Ah, the Mets. You know, they’re not really that bad of a franchise. They’ve won four pennants while no other expansion team has won more than two. They were the first expansion team to win the World Series, and also the first to win a second (no expansion team has won more). They’ve followed every stretch of losing with a period of winning of similar length, having made four complete cycles in their 48-year history. Their new ballpark, in which they’ll host the Yankees for three games this weekend, is a gem.
Still, they just never seem to get things quite right. They’re baseball’s equivalent of Jerry on Parks & Recreation, a decent, well-meaning, hard-working city employee, who nonetheless botches everything he does and is the subject of merciless ridicule and scorn from his fellow employees.
The Mets have been in full-blown Jerry mode since September 2007, when they suffered a momentous collapse and lost the division to the Phillies on the final day of the season. In 2008 they suffered a similar, though less extreme September collapse, again coughing up the division to the rival Phillies. Then last year everything fell apart. Despite debuting their handsome new ballpark (which bizarrely celebrated the legacy of the Brooklyn Dodgers rather than the Mets’ own history and prompted the creation of the worst sleeve patch in Major League Baseball history), the Mets were a disaster. Everyone got hurt except David Wright, who inexplicably stopped hitting for power, the owners spent the season fending off rumors of Bernie Madoff-induced poverty, and everyone in the front office lost their damn minds.
The Mets 2009 season was such an overwhelming disaster that the team is still feeling shockwaves in 2010. In mid January, Carlos Beltran, who missed half of the 2009 season due to a knee injury opted to have knee surgery against the team’s wishes. The surgery was considered ill-timed because it was going to keep him out of action until May, but it’s almost June and he not only hasn’t returned, but has no timetable to do so and has not yet been cleared to resume working out. Wright, meanwhile, seemed to put 2009 behind him with an Opening Day home run at CitiField and a solid April overall, but when the calendar flipped to May, he started striking out at an alarming rate (29 Ks in 18 games, or once every 2.7 plate appearances) and enters this weekend series on a 4-for-29 (.138) skid.
The Mets season has followed a similar pattern. An eight-game winning streak in April put them in first place in the National League East for five days, but since that streak was snapped, they’ve gone just 6-13 and have fallen all the way to the bottom of the NL East standings, six games behind those blasted Phils.
Buoyed by a strong start from 26-year-old Mike Pelfry, who will face Phil Hughes Saturday night, and good work from their bullpen, the Mets are doing a decent job of keeping their opponents from scoring, but their offense isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. Installing rookie Ike Davis, son of former Yankee set-up man Ron, at first base has helped, but the rest of the lineup is riddled with issues.
Catcher Rod Barajas leads the team with ten homers and a .586 slugging percentage, but he’s only drawn two unintentional walks all season and has a .306 OBP that is over .300 only because he’s been twice hit with a pitch and twice intentionally passed. Big free agent addition Jason Bay is getting on base, but has hit just one home run. Angel Pagan has done a solid job filling in for Beltran in center, but is a league-average bat in place of a superstar. The rest of the lineup, meanwhile, has been a disaster. Jose Reyes is healthy but hitting like Carlos Gomez (.216/.264/.284). Jeff Francoeur continues to prove that his 2008 collapse was not a fluke. Luis Castillo is getting on base but isn’t even slugging .300 having connected for just three extra base hits in 140 plate appearances. All of that places more pressure on Wright, which likely is part of the reason for all of those strikeouts, and thus another Mets cycle of despair begins. Ah, the Mets.
Facing this team could be just what the Yankees need this weekend having gone 3-8 since their two blowout wins in Boston, 1-4 since taking the first two from the Twins last weekend, and having dropped their last three. Despite injuries to half of their lineup, the Yankees problem has been pitching, particularly relief pitching. In the last five games (the ones in which they’ve gone 1-4), the Yankees have allowed an average of eight runs per game.
I don’t imagine Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain will continue to suck, and David Robertson had an encouraging outing Thursday night, striking out four in two perfect innings, so there’s reason to expect improvement. Facing a National League lineup without the designated hitter (particularly this NL lineup, which is backed up by a similarly ineffective bench) should help as well.
It will be up to Javy Vazquez to get things off on the right foot. That’s not an encouraging statement, but Vazquez’s last start was sharp (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K against the Tigers) and he had an extra confidence builder by coming out of the bullpen on Monday to strikeout the only batter he faced (Kevin Youkilis, no less) and pick up an easy win. Besides which, if it really is true that Vazquez is a much better pitcher in the NL, he’s effectively pitching in the NL tonight. Personally, I think he’s better than that, though I am a bit concerned about rust and a potential lack of endurance given that his last start was nine days ago.
Facing Vazquez will be Japanese lefty Hisanori Takahashi, who is coming out of the bullpen to make his first major league start in place of injured rookie Jonathon Niese (strained left hamstring). Takahashi has struck out 11.4 men per nine innings thus far this year, albeit against too many walks (4.8 BB/9). As a starter in Japan, his rates were lower in both categories. In his last appearance, he threw 60 pitches in three innings against the Marlins giving up a pair of runs on four walks and four hits (including the only homer he’s allowed this season).
Kevin Russo gets his first major league start tonight playing left against the lefty Takahashi in place of Marcus Thames and his sprained ankle. Randy Winn is 0-for-11 with four strikeouts against lefties on the season after hitting .158/.184/.200 against them last year, so a good night from Russo could lead to more starts against southpaws given Thames struggles in the field. The lineup above Russo contains all the usual suspects, leaving the Yankees with a bench of lefty Juan Miranda, switch-hitters Winn and Ramiro Peña, and a pair of righties whom Girardi may be reluctant to use in backup catcher Chad Moeller and the day-to-day Thames.
As Alex mentioned, thanks to SNY we’ll be part of the media horde for this series and will be liveblogging all three games, so be on the lookout for Alex’s liveblog/gamethread closer to first pitch tonight. Mets roster below the jump, as always.
New York Mets
2010 Record: 20-22 (.476)
2010 Pythagorean Record: 22-20 (.524)
2009 Record: 70-92 (.432)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 72-90 (.444)
Manager: Jerry Manuel
General Manager: Omar Minaya
Home Ballpark: CitiField
Bill James Park Indexes (2009):
LH Avg-92, LH HR-100
RH Avg-99, RH HR-110
Who’s Replacing Whom:
- Ike Davis (minors) replaces Dan Murphy (DL)
- Jose Reyes reclaims his playing time from Alex Cora, Wilson Valdez, Ramon Martinez, Angel Berroa, and Argenis Reyes
- Alex Cora replaces Anderson Hernandez
- Jeff Francoeur inherits Ryan Church’s playing time
- Jason Bay replaces Gary Sheffield, Fernando Martinez (minors), and some of Fernando Tatis’s playing time
- Chris Carter replaces Carlos Delgado
- Gary Matthews Jr. replaces Jeremy Reed and Cory Sullivan
- Rod Barajas replaces Omir Santos (minors)
- Henry Blanco replaces Brian Schneider
- Oliver Perez reclaims Tim Redding’s starts
- John Maine reclaims the starts of Pat Misch and Nelson Figueroa
- Jonathan Niese replaces Livan Hernandez
- Hisanori Takahashi replaces Bobby Parnell (minors) and is filling in for Niese (DL)
- R.A. Dickey is filling in for Takahashi in the bullpen
- Fernando Nieve moves his innings to the bullpen and also replaces Elmer Dessens
- Jenrry Mejia replaces Brian Stokes
- Raul Valdes replaces Ken Takahashi and J.J. Putz
- Manny Acosta is filling in for Sean Green (DL)
1B – Ike Davis (L)
2B – Luis Castillo (S)
SS – Jose Reyes (S)
3B – David Wright (R)
C – Rod Barajas (R)
RF – Jeff Francoeur (R)
CF – Angel Pagan (S)
LF – Jason Bay (R)
R – Fernando Tatis (UT)
L – Alex Cora (IF)
L – Chris Carter (1B/OF)
S – Gary Matthews Jr. (OF)
R – Henry Blanco (C)
L – Johan Santana
L – Oliver Perez
R – John Maine
L – Hisanori Takahashi
R – Mike Pelfrey
R – Francisco Rodriguez
L – Pedro Feliciano
R – Jenrry Mejia
L – Raul Valdes
R – Fernando Nieve
R – Manny Acosta
R – R.A. Dickey
CF – Carlos Beltran (rehab from knee surgery)
1B – Dan Murphy (sprained right MCL)
LHP – Jonathon Niese (left hamstring strain)
RHP – Ryota Igarashi (left hamstring strain)
RHP – Sean Green (stress fracture in right ribs)
RHP – Kelvim Escobar (kelvimescobaritis/shoulder surgery)
S – Jose Reyes (SS)
S – Luis Castillo (2B)
R – Jason Bay (LF)
L – Ike Davis (1B)
R – David Wright (3B)
S – Angel Pagan (CF)
R – Jeff Francoeur (RF)
R – Rod Barajas (C)