Monday, August 18, 2014

Mets Make Low-Hit History ... Again!

"Hey, kid!  Can you hit?  We can use you in the lineup!"  (Photo by Anthony Causi via ABC News)

Let's face it.  The 2014 Mets would have trouble hitting water if they fell out of a sinking ship.  But as bad as they've been with their bats this season, they've become historically bad over the last five games.

Beginning with Thursday night's game against the Nationals, the Mets have collected just 19 hits in their last five games.  They've failed to amass more than four hits in any of those games, banging out three hits in the series finale versus Washington, followed by four hits in each of their four games against Chicago.

It's only the seventh time in history (since 1914) that a team has played five consecutive games in the same season without collecting more than four hits in any of them.  See the chart below and pay close attention to how many times you see "NYM" in the first column.

Strk Start
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/18/2014.

The Mets are responsible for three of the seven times in big league history that a team has played five straight games with four or fewer hits.  The 1963 squad was the only one to accomplish the feat between 1946 and 1980, while the 2004 club was the last one to do it before this year's team joined them.

The 2003 Tigers actually carried over their low-hit frustrations from the previous year, as Detroit's 2002 club closed out the season with a two-hit game against the Toronto Blue Jays.  The 2003 squad then failed to collect more than four hits in each of their first five games of the season.  Their six-game streak has never been matched in baseball history.  However, it stretched out over two seasons.  The 2014 Mets (as well as the '63 Mets and the '04 Mets) kept it all within the confines of one campaign.

It doesn't get any better over the next three games, as the Mets face Scott Kazmir (.226 batting average against him in 2014), Jeff Samardzija (.238) and Clayton Kershaw (.198) in succession.

Will the Mets collect five or more hits against Kazmir tomorrow?  Or will they become the first team in history to be held to four or fewer hits in six straight contests in the same season?  The hitters will have plenty to say about that tomorrow.  Assuming they show up.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

August 16, 1987: Mets Score Club-Record 23 Runs

The late Harry Caray probably wishes he hadn't been taken out to the ballgame on August 16, 1987.

Note:  I originally published this piece five years ago on Mets Merized Online, but this Mets game from 1987 has always fascinated me, and I have since uncovered some more oddities about this game.  Therefore, I felt compelled to make some quick edits and share this piece once again with you.  Enjoy!

The New York Mets are currently playing a three-game set against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field.  Twenty-seven years ago today, the Mets were also playing the Cubs, although the venue on that lazy Sunday afternoon was Wrigley Field in Chicago.  One year after winning the 1986 World Series, the Mets were battling the St. Louis Cardinals for the division title and needed to win the finale of their four-game series against the Cubs after dropping the first three games.  They were in the throes of a poor stretch that saw them lose six out of eight games after they had cut the Cardinals’ lead in the division from 10½ to 3½ games.  In that eight-game stretch, they had scored only 20 runs.  They needed to bust out of their slump quickly if they were going to continue to stay in the race with St. Louis.  Fortunately, the wind was blowing out at Wrigley Field on August 16 and the Mets’ bats were ready to take advantage.

The starting pitchers were Ron Darling for the Mets and a kid for the Cubs who had just been recalled from the minors after being sent down two weeks earlier due to a poor 6-10 start for the big club.  You may have heard of him.  He was a scrawny 21-year-old kid named Greg Maddux.

The Mets jumped out of the box quickly, scoring three runs in the first inning to take an early lead.  The lead had extended to 7-0 by the time the Cubs came up to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning.  However, Ron Darling struggled in the fourth, giving up a grand slam to catcher Jody Davis.  That was followed up by a home run from the next batter, a rookie who was pinch-hitting for Cubs reliever (and former Met) Ed Lynch.  That rookie was Rafael Palmeiro, who hit the tenth of his 569 career home runs to cut the Mets lead to 7-5.

Fortunately for Darling, manager Davey Johnson did not remove him from the game despite the poor inning.  He was allowed to put out the fire he started and pitch the minimum five innings required to qualify for the victory.  Because of that, Darling was able to stick around to reap the benefits of the additional fireworks displayed by his teammates as they continued to ride the jet stream out of Wrigley Field.

The Mets immediately responded to the Cubs’ five-run fourth by scoring three runs in the fifth inning and seven additional runs in the sixth.  They now had a commanding 17-5 lead, but the Cubbie carnage continued.  Not satisfied with a lead of a dozen runs, they scored three additional runs in both the seventh and eighth innings.  Jesse Orosco relieved Darling in the seventh and gave up four runs in his inning of work, but by then, the Mets had already put the game away.  A run by Chicago in the ninth inning off Jeff Innis produced the final tally in the Mets’ 23-10 shellacking of the Cubs.

The offense was powered by Lenny Dykstra and Darryl Strawberry.  Eights were wild for the two Met outfielders, as they combined for eight hits, eight runs scored and eight runs batted in.  Strawberry in particular smoked the Cubs’ pitchers, as all four of his hits went for extra bases (two doubles, a triple and a home run).

Dykstra and Strawberry - two smiling California kids who put lots of frowns on Cubs fans' faces on August 16, 1987.

In doing so, Strawberry became just the third Met to produce four extra-base hits in one game, joining Joe Christopher, who accomplished the feat in 1964, and Tim Teufel, who turned the trick just six weeks prior to Strawberry.  Strawberry added a stolen base in the second inning, making him the first and only Met to collect four extra-base hits and a stolen base in the same game.

Strawberry also became just the third Met to score five runs in a game, after Lenny Randle in 1978 and Lee Mazzilli in 1979.  In addition, the Straw Man drove in five runs, making him the first Mets player to have a five-run, five-RBI game in franchise history.  The only other Met to accomplish that rare feat since August 16, 1987 is Edgardo Alfonzo, who produced six runs and five RBI against the Houston Astros on August 30, 1999.

Dykstra also made Mets history in the game, becoming the first Met to collect seven at-bats in a nine-inning game.  The only Met to match Dykstra since then is Luis Hernandez, who went 3-for-7 in an 18-5 thrashing of the Cubs in 2010, which, just like Dykstra's record-setting effort 23 years earlier, took place on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Strawberry and Dykstra victimized several Cubs pitchers that day, including starting pitcher Greg Maddux.  Maddux collected almost 10% of his 355 career wins against the Mets.  His 35 victories (against 19 losses) are the most by any pitcher against New York.  However, one of his worst pitching performances against the Mets (or any other club) took place on that Sunday afternoon in the North Side of Chicago.

Throughout his major league career, which resulted in a much-deserved call to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year, Maddux was always known as a control pitcher, as he walked fewer than 1,000 batters in over 5,000 innings.  But on August 16, 1987 against the Mets, Maddux pitched 3 innings and was charged with seven earned runs allowed.  He gave up six hits and a very un-Maddux-like five bases on balls.  Let's dissect Maddux's effort to see just how much of an anomaly this game was for him.

Greg Maddux would have preferred starting at Shea Stadium on August 16, 1987.

Greg Maddux made 740 starts in his big league career.  He issued five bases on balls or more in just 20 of those starts.  But in 14 of those 20 starts, he lasted at least six innings, giving him more time to issue those free passes.  Maddux wouldn't have another game in which he lasted fewer than four innings and allowed five or more walks until 2004, a year in which he produced his first ERA above 4.00 since - you guessed it - 1987.

Maddux also allowed seven earned runs in the game, which was the first time he had ever allowed that many runs in one of his starts.  Maddux would go on to allow seven or more earned runs in a start a total of 27 times in his career, including three more times against the Mets, but he never walked more than three batters in any of his other seven-run efforts.  The game on August 16, 1987 was the only time in his 23-year career that Maddux allowed seven or more runs and walked more than three batters.  And that was from a future Hall of Famer who beat the Mets more than any other pitcher in the 53-year history of the club.

Going into their series finale against the Cubs on August 16, 1987, the Mets were in a hitting slump and got out of it in a major way at Wrigley Field.  They scored more runs in that one game than they did in their previous eight contests.  By doing so, the Mets established a new franchise record with their 23-run outburst in Chicago and were able to use that game as a stepping stone that carried them all the way until the last week of the season, when they were eliminated from playoff contention by the Cardinals.  And it all happened 27 years ago today.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Citi Field Is Becoming Nationals Park North

Bryce Harper doesn't wear clown shoes as he rounds the bases at Citi Field.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Mets dropped a 4-1 decision to the first place Washington Nationals.  It was New York’s 11th straight loss to Washington at Citi Field, a venue which has in essence served as a second home for the Nats.

It’s not just that the Mets are dropping decisions to the Nationals, it’s how they’re racking up the losses.  Let’s take a look at some of the horrifying numbers.  You might want to keep a barf bag nearby.

  • Washington has celebrated a victory in each of its last 11 games at Citi Field.  That 11-game streak of success is the longest winning streak by any team at the park, including the Mets.  The Mets' longest skein in the ballpark built for them is just nine games, accomplished from April 22 to May 8, 2010.  The Nationals' streak is also the longest of all-time by any road team in the Mets' home venue.  That includes teams that visited all the awful Mets squads that played in the Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium.
  • During the Mets’ eleven-game streak of ineptitude, they have been outscored by the Nationals, 74-21, with seven of the Mets’ 21 runs coming in one game - a 9-7 loss on March 31, 2014.  (Simple math lets us know that the Mets have scored just 14 runs in the other ten games.)  That March 31 game and last night’s 3-2 setback were the only times during the skein that the Mets lost by fewer than three runs.  I guess last night’s game would have to be considered a moral victory for the Mets, even if it was still yet another demoralizing defeat.
  • The Mets haven’t just been stinking up the joint against the Nationals in their last eleven head-to-head matchups at Citi Field.  They’ve actually lost 25 of 29 games versus Washington since September 2011.  In that time period, the Mets have played nine series against the Nats.  They’ve won just one of those series and they’ve been swept six times.  Two of those six sweeps came in four-game series.  In the 29-game stretch, New York has been outscored, 150-66.  That means the Mets have scored eight fewer runs in their last 29 home games against the Nationals than Washington has scored in their last ten versus the Mets. 
  • When Citi Field opened in 2009, the Pepsi Porch overhang was meant to evoke memories of a similar right field overhang at Tiger Stadium.  But the Nats’ bats are bringing back a different kind of Tiger Stadium memory.  Washington has outhomered the Mets, 29-5 during their 11-game rampage at Citi Field, numbers that are reminiscent of the Mets’ lone trip to Tiger Stadium in 1997, when the team hit no home runs and Detroit blasted 14 moon shots off Mets pitchers.  Are we 100% sure that Bobby Higginson isn’t the Nationals’ guest hitting coach when Washington plays in New York?
  • Speaking of long balls, Washington has homered 47 times in their last 29 games at Citi Field.  These home runs have accounted for a total of 72 runs.  Meanwhile, during those same 29 games, the Mets have managed to cross the plate via any means just 66 times (as painfully detailed two paragraphs above).  That means Washington has had a better chance of scoring at Citi Field via the home run than the Mets have had of scoring … period.  The Nationals have also scored 78 runs without the benefit of the ball leaving the park, which is just them throwing salt on the Mets’ open wound. 
  • Finally, in five of their last 15 games at Citi Field, the Nationals have smacked four homers or more.  The Mets, on the other hand, have played a total of 463 games in their home park.  How many times in those 463 contests do you think they’ve produced a four-homer game?  You guessed it.  Five times.  The Nats have done in 15 games what the Mets have struggled to do in nearly 500 affairs.

Before moving to Washington at the conclusion of the 2004 season, the Nationals/Expos franchise played its home games in Montreal.  The Expos played their inaugural game on the road at Shea Stadium in 1969.  Thirty-five years later, Shea Stadium bid adieu to Les Expos, hosting Montreal in the team’s final game before sending them off to our nation’s capital.  But apparently, the Expos/Nationals franchise still thinks of New York as its second home.  How else can one explain the Nationals’ dominance over the Mets at Citi Field in recent years?

Citigroup has the naming rights for the Mets’ home ballpark through the 2028 season.  But if you ask anyone associated with the Washington Nationals, Citi Field has already been re-christened as Nationals Park North.  After all, with 11 straight wins over the Mets in New York - the longest win streak by a road team at the Mets' home ballpark in the history of the franchise - the Nats have proven that they have a distinct road team advantage at Citi Field.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bartolo Colon: The 40-Year-Old Surgeon

Bartolo Colon can afford to smile.  He now has 200 wins and a place in Mets history.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

On Friday, 41-year-old Bartolo Colon earned his 200th career victory by pitching eight innings of one-run ball against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.  Colon needed to sweat out a three-run rally by the Phillies in their last at-bat, but the bullpen eventually recorded the third out before allowing a fourth run to score to give Colon the milestone win.

Colon's 200th win was also his 11th victory for the Mets in 2014.  And in earning his 11th win of the year, he became just the third Mets pitcher to record as many as 11 victories in a season after his birth certificate turned 40.  See the chart below for the exclusive club joined by Colon.

Tom Glavine 15 2006 40 32 .682 198.0 202 84 62 131 3.82 4.30 .267 .325 .421 .746
Tom Glavine 13 2007 41 34 .619 200.1 219 99 64 89 4.45 4.86 .281 .338 .438 .776
Orel Hershiser 13 1999 40 32 .520 179.0 175 91 77 89 4.58 4.63 .260 .342 .401 .742
Bartolo Colon 11 2014 41 23 .550 154.1 159 68 20 117 3.97 3.50 .261 .287 .401 .688
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/9/2014.

A 40-year-old (or older) starting pitcher has posted an 11-win season for the Mets four times, with Tom Glavine accomplishing the feat twice, and Orel Hershiser and Colon turning the trick once.  But what separates Colon from Glavine and Hershiser is that Colon has won his 11 games (and counting) for a Mets team that has been struggling all season to get to .500.  Meanwhile, both Glavine and Hershiser won their games for Mets teams that qualified for the postseason.  Glavine won 15 games in 2006 for the NL East champions, while Hershiser notched 13 wins for a Mets team that fell two wins short of a World Series berth.  Glavine's 2007 squad failed to crash the postseason party, but the Mets still won 88 games that year.

Colon also has far better control than his 40-year-old brethren, as Glavine averaged nearly two walks per start in his two 11-plus win seasons and Hershiser walked nearly two-and-a-half batters per appearance.  This year, Colon has issued 20 free passes in 23 starts, an average of less than one walk per start.  Because of his surgical precision on the mound, opposing batters have a .287 on-base percentage and .688 OPS against Colon, as opposed to Glavine and Hershiser, who would've traded in their AARP cards just to have the opportunity to lower their OBP and OPS to .300 and .700, respectively, in their 11-plus win seasons.

In addition, Colon's 3.50 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is by far the best of the three forty-something hurlers, dwarfing the 4.30 FIP posted by Glavine in 2006.  Colon's FIP as a 41-year-old in 2014 in just slightly higher than the 3.45 career FIP posted by former Cy Young Award winner and MVP Justin Verlander.  It should also be noted that Verlander is ten years Colon's junior.  By contrast, the FIP posted by Glavine and Hershiser in their 11-plus win campaigns rivals that of former Met Kris Benson, who had a 4.54 FIP in his career (4.46 as a Met).

When Tom Glavine and Orel Hershiser had their high-win seasons for the Mets, both pitchers were beginning to show signs of wear, as they were allowing more opposing hitters to reach base than they had earlier in their careers.  However, they were constantly being bailed out - and therefore were afforded more opportunities to earn wins - by their explosive hitters.  The 1999 squad had John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo, Mike Piazza and Robin Ventura, to name a few, while the 2006 and 2007 teams scored aplenty with Jose Reyes, David Wright and the two Carloses (Beltran and Delgado) supplying the firepower.  Bartolo Colon's offense consists of Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda and a subpar Wright.  In other words, Colon has had to truly earn his wins.

Bartolo Colon is signed for one more season - his age 42 season.  Should he remain in the Mets starting rotation in 2015 (not exactly a lock because of trade talks and the expected return of Matt Harvey), he stands to become the first 42-year-old in franchise history to earn a minimum of 11 wins.  Considering what he's done in 2014, and the fact that he's not showing any signs of his age, who's to say he can't be productive for another season?  We'll just have to wait and see if that productive season comes in a Mets uniform.