Saturday, April 27, 2013

You'll Never Forget Your First Time ... Under The .500 Mark

This scene has been repeated far too many times over the years.

The Mets lost on Friday night to the Philadelphia Phillies, dropping their record on the season to 10-11.  It was the first time all year the Mets dipped below the .500 mark, just one year after they waited until after the All-Star Break to fall below the break-even mark for the first time.  When the Mets went south of mediocrity in 2012, they never recovered.  This year, they'll have 141 games to get back to - and hopefully over - the .500 mark.

During the Mets' infancy years, they would usually fall under .500 approximately three hours after the Star-Spangled Banner was sung for the first time, and they would continue to stare at a higher number in the loss column throughout most of the 1960s.  It wasn't until 1985 that the Mets played an entire season without ever knowing what it was like to have more losses than wins at any point of the season.

They say "you'll never forget your first time", so I'm here to make sure you never forget the first time the Mets dipped below .500 each year.  With very few exceptions, the Mets have annually made at least one turn off the south exit on Interstate .500.  How have the Mets done after getting off at this exit every year?  Let's put it this way.  They never should have gotten off the highway.

From 1962 to 1968, the Mets spent a grand total of one day above .500.  That happened in 1966, when the Mets were 2-1 after three games.  Two games later, they were 2-3 and on their way to a 95-loss season.

In 1969, the Mets lost on Opening Day to start the year under .500 for the eighth consecutive season.  Just as they did in 1966, they went to 2-1 after three games, only to fall below .500 after their fifth game.  They stayed under .500 until June 3, when the team's sixth consecutive victory propelled their record to 24-23.  The Mets would go on to add five more wins to establish a club record with an 11-game winning streak.  They would not go below .500 again during the 1969 regular season, ending the miraculous season with a World Series championship.

The 1970 squad was 1-0 after one game for the first time in team history.  But by Game 3, they were back under .500 at 1-2.  The Mets would ride the .500 wave repeatedly in 1970, going back over .500 at 5-4, before falling to 7-8 just a week later.  They were 9-8 after seventeen games, but 14-15 after twenty-nine.  A four-game winning streak moved them back over .500 in mid-May, but a four-game losing streak a week later sent them right back under.  Finally, on June 14, a Tom Seaver victory pushed the Mets over .500 at 30-29.  They would remain above .500 for the rest of the season, after spending the first two-plus months of the season never more than two games over .500 or three games below it.

1971 was the first year in which the Mets never spent a single day below .500 in the month of April.  By June 9, the Mets were flying high at 32-20 and in a first place tie with the St. Louis Cardinals.  But the Mets' hot start gradually cooled off.  On August 14, the Mets dipped below .500 for the first time in 1971.  At 58-59, it was the latest the Mets had ever gone below .500 for the first time.  The Mets did recover to go back over .500 at 65-64 and never went under .500 again in 1971, but by then, the Pittsburgh Pirates had taken full advantage of the Mets' struggles, jumping over the Mets and the rest of the NL East on their way to a World Series title.

It was more of the same for the Mets in 1972.  Although the Mets did spend one day under .500 at 1-2, they recovered quickly.  By early June, the team was 19 games over .500 for the first time since their World Championship season.  But injuries and poor play doomed the team and they couldn't remain competitive in the division.  Although they never went below .500 again after the third game of the season, the team finished well behind the first place Pirates.

The 1973 campaign was the exact opposite of 1972, in that the team was not doing particularly well by early June - the Mets were 22-27 by June 8 - but played incredibly well as the season came to its improbable conclusion.

For the second time in team history, the Mets didn't go under .500 in the month of April.  May was a different story, as the Mets fell to 13-14 on May 8, then went back over .500 before falling back under on May 28.  By August 17, the Mets were 13 games under .500 and in last place in the NL East.  In the past, this was a sure sign that the season was over for the Mets, as they had never shown an ability to go from a sub-.500 team to a division contender, especially after the All-Star Break.  But the Mets got back over .500 on September 22 and never looked back, taking the division title the day after the regular season was supposed to end and continuing to win until George Stone was bypassed by manager Yogi Berra in Game 6 of the World Series.

The 1974 season was reminiscent of the 1966 campaign, in that the Mets lost on Opening Day, then won two in a row to go over .500 at 2-1, then never spent another day above .500 the rest of the season.  1975 wasn't as bad as 1974, but wasn't as good as 1973 either.  The Mets spent most of the first month of the season bobbing up and down in the .500 ocean.  They were up (1-0), then they were down (1-2).  They were up (7-6), then they were down (10-11).  The Mets went back over .500 on May 17, then didn't go back under the break-even point the rest of the season, even though they came close on many occasions.  On fifteen occasions after May 17, the Mets lost games to move them back to .500 or within a game of .500.  They never lost a game after May 17 when they were facing a sub-.500 record.  If they had played as if they were in danger of falling under .500 all year, perhaps they would have finished with a record slightly better than 82-80.

Three times the Mets dipped below .500 in April of 1976, and they remained a mediocre team through late June, when they fell to 33-37.  But the team played exceptionally well over their final 90-plus games, going 53-39 the rest of the way.  No team in the NL East team lost fewer games than the Mets did after June 22.  But the Phillies didn't start off as poorly as the Mets did in 1976, and they won the division title, even though the Mets posted their second-highest win total in franchise history.  New York finished the year ten games over .500 at 86-76.  It would be many years before the Mets were that many games above .500 again.

The 1977 to 1983 seasons can be summarized in one paragraph.  Simply stated, the Mets sucked.  They were under .500 in April every year, and finished each year at least 20 games below .500.  Even a strike that wiped out over one-third of the season in 1981 couldn't prevent the Mets from losing 20 more games than they won, as New York won 41 games and lost 62 in the abbreviated 1981 campaign.

As bad as the seven-year stretch from 1977 to 1983 was, the following seven seasons (1984-1990) were the exact opposite.  The Mets never finished lower than second place from 1984 to 1990, averaging nearly 97 wins per season over that time.  The Mets lost on Opening Day in 1984 to start the season below .500, then didn't go under .500 again until the fifth game of the 1986 campaign, and even that stay lasted only one game.  The Mets were under .500 once in 1984 (0-1), were never under .500 in 1985 and were only under .500 once in 1986, when they were 2-3.  The Mets finally sank under .500 again on May 9, 1987 and didn't go back over .500 again for over three weeks.  But once they got there, they stayed there, not dipping into the depths of sub-.500 baseball again until the fifth game of the 1988 campaign.

As they did in 1986, the 1988 Mets were only below .500 once, when they fell to 2-3 after five games.  The '88 squad recovered quickly and ran away with the Eastern division crown just as they had two years earlier.  But that's where the comparison ends, as the 1988 team lost the NLCS in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In 1989, the Mets spent most of April under .500, but went over .500 for good on April 26, when they were 10-9.  Even though the Mets were never more than 7½ games out of first at any point in the season, it never felt like they were in the race for a division title.  The Mets were never more than single-digit games over .500 until mid-August and failed to win 90 games in a season for the first time since 1983.

The sub-.500 record doomed the Mets early on in 1990 and eventually doomed the manager, as Davey Johnson was axed by general manager Frank Cashen after getting off to a 20-22 start.  His replacement, Buddy Harrelson, got the Mets back over .500 on June 13 and had the team in first place as late as September 3, but the Mets fell just short in the quest to win their third consecutive even-numbered year division title.

The Mets continued to compete under Harrelson in 1991, going 53-38 through July 21.  But everything spun out of control after that, as the team lost 23 of its next 27 games to fall under .500 for the first time in 14 months.  When the Mets fell under .500 on August 16, it surpassed the record held by the 1971 Mets as the latest date the team sank below .500 for the first time in a season.  But unlike the 1971 Mets, who recovered to finish the year with a winning record, the 1991 squad failed to make a full recovery.  In fact, the team remained in a sub-.500 coma for six years.

The 1991 campaign was the first of six consecutive losing seasons for the Mets.  In 1992, the Mets spent a few days above .500 early on in the season, but by June 12 the team was under .500 for good.  The 1993 squad won six of its first ten games, but dipped below .500 before the calendar flipped to May.  Once they went under .500, they went way under.  A six-game season-ending winning streak kept the team from finishing more than 50 games below the break-even point.

In 1994, the Mets actually spent more time on the north side of .500 than on the south side during the first two months of the season.  The Mets didn't go under .500 for good until early June and were prevented from going back above it by the work stoppage that put the kibosh on the season in August, just as the Mets were one three-game series sweep away from reaching the .500 mark.

Because of the strike, the 1995 season started late, as did the Mets.  For the first time since 1967, the Mets never spent a day above .500.  However, they did end the abbreviated season on a high note, winning 34 of their final 52 games to finish the season with a 69-75 record.  The Mets thought they could carry over their success from the end of the 1995 campaign into 1996, but alas, after taking two out of three in their season-opening series against the Cardinals, the Mets never spent another day above .500 after their 2-1 start.

The 1997 season began a turnaround for the New York Mets, although it didn't begin immediately.  The Mets lost 14 of their first 22 games in 1997, and didn't reach the .500 mark for the first time until May 10.  But once they got there, they waved goodbye to sub-.500 baseball for most of the next five seasons.  For the second time in team history, the Mets never spent a day below .500 in 1998 (matching the mark set by the 1985 Mets).  The 1999 squad lost on Opening Day to fall to 0-1, then spent one more day under .500 when they were 27-28.  That was it as far as sub-.500 days went for the wild card-winning Mets in 1999.  The 2000 Mets also lost their Opening Day game and were under .500 as late as April 16 (which isn't very late).  That team went on to win its fourth National League pennant.

In 2001, the Mets struggled for a good chunk of the season.  The Mets dipped under .500 for the first time in 2001 after five games, then stayed below .500 for the next 140 games.  But from August 18 to September 27, the Mets reeled off 25 wins in 31 games to go over .500.  They didn't win the division, a la the 1973 Ya Gotta Believe Mets, but they did stay above .500 at year's end, tying the '73 squad with an 82-win season.

If the 1992 team was "The Worst Team Money Could Buy", then the 2002 Mets were a close second.  In 2002, the Mets dipped below .500 on a number of occasions over the first four months of the season, but never fell more than two games below the break-even mark in that time period.  In fact, on the morning of August 10, the Mets were in second place in the NL East and still very much alive in the race for the National League wild card berth.  But a 12-game losing streak put an end to the Mets' wild card dreams.  It also put an end to their time at or above .500.  The Mets went below .500 on August 10 and were rarely above the mark over the next two-plus years, as the 2003 team was last seen above the .500 mark on April 8 (when they were 4-3) and the 2004 squad was never more than three games over .500, falling under .500 for good on July 22.

The 2005 team began the Mets' gradual return to relevance in the NL East.  Although the team was the epitome of mediocrity, bouncing up and down between a sub-.500 record and a winning record, the Mets did manage to end the year above .500, finishing with an 83-79 record under first-year manager Willie Randolph.

The 2006 Mets became the third team in franchise history to never spend a single day below .500, but unlike the 1985 and 1998 squads, this team actually made the playoffs.  The same could not be said for the 2007 and 2008 teams.  Although the 2007 team also never spent a day below .500 (the fourth team in Mets history to accomplish the feat), they failed to make the playoffs, falling short in the season's final game.  The 2008 team also lost their final game to miss the playoffs, but that team did spent a few days below .500 during the season.  In fact, they spent most of June under .500, and didn't go above .500 for good until they ripped off a ten-game winning streak that wrapped around the All-Star Break.

When Citi Field opened in 2009, the Mets expected to bring a winning team over to their new digs.  Mets fans are still waiting for that team to take the field.  Although the 2009 team was in first place as late as May 29, they went under .500 for good exactly one month later en route to a 92-loss season.

The 2010 through 2012 squads were very similar in that they spent most of the first half of the season above .500 before falling under the mark of mediocrity for good after the All-Star Break.  In 2010, the Mets began the season with a 3-7 record, before recovering to win 40 of their next 65 games.  On June 27, the 43-32 Mets were only half a game behind the division-leading Braves and two games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds for the wild card.  The Mets were still eight games over .500 once the All-Star Break hit.  But a horrendous 2-9 road trip immediately after the break ended the Mets' division title hopes and when the Mets went on their next road trip, they dipped under .500 for the first time since May 23.  New York managed to go above .500 two more times, at 58-57 and 62-61, but the tires had all but deflated by then.  The Mets finished the year with a 79-83 record.

The Mets got off to another slow start in 2011, going 5-13 over their first 18 games.  But once again, the team went on a roll in May and June.  By July 29, the team was 55-51 and clinging on to their hopes of a surprise wild card berth.  But once again, the dog days of summer brought out the worst in the team.  Three separate five-game losing streaks from July 30 to August 23 pushed the Mets back below .500, where they stayed until season's end - a season in which they regressed to a 77-85 mark.

In 2012, it was third verse, same as the first (and second).  Once again, the Mets did well through the All-Star Break, and once again the post-All-Star Break blues brought the team down.  New York never spent a single day below .500 before the break, but lost 11 of their first 12 games after the midsummer hiatus to dip below the .500 mark for the first time on July 22.  It was only the third time in club annals that the team didn't go under the .500 mark for the first time until after the All-Star Break.

That brings us to the 2013 season.  (It's about time!)  The Mets played at or above the .500 mark for their first 20 games of the season before falling to 10-11 in Game No. 21, ending the team's chances at becoming only the fifth team in franchise history to go an entire year without experiencing a losing record at any point of the season.  By falling under .500 on April 26, the 2013 Mets won't even become the fourth team to spend the entire first half of the season at or above .500 before falling under the mark in the second half.

It remains to be seen if the 2013 Mets will finish the year at or above .500, but if they're going to finish the year with a winning record for the first time since 2008, they can't fall too far under the break-even point.  As you just saw, six of the seven Mets teams that made the postseason spent at least one day below .500 (the sole exception being the 2006 squad).  But only the 1973 Mets were able to make the playoffs after spending time under the .500 mark after the All-Star Break.

In their 51 seasons of existence, the Mets have failed to make the playoffs 44 times.  In 43 of those 44 seasons, they spent at least one day under .500 after the All-Star Break.  There are still two and a half months left until this year's Midsummer Classic, but the Mets have already tasted the sub-.500 waters.  It's just their first time under the mark this year.  Hopefully, it'll be their last.  Otherwise, they'll have a tough time remembering what it was like to be a winning team.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bears On Books: The Happiest Recap, Vol. 1

We're bears, and we're on books.  Get it?

Hi, everyone!  We're Joey and Iggy Beartran, and we'd like to welcome you to the premiere edition of Bears On Books.  Today, we'll be giving you our review of the first volume of "The Happiest Recap" by Greg Prince.  (Or to be exact, it's a review of "The Happiest Recap: 50 Years of the New York Mets As Told in 500 Amazin' Wins, Volume 1 - First Base: 1962-1973".  But we like the abridged title because we're more into the brevity thing.)

The Happiest Recap began as a series on Faith and Fear In Flushing in 2011.  The series recapped the best Game 1s, Game 2s, Game 3s, etc. in Mets history.  For the book version of "The Happiest Recap", Mr. Prince employed a double switch and inserted the best games in Mets history, regardless of which game it was on the schedule.  (Don't worry.  The Tim Harkness game was not double switched out of the book.  If you don't know what we're referring to, just ask Harkness or Jim Hickman or Mike Jorgensen or Tim Teufel or Kevin McReynolds or Jordany Valdespin.  We're sure they'll be glad to clarify things for you.)

In the first book of the four-volume series, Mr. Prince tackled 127 games from the team's first dozen seasons that resulted in happy recaps.  In other words, the team went a perfect 127-0 in those games.  From the team's seminal days in the Polo Grounds (#SLAMWATCH  #TimHarkness) to the advent of the state-of-the-art facility known as Shea Stadium to Look Who's No. 1 to Ya Gotta Believe (and the resignation of vice president Spiro Agnew), Mr. Prince has all the bases covered.

As always, Mr. Prince paints a colorful picture using the pages of his book as the canvas.  His mutual mastery of the English language and the language of the Mets is evident throughout the book.  And his frequent clever wordplay will bring a smile to your face faster than you can say "bring on Rod Stupid!" (For more on that, feel free to flip to Game No. 82 in the book.)

Do you need an example of Mr. Prince's clever wordplay?  You know you do.  And here it is, courtesy of Game No. 83 and Tommie Agee's glove (also known as the third game of the 1969 World Series).

"Tommie Agee made one of the most incredible catches in World Series history.  Then, just as remarkably, he maintained its integrity by gripping the ball in his glove's webbing.  From the Upper Deck, it looked like the most delightful scoop of vanilla a counterman ever served up at a Baskin-Robbins.  Tommie Agee kept 56,335 who screamed for the Mets in very good humor."

Thanks to Tommie Agee's catch and Greg Prince's words, I'm now in the mood for Baskin-Robbins.

Mr. Prince has an incredible mind for all things Mets and he doesn't mind sharing that Metsian knowledge with all of his readers.  Fans young and old will enjoy reading about teams that were far worse than the Mets teams we've gotten used to seeing over the past four seasons.  Those early-to-mid '60s teams might have had poor records (and by poor, we mean they stink, stank, stunk - they stunk worse than Moises Alou's hands after he toughened them), but they were lovable.

And most important, they were ours.

Mr. Prince reminds us that winning wasn't everything for those early Mets teams.  But fortunately, they had just enough happy recaps in those first few seasons or else his first volume would have been nothing more than a pamphlet.

Sure, the Mets might go through some rough patches every now and then.  Sometimes every now and then lasts for nearly a decade.  But with writers like Mr. Prince finding memorable moments in otherwise dismal seasons, aren't you glad you've kept your fandom despite all the hiccups our team has gone through over their 50-plus years of existence?

If you haven't purchased the first volume of "The Happiest Recap", please take a trip to your nearest bookstore or just click here if you're afraid to go outside for fear of missing an inning or two of Matt Harvey's latest phenomenal outing.  Where else will you get recaps of 127 thrilling victories and short Mets history lessons on players who shoulda, woulda, coulda been stars, but instead ending up being Les Rohr and Dick Rusteck?

Karl Ehrhardt - the Mets' original Sign Man - held up a sign that said "THERE ARE NO WORDS" when the Mets wrapped up their first World Series championship in 1969.  Fortunately for us, there are plenty of words in Greg Prince's latest book, and those words show his unabashed love and passion for the New York Mets.  After you read "The Happiest Recap", we're sure you'll have plenty of loving and passionate words to describe his book as well.

We're Joey and Iggy Beartran and we give volume 1 of "The Happiest Recap" two paws up.  Way up.  Like Tommie Agee's home run in the Upper Deck of Shea Stadium up.  And yes, you can read about that shot in Game No. 57 in the book.  After all, the Mets won that game...

R.I.P. Rick Camp (15 Minutes of Fame For A 19-Inning Game)

If you're a long-time Mets fan, you know who Rick Camp is, and you know him for one thing.  Camp was the relief pitcher who hit a home run off Mets' reliever Tom Gorman in the bottom of the 18th inning to extend an already epic Fourth of July battle between the Braves and Mets into a 19th inning in 1985.

Camp's home run over the head of a disbelieving Danny Heep tied the seemingly never-ending game at 11-11.  The unexpected jog around the bases must have sapped Camp of all his strength, as the Mets scored five runs off the slugger in the 19th inning and held on for a 16-13 victory in a game that ended five minutes before a 4 A.M. fireworks show.

Rick Camp never hit another home run in the major leagues.  In fact, the blast was one of only 13 hits collected by Camp in his nine-year major league career.  But to this day, it is still talked about by Mets fans as being one of the most unlikely home runs ever hit against their favorite team.

After receiving his 15 minutes of fame in 1985, Camp remained out of the spotlight, retiring from baseball a few short months after hitting his highlight-reel home run.  But today, Rick Camp's name is back in the news, and for sad reasons.

Rick Camp has passed away at the age of 60.

Earlier today, the Bartow County (Georgia) coroner's office confirmed that Camp passed away in his home, indicating that although the autopsy has not yet been performed, Camp more than likely died of natural causes.

Rick Camp had himself a nice career as a starter and reliever for Atlanta, going 56-49 with a 3.37 ERA in nine seasons with the Braves.  He even received national recognition in the strike-shortened 1981 season, going 9-3 with a 1.78 ERA to receive MVP consideration.  (Interestingly enough, Camp finished tied for 20th place in the 1981 NL MVP race with Keith Hernandez, who hit for the cycle in the same game Camp hit his only home run.)  But nothing gave Camp more recognition than one long fly ball he hit at 3:30 in the morning in a game that began on the Fourth of July.

On a night that ended with rockets red glare, it was Rick Camp's bomb that burst in the air.  His shot gave proof through many nights that his legacy would remain there.  Camp earned his 15 minutes of fame by extending a memorable game into the 19th inning.  It is a moment that is etched in the memories of many Mets fans.  And that moment will keep Rick Camp alive, even now after his death.

R.I.P. Rick Camp (June 10, 1952 - April 25, 2013).  You may have moved on, but your memory (and your homer) lingers on.

Chief Noc-A-Homa and a Camp who knocked a homer.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why Shaun Marcum Is Valuable To The Mets

Photo by Associated Press

Before I start, let me say that it would be foolish of me to think that the Mets' chances of remaining competitive - or at the very least, at or above .500 - rest on the oft-injured arm of right-handed starter Shaun Marcum.  If the Mets do well this season, it will more than likely be because the offense did better than expected or because Matt Harvey continued to pitch like a Cy Young candidate.

But Shaun Marcum might still have some value, even if he doesn't make every start between Saturday and the end of the season.  Here's why.

Shaun Marcum has always fared well against NL East teams.  Marcum has made 11 starts against the Braves, Marlins, Phillies and Nationals.  He has performed against his new division rivals as follows:

  • vs. ATL: 1-1, 2.25 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 20 IP, 18 K, 5 BB, .183 batting average against
  • vs. MIA: 0-0, 6.35 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 5.2 IP, 3 K, 1 BB, .304 batting average against
  • vs. PHI: 2-1, 3.51 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 25.2 IP, 22 K, 7 BB, .248 batting average against
  • vs. WAS: 1-0, 2.77 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 13 IP, 14 K, 3 BB, .156 batting average against
  • Total: 4-2, 3.22 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 64.1 IP, 57 K, 16 BB, .217 batting average against

Not bad for 11 career starts against the teams he will face the most, right?  And if you take out his one bad start against the Marlins, Marcum has a 2.91 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and has held the opposition to a .207 batting average.

Shaun Marcum is in line to make his Mets debut against the Phillies - an NL East team - at Citi Field on Saturday.  Assuming he's fully recovered from his neck and bicep injuries, he will be counted on to provide for the Mets where stopgap Aaron Laffey could not.

Anyone can be better than Aaron Laffey was.  But not many pitchers are as good as Shaun Marcum has been against the NL East.  Marcum might not make every scheduled start for the Mets, but as long as the starts he makes are against the team's division rivals, the Mets might be able to get more out of Marcum than they expected.

It might be foolish to think the Mets' success in 2013 rides on the arm of Shaun Marcum, but it would also be foolish to think he can't do well against the teams he's always done well against.  Let's hope Marcum can stay healthy for as long as possible, especially if his next scheduled start is against an NL East rival.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Matt Harvey vs. Other Mets Greats Through 14 Starts

Since being promoted to the big leagues on July 26, 2012, Matt Harvey has lived up to, and at times, exceeded expectations.  The former first round draft pick has become one of the toughest pitchers to hit in the National League since his debut and his confidence is on par with that of a veteran pitcher - a pitcher such as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Dwight Gooden, to name a few.

With that in mind, let's compare Harvey's numbers through his first 14 starts with those of the aforementioned Seaver, Koosman and Gooden.  That threesome ranks 1-2-3 in most of the Mets' all-time pitching categories, including wins, starts, innings pitched and strikeouts.

In addition to having lengthy and successful careers with the Mets, all three pitchers started off exceptionally well when they were neophytes, with Seaver and Gooden taking home the Rookie of the Year Award in 1967 and 1984, respectively, and Kooosman finishing second to future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench in 1968.

Does Matt Harvey compare favorably to the triumvirate of Seaver, Koosman and Gooden through 14 starts?  The answer is a resounding yes!


Note:  Jerry Koosman made six relief appearances for the Mets in 1967 before making his first start.  The numbers above do not include those relief appearances.  Only each pitcher's first 14 starts as a Met were considered for the purposes of this comparison.

Although Matt Harvey pitched fewer innings in his first 14 starts than the other three pitchers, only Jerry Koosman earned more wins.  In addition, Harvey's 102 strikeouts are far more than the whiffs recorded by Seaver and Koosman through their first 14 starts, and falls just five short of the total posted by Gooden.

Gooden has a slight edge on Harvey in strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio, but Harvey is the proud owner of the lowest ERA and lowest WHIP of the four starters.  Harvey has also held opposing hitters to the lowest batting average.

Where there's smoke, there's Matt Harvey's fire.

It's been nearly three decades since Dwight Gooden burst onto the major league scene with an assortment of pitches that caused many a hitter to walk back to the dugout shaking their heads in disgust, amazement and bewilderment.  It's been even longer since Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman did the same.

All three hurlers pitched in a Met uniform for over a decade and no conversation about the top pitchers in franchise history can be complete without the names Seaver, Koosman and Gooden being mentioned.

Matt Harvey is only 24 years old and in a short period of time has established himself as the ace of the pitching staff.  It's impossible to say whether he can maintain his incredible production over the course of the season and the rest of his career, but one thing's for sure.  What Harvey has accomplished over the first 14 starts of his career has rarely been duplicated by a Mets pitcher.  However, some of the few Mets pitchers who did match Harvey's phenomenal start went on to become team legends.

Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Dwight Gooden all have plaques in the Mets Hall of Fame to honor their achievements on the field as three of the best pitchers in the history of the franchise.  Matt Harvey wants to become the fourth face on the Mount Rushmore of Mets' starting pitchers.  If his performance through his first 14 starts is a portent of things to come, it would be wise for the team to keep that mountain-carving chisel sharp.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Joey's Small Bites: What Did I Learn From This Series?

Hello, everyone.  This is your fav'rit Studious Metsimus correspondent/culinary expert, Joey Beartran.  Although today I wish I was just being a culinary expert, because corresponding after this debacle of a series in Colorado is not something I would wish on my worst enemy.  (Actually, that's not true.  I would wish it on Cole Hamels now that I think about it.)

In today's series finale, the Mets fell to the Rockies, 11-3, in the team's first loss in a game started by either Jonathon Niese or Matt Harvey.  Guess we can't blame this on Aaron Laffey.  However, we can blame it on other things.  And I'm just the non-person to do it!

Here are my small bites on today's game, the series in general, and the Mets' all-time history in the Rockies' mile-high ballpark:

  • Since Coors Field opened its doors in 1995, the Mets have gone 28-43 (.394 winning percentage) in the Rockies' ballpark.  The only current National League ballpark in which the Mets have fared worse is Atlanta's Turner Field, where the Mets are 45-89 (.336 winning percentage).
  • Only two pitchers in Mets history can say they had an ERA under 4.00 at Coors Field (minimum 15 innings pitched).  Those pitchers are Mike Pelfrey (3.47 ERA) and Steve Trachsel (3.71 ERA).  For the record, today's losing pitcher (Jonathon Niese) allowed three earned runs in six innings, lowering his all-time ERA at Coors Field to 6.75.
  • The Mets allowed 28 runs (26 earned) to the Rockies in the three-game series.  Compare that to the 27 runs (25 earned) that the Atlanta Braves have allowed ALL SEASON!  And the Mets didn't even get to play the fourth game of the series because of last night's snow-aided postponement.
  • Troy Tulowitzki used to be Public Enemy No. 1 whenever the Mets played the Rockies.  But Carlos Gonzalez stepped into that role in this series, going 8-for-13 with two doubles, a triple, a homer, seven runs scored and three RBIs in the three-game sweep.  The Mets had last week's National League Player of the Week in pitcher Matt Harvey.  Harvey's colleagues on the mound did their part to make CarGo this week's frontrunner for the award.
  • Speaking of the Mets' pitchers, how about that bullpen?  Last year, the Mets were last in the league in bullpen ERA until the last week of the season.  The 4.65 ERA recorded by Mets' relievers in 2012 was just a Bernie Brewer hair better than Milwaukee's 4.66 bullpen ERA.   This year's bullpen wishes it was that good.  Through 14 games, Mets relievers have a 5.52 ERA, which includes the eight runs given up by the pen in two innings today.
  • Believe it or not, there was a bright side to this series.  Wednesday's game was snowed out, meaning the Mets only got the chance to lose three games instead of the four games they could have lost had yesterday's game not been affected by Mother Nature.
  • Other bright spots included David Wright (5-for-10, three runs, two homers, five RBIs, one stolen base) and Daniel Murphy (five runs scored, two doubles).  But perhaps the biggest bright spot for the Mets is that they're coming back home (finally) and have Matt Harvey on the mound tomorrow night at Citi Field.
The road trip is finally over!  Time for me (and the Mets) to get back to Citi Field!

The Mets have historically done poorly in Colorado.  This series was no different.  But after a 7-7 start against San Diego, Miami, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Colorado - teams that finished at or below .500 in 2012 - the Mets have to play better starting tomorrow.  And now they have a week of games against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers to look forward to.

Last year, the Mets did not go below .500 until after the All-Star Break.  This year, they've been at or above the break-even point for all 14 of their games.  But they're going to have to play a lot better to avoid slipping under .500 during the upcoming homestand.

I'll always be a Mets fan, but if the team doesn't show a better effort on the field soon, I might be focusing more on the culinary expert part of my job.  After all, the way this series went in snowy Colorado, I'm going to need something to remove the bad taste from my mouth.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Friday Night Fights: Matt Harvey vs. Stephen Strasburg

As reported on Studious Metsimus first after last night's game, there was a possibility for a potential for a Matt Harvey-Stephen Strasburg matchup on Friday night at Citi Field, but only if inclement weather canceled at least one of the remaining road games on the Mets' current trip.  I suggested that Mets fans should go to their local bookstore and try to procure a copy of "Raindancing For Dummies" so they could send it to displaced Mets fans in Minnesota and Denver to get that necessary postponement.  Well, it looks as if my plan worked.

Just moments ago, the Mets released an official statement to announce that the finale of the three-game series in Minnesota has been canceled due to inclement weather.  The official New York Mets Twitter account then posted the pitching matchups for the four-game series in Colorado.  Take a quick glance at it and you might notice a specific member of the rotation who is not scheduled to pitch at Coors Field.

Matt Harvey will not be pitching in Colorado this week, meaning he will indeed be starting the opener of the homestand against Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals.

If you were able to send one of the manuals to a displaced Mets fan in Denver, please contact them and tell them it's defective.  That way, they won't use it and we'll get that epic matchup on Friday night.  Barring any other weather-related cancellations, it appears as if many Mets fans, as well as baseball fans in general, will be in love with this matchup on Friday night. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Friday I'm In Love (With This Pitching Matchup)

Matt Harvey almost made history today for the Mets, coming within seven outs of pitching the franchise's second no-hitter.  Although he didn't keep the Twins hitless, he did keep them behind the Mets all day en route to his third consecutive victory to start the season.

Given the weather forecasts for Minneapolis tomorrow and Denver next week, the Mets might have to shuffle their rotation if games get delayed or postponed.  If that happens, Mets fans might be in for a real treat next Friday when their beloved team returns to Citi Field to open a ten-game homestand against the division rival Washington Nationals.

Washington has already announced that their starting pitcher for Friday night's game against the Mets will be Stephen Strasburg.  Because of the uncertain weather conditions the Mets face in Minneapolis and Denver, Strasburg's opponent could very well be Matt Harvey.

As things currently stand, Dillon Gee is set to start tomorrow's finale against the Twins.  Gee would be followed by Jeremy Hefner on Monday in Colorado, Aaron Laffey on Tuesday and Jonathon Niese on Wednesday.  Harvey would be in line to pitch in the final game against the Rockies Thursday afternoon.  However, if tomorrow's game in Minnesota is rained out (and there's a 90% chance of rain being forecast for Sunday afternoon), Gee's start would be pushed back to Monday.

Of course, if the Mets have a game postponed over the next few days, manager Terry Collins could bypass Aaron Laffey's spot in the rotation and continue to pitch the other starters on four days' rest.  That would keep Harvey on pace to pitch Thursday.  But there is an 80% chance of precipitation for the Mile High City on Monday.  And on Wednesday night, the temperature is supposed to dip to a ridiculous-for-baseball 12°.  That's 12° Fahrenheit, not 12° Celsius (which converts to a more baseball-friendly 53° F).

If any of the games in Colorado are postponed, we might get a pitching matchup to drool over on Friday night at Citi Field.  It's such a juicy matchup, it deserves its own paragraph, italics, centering, boldface and a pair of photographs:

 Matt Harvey vs. Stephen Strasburg

As Mets fans, we never want to see Mother Nature deny us the opportunity to see our beloved team on a day the schedule tells us that they're supposed to play.  But the potential for a Harvey/Strasburg matchup at Citi Field is too intriguing to pass up.

Do yourselves a favor.  Pay a visit to your local bookstore and ask if they have a "Raindancing For Dummies" manual.  Then send it to a couple of displaced Mets fans living in Minnesota and Denver.  You won't regret it if we get the once-in-a-lifetime pitching matchup of Harvey vs. Strasburg at Citi Field on Friday night. 

Bad Outfield? What Bad Outfield?

Mike Baxter and Lucas Duda were supposed to be part of a lousy Mets outfield.  Take that, non-believers!

Prior to the start of the season, the biggest weakness for the Mets was not in the bullpen, but in the outfield.  Lucas Duda was the only player assured of an everyday job in the outfield just one year after his inconsistent play in the field and at the plate got him demoted to the minors.

But less than two weeks into the season, the various outfielders jockeying for playing time have collectively surpassed the low expectations set for them.  Six players have played in the outfield for the Mets through the season's first 11 contests.  Of those six, all but Kirk Nieuwenhuis have played in at least eight games.  Below are those five players' hitting statistics in 2013:

  • Lucas Duda (10 games):  .276 average, .655 slugging percentage, 6 runs, 6 RBI, 5 XBH
  • Marlon Byrd (10 games):  .270 average, .432 slugging percentage, 5 runs, 7 RBI, 3 XBH
  • Mike Baxter (9 games):  .294 average, .455 on-base percentage, 5 runs
  • Jordany Valdespin (9 games):  .381 average, .458 on-base percentage, 6 runs, 2 SB
  • Collin Cowgill (8 games):  .407 slugging percentage, 4 runs, 6 RBI, 3 XBH

Collectively, the five main outfielders for the Mets have hit .263 with five doubles, two triples, six homers, 20 RBIs, 26 runs scored and three stolen bases through the team's first 11 games.  The fearsome fivesome has also combined to post a .368 on-base percentage and .466 slugging percentage during the Mets' 7-4 start.

There are no Upton brothers in the Mets outfield this season, nor is there a disgruntled Miami Marlin, but there might not need to be.  With the surprising production the team has gotten from Duda, Byrd, Baxter, Valdespin and Cowgill, the Mets have been doing just fine with their jigsaw puzzle outfield.

Perhaps the Mets will need to add a piece here or there to fix whatever problems they encounter during the season.  But as of right now, the outfield is not in need of repairs.  Who would have thought that just two weeks ago?

I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night, and DH Every Day

Lucas Duda and Justin Turner have taken turns as the DH in Minnesota.  That could also stand for designated high-fiver. (Photo by Tom Lynn/AP)

With the Mets playing interleague games on the road this weekend, the designated hitter has found its way into New York's lineup.  Baseball purists might loathe the DH, but the Mets seem to be enjoying it quite a bit.  Out-of-shape scoreboard operators, not so much.

Over their last 16 games played in American League parks, the Mets have poured on the runs with the extra hitter in the batting order.  Take a look at the scores of all interleague road games played by New York dating back to June 25, 2011.

  • June 25, 2011:  Mets 14, Rangers 5
  • June 26, 2011:  Mets 8, Rangers 5
  • June 28, 2011:  Mets 14, Tigers 3
  • June 29, 2011:  Mets 16, Tigers 9
  • June 30, 2011:  Tigers 5, Mets 2
  • May 18, 2012:  Blue Jays 14, Mets 5
  • May 19, 2012:  Blue Jays 2, Mets 0
  • May 20, 2012:  Mets 6, Blue Jays 5
  • June 8, 2012:  Yankees 9, Mets 1
  • June 9, 2012:  Yankees 4, Mets 2
  • June 10, 2012:  Yankees 5, Mets 4
  • June 12, 2012:  Mets 11, Rays 2
  • June 13, 2012:  Mets 9, Rays 1
  • June 14, 2012:  Mets 9, Rays 6
  • April 12, 2013:  Mets 16, Twins 5
  • April 13, 2013:  Mets 4, Twins 2

For those of you too lazy or mathematically-challenged to score at home, that's 121 runs scored by the Mets in the 16 games - an average of 7.6 runs per game.  And that's including four games in which the Mets failed to score more than two runs.

National League baseball is wonderful for those who believe in the importance of strategy.  Double switches and decisions on when to pinch hit for the pitcher require a manager in the Senior Circuit to use his brain more often than his counterparts in the American League do.  But clobbering the tar off the ball is pretty fun, too.  The Mets have been doing just that over the past 16 games they've played in American League parks.

Those out-of-shape American League scoreboard operators might want to do an extra push-up or two the next time the Mets come to town.  It's amazing what a DH can do to a team's confidence and performance at the plate.

Daniel Murphy - The Mets' Overlooked Offensive Star

Can you spot the overlooked offensive star in this photo?  (Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)

With all the attention being paid to John Buck's torrid start, another Met's offensive performance has gone under the radar.  But his start is just as noteworthy as Buck's.

Daniel Murphy has always been a great contact hitter, lashing doubles at a rate never before seen by a left-handed hitter in Mets history.  Nearly one-quarter of his 481 career hits have gone for two bases.  But what he's done over his first ten games this season is proving that Murphy is more than just a 180-foot specialist.

After not hitting his first home run last year until June 27, Murphy has produced two bombs this year.  And bombs is the correct term, as his first homer traveled 407 feet and his second sailed 428 feet.  The latter home run is the longest hit by a Met this year.   Perhaps SNY's Gary Cohen and Ron Darling said it best after Murphy's second blast, when Cohen opined that "he has hit the ball to some places in the ballpark that are not often visited" and Darling added that "this is where the Ike Davis(es) and the Lucas Dudas go."

Murphy has also become a top run producer on the Mets.  After never surpassing 65 RBIs or 62 runs scored in any of his previous four seasons in the big leagues, Murphy has driven in ten runs and has crossed the plate ten times in his first ten games.  Murphy is one of only two players in the National League (Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips is the other) to have already reached double digits in both categories.  His 10 RBIs are tied for third in the NL and his 10 runs scored place him in a second place tie, just one behind league leader Matt Carpenter.

The Mets' second baseman is all over the National League leaderboard.  He is eighth in the league in batting average (.368), fifth in slugging percentage (.711), sixth in OPS (1.115), tied for sixth in hits (14), sixth in total bases (27) and tied for second in extra-base hits (8).  But just because he's added new facets to his offensive game doesn't mean Murphy has forgotten what got him to this level in the first place.  That's right, Mets fans.  The man affectionately referred to by a certain Twitter user as "Daniel Murphy, Doubles Machine" can still rack up two-baggers, as evidenced by his league-leading five doubles.

Daniel Murphy is one of the best doubles hitters in Mets history.  His 120 two-base hits are 18th all-time in club annals despite having fewer than 1,800 career plate appearances.  Every other Met with at least 100 doubles needed at least 1,900 plate appearances to accomplish their career totals.  (Lenny Dykstra is the only other Met with at least 100 doubles who ended his Met career with less than 2,000 plate appearances, but he "only" had 104 doubles in 1,908 plate appearances as a Met - 16 fewer two-base hits than Daniel Murphy has already produced in 124 fewer trips to the plate.)

But Murphy is becoming more than just a doubles machine.  He is becoming a solid run producer.  He is getting on base at an incredible rate.  He is driving the ball with authority.  And he's doing this with all the focus being placed on John Buck.

Daniel Murphy has been a Met since August 2008, making him the longest-tenured player currently on the 25-man roster not named David Wright.  But despite his many years of service to the franchise, he has played mostly in the shadows of other offensive stars.  This year is no exception.  His hot start, however, is giving us an indication that Murphy is about to break free from the shadows that have hidden his offensive talents throughout his entire career.

The National League is about to realize that Daniel Murphy is one heck of a baseball player.  Opposing pitchers don't need to be informed of this transition.  Murphy's bat has already let them know.