Saturday, December 30, 2017

Studious Metsimus Presents The Happy/Crappy Recap For 2017

It's the end of another calendar year, Mets fans.  And with just six weeks or so remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, it's time to look back and reflect.  No, we're not reflecting on all the injuries that seemed to be Ray Ramirez's fault in the eyes of the fan base.  (Okay, maybe we'll reflect on one or twelve of them.)  We're here to share what was happy and what was crappy about the 2017 season.  And if you followed this season as closely as the Studious Metsimus staff did, you'll probably expect the "happy" part to be as long as a Jeff Wilpon interview and the "crappy" part to be of a similar length as a modernized version of "War and Peace".

You know what?  You may be right about that.

But despite everything that a 70-92 record might suggest, not everything was crappy for Mets fans in 2017.  We got to see the Nationals make another first round exit, which means all of Daniel Murphy's postseason celebrations continue to be with him wearing a Mets uniform.  We also saw the Yankees complete an eighth consecutive season without winning a pennant.  (Hey, we hadn't seen that occur in over two decades.)  And of course, future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran went out as a champion, winning a World Series ring with the Mets' 1962 expansion mates a full 13 seasons after his epic postseason run with the Astros led to him becoming the greatest free agent signing in Mets history.

As Mets fans, we can take comfort that things other than the Mets can give us pleasure.  Sometimes it's all we have.  And with that, I think it's time to delve into this year's Happy/Crappy recap.  I promise it won't depress you as you read it.  After all, we wouldn't want you to end up wearing a leg boot because of a depression diagnosis.

So what was happy about the 2017 season?


Seriously, what can we look back on and remember as a good thing that happened this past season?

(More crickets, getting louder...)

Anything at all?  Bueller?  Bueller?

(Crickets quieting down, mainly because they're all shaking their heads...)

Okay, so it wasn't easy to find something to be happy about when looking back at the 2017 campaign.  I mean, the team needed a win on the next-to-last day of the season to avoid their first year with fewer than 70 wins since Art Howe's crew "battled" their way to a 66-95 record in 2003.

Everyone except Ray Ramirez got hurt at some point of the season.  I mean, Jay Bruce was traded to Cleveland with almost two months left in the season and still had the third-most plate appearances on the Mets.  Michael Conforto got hurt swinging the bat.  So did Wilmer Flores, who found a way to foul a ball off his face.  Both players appeared to be heading toward career years, as Conforto was on pace to hit 35-plus homers and Flores had already established career highs in home runs (18), batting average (.271), slugging percentage (.488) and OPS (.795) before the invisible magnet in his nose attracted a fastball off his bat.  Even Noah Syndergaard, who was expected to contend for the Cy Young Award, missed the majority of the season recovering from a lat injury.

Hey, but at least he got to woo Mrs. Met on Twitter as part of his all-out war on Mr. Met.

The injuries, as well as the selling off of the team's veteran players (and by veteran, I mean the guys who made the most money and were in the final season of their contracts), allowed the Mets to call up their top two minor league prospects, Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith.

Aha!  We've reached the bright side!

Rosario and Smith had flashes of brilliance, but neither took the baseball world by storm, as both posted OBPs south of .300 and OPSs under .700.  Still, Rosario just turned 22 last month and Smith won't be 23 until the anniversary of the Midnight Massacre.  And yet, some people are calling for Smith's days as a Met to be terminated before he's gotten a chance to prove himself.  Why?

The two neophytes combined to produce a .223/.266/.395 slash line, which isn't that for off from Noah Syndergaard's career slash line (.200/.273/.345).  That may not sound impressive, but consider the following.

Rosario gives the Mets speed they desperately need.  The swift Dominican finished second on the team behind Jose Reyes in triples and stolen bases.  If Reyes doesn't return in 2018, Rosario will be the only dependable source for steals and extra-base hits that don't come to a screeching halt at second base.  Plus, he'd be the best candidate to go first-to-third on a single.  Without Reyes and not including Rosario's totals in two months with the team, the Mets would have finished the 2017 campaign with 17 triples and 27 steals.  That's fewer than Lance Johnson had by himself in 1996 (21 triples, 50 SB).  Rosario should become the go-to guy to get the go-go signal from his coaches.

Meanwhile, Smith may have batted .198 with 49 strikeouts in 183 plate appearances, but he was an excellent hitter with runners in scoring position.  On a team that occasionally struggled offensively, Smith batted .283 with an .871 OPS when a teammate was 90 or 180 feet from crossing the plate.  That explains why he drove in 26 runs in those limited plate appearances.  In fact, he was more likely to drive in a run last season than the 110 Million Dollar Man, Yoenis Céspedes, as Smith averaged an RBI every 7.0 plate appearances, while Céspedes drove in a run every 7.6 PA (42 RBI; 321 PA).

All I am saying is give Smith a chance.

That was the good that came out of the 2017 season.  Now it's time for the bad and the ugly.  Can we have some orange and blue toilet paper, please?

Okay, we've gone over the injuries ad nauseum.  We've yet to discuss the pitching staff posting the highest team ERA since 1962, but doing that would just get us ad nauseous.  So let me tell you a story about something that happened with the one team expected to do worse than the Mets in 2018.  I'm talking about the Miami Marlins.

The Marlins have a new co-owner/CEO/gift basket giver.  To protect the not-so-innocent, let's call him Dirk Jitters.  Mr. Jitters was part of a group that purchased the team, then decided to enrage the dozens of Marlins fans in South Florida by trading the one player who made them come out to Marlins Park on a nightly basis; Giancarlo Stanton.  But faster than you can say "most overrated shortstop in the history of baseball", Mr. Jitters also found a way to trade slugger Marcell Ozuna and speedster Dee Gordon and is now supposedly looking to unload the contracts of Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto in this liquidation sale.

One can only imagine what he would have done with Jose Fernandez had he lived.

But Mr. Jitters did also something that was very unexpected.  He attended a town hall in which Marlins season ticket holders were invited to ask questions about the direction the team was taking.  Mr. Jitters calmly answered questions from the gathering of disgruntled fans, including Marlins Man, who left his seat behind home plate at a nationally televised road game to attend the meeting.

In doing so, Mr. Jitters was able to address the paying customers in person and made him more than just a guy in a suit with a closet full of gift baskets.  Which means he's already done more as a Marlins executive than the Wilpons have done with Mets fans.

Dirk Jitters has more balls than both Wilpons combined.

When was the last time you say Papa Smirk and Little Jeffy address the media or the team's fans?  They don't need to.  That's why they hired Sandy Alderson.  The Wilpons are the most hands-off owners in baseball except when someone wants to get their hands on their piggy banks.  To most fans, they're just urban legends as most of the team's supporters have never seen them in person.

The Studious Metsimus staff once attended a similar gathering of season ticket holders in 2013, which allowed fans to ask questions to members of the front office.  Alderson was there.  So were his merry men (John Ricco, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi).  Who wasn't there, you might ask?

Fred, Jeff and Saul.

The Mets' owners once had no problems giving out money to the top free agents and to re-sign their own players.  They gave newly-retired world champion Carlos Beltran a seven-year, $119 million contract.  They traded for a guy currently on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, Johan Santana, then proceeded to sign him to a six-year, $137.5 million extension.  Then a con man "made off" with their money and apparently their public appearances as well.

As long as New York keeps signing low-risk, high-reward players for pennies on the dollar and get low performance and high injury rates from these players, the fans will continue to revolt.  They'll continue to come to the ballpark (blame the food) and watch the games on SNY (blame Gary, Keith and Ron), but they'll always be figuratively throwing darts at photos of the Wilpons.  Maybe not so figuratively in some cases.

With little chance of the club acting like a large-market team and with the owners continuing to avoid breaking open their piggy banks for a proven commodity in his prime (Céspedes notwithstanding), the fans might have to endure a lot more of the crappy before the happy returns to Citi Field.

And that's it for 2017.  For most Mets fans, the year couldn't come to an end any quicker.  For the cast of crew of Studious Metsimus, we're not ready to give up on the year just yet.  At least not until we thank those who inspire, educate and amuse us.

Respected and long-running blogs such as A Gal For All Seasons, Faith and Fear in Flushing, Mets Merized Online, MetsMinors.Net, Amazin' Avenue, Metstradamus, Remembering Shea, The Daily Stache, Mets360, Rising Apple, Mets Plus, Good Fundies, MetSilverman, Converted Mets Fan and Mets Daddy, just to name a few (or 15, to be exact) always have interesting stories to share, day or night.  Check them out some time.  I'd say "tell 'em Ed sent you" but I'm not sure all of them know who I am.

From all of us here at the corporate office of Studious Metsimus, which is quite literally a desk with a computer, an iPhone and a cat who swipes at us whenever we need to use "his" bathroom, we'd like to thank you for your continued support of this site and wish you a safe and happy New Year.  And by "we", I mean Ed Leyro (the dude at the computer), Joey Beartran (the roving reporter/culinary expert with the iPhone) and Taryn "The Coop" Cooper (the chick getting swiped by the cat).

And remember, Mets fans.  It's not how you play the game.  It's how much money you saved by not signing the top free agents on the market and hoping to get similar production from lesser players coming off a subpar season, then hoping to get a game-winning single from them once a month.  (This paragraph was approved by Fred and Jeff Wilpon.)

Hey, Dirk Jitters?  If you could get rid of this monstrosity in Marlins Park, you'd be doing your fans a great service.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Joey's Letter To Sandy Claus (2017)

I hope Sandy Claus brings me lots of presents.  If he needs bows for them, I've got just the place where he can find them.

Dear Sandy Claus,

Greetings from your No. 1 fan, Joey Beartran.  I hope you're not tired of my letters yet.  After all, this is the seventh time I've sent you one and your track record for giving me what I want for the holidays is as dependable as the experts who were certain that Matt Harvey was going to have a bounce-back campaign in 2017.  (Spoiler alert: He didn't.)

This year, I'm going to make my requests quite simple for you.  So simple that even a Nationals fan could understand them.  I'm going to go position by position and include lots of photos for visual aids.  If you still can't see what I'm asking for, just ask your assistant, Ricco the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  He'll light the way for you so you can acquire exactly what I'm wishing for.

Are you ready for my letter, Sandy Claus?  Because we have very little time before Christmas arrives and Spring Training starts earlier this year because of the March 29th season opener.  So put down that "How To Tell Awkward Jokes At Inopportune Moments" book you're so fond of and pay close attention to my missive.  The fate of the 2018 Mets depends on your undivided attention.

If at first you don't succeed, Sandy, try to read my letters more carefully!

At first base, we thought Dominic Smith was going to be the long-term answer.  To be honest with you, I still think he's the long-term solution.  Just because he batted .198 in 183 plate appearances during his late-season call-up doesn't mean he's going to turn into Mario Mendoza with a little pop and a craving for wet burritos.  How about looking at the fact that he drove in 26 runs in those limited times at the plate?  Smith batted .283 with runners in scoring position, which was higher than the team's combined .259 average in those situations.  On a team that occasionally had difficulty scoring runs, Smith averaged an RBI every 7.0 plate appearances.  Compare that to his financially stable teammate, Yoenis Céspedes, who drove in a run every 7.6 plate appearances despite possessing a .292 overall batting average on the season.  (Céspedes batted just .254 with RISP.)  Not even you can expect Smith to bat under .200 for a full season.  Imagine how many runs he'll drive in if he just gets his average up to Lucas Duda territory (.246).  Keep Dominic Smith at first base and you'll have given me my first present of the year.

Second base post-Daniel Murphy has turned into third base pre-Howard Johnson.  And that's not a good thing.

My sources tell me you want to trade for a second baseman.  I can see why, as last season, eight players attempted to play the position, with none of them playing more than 65 games there.  I was also told Ian Kinsler was your top target to become the team's everyday second sacker in 2018.  Well, he's with the Angels now after refusing to take the Mets off his no-trade clause.  Jason Kipnis has been discussed, but he's due to earn $31 million over the next two years (which includes a $2.5 buyout if he's not brought back for $16.5 million in 2020) and he's coming off an injury-riddled year in which he batted .232 in 90 games.

Sounds like your type of guy, Sandy.

Of course, if you don't get Cleveland to eat a chunk of his contract, we'd just be getting Neil Walker's salary back.  And it would serve as a reminder that Daniel Murphy was only paid $36 million for three years by Washington, or a lower average annual value than Kipnis is making for far less production at the plate.

Another option is Josh Harrison, a two-time All-Star as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  But I'm not impressed with his lack of pop - he's averaged ten homers per 162 games over his career - and doesn't walk very much, as evidenced by his career-high 28 walks last season.  He's also due to earn $10.5 million in 2018.  I'd like a little more production for that kind of money.

Here's the thing.  This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think a Wilmer Flores/Jose Reyes platoon isn't the worst thing that could happen to this team.  Flores would start against left-handed pitchers and Reyes would bat against righties.  We all know Flores isn't as productive as an everyday player, but has always been able to rake against southpaws.  Similarly, Reyes improved dramatically during the second half of the 2017 campaign, batting .288 with an .828 OPS after the All-Star break, as opposed to his .215 average and .655 OPS prior to the Midsummer Classic.  Both Flores and Reyes love playing for the Mets.  And they can both have their strong points come out in a second base platoon.  Flores will already be a Met in 2018.  Reyes would more than likely come back for far less money than the amount that would have to be doled out to Kipnis or Harrison.  I don't think a Flores/Reyes platoon would be the worst thing that could happen.

Abbott and Costello said "I don't know" is on third.  Sandy Claus claims Asdrubal Cabrera is there.  Who's right?

I'm glad you finally got those visions of David Wright dancing in your head out of your system.  If the $138 million man ever comes back, it should be as a backup player, albeit a very expensive one.  I'm also pleased you brought back Asdrubal Cabrera to play the position, although he had some difficulty there in 2017, making six errors in 40 starts as opposed to his error-free 32-game stint as the team's second baseman.  I think a full slate of Spring Training games at third will help him learn the position and he'll be fine.  But at the recently completed Winter Meetings, you did say, and I quote: "We've kind of zeroed (Cabrera) in at third base and we don't want to move him around, so while he gives us some flexibility, I'm not sure we want to exercise it."

Let me get one thing out of the way.  You're obsessed with the word "flexibility" the way Mike Piazza was always "frustrated" and Art Howe's guys "battled".  Stop that.  Now that I got that off my furry chest, I still think you need to acquire a good defensive third baseman in case Cabrera can't handle that end of the bargain.  I mean, if it's not Cabrera, then it's Flores at third, and we know how that's worked out in the past.  If Juan Lagares is going to be a part-time player in center field because of his defensive prowess, then why can't we have a guy who's a good glove at the hot corner for those times when we need steady defense?  At least you need someone there for when Cabrera demands a trade at some point during the regular season.

In case you hadn't noticed, I've intentionally skipped shortstop and catcher.  Hopefully, the lack of visual aids don't throw you off and you end up demoting Amed Rosario and signing a guy like, oh, let's say Jose Lobaton to be a potential backup catcher.  (Wait, you did the latter already?  Maybe I should have included that visual aid.)  That being said, I trust in you to leave Rosario as the starting shortstop and Travis d'Arnaud as the No. 1 catcher, especially since d'Arnaud set career highs in home runs (16) and RBI (57) despite not setting high marks in plate appearances.  He'll be 29 in February and may finally have taken the turn into being a solid contributor in the lineup.  Shortstop and catcher are not positions I need filled in my Christmas stocking this year.  Come to think of it, neither is the outfield, as Céspedes and Michael Conforto (when he's fully healed from his "that's so Mets" shoulder injury) will be out there, as will a combination of Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo and whatever scrap heap outfielder you can coerce to come to the team with the promise of a Mex Burger.  But pitching is another story...

What was once a strength has crumbled like a poorly-made biscuit.  Speaking of which, I may be a little hungry.

You know what I really want for Christmas more than anything?  I want the pitchers to not give up four runs and be taken out before the end of the fifth inning.  That kills their ERA and their bullpen brethren.  I mean, the team's collective ERA was 5.01.  Not since 1962 had the club's pitchers done something like that.  And it's never a good thing to be compared to that squad.

I also want more than one starter surpassing 120 innings, as Jacob deGrom was the only Met to reach that figure in 2017.  Back in 1983, Jesse Orosco and Doug Sisk had 110 and 104.1 IP, respectively.  It should be noted that both of them pitched exclusively in relief.  Now the Mets can't get starting pitchers with those numbers.  Hopefully, with the departure of Ray Ramirez, Robert Gsellman won't be second on the team in games started and Rafael Montero won't be asked to pitch 119 innings.  Just keep the pitchers healthy and in shape and I'll be a happy bear.

Mets pitchers allowed 220 HRs in 2017.  If the apple went up for opponents' blasts, it would've malfunctioned due to overuse.

So there you have it, Sandy.  You're the architect of this team.  If everything crumbles apart like it did in 2017, you're the one who has to take responsibility.  And once again, I don't want to hear about payroll or player flexibility.  The only flexibility I want to hear is the flexibility to hire someone who can make Mex Burgers great again.  They used to be my go-to burger at Citi Field, but the one I ordered last season reminded me of the burgers in the "Where's The Beef?" campaign used by Wendy's in the mid-'80s.  And trust me, that's not a good thing.

I've got a beef with the lack of beef on Mex Burgers.

Did you get all that, Sandy?  If you didn't, allow me to recap my letter for you.  Keep Dominic Smith on the field and away from wet burritos.  Settle on a second baseman that won't make us constantly remind you that you didn't bring back Daniel Murphy.  Don't go back to the days when Mets fans counted the number of third basemen in team history.  Have current starting pitchers on the mound for more innings than 1980s relievers.  And speaking of the '80s, find some beef to put on those tasty burgers at Keith's Grill.  Or just reduce the size of the buns, call them Mex Sliders and give us three per serving.

Thanks so much for reading my letter, Sandy Claus.  I know it's hard to grant everyone's wishes, but I think it's about time you answered mine.  I've been writing for seven years and all I've gotten from you is one pennant, one early wild card exit and five losing seasons.  I'm too faithful to the team to get that kind of treatment, don't you think?

I hope you, Ricco the Red-Nosed Reindeer and all of your jolly elves have a Happy Holiday season.  Until then, I'll just sit here by the fire on top of these unopened presents, hoping that because Ray Ramirez is gone, I won't give myself a paper cut while I unwrap them on Christmas Day.

Love and Mex Burgers forever,
Joey Beartran

I hope my Mets knit cap doesn't catch fire.  If so, I'll have to add something else to my letter to Sandy Claus.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Joey and Iggy Beartran Thanksgiving (2017)

After attending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, it's time to share what we're thankful for!

Hi, Mets fans!  We're Joey and Iggy Beartran and today is the most wonderful day of the year.  It's Thanksgiving, a day in which we gain all the weight we say we're going to lose in six weeks once we make our New Year's resolutions.  But we know that promise to lose weight is just a lie, just like the Mets saying they have payroll flexibility when we know they're returning empty bottles and cans to the supermarket just to collect the five cent deposit.

Speaking of five cents, Iggy and I are going to contribute ours to this blog post, as we share what we're thankful for as the baseball off-season continues and the countdown to Opening Day begins in earnest.  (For all you kids out there, March 29 is only 126 days away.)

So sit back, stop watching football games that don't involve the team you root for, ignore the awkward photos your aunt Tillie is trying to show you at the adults' table - don't you wish you were still young enough to sit at the kids' table - and enjoy reading what we're thankful for.  Since we all rooted for the Mets in 2017, I can guarantee this read won't take too much time away from your Thanksgiving plans.

Dig in to our blog post!

Joey:  I'm thankful we got to visit two new ballparks this year, as we attended games at SunTrust Park in Atlanta (a Mets win) and Marlins Park in Miami (let's not talk about the final result of that one).

Iggy:  I'm thankful we didn't have Matt Harvey starting both games we went to on the road.  I almost got whiplash from twisting my head so much to watch all the hits he gave up in Miami.  I would have had to fly home in a neck brace had he started in Atlanta as well.

Spoiler Alert: This was the final score of the game we went to in Miami.

Joey:  I'm thankful for Terry Collins.  Although he won't be back to manage the Mets in 2018, he did the best he could with the Quadruple-A players he was forced to put in the lineup because of injuries to the established major leaguers on the roster and the financial restraints that wouldn't allow the front office to give All-Stars like Daniel Murphy more than $36 million over three seasons.

Iggy:  Joey, you're just thankful for Terry Collins because you liked having a guy on the Mets who was your height.  I'm more thankful that Mickey Callaway is now the Mets' manager.  He knows how to deal with pitchers and has a plan in place.  Plus, he turned Corey Kluber from a mediocre pitcher to a two-time Cy Young Award winner.  If he could do that, he could turn Matt Harvey back into a guy who won't hurt my neck to watch him pitch, g*d*mmit!

Matt Harvey in cartoon form.

Joey:  I'm thankful Michael Conforto and Yoenis Céspedes should be back at full strength come Opening Day.  When healthy, they can each hit 30 homers and drive in close to 100 runs.

Iggy:  And I'm thankful we have Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo, and the scrap heap outfielders Sandy Alderson will eventually sign by promising them a couple of bucks and a coupon to Shake Shack.  Because you don't know how Conforto and Céspedes will play after the former got hurt swinging the bat and the latter got hurt running to the bank to deposit his gargantuan check before they closed for the day.  (Yoenis should really get direct deposit.  Just sayin'.)

This high-five is an injury waiting to happen.  (Elsa/Getty Images)

Joey:  Finally, I'm thankful the team is doing whatever it can to return to prominence after its two-year postseason run ended with a disappointing 70-92 campaign in 2017.  Whether it be signing a free agent, trading for a veteran All-Star caliber player, or just improving the way players train during the off-season, the Mets are not going to roll over and die in 2018.

Iggy:  I'm just thankful Ray Ramirez's career with the Mets rolled over and died.

Ray Ramirez is not impressed.  (Amazin' Avenue via SNY)

Well, that's all folks!  Despite the Mets' poor performance in 2017, we still found things to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day.  Although I feel like Iggy was more thankful to have a platform in which to voice her displeasure at the team than anything else.

From our family to yours, we'd like to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.  We hope you enjoy your holiday feasts and be sure to save some leftovers for us.  We already have a disgruntled bear in Iggy today.  There's no need to make her hangry as well.


As always, ya gotta believe.  Even if the team is coming off a miserable year.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Tribute to My Grandfather, Who Taught Me Love and Baseball

My grandparents moved to Puerto Rico when I was three years old.  After they moved to San Juan, I would only see them for a few weeks at a time when my parents and I would visit them during my summer vacation from school.  Because those trips would coincide with the middle of baseball season, my grandfather would always want to talk to me about the game.

When I was eight years old, I discovered that Abuelo (that's Spanish for "grandfather") was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.  He, my grandmother and their four children (one of which is my father) moved from the Island of Enchantment to New York in 1947, the same year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.  Robinson wasn't the only reason he became a Dodger fan, as 1947 was also the year Gil Hodges and Duke Snider came up to the major leagues to stay.  The Dodgers won the pennant in 1947, making only their second trip to the World Series since 1920.  They would make many more over the next few decades.  Abuelo was hooked for life.

The summer of 1981 was special for both Abuelo and I.  It was the year I became a Mets fan, but it was also the year of Fernandomania.  That summer, when my parents and I went to visit my grandparents in Puerto Rico, the players' strike was nearing its conclusion.  But just because there was no baseball to watch didn't mean there were no baseball stories to share. 

Any time I wanted to talk about Mookie Wilson, my grandfather would remind me that he wasn't as fast as Maury Wills.  (Wills was the first major league player in the modern era to steal 100 bases in a season, swiping 104 bags for the Dodgers in 1962, which was 45 more than the entire Mets team stole in their inaugural season.)  I knew better than to argue with him.

After a few minutes, the conversation would always turn to Fernando Valenzuela, who had taken the country by storm during his rookie season.  Abuelo would normally be in bed by 10 PM every night, but if Valenzuela was pitching and the game just happened to be broadcast on the local television channel, he'd always stay up to watch the game on a 13-inch black and white TV.  He'd keep the volume low so as not to wake my grandmother, telling me that he didn't need to hear the game because Fernando's pitching would tell the story.  In the summer of 1981, he was absolutely right.

I'll always remember talking to him on the phone after the Mets won the World Series in 1986.  He was thrilled that I was finally able to celebrate a championship, but he was also quick to remind me that despite the Mets boasting a pitching staff that included Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez, it was Fernando Valenzuela who led the National League in wins.  (Valenzuela won 21 games for the Dodgers in 1986; his only 20-win campaign in 17 years in the big leagues.)

Oh, Abuelo.  He really loved his Dodgers.

Two years after the Mets won the World Series, they played for the right to appear in another.  But this time it was different.  This time, the Mets were playing the Dodgers for the pennant.  A member of the Leyro family was going to see his favorite team play in the World Series in 1988.  But for that to happen, another member of the Leyro family was going to be disappointed that his team failed to reach the Fall Classic.  It was about as awkward as it was ever going to get between me and Abuelo when it came to our shared love of the national pastime.  In the end, it became one of the most important times in our relationship.

The Dodgers defeated the Mets in the 1988 NLCS, upsetting them in seven games.  The Mets weren't the only ones upset by that result.  The day after Game Seven, the phone rang in our house.  My mother picked it up, spoke for a few seconds, then called me over to the phone.  It was for me, she said.  It was Abuelo.

I thought it was strange that Abuelo would call me.  After all, any time I'd speak to him on the phone, it would be my grandmother who called us and then she'd pass the phone over to Abuelo.  (The men in the Leyro family have never been known as "phone people".)  But this time, my grandfather let his fingers do the walking and he called me directly.  Nearly three decades have passed since this call was made, but I'll never forget that conversation.

Not once did he mention the Dodgers while talking to me.  Nor did he mention the Mets.  Instead, he reminded me that there would be times in life when we'd question why things happened the way they did.  He told me that he once went on a date with a girl when he was 18.  She was his definition of "the perfect girl".  She was smart, beautiful and came from a great family.  He was sure after one date that he was going to marry her.  Two dates later, she decided she didn't want to see him anymore.  He was crushed.

After two years of wondering where he went wrong, he made the acquaintance of another local girl.  Abuelo admitted to me that he wasn't attracted to her at first, but she listened to his story of lost love and gave him words of encouragement.  They continued to talk as friends for nearly a year until he realized something.

He was falling in love.  And this time, the girl he loved felt the same way about him.

The year was 1933.  In 1934, they were married.

When Abuelo finished telling me the story of how he and Abuela met and fell in love, I thanked him for making me smile.  I thought that was the reason he was sharing his story with me, because I was upset that my Mets had lost to his Dodgers and I would need some cheering up.  But that wasn't why he told me the story.  He then went back to the beginning of our conversation, the part where he said there would be times in life when we'd question why things happened the way they did.

For two years, he wondered to himself why the love of his life didn't love him back.  But without that unexpected breakup, he never would have met my grandmother, a woman he would be married to until she passed away in 2001.  He then told me to think about his words and to "never stop believing" before hanging up.

It took me until that evening, but as I was getting ready for bed, it finally hit me.  Abuelo was using his story as an analogy.  I was questioning how the Mets could lose to the Dodgers in the playoffs after defeating them 10 of 11 times during the regular season, just like he had questioned why the girl he loved couldn't reciprocate those feelings for him.  He had to wait two years after suffering through a devastating heartbreak, but in the end, it netted him the love of his life.  Therefore, what Abuelo was telling me was that he knew I was heartbroken because of the Mets' loss to the Dodgers, but before long, they'd be back and I'd love them more than ever.

You know what?  He was right.

Sure, it took 11 years for the Mets to make it back to the postseason, but when they did, they went to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and made their first trip to the World Series since 1986.  And when they did, Abuelo was the first person who called me to offer a congratulatory message.

Abuelo didn't make it to see the next two Mets/Dodgers postseason matchups in 2006 and 2015, as he passed away five days after his 90th birthday in 2002.  But when the Mets defeated the Dodgers to advance to the NLCS in both campaigns, the first person I thought of was him.  What did I think of?  That he didn't have to feel sad because the team he loved would be back.  And they did, as the Dodgers have won seven division titles in the last ten seasons.  Somewhere in Heaven, I knew Abuelo was smiling.  And now he's probably smiling even more, as the Dodgers are playing for their first World Series title since the year he called me to tell me a story about love and patience.

There is a point to this personal story.  You see, Abuelo was born on October 29, 1912.  That means today would have been his 105th birthday.  He and I never went to a Mets/Dodgers game together, but we didn't have to.  The stories took us there.

When I was eight years old, Abuelo shared his love of the Dodgers with me at the same time I was trying to share my love of the Mets with him.  He never became a Mets fan, just as I never became a Dodgers fan.  But we shared that love of baseball that no rivalry can break.  That love brought us together and provided me with some of my most wonderful childhood memories - memories that I continue to cherish as an adult.

Sometimes we question why things happen the way they do.  I never have to question why I loved my grandfather.  He was the most important man I've ever known.

Happy 105th birthday, Abuelo.  And thank you for always taking me out to the ballgame.

Dedicated to Horacio Leyro (October 29, 1912 - November 3, 2002)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Joey's Soapbox: My 2017 Not-At-All Biased World Series Pick

Pardon me for being a little distracted.  The Astros are trying to bribe me with food.

What's going on, everyone?  It's me, Joey Beartran.  After nearly a month of watching several opening acts, the band we came to see is finally taking the stage, as the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers will face off in this year's World Series.

As a Mets fan, I'm pleased that the Astros took care of business and got to the good part, eliminating the Yankees in the ALCS.  Of course, with Houston reaching the World Series, that means Carlos Beltran will once again be trying to win his first ring.  (YAY!)  But since he and his teammates are facing the Dodgers, that means Chase Utley is still playing, and that's never something to root for.  (BOO!)

But as you know, my postseason predictions are never biased.  Not at all.  Therefore, when I picked the Astros to win the ALCS, it was because I thought they were a better team than the Yankees (and I was right).  I also chose the Cubs to go back to the World Series because I assumed the Dodgers didn't have what it took to dethrone them (and I was wrong).

And now, I have the difficult decision of trying to figure out if I want the World Series champion to be the team that employs Carlos Beltran, is in search of its first championship and is a lot of fun to watch.  Or will I go with the team that still gives Mets fans nightmares when they think of 1988, is currently paying Utley's salary and kept head cheerleader Curtis Granderson off its World Series roster?

I'm going to be totally professional with this pick.  Just like annoying and predictable Yankee fans and their team's rings, you can count on it!

World Series

Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

In September 2010, the Philadelphia Phillies were on their way to a fourth consecutive N.L. East crown.  The Mets, meanwhile, were just playing out the schedule and trying to avoid having their division rivals clinch that title against them.

In the series opener, Ruben Tejada was upended at second base by Chase Utley, who slid hard and late into the neophyte.  Carlos Beltran, Tejada's teammate at the time, took exception to Utley's act and decided to go eye-for-an-eye, leg-for-a-leg the following day.  After the game, the normally soft-spoken Beltran shared his feelings on what Utley did and his attempt at payback.

"The way Chase Utley slid into second base, I felt like it was time for me to do the same thing he did - slide hard and try to hit somebody," Beltran said.  "He did cross the line.  Not only in that play, he has done things in the past, like blocking bases.  It's okay to play hard.  It's okay to get outs.  Once you try to hurt somebody, that's not fun."

Fast forward five years to 2015.  Beltran is long gone, having played for the Giants, Cardinals and Yankees since his close encounter of the turd kind.  (And by turd, I mean Utley.)  Meanwhile, Utley is now a Dodger and Tejada is still playing the middle infield for the Mets.  The two got reacquainted in October when Los Angeles and New York hooked up in the NLDS.  And five years didn't change Utley's penchant for ordering take out at second base.

As all Mets fans know, Utley broke Tejada's leg with a slide that was harder and more deliberate than the original 2010 model.  Beltran could only watch on television, as his Yankees were eliminated by the Houston Astros in that year's American League wild card game.

Now, Beltran is a member of the Astros, Utley is reading the latest Dodger Blue edition of "How to Get Away With Murdering a Middle Infielder" and Tejada is playing Musical Teams, having played for the Cardinals, Giants, Yankees and Orioles organizations in the two years since his leg fracture.  I wonder which player Tejada is rooting for in this year's World Series...

Seven years after Beltran defended his former Mets teammate and two years after he couldn't do a thing to help his fallen friend, Beltran can finally get the ultimate payback by denying Utley the World Series ring that has eluded Beltran for his entire 20-year career.  And you better believe he's going to go all out to get that ring, even if he has to take out Utley to get it.

Oh, I was supposed to pick a World Series winner, wasn't I?  And it was supposed to be my unbiased opinion as a professional prognosticator, right?  Okay, I can do that.

Houston will find a way to solve Justin Turner and his Dodger colleagues.  The Astros' mostly right-handed hitting lineup will tee off on southpaw Clayton Kershaw, also known as the guy with the most postseason losses in Dodgers history.  Yasiel Puig will go home without flipping his bat once, unless you want to count throwing the bat away in disgust after each time Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander strike him out.  Jose Altuve will be the World Series MVP.  And Carlos Beltran will come off the bench to deliver a key double, one that will require a slide into second base.  The Dodgers better hope Logan Forsythe is starting at second base that night instead of their other second sacker.

Take my unbiased opinion and shove it, Chase Utley.

Prediction: Astros in 7.

Like a knee to the face, the Astros will make things uncomfortable for the Dodgers.  (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Friday, October 20, 2017

I'm Keith Hernandez! I Wish Me a Happy Birthday!

Hello, my friends.  I'm Keith Hernandez.  And today is a special day for me.  You see, today is my birthday.  That's right, all you kids out there.  I'm now 64 years old.

In honor of my 64th birthday, the cast and crew at Studious Metsimus asked me to give you a brief recap of my life.  To be honest with you, I've never heard of Studious Metsimus, but the offer of unlimited Tootsie Pops was too much to refuse.  Plus, they promised me there would be no traffic on the Long Island Expressway so I could make a quick getaway after writing this piece.  How could I pass that up?

Anyway, I was born in San Francisco on October 20, 1953.  Contrary to popular belief, I was not born with a mustache.  The picture you see below is one of my early photos.  Yes, the ladies loved me even then.  Can you blame them?  I mean, look at me!  I'm Keith Hernandez!

Unfortunately, I failed in my petition to get my own name on my Little League jersey.

After my days as a Little League Lothario were done, I was drafted in the 42nd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971.  (Yes, I did go to high school between my Little League days and my high school graduation, but that was an awkward time for me, so I'd rather not talk about it.)  Clearly, the scouts back then were terrible judges of talent if they waited that long to draft me.  Unfortunately, I did nothing to earn that selection early on in my minor league career until I was promoted to Triple-A Tulsa in 1973, where I hit .333 and showed those other kids out there how a real baseball player was supposed to play the game.

In 1974, I hit .351 for Tulsa and was promoted to the big show on August 30 of that year against my hometown San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  I reached base three times in my first big league game, drawing two walks before collecting my first big league hit and RBI in the ninth inning off Giants' starter Mike Caldwell.  Unfortunately, we lost that game 8-2, but I let it be known to my teammates and the rest of the league that I was here to stay.

Once I settled in to the big leagues, I made my presence felt in the clubhouse and on the field.  The Cardinals just had to keep me around.  Therefore, they traded incumbent first baseman Joe Torre to the Mets after the 1974 season (more on first basemen being traded to the Mets a little later ... after a few more paragraphs and my first Tootsie Pop).  I was a Cardinal now, and St. Louis was about to see what Keith Hernandez was all about.

It was in St. Louis that I let my trademark mustache grow.  The Gateway City was also where I earned my first Gold Glove in 1978 and my first MVP Award one year later.  (Okay, so it was a co-MVP award that I shared with Willie Stargell.  But in Strat-O-Matic, I kicked Willie's posterior.)  In addition, St. Louis was the place where I claimed my first batting title (also in 1979), my first World Series championship (1982), my first line of... umm ... baseball cards (yeah, that's the ticket) and my first comparison to adult film thespian Ron Jeremy.

If my brother Gary were in this collage, you'd have the original Gary, Keith and Ron.

If you ask me, I don't see the resemblance.   He looks more like Mike Piazza than he does me.  Also, my acting skills are far superior to his.  Was he on "Seinfeld"?  I don't think so.  That was me.  Why did they choose me over him?  Because I'm Keith Hernandez!

Anyway, less than eight months after bringing home St. Louis' first World Series championship since 1967, I experienced one of the saddest days of my life, or so it seemed at the time.  On June 15, 1983, I was traded from the defending world champion Cardinals to the perennial cellar dweller New York Mets.  Shockingly, I wasn't even traded for future Hall of Famers.  I was shipped off to the Mets for Neil Allen, Rick Ownbey (who also celebrates a birthday with me today, but he's four years my junior) and a half-empty box of Tender Vittles.  Even my beloved cat, Hadji, wouldn't be impressed with that transaction.

It was already an insult to me that I was traded to the team known as "Pond Scum" and the "Stems" in St. Louis.  But come on!  Couldn't the Mets have offered some 9 Lives to the Cardinals instead of Tender Vittles?  After all, Morris the Cat was all the rage back then.  I mean, he was the O.G.  (Original Grumpy cat).   I would have accepted a trade for Allen, Ownbey and 9 Lives, not Allen, Ownbey and half-eaten Tender Vittles.  Sheesh!

I guess since the Cardinals already had the Clydesdale Horses, they didn't need another animal in the barn.

Anyway, the Mets didn't do too well after I got traded there.  We finished 68-94 in 1983, but showed some signs of life.  Old punching buddy Darryl Strawberry came up in May and future broadcast colleague R.J. (that's Ron Darling for all you casual Mets fans out there) was called up when rosters expanded in September.

Big Brother didn't come around in 1984 like he was supposed to, but we had our own little Animal Farm at Shea Stadium.  Top pitching prospect Dwight Gooden was called up in 1984 and Davey Johnson became the new Mets manager.  The team responded by going 90-72 and giving the Cubs all they could handle in the N.L. East.  As a result, I was no longer saddened by my trade to New York and only occasionally did I wonder if Whitey Herzog had finished what was left over in the box of Tender Vittles.

After falling short in the N.L. East race again in 1985, we put it all together in 1986.  That was the year I won my second World Series championship and helped bring the first title to Flushing since the Miracle Mets did the same in 1969.  I also paired up with another Ronnie after bringing the trophy home in 1986. 

What?  No Gary?  Fine.  Then we'll just have to make do with Keith and Ron instead.

Just as my tenure with the Mets was coming to an end, I decided I should give acting a try.  I wasn't planning on telling you this, but the Tootsie Pop dangling in front of my face has convinced me to do so.

Did you know that "Seinfeld" was not my first attempt at acting?  Before TV immortality, I wanted to be a movie star.  My time with former actor Ronald Reagan in the White House showed me that if he could be President and a movie star, then I could be a baseball legend and a matinee idol as well, so it was off to Hollywood for me.

I first gave acting a shot when I auditioned for the movie "Major League".  However, it ended up being a bad dream and instead of playing for the Cleveland Indians in the film alongside noted actors Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert and Wesley Snipes, I ended up playing for the REAL Cleveland Indians, who were not nearly as talented as their counterparts from this past season.  You know, the team that won an A.L. record 22 consecutive games en route to a second straight A.L. Central title.  Needless to say, it was not a good time to be Keith Hernandez.

There's no way I would've let Roger Dorn get away with not diving for ground balls.

I was injured for most of my time in Cleveland.  Because of that, I only played in 45 games for the Indians, batting .200 with one HR and eight RBI.  You know it wasn't a good season when my Studious Metsimus editor reminded me that I had to write out my home run and RBI totals in words (one and eight) instead of numbers (1 and 8).  Needless to say, I retired after the 1990 season and went back home...

...which didn't last long.  In 1992, I appeared on Episode No. 34 of "Seinfeld".  The special one-hour episode, named "The Boyfriend", featured me trying to date Elaine Benes, but not being able to get past first base because I used to smoke back then.  Another subplot involved me being accused of spitting a magic loogie on Kramer and Newman, when in fact it was my former Met teammate, Roger McDowell, whose mouth shot the viscous projectile from the grassy knoll.

"That is one magic loogie."

My appearance on "Seinfeld" in 1992 and my subsequent cameo in the series finale in 1998 parlayed into several broadcasting appearances for the Mets.  When SNY debuted in 2006, I teamed up with former radio play-by-play man Gary Cohen and analyst/former teammate Ron Darling as the new broadcast team for the New York Mets.  My boothmates and I are also part of Gary, Keith and Ron, or GKR for short.  Together, we've raised money for our favorite charities, such as the Cobble Hill Health Center (for Alzheimer's care) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (hoping to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes).  In addition, we've also focused on helping victims of domestic abuse.  And for all you kids out there, there's nothing funny about domestic abuse.

Fans might know me for my baseball career.  Others might know me for my excellent acting on "Seinfeld".  Some of you might even know me for my Just For Men commercials with Walt "Clyde" Frazier.  Current Met fans certainly know me for my unabashed analysis on SNY telecasts of Mets games.  And now, the rest of the country is getting reacquainted with me as I offer colorful commentary in the FOX Sports/FS1 studio for that network's pre-game and post-game shows.

I'm all of those people.  Although I'm a year older today, I'm still only 64 so I have plenty left to accomplish.  Maybe I'll mass produce my Mex Burgers.  Or perhaps I'll go from flashing the leather to wearing it on a broadcast.  Hey, I might even create a fantasy league for Strat-O-Matic players.  (Why haven't I thought of that before?)  Who knows?  One thing is for sure.  No matter what job I have or what position I fill, I'll always be around.  Why wouldn't I be?  After all, I'm Keith Hernandez!

It's not easy being me, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Joey's Soapbox: My 2017 Not-At-All Biased LCS Picks

I feel like I've been here before.  I think the Cubs have been here before, too.

Hey, everyone!  It's just me, Joey Beartran.  And I'm back to tell you what will undoubtedly be the correct World Series matchup.  For about a nanosecond, I thought the Nationals were actually going to join the 1981 Expos as the only team in Montreal/Washington history to win a playoff series in the franchise's 49 seasons of existence, but then I remembered we're talking about the Nationals here.  To paraphrase an old saying, Washington is first in war, first in peace and first to make golf plans when the NLCS is being played.

In the Senior Circuit, we have a rematch of last year's semifinal series, but this time it's the Dodgers who finished the regular season with the best record and home field advantage, while the Cubs will be faced with playing a potential Game Seven on the road.  Over in the American League, the Houston Astros will attempt to become the first team to win pennants in both leagues, but to accomplish that feat, they'll have to defeat the team with the most pennants in history.

Will Los Angeles advance to the Fall Classic for the first time since they defeated the Mets in the 1988 NLCS?  Will Chicago become the first National League team to win consecutive pennants since the 2008-09 Phillies?  Will Houston stay strong all the way to baseball's greatest stage?  Or will that other New York team rise to the occasion?

There are only two ways to find out.  One is actually watching the games, but since they're all taking four-plus hours to play, you'll probably fall asleep before they end.  The easier way is to read my fearless predictions, because you know they're going to be correct.  And they certainly won't be biased.  At all.

American League Championship Series

New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

In 1986, the Mets defeated Houston to advance to the World Series.  Nine years later, a certain Yankees employee named George Costanza told Astros executives that "no Yankee is ever coming to Houston."  Well, he was right for a little over 20 years.

Video courtesy of YouTube user thejog2k and his television set

The wild card Yankees have already knocked off the overachieving Twins and the underachieving Indians in the postseason to make it this far, while Houston coasted to a division title and made things look easy against the Red Sox in the division series.  The Yankees lost five of seven to the Astros during the regular season, but then again, they also lost five of seven to the Indians before taking three of five from Cleveland in the postseason.

Houston has two aces in its rotation in Dallas Kuechel and Justin Verlander.  Both pitchers have been successful against the Yankees in the postseason, as Kuechel and Verlander have combined to go 3-0 with a 2.83 ERA versus New York in five starts.  If they combine for four solid starts in this series, the Yankees won't be going to the World Series for the 41st time.

Even if the starters are ineffective, the Astros' bats can pick them up.  Jose Altuve, also known as the only player in baseball who's my height, will probably have as many hits in the series as Aaron Judge has strikeouts.  Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Correa are both .300 hitters with power.  And you can bet former Yankees Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran are going to want to show their former team a thing or two about going far in the postseason.

I promise you I'm not being biased at all, but I'm convinced that not only will Houston defeat the Yankees in this series to advance to the World Series, they'll make it look easy.  As easy as Wally Backman was able to rattle Charlie Kerfeld over three decades ago when the Astros couldn't do to the Mets what they're about to do to the Yankees.

Prediction: Astros in 5.

National League Championship Series

Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

This is the Dodgers' fifth trip to the NLCS in the last ten seasons.  They've yet to win four games in any of their previous four appearances.  Meanwhile, the Cubs are making their third consecutive voyage to the NLCS, defeating L.A. last year after being pulverized by the Mets the year before.

Eventually, the Dodgers have to win a pennant, right?  After all, they've been to the World Series a total of 18 times in their proud history.  Well, eventually the Cubs had to win one as well.  And until last year, they went over 70 seasons without a World Series appearance.  The Dodgers can wait a little more before they consider themselves a long-suffering franchise.

Chicago just played a hard-fought series against Washington, eventually prevailing in five games.  Los Angeles made short work of the Arizona Diamondbacks and have been collecting dust waiting for the winner of the Cubs-Nationals series.  All that dust is going to make them cough a little through the early part of their series against the Cubs.

The North Siders pitched beautifully in the division series against the hard-hitting Nats, save for Game Five, when no one on either team could get anyone out.  They'll figure things out against the Dodgers and will take an early lead in the series.  But will they be able to close out the series and advance to defend their World Series title?  As long as they silence Justin Turner in the series (I can't believe I just said that), they shouldn't have a problem against the likes of Austin Barnes, Logan Forsythe and Yasiel Puig, who somehow combined to put a ridiculous .464/.531/.714 slash line in the Arizona series.

Clayton Kershaw isn't starting all seven games for the Dodgers, and even if he did, he'd probably give up another four homers like he did in his one start against the Diamondbacks.  Wait till next year, Dodgers.  Wait till next year.

Prediction: Cubs in 7.

After this NLCS, cubs like us might become Public Enemy No. 1 in Los Angeles.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Joey's Soapbox: My 2017 Not-At-All Biased Division Series Picks

The Indians progressed pretty well over the last month and a half of the season.

Howdy doody!  'Tis I, Joey Beartran, your fearless forecaster of all things playoffs.  And today I'm going to share my opinions on which teams will advance to the League Championship Series.  There are seven great teams to choose from (and the Yankees), but only four will advance (not the Yankees).

In the American League, we have the matchup that could have been a rematch of the 1986 World Series had Mike Scott gotten a chance to pitch in a Game Seven in the NLCS.  We also have the Cleveland Indians and their quest to repeat as league champions for the first time in franchise history.

In the N.L., the Chicago Cubs, who kept the Indians from winning their first title since Scott Atchison was in grade school, will be trying to repeat as world champions.  To do so, they'll have to get through Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, 'Ol Two Eyes (Max Scherzer) and the rest of the Washington Nationals.  And the Dodgers will be looking to inch one step closer to their first World Series berth since Mike Scioscia, Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser got in the Mets' way of what should have been their pennant.

Who will advance?  Who will go home?  (Spoiler alert: The Yankees)  And how many former members of the 2017 Mets will still be playing when I do my ALCS and NLCS predictions?  Enough with the questions!  On with the predictions!

American League Division Series

Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros

The Red Sox have made the playoffs 15 times in the last 32 seasons, yet this is the first time in over a century that they finished the regular season in first place in consecutive campaigns.  (They last accomplished this feat in 1915 and 1916, winning the World Series in both seasons.)  Meanwhile, this is just the Astros' second trip to the postseason in the last 12 years and their 11th overall.

All the experience goes to the Red Sox in this series, and they also have an ace starter (Chris Sale) and a game-over closer in Craig Kimbrel, who allowed 33 hits in 69 innings this season, or about the same number of hits Hansel Robles would give up in a week.

There's only one problem here.  After Sale, Boston's best starter is Drew Pomeranz, who somehow went 17-6 despite averaging barely over 5⅓ innings per start (32 starts, 173⅔ IP).  And manager John Farrell allowed last year's Cy Young Award winner, Rick Porcello, to throw over 200 innings despite the fact that he led the league in hits allowed and home runs given up, not to mention losses.  Since Sale can't pitch more than two games in the series, all Houston has to do is win the games not started by the 300-K southpaw.  You know, like the Mets had to do in '86 when the Astros had Mike Scott.

Challenge accepted.

Houston led the majors in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS and runs scored.  Only the Yankees hit more home runs than the Astros, but no team struck out fewer times than the A.L. West champions.  The Astros will batter the not-so-killer Ps (Pomeranz, Porcello and playoff pariah David Price) and may even steal a win when Sale starts.

And on a personal note, I'm stoked to see Justin Verlander start against Sale in Game One, especially since I flew to Chicago in 2012 to see then-Tiger Verlander face then-White Sox pitcher Sale, only to have that game rained out.  The Red Sox will be praying for rainouts of their own once the Astros start pummeling their pitchers.

Prediction: Astros in 5.

New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians

The Yankees won their first playoff game in five years on Tuesday.  The Cleveland Indians are a team on a mission, winning an American League record 22 straight games last month.  When the Yankees won four World Series titles in five seasons from 1996 to 2000, the only team to defeat them in the postseason was the Indians.

Those Yankee teams were far better than this year's model.  And this Indians club is looking World Serious.

Prediction: Indians in 3.

National League Division Series

Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals

Daniel Murphy will pay homage to Leon Durham at some point.  (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post/Getty Images)

The Cubs finally ended their two-thousand year old championship drought (give or take a couple of years) in 2016, then remained hung over for the first half of the 2017 campaign.  Meanwhile, the Nationals had no real competition in the N.L. East and won the division title by 20 games over the Marlins.

Washington is counting on the three-headed pitching monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez to lead the team past the defending champions.  However, Scherzer tweaked his hamstring in his final tuneup last week, Strasburg has pitched all of five postseason innings in his career and Gonzalez has not fared well in four playoff starts, pitching just 18⅓ innings over the mostly abbreviated outings.  (Gio has not thrown a postseason pitch after the fifth inning in any of his four starts.)  If Washington's starters can't go deep in games, the team could be in trouble.  The combined ERAs of all Nationals pitchers not named Scherzer, Strasburg and Gonzalez was a bloated 4.69.

Meanwhile, the Cubs' starters (Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks) were mostly pedestrian this year, but their bullpen was absolutely stellar, with Pedro Strop, Brian Duensing, Carl Edwards and closer Wade Davis combining to produce a 2.73 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and just under 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

The Nationals need to keep their starters on the mound to have a chance to win the series.  The Cubs need to keep games close so that their lockdown bullpen can take over.  But of course, the only thing that matters is that by the time this series is over, the Expos will still be the owners of the sole playoff series victory in Montreal/Washington franchise history.

Prediction: Cubs in 4.

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers went through a stretch during the summer when people were talking about them winning more games than any team in major league history.  Then they lost 12 straight games.  It got to the point where Los Angeles actually had to pay attention to what Arizona was doing because the D-Backs had cut their once insurmountable lead in the division to single digit games.  In fact, Arizona won 11 games against L.A. in 2017; the most of any team in the majors.  Included in their season-series victory was a three-game sweep in September in which the Diamondbacks outscored the Dodgers, 19-2.

Los Angeles hit 221 home runs during the regular season, but who didn't?  What didn't impress me was their .249 team batting average, and the only reason it was that high is because Justin Turner batted .322.

Despite making just 27 starts in 2017, Clayton Kershaw allowed a career-high 23 homers.  Now the southpaw has to face the right-handed hitting Paul Goldschmidt (36 HR, 120 RBI) and J.D. Martinez (29 HR, 65 RBI in 62 games with Arizona) in the division series.  And let's just say they're not .249 hitters like Kershaw's teammates on the Dodgers are.  Then there's the matter of that 4-7 record and 4.55 ERA in the postseason for the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

So you have a team that went 26-12 over the last six weeks of the season against a team that was 13-25 over the same time period.  I don't know about you, but I can't go with the team that recently lost a dozen consecutive games.  That 91-36 start seems like a long time ago for the Dodgers.

Prediction: Diamondbacks in 5.

Tom Lasorda might not want to watch what Arizona is going to do to his beloved Dodgers.  (Fox Sports South screen grab)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Joey's Soapbox: My 2017 Not-At-All Biased Wild Card Game Picks

I wonder who I'm picking to win the N.L. Wild Card game.  If only I had a sign to help me...

Hey, how's everybody doing?  I'm playoff prognosticator Joey Beartran and I'm ready for some postseason baseball.  This is the first season since 2014 that the Mets were not invited to the playoff party but many players who called Flushing home at some point in 2017 did receive - and accept - their invitations.

The Indians and Dodgers, owners of the best regular season records in their respective leagues, are bringing Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, respectively, to the postseason.  Addison Reed will be coming out of the bullpen for the A.L. East champion Red Sox.  Even Rene Rivera could crack the defending World Series champion Cubs' 25-man postseason roster.

Last year, the Yankees stayed home and the Mets played past their 162nd game.  This year, New York (AL) is hosting the Minnesota Twins in the wild card game and New York (NL) is busy showing off videos of Jacob deGrom's haircut.  Seriously, that's how the Mets are making news this October.  (Well, that and Terry Collins saying adios to Mets fans.)

Say it ain't so, Jake!  (Screen grab courtesy of Jose Reyes' Snapchat)

So since we don't have meaningful Mets baseball games until next March 29, we should probably focus on the wild card games set for Tuesday and Wednesday night.  Will the Yankees win their first postseason game since Zach Lutz was a Met?  Will the Twins finally end their 12-game postseason losing streak?  Will the Rockies ride Chuck Nazty to the division series?  Or will Arizona get their revenge on Colorado for the 2007 NLCS?

There's only one way to know what's going to happen before it happens.  And that's by reading my wild card picks below; picks that are not biased at all.  Trust me.  I'm an expert.

American League Wild Card Game

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees

The Twins have never defeated the Yankees in a postseason series, having dropped the ALDS to the Bronx Bummers in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010.  More recently, New York won all three games played against Minnesota at Yankee Stadium in 2017.  And to make matters worse for the Twins, their starting pitcher for the wild card game - Ervin Santana - has an 0-5 record with a 6.43 ERA in six career starts at the new House That Juice Built.

For the Yankees, starting pitcher Luis Severino struck out 230 batters during the regular season, which was tied for the third-highest total in Yankees history.  In addition, his 153 ERA+ made him the first Yankees starting pitcher to register an ERA+ over 150 since David Cone had a 159 ERA+ in 1997.

I heart Bart.  (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
The Yankees go into the postseason on a roll, having won 21 of their last 30 games.  The Twins were a .500 team in September, going 14-14 in the month.  New York has ten-foot tall Aaron Judge clubbing everything out of sight.  Minnesota's top home run hitter is Brian Dozier, who's half the size of Judge and hit 18 fewer homers.  Everything seems to be coming up Yankees in this game, right?


Santana wins his first game at the new Yankee Stadium, Miguel Sanó does his best David Ortiz impression (but from the right side of the plate) and Bartolo Colón's career lives to see another round.

Prediction: Minnesota will advance to the ALDS.

National League Wild Card Game

Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

Both Colorado and Arizona reversed their fortunes in 2017.  Literally.  The Rockies improved their record from 75-87 to 87-75, while the D-Backs went from 69-93 to 93-69.  But neither team came within striking distance of the first place Dodgers, necessitating this one-game face-off for the right to be swept by Justin Turner and Friends.

Last year, the Mets played in this game and ran into a buzzsaw on the mound in Madison Bumgarner.  This season, Jon Gray and Zack Greinke will try to be this year's Bumgarner.  It's too bad both pitchers will fail, as this game will be a Wild West shootout.

Gray will have to control the bats of Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez.  It will not go smoothly.  Greinke, on the other hand, will be staring down Nolan Arenado and batting champion Charlie Blackmon, among others.  Because of his reputation, Greinke will be left in the game a little too long.  Like five or six runs on the scoreboard too long.

Arizona may have finished ahead of Colorado in the standings, but the Rockies will finish ahead of the Diamondbacks in this game.  And if Arizona ordered a large number of churro dogs in anticipation of a lengthy postseason run, I know someone who can help them reduce their inventory.

Prediction: Colorado will advance to the NLDS.