Monday, September 28, 2015

Joey's World Tour: Coronation in the Queen City

I'm ready for a clinching in Cincinnati!

Hello, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran and this is a special edition of my world tour.  In the past, I've shared my experiences of various ballparks and the cuisines found in those parks.  But this past weekend when I attended my first game in Cincinnati, I didn't eat a single thing at Great American Ball Park.  You see, something else captured my undivided attention.  And it was sweeter than anything I could have eaten at the ballpark.

When I left New York on Thursday, the Mets' magic number stood at five.  Since I was only going to Friday and Saturday's games, I needed the Mets to win every game between Thursday and Saturday and I also needed the Nationals to lose at least twice.  Considering that Washington was playing the sub-.500 Baltimore Orioles on Thursday and was then beginning a series against the team with the worst record in baseball - you might know them as the Philadelphia Phillies - the odds were not very good that I would see the Mets clinching the division in person.

But as Mets fans, we've been taught that we have to believe.  And I had a belief that I was going to be celebrating in Cincinnati.  At a rest stop near Columbus, Ohio, I found out the Nationals had lost their Thursday afternoon affair.  And soon after we arrived in Cincinnati, the Mets took the first game of their series against the Reds.  The magic number was down to three and my odds for seeing it go down to zero shifted so much in my favor, even Pete Rose would bet on my chances.

Friday night was my first time inside the Reds' ballpark, making it the 18th stadium I've had the pleasure to put my paws in.  By the time the third inning rolled around, both the Mets and Nationals had taken 1-0 leads in their respective games.  (Pitcher Noah Syndergaard's RBI single gave New York its early lead.)  But then things changed when Lucas Duda hit a long three-run homer and Philadelphia's Aaron Altherr completed a 120-yard dash, clearing the bases on an inside-the-park grand slam.  The scores were now 4-0 in favor of the Mets and 4-1, Phillies over Nats.  I was as happy as the statues of Pete Rose and George Foster were in the Reds' Hall of Fame and Museum, but I knew there was still plenty of baseball yet to be played.

(Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

The fifth inning in Washington caused me to throw my paws up in the air and wave them around as if there were no repercussions, as Aaron Altherr hit an outside-the-park home run and was followed two batters later by Darin Ruf's solo shot.  Washington did pull back to within four runs in the sixth inning, but by then I wasn't constantly looking at the out of town scoreboard, mainly because I was too busy cheering for Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson.  Both lefty-swinging sluggers launched matching three-run blasts to extend the Mets' lead to a dozen runs.  The Mets eventually allowed five meaningless runs in the eighth and ninth frames, while the Phillies tacked on two insurance runs against the Nationals in the late innings.

The Mets had defeated the Reds, 12-5, and the Nationals had fallen to the Phillies, 8-2.  The magic number was down to one and after thinking I wouldn't get a chance to see it, I was poised to witness the potential division clinching game on Saturday.

It was difficult hibernating on Friday.  I was tossing and turning throughout the night.  Once Saturday morning came around, I needed to do something to get the butterflies out of my tummy, so I paid a visit to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, which I soon realized had a lot more to offer than just Rose and Foster statues.

Upon entering the two-story museum, I saw an exhibit on the original 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings - baseball's first professional team.  The following room contained the Kings of the Queen City exhibit and a 100-seat theater.  I wasn't really in a movie-watching mood, mainly because they didn't have any popcorn, but I was intrigued by the other exhibit in the room.

Along with Pete Rose memorabilia and old uniforms, the wall around the room served as a timeline in Reds history, and it wasn't just all the positive moments in Cincinnati's long and proud history.  Just take a look at these photos from the 1973 and 1999 wall entries and you'll see what I mean.

From there, I took the stairs to the upper level.  Even the area near the staircase had something to behold, as there were 4,256 baseballs - one for each of Pete Rose's base hits accumulated over his illustrious 24-year playing career - going up the face of the wall.

Upon entering the second floor, I was greeted by a wing dedicated to Hall of Famer Tony Perez, which includes the uniforms he wore for every team he played for - not just the Reds.  The next room is devoted to all the men and women who have been part of the team's front office.  Yes, that means there is a mention of Marge Schott and her dog, Schottzie.

The following room has a wall that has photos of every Reds player who has participated in an All-Star Game.  The room also has a replica locker room, where guests can put on a Reds uniform, hold a bat or wear a Reds batting helmet.

From there, I went down a hall that had memorabilia from those All-Stars and to the left of that hall is a room where I could throw baseballs at a catcher.  I didn't want to undergo emergency Tommy John surgery, so I moved on to an area that housed a dugout and a statue of Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson.

My sister, Iggy, and I wanted to pick Sparky's brain, but he wasn't talking.  It's like he was a statue.

One sweet feature on the second floor was the Ultimate Reds Room, which is a fancy term for a "man cave".  As a bear, I know a thing or two about caves.  But this "man cave" - which was stacked with Reds photos, posters, replica ballpark seats and a TV showing Reds highlights - was missing the most important thing.  It didn't have a fridge.  So naturally, I didn't pose for photos there and instead moved on to the next room, which featured great teams in Reds history.

What I liked about this room was that it didn't just include championship teams.  Oh, there were a number of World Series trophies present, but there were also mentions of Reds teams that didn't even qualify for the postseason, including the 1999 team that lost to the Mets in Game No. 163.  And of course, the centerpiece of the room was the Big Red Machine.  And by Big Red Machine, I mean statues of the eight position players on the teams that won five division titles, three pennants and two World Series championships in a seven-year span from 1970 to 1976.  (Cincinnati also won a division crown in 1979, but Pete Rose and Tony Perez had already parted ways with the team.)

Remember the photo of Rose and Foster I shared above?  That was part of a much larger photo, which you can see below.

(Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

One thing I noticed about the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum compared to what the Mets have at Citi Field (besides the obvious difference in size) was that the statues could be touched by anyone.  There were no ropes keeping paws and hands away from the works of art, a la the Mr. Met that's cordoned off from guests in the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum.  Out of respect, I didn't touch the statues and instead moved on to the final room, which houses the plaques of all the players in Reds Hall of Fame.

I noticed a plaque for Pedro Borbon, who Mets fans know as the Reds player who bit off part of Buzz Capra's cap during the Pete Rose-Bud Harrelson fist-filled fracas in the 1973 National League Championship Series.  I also smiled at Chris Sabo's plaque, which featured the bespectacled third baseman of the 1990 World Championship team in his signature goggles.  There also may have been a plaque for Tom Seaver, but I'd rather not talk about that one.  Besides, wouldn't you rather hear about the game between the Reds and Mets on Saturday, which I was about to be late for because I spent so much time in the museum?

Why did you have to go to Cincinnati, Tom?  You don't even look right in that uniform.

I made it to my seat just in time to see the Mets come to bat in the top of the first inning.  Had I spent more time looking at statues or staring at Pete Rose's balls (Iggy, why are you giggling?), I would have missed Lucas Duda hitting his third home run of the series.  This one was a grand slam - the first of Duda's career - and it gave Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey a four-run lead before he threw his first pitch of the game.  A solo shot by Granderson an inning later gave the Mets a 5-0 advantage.

Harvey was a little shaky in the second inning, allowing hits to four of the first five batters to face him in the inning.  But he limited the damage to two runs, and in the next half-inning, the Mets got those runs right back on a two-run double by Michael Cuddyer, who may or may not be Scott Atchison's lost twin brother.

David Wright isn't sure if that's BFF Michael Cuddyer or former teammate Scott Atchison.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

As the innings progressed and Matt Harvey continued to mow down Reds hitters while keeping them off the scoreboard, I proceeded to count down the outs.

Fifteen outs to go.  Twelve outs to go.  Nine outs to go.

Harvey surprised all the fans sitting with me behind the Mets dugout when he came out to pitch the seventh inning.  It was innings limits, schminnings limits for Harvey on this overcast day.  And as light sprinkles continued to fall from the southern Ohio sky, I started to feel a new appreciation for Harvey.  Or maybe it was just hunger pangs because I hadn't eaten at either of the two games I attended.  It didn't help that I had just seen a subliminal Skyline Chili ad disguised as a "guess which plate of spaghetti and chili the baseball is hidden under" game on the scoreboard.

(Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Harvey couldn't complete the seventh inning, but he did receive a rousing ovation from the thousands of Mets fans in attendance as he walked off the mound.  Once Addison Reed recorded the final out of the inning, the Mets were just six outs away from a division title.  And when Tyler Clippard pitched a 1-2-3-4-5 inning in the eighth, the Mets were three outs away from the promised land.

I wanted so badly for Mets batters to swing at the first pitch they saw in the top of the ninth, just to get Jeurys Familia on the mound for the bottom of the ninth.  Some batters did swing at the first pitch, but they ended up getting on base.  And when David Wright sent a Burke Badenhop pitch in the direction of the Ohio River - it splashed down in the seats just left of straightaway center field - it provided a fitting capper to a wonderful game and prompted fans to show off their best congratulatory signs for the longest tenured Mets player.

It was indeed worth the wait for David Wright and the Mets.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Even though the Mets now had an eight-run lead, manager Terry Collins called upon Familia to close out the race for the NL East title.  Familia needed just six pitches - all strikes - to retire the first two batters in the ninth.  Fans behind the Mets dugout - myself included - had already been standing since the start of the inning.  A nine-year period of pent-up frustration was one out away from being over.  The anticipation was, pardon the pun, unbearable.

Then Familia allowed a single to Joey Votto, followed by a Brandon Phillips infield single.  The next batter would be Jay Bruce - the same Jay Bruce who was almost traded to the Mets before the team decided they could swing a deal with Detroit for the services of Yoenis Cespedes.

The first pitch to Bruce was fouled off, as was the second pitch.  The Mets were one strike away from winning the National League East.  As Familia looked for the sign from catcher Travis d'Arnaud, camera phones were up the air hoping to capture the moment when the team's biggest out in nearly a decade was recorded.  Familia came to the set position and fired the ball to the plate.  And four-tenths of a second later, there was joy in Metsville - mighty Brucey had struck out.

David Wright, Jon Niese and Daniel Murphy - the three longest tenured Mets - celebrate the victory.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

I had been to various ballparks over the past five years.  But all of those stadium visits involved me watching Mets teams that would go on to finish with losing records.  That's seventeen parks and nearly two dozen nondescript ballgames featuring mediocre-at-best Mets teams.

But this stop of my world tour was so much different than all of my previous stops.  My trip to the Queen City had resulted in the coronation of the Mets as division champions.

My world tour is not yet over, as I still have a dozen more ballparks and cities to visit.  Maybe I'll even sample some of the food in those not-yet-visited stadiums.  But I don't think I'll ever have a memory of a ballpark greater than the one I had in Cincinnati.  From the hospitality (not a single Reds fan said anything negative to me or my fellow Mets fans) to the incredible Hall of Fame and Museum to the games themselves, my trip to southern Ohio produced the happiest recap I could have ever asked for.

This is the look of a fan of a division champion.
For more of Joey's World Tour, please click on the links below, where you will be entertained by Joey's wit, photos and love of ballpark cuisine:

World Tour Stop #1: Baltimore
World Tour Stop #2: Washington, DC
World Tour Stop #3: Pittsburgh
World Tour Stop #4: Texas
World Tour Stop #5: Los Angeles
World Tour Stop #6: San Diego
World Tour Stop #7: Toronto
World Tour Stop #8: Chicago
World Tour Stop #9: Milwaukee
World Tour Stop #10: Seattle
World Tour Stop #11: Cleveland
World Tour Stop #12: Brooklyn (Ebbets Field site) and Manhattan (Polo Grounds site)
World Tour Stop #13: Baltimore (again) and Pittsburgh (part deux)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The 2015 Mets Are Going Where Few Mets Teams Have Gone Before

Cespe-date good times, come on!  (Photo by Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports)

On Friday, the Mets won their fifth consecutive game, taking a 5-1 decision over the Atlanta Braves.  The win, coupled with the Nationals' 2-1 loss to the Miami Marlins, increased the Mets' lead over Washington to a season-high 8½ games.

The season is not over yet, even with the Mets' magic number down to 14.  If you look hard enough, you will find a pessimistic Mets fan who will remind you that when the team had a seven-game lead with 17 to play in 2007, the magic number had already been shaved down to 11 at that point.  However, with Washington seemingly on a collision course with the .500 mark and the Mets winning 31 of their last 44 games, the club's coronation as division champions appears to be inevitable.

Since the N.L. East crown is still officially up for grabs (barely), let's look at one thing that has already become certain.  This tweet by a stalker of this site says it all.

The first four times the Mets took an 8½-game lead, they won division titles in each season.  The 1969 squad did not lead the N.L. East by at least 8½ games until the next-to-last day of the regular season, when it held a nine-game lead over the Chicago Cubs.  That team lost the regular season finale to win the division by eight games.  Therefore, should the Mets defeat the Braves tonight and the Nationals drop another decision to the Marlins, New York would have a division lead greater than nine games for just the fourth time in team history, matching the accomplishment of the 1986, 1988 and 2006 squads.  Those teams once led their respective divisions by 22 games, 15 games and 16½ games, respectively.

One of the main reasons why the Mets have built a seemingly comfortable lead in the N.L. East is because they have beaten up on their division rivals.  New York has gone 14-2 versus Philadelphia, 10-6 against both Miami and Washington and 8-6 when taking on Atlanta.  That gives the Mets a total of 42 victories against the foes they see the most.  Now let's consider this tweet by that stalker I can't seem to get rid of.

The Mets feast on division rivals more than any other team in baseball and appear poised to lead the majors in wins within their own division - a feat that's been even rarer in team history than the 8½-game division lead.

As stated before, prior to this season, only four Mets teams had ever led the division by as many as 8½ games.  But only three teams in club annals have ever led the majors in division victories, and it has hasn't happened in over a quarter century.

The 1986, 1987 and 1988 Mets are the only squads in franchise history to win more games within their division than any other team in baseball.  The 1986 World Champion Mets won 59 games against their N.L. East rivals, which was three more than the 56 wins their NLCS opponent - the Houston Astros - posted against N.L. West teams.

The following season, key disabled list stints for the entire starting rotation kept the Mets from returning to the postseason, but didn't prevent them from leading the majors in wins within their division.  The second-place Mets went 53-37 in the N.L. East, which was one game better than the second-place Reds, who were 52-38 in the N.L. West.

In 1988, the Mets won their second division title in three seasons, a crown that was fueled by the team's domination of the N.L. East.  New York finished with a 57-33 record against its division rivals.  No American League team won more than 47 games within its division and only the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League were able to join the Mets in winning more than 50 division games - they were 53-37 against the N.L. West.  That was the last time a Mets team won more games in its own division than any other club in baseball.

Incredibly, the 1969 and 2006 Mets - who posted the third and fifth-best records in franchise history, respectively, and both won division titles - did not lead the majors in wins within their divisions.

The Miracle Mets of 1969, who were 57-33 against the N.L. East, actually had three teams finish ahead of them in the race for superiority within a division, and all three teams were the division champions that didn't win the World Series that year.  The N.L. West champion Atlanta Braves finished 58-32 in its division, while the two American League division winners - the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins - finished 58-32 and 59-31, respectively, against their division rivals.

In 2006, the Mets went 45-29 versus the N.L. East, which was one win fewer than the crosstown Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds posted against their division rivals.  Both teams finished 46-28 against their hated foes.

The 2015 Mets have surprised many experts by not only leading the division this late in the season, but by holding a commanding advantage over the heavily favored Washington Nationals.  In doing so, they are accomplishing things that very few Mets teams in the past have accomplished.

Their 8½ (and growing) game lead in the N.L. East is only the fifth time a Mets team has ever led a division by that many games.  The previous four times it happened, the Mets won division titles.  And their 42 wins within the N.L. East could potentially make this year's Mets squad only the fourth in team history - and the first since 1988 - to lead the majors in division victories.  The 2015 Mets have seven more wins in their division than any other team has in theirs.  No Mets club has ever had more than a four-game advantage over all other teams in games played within the division.

The classic TV show, Star Trek, attempted to boldly go where no man had gone before.  The stars on the 2015 Mets are approaching the end of their 162-game trek, hoping to advance to the postseason for only the eighth time in the team's 54-season history.  But along the way to the promised land, the current team is doing things that few Mets teams have done before.  And if they continue to do so, the Mets might reach the final frontier around late October or early November.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Why One Series Win Against the Nats Could Do Wonders For the Mets' Postseason Chances

With the Mets losing and the Nationals winning on Sunday, the two teams will head into their critical three-game showdown this afternoon with New York leading the division by four games.  The teams will also face each other at Citi Field for a three-game series in Games No. 160, 161 and 162.  That means both teams still have to play 20 games against other teams.

Mets fans know the story of being seven games up with 17 to play in 2007.  New York went on to go 5-12 in their final 17 affairs, while the Phillies finished strongly at 13-4 to claim the NL East by one game.  The Mets and Phillies played each other three times during the season's final 17 games, with Philadelphia taking all three games.  That means the Mets still lost nine of the other 14 games they played while the Phillies took 10 of 14 against their non-Metsian opponents.  (New York also lost four straight to the Phillies in late August, before "seven-games-up-with-seventeen-to-play" became a thing.)

The main reason the Mets failed to hold on to the division lead in 2007 was their pitching.  Mets pitchers allowed a whopping 115 runs in the team's final 17 games, allowing six or more runs in 11 of those contests.  The offense, which scored 98 runs in the 17 games (an average of 5.8 runs per game), couldn't overcome the shoddy pitching, as the Mets scored six or more runs ten times in the 17 games, but were only able to win half of those ten affairs.

In 2015, the Mets have far superior pitching to their counterparts from eight years ago.  The 2007 squad had Oliver Perez leading the team with a 3.56 ERA and Orlando Hernandez was the only starting pitcher with a WHIP under 1.27.  This year's Mets have three starters (Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard) who have ERAs lower than Perez's team-leading mark in 2007, and only Jonathon Niese has a WHIP higher than the one posted by El Duque eight years ago.

In addition, the current Mets have Jeurys Familia (36 saves, 1.78 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) closing out games, while the 2007 club had Billy Wagner (34 saves, 2.63 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), who suffered from back spasms at the end of the season, but still pitched through the pain and it showed.  Wagner pitched to a 6.91 ERA and 1.74 WHIP in the team's last 40 games, blowing three saves.

The 2015 Mets will probably not allow almost seven runs per game over the final 26 games like the '07 squad allowed in their last seventeen, especially considering that this year's pitchers have allowed three runs or less in 74 of their first 136 games.  (The '07 club allowed four runs or more in 91 of their 162 games.)  So they probably won't have a catastrophic season-ending slump - one that would allow them to lose 12 of their last 17 games, a la the 2007 team.

But let's say the Mets just play .500 ball in the 20 games in which they're not playing the Nationals.  That would give them 85 wins in 156 games.  Now let's look at what the Nationals would have to do in their other games, considering each win-loss scenario in their final six games against the Mets and assuming the Mets win just half of their other 20 games.

Nationals go 6-0 against the Mets:
Mets finish with an 85-77 record.
Washington would need to go 9-11 in their other 20 games to win the division with an 86-76 record.

Nationals go 5-1 against the Mets:
Mets finish with an 86-76 record.
Washington would need to go 11-9 in their other 20 games to win the division with an 87-75 record.

Nationals go 4-2 against the Mets:
Mets finish with an 87-75 record.
Washington would need to go 13-7 in their other 20 games to win the division with an 88-74 record.

Nationals split the six games against the Mets:
Mets finish with an 88-74 record.
Washington would need to go 15-5 in their other 20 games to win the division with an 89-73 record.

Nationals go 2-4 against the Mets:
Mets finish with an 89-73 record.
Washington would need to go 17-3 in their other 20 games to win the division with a 90-70 record.

Nationals go 1-5 against the Mets:
Mets finish with a 90-72 record.
Washington would need to go 19-1 in their other games to win the division with a 91-71 record.

Nationals go 0-6 against the Mets:
Mets finish with a 91-71 record.
Washington would be golfing after October 4 regardless of how they fare in the other 20 games.

Of course, the Mets could somehow finish with a losing record in the 20 games they're not facing Washington, just as they could finish with a winning record in those games.  But seven of those 20 games are against the Atlanta Braves - a team that is on a run of historically bad proportions.  Atlanta is 12-41 in its last 53 games.  Their .226 winning percentage in those games - which add up to approximately one-third of the season - is lower than the .250 winning percentage posted by the 1962 Mets.  Yeah, it's been that bad in Tomahawk Town.

Some of you might say, "but the Mets lost a whole bunch of games to the Nats and Marlins down the stretch in 2007, when both teams were under .500."  That's true.  That Mets team went 5-8 against Washington and the then-Florida Marlins.  But those Nats and Marlins teams weren't 2015 Braves bad.  This year's Atlanta squad could lose 100 games and finish with the worst record in baseball.  The 2007 Nationals and Marlins won 73 games and 71 games, respectively.  There's no way - I repeat - NO WAY the Mets lose more than a game or two, if that many, against the Braves down the stretch this year.

With the team's excellent pitching, and with so many games left against the struggling Braves, it would be hard to fathom a sub-.500 record for the Mets when they're not facing Washington.  Losing five of six to Washington or even worse, a six-game sweep, in the remaining matchups between the two NL East contenders would be cause for concern.

If the Mets win just one game against the Nationals, that would force Washington to play .550 ball over their remaining 20 games, which is quite possible, assuming the Mets play .500 ball in their other 20 games.  However, should the Mets win just one out of three in each series against the Nationals (two total wins in the six games between the two teams), Washington would have to play .650 ball in their other games.  A split between the two teams and Washington would have to go on a run reminiscent of what the Phillies did in 2007.

The Mets couldn't defeat the Phillies down the stretch in 2007.  That cost them the division more than losing to the Nationals and Marlins did.  All the Mets have to do is win one series against the Nationals over the final month of the 2015 campaign and it might not matter what either NL East contender does in their other games.

Even with the Mets losing 2½ games in the standings over the last four days, the division title is still very much within the Mets' grasp.  Only a National disaster could keep the Mets from playing past Game No. 162.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Joey's Soapbox: Can the Mets Trade Eric O'Flaherty For Doug Sisk?

I can't "bear" to watch the screen whenever Eric O'Flaherty takes the mound for the Mets.

Good Labor Day weekend to you all.  This is Joey Beartran, your fav'rit Studious Metsimus roving reporter/culinary expert/soapbox climber.  It's been far too long since I've gotten on my soapbox to complain about a Mets player I strongly dislike.  On the positive side, that's probably because the Mets have actually been a good team this year.  On the negative side, that means we were probably long overdue for a player who deserved my wrath.  And I've found that player in left-handed relief pitcher Eric O'Flaherty.

In Friday night's series opener in Miami, O'Flaherty came into the game in relief of Erik Goeddel, who had retired four of the five previous batters he had faced.  Why was Goeddel taken out in favor of O'Flaherty?  Because left-handed swinging Christian Yelich was up, and we all know lefties retire lefties, right?  There's only one problem with that for me.  Left-handed batters were batting .226 and had a .250 on-base percentage against Goeddel this year, while O'Flaherty had faced 23 lefty-swingers during his brief tenure as a Met and had allowed nine hits and one walk.  For all you kids out there, that's a .409 batting average and a .435 OBP.

O'Flaherty must have had his Lucky Charms before the game because he got Yelich to hit into a fielder's choice.  However, his luck ran out once Martin Prado stepped into the batter's box.  Let me set this one up for you, 'cause this one's a knee-slapper.

Prado is a right-handed batter.  He also had four hits in the game entering his confrontation against O'Flaherty.  Jeurys Familia had still not been used by the Mets because he had to be held out for a potential save situation in case the Mets took the lead, which, because it's the Marlins, might not have occurred until the 20th inning.  So let's leave O'Flaherty in the game to face a right-handed hitting Mets killer.  Makes perfect sense, right?  I mean, O'Flaherty had retired eight right-handed batters in his month with the Mets, so why couldn't he make Prado victim No. 9?  Never mind that he had also allowed eight righties reach base against him, including two doubles and one home run.  That's not important right now.

So Prado stepped in to face O'Flaherty with the speedy Christian Yelich on first, working the count full.  With two outs and a 3-2 count, Yelich would be running on the pitch.  Sure enough, Prado ripped his fifth hit of the game down the right field line, scoring Yelich easily from first base and setting off the jubilant celebration for the Marlins' third-ever World Series championship victory - or at least it seemed as if that's what they were doing.  I almost expected Marcell Ozuna to come out of the dugout and fire 2015 World Champions t-shirts into the stands with his cannon arm so that the four Marlins fans who attended the game could come to blows over them.

But I digress.  The point of this rant is to discuss Eric O'Flaherty and why he's still on this team.  And I'm going to bring up a former Met to kick everything off.

Let's hop in the DeLorean and go back to 1985.  No, we're not reenacting a scene from Back To The Future.  We're going back to Shea Stadium in the mid-'80s to pay a visit to Doug Sisk.  In 1984, the right-handed reliever was coming off his second consecutive solid season for the Mets.  Sisk had 15 saves and a career-best 2.09 ERA in 77⅔ innings, as he held opposing hitters to a .215 batting average and .260 slugging percentage.  His '84 season was fresh off his successful '83 campaign, a year in which he posted a 2.24 ERA and pitched a career-high 104⅓ innings, while recording 11 saves.  Then 1985 happened, and Sisk hit the fan.

One of the few problems experienced by Sisk in 1983 and 1984 was his lack of control.  He did walk his share of batters over those two seasons (113 in all), but always seemed to pitch his way out of trouble.  He finally learned how to throw strikes in 1985, and continued to throw balls over the plate in 1986, as he walked just 71 batters in those two seasons.  There's only one problem with that.  Hitters like balls over the plate.  And they responded by batting .286 over the two campaigns, pushing Sisk's ERA and WHIP to 4.20 and 1.63, respectively.

When a team has a plethora of good pitchers as the Mets did in 1985 and 1986, fans tend to notice the pitchers who don't do well, and Sisk got the undivided attention of all the boobirds during those two otherwise successful campaigns.  Let's put it this way.  In 1985, fans showed up to cheer Dwight Gooden, who posted a stellar 1.53 ERA.  Those same fans showed up to boo Doug Sisk, who produced a cringeworthy 1.73 WHIP in '85.  When one pitcher has a higher WHIP than his teammate's ERA, that's a problem, and Sisk was used less and less until he threw his final pitch for the Mets in 1987.

That brings us back to Eric O'Flaherty and Friday night's game against the Marlins.  The game was started by Jacob deGrom, who like Gooden thirty years earlier, was having an exceptional sophomore season after winning the Rookie of the Year Award the previous year.  DeGrom left the game with a 2.40 ERA.  When O'Flaherty's night ended after Prado's double, his WHIP stood at 2.45.  Even Doug Sisk has to be shaking his head at that.

Doug Sisk is cringing in this photo because he knew we'd someday compare him to Eric O'Flaherty.

General manager Sandy Alderson acquired O'Flaherty to face left-handed hitters.  O'Flaherty replaced southpaw Alex Torres, who had far more success against right-handed batters (.157 batting average, .298 OBP) than lefty-swingers (.268 average, .406 OBP).  In hindsight, they should have kept Torres, as O'Flaherty has allowed all hitters to bat .405 against him and slug at a .622 clip.

O'Flaherty has pitched in 13 games with the Mets.  He has allowed base runner in ten of those 13 affairs.  In two of the three games he shocked the world by retiring every batter he faced, every batter consisted of one batter.  Even Doug Sisk could get one batter out more often than not if he only had to face one batter.

There is no reason why O'Flaherty should have been in the game to face Martin Prado.  He faced his one batter in Yelich and got him to ground into a fielder's choice.  O'Flaherty is a one-and-done pitcher.  That's all he should ever be for the Mets.  Instead, he faced one too many batters and the Mets were the ones who were done.

Doug Sisk will turn 58 at the end of the month.  His fellow Washington State native Eric O'Flaherty just entered his thirties this past February.  And yet, somehow I think I'd rather take my chances with the former Met and current AARP member on the mound to face batters in a back-and-forth affair than I would with the ticking time bomb we've come to know as Eric O'Flaherty.

Then again, Sisk might prove to be useful in other ways if the Mets continue to trot out O'Flaherty in tight games.  You see, Sisk has been working in sales for a Washington-based wine company since the beginning of the year, and has been participating in wine tastings in the Pacific Northwest.  Should O'Flaherty continue to implode on the mound, Mets fans in the Atlantic Northeast might need to partake in a sample of Sisk's wines.

Right now, I'll drink anything to make me forget what it feels like to watch Eric O'Flaherty "pitch".  Keep 'em comin', Dougie.  Keep 'em comin'.

I don't remember posing for this photo with an empty beer cup on my Mets hoodie.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Curtis Granderson's Resurgence Keeps the Naysayers at Bay

Curtis Granderson is rarely without a smile.  His 2015 production is making everybody smile.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus) 

Curtis Granderson did not have a good year offensively in 2014 - the first of four campaigns he was under contract with the Mets.  In his first season in Flushing, Granderson posted a .227/.326/.388 slash line.  The right fielder failed to record 50 extra-base hits and did not reach double-digit stolen bases after having seven straight seasons with 50+ XBH and six consecutive campaigns with 10+ SB through 2012, averaging 66 XBH and 18 SB per season.  (Granderson played just 61 games in 2013, notching 22 extra-base hits and eight steals.)  Granderson did lead the team in one offensive category in his first year, striking out 141 times in 564 at-bats.

But unlike the other free agent outfielder signed to a long-term deal by the Mets in the post-Shea Stadium era (Jason Bay), Granderson has turned things around quite nicely in his second season at Citi Field.  Through the team's first 133 games in 2015, Granderson has produced a .258/.351/.457 slash line, racking up 52 extra-base hits (28 doubles, one triple, 23 homers) and stealing 11 bases.  He has also scored 77 runs, has 59 RBI - a high number for a leadoff hitter - and has drawn 69 walks.

A year after he had fans wishing the team had never signed him to a four-year deal, Granderson is now leading the team in hits, walks, runs scored, home runs, RBI and stolen bases.  And that's not something that has happened much in team history.  Here are the players who have led the Mets in all six categories over a full season, with Granderson's numbers included in the mix.

Lee Mazzilli
Howard Johnson
Curtis Granderson

In addition to Mazzilli, HoJo and Granderson, only two other players have led the team in five of the six categories in one season.  Darryl Strawberry's 1987 campaign saw him lead the Mets in walks (97), runs (108), home runs (39), RBI (104) and stolen bases (36).  However, the Straw Man finished third on team in hits behind Keith Hernandez and Kevin McReynolds.  David Wright has twice led the team in five of the six categories in a season.  The team's all-time leader in several offensive categories led the club in everything but home runs in 2009, finishing two taters behind unlikely team leader Daniel Murphy.  Three years later, Wright once again led the Mets in hits, walks, runs scored, RBI and stolen bases, but finished second to Ike Davis in home runs.

Should Granderson remain the team leader in the six offensive categories over the final month of the 2015 campaign, he would become just the third Met in franchise history to finish first in all six over a full season.  And he'd accomplish something never accomplished by Strawberry, Wright, Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones and other five-tool players that have worn a Mets uniform over the years.

Last year was widely considered to be a subpar season for Granderson, even though he hit 20 HR and drew 77 walks - the two categories coveted by Mets general manager Sandy Alderson.  The next time Granderson takes ball four in 2015, he will have his second consecutive 20 HR/70 BB campaign, which would make him just the tenth Met to have multiple seasons reaching both totals, joining Strawberry (1984-88, 1990), Johnson (1987-89, 1991), Todd Hundley (1996-97), John Olerud (1997-98), Edgardo Alfonzo (1999-2000), Robin Ventura (1999-2001), Wright (2005, 2007-08, 2012), Carlos Beltran (2006, 2008) and Carlos Delgado (2006, 2008).  You may know some of those players as among the best offensive stars in team history.

Granderson has two years left on the four-year, $60 million contract he signed prior to the 2014 season.  His first year left a lot to be desired.  But his second season has seen him lead the team's offensive charge in ways that have rarely been seen in club annals.  It remains to be seen how the rest of his tenure in Flushing will unfold.  But one thing is for sure.  Curtis Granderson is earning every penny of his contract this season.  He's regularly reaching base with hits and walks.  He's driving the ball out of the park.  He's running the bases with aplomb.  And he's hitting in the clutch, driving in his teammates from a spot in the batting order not usually known for its run-production.

The Mets owe their resurgence to a player whose renaissance couldn't have come at a better time.