Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Mets Look to the Future by Trying to Avoid a Repeat of the Past

Matt Harvey and his teammates hope to turn their frowns upside down in 2016.  (David J. Phillip/AP)

The 2015 Mets had a wonderful season that ended in disappointment, as the team's fifth World Series appearance resulted in their third Fall Classic defeat.  The two previous times the Mets won the pennant but lost the title, they had poor seasons in the year immediately following their World Series appearance, with the 1974 squad going 71-91 and the 2001 club needing a sizzling September to barely finish the year with a winning record (82-80).

Clearly, the 1974 and 2001 squads are not the the same as the team that what will become the 2016 Mets.  But there are some similarities with the '74 squad that should be looked at if the Mets want to avoid regressing to the style of play that permeated Citi Field from 2009 to 2014.

During the 2015 regular season, Mets pitchers were decent at keeping opponents off the scoreboard from the eighth inning until the game's conclusion.  They allowed 139 runs in 331 innings after the seventh frame - an average of 3.78 runs per nine innings.  (The team as a whole allowed 613 runs in 1,462 IP, an average 3.77 runs per nine innings.)  But that changed in the postseason, as Mets pitchers combined to give up 22 runs in 34 innings in the eighth frame and beyond - an average of 5.82 runs per nine innings.

Now let's compare this to what happened in 1973 and 1974.  The 1973 Mets allowed 112 runs after the seventh inning.  In 1974, the pitching staff combined to give up 150 runs from the eighth inning on.  That's nearly a 34% increase in runs allowed in the late innings and in extra frames from their pennant-winning season to their lackluster 71-91 followup campaign.

The 2015 postseason began to show a crack in the late inning armor.  That cannot continue in 2016 if the Mets don't want a repeat of what happened in 1974.  Making sure the bullpen - especially Jeurys Familia - is not overworked, is critical to the success of next year's team.

Speaking of Familia, let's look at the closer in 1973 - Tug McGraw.  McGraw recorded 25 saves in the Mets' pennant-winning season and allowed runs in 18 of his 58 relief appearances.  A year later, McGraw struggled, giving up runs in 20 of his 37 relief efforts and recording a mere four saves.  (The Mets bullpen as a whole had just 14 saves in 1974 - the lowest total by any Mets team since the save became an official statistic in 1969.)  It should be noted that between the regular season and the playoffs, McGraw pitched a whopping 137 innings in 1973, which was 26⅓ innings more than his previous career high.  Similarly, Familia reached a career high in innings pitched in 2015, tossing 92⅔ innings last season after never having pitched more than 77 innings in parts of three major league seasons before 2015.  Familia's workload cannot be as heavy in 2016 if the Mets want him to continue to be one of the most reliable closers in the game.

Do I have to get on my knees for the Mets not to overuse Familia in 2016?  (John Starks/Daily Herald)

Moving on to the hitting, the 2015 Mets batted .244 as a team, which was only one percentage point ahead of the San Diego Padres, who finished the season with a league-worst .243 team batting average.  However, the Mets finished near the league average in on-base-plus-slugging (OPS), posting a .712 OPS which was just under the league average of .713.  Both numbers improved when there were runners in scoring position, as the Mets batted .252 with a .736 OPS in RISP situations.

The same thing could be said for the 1973 squad, a team that batted .246 overall with a .653 OPS in all situations during the regular season.  But when there were runners in scoring position, those numbers increased to .254 and .702, respectively.  A year later, the 1974 club could only manage a .238 batting average and .644 OPS with runners in scoring position.  Both of those numbers were worse than what the 1973 squad put up in all situations.

By not being able to drive in runners from second or third base, the 1974 team put more pressure on their pitchers to allow fewer runs and the moundsmen were not up to the task, as Tom Seaver posted the first non-winning season of his career and Jon Matlack had a 13-15 won-loss record despite his 2.41 ERA and seven complete-game shutouts.  The 2016 Mets must continue to drive in runners when they reach scoring position.  If they lose Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy to free agency, the two players must be replaced with guys who are effective in RISP situations.

Another crucial hitting situation is the one that involves a runner on third base with two outs, where a hitter cannot settle for a fly ball to drive in the runner as he would when there are fewer than two men out.  In 2015, the Mets were not very good in these situations, batting .209 with a .648 OPS.  However, the 1974 squad would have loved to have had that type of production with two outs and a runner on third.  That team batted just .198 and had a measly .547 OPS when those situations occurred - a far cry from the .236/.652 marks the team put up in its pennant-winning 1973 campaign.  The .209/.648 performance by the 2015 club with a runner on third and two outs was not very good and must be improved in 2016 if the team wants to compete for another postseason berth.  If those numbers get any worse, the team could be looking at a sequel to the 1974 season.

Finally, let's look at the Mets' ability to win close games.  The 2015 team was 25-24 in games decided by one run, went 9-6 in extra-inning affairs and only lost four games via the walk-off.  All of those numbers are quite acceptable.  The 1973 pennant-winning Mets - a team that finished the regular season with an 82-79 record - wasn't nearly as good as their 2015 counterparts in close games, as they went 31-32 in one-run contests, 7-12 in extra innings and 6-9 in walk-off games.  However, those numbers were superior to what the Mets produced in 1974 - a year in which they finished 17-36 in one-run games, 4-16 in extra-inning contests and 3-14 in games that ended on a walk-off.  Clearly, the 2016 club must continue to play well in tight ballgames.  To fall as far as the 1974 squad did in the late innings and in extra innings would be disastrous.

The 2015 Mets went places that no one expected them to go.  Although they fell just short of a World Series title, they have the pieces in place to make another run at the team's third championship.  But they can't fall into the trap that befell the 1974 Mets.  That team had a closer that was overused in the previous pennant-winning campaign, could not keep opponents off the scoreboard in the late innings, had difficulty driving in runs with runners in scoring position and was absolutely useless in getting runners in from third base when the other team needed one out to get out of the inning.  The 1974 club followed up their World Series-losing season by winning 71 games.

The 2016 squad still has many players who participated in all or most of the six straight losing seasons the team recorded from 2009 to 2014.  Although those players have wonderful memories of 2015, the memories of those sub-.500 campaigns are also still fresh in their minds.  Next year's team should look at what happened in 1974 and learn from that team's mistakes so as not to repeat history.  Terry Collins cannot overuse Jeurys Familia next year.  Sandy Alderson has to put together a bullpen that will not give up run after run in the late innings, a la the 1974 squad.  And the team has to show that even with the potential loss of Murphy and Cespedes, it can drive in runs in critical situations.

A dropoff in several key categories and positions killed the Mets' chances to return to the World Series in 1974.  It can do the same for the 2016 team.  Alderson, Collins and the players have to make sure the Mets don't repeat the past if they want to be successful in the future.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Joey's Soapbox: My 2015 Obviously Biased World Series Pick

I don't think Pete Rose believes I should be sharing my picks on this platform.

Hi, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran and it's time to share my World Series pick.  I'm picking the Mets.  That was simple, wasn't it?

Well, if you came to this page, that means you probably want to see more than just an obvious pick from a roving reporter/culinary expert.  So I guess I should give you a reason why it would be a wise decision to pick the Mets to win their first World Series in 29 years instead of the team that was the defending world champion when the Mets last lifted the trophy.

The reason is because I've correctly picked 87.5% of this postseason's winners.  I chose the Astros and Cubs to win their respective wild card games.  I was two-for-two with those picks.  Then I batted .750 in the four division series, banging out hits when I picked the Blue Jays, Royals and Mets to advance to the league championship series.  However, I whiffed by picking the Cardinals to advance.  Hey, even Daniel Murphy doesn't hit one out of the park every once in a while.

Once the ALCS and NLCS were both set, I picked the Royals and Mets to face each other in the World Series.  And sure enough, my picks were as automatic as Jeurys Familia has been in the ninth inning (and sometimes the eighth as well).

What?  Picking seven out of eight winners isn't a good enough reason for you to place a bet on the Mets in the Fall Classic?  Did Pete Rose coerce you into thinking that?  Fine.  Here's why I think the Mets will defeat the Royals in the World Series.

World Series

New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals

The Mets have already taken out the 92-win Dodgers and the 97-win Cubs en route to their fifth National League pennant.  They've gone 7-2 in doing so, with only one of the losses being legitimate.  (The Dodgers didn't earn the Chase Utley game, but Chase Utley sure earned his suspension and his tee time on the golf course.)  Meanwhile, the Royals needed to go the distance against the upstart Astros in the division series, needing a furious comeback in Game Four just to force a fifth and deciding game.  Then they lost two more games to the Blue Jays in the ALCS and could have lost a third, but they had help from a fan in the outfield on a "home run" by Kansas City's Mike Moustakas and also benefited from home plate umpire Jeff Nelson's strike zone, which became wider than Bartolo Colon's waistline when Ben Revere was at the plate in the ninth inning with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.

Kansas City has an excellent bullpen.  But the Royals need to have the lead to use their top relievers.  And their starting pitchers aren't exactly turning heads.

Their four starters (Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Johnny Cueto and former Met Chris Young) were quite ordinary in the regular season and continued to be so in the postseason.  The not-so-fearsome foursome combined to post a 3.77 ERA and 1.22 WHIP during the regular season - numbers that would have been worse had it not been for Young's contributions (3.06 ERA, 1.09 WHIP).  And as good as Young was during the regular season, it was mostly due to what he did in the first two and a half months.  Through June 16, Young had a stellar 1.98 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.  In his final 20 appearances (10 starts, 10 relief outings), those numbers shot up to 4.06 and 1.24, respectively.

When Chris Young has a lower ERA and WHIP than these guys, it shows they don't have a true ace. (USA TODAY Sports)

Once Volquez, Ventura, Cueto and Young got to the postseason, they fell apart, combining to post a 5.33 ERA and 1.39 WHIP.  They also became more erratic with their control, walking 31 batters in 59 innings.

Of course, the team's hitters bailed them out on numerous occasions, as Kansas City scored five or more runs in six of their seven victories against the Astros and Blue Jays.  But both Houston and Toronto shared so-so starting rotations and bullpens, and it showed in the playoffs.  Neither team had a deep starting rotation and neither club had a Jeurys Familia-type closer.

The Mets have all of that, and then some.

Kansas City went 5-44 in the regular season when they scored fewer than three runs.  That continued in the postseason, as they lost all three games in which they failed to cross the plate three times.  It should be noted that in the 171 games the Mets have played this year, they've allowed three or fewer runs in 90 of those contests.  For all you kids out there, that's 52.6% of the time.  That bodes well for the Mets as they go up against a starting rotation that combined to post an ERA north of 5.00 in their 11 postseason starts.

The Royals also have a starting rotation that's entirely right-handed, with only Franklin Morales and Danny Duffy pitching from the left side out of the pen.  That means more at-bats for Michael Conforto and more comfortable plate appearances for Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson.

The key to defeating the Royals is to get into the late innings with a lead, as Kansas City boasts a three-headed monster in the bullpen with set-up men Ryan Madson (2.13 ERA, 0.96 WHIP), Kelvin Herrera (2.71 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) and closer Wade Davis (0.94 ERA, 0.79 WHIP).  That's where the Mets' starting rotation of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz will come into play, and they're more than up to the task.

The four pitchers combined to post a 2.92 ERA and 1.08 WHIP during the regular season and continued to shine in the postseason against potent Dodgers and Cubs lineups (2.60 ERA, 1.10 WHIP).  Kansas City finished tenth in the majors in ERA and 13th in WHIP.  And for all of you saber-dudes out there, the Royals' 4.04 FIP was below the 3.96 league average.  When the Royals faced a team that was better than them in all three categories, their won-loss record was 17-20.  They were 78-47 against all other teams.  For the record, the Mets were fourth in the majors in ERA, second in WHIP and sixth in FIP (3.53 - more than half a run better than the Royals).

Last year, the Royals hit well against the Giants in the Fall Classic, scoring 26 runs in the 40 innings not pitched by Madison Bumgarner.  Of course, they crossed the plate just once in the 21 innings tossed by the Bumgarner Buzzsaw and that was enough to give San Francisco the crown.  The Royals are now about to encounter a staff full of Bumgarners when they face the likes of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey in this year's World Series.

Kansas City might be Royal, but it's the Mets who will be celebrating a coronation.

Prediction: Mets in 5.

See you at the World Series!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I'm Keith Hernandez - Happy Birthday To Me!

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 62 years old.

In honor of my 62nd 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.  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 pictures.  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.  That is 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.)  St. Louis was also 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 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!

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 St. Louis 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 and a half-empty box of Tender Vittles.

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 NL 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 in the box of Tender Vittles.

After falling short 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.

After my tenure with the Mets ended in 1989, I decided to give acting a try.  I wasn't going to tell 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 movie star 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.  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 #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 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 know me for my unabashed analysis on SNY telecasts of Mets games. 

I'm all of those people. Although I'm a year older today, I'm still only 62 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.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Cubs May Hit Their Share of Home Runs, But...

During the 2015 regular season, the Chicago Cubs became the first team to ever sweep a season series of more than six games against the Mets.  The Cubs outscored the Mets, 27-11 en route to a 7-0 record against New York.  Chicago hit seven home runs in the seven games, en route to a season total of 171 long balls.

Chicago's penchant for hitting the ball out of the park continued in the postseason, as they homered twice in the wild card game against the Pirates and walloped ten home runs in the four NLDS games versus the Cardinals, including six in Game Three.

When you combine the Cubs' power with an ace pitcher like Jake Arrieta, it's not surprising that Chicago won 97 games in 2015.  However, they can be beaten, and the Mets may just be the right team to keep the curse of Murphy the billy goat intact.

As much as the Cubs flexed their muscles at the plate during the regular season, it was the Mets who finished with more home runs.  New York hit 177 homers, or six more than the Chicago's total.

Kris Bryant was one of the Cubs' top home run hitters, smacking 26 homers in 151 games.  However, it should be noted that he hit just five of those home runs on the road, and that handful of homers came off the following pitchers:

  • Kyle Lohse, Brewers (5.85 ERA, 1.46 WHIP)
  • Odrisamer Despaigne, Padres (5.80 ERA, 1.39 WHIP)
  • David Murphy, Indians (a position player)
  • Alex Wood, Dodgers (4.35 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)
  • Alec Asher, Phillies (9.31 ERA, 1.79 WHIP)

For all you kids out there, those four pitchers and one position player combined for a 5.82 ERA and 1.43 WHIP during the 2015 campaign.  Those were the only players Bryant could muster a homer against away from the Friendly Confines.  It should be noted that the Mets will have home field advantage in the NLCS.

With great power comes great strikeout-ability, and the Cubs created enough of a breeze with their swings and misses to power a wind turbine.  Led by Bryant's league-leading 199 whiffs, Chicago batters struck out a mind-boggling 1,518 times during the regular season.  That's the most in franchise history, surpassing the team's old mark of 1,477, which was set just last year.  Prior to then, no Cubs team had ever struck out more than 1,269 times.  In addition, the Cubs had more strikeouts than any other team in the majors.  Houston had the second-most strikeouts in the big leagues with 1,392, but was still well behind Chicago's total.  And with six of the seven games potentially being started by Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, who combined to fan 559 batters in 530 innings, Cubs batters should be seeing strike three quite often in the series.

Speaking of the Mets starting pitchers, let's talk about what they did against the Dodgers in the division series.  For as many home runs as Chicago hit, it was Los Angeles that led the National League, as Dodgers players circled the bases 187 times in 2015.  That gave the Mets valuable experience against a team that knows how to hit balls out of the park.  So how many times did the Dodgers take Mets starting pitchers deep in the five-game series?

That's a big fat zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  Cubs batters might have done well against lesser hurlers this season, but they're in for quite a surprise when they face the velocity and movement of pitches thrown by Harvey, Syndergaard and deGrom.

So if the Mets prevent the Cubs from hitting homers, can Chicago score any other way?  The answer is one that even Grumpy Cat can agree with.

As mentioned before, the Cubs hit 171 home runs during the regular season.  They accomplished this in 5,491 at-bats.  They also had 1,174 hits that didn't leave the yard.  That means when the Cubs kept the ball in front of the outfield fence, they only batted .221.  Chicago scored 414 runs this year that didn't cross the plate on the strength of a home run.  That's just 2.6 non-homer aided runs per game.  In the division series against the Cardinals, it was homer-or-nothing for the Cubs, as ten of their 30 hits in the series left the yard.  Chicago batted just .175 (20-for-114) when they didn't hit the ball out of the park and scored 14 of their 20 runs on homers, averaging just 1.5 runs per game that weren't because of home runs.

The Mets, in particular their starting pitchers, have done their best to limit their opponents from producing big innings against them.  One way they've done this is by keeping the ball in the park.  Including the postseason, Harvey, Syndergaard and deGrom did not allow a home run in 50 of their 87 starts.  Harvey, the Mets' Game One starter, has not allowed a home run since September 2.  He has pitched 28 consecutive innings without giving up a tater.

So yes, it's true that the Cubs' offense revolves around the home run ball.  But they may be running into the worst possible team at the worst possible time if they plan on continuing to score most of their runs on 360-foot trots around the bases.  The Mets will still have to score some runs of their own, but they may not have to out-slug the Cubs to do so.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Joey's Soapbox: My 2015 Obviously Biased LCS Picks

I'm a bear, not a Cub.

What's shaking, everyone?  This is Joey Beartran, back with more postseason predictions that may or may not be biased.  Have you been following along with my prognostications since the playoffs began?  If so, you would know that I correctly picked both wild card game winners and three of the four division series winners (stupid Cardinals had to put a blemish on my record).

It's now time to continue sharing my expert picks with you, as tonight we'll kick off the first of two league championship series.  But first, here's a little tidbit that is sure to make your brain explode like Marvin in Pulp Fiction.

The four participants in this year's league championship series (Blue Jays, Royals, Cubs, Mets) have each not raised the World Series trophy in over 20 years, with Toronto being the most recent champion, having won it all in 1993.  That's the first time since the advent of divisional play in 1969 that none of the final four teams had won a championship in more than two decades.  (The 2006 final four teams - Tigers, Athletics, Cardinals, Mets - had their most recent champion in 1989, when Oakland won it all.)  And the odd thing about that 20-plus year drought is that prior to this season, the Blue Jays had gone the longest without a postseason appearance - 22 long years.  But they're still the most recent World Series champion of the four remaining teams, as the Royals and Mets haven't won it all since they won consecutive championships in 1985 and 1986, respectively, and the Cubs haven't worn the World Series crown in about a thousand years, give or take a couple of campaigns.

This year, someone will end an over two-decade dry spell.  But before we get to that point, we have to whittle down the contestants from four to two.  And these are the teams that will be left standing in late October and perhaps early November.

American League Championship Series

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Kansas City Royals

Let's get one thing out of the way quickly.  The Blue Jays played their home games outside of this country.  But their offense was completely out of this world.

Toronto led the American League in home runs, doubles, runs scored, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and spectacular bat flips.  Their pitching wasn't as potent, but it wasn't that bad either, as the Blue Jays were fifth in the league in ERA, third in WHIP and issued the fewest walks of any staff in the league.  But I did find one problem with their pitching.

Will the A.L. flag rise in K.C. again?
Four of the team's five starting pitchers produced FIPs above 4.00.  That's not good.  At all.  The only starter under 4.00 was David Price, and he produced his exceptional 2.22 FIP in only 11 starts with the team.  And because the team regularly bludgeoned its opponents, they pitched in fewer save situations than most teams.  But when games were tight, the bullpen did not come through as well as they would have liked.  Toronto's bullpen had a combined 4.47 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in save situations, which contributed to the Blue Jays' awful 15-28 record in one-run games.  When Toronto blew out the opposition (winning by five or more runs), the team won 37 of 49 games.  When their opponents kept the game relatively close (within four runs), the Blue Jays were a sub-.500 team (56 wins, 57 losses).

Meanwhile, Kansas City had an exceptional bullpen that recorded 56 saves (second in the A.L.) and posted a 2.22 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in save situations, which pretty much explains the high save total.  That allowed the Royals to win tight contests (23-17 in one-run games) as well as affairs that were not very competitive (26-17 in blowouts).

Pitching wins championships, and as long as the Royals and Blue Jays are keeping the score close, that will swing the pendulum in Kansas City's favor dramatically.  Well, that and the fact that the Blue Jays had a losing record on the road, Kansas City was 51-30 at Kauffman Stadium and the Royals have home field advantage in the series.

Prediction: Royals in 7.

National League Championship Series

Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets

Dude, do you really have to ask?  No analysis necessary.  And you can not throw out the narrative of the Mets losing all seven regular season games to the Cubs.  That was pre-Cespedes, pre-Conforto, d'Arnaud and Wright were on the disabled list, and players like Eric Campbell, Johnny Monell, John Mayberry Jr. and Darrell Ceciliani all started games against Chicago.  Any team could be a world beater against those guys.

The Mets are a different team now.  A better team.  They just won a series in which former and future Cy Young Award winners started four of the five games.  Jake Arrieta might be the Cubs' Mike Scott (minus the scuffing), but the rest of the staff is not that impressive to me.

The Mets have several aces, and Cubs hitters will be introduced to all of them just minutes before they return to their dugouts after making yet another out against them.

New York will make Chicago fly the "L" flag.

Prediction: Mets in 5.

I ain't 'fraid of no Cubs.  And neither should the Mets.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My Offer To The Mets In Response To Ruben Tejada's Injury

While many Mets bloggers have discussed and will continue to discuss ad nauseum the play that added nausea (along with a few other things) to Mets fans everywhere - a play that ended with Ruben Tejada fracturing his right fibula - I am going down a different path.

I will not talk about the details of "The Crack Heard 'Round The World".  I will not even mention the player on the opposing team's name.  I am just going to make an offer to the Mets instead.

After a season in which the Mets gave us so many happy moments, I would like to give something back to them.  It's something that would please me and millions of other Mets fans if the team chooses to accept it.

In 2013, as part of Season Ticket Holders' Appreciation Day, I entered a trivia contest to win a Mets prize.  I was asked by Mets public address announcer Alex Anthony to identify the only player who played for the Mets in each season in the 1980s.  My correct response of Mookie Wilson won me an autographed Ruben Tejada baseball.

I have held onto that ball for two years now but I am now willing to part with it.  I will gladly donate it to the Mets on one condition.  They have to somehow find a way to get it into a division series game, especially when a certain dirty player comes to bat.

And they have to drill him with it.

Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus

Not only do they have to drill him with it, but they have to do it so skillfully that the ink from Tejada's signature is permanently tattooed on the player's skin.

Am I asking for too much from the Mets in return for the donation of this baseball to them?  Maybe.  But someone has to do something in response to what happened to Ruben Tejada in the seventh inning of last night's affair.  Obviously, the most P.C. thing to do is make the dirty player watch the Mets celebrate on the field after New York wins two more games in the series.  But due to the nature of Tejada's injury and the repeated offenses on Tejada - and other middle infielders - by this player,  I demand that more should be done.

That is why I'm offering this baseball to the Mets.  The ball has become more special to me than I ever thought it would, but in light of the events of last night's game, I am more than willing to part with it for this appropriate cause.

Do the right thing, Mets.  Take my baseball, please.  And make sure the dirty player never forgets Ruben Tejada's name.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Joey's Soapbox: My 2015 Obviously Biased Division Series Picks

I heard "O Canada" on the day this photo was taken.  We'll all hear it in the postseason for the first time since 1993.

Hey, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran and it's time to start the most exciting week for baseball fans - the division series week!  If you love baseball, you're about to get wall-to-wall excitement.  And if you're a fan of not getting any sleep and then getting to work late because you forgot to set the alarm at night, this week won't affect you because the late games are all on the weekend!

This year's division series matchups feature nothing but expansion teams in the American League, as Toronto (a league neophyte in 1977), Kansas City (born in 1969), Houston (took its first breath in 1962) and Texas (1961 newbies as the second coming of the Washington Senators) will battle it out to earn spots in the League Championship Series.

Meanwhile, in the Senior Circuit, you have teams that your great-great-great grandparents probably saw when they paid 50 cents for a box seat.  I'm talkin' 'bout the Cardinals, Cubs and Dodgers.  Hey, did I leave a National League team out?  Oh, yeah, and my New York Mets are playing in their first division series since I was just a cub (not the Chicago team).

So which teams do I think will come out of the four division series that will take place over the next week?  And why do I think they will advance?  Read on, my friends.  Read on.

American League Division Series

Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Rangers went from last place to first place in claiming their first division title since 2011.  That was also the year the Blue Jays were finishing up their 18th consecutive season without a playoff appearance.  Texas was the only one of the six division champions that failed to win at least 90 games, while Toronto steamrolled their way through the final two months of the season to finish the season with 93 wins.  It was the Blue Jays' first season with 90-plus wins since their 1993 championship season.

Picking this series is actually quite easy.  Texas has Cole Hamels on its roster.  Toronto has a distinguished gentleman in R.A. Dickey.  The Blue Jays also have the ability to pound Hamels into submission.  And who wouldn't want to see Hamels get bludgeoned by the booming bats of the Blue Jays?  Just like Hamels himself, this one's a no-brainer.

Prediction: Blue Jays in 3.

Cole Hamels won't be smiling much when this series is over.

Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals

I love the Houston Astros.  I really do.  They have good pitching.  They have the most power of any team that plays south of the Canadian border.  And they swipe bags more than any other team in the American League.  That being said, I think the highlight of their season will be the victory over the Yankees in the wild card game.

Kansas City got some much-needed postseason experience last year, sweeping their way through the American League playoffs until they ran into the San Francisco Bumgarners in the Fall Classic.  And although they lost closer Greg Holland to a season-ending elbow injury, their bullpen is still better than adequate, combining to post a 2.73 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.

The Royals may not have much power, as no one on the team hit more than 22 home runs, but what they don't have in strength, they make up for it in smarts.  Kansas City makes lots and lots of contact, as evidenced by their .269 team batting average (only Detroit's .270 mark was higher in the A.L.) and their incredibly low strikeout rate.  The Royals struck out 973 times in 2015, which was 146 fewer whiffs than the next best team, Oakland.  And when you put the ball in play as often as the Royals do, good things usually happen.

Kansas City has home field advantage in this series.  They went 51-30 at Kauffman Stadium this year.  Houston will have to win at least one game there to have a chance of dethroning the defending American League champions.  That might be too much to ask for a team that finished a league-worst 33-48 away from home.

Prediction: Royals in 5.         

For someone who looks like he forgot his dentures when he pitches, former Met Chris Young has been quite dependable.  (Brad Remple/USA TODAY Sports)

National League Division Series

New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

I'll make this quick and painless.  Unless if you're a Dodgers fan or a direct descendant of Tommy Lasorda.

Prediction: Mets in 3.

The Mets are going to step all over the Dodgers just like I stepped all over their field.

Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals

The fiercest rivalry in the American League is Red Sox-Yankees.  With apologies to Giants and Dodgers fans, the most heated rivalry in the National League is Cubs-Cardinals.  The Red Sox and Yankees have played each other in the postseason three times (1999, 2003, 2004) and also squared off in a one-game, winner-take-all Game No. 163 in 1978.  Meanwhile, this is the first time the Cubs and Cardinals have ever faced each other in the postseason.

This historic matchup of long-time rivals features the 100-win, first place Cardinals and the 97-win, third-place Cubs.  The Cubs are the hotter team entering the series, as they went 45-18 over their last 63 regular season games before defeating the Pirates in the wild card game.  But the Cardinals are the Cardinals.  They know what it takes to make it to the NLCS, as they've played in the league's final series in nine of the last 15 seasons, including the last four years.  St. Louis also handed Chicago 11 of its 65 losses.  Including the postseason, the Cubs were 90-54 against everyone else.

Jake Arrieta may have gotten the Cubs past the Pirates in the wild card game, but he won't be facing the Cardinals until Game Three of the division series.  And by then, Chicago could be more than halfway to being eliminated by St. Louis.  Arrieta will win his start, but that's the only game in which the Cubs will raise the "W" flag.

Prediction: Cardinals in 4.

It's not polite to point, Yadi.  As punishment, the Mets will take care of you this time in the NLCS.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Joey's Soapbox: My 2015 Obviously Biased Wild Card Game Picks

When in the state of Texas, you always have to wear your cowboy hat.

Howdy, pard'ner.  This here's Joey Beartran.  And if it's the beginning of October, then I reckon it must be time for my annual playoff picks.  (And how did I end up with this Texas twang?  Maybe it has something to do with my picks, y'all.)

Anyway, a lot has changed in the last few years of me making postseason prognostications.  Just two years ago, the Red Sox, Tigers and Athletics were all division champions.  This season, they were all cellar dwellers.  And the team with the most World Series championships (they shall remain nameless here) is back in the playoffs as a wild card, as is the team that's gone the longest without a title (they shall remain known as the Cubs).  That team I root for?  They crashed the playoff party for the first in nearly a decade, as did their 1962 expansion buddies from Houston.

But the Mets shall be discussed when it's time to share my division series picks.  You see, since they won the N.L. East, I don't have to worry about them potentially losing a do-or-die wild card game.  That's what the Astros, Yankees, Cubs and Pirates have to deal with.

So before my horse runs away without me on it, let me share my wild card game picks, which may or may not be biased, especially in one league.

American League Wild Card Game

Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees

The last time the Astros made the playoffs, they still played in the National League and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was still an active player.  That was 2005, when Houston was swept in their first-ever World Series appearance by the Chicago White Sox.  For those who like to keep track of meaningless things, if the Astros had been awarded a ring for every postseason game they won in their 54-year history, they'd still have six fewer rings than the Yankees have to commemorate each World Series title they've won.  (If you can't do the math in your head, just ask a Yankee fan to do it for you.  They know that number by heart and are more than happy to share it with you at all times.)

Carlos Gomez
The Astros led the A.L. West for most of the season, but settled for a wild card, although they did win six of their last eight games to finish the campaign on a high note.  Meanwhile, the Yankees had a supposedly comfortable lead in the A.L. East in early August, then stumbled to the finish line, losing six of their last seven games and 16 of their last 26.

One thing that stands out about this matchup is the fact that the Yankees were really bad at home over the final month and a half of the season.  New York was 10-15 in their last 25 home games, which included losing two out of three to the Astros in late August.  The Yankees were outscored, 21-4 in those three games.

Houston can beat you with power (230 HR - second in the A.L.) and speed (121 SB - tops in the league), and they'll be playing in a park that gives up its share of homers against a team that allows its share of stolen bases (base runners stole 50 bases against No. 1 catcher Brian McCann).  They also fared very well against Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka when they faced him earlier this year, scoring six runs in five innings against him.  And I haven't even mentioned Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, who won 20 games and is a top contender for the Cy Young Award.

As a Mets fan, it was obvious who my pick was going to be in this game, but I don't have to be a fan of a 1962 team to know that our brother in expansion is going to win this game.

Prediction: Houston will advance to the ALDS.

National League Wild Card Game

Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

This is the third straight season that the Bucs are playing in the wild card game.  They won the one-game playoff in 2013, but fell to the eventual World Series champion Giants in last year's game.  Meanwhile, the Cubs are making their first trip to the postseason since 2008.  Chicago has not won a playoff since Game Four of the 2003 NLCS.  If you know who Steve Bartman is, you know how that series ended up.

Jake Arrieta
The Cubs have advanced in the playoffs just once since the advent of divisional play and are hoping to move on to the division series to take on their hated division rivals in St. Louis.  To do so, they'll have to defeat the Pirates - a team they beat 11 times during the regular season.  But the Cubs will have Jake Arrieta on the mound at PNC Park.  And how did he fare in Pittsburgh's ballpark in 2015?  How about a 0.82 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and just 12 hits allowed in three starts in Pittsburgh?  And considering that Arrieta had a 0.75 ERA after the All-Star Break against every team he faced (an MLB record), how could anyone pick against him?

Madison Bumgarner was the hottest pitcher on the planet last October and he began his run of dominance in Pittsburgh in the wild card game.  Arrieta - a native Texan, y'all - has already had a head start and there's no reason to think he won't continue to be great in this game.

The Pirates may have won 98 games, but that won't be enough against a blazing hot pitcher who only needs to win one game.

Prediction: Chicago will advance to the NLDS.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Joey's World Tour: Coronation in the Queen City

I'm ready for a clinching in Cincinnati!

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

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

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

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

(Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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