baseball gods productions

Thoughts about baseball, from the perspective of sports psychology and the role of sports in society. It includes team and player analysis, predictions, and what I think needs to be changed in Major League Baseball. Brought to you from the heart of baseball, Brooklyn, by baseball gods productions.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mets and Braves Deja Vu

Weirdly, the Mets get ready to play the Braves, their only real division rival (sorry, Jimmy Rollins), after winning three straight blow-outs, just as they did earlier in the season. The Mets went to St. Louis and blew the Cards off the field three times, and then blasted the Braves in Atlanta in game one. The next two games were close games, and the Braves managed to win both, which perturbed Willie Randolph.

So here we are again, Mets are on a roll, and they get to play their old-time nemesis three times at Shea. Baseball often gives teams and players chances for redemption, or at least opportunities for improvement. Of course it's still very early, and I think the Mets and Braves will battle it out till the end this year, but here is a chance for the Mets to make a statement about just how dominant they are this year.

Better than last year, that's how dominant. Moises Alou replacing Cliff Floyd gives the Mets a much better left-right balance, and another power bat that Cliff wasn't providing last year. And, as much as people worry about the starters, remember last year's ridiculous parade of Jose Lima, Geremi Gonzalez, and Manny Aybar? I would rather take this year's rotation than last year any day. (Good-bye, Steve Trachsel.)

The only question mark is the bullpen, a place where the Braves may be better than the Mets, but so far, it looks fine. The Mets cannot afford an injury to any of their key relievers, but if things break right, they should be fine until the injured reinforcements come back. I'm expecting Pedro Martinez to win some games at the end of the season, and maybe move one of the starters into the bullpen. I don't expect Duaner Sanchez or Guillermo Mota to help much if at all.

Mets vs. Braves, bring it on.

© Judy Kamilhor 2007

What does the future hold for one pitcher?

Rick Vanden Hurk. Remember the name. He's a rookie starting pitcher for the Florida Marlins, and he might turn into something special. Watching him pitch against the Mets last night made me wish Tom Seaver was providing the color commentary. Seaver was one of the announcers when Brandon Webb made his first major league start against the Mets, and Seaver said that Webb was going to be great. I think he would have said the same thing about Vanden Hurk, even though he ended up getting lit up by the relentless Met offense.

The key for this extremely inexperienced former catcher from the Netherlands is to learn how to handle adversity and most importantly, to learn from his mistakes instead of getting down on himself. He was sitting on the bench after the Mets pummeled him last night, and he looked like he was in shock. I hope someone talked to him about it, and found the positive, which is that his stuff is unhittable. His fastball is mid-90s with rising action, and he has a wicked curve ball that the Met announcers were already comparing to his country-man Bert Blyleven (who belongs in the Hall of Fame).

Keith Hernandez made the point several times that this kid would be better off in Triple A right now, learning how to pitch while dominating his opponents with his two plus pitches. His third pitch, which was either a tight slider or cutter that rarely moved enough to fool anyone, needs a lot of work, and the major leagues is not the place for that to happen.

He got beat because he made a lot of bad pitches, and seemed to get discouraged when the Mets were able to make him pay for most of his mistakes. He still managed to make a lot of Mets look silly, and that's not easy to do. If he learns from his mistakes, he's going to be a star.

Caroms Off The Wall

Jose Reyes looks like the NL MVP to me. No one influences a game like he does. He has gone from a speedster who never walks and gets hurt all the time, to a player who draws almost a walk a game, gets intentionally walked with runners on base, and plays every inning of every game. Plus, he's a gold glove shortstop, and has 30 homerun power, and will lead the league in triples every year. Jose, Jose, Jose!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Observations on the first few days of the season

The Mets look awesome. After an erratic spring training, people in NY were questioning whether the Mets were going to be as good as last year. So far, they look better than last year, especially the starting pitchers. The old top two starters (Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez) look as effective as ever, and the old outfielders that looked even older in the spring, Moises Alou and Shawn Green, look young again. The defense has been spectacular, turning double plays and catching every catchable ball all over the field. The Mets certainly look like the best team in the National League, and they should win the division again, assuming the bullpen doesn't implode.

The first two games provided a glimpse of how Willie Randolph will use his late inning guys. He brought in setup man Aaron Heilman in crucial situations in the 8th inning in each game, and then removed him for the 9th inning, choosing to go with closer Billy Wagner. It worked both times, but I wouldn't manage the bullpen that way. In game one, I would have double-switched to bring in Endy Chavez to play right field and lead off the 9th inning, and left Heilman in to finish the game. He threw 2 pitches, getting a phenomenal double play from Jose Valentin, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Delgado. The Mets went into the bottom of the 9th inning with a 5 run lead; to me, there is no reason in the world to bring Wagner into that situation.

In the second game, the score was closer, and Heilman got a huge fly out with 2 runners on base and the best hitter in baseball at the plate in Albert Pujols. Heilman threw 5 pitches. The Mets went into the 9th inning with a 4-1 lead. Why take Heilman out? I know most managers automatically put their closer in to start the 9th inning in any save situation, but I don't have to agree with it. I personally would rather have Heilman pitching in a clutch situation than Wagner; Wagner even admitted it himself that there are other relievers on the Mets with better stuff than his, mentioning Heilman specifically.

It is hard for me to imagine any team with Billy Wagner as its closer winning the World Series. He reminds me of Armando Benitez, except that Benitez was much more dominant than Wagner early in the season when he was with the Mets. Wagner has not dominated at all, usually putting at least 2 guys on base every inning he pitches. The more important the game, the more likely that Wagner will blow the lead.

The rest of the bullpen is very unpredictable, although I really like Joe Smith, and am glad the Mets had the guts to put him on the team ahead of some more experienced pitchers. I think Pedro Feliciano will have another great year, and will get more late inning work than Scott Schoeneweis, who does not impress me. He's a veteran, but he's never been consistently effective for any length of time. I think the Mets will end up regretting trading Heath Bell and Royce Ring for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson, unless Johnson develops quickly and gets a chance to play.

As for the other teams, I predicted the Red Sox to win the AL East again. I have done this just about every year, and it's hard to tell if it's wishful thinking or not. Obviously in 2004, I was ultimately right that the Red Sox would surpass the Yankees, even if I expected them to do it in the regular season as well as the playoffs. This year, I think the key is Curt Schilling. He didn't look good in the opener, and if he is not one of the league's best starters, it will make it very difficult for the Red Sox to finish ahead of the Yankees, no matter how well Beckett and Matsuzaka do. I am rooting for Jon Lester to come back from cancer to help in the back end of the rotation.

I was really looking forward to seeing Jonathan Papelbon as a starter, because I thought that the Red Sox would have one of the best rotations in recent times. Unfortunately, they needed him more in the closer role, where he will help the team more this year. I would have tried Josh Beckett as a closer myself. I think he is actually more suited to closing, for many reasons, including his ultra-intensity and his blister issue. Perhaps pitching 4 innings a week would give his fingers a better chance to stay blister free. As a starter, he needs his curveball, and that is supposedly what causes the blisters. As a closer, he could throw one curve ball a game, as a strikeout pitch.

The Yankees look like a very good team, and Brian Cashman has implemented the plan to build from within by developing young players instead of the old Yankee way of trading all their top prospects for aging all-stars. They should do very well, but I think it's very possible that something big will go wrong, and they won't be able to recover. The most likely trouble spots are injuries to their key players: Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Chien-ming Wang (already happened), Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, or Robinson Cano. The outfield has 4 good players for 3 spots, so they can afford one injury there, and it also has already happened now that Johnny Damon has a leg problem. I expect that once all their position players are healthy, Melky Cabrera will end up playing more, and Josh Phelps/Doug Mientkiewicz will play less, with Giambi moving to first base, where his throwing yips will drive fans crazy.

Joe Torre looks like he is getting too old to deal with the daily grind of managing the Yankees. I respect what he has done, and I respect him as a person, but it is getting to be time for a change. Don Mattingly might be the best guy for the job either in 2008, or even this year, if the Yanks get off to a bad start.

Caroms Off the Wall

I'd like to wish Josh Hamilton a successful season. I always pull for the great recovery stories, and this guy has hit bottom enough for one lifetime. There's always an opportunity to change your life, or as Yogi said: "it ain't over 'til it's over."

Mike Piazza is finally a DH. I'm rooting for him to add to his Hall of Fame credentials, and help the A's pull their annual late season surge to make the playoffs.

Just to clarify the whole Dice-K thing, his first name is actually pronounced that way in Japanese. It's not an A-Rod like abbreviation like many people think; it's phonics, MLB style.

2007 Predictions (made on 4/1/2007 at 2 PM, before the first game)

AL East

New York Yankees
Tampa Bay

AL Central

Kansas City

AL West

Los Angeles de Anaheim

NL East

New York Mets

NL Central

St. Louis

NL West

San Diego
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco