Archive for March, 2008

Tell us about the boys from New York City

Regis Courtemanche of Metsblog answered some questions about the Mets:

Who deserves to shoulder the blame for the disappointing finish to the Mets’ season in 2007? How do you expect last year’s finish will impact the early part of the upcoming season?

Well, where do we begin? As much as I try to look ahead to 2008, last season’s finish still lingers in my mind. It’s hard to point fingers in such a team sport, but that being said, it is up to the coaching staff to do what they need to do to keep the team focused and fresh. Many players admittedly got a little bit too relaxed and over-confident and it came back to haunt them. As for this season, I don’t know how any player couldn’t use such a frustrating finish as motivation for the future. Apparently Jimmy Rollins’ comments weren’t enough to make them fight until the end, but hopefully for us Mets fans, losing the division by one game is.

Given the injury risk with Alou and the struggles that Church has had hitting left-handing pitching so far in his career, it seems that the Mets’ depth in the outfield is questionable. Is that a misconception? How often do you think we’ll see Church playing against lefties and who else do you expect will be getting time at the corner outfield positions for the Mets?

Church will be the regular right fielder regardless of who is pitching. Sure, Endy Chavez will get some starts, but other than that, Church will have to prove his worth, as I fully expect him to do. He has a .340 batting average at Shea, which is a much friendlier park than RFK was, especially now that Citi Field is theoretically blocking the funky Shea winds.

Moises Alou invented the disabled list, but he is extremely tough and can play through most anything. Carlos Beltran has spent time on the DL as well but usually powers through. Sometimes this is to his detriment, but for the most part he is a solid, gold-glove center fielder.

As far as depth is concerned, I agree with you that there are few options right now in terms of backups, but Fernando Martinez is waiting in the wings and may see some action later in the year if the need presents itself. I hope it doesn’t and he can continue to develop in the minors, but I am excited for his imminent arrival.

After miserable seasons in 2005 and 2006, Oliver Perez was fantastic last year, winning 15 games with a 3.56 ERA. What do you expect from him this year and how do you think the Mets would respond if Perez or Orlando Hernandez struggled at the back end of the rotation?

Two words…contract year. With Scott Boras as his agent, Perez will be looking to improve on last year’s performance to maximize his free agency return. I feel that Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson was instrumental in his success and I wonder about Perez’s progression if he leaves the Mets, but as for this year, yes, I think he can win 15+ games for sure. He is one of the best #4 pitchers in the entire league, and would surely place higher if not for Pedro and Santana.

If El Duque does win the 5th spot and struggles, you will see Mike Pelfrey take over his role and El Duque will probably be placed in the bullpen.

What’s left for the Mets to decide during spring training?

Pitching. All of the position players are set. Infield backups still need to be determined but that’s not the big issue here. A few middle relief spots are up for grabs and I expect to see a lot of shuffling throughout the spring which will more than likely trickle into the season. After trading a slew of talent to the Twins, there are still several young players such as Eddie Kunz, and Brian Rustich who will vie for a spot. The team and the fans are also placing a lot of faith in Duaner Sanchez’s return, which will hopefully bolster that middle relief core as well.

Like I said earlier, the five hole in the rotation has become a competition between El Duque and Mike Pelfrey. I feel that we will see El Duque win out at first, but Pelfrey will surely get into the mix at some point, especially if Duque’s health breaks down.

How do you see the NL East shaping up this season?

What, no “rivalry” questions? Many see this as a three horse race between the Phillies, Mets, and Braves. I’m going to stray from this a bit and say that only the Phillies and Mets will be in it come September. The Braves’ rotation is older than Abner Doubleday, and the Phils staff should be rather good IF they can stay healthy. The addition of Johan Santana gives the Mets the clear advantage pitching-wise in the division.

Offensively, the Mets and Phillies both sport very good lineups. Do I think the Mets’ lineup is better? Yes, particularly off the bench with Ramon Castro, Endy, and Marlon Anderson. I don’t put a lot of stock into predictions, but my objective opinion (if that’s possible) is that the Mets will win the division, with the Phillies falling just short, and the Braves, Nationals, and Marlins finishing up the pack in that order. But hey, as last year dictates, it ain’t over til it’s over.

Thanks, Regis. If you’ve never visited Metsblog I wouldn’t wait one minute more.

This mailbag from the Phillies’ web site suggests there’s not much chance Kyle Lohse is coming to the Phils. It also says that Werth and Taguchi are the primary backups in center field. That’s good news if true, I would think it would be primarily Taguchi and Bruntlett. As I’ve mentioned multiple times in the past I’m hoping that Werth sees a lot of time in center this season. I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Article about the Phillies’ Australian prospects here.

Davey Lopes will have surgery for prostate cancer.

The Phils beat the Mets yesterday, beating Pittsburgh 3-1 to improve to 3-2 in spring training.

After being hit hard their first times out, Savery and Outman both had nice outings. Savery went two scoreless innings, Outman three. Segovia followed with two shutout frames of his own. Romero allowed a run on three singles in the eighth. Bisenius tossed another scoreless inning, allowing back-to-back singles with one out but getting the next two hitters to keep the Pirates off the board.

Pittsburgh didn’t have an extra-base hit in the game.

Bruntlett was 3-for-4 with three singles and two RBI for the Phils. Victorino drove in the other run with a ground out in the fifth.

The Phillies play the Braves today.

First in war, first in peace, and just about the last group of people on the planet to think Cristian Guzman should play every day

Chris Needham, who writes about the Nationals at the excellent blog Capitol Punishment, took the time to answer some questions as we head towards the start of the 2008 season.

Nationals Park is finally here. How do you expect it will play?

The dimensions are a lot smaller than RFK, but that’s not really telling us much, since RFK was so huge. On the surface, it looks like it’s going to be neutral, perhaps a slight pitcher’s park. Even if it is a slight pitcher’s park, that’s a pretty big offensive bump for the team. The wild card in all of it is going to be the wind. The stadium is just off the water and it has open concourses. If the wind passes through the stadium and jets out the outfield through the buildings beyond the walls, things could be dramatically different.

The Nats stated plan relies heavily around improving the minor league system and by all accounts they have been successful in doing so. If you look at the roster and count the young, excellent players, though, it’s not clear how long that list is beyond Milledge and Zimmerman. Who are the other young players in the organization we should be excited about seeing in 2008? How and when does the plan that revolves around building up the minor leagues transition into success at the major league level?

On the offensive side of the ball, there aren’t a ton of ready MLB contributors. We’d expect catcher Jesus Flores to get more playing time, especially if LoDuca’s and Estrada’s injuries linger. We can’t forget (much as we want to) Elijah Dukes either. For his many, many, many, many, many, many problems off the field, the guy’s an all-world talent. Can he harness his potential?

Pitching’s going to be where the kids have a chance, especially with an injury prone 1/2 combo of Shawn Hill and John Patterson. The Nats have lots of competent arms, none of whom are likely to excel, but might someday be decent #3s. You’ll remember John Lannan quite well, I’m sure! Other younger guys who are likely to get a chance: Tyler Clippard (who came over from the Yankees in the offseason), Colin Balester (the org’s former top pitching prospect), Garret Mock and last year’s first-round pick, Ross Detwiler, a tall, lanky lefty.

As far as their time line for success, it’s probably going to be another two years or so before some of those picks from the last two excellent drafts emerge. They’ve got some interesting bats in the low minors, but they’re a long way from setting foot in the NL.

What was your opinion about Manny Acta’s first year at the helm of the Nats? What do you see as his strengths and weaknesses as a manager?

There’s a lot to love. It certainly seems like he has a mastery of both sides of the job: handling the clubhouse, and in-game strategy.

He’s relentlessly positive, which was a must given how terribly (9-25) this team started out last year. He never let the team give up and assured them that they were better than they were, and he got hard work out of all 25 players on the roster. He also loves his stathead strategy, rarely bunting, and only stealing when it makes sense, and when there’s a high chance of success.

What remains for the Nationals to decide before the season starts?

There are some public battles for the starting rotation, but option and health status is going to settle many of those arguments. The two big decisions confronting the team are Nick Johnson or Dmitri Young at first. If the team’s serious about winning, DY rides the pine, but there have been plenty of grumbles about trades. I’m a bit skeptical, but we’ll see. The other big battle is on the infield, where Felipe Lopez is trying to rebound from a David-Bell-like season at the plate. The team has talked about Ronnie Belliard being the starter at 2B, but I think that’s mostly been a ploy to light a fire under FLop’s butt.

How do you see the NL East shaping up this season?

It looks like it’s going to be a pretty exciting race! I liked Philly last season, and I’m not sure I’d pick against them this year. Sure, the Mets got Santana, but Brett Myers moving to the rotation seems like it’s a pretty solid (and underrated) move as well. The Braves seem like an interesting pick, but they’re relying on a lot of old and injury prone pitchers. Guess I’d go 1) Phillies 2) Mets 3) Braves 4) Nats 5) Marlins

Thanks again to Chris. Remember to follow the Nats at Capitol Punishment.

The Phillies have played three games since Friday’s post, which have pretty much been characterized by pitchers key to the team’s success this year getting hit hard. Eaton, Chad Durbin, Gordon and Hamels all had weak outings. You have to believe the Hamels is going to be just fine. For the other guys, well, at least it’s early.

On the plus side, among the players with close to no shot to make the team, Carlos Carrasco was fantastic yesterday. Greg Golson has made with contributions with his bat, his glove and his speed. NRI Casey Smith has just been on fire.

Yesterday, the Phils and Yankees played to a 7-7 tie in a game called after nine innings. The Phils are 2-2 in spring training with one tie.

Hamels got the start and gave up four runs on three hits, including two home runs, over two innings. Castro allowed two runs in two innings, but Carrasco followed him and struck out three in three scoreless frames. Holdzkom allowed a run that was unearned due to his own error. Ron Chiavacci struck out two in a scoreless ninth.

After hitting a home run the day before, Golson had a single, stole a base and made a terrific defensive play in center field. Burrell hit a solo home run and drew a walk. Taguchi and Coste both went 2-for-3 with two singles. Rollins went 0-for-3 to drop is early average to .100. Coming off a big day on Friday, Smith had an RBI-single.

On Saturday the Yankees beat the Phils 9-3. Eaton got the start and went two innings and gave up three runs on five hits. All of the runs came on a three-run shot by Shelley Duncan. Gordon couldn’t get through the ninth — he got two outs but allowed a two-run homer to Wilson Betemit. Chad Durbin also pitched and allowed two runs over two frames.

Phils’ bats were mostly quiet. Golson had a solo home run. Ruiz was 2-for-2 with a double.

On Friday they beat the Pirates 5-4. JD Durbin allowed two runs in two innings. Shane Youman walked four and allowed two runs in his inning. Joe Bisenius, Gary Knotts and JA Happ both tossed two scoreless frames.

Casey Smith was 3-for-4 with two doubles and a solo home run in the top of the ninth that put the Phils ahead to stay.

The Phillies play the Pirates this afternoon. Savery, Outman, Romero and Bisenius are all expected to pitch.

Brad Lidge says the rehab of his knee is going well. The same article says that John Ennis cleared waivers and re-signed with the Phillies.

Cole Hamels doesn’t like his new contract.

Bobby Abreu was pleased to see the Phillies make the playoffs.

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