Monday, September 27, 2010

Salvaging Some Pride

Well, it’s about time.

While it really is a matter of too little too late, the Mets made a statement this weekend to the Phillies and that statement was hopefully fairly clear: “We’re not going to stand here and be your whipping posts anymore.”

After Friday night’s game in which Chase Utley slid late and VERY hard into second base and collided with 2nd baseman Rubin Tejada, the Mets were steaming. A lot of comments were made about the rough slide which while no one actually used the words “dirty play”, it was certainly implied. The Mets hinted that a retaliation might be in order, but with many other Phillie-related incidents over the last few years, many figured it would be a matter of talking but no real action.

For once though, the Mets were good to their word. They not only stepped up and beat the defending NL Champs twice in a row (the Phillies hadn’t lost two games in a row in over a month) and denied them the oppertunity to win the NL East and celebrate with the Mets in attendance (something there were rumors that the Phillies were REALLY hoping to be able to do… celebrate at home and in front of the Mets) but Carlos Beltran returned the favor on Saturday night and slid late and hard into second base to break up a potential double play, after which the Mets surged with 3 more runs in the inning to take a 5-2 lead.

Beltran was furious with the Utley play from Friday. “To me, yes, he crossed the line,” Beltran said in a pretty worked up manner. “Not only on that play. He has done things in the past, like blocking bases. It’s O.K. to play hard, it’s O.K. to get outs. But once you try to hurt somebody, that’s no fun. He’s such a good player, too good, to be doing that. But I guess that’s the way he plays. We can play like that, too.”

Beltran backed up his words even more on Sunday, hitting a pair of homeruns, including one of them off losing pitcher Cole Hamels who finished the year 0-4 against the Mets this season, and making a fantastic diving catch.

What I’m hoping for is that the team sat down together after Friday night and said to each other “I’m sick of this $^!#. Enough is enough. I’m not going to be a punch line or a punching bag anymore.” and decided it was time to start playing the sort of baseball (and having the sort of attitude) that demands some respect.

A perfect example is the below video which Frank posted. It’s a video created by a comedy duo from New York and the video itself is very funny, but the idea behind it is that the Mets themselves are a bunch of clown shoes. It’s really about time the team took it upon themselves to shake that label off. While the last two days haven’t done that, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Down to the Wire for Yankees/Rays

So the big four game series between the two AL East powerhouses turned into a wash as the split the series right down the middle and gave everyone absolutely no idea which team really is in the better position.

Unless someone totally collapses, both the Yankees and the Rays are making the playoffs… that much is fairly certain. Of course the question is at this point, which team would you rather face in the first round? The Twins, who have quietly surmassed the best record in the American League from August 1st on (and without their slugging 1st baseman Juston Mourneu) or the slugging Rangers (who will throw the nasty duo of Cliff Lee and CJ Wilson in a short 5 game series)? Of course, the winner of the AL East will have home field advantage for at least the first round, while the wild card winner will not have any and that fact alone maybe play a part in where you might want to see a team finish.

In any case, the Yankees looked really good in the first two games of this series… and then the Rays looked really good in the 2nd two games. Neither got an advantage over the other and neither really looked like they were about to burst ahead.

The Rays have the advantage now for two reasons:
1 – The two teams are tied in the loss column. Having the extra game in hand gives the Rays an advantage because the won the season series.
2 – The Yankees have nine games left. Six games against Boston (3 in NY this week and 3 in Boston to end the season) and three games against Toronto. The Rays have ten games left. Six at home against Seattle and Baltimore and four on the road in Kansas City. You KNOW that Boston will be looking to mess up the Yankees as much as possible and as much improved the Orioles are with Buck Showalter at the helm, the Mariners and Royals aren’t likely to put up much of a fight against Tampa Bay.

That doesn’t the Rays are a shoo-in to win the Division, but it does look good for them.

Likely, the Yankees will start to rest players (Mark Teixeria is hurting big time and needs some down time) and set up the rotation for the first round, so likely, those last four or five games will see a lot of youngsters and bench players getting time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Should Yanks be Concerned about Late Season Stumbles?

The 2010 season has seen a number of ups and downs (much more ups than downs) for the Yankees, but coming into this four game series with the Tampa Bay Rays (which will likely determine who wins the AL East unless it’s an even 2-2 split) the Yanks have stumbled a bit. Before winning 2 of 3 from Baltimore the Yankees had hit a rough patch going 4-9 in their previous 13 games against teams like the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers and Rays. Add to this the obvious struggles of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeria (due to injury), Nick Swisher, Lance Berkman and Javy Vasquez and the curiously unknown incident that left A.J. Burnett with a black eye and bruised cheek (maybe he ran into K-Rod and was mistaken for his Father-In-Law?) and there should be cause for some concern.

The Yanks righted things to a point with a winning series in Baltimore this past weekend and winning the first game of the 4-game series with the Rays (extending their lead in the AL East to 1.5 games) but overall, between health (Teixeria’s thumb and toe, Posada’s head, Swisher’s knee, Gardner’s wrist, Pettitte’s groin) and some slumps, the Yankees have to be a little worried headed into the last stretch before the playoffs.

To hear them talk, they are not. Brian Cashman is “not concerned at all” and Jeter said “we are right where we want to be, controlling our own destiny”. I wouldn;t expect anything but these sort of comments from this team, but I do think there is something to the fact that this is not a good time to suddenly hit the skids. You want to go into the playoffs on at least a fairly smooth run. Cashman has said that the Yankees focus is much more on winning a World Series than on winning their Division and I have to agree to a point that it would make more sense in the last week of the season if the division is still in doubt it would be better to set up for the playoffs more than worry about finishing in first, but do not discount the Yankees advantage at home, something they would basically not have at all if they won the Wildcard instead of the AL East.

It also seems that A.J. Burnett is going to have a spot in the rotation in the playoffs no matter what, according to Cashman. This makes sense, seeing as the alternate would be rookie Ivan Nova or the banished to the bullpen Vasquez. It seems that manager Joe Girardi is wary of Burnett, but there really isn’t too much of a choice.

The Yankees have had late season slumps before and flipped the switch once the playoffs started (at the horrible finish in 2000 for a perfect example) but this is a weird team. They really should be considered the overall favorites as the team is strong and sound, but there is that nagging little voice that seems to worry just enough about things to keep the expections from being a slam dunk.

It’s hard for me to say the Yanks are in trouble. They still have an excellent record and they still feel like that team that will always find a way to win in the end. However, the Twins have the best record in baseball since the beginning of August (without their MVP 1st baseman), The Rangers have a big time offense and a Cy Young caliber ace and the Rays pitch and catch the ball a little better than the Yanks do (although they do not hit and score as well). The Phillies, with two legit #1 aces in ‘The Roys” (Halladay and Oswalt) and a solid #2 in Cole Hamels are a team to watch out for and are streaking at the right moment and the Braves pitch just about as well as anyone. This isn’t going to be a cake walk by any stretch.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Is the Walter Reed Medical Center Controversy really that big of a deal?

So by now odds are you’ve heard about the Mets trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Tuesday to visit wounded soldiers.

There were four Mets absent from the team’s visit. One was Dillon Gee, the rookie who was starting that evening against the Nationals and had been excused. The other three were Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez.

Since the report was made that these three missed the scheduled trip (of which the Mets have gone each year for the last few years) and the rest of the team was there, a lot has been made about it. A report came out saying the Mets front office was “very unhappy” with the three players and the fans and media coverage have blasted the trio.

Beltran wound up explaining he missed the trip (which was NOT mandatory by the way) because he had a meeting with his foundation (The Carlos Beltran Foundation) to discuss plans to build a high school in his native Puerto Rico. He also explained that he visited the Veteran’s Hospital in the offseason with owner Fred Wilpon. He said he had “liked it. And I wanted to go. But I had my own things to do.”

Castillo and Perez had less “explanation”. Castillo felt he would have been too traumatized by the sight of injured soldiers and would have not been comfortable seeing them. Perez gave no explaination at all saying “I don’t answer (questions about) anything about outside the stadium.”

The reports go on: The Wilpons are mad, their team-mates are mad, the fans are mad, the media is mad.

However, is this really something that is the big deal they are making it out to be?

Beltran’s explaination was a pretty good one. He had been to the hospital before and the meeting he was at was for charitable reasons.

Castillo’s may sound weak, but we don’t know the extend of his ability to filter out the situation. I know of people who lost children to a particular issue, be it accident or cancer or whatnot who are not able to visit other kids in a children’s hospital because of the memories it drudges up. Perhaps Castillo has a simular situation in his past with soldiers/wounded vets.

Perez… his refusal to give an explanation doesn’t mean he doesn’t have one. (However I would actually think it’s more likely Perez is in no rush to do anything for the Mets he doesn’t have to do.)

Listen, was the move a public relations mistake? Of course it was, especially with the seasons each is having. Right now, it seems the fans and media is looking for any excuse to pile on these players. I’m actually surprised that Perez is able to walk around in New York right now listening to how much he seems to be disliked by the team and fans.

Supporting our Military Veterans is something I very strong about. I don’t take anything like this lightly, however the players not only had the right to not go, it seems that people haven’t even considered that there was legit reasons they didn’t.

With all of the problems the Mets have right now, making this an issue is just stupid. Celebrate the players who went and how the visit made them feel, but enough is enough with killing the few that didn’t go.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Where Does It Start?

The other night, when Jeff Francour was traded to the Texas Rangers, it was reported that a number of players made the loud comment “Can I go with him?”

This would be the second time this occured, as we heard the same thing happened when Rod Barajas was traded to the LA Dodgers. Jerry Manuel said on WFAN that he would address the whole team about the comments and sounded annoyed at the remarks.

I know this team has been in a bad place the last six weeks, but it’s still strange to hear this from a team that seemed to so together and upbeat in the first half of the season.

What I’m wondering is, that changed that? A lot was made of the loose and smiling clubhouse, how the players were picking each other up, how everone seemed to get along and there was a lot of positive vibes.

I’ve heard the whispers that Carlos Beltran’s return to the team was the starting point of where it went sour. Could that REALLY be it?

My guy feeling is that perception that is embedded in all media and seemingly all around baseball that the Mets organization is a total mess. A day doesn;t go by without some sort of insulting, smarmy remark being dropped about this team and the franchise as a whole. I’m sure after a while it wears on the players to the point they just don’t want to deal with it.

The way this team has sleptwalked it’s way through it’s second half, it’s obvious to me that Manuel has lost a chunk of the clubhouse. I also get the feeling that the fact that Oliver Perez is anywhere near the major league roster has pissed a lot of players off. Add in the fact that no moves were made to improve the club at the trade deadline after an offseason of little moves and the players may just have the impression the club has no faith in them.

Jeff Francour was a VERY popular guy in the clubhouse. Of that there is no doubt. I’m sure the fact his playing status went back and forth bothered players because they liked and respected him, and I’m sure his departure wasn’t something they wanted. However in the end Francour just wasn;t getting the job done. His excellent numbers from last year after the trade that brought him to the Mets never returned, and despite some timely and clutch hits this season, his overall body of work was erratic and weak enough to not merit the playing time he wanted. I’d actually be surprised if there were harsh feelings from the players that he was sat a number of times or that he was eventually traded away. As great of a guy that he was, I’m sure the players would look at his numbers and see he wasn’t having any real success… wouldn’t they?

The Mets seem to be the main punchline of almost any joke. Every time I see them mentioned on ESPN, in the newspapers or on sports radio it’s always followed by comments that are degrading or put down the team and organization. I’m not saying that backlash and critizism isn’t warranted, but holy cow everyone is relentless with the way they talk about them. I would think this goes a long way towards making players wish they weren’t stuck in the middle of it.

As I discussed way back at the beginning of the season, the Mets need to change the perception they are a organization run by the keystone kops. Changes need to be made. When you have players wishing they were on their way out. it needs to be addressed.