Friday, October 13, 2006

Mets Know How to Spell Relief

by Rob Hyman

In the two weeks between the Mets clinching the division and the start of the NLDS, there was more bad news than good:
• After clinching, the team proceeded to lose seven of its next nine games
• Pedro was deemed unavailable for the post season
• The day before the NLDS, El Duque was also rendered unavailable

People were starting to write them off. Clearly those people had not been watching the Mets all season. The Mets did not get to the post season because of Pedro and El Duque. Unquestionably these two have had their fair share of post season successes and having them available would have been great. But those successes were then, this is now.

This season, the Mets finished 32 games over .500. The team’s record in games started by either of these two was a mediocre 22-21 (.512 winning percentage). In games not started by them, the Mets were 75-44 (.630 WP).

More importantly, in games started by the pitchers likely to show up in the starting rotation the rest of the way, the team is 58-26 (.690 WP):
Tom Glavine: 24-8
Steve Traschel: 20-10
John Maine: 10-5
Oliver Perez: 4-3

None of these guys had particularly impressive seasons though. The truth is that the Mets starting pitching is the least of the reasons for why the Mets had a successful season. And it will be the least of the reasons for why they will continue to play late into October. With the bullpen as dominant as it is, starting pitching takes on a whole new meaning. The Mets don’t really need a “starter”. They just need someone to pitch the first four innings. Anything beyond that is gravy. When you have Chad Bradford, Darren Oliver, Guillermo Mota, Pedro Feliciano, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner waiting in the wings, why does it matter who is on the mound to start the game. At the first sign of trouble, help is on the way.

The Mets pitching staff had a Major League best 3.04 ERA in the 7th inning and beyond. Minnesota was next best at 3.06, but the next best in the National League – San Diego at 3.66. The bullpen has reliably supported the team’s starting pitching all year and there’s no reason to think this is going to change now – with or without their full starting rotation in tact.


Rob Hyman's column, "The Weekend Warrior", appears alternate Fridays

Thursday, October 12, 2006

$200 million dollar failure? Not quite...

by Scott Silversten

Many fans of the New York Yankees wanted Joe Torre fired for his failure to have a team that achieved tremendous regular season success accomplish anything in October. In his place they want Lou Piniella.

This is the same Pineilla who skippered the Seattle Mariners to a record 116 regular-season victories in 2001, only to flame out in five games against the Yankees, who had won 21 fewer games, in the American League Championship Series.

Yeah, that makes sense.

But I digress …

Let’s pause for a brief moment as I call your attention to the Baseball For Thought columns of October 3 and 4 in which yours truly not only picked the Detroit Tigers to beat the New York Yankees in four games, but also said the boys from Motown will win the World Series.

Stay tuned on that second prognostication, but I must admit that I was shocked – SHOCKED! – at the way people who think they know baseball were so quick to overlook the Tigers based on their struggles over the last two months of the regular season. Here was a team that won 95 games, led the major leagues in ERA and featured a lineup whose Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters combined for 81 home runs.

Why did I pick the Tigers? Not for the reasons mentioned above or the fact that they were baseball’s best team for a majority of the year. But rather because when it comes to the postseason, all things being equal, always go with the team that features the best pitching from top to bottom. And that was the Tigers.

Of course, it doesn’t always work this way. And I know Billy Beane will tell you that it’s impossible to build a team for the postseason. But there is no doubt that October is different than April through September. The game does change, and in the age of inflated biceps, ERAs and home run totals, the change is even more drastic.

To begin with, it becomes much harder to hit once the leaves start turning brown. Not only do afternoon shadows play some role, but the weather gets colder and the ball doesn’t fly as far. Plus, batters will be faced with beating only the best pitchers of their opponents. There are no No. 5 starters or weak underbellies of bullpens making their appearance in October.

But with all this being said, there is one HUGE reason the Yankees lost to the Tigers … It’s baseball, stupid.

In the days following the American League Division Series, many cried out “How could the Yankees’ lineup struggle so much at such an important time?”

Baseball just doesn’t work that way. The Yankees struggled to score runs on numerous occasions throughout the season. It seemed like every other week they were being shut down by some unknown rookie or journeyman veteran. If a team knew how to prevent a shutdown in October, isn’t it safe to assume they would apply the same theories to the rest of the schedule?

The fact is baseball teams lose baseball games, no matter how good they are. The payroll could be $200 BILLION and that would assure nothing once the postseason arrives. What the Yankees buy, year in and year out, is the opportunity to contend for the playoffs. Nothing beyond that is guaranteed, even given the fact that 11 straight postseason appearances are amazing no matter where the payroll stands.

What is amazing about the Yankees organization is that they find it necessary to build a team of superstars even though their success of 1996-2001 featured numerous role players supporting borderline All-Stars. In the last decade, only one Yankee has taken home one of the major individual awards (Roger Clemens won the Cy Young in 2001).

World Series winners under Torre featured key players such as Jim Leyritz, Ricky Ledee, Chad Curtis, Scott Brosius, Ramiro Mendoza, etc. It’s not that the current roster of superstars can’t win because it lacks heart or chemistry. The fact is that other teams have had success without loading up on All-Stars, but for some reason, the Yankees feel they can’t win without a Hall of Fame-loaded lineup.

And please don’t get me started on this notion that the Yankees lack heart.

When did we reach the point in sports in which only the ultimate champion was the one with heart? No matter what their salary, all players want to win, most work incredibly hard at their craft and they all will fight hard for the ultimate price in any sport … the ring.

Are we to assume a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers lack heart because they were swept out of the NL Division Series? And if we assume that, does it mean they somehow lost their heart over the course of a couple of days following the conclusion of the regular season.

The worst thing that has happened to the Yankees and Yankees fans is the fact that the team has played October baseball every year since 1995. It has rendered the remainder of the year as meaningless to many, when in fact, it’s the postseason that should carry less meaning.

And I’m sure George Steinbrenner would agree with that …

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Harder They Come, The Harder They Fall


by Sam Sowl


We all thought it. This was the best lineup we had ever seen, maybe the best of all time. They were supposed to put up 9 runs a game, just blow every one else out of the water. Instead, they completely failed; they went 20 innings without scoring a run, 5 innings without a single baserunner in game 4. How could this happen? I thought A-Rod was their 3B, not Scott Brosius. Here are 5 reasons why I think the Yankees (if you didn’t know this was the team I was referring to until now, 1. stop reading this article right now, 2. cry, 3. go to www.thefacebook.com and “friend” some people to make yourself feel better, and 4. cry some more) couldn’t get the job done.

1. Joe Torre – When I saw the news that Torre was going to be fired, I agreed with the decision 100%. I was making bold claims like, “Yup, that’s how the Boss works.” Then he wimped out on me and his team. Something obviously has to change for the Yankees. Now I’m not saying that Torre is a bad manager or that it’s all his fault that the Yankees haven’t won the World Series since 2000. What I am saying is that sometimes teams need a change, and a big change like a new manager can be the catalyst for magical seasons (see 2006 Detroit Tigers). Oh, and he batted A-Rod eighth. Give me a break.

2. A-Rod – Ok, so maybe he should have batted eighth. 1 for 14! When you’re the best player in baseball, you can’t go 1 for 14 in a playoff series. What a sad way for A-Rod to end what has been his most difficult and worst season of his career. I already could not stand Yankees fans before this year (anytime you act like you are awesome because the owner of your team spends 30 times more than any other team, you are lame), but now I think they are idiots as well. I’m so sick of all this “we’re paying him 25 million to hit .290 with 35 homers, 121 RBI, 113 runs, and 15 SBs”. First off, remove the first part of that sentence and no one has any room to complain at all, those are awesome stats no matter whose they are. Second off, Yankees fans, you’re not paying him a damn thing. The stupid owner of your team is.

3. Unit – Dear Randy Johnson,

Remember when you went 3-0 in the 2001 World Series? That was pretty spectacular. You won the Cy Young award, the World Series MVP, and a World Series Ring that year. Very impressive. Then in 2005, you signed with the Yankees, a move that most veterans make in order to win that elusive World Series ring. But you already had yours, so I guess you just wanted to win another one and prove that you are one of the best pitchers of all time. Well, you gave up 5 runs and 10 baserunners in 5 2/3s of an inning against the Tigers. I’m sorry your plan didn’t pay off, but come on Randy, it is your own fault. You should have known that any team that made you cut off your sexy mullet and debonair mustache doesn’t deserve to win the World Series any time soon.

Sincerely,
Sam Sowl

P.S. You are really tall.

4. Neifi Perez – I wouldn’t be able to focus on winning either with his ugly mug staring at me from the opposing dugout

5. Lack of role players – Maybe the whole “best lineup ever” thing wasn’t as good as it should have been for the Yankees. Look at the 11-1 in the playoffs, 4-0 in the World Series, World Champion Chicago White Sox of 2005. Not a single player in their lineup was spectacular last season, but they all filled their roles as necessary, and they played like a team. I find it hard to believe that a lineup of 9 all-stars could find that kind of camaraderie that it takes to win a World Series, nonetheless an ALDS. Just look at some of the starters on the recent Champion Yankees teams – Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez (who is one of the worst analysts I have ever seen; ESPN – please fire him), and Chad Curtis. All were good players, but wouldn’t have even played for the 2006 Yankees. The difference – the 2006 Yankees won’t be winning any rings, while those other three guys have 3.

That being said I would like to congratulate the San Diego Padres on sucking once again. NL – get ready for the Milwaukee Brewers. I would also like to predict why the Detroit Tigers, despite the fact that they appear destined for glory, will not be making it past the Athletics. One of their big fans is none other than Tommy “Snout” Stellard, a Red Sox fan from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who happens to “love” the Tigers right now. People like that are not rewarded in this life, or the next, as far as I’ve surmised.


Sam Sowl's column, "Sowl's Surmisings", appears alternate Wednesdays

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mets in 6

by Jeremy Bird

You can win a best of 5 series with one CY Young pitcher who comes up big in the postseason. You might even be able to win a best-of-seven with that same CY Young winner pitching games 1, 4 and 7.

In both scenarios all you need is one other starting pitcher to step up as Jeff Weaver did in the Cardinals' NLDS series against San Diego.

Unfortunately, for Red Bird nation, Chris Carpenter threw 104 pitches on Sunday and won't be able to throw three games against the Mets. He's slated to start games 3 and 7 (which won't be necessary in this one). Now, the club needs two starters who aren't named Carpenter to win games. Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis or Anthony Reyes...Ouch.

With the Jeffs starting in games 1 and 2, the St. Louis Cardinals are in some serious trouble at Shea.

The Cards were able to beat the Padres with Carp and his not-so-stellar supporting cast, but the Mets are a whole new ballgame. Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran are the cornerstones of a Mets' lineup that makes the Padres lineup look like a cakewalk. Weaver and Suppan are going to have to come up big of the Cards have any hopes of making it past game 5.

Sure, the Cardinals will score runs against the Mets, even with Rolen out (yet again in the playoffs when it counts). I imagine the Mets will pitch around Pujols as much as they can, but the Birds will score on Maine, Traschel and Perez for sure. The question is can they score enough to overcome their own pitching woes?

The Cardinals lost the season series to the Mets 4-2. They will lose in the postseason in similar fashion.

Perhaps the two team's August 22 game serves as the best example of how this series will play out. In that game, Pujols hit two homers (one a grand slam) and had 7 RBIs...And the Mets won 8-7 on a Beltran walk-off in the ninth. Weaver started that game, giving up four earned runs in five innings. Maine gave up seven in five innings pitched, but the Cardinals bullpen blew the lead late.

That August 22 thriller tells a tale for how this series should go. Both teams will score plenty of runs, but with the combo of the Mets high-powered offense and the Cardinals thin starting pitching, I'll be surprised if the Cards even push this one to 7.

The only hope we have is a few rain outs that will allow Carpenter to throw three games. Otherwise, the Mets will are back in the Series to suffer defeat at the hands of the Tigers, who have a starting rotation capable of beating both New Yorks.

Jeremy's column, "Bird's Eye View", appears alternate Tuesdays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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