Sunday, March 31, 2013

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

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

Next Stop - Roosevelt Avenue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's Go Mets!


Saturday, March 30, 2013

N.Y. Mets: Johan Santana's Situation Cuts Like A Knife

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

NEW YORK METS - The Way Johan Santana And The Mets Will Part Ways Is More Typical Than The Days Of Fishing Poles And Cadillacs.

I appreciate what Johan did for the Mets.  I really do.  He brought a sense of accountability to the team.  Were it not for Tom Glavine, every one's spin regarding Johan Santana might sound very different today.  But I moved on.  Not because I want to kick Johan while he's down.  I moved on as part of an overall rebuilding mentality.  So truth is, I wrote off Johan Santana from Mets plans last season.  I have been in purge mode ever since Sandy Alderson came on board.  My own haste as a fan was in seeing this roster transitioned.  In two seasons, I feel matters have progressed satisfactorily.  I didn't mind at all, that the general manager took the pitcher to task when Johan reported in February unprepared to pitch.  My only regret is Johan Santana is officially unmovable now.  If this all sounds a bit cold, I do not mean it to be.  Simply, my focus is, and has been on 2014 and beyond.  That was the general manager's originally stated plan.  And that's what I'm holding him to.  At present, that means  investing my attention in Matt Harvey, Jon Niese, Zach Wheeler, Dillon Gee, and now, Jeremy Hefner as well.

Looking back on Johan Santana's no-hitter, one could argue Terry Collins prophesied this very moment.  Immediately after the game, Coach expressed his concern and personal fears the game could have negatively impacted the Mets ace.  I hope Terry Collins hasn't lost sleep for leaving Johan on the mound to throw 130+ pitches that night.  Terry was unfortunately caught in a - damned if you do, damned if you don't - situation.  Instead, on several occasions, this blog expressed displeasure with the Mets decision to announce Johan Santana would open the 2012 regular season while still only in the second week of Spring Training.  I asked why?  Than asked WHY?...again.  What was the rush to get him on the mound so soon?  I'm not about to rehash recent medical staff blunders, or how Fred Wilpon's need for a decent gate may have instigated the decision to possibly push Johan; because I think it did.  I am merely saying the haste in which the Mets decided to announce Johan as the opening day starter, in my opinion, was riddled with folly from the word go.  Whether the rush to have him open the 2012 season contributed to Johan's present situation, or whether it was the no-hitter, or his misguided bullpen session earlier this spring, or when he reportedly threw a baseball in frustration over the outfield wall - while they could all be equally contributing factors, they are all still speculative.

In any event, Johan Santana's 2013 season is over before it ever began.  Sandy Alderson is right.  I guess we'll never really know how or when Johan Santana re-injured his shoulder.  There's something I still do not understand though.  Johan recently had an MRI, but the club still only suspects a tear in his shoulder. Yet, they will be operating on Santana's shoulder for the second time this coming Tuesday.  So much for certainty.

In Baseball, "the end" is usually an unpleasant affair.  This doesn't happen just to the Mets.  This happens everywhere - even the Bronx.  Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada both met unceremonious ends.  Andy Pettitte was treated rather shabbily before heading to Houston.  And most recently, Derek Jeter endured a very public and contentious contract negotiation.  Unfortunately, as in Johan Santana's case, when expectations get thwarted by injury, everyone feels the pain.  It really strikes a nerve when a team's high-end, high priced player goes under the knife.

These days, contentious divorces are more common than receiving gift cows, a fishing pole, and getting the Cadillac treatment.  Ultimately, someone always feels like they're getting cheated.  The investment into Santana was warranted back in 2008.  There is no denying that.  However, without throwing one regular season pitch, Johan Santana will be paid $31 million dollars this season.  That's a difficult pill to swallow.  It's a shame...really.  It is what it is.  But that's why fans kind of feel under under the blade as well.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

LIU Blackbirds: The Madness Begins Against James Madison

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH


James Madison Dukes
Dayton, Ohio
LIU/BROOKLYN BLACKBIRDS - Flatbush Faces James Madison Dukes In First Bout Of March Madness.

Somehow, the lords of basketball and TV money changers found yet another brilliant method to increase the size of their sanctimonious revenue pie.  Call Wednesday's contest what you will.  We're being sold on the notion this is a first round game.  In opposition to my biased home town fervor, I know better.  But I'll call this the opening game of this year's tournament just to play along.

Playing in the East Region, the Blackbirds must first play through James Madison before truly earning the distinction of being the sixteenth seed.  Should LIU win, they will have the pleasure of competing against number one seed Indiana on Friday.

In his first season as Blackbirds coach, Jack Perri helped his veteran team play through the loss of 2012 NEC Player of the Year, Julian Boyd.  The Blackbirds finished as the three seed in the Northeast Conference with a 20-13 overall record.  However, LIU defeated Mount St. Mary's to earn this year's NEC title, and a berth in this year's tournament.  This will be the fifth NCAA tournament appearance for the men's program, and their third in a row; coinciding with their three consecutive Northeast Conference titles.  In the university's last two bouts with March Madness under Coach Ferry, they fell to North Carolina and Michigan State.

The Blackbirds are a much more experienced club than the James Madison Dukes.  Their top two scorers this season were 2013 NEC Player of the Year, Jamal Olasewere, who averaged 18.9 points, and 8.5 rebounds per game.  Guard, C.J. Garner, this year's NEC Tourney MVP, was the Blackbirds second leading scorer, averaging 16.1 points per game.  Guard Jason Brickman was the nation's leader in assists.  He averaged 8.5 this season.  All three players participated in last season's Madness.  The Blackbirds have six players overall who've participated in a tournament game.  Meanwhile, the James Madison Dukes, who finished with a 20-14 record this season and placed fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association, are making their first tournament appearance since the 1994 season.

These two teams only met twice before, with James Madison winning both.  The last time came in 2000.  Entering Wednesday's game, James Madison is the favorite, considered the more talented on offense. They might face a more daunting time defeating LIU this time around.  This report says James Madison coach Matt Brady is suspending his top scorer and rebounder, Rayshawn Goins, as per James Madison policy, for the first half of Wednesday's game against the Blackbirds.  He was arrested for minor offenses stemming from a party.  LIU meanwhile, has averaged over ninety points per game over their last four contests, and have topped ninety points in five of their last six games.  Their season long 79.9 points per game average ranked fifth in all the nation.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams Blows By Pistons

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

NETS    119
Pistons    82

BROOKLYN NETS - The Brooks Do Their Part By Opening Road Trip With Win In Detroit.  A Knicks Loss In Utah Tonight Creates A Tie For Atlantic Division Lead.

With a series of losses out west, the Knicks set up the Nets to gain a share of first place.  But the Brooks couldn't take advantage.  How close were they?  Oh, right..., P.J. doesn't care.  After four days of rest, and three quarters at Barclays Center against the Hawks on Sunday night, the Nets held a 73-71 lead.  Prior to Nets tip-off, the Knicks lost earlier in the day to the L.A. Clippers, which brought the Nets within a half-game of the first place Knickerbockers.  Then, the fourth quarter rolled around, and the Nets broke out in the same rash that has afflicted them this season every time they get within a half court shot of the Knicks.  The Nets lost the fourth quarter 34-20, and the game by a 105-93 score.  Sunday's was the latest in a few recent failed opportunities to contest first place.

Brooklyn still started Monday night's game only one back of the leader - not a bad place to be with eighteen games left.  But the fear was they might have started their eight game road trip on the wrong foot.  Just don't tell that to Deron Williams.  By the end of the first quarter in Detroit, Williams had already posted fourteen points.  He didn't quite get enough elevation and got blocked on one particular dunk attempt.  Otherwise, Deron Williams was a one man wrecking crew, while showing no ill effects from a pair of bad ankles.

Brooklyn took a 59-45 lead into halftime.  But that's always been the easy part - building leads.  The hard part has been keeping them.  This season has been marred by too many late game lapses of - you name it.

By 6:30 left in the third quarter, the Nets were up by twenty.  Brooklyn owned a 69-49 lead, despite another Joe Johnson disappearance.  To this point, his contribution added up to eight points, two rebounds, and no assists.  Brook Lopez had eighteen, and Deron Williams was up to twenty.  Crash and Reggie Evans, continuing to start at PF, were combining on just four points.  However, Reggie Evans was single-handedly out-rebounding everybody.  As play continued, forty-two of the Pistons' fifty-six points came in the paint.  It didn't seem to matter.  At the close of the third quarter, the Nets owned a convincing 90-59 lead, led by Deron Williams' thirty-one points.  Joe Johnson was up to thirteen points.

By this time, the Knicks were still an hour away from tipping off in Utah against the Jazz.  Meanwhile, with 9:30 to go in the fourth quarter against Detroit, the Nets were up by thirty points; 94-64.  At the 7:00 mark, the Nets broke 100 points.  By the 6:00 mark, Coach P.J. emptied the bench sending Blatch, Stackhouse, Teletovic, Brooks, and Watson on the floor.

The final score was 119-82.  Deron Williams finished with a game high thirty-one points.

The Nets should feel good about bouncing back and starting what will be a daunting road trip with a win.  There was much to feel embarrasment over following Sunday night's let down.  Should the team rejoice this win came against what is now a 23-46 Detroit team?  No, hardly.  But for a change, Monday's win over the Pistons commits the Knicks to a response later in the night.  If the Knicks lose tonight in Salt Lake City, the Brooks gotta feel just a little appreciation with their situation moving forward.

It's game time in Salt Lake City!


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Brooklyn Nets: Atlantic Division Title Up For Grabs

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

BROOKLYN NETS - The Atlantic Division Flag Can Be Won If The Brooks Stay Consistent Through An Eight Game Road Trip.

A Nets Win Coupled With A Knicks Loss On Sunday Creates A Tie
For The Atlantic Division Lead.
1) - Knicks  38-25   .603
2) - NETS    38-27   .585

If no one believed a tangible rivalry existed between the Knicks and Nets before, the two teams are now sitting on a powder keg.  The Nets are just four wins away from clinching their first playoff berth since Jason Kidd led them into the 2007 post-season.  Jason Kidd and recently added Kenyon Martin are now trying to help stave off the Nets as members of the New York Knicks.  If the Nets overtake the Knicks, and hold on to win an Atlantic Division title instead of the heavily favored Knickerbockers, this town is sure to go BOOM! - sending shock waves through every city playground from Coney Island up to Rucker Park.  Not to mention, a division flag would be a giant step forward for Mikhail Prokhorov, and a major blow to James Dolan.

Perchance to dream, or seize the moment?  Which will it be?

Spring nears.  For the Nets, opportunity lies closer.  The NBA's regular season is coming around the far turn, and heading into the home stretch.  The Atlantic Division is less settled now, than at any other time this season.  One game separates Brooklyn from the New York Knicks, and first place.   Thank the Knicks horrendous west coast swing and current three game losing streak for setting up a super Sunday of hoops.  The Nets will host the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center.  While the Knicks continue their problematic road trip against the L.A. Clippers.  A Nets win and a Knicks loss, will result in a tie for the Atlantic Division lead.

The Nets enter Sunday's game with a 38-27 record.  They are 22-13 at home, and 2-1 versus the Hawks this season.  The Nets won the last two meetings.  Atlanta won the first game between them. The Hawks are in fifth place (tied with Chicago), just two games behind fourth seeded Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference standings.

Seventeen games remain in Brooklyn's inaugrual season.  After defeating New Orleans this past  Tuesday, Flatbush has been idle the last four days.  The Nets will certainly need the rest.  After facing the Hawks, Brooklyn will embark on an eight game, seventeen day road trip that will take them through Detroit, Dallas, L.A. (Clippers), Phoenix, Portland, Denver, Utah, and finally Cleveland. Such a swing can potentially make or break Brooklyn's season.  So far they are 16-14 on the road.  Should they survive the journey in relatively decent shape, five of their last eight games of the season will be played at Barclays.

After a remarkable 18-5 start, the Knicks are playing exactly .500 basketball since.  One of those five losses came on November 26th against the Nets in the first ever meeting between the boroughs.  Another way of viewing the Knicks season is they are playing under .500 basketball since Christmas.  Pick your poison.  Their season long strangle-hold on the Atlantic Division last came under threat on February 22nd, when a Nets win over Houston could have placed them within a game of the division lead.  But the Nets lost to the Rockets and failed to close the gap.  This past Tuesday they had another chance to close within 1 1/2 games of the Knicks, but failed again with a brutal loss to Philadelphia.

This time, the Knicks lured Brooklyn to within one game by their own device.  Or should I say, demise?  Amare Stoudemire was recently lost for the rest of the regular season, and for the moment, Carmelo Anthony appears to be a compromised (knee) player, and will remain so, for the foreseeable future.  Melo will benefit from the Knicks two day break in the schedule.  But how effectively will he perform down the stretch?  Watching Melo play these last two games with an ailing knee, and listening to him comment afterwards, provided ample reason to wonder if he can continue the pounding it takes to succeed through June.

Meanwhile, I'd say the Nets two biggest concerns have been Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.  Accused of not being as dynamic as advertised prior to the start of the season, Brooklyn's front court certainly have had their problems this season.  However, dynamic is exactly what Deron Williams has been since receiving treatment on his barking ankles.  He is currently playing the best ball of his Nets career, at just the right time.  After missing a few games, Deron's back-court mate is making a return from a bruised heel.  Joe Johnson is expected to play Sunday against his former team.  If he can remain healthy down the final stretch of the season, Joe is going to bury buckets in crunch time.  Otherwise, the Nets have no major injuries to speak of.  Other than playing time and personnel issues at forward, they are heading into the stretch run in good shape.  The Knicks however, seem to be  creeping towards an injurious, and ruinous finish.  Outside of Tyson Chandler, the Knicks are presently facing some type of dilemma at every position.

If the Nets want it, the Atlantic Division can be had.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

N.Y. Mets: 2013 Bullpen

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

NEW YORK METS - Building A Better Bullpen.

The bad news - Bobby Parnell blew Wednesday's Grapefruit League game.  The good news - only 3,908 fans saw it.  Of course that's unfair to say.  But it's spring training for fans too.  I'm just trying to get in shape - like Sandy's bullpen remix.  Compared to last year's unit, and despite Frank Francisco's prolonged elbow issue, you can't help but feel a little better about this year's group of bullpen candidates.  Despite taking a cheap shot at Parnell, Wednesday was his first hiccup in Grapefruit League action.  Prior to surrendering four runs (three earned) against the Nats, Bobby hadn't allowed an earned run in six innings.  Until Frank Francisco is game ready, Bobby Parnell is still tentatively scheduled to start the season as the Mets closer.

From the right side, Brandon Lyon and Scott Atchison have combined to pitch nine innings.  They've allowed five hits and three earned runs.  Together they have issued one walk and struck out five.

Corey Mazzoni is certainly doing enough to earn a seat on the bus trip back north.  But will the Mets allow the clock on this twenty-three year old to start ticking so soon?  Or will the club delay his MLB debut till late April or beyond, as the rules for service time change?  Although he escaped the first round of 40-man roster cuts, odds are Corey starts the season in Las Vegas.  In 2012, Mazzoni pitched in twelve games at St. Lucie, then made fourteen appearances at Binghamton.  So far, Corey has participated in four Grapefruit games, compiling seven strikeouts in eight innings pitched.

In truth, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia remain as unfamiliar to us as they were two years ago, when we were hyping them as the future.  At least with Familia, we are starting to get a regular view.  He has tossed six innings so far, allowing three hits, and striking out four.  Jenrry Mejia, however, has been limited to two innings so far.  Visa issues caused him to arrive late to camp.  Jenrry then missed time when he was discovered to have a hyper-active thyroid gland.  He has since been cleared to resume his life and told to lay off the seafood.

It is hard to say where Greg Burke; the sub-mariner; stands in the eyes of Sandy Alderson.  In 6.1 innings, he has allowed seven hits and four earned runs.  However, he struck out eight with no walks.  His ERA sits at a lofty 5.68 mark.  And lastly, LaTroy Hawkins seems to have made a friend in Terry Collins.

I think the Mets have issues from the left side.  As their top southpaw, Josh Edgin has been getting hit around some, allowing nine hits in six innings of work.  The Mets are hoping he avoids a sophomore slump as it relates to hurlers.  After stepping in last year in the manner which he did, Edgin made himself indispensable to the Mets entering this season.  Robert Carson hasn't fared much better.  In seven innings, he has allowed eight hits, and five earned runs.  Third in, free agent pick-up Aaron Laffey is yet to surrender an earned run in 5.2 innings pitched, but has allowed seven hits.

With all due respect to Pedro Feliciano, you would be hard pressed to find another left-hander headed north with the team.  It is hard to say what Pedro can offer the Mets.  My guess is, not much; not this time.  The other lefty the Mets had in camp was Darin Gorski, who was re-assigned to AA-Binghamton along with some of his fellow Spring mates.

As part of the first round of cuts to get within the 40-man limit, the Mets re-assigned Gonzalez Germen, and Gorski as mentioned, to Binghamton.  Colin McHugh, Elvin Ramirez, and most notably, Zach Wheeler, have been re-assigned to AAA-Las Vegas.  Hansel Robles gets a promotion from Brooklyn, to Savannah.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

LIU Blackbirds: Flatbush Hoops Win Third Straight NEC Title

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

Long Island University/Brooklyn Blackbirds
Northeast Conference
Mount St. Mary's  70
LIU/Brooklyn         91 

LIU/BROOKLYN BLACKBIRDS - The Old Gang Did It Again.  C.J. Garner Scores A Game High Thirty-One Points; Jamal Olasewere Leads All Players In Rebounding; Jason Brickman Leads Everyone In Assists.

Blackbirds Win Third Consecutive NEC Title
Heading Back To The NCAA Tournament

With 1:46 left in the second half, NEC Player of the Year, senior, Jamal Olasewere, punctuated Tuesday night's title game at the Wellness Center with a thunderous reverse dunk that put the Blackbirds ahead 86-67 over Mount St. Mary's.  The ignited crowd stayed on their feet from then on.  As time expired, the WRAC turned to revelry.  The Hoops of Flatbush became three time repeat champions of the Northeast Conference.
Head Coach Jack Perri wins the NEC title in his first season at the helm.  The way back to the title game was not a road easily travelled.  The Blackbirds had quite a bit of adversity to overcome.  However, LIU's overwhelming experience prevailed.  Minus injured senior Julian Boyd, LIU's starting line-up stepped onto their home court replete with four returning champion players from last season.  Some congratulations should perhaps be sent former coach Jim Ferry's way for the program he built, and left behind.  This third championship is a testament to superior effort he put into the university.
Against the Mountaineers, the Blackbirds were led by senior guard, C.J. Garner.  He led all scorers with thirty-one points with a stellar 13/17 shooting performance from the floor.  Jamal Olasewere was second high for the Blackbirds with fifteen points.  He led all players with ten rebounds; nine came on the defensive end.  And junior, Jason Brickman; the nations leading ball distributor; led all players with eight assists.  Also returning from last season, Kenny Onyechi added eleven points, and seven boards.  Back-up guard, Gerrell Martin contributed twelve points off the bench.
The Mountaineers actually had five players score in double digits.  Guard, Sam Prescott, led The Mount with twenty-one points.
Brooklyn shot 61.4% from the floor on 35/57 shooting.  Mount St. Mary's struggled to shoot 39.7% from the floor.  Perhaps born of desperation, the Mountaineers hoisted up thirty-one three-point attempts, only converting on nine for a 29% mark.  Brooklyn only put up nine shots from behind the arch, converting on five.  LIU nearly doubled Mount St. Mary's efforts at the foul line.  Brooklyn took twenty-one shots from the stripe, making sixteen for a 76% mark.  The Mountaineers, spending most of their time behind the three point line, didn't drive the lane much, and as a result, only took eleven shots from the free throw line.  Brooklyn also won the battle of the boards, out-rebounding Mount St. Mary's by a 36-27 margin.
Next - Selection Sunday; March 17th.

L.I.U. Blackbirds: Flatbush Goes For Third Straight NEC Title Tonight

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

Northeast Conference Championship Game
The Wellness Center, Ashland Place

LIU BLACKBIRDS - First Year Coach Jack Perri Has Flatbush In Position To Win Third Consecutive NEC Title.

* Jamal Olasewere - 2013 NEC Player of the Year
* Jason Brickman - Led nation in assists.

The back-to-back Northeast Conference Champions have returned to defend their title, although it didn't always seem they would.  Even before the regular season commenced, their year got off to a tumultuous start.  Several team members were involved in an on-campus altercation which required a response from law enforcement, and earned three Blackbirds starters, plus a fourth player, school issued suspensions.  Making matters on the court worse, last season's NEC Player of the Year, senior, Julian Boyd was lost to a season ending injury.

Under first year coach Jack Perri, the Blackbirds stumbled out of the starting bloc.  As part of the season opening Barclays Center Classic, LIU lost their first four games.  They followed with a five game win streak.  But ended their out-of-conference schedule with another three straight losses, most notably to #8 Kentucky.  They finished their out-of-conference schedule with a 5-7 record.

To begin Northeast Conference play, the Blackbirds continued to lose their first three games beginning with Sacred Heart, followed by Quinnipiac, then a third loss to Wagner.  Finally, on January 12th, the Blackbirds defeated Mount St. Mary's, whom they will face tonight in the Northeast Conference Championship game being played inside downtown Brooklyn's Ashland Place gym; or as it's properly named, the Wellness Center.  LIU went on to win another five in a row before falling to Robert Morris.  In the second meeting between LIU and Mount St. Mary's on February 21st, the Mountaineers defeated the Blackbirds by an 83-71 score.

LIU won their last two games of the season to finish with an overall 19-13 record; 12-6 in the conference.  They ended in a three-way tie for second place, along with Wagner and Bryant.  Mount St. Mary's finished in fifth place with an 18-13 record.  They were 11-7 in the conference.  Robert Morris won the regular season title with an overall 23-10 record, and a 14-4 NEC mark.

In the NEC quarterfinals, LIU defeated Quinnipiac 91-83, at the Wellness Center.  Brooklyn then took a trip into Staten Island to face #2 seed Wagner in the semifinal round, where they orchestrated a convincing 94-82 win, earning them a trip to the NEC championship game.  LIU/Brooklyn senior guard, C.J. Garner, scored twenty-three points in the victory.  The Mount defeated Bryant in the quarterfinals to advance into the semifinal round against #1 seed Robert Morris.  On Saturday in Pennsylvania, Mount St. Mary's pulled out a 69-60 upset of the Colonials, to earn a trip to Brooklyn.  It was The Mount's ninth win in a row.  This will be the Mountaineers first trip to the NEC Finals since the 2009 season.  LIU/Brooklyn is aiming for their third straight crown.


N.Y. Knicks: Coach Woodson Rollin' Dice With Melo's Knee?

From the desk of:   DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP

NEW YORK KNICKS - "Stiffness..., Agitated..., I Definitely Felt It Out There." - Carmelo Anthony.

Game One of what will be a grueling five game western road swing was an horrific fail.  But forget for a moment the Knicks twenty-nine point loss to the Golden State Warriors, in which they only shot 27% from the field; a season low; on a night in which they only scored sixty-three points; a season low; and that this was the first game of the post-post-Amare Stoudemire era, for now.  The Nets cut the Knicks a break by losing to Philadelphia earlier in the night.  So for another day, the Knicks 2 1/2 game Atlantic Division lead remains in tact.  But, forget that.

This is about Coach Woodson and Carmelo Anthony.  How hurt is Melo; how much is he letting on; or with-holding from...whoever?  What was clearly evident late Monday night in Oakland, was Carmelo Anthony hobbled around the court like a compromised player.  Otherwise, he was 4/15 from the floor.  But this wasn't just a noticeably bad game by Melo.  This was a bad decision by Coach Woodson.  Carmelo even admitted in pre-game TV talk, his knee was not 100%, but stiff.  This was Melo's first game back after three games off, and despite everything said, pulled down ten rebounds - more punishment on his knee.  I feel Mike Woodson all of a sudden looks like a desperate coach.  Not because he took Melo to task for spotty defense early in the game.  That's good coaching.  He looks desperate because of the way Melo looked and played.  If you remember, Coach questionably kept Melo in a game when Melo asked out - then what happened?  Monday night, Anthony didn't look good at all.  After the game, Coach called blamed Melo's performance on rust.  I just think Coach Woodson better be careful with his man.  I'm merely saying what I'm hearing from both men is contradictory.  It's getting harder to decipher an injury, from rust, from malingering, from imagination, from desperation.

To date, this has been a brilliant season by Knicks recent standards.  But injuries, and the predicted toll age would play, are now all having their expected effects.  You can't help but feel even a slight sense the Knicks are losing control settling in.  Consider this team's fortunes now potentially rest with J.R. Smith who was ejected Monday for a Flagrant-Two, and Kenyon Martin, who is fresh out of his living room.  Don't even give me Chris Copeland - not Monday night.  After that, Tyson Chandler always comes correct.  But will Carmelo Anthony's knee do the same?

Next up - Knicks visit the Mile High city to play the Nuggets, who like to run, run, and run some more.  Melo and the Knicks get a day off first.  We can all be sure, Melo will want to play, and play well, in front of the Denver crowd.  They're familiar.


Brooklyn Nets: Loss To Philly Is Another Failure To Seize The Moment

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

BROOKLYN NETS - Just A Brutal Loss To Philadelphia... 
A Win Over Sixers Would Have Closed The Atlantic Division Gap To Two Games.  Meanwhile, Out In Oakland...

........the Knicks Were Getting Hammered By The Warriors.  J.R. Smith got ejected from the game after committing a Flagrant-Two.  And Carmelo Anthony was clearly hobbling about the court with a bum knee.  To open the fourth quarter, the Knicks were down by twenty.  With ten minutes to go, they were still down by twenty.  A Nets win combined with a Knicks loss would have brought Brooklyn within 1 1/2 games of first place.

Ponderous.  I'll Update After Knicks Go Final.

Knicks      63
Warriors  92

Deron Williams is playing his best ball since being acquired by the Nets.  For the moment, whatever treatment he recently received for his ailing ankles seems to be working wonders.  Aside from his collective game, there was his record setting nine first half three-pointers (eleven total) against the  Wizards, and 42-points for the game.  Deron followed that up with the 10,000th point of his NBA career on Monday.  Against the Sixers, Williams posted another double-double, scoring twenty-seven points and distributing thirteen assists.

But what a brutal loss!  Just brutal.  Monday night's 106-97 loss was the epitome of a let down.  Coming off three consecutive wins, and playing a bad, and worsening Philadelphia 76ers team, the expectation was to extend the win streak to four.  The New York Knicks, on consecutive days lost Carmelo Anthony for a few games to a sore knee, and Amare Stoudemire was lost till maybe May requiring knee surgery.  Oklahoma City cut the Nets some slack when they defeated the Knicks last Thursday.  As such, the Nets were within 2 1/2 games of the Atlantic Division leaders entering Monday's game.  A win over the Sixers would have brought the Brooks a half game closer before the Knicks took the floor against Golden State.  Back on February 22nd, the Nets could have pulled within a game of the Knicks, but instead bowed to Houston, then followed that game with a putrid 72-point performance at Barclays against Memphis while holding them to just 76-points.  That loss gave the Nets a 33-24 record.  It just seems when the Nets pull within two games of the Knicks, they break out in a rash.  The Nets record now stands at 37-27; fourth seed in the conference.  In the Atlantic Division, they are five back of the Knicks in the loss column, pending New York's outcome against the Warriors.

Someone explain to me how Philly managed six players scoring double-digits!  I guess we can start with Philly center Spencer Hawes, who dominated Brook Lopez down low.  He scored a Sixers' high twenty-four points and pulled down ten rebounds.  He even issued seven assists and blocked two shots.  That's a good night's work.  Brook Lopez finished with a much more quiet nineteen points and six boards.  In fifteen minutes, Andray Blatch scored nine points.

Try this.  Compared to Brooklyn, Philly's small forwards played like giants.  In twenty-six minutes, Gerald Wallace was a complete non factor.  He was 2/8 shooting, with four points and just one rebound.  He was the only Nets starter not to make it to the foul line.  Off the bench, Mirza Teletovic and Keith Bogans totalled forty-three minutes, and combined to add an equally inconsequential seven points and seven rebounds.  The fact Reggie Evans even scored nine points was a plus.  Makes me wonder if Kris Humphries has the spaldings to ask P.J. back into the rotation?  By comparison, Philly wingers Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner combined to score thirty-two points (sixteen each), and teamed up for seventeen rebounds.  Then for good measure, Dorell Wright scored another fifteen off the bench.

For the game, the Sixers shot 52% from the field.  Brooklyn shot 49%, which is good for them.  You can say the Nets lost due to spotty defense, or a poor offensive second quarter.  There is a weak case that the Sixers shot 53% on 8/15 from behind the arch, and the Nets shot 31%, on 6/19 shooting.  But we're talking a net gain of six points there.  Instead, Philadelphia hammered Brooklyn at the foul line - not that either team shot well.  Philly had eleven more attempts than Brooklyn.  The Sixers were 18/27 - 66% from the stripe, while the Nets trailed with 11/16 for 69% shooting.

The Nets have a quick turn-around.  They host New Orleans at Barclays Center Tuesday evening.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

N.Y. Knicks - It's The Star System, Or Bust

From the desk of:   DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP

NEW YORK KNICKS - Amare Stoudemire Out Minimum Six Weeks With Injury.  Faces Second Surgery, This Time On Right Knee.

Time To Follow The Melo Brick Road

The Knicks plan to preserve Amare's knees - the one to limit his minutes by having him come off the bench - the one that was starting to work out nicley of late - failed.  The uninsurable Amare Stoudemire has effectively been lost for the rest of the regular season with a right knee injury.  Six weeks is the actual prognosis.  That potentially puts Amare and the Knicks into the end of April or early May, and the playoffs.  That's a damn shame too.  After everything he's been through here.  Amare has done nothing but say and do the right thing since arriving.  But when taking injuries into account, he could never do enough.  There is also no way I hold the "breaking glass" incident against him - not at this point.  He's been that much of a stand up guy.

There is no time to wallow in self pity however.  It is time to pack up, and follow the Melo Brick Road.  When Carmelo's knee gets better, they're off, they're off, they're off.....  in search of the elusive Atlantic Division title.

You know where I stand - the team concept versus the star system.  From here on out, it's the star system or bust.  The Knicks fortunes now lie exclusively between what Carmelo Anthony thinks he needs to do, and wants to do, in order to help the Knicks win, and what Melo actually needs to do in order to help his coach and team mates make the Knicks a successful team.  Coach Woodson's prophecy is now his reality.  When he assumed the role of head coach, he said he would be riding Carmelo Anthony as far as his small forward takes him and the Knicks.  With Amare officially out, and not being accused of complicating the rotation, Coach Woodson now gets to saddle up and find out just how far that really is.

Before Amare's injury changed everything, the Knicks recent game against the Thunder punctuated the argument, or growing belief, the Knicks are a more cohesive, and thereby a more effective team, when Melo is off the floor.  Their last win over the Jazz minus both Amare and Melo, may have reinforced the notion even further. There are tons of truth in that argument.  But at the same time, the Knicks will not win an NBA title without Carmelo Anthony.  It didn't help Melo's cause that the Knicks dream bench of Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas never quite made it out of the senior center.  And the rest of the assembled body, like Ray Felton's increasingly round one, or Jason Kidd's creaky one, aren't performing as spryly as they were last Fall either.

Something will have to give, or, some one will have to bend.  Because right now, at this very moment, this is J.R. Smith's team.  Somehow, someway, and at some point, Coach Woodson has to make Melo conform again, into the player Anthony was back in November and December, and keep that player in uniform until June, Red Holzman willing.  For if alternative anti-Melo emerges from  behind the wizard's curtain after his own knee injury subsides, the Knicks will be headed towards a tumultuous end, and no one will like the way Carmelo Anthony, first and foremost, will explain everything off.


N.Y. Rangers: Blueshirts Veto Ovechkin and the Capitals


NEW YORK RANGERS - Tenth Point In Last Six Games.

Ottawa is a real pain in the ass, aren't they?  And by the way, I am officially no longer impressed whenever we beat Washington.  I'm not taking anything away from Sunday's win.  But that Ovechkin guy just doesn't get it.

Speaking of Ottawa, did you see the way Chris Phillips went after Michael Haley, after the Rangers neophyte wiped out Jim O'Brien near the crease?  That's the way you protect team mates.  Not the pansy crap the Rangers pull.  Phillips went right at Haley without hesitation.  I'm just saying.  In light of the boarding hits we've been sustaining, that's the way it's done.

Brad Richards has two goals in the last two games, and Marian Gaborik scored once against the Islanders. That's one way to temporarily silence the critics.

The Rangers have ten points in their last six games.  With twenty-eight points overall, they have now climbed into second place of the Atlantic Division, one point better than the Devils.  They have also upgraded to the seventh seed of the Eastern Conference.  The Rangers are back in the mix fellas.

They are currently six points behind Pittsbugh for the division lead.  They have a chance to pick up four points against the Sabres and Jets before they visit the Penguins in a week.  With any luck, the Penguins do not pick up too many before then.


Tuesday, March 05, 2013

N.Y. Rangers: Are Blueshirts Prepared For Broad Street Bullies?


Philadelphia Flyers
33rd Street and 8th Avenue

NEW YORK RANGERS - Fight Or Flight?

That's twice now, Brad Richards got his head pushed into his shoulders.  He first got nailed by Chris Neil when the Rangers played Ottawa, then again by Patrick Kaleta in the Rangers last game against Buffalo.  Worse, that makes four major boarding incidents (whether whistled or not) since the Rangers played the Boston Bruins nine games ago.  Some of the offenders have longer rap sheets than others.  But in the case of Brad Richards, Chris Neil and Patrick Kaleta are well known perps.  In all four incidences, especially in the two infractions perpetrated against Brad Richards, not one opposing player received a punch in the face!  Way to stick up for your fellow Blueshirt guys.

Too bad the Blueshirts can't play the Tampa Bay Lightning every night, huh..?  They short circuited the Lighting twice by a combined 9-2 score in their last two meetings.  Sandwiched in between were layers of rotten lunch meat.  But the Rangers are winners of two in a row now, after defeating Buffalo this past Sunday.  However, if the regular season ended today, Tex's Rangers would not qualify for the playoffs.  The eight seed would belong to the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Rangers (22) are currently one point behind Philly (23) in the Eastern Conference standings.  So, that means there is a playoff spot on the line tonight, with twenty eight games left to play in the 2013 regular season.  Both teams are winners of two straight entering the game.

Rangers/Flyers games aren't usually the most artistic affairs.  And don't think Philly hasn't noticed the Rangers recent lack of testicular fortitude.  Be sure, the Broad Street Bullies will try and push the Rangers off the puck, and into situations they can't really handle right now.  But that's just my opinion.

What of Brad Richards?  Will he play tonight?  I think we generally agree Rick Nash suffered a concussion at the hands of Boston's Milan Lucic.  But Nash still played two more games before symptoms caught up with him.  Brad Richards has taken an awful lot of punishment lately.  If he does skate up, the rest of the Rangers better be on alert.  More, they better be ready for the Bullies.  Tonight isn't just about the eighth seed.  Tonight is a matter of fight, or flight.

* UPDATE - Brad Richards will not play versus Philly