Saturday, April 23, 2016

Curtis Granderson Has Ended the Game of Musical Chairs in Right Field

Curtis Granderson warms up in right field before a game.  Not many other Mets have been able to say the same since 2014.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

It's been more than a quarter century since Darryl Strawberry patrolled right field for the last time as a member of the New York Mets.  Since then, the Mets have used 17 different Opening Day right fielders.  Sixteen of them made their Opening Day starts in the 23 seasons between 1991 (when Hubie Brooks replaced Strawberry in right) and 2013 (when Marlon Byrd became the word at the outfield position).  No Met started more than three Opening Day games in right field in those 23 seasons and none started more than two consecutive season openers.

Since Strawberry's departure following the 1990 campaign, a total of 126 men have played at least one game in right field for the Mets.  The long list of players includes Chip Ambres, who played a total of two innings in right field for the Mets in 2007 and drove in the game-winning run in that game - his only RBI as a member of the team - to Bobby Bonilla, who just wanted to be a Bronx tour guide to a certain Daily News reporter and author when he wasn't playing right field 229 times during two stints with the Mets.

Of the 126 players who succeeded Strawberry in right, only 17 of them played at least 100 games at the position.  And in the 23 seasons following the Straw Man's departure, no Met played as many as 300 games in right field, as Jeromy Burnitz's total of 290 games in right led all players from 1991 to 2013.  But after a quarter century, the Mets may finally have found their first everyday right fielder since Darryl packed his bags to go home to Los Angeles.

Curtis Granderson signed a four-year contract with the Mets prior to the 2014 campaign.  It wasn't the first time the team had signed a right fielder to a lengthy contract, as the aforementioned Bonilla signed a five-year deal with the Mets following the 1991 season, only to see him shift over to each corner infield position and eventually run himself out of town with a year and a half left on his contract.

As in Bonilla's case, Granderson had a subpar first season in New York.  Bonilla's final year in Pittsburgh in 1991 saw him produce a .302 batting average, a league-leading 44 doubles and his third 100-RBI campaign in four seasons.  As the Mets' new right fielder in 1992, Bonilla batted just .249 with 70 RBI and fewer extra-base hits (23 doubles, 19 homers) than he had doubles in 1991.  Granderson, who produced back-to-back 40-HR campaigns with the Yankees in his final two healthy seasons with the team in 2011 and 2012, did not drive in many runs for the Mets as a middle-of-the-order hitter in 2014 and was eventually moved to the leadoff spot because of his ability to draw walks.  His first season as a Met was mostly underwhelming, as he batted .227 with 20 homers, 66 RBI and 73 runs scored in 155 games, with 142 of those games seeing Granderson playing right field.

Granderson's sophomore season in Flushing was a smashing success, as he posted a .259/.364/.457 slash line.  His .821 OPS was over one hundred points higher than the .714 OPS he produced in 2014.  He also scored 98 runs and walked 91 times, the most by any Mets right fielder since Strawberry, who scored 101 runs in 1988 and walked 97 times in 1987.  In doing so, Granderson became just the seventh player in Mets history - regardless of position - to have 90+ runs and 90+ walks in the same season.  The other six players are among the best in team history - Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Beltran and David Wright.

Who would have thought Granderson would ever be on a list with these guys?

Including last night's game - one in which Granderson had a very Strawberry-like performance with two homers and five runs batted in - Granderson has started 286 games in right field since joining the Mets in 2014.  He has also played in 20 other games in right that he did not start, giving him 306 games played in right field - the most by any player on the Mets since Strawberry departed via free agency more than a quarter century ago.

As of this writing, only Strawberry (1,062 games), Rusty Staub (535 games), Ron Swoboda (434 games) and Joel Youngblood (309 games) have appeared in more games in right field for the Mets.  By early next week, Granderson should pass Youngblood into fourth place and should Granderson stay healthy, he'll pass Swoboda by the end of the season.

For the better part of a quarter century, the Mets struggled to find anyone resembling a permanent replacement for Darryl Strawberry in right field.  In the 21-plus seasons before Strawberry's debut in May 1983, the Mets had trotted out 77 different right fielders.  In the 23 seasons following the Straw Man's departure, New York chewed up and spit out 125 right fielders.  The 126th right fielder is finally making the position his own.

Until David Wright joined the team in 2004, the running gag was to keep track of the number of third basemen in team history.  (For the record, Wright was the 129th Met to man the hot corner.)  As of today, the Mets have used 158 players at third base.  Meanwhile, a total of 221 players have found themselves playing right field for the Mets at least once in their careers.  Curtis Granderson is doing all he can to make sure that number stays in the 220s until his contract expires after the 2017 campaign.

It's good to know that the Mets finally have a productive player in right field after so many years of searching for one.  A 25-year game of musical chairs was far too long.

Matt Harvey and the Mets' Mediocrity in His Starts

Until last night, the Mets hadn't won a regular season game started by Matt Harvey since last season's division clincher.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Matt Harvey earned his first regular season victory in last night's 6-3 win over the Atlanta Braves.  But more importantly, the Mets earned their first win in a Matt Harvey start since last year's division clincher.  Harvey had made four regular season appearances since the team won the N.L. East crown on September 26.  Those four contests included his un-Harvey-like three-game start to this season and the next-to-last regular season game of 2015 - a game in which the Mets were no-hit by Max Scherzer.

All told, Harvey has made 69 starts in his Mets career and the team has lost more than half of them, going 34-35 in the Dark Knight's appearances.  There are many reasons for the Mets' mediocrity in starts made by the pitcher many deemed to be the future of the franchise.

Harvey's bullpen has failed to protect his leads.  Like Johan Santana in 2008, who had seven leads blown by the team's bullpen, turning a potential 23-win, Cy Young campaign into a 16-win, third place finish in the balloting for top pitcher in the National League, Harvey has been occasionally victimized by his relief corps as well.  It all began in his final start in 2012, when Harvey pitched seven innings of one-hit ball against the Phillies, leaving the game with a 2-1 lead, only to see Josh Edgin surrender a two-run homer to Ryan Howard with two outs in the ninth.  The Mets lost that game, 3-2.

In 2013, the Mets won each of Harvey's first five starts, but then went 8-13 in his next 21 starts before his season was cut short in August due to the injury that caused him to undergo Tommy John surgery.  In three of those 13 losses, the Mets were leading the game when Harvey was removed by Terry Collins, only to see the bullpen become BFFs with opposing hitters, giving up Harvey's leads in eventual Mets losses.

Upon returning from Tommy John surgery in 2015, Harvey finally had some success helping the Mets earn victories, but the team still lost a dozen times in Harvey's 29 starts.  Once again, New York dropped three games in which Harvey left them with a lead to protect.  Add it all up and the Mets have lost seven games when Harvey was removed with the lead - or the same number of times the Mets' bullpen blew leads for Johan Santana in 2008 alone.  Had the bullpen been more successful for Harvey and the Mets in those seven instances, the team's 34-35 record in Harvey's starts could have been a more impressive 41-28.

But don't just blame the bullpen for the team's mediocrity in Harvey's starts.  In fact, the team has saved Harvey from a number of losses several times during his career as well.

On April 24, 2013, Harvey allowed three runs to the Dodgers in six innings.  When he left the game, the Mets trailed Los Angeles, 3-1.  New York tied the game in the ninth, then won it in the tenth on Jordany Valdespin's walk-off grand slam.  A month later, Harvey was all set to pick up a hard-luck loss when he pitched eight masterful innings against the Yankees but left the game with his team down, 1-0.  The Mets rallied for two runs in the ninth, marking the only time in Mariano Rivera's career that he came into a save situation and earned the loss without retiring a batter.

Fast forward two years later during the Mets' run to the N.L. East title in 2015.  On September 8, Harvey pitched an awful game in Washington, allowing seven runs to the Nats before he was removed with one out in the sixth and his team trailing by six.  Then Wilmer Flores happened (RBI single).  Then Curtis Granderson happened (bases-loaded walk).  Then Yoenis Cespedes joined the party (three-run bases-clearing double).  Then Lucas Duda remained patient (game-tying bases-loaded walk).  Finally, an inning later, Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit his final homer as a Met, taking Jonathan Papelbon deep for what became the winning run in the Mets' 8-7 victory.

There were also a game in 2015 where Harvey was actually helped out by his bullpen to help the Mets earn a victory.  On July 31, Harvey was removed from a 1-1 game against the Nationals with two runners on base.  But Tyler Clippard won a 13-pitch battle against Jayson Werth, striking out the hirsute slugger to preserve the tie.  Had Werth driven in a run or two against Clippard, those runs would have been charged to Harvey and the game might never have gone to extra innings.  But because Clippard and the rest of the bullpen (and eventually Wilmer Flores in the 12th inning) did their jobs, Harvey escaped with a no-decision and the Mets escaped with a much-needed win.

So that's four wins where Harvey could very well have been saddled with a loss, but the Mets stormed back to victory.  That 34-35 overall record by the team could have been a more disturbing 30-39 had those rallies not ensued.

It's true that Harvey has been more effective than not.  His 2.66 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in his career says that's the case.  It's also true that the Mets' bats have had a tendency to hit the snooze button more than they've hit baseballs in too many of Harvey's starts.  Harvey has allowed two runs or fewer in 45 of his 69 starts, or 65.2% of the time.  In those starts, the Mets are just 27-18, for a .600 winning percentage.  That might seem okay until you look at how the Mets have fared when Jacob deGrom has allowed two runs or fewer.  DeGrom has held opponents to two runs or fewer in 36 of his 53 starts, or 67.9% of the time, which is not much higher than Harvey's percentage.  However, New York has a phenomenal 29-7 record when deGrom holds opponents to no more than two tallies.  That's good for an .806 winning percentage, which is far higher than Harvey's mark in similar outings.

To summarize, Matt Harvey has been a victim of everything that can contribute to his team's mediocre record in his starts.  He's been a victim of an occasionally shoddy bullpen.  He's also had his teammates take several days off at the plate when he's been on the mound.  But on the flip side, both the bullpen and the offense have also bailed Harvey out a few times.

Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.  In Matt Harvey's case, he's been very good throughout his career, but he also hasn't had the best of luck.  Put it all together and you have a four-year career that has produced just 34 victories by his team in his 69 starts.  It's a trend that's been going on for far too long and needs to change very soon if Harvey is ever going to be the type of pitcher everyone expects him to be.  His win against Atlanta last night needs to be the stepping stone for bigger and better things in the future.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Gary Sheffield's 500th HR Almost Didn't Come as a Met

So here I am alone on a lovely Sunday afternoon in New York while my wife is down with O.P.P.  (Other People's Pets.  She's a pet sitter and walker, you know.)  I have two choices.  I could take advantage and go outside to enjoy the comfortable 70° temperatures or I could stay inside our apartment pondering statistical data about a player who spent just one of his 22 seasons in the big leagues with the Mets.

Naturally, I decided on the latter option.

As you may or may not know, Gary Sheffield played 21 seasons in the major leagues before signing with the Mets just before the start of the 2009 campaign.  Sheffield, the nephew of Mets legend Dwight Gooden, entered his final season in the majors needing one home run to join the exclusive 500-HR club - a fraternity that guaranteed Hall of Fame induction prior to the steroid era.

It took Sheffield just six games into his Mets' tenure to club his 500th homer, as the bat-wagging slugger took Milwaukee reliever Mitch Stetter deep at Citi Field on April 17, 2009 - exactly seven years ago today.  A joyful Sheffield trotted around the bases and received an ovation only a New York crowd could give.  But Sheffield's landmark blast might not have occurred in the Big Apple had it not been for Mother Nature's interference just seven years earlier.!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_350250/24-gary-sheffield-509.jpg
This reaction might have come in a Detroit Tigers uniform had Mother Nature not paid a visit to Shea Stadium in 2002.

In 2002, Sheffield was a member of the Atlanta Braves when the Mets' hated division rivals visited Shea Stadium for a four-game series in late June.  The Braves took two of the first three games in the series, with Sheffield providing the game-winning grand slam off Mets reliever Scott Strickland in the third game on June 26.  (That was career home run No. 327 for Sheffield, for those keeping score at home.)  The next night, Sheffield crushed a two-run homer in the first inning off Mets starter Pedro Astacio to give Atlanta an early lead.  But before the game became official, it was washed out by an early summer thunderstorm.  That wasn't the only thing that was washed out, as Sheffield's 328th career homer had to be removed from the record books as well, since the game was called before the conclusion of the fifth inning.

Because Sheffield lost a home run at Shea Stadium due to the elements in 2002, he came to New York as a member of the Mets in 2009 with 499 career homers rather than an even five hundred.  As a result, Sheffield made home run history as member of the Mets, just seven years after a home run he hit against the Mets was removed from the history books.

Today, Mother Nature is giving New Yorkers a taste of her sweetness.  But over a decade ago, she showed Gary Sheffield her other side - the side that washed out a potential home run that would have prevented him from making history in a Mets uniform.  And because of that side, I'm spending a lovely day inside my apartment sharing that story with you when I could be spending it outside with all the Gary Sheffield-loving Mets fans frolicking in Central Park.  (I'm sure there's more than one.)

It's a good thing I'm not as fickle as Mother Nature.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mets Shouldn't Be So Evenly Matched With the Marlins ... But They Are

The Mets and Marlins never seem to budge when they face each other.  (Photo by Andy Marlin.  Seriously, that's his name.)

When you think of the Marlins, you think of fire sales and less-than-mediocre baseball.  After all, other than their store-bought championships, the team Jeffrey Loria built (then dismantled) has only surpassed 84 victories three times since their inaugural season in 1993 and has finished in last place or next-to-last in 13 of their 23 campaigns.  The Marlins have also never won a division title - joining their '93 expansion mates in Colorado as the only MLB teams never to do so - even though they won two titles as wild card teams.

Since the Marlins came into the league nearly a quarter century ago, the Mets have secured two wild cards, two division titles and two National League pennants.  New York has also finished above .500 ten times since becoming N.L. East rivals with Florida/Miami and has finished in first or second place in the division on nine occasions.

Finally, the Mets have posted a worse record than the Marlins in just eight of their 23 seasons.  And from 1993 to 2015, New York has gone a collective 28 games under .500, while their division rivals in Florida are a combined 230 games below the break-even point.

Just by reading the three paragraphs above, it certainly appears as if the Mets should have an easy time with the Marlins when they play each other.  But they never have.  In fact, the two teams are so evenly matched when they square off against one another that a single run usually decides their contests.  And no other team in the division is even close to the Marlins when it comes to one-run affairs played against the Mets.

Since 2009, when Citi Field first opened its doors, the Mets and Marlins have played each other 67 times in Flushing.  Incredibly, the two teams have played a whopping 32 one-run games at Citi Field in those seven-plus seasons seasons - or almost half of all the games they've played against each other in New York.  In the same time period, the Mets have played a similar number of games against the other teams in the division - Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington - and haven't had nearly as many contests decided by the slimmest of margins.  In fact, according to this tweet by a supposed Mets blogger, the disparity between Mets/Marlins one-run games and Mets/Other Division Rivals single-tally affairs was enough to make his fingers stick to the CAPS LOCK button.
In addition to the plethora of tight ballgames at Citi Field, the Mets and Marlins have also played their share of one-run games at Marlins Park, Florida/Miami's previous stadium and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico.  In total, the two squads have played 26 one-run games (out of 65 total games) in the state of Florida and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico since 2009, giving the clubs an incredible 58 one-run affairs against one another in the last seven-plus seasons, which include the back-to-back single-tally decisions that closed out this week's series between the two teams at Citi Field.

And why just stop at one-run games?  Since 2009, the Mets and Marlins were tied after nine innings in 14 different contests.  One of those games, played in 2013, lasted 15 innings and resulted in a 4-3 win by Miami.  Another, played just 40 days later, took a little longer to complete, as the somewhat blurry photo below confirms.

Just like the Energizer Bunny, Mets/Marlins games just keep going and going and going...

Let's recap, shall we?  Since 2009, the Mets have played the Marlins 132 times.  In 58 of those games, the two teams were separated on the scoreboard by just one run.  (For all you kids out there, that's 43.9% of their showdowns.)  When the two teams have dueled each other at Citi Field, they've played one-run games in 32 of those 67 affairs, or an incredible 47.8% of their matchups in the Big Apple.  No other team has even come close to approaching the frequency of one-run games that the Mets and Marlins have had over the past few years.

Look at the final season records since 1993 and you'll see that the Mets have an advantage over the Marlins in won-loss record, postseason appearances and number of times finishing near the top of the division standings.  But when the two teams play each other, it seems as if no team has the advantage.  If you've come to a Mets/Marlins game with the hopes of watching a blowout, you've picked the wrong game to attend (although Steven Matz might disagree with that statement).

Here's one final note on how evenly matched the two teams are.  As mentioned before, the two teams have played 58 one-run games against each other since 2009, with 32 of those games taking place at Citi Field and the other 26 occurring at whatever named park the Marlins have been playing in at the time.  In New York, the Mets have won 21 of those 32 games.  In Florida and Puerto Rico, the Marlins have emerged victorious in 18 of the 26 contests.  Put that together and what do you get?  You guessed it.  The two teams are 29-29 in their 58 one-run games.

The Mets and Marlins have 16 games left against each other in 2016 that will probably end up with eight wins for each team and several one-run tilts and extra-inning affairs for your viewing pleasure.  Would you expect anything else from the two squads?

Friday, April 8, 2016

25 Years Ago: Memories of My First Opening Day Game (And My First Date)

The Mets defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in their home opener today, 7-2.  It marked the 26th consecutive year I've attended the Mets' first home game of the season.  In fact, it was 25 years ago on this date that I attended my first home opener - a day in which the temperature reached a record high of 90 degrees, or about twice as many degrees as today's affair.

Speaking of dates, that game also marked the first time I went out on a date, because what better place to take your date than to Shea Stadium to see the rapidly declining post-Davey Johnson era Mets play?  So to mark the 25th anniversary of my first date and first home opener - a game in which the Mets were also playing gracious hosts to the Phillies - here is the happy recap of that game and date (plus some other interesting anecdotes).  Enjoy!


I love my wife.  And I met her at a Mets game.  True story.  She was a blogger, as was I, and we were both going to "Build-A-Bear Night" at Citi Field on August 1, 2009.  So we decided to meet up on the Promenade Level before the game.  Of course, we had our new bears in tow, and I had a few other bears with me.  We talked about bears and the Mets, then saw the game separately from our regular seats. 

Later that month, we went to our first game together.  Naturally, the bears were our chaperones.  We met up a few more times during the season's final month.  Then I asked her what she was doing during the off-season.  Notice I didn't say "during the winter", because to a Mets fan, there are only two seasons - baseball season and the off-season.  Well, that phrasing struck a chord with her.  Needless to say, what we did during the off-season was spend more time together and fall in love.  The following May, we got married, then waited two months to go on our honeymoon in San Francisco.  Why the wait?  Because the Mets weren't due to play the Giants on the road until July.  Yup, I gave her a diamond AFTER we got married.

I never said we were a conventional couple.

Almost 20 years before I met the love of my life, I went on my first-ever date.  The day was April 8, 1991, and my date's name was K.V.  (I'm using her initials in case she's reading this and doesn't want to be associated with a bear-carrying Mets fanatic.)  Most people go to the movies or dinner or a combination of the two on a first date.  Not me.  Where did I take K.V. on our date?  Like you need to ask...

It was Opening Day.  So we went to Shea Stadium.

The temperature that day was an unseasonably hot 90º.  At the time, it was the earliest date on the calendar that New York had ever registered a 90º reading.  We were both undergraduates at St. John's University, finishing up our sophomore years.  Her mother worked in the school library, so I had already gotten that first meeting with her out of the way.  We actually went to visit K.V.'s mother prior to leaving for Shea, at which time she told us to have a good time and stay out of the sun, if at all possible.

The Mets were fielding a brand-new team in 1991 as they embarked on what the team hoped would be its eighth consecutive winning season.  But this would also be the first time since 1983 that Davey Johnson wouldn't come out of the dugout during the Opening Day introductions, as Buddy Harrelson had taken over for the former skipper during the previous season.

K.V. confessed to me that it was her first baseball game as we proceeded to sit in our Upper Deck seats on the first base side.  I confessed to her that it was my first-ever date with anyone, to which she said "Awww, and you chose me.  I'm so honored."

As the game began, I noticed that four of the starting nine players on the Mets had not been with the team at the beginning of the previous campaign.  Charlie O'Brien was calling the game behind the plate, while former Cardinal nemeses Tommy Herr and Vince Coleman were the Mets' new second baseman and center fielder, respectively.  Right field used to be where Darryl Strawberry had his patch, but he had left for Los Angeles as a free agent.  In his stead was a player who was very special to long-time Mets fans, including myself, but had not worn a Mets uniform since 1984.  And this was how he was re-introduced.

"Playing right field, No. 7.  Welcome back, Huuuubie Brooooks."

I'd have bought one of these, but I chose to save the money for my date.

Hubie Brooks made a quick impression on me during his first stint in New York.  It was Brooks who hit the first home run I ever saw in person.  On June 15, 1983, I was at Shea Stadium with my Little League teammates when Brooks took future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins deep in the fourth inning.  It was the only home run Brooks would ever hit off Jenkins in 18 career plate appearances, and one of only two hits he would muster off the pitching legend.

Eight years after I cheered Brooks as he touched home plate following his homer, I would cheer him again as he scored, although this time he touched the plate in a completely different way.

The Mets were leading the Phillies, 1-0, as the game headed into the bottom of the fourth.  Hubie Brooks led off the inning by roping a double to right field - his first hit as a Met in seven years.  Brooks then advanced to third on a fly ball by Howard Johnson.  Left fielder Kevin McReynolds failed to bring him home when he grounded out weakly to third base.  With two outs, Tommy Herr drew a walk to put runners on the corners.  That brought up Charlie O'Brien, whose .209 career batting average entering the game was six points lower than Mario Mendoza's .215 lifetime mark.

You read that right.  The namesake of the "Mendoza Line" was a better hitter than Charlie O'Brien.

Clearly, if the Mets were going to extend their lead, manager Buddy Harrelson was going to have to try something different.  So he did.  On an 0-1 pitch, Harrelson had Herr steal second.  When Phillies catcher Darren Daulton threw the ball to second in an attempt to nail Herr, Brooks darted for the plate, sliding home safely to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.

The unexpected play caused K.V. and I to simultaneously jump out of seats and embrace.  Yup, it was our first hug, and Hubie Brooks made it happen.  With the Mets now holding a two-run lead, we decided to get some refreshing ice cream to cool down on the sweltering day.  By the time we got to the concession stand, John Kruk had homered off Dwight Gooden to cut the Mets' lead back to a single run.

Needless to say, we went back to our seats and didn't leave our section again until the final out was recorded.

In the seventh inning, as we were singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", K.V. accidentally bumped into my leg.  So I bumped her back.  We ended up doing what appeared to be a strange leg-bump dance for the duration of the song.  It was then that I realized that I could do something other than calculate players' batting averages in my head.  I could also flirt.  Score one for me.

Speaking of scoring, there were no more runs scored after Kruk's fifth-inning homer.  The Mets held on for a 2-1 victory, making my first date - and my first-ever Opening Day game - a complete success.

After the game, K.V. and I walked back to Main Street in Flushing, where we had two additional ice cream cones (mint chocolate chip for both of us), then we took the bus back to her house.  I was a gentleman, and didn't ask to go in, but she insisted.  I didn't spend much time inside, but when I left, I did get a kiss goodbye.

I scored more that day than the Phillies did.

K.V. and I continued to hang out during our remaining college years, but we never went to another Mets game.  We also didn't really date much more after that hot April afternoon.  Perhaps that's a good thing.  After all, had something happened between us, I might never have met my wife on "Build-A-Bear Night" nearly two decades later.

Hubie Brooks and I go way back.  He was responsible for the first home run I ever witnessed at a ballgame, and he was responsible for the first (and to this date, only) double steal I've ever had the privilege to see in person.  He may also have helped me get that special kiss at the end of my first date.

April 8, 1991 was most certainly a good day.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bears On Books: Amazin' Again

Just like Mets baseball, your favorite bears who like to sit on books are back!

Happy Opening Day, everyone!  We're Joey and Iggy Beartran and we couldn't think of a more fitting way to celebrate the beginning of the 2016 campaign - a year the Mets open as defending National League champions - with a review of the book that gave us a happy recap of the previous season that the late Bob Murphy would be proud of.

Today, we'll be reviewing "Amazin' Again: How the 2015 New York Mets Brought the Magic Back to Queens" by Greg Prince.  It was a season Mets fans won't soon forget, just like this book is one Mets fans won't soon put down.

Mr. Prince, whose Faith and Fear in Flushing blog inspired the book of the same name and also laid down the blueprint for his second book, The Happiest Recap, wrote his latest work almost as quickly as it took the Mets to erase the Washington Nationals from the postseason picture.  But just because this wasn't a book that was painstakingly put together over a period of several years doesn't mean the quality suffers.  In fact, it's quite the contrary.

When Casey Stengel "perfessed" that the first words spoken by children in the 1960s had changed from "Mama" or "Papa" to "Metsie, Metsie, Metsie", he was clearly referring to Mr. Prince.  The foremost authority on all things Metsie could have written this book in one sitting and we'd believe it.  His love of the Mets permeates throughout the 215 pages dedicated to the 2015 pennant winners.

One thing that rivals Mr. Prince's love of the Mets is his love of the English language.  His pun-tastic wordplay is evident in each chapter, making a story every Mets fan remembers as if it occurred yesterday (or 155 yesterdays ago, if you want to be precise) seem fresh and new.

If a band performed at Citi Field in 2015, Mr. Prince would find a way to reference as many song titles into his review of the game that preceded each show.  Yes, this isn't just a by-the-numbers recap of the season (although numbers do find a way into the story in a way that non-mathophiles can enjoy).  Then again, it's to be expected that Mr. Prince would entertain you even when he's discussing the otherwise somber truth of the team's injury announcements.  You know, the ones that begin with "He's not going to throw today as scheduled" and end with "The Mets haven't yet announced whether they will wear a patch in his memory in 2016."

In an era where people's attention spans get shorter and shorter by the minute, it didn't take too many 60-second intervals to finish reading this book.  In fact, we devoured page after page as if they were bacon on a stick and were done with Amazin' Again less than 36 hours after we started, or about 36 hours longer than the Cubs held a lead in the National League Championship Series.  (And just wait till you get to the chapter on the NLCS.  It's totally Murphalicious.)

So as you get ready for the 2016 campaign with the memorable 2015 campaign still visible in your rear view mirror, take time out to read a wonderful work dedicated to that most recently completed campaign.  Don't be surprised if you end up shedding tears of joy after finishing Mr. Prince's book (even if you weren't just traded for Carlos Gomez).

As the subtitle of Amazin' Again says, the Mets brought the magic back to Queens.  And Mr. Prince certainly brought the magic back into our minds with his amazin' book.  We give it two very enthusiastic paws up.

Amazin' Again was so well-written, we may just have to read it again.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Magic 8-Ball Predicts The 2016 Mets Season

Last year, for the first time in seven seasons, the Mets produced a winning record.  They also won their first division title since James Blunt told us that we were beautiful and Shakira claimed her hips didn't lie.  And of course, New York appeared in a World Series for the first time since a month before hanging chads opened our eyes and entered the lexicon.

But like Mark McGwire standing before Congress and unlike Yankees fans standing before Mets fans, we're not here to talk about the past.  Rather, we're here to discuss what we expect from the Mets during the upcoming 2016 campaign.  And who better to talk about future events than our old pal, the Magic 8-Ball?

Of course, our sarcastic sphere has been a persnickety prognosticator since we first used its services in 2010, quicker with an insult than with a prediction.  However, our round plastic friend has also been correct on several topics, meaning we can depend on it just as much as we can count on Jonathan Papelbon being a douche.

So let's stop yapping and let's bring in the ball that knows it all.  Straight outta the box, it's the Magic 8-Ball!  Welcome back, M8B!

Um ... yeah.  That's not quite the response I expected from you.  Is everything okay, my friend?

That's a very good reason for you to be happy.  Although "happy" and "Magic 8-Ball" don't usually go hand-in-hand.  Are you absolutely sure you're well enough to answer my questions today?  After all, Mets fans have been anxiously waiting all winter for what you have to say.  To them, you're like the Punxsutawney Phil of predictors.

That's absolutely right.  Although it sounds strange hearing that from you.  Anyway, let's just start with the questions.  I'll wonder whether you have a concussion or not after we're done.  Do you think the Mets' starting pitching will be as good on the field as it is on paper?

That's great to hear.  Who do you think will emerge as the top pitcher in the rotation?

And what has Syndergaard shown you to make you feel this way?

That's true.  Anyone who appreciates Bartolo Colon's veteran presence as much as Thor does should definitely pick up a thing or two on how to be a successful pitcher in the major leagues.  And speaking of successful pitchers, what are your thoughts on Jacob deGrom losing some of the velocity on his fastball?

Really?  Wouldn't that make it easier for opposing hitters to catch up to his heater?

Ergonomically correct?  I don't understand what you mean by that.

Ah, I gotcha now.  He'll be able to pinpoint his pitches better if his luscious locks don't flow freely across his face as he releases the ball.  That's some good outside the box thinking by you.

Good point.  Now, we've discussed Syndergaard and deGrom.  We also know from past experience that Matt Harvey will give you the finger if you believe he's not going to have a successful season.  But what about Steven Matz?  He only made six regular season starts last year and suffered his first loss at the big league level in the postseason.  Opposing hitters batted .283 against him in the playoffs, which was not very impressive.  Are you concerned about him as he enters his first full season in the majors?

That's incredibly optimistic of you.  I mean, he got hurt last year.  He was pitching in and out of jams in the postseason.  And he was inconsistent in Grapefruit League action this year.  What makes you so sure he'll able to pitch effectively for the Mets this season?

Don't mess with the family or you're gonna get whacked.  Got it.  (Even though I thought Grandpa Bert was a good fella.)

Let's move on to the offense now.  Sandy Alderson did what no sane person thought he could do; he re-signed Yoenis Cespedes to a team-friendly contract.  In addition to adding switch hitters Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera to the team, plus the first full season of Michael Conforto in a Mets uniform, does this make the Mets one of the top offensive teams in the National League?

Why does it have to?  No one can know for certain how Cespedes, Walker, Cabrera and Conforto will handle their first full seasons in Mets uniforms.

That's true.  The Mets should have a better lineup by default when they're competing against the likes of the Braves, Phillies, Brewers, Reds, Padres, etc.

Speaking of bats that aren't healthy, what are your feelings on David Wright?  His lifetime supply of spinal stenosis will surely cause him to miss at least a month's worth of games.  Do you think the Mets will be able to withstand long stretches without their captain in the lineup?

You're very confident with your answer.  Do you really think players such as Wilmer Flores will be able to fill Wright's shoes both offensively and defensively?  What will the Mets do if Flores doesn't perform well when he eventually has to fill in for Wright?

It worked before.  Can't see why it wouldn't work again.  So let's get to the good part.  What's your final prediction for the Mets' record this year?

Wow!  After so many years of you predicting doom and gloom for the Mets, I certainly wasn't expecting that.  Do you truly think they're going to win it all this year?  What will propel them to October (and perhaps November) glory?

Wait, don't you mean Zack Wheeler?  He's the one returning from Tommy John surgery on or around the first of July.  And isn't Sidd Finch a fictional character?  If I recall, he was just part of an elaborate April Fool's joke.  What are you trying to say?

Wait, so you weren't being sincere with your answers?  Even after I voiced my pleasure at receiving honest responses from you?

I guess I'm the fool on this early April day.

And on that note, I think it's best if we bid adieu to the Magic 8-Ball for another season, as we wonder if the Mets are really going to win 98 regular season games and 11 more in the postseason to win their third World Series championship.  It's certainly possible that the team with the best starting rotation in baseball and an offense that's among the best and deepest in the National League can take the crown after coming within three wins of a title last year.  We'll just have to wait until the fall to see which of the Magic 8-Ball's predictions were a hoax and which, if any, were legitimate.  Because just like someone who claims to be a lifelong Marlins fan, it's tough to believe anything the Magic 8-Ball says.

That's all for this year's predictions.  Hopefully, you're all as ready for the upcoming regular season as I am, especially since the 2016 season is sure to be one of the most highly anticipated campaigns in the history of the franchise.  And before I forget, please help control the skullduggerous sphere population.  Have your Magic 8-Ball spayed or neutered.


Hey, kids!  The Magic 8-Ball has been making predictions since 2010, the year Jason Bay first soiled us with his presence.  To see what the Magic 8-Ball said prior to each of the previous six seasons, please click on the links below: