Thursday, September 29, 2011

Joey's Soapbox: My Biased 2011 Division Series Picks

And so it goes.  Another season ends for the Mets, and for the 43rd time in 50 seasons, there will be no postseason baseball for the boys in orange and blue.  Despite all the injuries and shoddy play surrounding the Mets in the post-Shea Stadium era, the Mets have been consistent, finishing in 4th place in the NL East for the third consecutive season.  But hey, it could be worse.  At least they're not the Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished below .500 for the 19th consecutive season.

The Pirates, who were in first place in July, obviously did not make the playoffs.  But eight teams did, some of which had to overcome large deficits to crash the postseason party.  Fans of my annual postseason picks already know that there are two teams I always pick for early elimination (Yankees and Phillies).  Just like the Pirates always finish below .500, I will continue to do pick those two teams to be bumped in the opening round of the playoffs.  But what about the other teams?  And how many victories am I giving the Yankees and Phillies in the first round?  Let's begin with my biased division series picks!

American League Division Series

Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees

The Yankees come stumbling into the playoffs, having been swept by the Tampa Bay Rays in the season's final regular season series.  It was the first time in 11 years that the Bronx Bummers were given the broom treatment by the Rays (who were still the Devil Rays back then).  The Tigers, on the other paw, were practically unstoppable over the season's final seven weeks.

On the morning of August 19, the Tigers were only seven games above .500 (65-58) and in danger of giving up their lead in the AL Central.  But after defeating the Cleveland Indians that night, Detroit went on a roll, winning 30 of their final 39 games.  From mid-August until the end of the season, the one-two punch of Cy Young Award favorite Justin Verlander and trade deadline acquisition Doug Fister went a combined 14-0 for Detroit.  That combination will more than likely start the first two games of the series against the Yankees, a team that only had two regulars hit above .276 (Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter).

If CC Sabathia can't win Game 1 for the Yankees, the playoff untested Ivan Nova will have to shut down the Tigers offense in Game 2.  This is an offense that features the American League batting champion (Miguel Cabrera), the best hitting catcher in the AL (Alex Avila) and a former catcher turned DH that quietly produced an outstanding year (Victor Martinez, who hit .330 and drove in 103 runs).

The Yankees lost the season series to the Tigers, four games to three, and Joba Chamberlain was the winning pitcher in two of the three games.  They'll be lucky to force a deciding game in this series.

Prediction: Tigers in 4.

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Texas Rangers

No one expected the Rays to make the playoffs prior to the 2008 season.  Now the Rays are playing in October for the third time in four seasons, despite having a payroll that's less than the combined salaries of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.  How did they do it, despite losing hitting stars Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña, and pitchers Matt Garza and Rafael Soriano?  No, it didn't happen with smoke and mirrors.  It was all pitching and speed (and a little help with OBP).

The Rays had the league's second lowest ERA (3.58) and gave up the fewest hits and home runs of any American League team.  They also led the league in complete games (15), with James Shields finishing what he started 11 times.  The ability of the starters to go deep into games placed less stress on the bullpen, keeping them fresh for their unexpected run to the wild card.

Texas won their second straight division title and hopes to return to the World Series after their magical run in 2010.  However, this year's team has no Cliff Lee and looks more like the late-'90s Rangers, who slugged their regular season opponents to death before falling in the ALDS three times to the Yankees.  They might not be able to reproduce their pennant-winning success with that recipe.

Prediction: Rays in 5.

National League Championship Series

Cardinals vs. Phillies

Let's make this simple.  The Phillies have great pitching, perhaps the best in the major leagues.  The Cardinals have Albert Pujols and his merry men.  The Cincinnati Reds were swept by the Phillies in the NLDS last year, but that Phillies team had great hitters as well.  This year's Phillies can't hit nearly as well.  Of the nine players who played in 100 games for the Phillies, catcher Carlos Ruiz had the highest batting average (.283).  Also, Ryan Howard was the only Phillie to hit over 20 HR.  That being said, I don't like the Phillies, I never will and I'll never pick them to win any postseason series, even if they were playing the Bad News Bears.

Prediction: Cardinals in 4.

Diamondbacks vs. Brewers

Arizona came out of nowhere to win the National League West, making Kirk Gibson the odds-on favorite to win the National League Manager of the Year Award.  Ian Kennedy won 21 games for Arizona and former Met J.J. Putz led the team in saves with 45.  Justin Upton continued to blossom, hitting .289 with 31 HR, 88 RBI, 105 runs scored and 21 stolen bases.  But that's pretty much everything Arizona has to offer.

Milwaukee is more than just Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and the Sausage Race.  They boast a fearsome threesome in the rotation, with Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum combining to go 46-23 for the Brewers, and the Killer G's striking out over 200 batters apiece.  Also, they boast a fantastic bullpen, with K-Rod taking the eighth inning duties and John Axford (1.95 ERA, 46 saves) coming out for the ninth.

The Brewers won two more games than the D-Backs did during the regular season.  They'll do the same in the division series.

Prediction: Brewers in 4.

So there you have it, my friends.  If my biased predictions are right, we'll have a Tigers-Rays matchup in the ALCS and a Cardinals-Brewers battle in the NLCS.

Of course, I could be wrong with one or more of my predictions, but I'm feeling confident.  As confident as I was when I said Dillon Gee would lead the Mets in wins this year and Carlos Beltran would be traded with two months left in the season and still lead the team in home runs and RBI.  You remember that, don't you?

Enjoy the playoffs, everyone!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jose Reyes: 2011 NL Batting Champion

Jose Reyes came into the day leading Ryan Braun by one point in the National League batting race.  Okay, technically Reyes' .33582 average led Braun (.33453) by .00129, but you get the picture.  After Reyes dropped a beautiful bunt single in the bottom of the first inning (see photo above), he left the game in a blink-and-you-missed-it moment, ending his 2011 season with a .33706 batting average.

Although the move to exit the game was Reyes' decision, that left a possibility that Ryan Braun could still win the batting title, but he would need three hits to do so, and he would have to do it in fewer than five at-bats.  (A 3-for-3 performance by Braun would have given him the batting title with a .33808 average and a 3-for-4 night would see Braun end the season at .33748, but finishing 3-for-5 would leave him short at .33688.  Anything more than three hits, regardless of the number of at-bats, would have given Braun the batting title and would have caused me to hit the delete button on this blog post.)

So what did Braun do in his final regular season game?  He grounded out in each of his first three at-bats, then flied out in his final at-bat.  By finishing at .33215 with his 0-for-4 night, Braun finished in second place in the National League batting race, making Jose Reyes the first Mets player in the 50-year history of the franchise to take home the batting crown.

Fans of Cleon Jones (third in 1969 NL batting race; .008 behind Pete Rose, .005 behind Roberto Clemente), Dave Magadan (third in 1990 NL batting race; .007 behind Willie McGee, .005 behind Eddie Murray) and John Olerud (second in 1998 NL batting race; .009 behind Larry Walker) can now breathe a sigh of relief, as they no longer have a deal with another near-miss for one of their beloved Mets in the batting race.

With his thin margin of victory (.00491), Reyes won the closest National League batting race since 2007, when Matt Holliday (.340) beat out Chipper Jones (.337) for the batting title.  Prior to Braun's oh-fer in the season finale, it looked as if the Reyes-Braun battle would be the closest race since 2003, when St. Louis' Albert Pujols (.35871) edged Colorado's Todd Helton (.35849) by .00022.  Both Pujols and Helton collected two hits in their team's final game of the regular season, with Helton being walked intentionally by the late Rod Beck in his final plate appearance to give Pujols the title.  A hit by Helton in that final at-bat would have given him the batting title at .35959.

Reyes probably wouldn't have taken himself out of Game No. 162 after his first inning bunt single had it not been for Bobby Parnell's "effort" in Game No. 161.  Parnell came into Tuesday night's penultimate game in relief of Manny Acosta needing just one out to protect a 4-3 Mets lead in the ninth inning.  However, Parnell slipped into his "Bobby being Bobby" persona and allowed a game-tying double by Reds' no-name Juan Francisco, who is the proud owner of 48 base hits over parts of three seasons in the big leagues.

The game then went into extra innings, with Reyes going 1-for-2 over the final four innings.  Without that extra hit, Reyes would have finished the season with a .33645 batting average instead of his final .33706 mark.  He also might have continued to play after his first inning hit, and perhaps would have lowered his batting average even more (or not - we'll never know).  Still, Reyes probably owes Parnell a Rolex for giving him the opportunity to collect that extra base hit, a Rolex that Reyes will certainly be able to afford after signing his next contract this offseason.

Jose Reyes came into the 2011 campaign with a .286 career batting average, never hitting above .300 over a full season (minimum 100 games).  No one could have expected him to win a batting title this year, but Reyes got off to a hot start, hitting .354 during the first half of the season.

Despite two trips to the disabled list, Reyes continued to hit in the second half, although not nearly at his blistering first-half pace.  That allowed Ryan Braun to make the NL batting race a two-horse field.  However, Reyes channeled his first-half self during the Mets' final homestand, finishing the season by going 10-for-18 (.556) against the Phillies and Reds, including hits in nine of his final 13 at-bats.

Braun also finished the regular season at home, but "only" went 7-for-17 in the six games, batting .412 during the homestand.

Congratulations to Jose Reyes on becoming the first Met to win a National League batting crown.  The Mets still can't claim an MVP or a no-hitter, but at least one of their 50-year-old monkeys is now off their backs.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Dickey vs. A Dick

In Thursday's 8-6 victory in St. Louis, the Mets rallied for six runs in the ninth inning against the wild card contending Cardinals and Bobby Parnell registered his sixth save of the season, his first in which he retired every batter to face him.

After a rainout last night, the Mets play a day-night doubleheader today at Citi Field, a place that has not been too kind to them in 2011.  After registering an 88-74 record at home over the last two seasons, the Mets are 31-44 in their home whites and could finish with their poorest record at home since 1993, when they went 28-53.  (The Mets went 34-46 at Shea Stadium in 2003.)  They have already clinched their first losing season at home since 2004, when they finished 38-43 at Shea Stadium under the "tutelage" of Art Howe.

If the Mets don't want to finish with their worst home record since the days of their feared Frank Tanana, Eric Hillman and Dave Telgheder rotation (hey, don't go hatin' on Telgheder - he was 6-2 in '93), they'll need to come up big against the Phillies and Reds over their final six games.

It all begins today, when R.A. Dickey takes the mound to oppose Cole Hamels, or as we like to call this matchup at Studious Metsimus, it's a Dickey vs. a dick.

R.A. Dickey might be a man of many words, but he is not nearly the multi-tasker Cole Hamels is.  After all, Hamels has proven that he can be an ass and a dick at the same time.

R.A. Dickey has been red hot lately, but unfortunately, he doesn't have the wins to show for it.  Over his last 23 starts, Dickey has pitched to a cool 2.75 ERA.  However, although the Mets have won 12 of those 23 starts, Dickey has only gotten credit for seven of them.  Dickey also hasn't given up more than three earned runs since July 20, a span of 11 starts.

Hamels, on the other hand, has been awful recently, losing his last two starts to the lowly Astros and the contending Cardinals.  After posting a 2.58 ERA over the first five months of the season, Hamels has registered a 4.18 ERA in the month of September.  And let's not even get started with his lifetime record against the Mets.  Ah, forget that.  Let's talk about it right now!

In 16 career starts against the Mets, Hamels is 3-10 with a 4.69 ERA.  Most people learn from their mistakes.  Cole Hamels is not most people.  In 2011, Hamels is 1-2 against New York and is the proud owner of a 9.64 ERA against the Mets.

One person who remembers Hamels very well is R.A. Dickey.  On August 13, 2010, Dickey pitched the best game of his life, completing a one-hit shutout against the Phillies at Citi Field.  The lone hit was a soft sixth inning single by (you guessed it) Cole Hamels.

The recipe is there for a victory.  It's the red hot R.A. Dickey on the mound for the Mets.  It's the ass who's also a dick taking the ball for the Phillies.  Philadelphia has already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (including the World Series, if they make it that far).  The Mets are just trying to re-establish their home-field advantage.  I'll take my chances with a Dickey over a dick anytime.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bears On Film: Moneyball

Greetings to all!  We're Joey and Iggy Beartran and this is the premier edition of Bears On Film, which is not to be confused with Men On Film, the old skit starring Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier from In Living Color or Girls On Film, the classic song by Duran Duran.  In today's segment, we're going to review "Moneyball", a film based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis.

(By the way, this review comes with a HEAVY SPOILER ALERT, so if you don't want to know what happens in the film, you should stop reading this now.  However, since we went through all this trouble to write it, you'll have to get us some popcorn so that we don't call your house and leave a voice mail with the entire synopsis of the film.)

The cast of the film includes Brad Pitt as Oakland A's general manager (and former Mets first round draft pick) Billy Beane, Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as A's manager (and former Mets manager) Art Howe and Jonah Hill as assistant general manager Peter Brand (since Paul DePodesta was presumably too hard to spell).

The film begins with the 2001 ALDS between the Oakland A's and the New York Yankees, focusing on Johnny Damon (the opening shot of the film is of Damon batting against Roger Clemens in Game 5 of the ALDS) and Jason Giambi, two high-priced members of the A's who were free agents at the end of the season.  The A's fell to the Yankees in that deciding fifth game and Damon and Giambi signed free agent contracts with the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively.  (Former and current Met Jason Isringhausen was another free agent mentioned in the film who packed his bags following the Game 5 loss and took his wares to St. Louis.)

General manger Billy Beane was left with a problem after the departures of his star players.  How would he replace their numbers without breaking the bank?  Enter Peter Brand. (Or Paul DePodesta - if you're still calling it Shea, then we're calling him DePodesta!)

In a meeting with Cleveland Indians' GM Mark Shapiro (played by Reed Diamond), Beane attempts to trade for relief pitcher Ricardo Rincon.  When that fails, he decides to acquire outfielder (and future Met) Karim Garcia, a player Shapiro is originally open to dealing.  However, Brand/DePodesta, through a series a hand and head gestures, tells Shapiro not to deal Garcia.  Beane ends up with nothing from Cleveland.  However, he didn't leave empty-handed.  Shortly after the meeting, Beane convinced Brand/DePodesta to come work for him in Oakland as his new assistant general manager.

We missed the next few minutes of the film because we wanted some snacks.  It was really hard to pass up that freshly popped popcorn and the oodles of snacks on display, so we sacrificed a few minutes of the film to refuel (that's code for filling our tummies).  Eventually, we'll catch those missing minutes on DVD/Blu-ray.  For now, you'll have to either see the film or ask someone who saw it in its entirety and wasn't as tempted by the snack display as we were.

The movie continued with Beane and Brand/DePodesta bucking the system, while at the same time alienating the other members of the A's front office/talent evaluators with their new approach to evaluating players, namely through the use of on-base percentage as a way to properly replace Damon and Giambi without having to pay an arm, a leg and Rollie Fingers' mustache for it.  Billy Beane was down with OBP (yeah, you know me), while the old farts of the old regime were left with questions like "Who's Fabio?".  (Trust us, it's a very funny scene.)

Damon and Giambi were replaced by David Justice and Scott Hatteberg.  Justice had helped defeat the A's in the 2001 ALDS, but was considered to be over-the-hill and a liability on the field by all of the talent evaluators on the A's not named Beane and Brand/DePodesta.  Hatteberg had played all or parts of seven seasons with the Boston Red Sox, primarily as a catcher.  However, he could no longer throw the ball and was not being sought after by any major league teams.

Despite their shortcomings on the field, both Justice and Hatteberg did have one thing in common.  They walked more than Caine in Kung Fu.

So down came the Damon, Giambi and Isringhausen banners at the Network Associates Coliseum (that's what the ballpark was called in 2002) and up went a lone David Justice banner.  The 2002 A's were built to walk, and over the first two months of the season, they walked their way to the bottom of the AL West standings.

Manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) refused to play Scott Hatteberg at first base, going so far as to reminding his general manager that it was his (Howe's) job to manage and Beane's job to be the general manager.  Needless to say, Beane wasn't exactly fond of his manager, so he traded Howe's other options at first base, Carlos Peña and Jeremy Giambi, to the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively.  This led to a classic scene in the film where Beane orders Howe to insert Hatteberg in that night's starting lineup, to which Howe steadfastly refuses.  Howe insists on starting Peña that night before finally being told by Beane that he can't start a Detroit Tiger at first base.

Philip Seymour Hoffman must be a great actor if he could effectively play the most boring manager in major league history in Art Howe.

The film continues with the ascension of the new "Moneyball" A's, as they rise from the ashes of last place (after Beane assures the owner of the A's that they would be within seven games of first place by the All-Star Break) and adds a story not seen in the Michael Lewis book, namely the relationship between Beane and his daughter, Casey (played by Kerris Dorsey).

Although the father-daughter relationship scenes seemed out of place at first and an unwelcome addition to the film, one particular scene in a music shop set the stage for future scenes involving Beane's ability to "enjoy the show" that was his ragtag group of players (and yes, the quotation marks in the previous sentence are intentional).

And what a show it was!  The A's climbed all the way to the top of the AL West, winning an American League record 20 consecutive games late in the season.  They returned to the playoffs after being written off by many after the fleecing of their high-priced free agents, but were once again eliminated in the ALDS, this time by the Minnesota Twins.

Moneyball showed off the fantastic acting chops of Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but what surprised us the most was the portrayal of Brand/DePodesta by Jonah Hill.  Hill's dramatic turn in Moneyball was a complete 180 from his usual comedic roles and should not be discounted.  Speaking of comedic roles, Brent Jennings was hysterical in his role of A's infield coach Ron Washington, producing some of the movie's funniest lines (a scene in Scott Hatteberg's house comes to mind).

Finally, we can't imagine what's it like to be a GM in the major leagues, but one scene involving Beane's attempt to finally land reliever Ricardo Rincon from the Indians at the trade deadline was pure genius.  The scene involves a hectic back-and-forth exchange between Beane, the always-in-the-background Brand/DePodesta, Beane's secretary Suzanne, and a plethora of other major league GMs, including former Mets GM Steve Phillips.

And to think this was all for a 32-year-old lefty specialist who pitched a grand total of 443.2 innings in 11 seasons in the majors (which, you guessed it, ended with this time as a Met in 2008 - did everyone in this movie have a job with the Mets at some point?  Even Chad Bradford, who "prayed" for Billy Beane in another fantastic scene, played in Flushing.)

Brad Pitt will certainly garner attention from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences come Oscar time.  His portrayal of Billy Beane showed a man who was willing to think outside the box, but did so because winning was the most important thing to him.  His passion for the game, despite not being able to play it well enough to stay in the major leagues (seeing him in a 1984 Mets road jersey with the racing pinstripes was worth the price of admission), was evident throughout the film.  Losing was unacceptable.  Beane would not accept anything less, even from players who on paper weren't supposed to compete with the Yankees or other teams that bathed in their own money, and Pitt played the character perfectly.

Brad Pitt rallies the troops, which includes former big league shortstop Royce Clayton, who plays Miguel Tejada (clearly before Tejada's "alleged" steroid use).

Since we are also the Studious Metsimus culinary experts, we couldn't help but notice various scenes with Beane eating peanuts, popcorn and an entire Twinkie in one bite.  He never seemed to eat anything but junk food, which is a trait we'd like to incorporate into our lifestyles when we're not reviewing baseball films.

So do we recommend Moneyball to our faithful readers?  Let's just say we gave the film TWO BIG PAWS UP!!

It's got tremendous acting (Philip Seymour Hoffman put Iggy to sleep a few times, which means he played Art Howe perfectly), fantastic baseball drama (the A's-Royals matchup at the end of the 20-game winning streak was full of tension - we felt like we were watching an actual game being played), and enough junk food to make any bear happy.

At two hours and 13 minutes, the film might have been a tad lengthy (gotta love those father-daughter scenes), but then again, it was about as long as four innings of a Red Sox-Yankees game.  If you think of it that way, the film flew by.

Moneyball was worth the money we found in the Studious Metsimus petty cash tin.  Even the Oakland A's, with their penny-pinching ways, would shell out top dollar for this film.  The A's might not have won a championship yet under Billy Beane, but the performances in this film are most certainly of a championship caliber.  Go see Moneyball!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eet's A Race! I Hope Reyes Wins!

Jose Reyes knows it.  Ryan Braun knows it.  Mets fan know it.  Even Rowan Atkinson knows it.

Even with the Mets not involved in a pennant race (although they can have plenty to say about it with this week's series against the Cardinals), there's a race involving a Met that should keep the fans' attention over the final week of the season.

Jose Reyes has led in the National League batting race for most of the season.  However, after Sunday's games, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun took his biggest lead in the race, going 3-for-4 to raise his average to .336, five points ahead of Reyes' .331 average.  But when Braun took an oh-fer last night, his average dipped to .333, opening the door for Reyes to retake the lead.

The Mets have never had a batting champion in their first half-century of existence.  In fact, prior to this year, no Met had ever led the batting race past September 3.  (John Olerud paced the NL in batting on September 3, 1998 before succumbing to Colorado's Larry Walker.  Olerud did become the first Met ever to finish second for the batting title.)

Jose Reyes might be playing his final games in New York.  In 2008, the Mets couldn't give their fans something to celebrate on the final day of the season.  The Shea Goodbye ceremonies were bittersweet once the Mets were eliminated by the Marlins as Brewers fans cheered their team's clinching of the wild card berth.

Three years later, it's the Mets that can close the season celebrating something while a Brewer finishes second.  It's not a playoff spot (Milwaukee pretty much has their second-ever full season division title wrapped up - they made the playoffs during the strike season of 1981, but that was as the division champion of the second half of the season.  Yeah, it was pretty quirky that year.) but it's something the Mets have never had before.

As Rowan Atkinson's character so eloquently stated in the movie Rat Race, "Eet's a race!"  Let's hope Jose Reyes can win.  The Mets and their fans need something to celebrate.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

With Or Without Reyes, Ruben Tejada Is A Keeper

In today's 7-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves, Ruben Tejada filled in for Jose Reyes both at shortstop and in the leadoff spot.  Tejada reached base three times (walk, double, single), stole a base and drove in four runs.  His two-out, three-run double in the fourth inning broke a 1-1 tie and his two-out, RBI single in the eighth inning gave the Mets a 6-5 lead, a lead they never relinquished.

Ruben Tejada was once viewed as a light-hitting, slick-fielding middle infielder, similar to Rey Ordoñez, although not as flashy.  However, this season he has shown that he can handle the bat better than anyone expected him to, and has handled pressure situations like an established veteran.

Tejada has been a model of consistency at the plate, hitting .281 vs. RHP and .276 vs. LHP.  He is also hitting .272 at Citi Field and .287 on the road.  His .356 on-base percentage ranks second on the team behind Jose Reyes for players currently on the active roster.  Tejada has also struck out only 47 times in 339 plate appearances.

But what sets him apart from the Tejada we saw in 2010 is his ability to hit under pressure and in RBI spots.  This year, Tejada is batting .304 with men on base and has a .377 OBP in those situations.  With runners in scoring position, Tejada is a .286 hitter, but has reached base at a .383 clip.  But those numbers are nothing compared to what he does when there is a runner 90 feet away from scoring.

In all situations when he has stepped to the plate with a runner on third base, Tejada is hitting .375 and has a .425 OBP.  These numbers improve when Tejada bats with the bases loaded.  In today's game, Tejada came up to bat twice with the bags full.  He cleared the bases when he doubled in the fourth and drove in another run with a bases-loaded single in the eighth, with a potential fifth RBI cut down at the plate on a fine throw by Jason Heyward.  Therefore, with his 2-for-2 performance in bases loaded situations today, Tejada is now hitting .500 this season with the bags full and has a .538 OBP.

Clearly, the stat sheet proves that Tejada is quite valuable as a hitter.  Although he doesn't hit for power, he collects base hits as a consistent pace and picks them up with more regularity when the Mets are close to scoring a run.  There is one thing that doesn't show up on the stat sheet that Tejada is also good at.  He's a master at working the count and making the opposing pitcher throw numerous pitches.

Take today's game, for example.  In the first inning, Tejada flied out, but did so on the sixth pitch of his at-bat.  In the third inning, Tejada worked out a walk on the tenth pitch of the at-bat.  By seeing 16 pitches from Braves' starter Brandon Beachy in his first two plate appearances, Tejada saw his opponent's entire repertoire and was able to make adjustments the third time he faced him.  Sure enough, Tejada hit a long double in the fourth inning off Beachy (on the second pitch of the at-bat), driving in three runs.

Ruben Tejada will never produce the numbers that Jose Reyes does when he's healthy.  In addition, no one will ever confuse the professional Tejada for the effervescent Reyes.  But don't say that Tejada can't be a key member of this team.

In only his second year on the Mets, Tejada has improved by leaps and bounds.  He makes up for his lack of power by working counts and making the pitcher throw him his pitch.  He's a fantastic situational hitter and amps up his game in tight spots. (Did I mention Tejada's a .310 hitter when he comes to bat in a tie game?  In case you were watching football and not the Mets game, today's two bases-loaded hits by Tejada came when the score was 1-1 and 5-5.)

Simply put, Ruben Tejada knows how to play the game and plays the game to win.  At the young age of 21, he has played like a ten-year veteran.  With continued development and the opportunity to play, there's no reason to think that he can't become one.  Even if Jose Reyes isn't a Met in 2012, Ruben Tejada has proven that he belongs on this team.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

25 Years Ago: Mets Clinch NL East Division Title

Do you remember where you were 25 years ago today?  If you were alive and a Mets fan, you definitely should.

On September 17, 1986, the Mets became champions of the National League East for the first time in 13 years, riding the arm of a young Dwight Gooden en route to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs.  The game marked the first career start for Dave Magadan, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

The Cubs scored both of their runs on the "strength" of Rafael Palmeiro's two-run HR.  It was only the second home run of Palmeiro's career, a career that saw him blast 584 more longballs and wave one finger at Congress.

Despite Palmeiro's homer, manager Davey Johnson kept Gooden in the game for the ninth inning, when he could have used either of his co-closers (Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell).  He also inserted Keith Hernandez at first base for the final inning.  It was Hernandez's bout with the flu that kept him out of the starting lineup and allowed Dave Magadan to get his first major league start at first base.

Gooden began the ninth inning by walking Cubs catcher Jody Davis.  Shawon Dunston (who himself had a key moment in Mets history during the 1999 NLCS) then grounded into a fielder's choice, with Davis retired at second base.  Pinch-hitter Chris Speier then singled to put the tying runs on base.

Two on, one out, no call to the bullpen.  It was Doc's game to win or lose.

Dwight settled down after the single to Speier, striking out pinch-hitter Jerry Mumphrey.  With two outs, Chico Walker stepped up to the plate.  Let's go to Steve Zabriskie and Rusty Staub for the play-by-play:

As Rusty Staub said, it was "13 years of waiting" for the Mets and their fans (Rusty himself was a key member of the last Mets team to win a division title in 1973), but the team finally clinched the National League Eastern division crown 25 years ago today, on September 17, 1986.

By losing four straight games on the road to Philadelphia and St. Louis (the Mets did win the final game of their two-game series in St. Louis on September 16), the Mets allowed themselves the opportunity and luxury of winning the division title in front of the Shea faithful.

Although millions of fans will now claim to have been there, a total of 47,823 fans tore into the field after the final out was recorded.  We don't know if any of those fans caught the flu from coming into close contact with Keith Hernandez after he caught the final out of the game, but we do know that the city had caught Mets fever.

On September 17, 1986, the Mets were champions again.  They'd go on to win the championship of the National League 28 days later and the World Series 12 days after that, but it's that first taste of champagne that's the sweetest.

Can you believe it's been 25 years already?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Song Parody: Save The Worst For Last

The Mets went into their just-completed nine-game homestand with visions of a .500 record dancing in their heads.  With a 70-71 record entering their make-up doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves on September 8, it wasn't much of a stretch to think the Mets could go 5-4 at the very least to end the homestand with a .500 record, especially considering that the final seven games would be played against the lowly Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals.

But we are talking about the Mets here and it is September, the month in which the Mets usually start packing it in while crowds at Citi Field do the exact opposite.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Mets went 1-8 on the homestand, which culminated with a four-game sweep at the hands of the not-so-lowly anymore Nats.

Their performance during the homestand dropped them to 31-44 at Citi Field this year, putting them one step closer to finishing with their worst home record since the 1993 Mets went 28-53 at Shea Stadium.  (The 2003 team went 34-46 at Shea.)

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the Mets, who were overachieving during the first two-thirds of the season, are now playing their worst baseball, in essence saving their worst play for last.  On that note, I believe it's time for the latest Studious Metsimus song parody.

The Mets are far from being No. 1, but Vanessa Williams' song, "Save The Best For Last", spent five weeks at No. 1 in 1992 (the year Mets fans rooted for "The Worst Team Money Can Buy").  Therefore, it's fitting that we should parody that song to reflect this year's team, a team that knows how to "Save The Worst For Last":

Sometimes the Mets compete in June
Then they go through their annual swoon
Four months of passion in their eyes
Hoping for more was ill-advised

There was a time when all we did was wish
Not to be dragged in the mud
But all we get is a tease of something grand
Followed by a big thud

Other teams fight in a pennant race
While the Mets fall into fourth place
Time for competing has now past
'Cause the Mets saved the worst for last

All of the nights we went to Citi
Seeing too many oh-for-threes
So many players we could boo
When they play like it's '62

Mets fans won't give their love to someone else
They're Wright to love Davey
But sometimes the players that we loved before
Just make "E" after "E".

So now it's time to just save face
Instead of being a part of the chase
October baseball would've been a blast
But the Mets saved the worst for last

When .500 is all that you're looking for
You'll never catch the Phillies...

Sometimes the Mets compete in June
Then they go through their annual swoon
Being swept by the pesky Nats
Proved that they saved the worst for last

They went and saved the worst for last...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jason Bay Says "Let Them Eat Crow!"

Longtime readers of Studious Metsimus probably know that Jason Bay has been a target of our wrath for the better part of his two seasons in New York.  We called him a human windmill last year, a benchwarmer this year, and have advocated booing him at Citi Field.

Despite all his troubles at the plate, Bay has continued to be a professional and has done other things to help the team win.  He has played a very good left field, has been patient at the plate (Bay's 50 walks lead all current Mets - Carlos Beltran drew 60 bases on balls before being traded to San Francisco), and has been an intelligent baserunner (11 stolen bases in 12 attempts), hustling on every play, both on offense and defense.

Earlier today, Jason Bay was named National League Player of the Week, becoming the second consecutive Met to win the award (David Wright took home the honors last week).  For the week ending Sept. 11, Bay hit .481 (13-for-27) with five doubles, two home runs (including a grand slam) and 10 RBI.  Bay also had five multi-hit games for the week.

Up until recently, you had to have knowledge of Photoshop to use a picture like this.

For the year, Bay is now hitting .246 with 12 HR and 56 RBI, numbers that are still far below expectations.  Despite that, Bay still has a chance to lead the Mets in both home runs and RBIs.  Carlos Beltran collected 15 HR and 66 RBI before he was dealt away.  Bay leads all current Mets in RBIs and is tied with David Wright for the team lead in home runs.  With four more homers and 11 additional runs batted in, Bay would surpass Beltran's totals.

Who would have thought that Jason Bay would be mentioned in a sentence about team leaders in the power categories?  Certainly not us.  But over his past 63 games (since June 28), Bay has picked up 13 doubles, 9 HR and 40 RBI, striking out only 49 times in 262 plate appearances.  Prior to June 28, Bay had a mere four doubles, three home runs and 16 RBI.  He was also victimized by strike three 52 times in only 219 plate appearances.

It's time to eat the proverbial crow on this one.  Jason Bay has finally arrived in New York.  It may have been almost two years too late and not exactly during a pennant race, but it sure makes things interesting for 2012.  Bay might not be a question mark entering next season the way he was this past April.  Who'da thunk it?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

17 Games Left: Third Is The Word

With today's loss to the Cubs, the Mets fell to 71-74 on the season.  They remain two thousand games behind the first place Phillies (that will change after tonight's Phillies-Brewers matchup has been completed) and a few hundred games behind the wild card-leading Braves (also pending tonight's game).  However, they do remain four games ahead of the fourth place Nationals and 5½ games in front of the lowly Marlins.

So the question is not whether the Mets can catch the Braves for the wild card or cut the Phillies' lead in the NL East to one thousand games (even though a three-game sweep of Philadelphia in two weeks would certainly help), it's whether or not the Mets can forget that there are 17 games left in the season and hold off the Nats and Fish to finish higher than fourth place for the first time since moving across the parking lot to Citi Field.

The 2007 and 2008 Mets famously went 5-12 and 7-10, respectively, in their final 17 games to lose their not-so-firm grip on first place and the wild card, failing to make the playoffs each year.  The 2009 Mets also went 7-10 in their final 17 games, but managed to hold off the Washington Nationals in their quest for fourth place in the NL East (mission accomplished - yes!)

Last year's team was 72-73 at the 145-game mark, as they were duking it out with the Marlins for third place.  They then proceeded to go (you guessed it) 7-10 in their final 17 games, finishing in fourth place, a game behind the Marlins, but at least ahead of the last place Nats.

So what can we expect the Mets to do this year now that they've reached the dreaded "17 to play" mark of the season?

For one thing, the Mets have what should be a comfortable lead in the NL East over the Nationals and Marlins.  But then again, being four games up on Washington doesn't guarantee anything.  The Nationals still have something to play for.  Since moving to Washington from Montreal following the 2004 season, the Nats have finished last in every year but one (2007, when they finished two games ahead of the cellar-dwelling Marlins).  With the potential for their highest finish in the NL East, the Nationals will surely be playing hard over their final 17 games.  The Marlins, on the other hand, just lost six games over the past two weeks to the Mets.  The demons of 2007 and 2008 have been exorcised and the Marlins should pose no threat to the Mets over their final 17 games (we hope).

A quick look at my once shiny, now falling apart Mets pocket schedule reveals that the Mets will be playing a four-game series with the fourth place (and hungry) Nationals next week at Citi Field.  The Mets cannot lose this series if a) they want to finish .500 or better and 2) they don't want to choke away third place to Jayson Werth and his cohorts.  They must split this series at the very least.  Taking three of four would all but eliminate the Nats from third place contention and a four-game sweep plus drilling Werth in his $126 million @$$ would be the cherry on top of the mediocre sundae.

It would behoove the Mets to do well against Washington because after that series, the Mets will be playing the wild card-leading Braves in Atlanta (they have a worse winning percentage at Turner Field than the Washington Generals have against the Harlem Globetrotters), followed by a trip to St. Louis against the somehow-still-in-it Cardinals, and topped off with a three-game set against the team with the best record in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies, who somehow are on their way to the best record in franchise history, even without the aforementioned Jayson Werth (guess their key off-season acquisition of Juan Samuel to be their third base coach really panned out for them).

Should the Mets falter against the Braves, Cardinals and Phillies, they'll need to sweep the Reds at Citi Field to close out the regular season to have any realistic hope of finishing ahead of the Nationals for third place.  The lowly Reds surely remember the Mets' first-ever four-game sweep in Cincinnati a few months ago, so they will not be an easy opponent, despite what the won-loss records say.

The Mets have gone 7-10 over their final 17 games in each of the last three seasons (and it's four out of five seasons if you go back to 2006; even that team went 7-10 over their final 17 regular season games).  Doing the same this year would produce a 78-84 record, a one-game dropoff from their 2010 final record.  It would also put them in jeopardy of being passed by the Washington Nationals for third place in the NL East.  Finishing .500 or better should be the ultimate goal for this year's Mets, but finishing in third place is the more likely (and attainable) goal.  It's time to show the rest of the National League East (meaning those teams not named Los Phillies or Los Braves) that this Mets team has had enough of late-season chokes and fourth place finishes.  Say it loud and say it proud!  Third is the word!  And nothing else will be acceptable!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Joey's Soapbox: It's Always Labor Day For Mike Pelfrey

Greetings and salutations, Mets fans!  This is Joey Beartran, taking a break from doing nothing on a day that commemorates the sacrifices and contributions of workers who have done everything.

Today is a perfect day for me to discuss the problems I have with Mike Pelfrey, a pitcher who labors more than any other on the mound.  So grab your end-of-summer cold drink, sit back on that Mets inflatable chair you have but never like to admit you own (it's in the closet next to your Kaz Matsui bobblehead - the one you couldn't even sell on eBay), and prepare to hear what I have to say from my soapbox.

When Mike Pelfrey was drafted by the Mets with the ninth pick of the 2005 MLB June Amateur Draft (directly ahead of current blossoming major leaguers Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce), he was expected to become a dominant pitcher for the Mets for many years.  After all, his final season at Wichita State University produced a line that seemed to suggest that the Mets were right in choosing Pelfrey so early in the draft (12-3, 1.93 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 143 Ks in 139.2 IP).

Pelfrey was a ground ball pitcher with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, the type of pitcher that made scouts drool with his potential to be a top of the rotation starter.  The Mets couldn't wait to see that potential for themselves and decided to bring him up to the majors just six months after signing Pelfrey.  (Although the Mets drafted Pelfrey in June 2005, he did not sign his first contract with the team until January 2006 due to ongoing negotiations.)  That was their first mistake.

The Mets were able to slug their way to victory in Pelfrey's major league debut, clubbing the Marlins 17-3, with Pelfrey allowing three runs (two earned) in five innings of work.  Big Pelf made three more starts for the Mets that summer, but showed that he wasn't ready for the majors yet.  In four starts, Pelfrey's ERA was 5.48 and he posted a 1.73 WHIP.

Pelfrey's minor league numbers in 2006 and 2007 were actually very good.  In those two years, he went 10-9 with a 3.11 ERA, striking out nearly a batter per inning (167 Ks in 176.1 IP) and allowing fewer hits than innings pitched (81 hits in 96.1 IP in 2006 and 79 hits in 80 IP in 2007).

Still, the bottom line is that Pelfrey only made 33 starts in the minor leagues, pitching less than 200 innings below the major league level.  He did not receive enough minor league seasoning (even Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden pitched over 200 innings in the minor leagues before being called up for the first time) and was rushed to the big leagues because the team was in need of starting pitching.  It may have stunted his development and turned him into the mediocre pitcher he is today.

The fact of the matter of this.  Mike Pelfrey, strikeout pitcher in college and the minor leagues, can't strike out his own mother.  He has never struck out more than 113 batters in any full season in the major leagues and is striking out barely over three batters per start this year (29 starts, 93 Ks).  Also, the ground ball pitcher he used to be has apparently left the building.  That's not the only thing leaving the building, as Pelfrey has already allowed a career-high 19 HR with a month of baseball left to play in 2011.

That, combined with a steady increase in walks (Pelfrey walked 64 batters in 2008, 66 in 2009, 68 in 2010 and has walked 59 batters in 2011 with four potential starts remaining), has made Pelfrey more of a hit-and-miss pitcher rather than the star pitcher he was supposed to be when the Mets drafted him six years ago.  Unfortunately, for Pelfrey and the Mets, there have been too many hits (by opposing batters) and not enough misses.

With 189 hits allowed in 171 innings this season, Pelfrey is on track to record his sixth consecutive season with more hits allowed than innings pitched.  That would make him the first pitcher in Mets history to do so.

There have been 26 pitchers to pitch a minimum of six seasons for the Mets (including parts of seasons).  Of those 26 hurlers, only five of them allowed more hits than innings pitched during their tenure in New York.  Those five pitchers are:

  • Al Jackson (1,033 hits in 980.2 IP)
  • Ed Lynch (815 hits in 730.1 IP)
  • Bobby Jones (1,255 hits in 1,215.2 IP)
  • Steve Trachsel (967 hits in 956.1 IP)
  • Mike Pelfrey (934 hits in 854 IP)

Jackson, Lynch, Jones and Trachsel all had at least one season in which they allowed fewer hits than innings pitched, with Jackson accomplishing the feat once (1968), Lynch twice (1981, 1985), Jones four times (1993, 1994, 1997, 1998) and Trachsel three times (2001, 2002, 2003).

Mike Pelfrey is the only pitcher to have pitched at least six seasons for the Mets and given up more hits than innings pitched in every single one of those seasons.  In fact, only John Franco, who pitched in New York for 14 seasons (1990-2001, 2003-2004), allowed more hits than innings pitched in five different seasons.  Pelfrey is on his way to becoming the first Met to do it six times and he only needed six years to do it.

When Mike Pelfrey takes the mound, he always finds a way to make his effort more laborious than it should be.  How many more 30-pitch innings can the Mets take from their 27-year-old "ace"?  How many more five-inning, nine-hit, two-strikeout performances will Pelfrey engineer before the team realizes that he'll never the starter they wanted him to be?

The stats don't lie, my friends.  Throughout his Mets career, Mike Pelfrey has been an opposing hitter's best friend when he's been out on the mound.  If his overall record (50-52, 4.38 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) doesn't spell it out for the Mets, perhaps this will.

Pelfrey's 4.38 ERA in 142 starts is the highest earned run average of any Mets pitcher who has made at least 100 career starts for the team (Al Jackson is second with a 4.26 ERA in 138 starts) and Pelfrey is the only Met with at least 100 starts to have a WHIP over 1.40 (Steve Trachsel is second with a 1.38 WHIP).

Six years is a long time to be given a "trial run".  It's clear that Mike Pelfrey will never be a great pitcher.  At best, he will be an innings eater that will keep teams in ballgames provided that team has some kind of offense.  But the Mets haven't had "some kind of offense" since their last days at Shea Stadium.  In fact, offense and Citi Field aren't two terms that are generally seen in the same room together.

If Mike Pelfrey is ever going to succeed at the major league level, he will most likely have to do it on another team.  He's already left his mark in New York.  Unfortunately, that mark is at the bottom of a number of the franchise's all-time pitching categories.  Mets fans have been forced to watch Mike Pelfrey labor his way through a great deal of his 142 starts.  They shouldn't be forced to do so in 2012.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dickeypedia Word of The Week: Hyperbole

Greetings, Mets fans!  It's time for another edition of the Dickeypedia Word of the Week, which is a misnomer since this is not really a weekly piece.  But it did give me the opportunity to use the word "misnomer" in a sentence.

For those of you new to this non-weekly segment, we use a quote by Mets' knuckleballer extraordinaire R.A. Dickey, define one of the words used in the quote, then have a former Met use that word in a sentence.  Of course, the former Met is usually someone who wasn't very popular with the fans or had a lexicon comparable to one used by the Incredible Hulk.

Last night, the Mets defeated the Washington Nationals by the final score of 7-3.  Our hero (no, I'm not talking about the Incredible Hulk) pitched six innings, allowing three runs on nine hits to pick up his second consecutive victory.  The win came on only three days rest, as Dickey started for the Mets on Monday during the doubleheader sweep of the Florida Marlins.

After the game, R.A. was giving his usual post-game interview, when he spit out this verbal nugget:

"It's not hyperbole to say that my knuckleball was putrid.  I had to find a way to eat up innings and keep us in it."

Forget about the fact that Dickey used the word "putrid" in a sentence, although that is also a word not usually uttered by a professional athlete in a sentence (unless if they're referring to what the bathroom smells like after Angel Pagan uses it, but that's another story).  He also used the word "hyperbole", which caused us to reach for our Dickeypedia for the definition:

  • 1. obvious and intentional exaggeration.
  • 2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally.

Even with the definition, some people still might have a tough time ascertaining what a hyperbole truly is.  Therefore, we found former Met and business expert Lenny Dykstra.  Although Dykstra has been in the news recently for many reasons, he is still quite excited about two things: the upcoming college football season and the privilege to appear in a Dickeypedia piece.

When we e-mailed Lenny to ask him if he would use the word "hyperbole" in a sentence for those who were confused by its actual definition, he was more than happy to oblige our request and share a little of his college football knowledge with us.  Take it away, Lenny!

"Last year, there were many high-scoring bowl games.  For example, Tulsa beat Hawaii 62-35 in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.  Also, Texas Tech edged Northwestern 45-38 in the TicketCity Bowl.  I think if the NCAA really wanted to give the fans something they'd enjoy, they would take the winners of the highest scoring bowl games and have them play on an Arena League field.  They'd each score 100 points easily!  And what would the NCAA call this game?  Why, the Hyper Bole, of course.  Now give me some more Twizzlers.  I'm starving!"

There you have it, Mets fans and vocabulary enthusiasts.  Straight from the mouth of Nails himself, yet another reason why you should stay in school.

R.A. Dickey stayed in school, and he translated his education into a schooling of major league hitters while performing his craft on the mound.  Lenny Dykstra?  Not so much.  But there is one thing we've learned from this exercise.

It wouldn't be hyperbole to say that Lenny isn't very good at anything anymore, including his master plan to improve the college football bowl season.  Like R.A. Dickey's knuckleball against the Nationals last night, Dykstra's pretty putrid at anything he gets himself into these days.  At least Dickey emerged victorious last night.  Too bad we can't say the same thing about Lenny Dykstra.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Two Ways For Mets Fans To Remember This September

September has rolled around and the Mets will almost certainly be left out of the postseason party. Going into the final month of the season, the Mets find themselves 22 games behind the first place Phillies and 14½ games behind the wild card-leading Braves.

But although October is only a rumor at Citi Field, there are two events that are still visible on the horizon for the Mets and their fans - a winning season and a batting title for Jose Reyes.

The Mets have a 65-69 record as they begin play in the month of September. Although the climb back to (and hopefully over) .500 could be daunting, it's not an impossible task. In fact, the Mets have twice before entered September with a losing record, only to turn things around and finish of the bright side of .500 at season's end.

In 2001, the Mets began the month of September with a 64-71 record, seemingly out of contention in the NL East after winning the National League pennant the year before. But an 18-9 mark in September and October (the season was pushed back a week due to the tragic events of 9/11) kept Mets fans hopes up and more importantly, gave them a winning record for the season (82-80).

Similarly, the 1973 Mets appeared to be going nowhere fast in the NL East. With a 62-71 record after their final game in August, the Mets were on a one-way ticket to disappointment just one year after finishing ten games above .500. But all it took was a little "ya gotta believe" and a 20-8 mark in September and October, and the Mets found themselves in the playoffs (albeit with an 82-79 record), finishing one win short of their second World Series championship.

Both the 1973 Mets and the 2001 Mets were more games below .500 entering September than this year's model. A 17-11 record this month would make the 2011 Mets the third team in franchise history to achieve this feat.

Now, let's talk about Jose Reyes and his personal quest to become the team's first batting champion.

Entering September, Reyes was leading the National League with a .336 mark, just slightly ahead of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and his .333 average. However, Braun went 1-for-5 in his first September game (a day game against the Cardinals this afternoon), lowering his batting average to .331.

Prior to this season, only three Mets players had ever finished within ten points of the batting title. Cleon Jones (.340) finished eight points behind Pete Rose (.348) in the 1969 National League batting race, with Roberto Clemente (.345) sandwiched between them. Dave Magadan (.328) finished seven points behind 1990 NL batting champion Willie McGee, with Eddie Murray's .330 average sliding in between the two. Finally, in 1998, John Olerud became the first Met to finish second in the league in batting, with his franchise-record .354 average. (Larry Walker finished nine percentage points ahead of Olerud with his .363 batting average.)

Of the above batting title contenders for the Mets, only John Olerud entered the month of September with the lead in the batting race. Prior to the games of September 1, 1998, Olerud's .344 mark was two points higher than Walker's .342. But an 0-for-3 performance by Olerud coupled with a 2-for-3 game by Walker on the month's first night caused a shift in the race, with Walker taking a two-point lead over Olerud (.344 to .342). Olerud retook the lead the following night, but Walker took it back on September 3 and never gave it up for the rest of the season, hitting .640 (16-for-25) from the 3rd to the 12th of September. Even Olerud's .621 average (18-for-29) over his final ten games wasn't enough to help him claim the franchise's first batting title.

Editor's note: In 1969, Cleon Jones was hitting .351 going into September, eight percentage points ahead of eventual batting champion Pete Rose (.343). But Roberto Clemente was the league leader in batting with a .354 mark on the morning of September 1, 1969.

In 1990, Willie McGee's batting average was frozen when he was traded from the Cardinals to the Oakland A's. Since he did not bat again in the National League following his trade, his .335 mark at the time of the trade remained intact. Dave Magadan's batting average never reached McGee's mark in September, peaking at .333 on September 5.

If Jose Reyes can keep his lead in the batting race past September 3, he will be the first Mets player ever to lead the league in batting that late in the season. Of course, should he manage to hold off Ryan Braun, he would become the team's first batting champion in their 50-year history.

So what if the Mets aren't even in the Phillies' and Braves' rear view mirror? There are still two reasons to root for the boys in orange and blue (especially if they wear those sweet "Los Mets" alternate jerseys). The Mets can finish with their first winning mark since the days of Shea Stadium and Jose Reyes can finally provide an answer to the decades-old question, "what will happen first, a Mets' no-hitter or a Mets' batting champion?".

Instead of thinking that there's only one month left to the off-season, think that there's one more exciting month of baseball to be played at Citi Field, a month that could give Mets fans a winning attitude and an unprecedented individual achievement for one of their heroes. You gotta believe, right?