one from the other:

  • Cory Schneider - 39 games, 17-15-6 record, 2.88 GAA, .909 save percentage.
  • Keith Kinkaid - 37 games, 22-10-3 record, 2.89 GAA, .910 save percentage.

Although Kinkaid was victimized by Sidney Crosby's abrupt game winning base hit in overtime this past Thursday against the Penguins, he is 7-3-1 in March with a .925 save percentage, not to mention the role he played in huge victories over Nashville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Tampa.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

N.Y. Mets: Grand Opening

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

OPENING DAY
Cardinals   4
Mets          9
FINAL


So many variables factored into making this Opening Day one of the most anticipated events in recent Mets history.  And I'm happy to say, Callaway and Co. did not disappoint, as relaunch of Sandy Alderson's new order went off without a hitch.

They couldn't have scripted things any better.  Noah Syndergaard pitched six strong innings; the bullpen closed things out with three scoreless innings of no-hit relief; the line-up manufactured twelve hits and nine runs; and the defense played error free.

Thor's first outing of the season went well enough.  Efficiency wise, Syndergaard averaged fourteen pitches per inning, and threw 85 pitches overall with 59 (68%) going for strikes.  He allowed six hits, and surrendered a pair of home runs - one to Yadier Molina that careened off the left field foul pole.  Otherwise, he walked none and fanned ten batters en rout to his first victory of the season.

A rather gamely Robert Gsellman struck out the side in the seventh.  Free agent acquisition Anthony Swarzack struck out one during a scoreless eighth.  Jeurys Familia then closed out the game in a non-save situation.

Mickey Callaway's First Line-Up:
  • CF - Nimmo
  • LF- Cespedes
  • RF- Bruce
  • 2B - Cabrera
  • 3B - Frazier
  • 1B  Gonzalez
  • C - Plawecki
  • SP - Syndergaard
  • SS - Rosario

I'd only question Cabrera batting clean-up, otherwise this order suits me just fine.  If Mickey Callaway insists on batting Cespedes second, then of course something has to give elsewhere in the line-up.  That said, Amed Rosario (making his first ever Opening Day start with the Mets) handed in a stellar performance as the free swinger went 2 for 4 at the plate, with an RBI.  But by batting him ninth Callaway might have realized a desired affect.  Amed scored two runs, driven in each time by Yoenis Cespedes whom went 2 for 5 with three RBI.  

Cespedes, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and Adrian Gonzalez, joined to go 6 for 15 (.400), with two runs scored and five RBI.

Kevin Plawecki is apparently picking up where he left off last season, making his mark against right-handed pitching by going 2 for 3 with a walk, a run scored, and an RBI.

I've spent all spring raving about Brandon Nimmo, if not longer.  He's such a throwback and self-made talent that I just can't help but root for him.  I do indeed believe he could potentially solve the Mets need for a lead-off hitter.  Unfortunately regular playing time will be hard to come by once Michael Conforto returns to the line-up.  Thursday's performance (2 for 3, with a walk and a run scored) was nevertheless a glimpse into how effective I believe Nimmo could some day be batting atop the order. 

The Mets are now 37-20 (.649) on Opening Day.


N.Y. Mets: First Pitch

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


OPENING DAY
ALL-TIME 
OPENING DAY RECORD
36-20 (.642)

Let The Games Begin..!

Sandy Alderson's off-season can be summed up in two words: comprehensive change.  Perhaps his organizational reforms came a year or two later than we fans may have preferred.  But change has come to Citi Field nonetheless.  And with Thursday's call to Play Ball, so begins the process of validating his every move.

The Mets have had a devil of a time keeping numerous key players on the field in recent years, but none more so than their starting pitchers.  The extent of injuries and seemingly endless surgeries have been such that Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler have yet to complete a full season together as a unit.  Meanwhile, Syndergaard's misguided decision to bulk up last off-season and his resulting season ending injury exemplified just some of the folly that took place previously in the absence of proper supervision.

As per Alderson's design, the unquestioned strength of the New York Mets is indeed their starting pitching, and if healthy their collective efforts will undoubtedly determine whether or not the Mets emerge as playoff contenders come late September.  Therefore, completely overhauling physical conditioning and oversight were part and parcel to Alderson's sweeping changes.  To that end, Sandy Alderson says the organization will be adopting more modern and advanced training, conditioning, and recovery sciences and applications, while also reformulating their operational procedures and philosophies.

On a more conventional level, Alderson also incorporated redundancy into his corrective measures by hiring former Cleveland Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway to replace Terry Collins as manager, along with hiring Dave Eiland (highly experienced and very well respected throughout baseball) to replace Dan Warthen as new pitching coach.  Because pitch selection and execution oft times proved problematic, as well.  Dan Warthen used to be responsible for calling pitches from the dugout.  But with these new changes, I'm anticipating a completely different approach with a focus on craftsmanship, and particular emphasis on reclaiming the inside portion of the plate.

The time for putting Sandy Alderson's redesign into effect has come.  Opening Day is upon us.  Before a single game is played, though, I'll credit Alderson for pinpointing these two particular hires and thereby creating more conducive conditions through which this rotation can achieve elevated success.

*          *          *          *

Unfortunately, the long anticipated debut of the Five Hurlers of the Metropolis has been postponed yet again.  After surrendering nine earned runs on 22 hits though ten innings of Grapefruit League action, the Mets optioned Zack Wheeler to the Las Vegas 51s.  That comes on the heels of Wheeler's somewhat defensive reaction earlier in Spring Training when media questioned him over the club's acquisition of Jason Vargas.  Pitching coach Dave Eiland characteristically offered no quarter, providing little more than biting words of encouragement for Zack to ponder during his trip back to the desert - essentially telling him potential is all fine and well, but there comes a time when that must translate into major league results.  In other words, the time for babying these guys, is over.

*          *          *          *

Off-season acquisition Jason Vargas, recovering from surgery to his non-pitching hand, will open the season on the disabled list.  That leaves the Mets with one left-handed starting pitcher, and just one left-handed reliever.  His role upon return remains to be determined.

*          *          *          *


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

N.Y. Mets: Case of the Missing $20 Million Dollars Solved?

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


Here we go again.

New York Mets: When they say it's not about the money, it's usually about the money.

Remember when Jeff Wilpon informed media and fans how the Mets would be shaving $20 million dollars from this year's opening day payroll?

During that winter luncheon Mets COO Jeff Wilpon told reporters he believes the Mets are within a range in which they can effectively compete ... and that he does not believe they must rank among the top payrolls in baseball to compete for a championship.

According to Anthony DiComo at MLB.comJeff Wilpon said,
"I'd rather look at what we can do in terms of wins and losses.  Being top five in payroll, I don't think that won us a World Series.  So we're set out to make the playoffs and do well deep into the playoffs, and try to win the World Series - not to try and be in the top five in payroll.  If you look at what's coming back or what should be coming back that was hurt last year, that's tantamount to signing some free agents ... "

He is obviously referring to the 2006-2008 clubs rather than the 2015 Mets.  However, being among the top five in payroll was never the issue.  All fans ever asked was for the organization to operate as the National League representative of New York City should.

We're only talking three brackets here: the top ten teams; the middle ten teams; and the bottom ten teams.  The Mets ranked 12th in payroll last season qualifying them as middle bracket spenders.  It's that simple.

Anthony DiComo quotes general manager Sandy Alderson saying,
"You've just got to take another look at the facts from a slightly different perspective.  We've already spent more money than most teams this season.  We've had one of the rare big, big contracts in the last couple of seasons.  No, we're not running out and signing everybody.  But at the same time, in instances, we've stepped up and signed players and made moves in some cases where others haven't."

Sandy Alderson is obviously far more practiced in the art of pragmatic diffusion.  On the one hand, he's right insofar as acquiring and re-signing Yoenis Cespedes was indeed a genuine increase in spending.  Alderson had been doling out the same dollars just to different transient players in the years and months leading up to the 2015 trade deadline.  On the other hand, that transaction was only made possible because the Mets were able to refinance $700 in debt that same summer.

Otherwise, the Mets enter this season spending roughly $50 million more than they did in 2014, and at least equal to what they spent in 2016.

Circling back, Jeff Wilpon also said, "I understand the fan base's frustration."

I would argue he does not.  Because every time ownership says it's not about the money, it usually winds up being about the money.  Therefore the real matter at hand stems from their lack of forthrightness and transparency.

On March 23 Mike Ozanian of Forbes revealed that Citi Field posted revenue of $168 million and net income of $75 million in 2016, then last year generated revenue of $163 million and net income of $97 million - a net increase of $20 million over the previous year.

Why then would ownership be slashing $20 million?

As Mike Ozanian puts it, the $97 million net income was goosed by a $28 million credit for "Requisition of PILOT O&M credits." (Citi Field Expenses: PILOT bond payments in lieu of taxes).

There's the rub ...

That is money ownership knows they will not be realizing again this season.  And considering Citi Field attendance dipped slightly last season, they're apparently hedging themselves (Citi Field) to at least stay steady at $75 million net income.

Think not?

The Mets Opening Day payroll in 2016 was $135 million according to Baseball Prospectus.  Last season, the Mets Opening Day payroll was a club record $155 million.  Then Jeff Wilpon ordered a rollback of $20 million again.  In fact, the Mets will enter this regular season with an adjusted active Opening Day payroll of $123,082,654 million, according to Spotrac.com.

That's no coincidence (injury compensation aside).

This also explains perfectly why Jeff Wilpon reportedly nixed a deal for Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis, whom is still owed over $30 million through the next two seasons.  Sandy Alderson was instead forced to seek alternatives, and wound up signing Todd Frazier for half the money over the same period of time.


In addition to this year's salary commitments, the Mets must also continue making deferred payments to Carlos Beltran, Bret Saberhagen, and Bronx County head of tourism Bobby Bonilla.

That's right ... Bobby Bonilla is still banking Mets money ($1,193,248 million a year to be exact) and will continue collecting Wilpon's wampum until the year 2036.



Monday, March 26, 2018

WWE: Dropping the Ball on "The Boss"

From the desk of:  VINCE SR.'s WORST NIGHTMARE



Before you read this article, do me a favor.  Close your eyes and just think back to some of your favorite WWE matches of all time.  Savage Vs. Steamboat, Hogan Vs. Andre, Rock Vs. Austin, HBK Vs. Taker. 9 times out of 10 you’re going to think of two MEN going head to head to see who’s the best.  Now in the old school, archaic way of wrestling booking, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, in the world of 2018, this is no longer acceptable. In the last couple of decades, women have proven that they can do anything that men can do, in some aspects even outperforming men, and that includes professional wrestling.  

When I was a kid in the late 90’s, I remember my parents allowing me to watch Monday Night Raw, but only certain parts of it.  The women segments would usually be the only parts of the show that my parents forbade me to watch. Bra & Panties matches, Evening Gown Matches and Strip Tease Matches used to be the norm.  I’m honestly surprised there wasn’t a Battle Royale at the Spearmint Rhino. Borderline pornography is not what I watched professional wrestling for. I watch professional wrestling for the athleticism, entertainment and the spectacle, not the possible nudity.  I grew up expecting the women’s matches to be the designated bathroom breaks of any given show. To my pleasant surprise, over the last couple years, the WWE has made a conscious effort to not only make women an integral part of the show but easily some of the best parts of the show.

From Chyna and Alundra Blayze, to Lita and Trish, to Mickie James and Victoria, women’s wrestling has been on a steady incline.  One of the main contributing factors of this is the efforts of the Triple H/Stephanie McMahon connection. Going the opposite way of her sexist father, Stephanie McMahon has pushed women wrestling to the forefront.  This so called “Women’s Evolution” (one of WWE’s favorite buzz words) is led by the many talented women on the roster. At the forefront are the so called Four Horsewomen of NXT: Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Bayley and of course Sasha Banks.  Now don’t get me wrong all these women are insanely talented but Sasha Banks may be the most naturally talented women on the roster.

Charlotte Flair is easily the most athletic, Becky the most technically gifted and Bayley can connect with the audience in a way that few can.  I’m sort of a Sasha Banks mark but that doesn't change the fact that she has something more than the others. More than just a cocky wrestling version of Nicki Minaj, Sasha has that “It” factor that Vince McMahon loves to see in his Superstars.  Her Heel work in NXT was some of the best of any Superstar to come out of developmental. Her TakeOver matches against Bayley are easily some of the best matches in not only NXT history but WWE history. Sasha’s in-ring work speaks for itself and her promo ability and charisma is second to none.

The one glaring problem with Sasha right now is her presentation.  Don’t get me wrong, her win loss streak is solid and she’s consistently featured on Raw.  The big thing is that she is not presented as the top woman on the show which is exactly what she should be.  I enjoy Alexa Bliss’s work as champ and I think she’s done well carrying the brand but it’s time for Sasha to step back into the main spotlight.  Last year Sasha was main eventing pay per views against Charlotte. Now she’s shoehorned into constant multi women tag matches with no payoff.

Currently Sasha’s engaged in a storyline with her best friend Bayley.  The two of them have their issues going back to Sasha’s constant betrayals of Bayley over the last couple months.  If Sasha would fully turn heel on Bayley, they could have the opportunity to put on the best matches on Raw and tell a great story over the course of several ppv’s like they did in NXT.  Now that might happen down the line but for right now it looks like both women are being crammed into the Women’s Battle Royal at Wrestlemania. Their storyline should come to a head during the match and hopefully lead to some exciting singles matches between the two.  

If WWE doesn’t finally pull the trigger on the Sasha heel turn and give us the big Sasha vs. Bayley rivalry, Sasha’s path is clear: a move to Smackdown.  The Boss herself has stated she would have preferred to have been drafted to Smackdown over Raw. Aside from a big program with Bayley, Sasha has done everything she can on Raw.  Sasha can move to Smackdown and be the top heel of the women’s division over there. Fresh matches against her fellow Horsewoman Becky Lynch or her former Team B.A.D. member Naomi.  Sasha has shown that anytime she steps in the ring with Asuka it can be a phenomenal match. With Asuka poised to win the title from Charlotte at Wrestlemania and move over to Smackdown, a feud between her and Sasha can be the premiere program on the “B-Show.”

Whatever the company chooses to do with Sasha next, it has to be big.  She’s easily one of the most talented Superstars on the roster and she has the backing of future king, Triple H.  Sasha could have a big 2018 that could easily eclipse what she did last year. If anyone remembers, last year Sasha beat Charlotte for the strap 3 times of the course of an insane series of matches.  Only problem she dropped the title in her first title defense...EVERY TIME. Something like that cannot happen again. 2018 has to be the year of The Boss and she has to be allowed to thrive in the top spot the way we all know she can.

Michael III


WWE: The Return of YEStlemania

From the desk of:  VINCE SR.'s WORST NIGHTMARE


I first became passionate about wrestling as a single-digit midget back in the mid 1970s when all territories were still under the umbrella of the NWA and kayfabe 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 ring 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 territory system.  Vince Jr. would argue in the same spirit that Brett Hart screwed Brett Hart, the various territory owners killed the various 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.



Well, it happened.  Hell froze over. Pigs flew.  Cats and Dogs got along. Daniel Bryan finally got cleared by WWE doctors for in-ring competition. 

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

The WWE Universe’s fascination with chants and repetition is about to double now that Daniel Bryan can wrestle again.  After being forced to retire at the peak of his popularity due to concussion issues, D-Bry is finally back in business. Daniel Bryan is without a doubt one of the most popular and lovable WWE Superstars in recent memory.  His underdog spirit and never say die attitude resonate with WWE fans. His real appeal is that this guy should have never been in the top spot at all.

Unlike guys like John Cena, Batista, or Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryan was not manufactured by the WWE machine.  Bryan honed his skills all over the world in the indie scene before finally making his way to the big time. Guys like Bryan, CM Punk, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn are seen by the old school higher ups as guys that don’t belong in the main event spot.  Big dudes with big muscles and big hair seem to always be the prototypical main eventers in Vinnie Mac’s eyes, but thank the Lord above that that particular perception has shifted in recent years. Guys the size of Daniel Bryan are seen as solid mid-carders at best and the “system” doesn't want him or any one like him in the top spot.  This way of thinking played out in a very real way on our TV screens during the build up to Wrestlemania 30.

Daniel Bryan was easily the most popular guy in the company at the time.  His Yes! chants took over not only WWE shows but made their way into NFL and NHL stadiums around the country.  No matter how popular he was, unfortunately the WWE did not want to pull the trigger on him. Throughout 2013 and the beginning of 2014, Daniel Bryan established himself as the best in ring worker and most “over” wrestler in the world.  Bryan was phased out in favor of perennial main eventer and charisma vacuum Randy Orton. Triple H put his trusty shovel to Bryan more times than I care to count. Batista got to come back from a stint in Hollywood and step right over Daniel Bryan and into the main event of Wrestlemania.  Hell even Stephanie McMahon was portrayed in a better light than D-Bry. But all of that nonsense was not enough to deter the power of the WWE Universe.

The emperors of ancient Rome knew that when fear wasn’t a good tactic to win over the people, they would actually appeal to what they wanted.  Through the power of the Roman Colosseum, the people of Rome were given a voice over what gladiators they wanted to see live or die, and the powers that be obliged them.  The crowd proved they had power and the system had to cave into what the mob wanted. This is similar to what happened at the beginning of 2014. Daniel Bryan was riding high and the crowd expected him to overthrow the Authority and win the 2014 Royal Rumble.  Not only did he not win, he wasn’t even entered in it. Daniel Bryan, the most popular superstar of the last decade was not entered into a Royal Rumble that from a storyline standpoint he should have 100% won. Oh, and the Rumble was in Philadelphia that year. You know, Philly, the city that burns down whether their sports teams win or lose.  A fanbase that threw things at Santa Claus ... Friggin Santa Claus. The Philly crowd booed the entire Rumble match and even booed Rey Mysterio when he entered at Number 30, the number everyone was holding out for Daniel Bryan to be. How the city of Brotherly Love didn’t burn down that night is still beyond me.

Batista would win just like everyone was hoping he wouldn’t.  The next few weeks saw the fans boycott WWE shows to the point that the company had no choice but to change all their plans for Wrestlemania.  Add to the fact that around this time CM Punk had taken his ball and went home, the original main event plans were completely nixed. Bryan was set to face Triple H with the winner advancing to the main event to challenge Batista and Orton in a triple threat.  Bryan would win both matches and gave the fans a feel good moment that they had not seen in a long time. The scene was similar to what happened 10 years prior when Chris Benoit beat Triple H and HBK in a triple threat in the main event of Mania to finally win the big one.  Although that moment has been all but obliterated from WWE collective memory for obvious reasons, Daniel Bryan gave us another feel good moment to finally be proud of.

It was one of us that was beating the system.  Daniel Bryan is our guy. He’s not a genetic freak like Cena or Reigns, and he’s not the most charismatic guy like say, the Rock.  He’s just Daniel Bryan and that’s honestly enough. As things stand right now, Daniel seems poised to team up with Shane McMahon to take on Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.  That’s a decent match to get him started up but honestly every hardcore fan is salivating for what comes after that. Things have changed drastically since Bryan was forced to retire.  Although the product falters from time to time, the fact is that the WWE has easily their most talented roster of all time at the moment. AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, the Miz, Seth Rollins hell even Roman Reigns.  The amount of quality matches Daniel Bryan can have with the current roster is friggin staggering. That’s not even counting the crop of guys coming up from NXT. Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, Aleister Black, and Andrade Almas are all capable of putting on Match of the Year candidates with D-Bry.

Long story, I’m hyped that Daniel Bryan is back and all of the fans are as well.  Vince and Triple H understand the obsession the fans have with Daniel Bryan and hopefully they do everything possible to make sure Daniel Bryan is in a top spot again.  More importantly than what we want though is what’s safest for Daniel Bryan. The risk of getting re-injured is always there but I know everyone involved will make sure to protect this guy while also allowing him to put on the greatest matches possible. 

YEStlemania is back baby, and if everything works out 2018 can be one of the best years for wrestling in a long time.

Michael III

Old School Rebuttal:
I got two words for you: Boy Scout. Bob Backlund was the ultimate boy scout. I loved him. The crowd loved him. He was the new champ for an emerging ten-year old fan base growing up in the post Bruno Sammartino era. He was also the last of the old school champions. Vince Sr. actually caught a lot of heat from the other territory bookers/owners for keeping him over as long as he did. Looking back all these years later, I now understand why the other territories felt Backlund was bad for business. The role of common layman doesn't work unless he's hopelessly oppressed. A series of competitive matches won't be enough to get Daniel Bryan over and keep him over - not with Vince's limited view of welterweights. Bryan needs a ruthless heel by his side in order to continue drawing compassion from the fans. Therefore if WWE does indeed put Daniel Bryan over, I suggest they beat him down every chance they get - perhaps even follow a storyline which mercilessly seeks to once and for all end his career. How can he remain a legitimately sympathetic baby face otherwise? Even then, there's only so much they can wring out of his small frame and over boy scout image. What follows if today's audience is far less patient than my generation was? There's no way in hell this generation could have tolerated six years of Bob Backlund holding onto the belt like mine did. In fact, the Iron Shiek screw job remains fresh in my memory. Fans were up in arms over a perceived miscarriage of squared-circle justice. Wrestlers can't hold a title for three months these days without fans lamenting a script change. And so here we are. Daniel Bryan is today's Bob Backlund. Unfortunately for Bryan, once upon a time a guy named Hulk Hogan emerged on the wrestling scene riding a wave of self-righteous patriotism. It was the 1980's, and he imbued the decade perfectly as one of the many new strains of social disease afflicting the nation. Blame the real American Terry Bollea, aka Hulkamania, for inaugurating the self-absorbed Me! Me! Me! Me! Me! era of sports entertainment. He stabbed Bob Backlund square in the back, but no one seemed to care. I guess we were unknowingly ready for change. In fact, the psuedo vitamin pushing Hulkster ignited a bigger pop than anyone at the time could have imagined. Right then and there, the business changed. We just didn't seem to notice when territories began eradicating their stock of boy scouts. Hulkamania rendered them extinct. And therein lies the potential fate of the next innocuous champion.

Mike II


Sunday, March 25, 2018

N.Y. Islanders: A Sinkhole Grows In Brooklyn

From the desk of:  NO SLEEP TILL BELMONT


Last Place: Metropolitan Division
Last Place: Metropolitan Area

New York Islanders: Just When You Thought It Could Get Worse, It Did ...

The New York Islanders were still above .500 on Dec. 31, 2017, albeit only barley with a 20-15-4 record.

Then 2018 hit them like a wrecking ball.

The Boston Bruins showed up at Barclays Center on the night of Jan. 2 with permits in hand to commence demolition of the local hockey season.  That night's loss to the Bruins dropped the Islanders down to par, but more effectively served as a preliminary watering down of the greater Flatbush Avenue area in preparation of the real implosion to come - all approved by chief architect Garth Snow, that is.

The Islanders are now 11-19-6 in this calendar year.  They enter Monday's game against the Florida Panthers with a 31-34-10 overall record (72-points), and firmly anchored in last place of the Metropolitan Division.  Between Feb. 19 and March 8 they lost eight in a row.  Otherwise, they're just 2-6-3 in March with seven games left in the regular season.

I would love to know what Jonathan Ledecky is thinking at this very moment, considering the new owner needs a new general manager; a new head coach; a new goalie; and a more committed compliment of two-way players and better skilled defensemen in particular.

There's also a good chance he may need a new franchise player if he fails to retain pending unrestricted free agent John Tavares. By the time Ledecky and Co. open their new arena at Belmont, Tavares will be 30-years old.  If he was unsure about extending his career with the Islanders before, then there's every chance the Islanders present condition could reinforce any inclination Tavares may harbor to leave.

And I wouldn't blame him, because what transpired this season is a disgrace.  Not that I'm an Islanders fan; I'm not.  I believe my readers know that.

But I'm sure any fan would agree that we're talking about one of the most bipolar teams in all of hockey.  For a great majority of the season, the Islanders were among the league's top leaders in goals scored and power play percentage.  At the same time, they've consistently been among the league's very worst in goals against and penalty kill percentage.

If you are a fan, that sort of stuff is infuriating.


N.J. Devils: Where The Wild Teams Are

From the desk of:  THE BRICK CITY STYX


Home Sweet Home

New Jersey Devils: A Triumphant Return To The Rock.

Catch your breath Devils fans.  This is your last two-day break in the regular season.

Starting Tuesday, they'll have thirteen days left with which to squeeze in their final seven games of the season.  That means they'll be playing every other night from here on out, including a back-to-back set at the turn of the month.

All this leaves little time for reflecting upon their team's achievements to date.  When in truth, they have already embarked on something special.  The rebuilding Devils finished last season with 70 points, and weren't expected to be much better entering this season.  Player development was supposed to be their primary focus.  But a funny thing happened on the way to Spring.  They won their 39th game of the season on Saturday, their most since 2011-2012 when they last qualified for post-season play.  They are also only two points shy of matching their 88 points of 2013-2014.  The last Devils team to achieve ninety points in a season were, again, the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup contenders.  Therefore, with regard to the rest of this season the only lingering question is how far can these young new breed demons take this?

After jumping out to an 8-2-0 start in October, they were still 22-10-6 by New Year's Eve.  However, a 3-6-2 record through the dog days of January suggested the time had arrived for Newark to finally find its true level in this year's standings.  Instead, the Devils regrouped to post an 8-6-0 record in February.  They opened March with an overall 33-22-8 record, and are 6-6-0 to date.

But what a month it has been.  Only now are the Devils finally getting a breather after skating through a gauntlet of top Western Conference contenders, and having to play the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the Eastern Conference top seed Tampa Bay Lightning on back-to-back nights.  And they damn near defeated them all.  After consecutive victories at Nashville, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, they sustained humbling back-to-back losses at Anaheim and San Jose.  On their way back east, the Devils stopped off in Pittsburgh where they defeated the Penguins in overtime on Friday.  Then, after seventeen days away from the Rock, they finally returned home and short circuited the Lightning on short rest.

With 86 points, Newark leads ninth place Florida by three points, but with nine games left on their schedule the Panthers have two games in hand.  And so if the Devils are to stave off Florida, they must open and maintain at least a four point lead before they're done.  Their season ends on April 7, while the Panthers close out their season a day later.

DEVILS
  • Home (5): Penguins, Maple Leafs, Rangers, Islanders, Hurricanes.
  • Away (2): Capitals, Canadiens.
PANTHERS
  • Home (4): Bruins, Predators, Hurricanes, Sabres.
  • Away (5); Bruins(2), Maple Leafs, Islanders, Senators.

In any event, this much is clear: The New Jersey Devils are back on top of the three-team NYC metropolitan area division.

They have the best head coach (John Hynes) of the three teams.  And until Jeff Gorton's rebuild at MSG garners similar results, Ray Shero is arguably the better general manager (Garth Snow is easily last).  The Islanders John Tavares is the best center in town, but for how much longer?  Okay, the Isles also have Mathew Barzal.  Otherwise, rookie Nico Hischier is neck and neck in points with the more experienced NYR top center Mika Zibanejad.

Just saying ...



Thursday, March 22, 2018

N.Y. Mets: Anger in the Outfield

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET



New York Mets: Michael Conforto is the axis upon which spins all my outfield angst.

Michael Conforto is a left fielder by nature, having started 145 minor league games in left, just seven in center, and none in right.

Yet, he is unable to play left field for the Mets because that position belongs to Yoenis Cespedes, whom not incidentally owns one of the strongest arms in baseball.  Only problem is, he must play right field if the Mets are to maximize that attribute.  Although Cespedes has been only somewhat agreeable to playing center field in the past, he still remains adamantly opposed to playing right field today.

Therefore, the Mets shifted Michael Conforto over to right.  His transition went smoothly right up until the club acquired right fielder Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds, forcing Conforto to accommodate yet another player by moving to center.

This is what you call jerking around your prospects - in this case, you're best positional prospect.  The Mets draft players, develop them, but generally fail at integrating them into a greater progressive operation at the major league level.  I can speculate why.  For the moment, however, I'm content blaming Sandy Alderson and his disjointed team building methods.

Team building ... part of which means being strong up the middle.

Where it concerns Jay Bruce, I was originally against his acquisition because it involved exchanging second base prospect Dilson Herrera.  My former hopes lay in Herrera and Amed Rosario manning the middle infield, with Michael Conforto playing right field.  In turn, Sandy should have been seeking out a legitimate center fielder that could have equally satisfied their need for a lead-off hitter.

Today, the Mets still lack an effective lead-off hitter; are relying on a patchwork system at second base; and are still going with a corner outfielder playing out of position in center.

There's still hope ... for me that is.

Dominic Smith has proven himself unprepared for major league duty, and I have no faith Adrian Gonzalez will work out at first base.  Therefore if the Mets go with Jay Bruce at first base, and Conforto moves over to right, I'd be perfectly content with Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares platooning in center.

In fact, I welcome it.

Since Michael Conforto is still recovering from shoulder surgery, rushing him back prior to May 1st would be complete folly.  There's no reason for the Mets to act with haste when indeed they have Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares available.

Moreover, I was very happy when Sandy Alderson refused to include Nimmo in any potential deal for Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen - not because of any lack of interest in McCutchen, but because I did not want to relinquish Nimmo.  He turns 25-years old in another five days, and to date he's put together a fine spring performance, slashing .283/.361/.585, with eight extra base hits and ten RBI through 17 Grapefruit League games.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds: Thanks Guys

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH



LIU BROOKLYN BLACKBIRDS
NORTHEAST CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS
2018
1984  1997  2011  2012  2013


Congratulations LIU Blackbirds on another fine season, and for winning a sixth Northeast Conference championship, and to you Derek Kellogg, for guiding them to a title in your first season as head coach.

Thank you all for the gift of bragging rights by defeating outer-Borough rival Wagner in the conference finals, and one last thanks for representing the County of Kings yet again during this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

BROOKLYN PRIDE
GO BLACKBIRDS

BROOKLYN NETS ~ LIU BLACKBIRDS
THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH




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




II - PITCHERS and CATCHERS


  • 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..!

SUNDAY
New Jersey Devils
vs.
Anaheim Ducks
FROM
DisneyPlace

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.