Elster's World

Monday, April 30, 2007

First Two Bumps In The Road and Other Stories From The Weekend

- While no one will be soon comparing the short term losses of El Duque (shoulder bursitis, missing a start and on the DL) and Jose Valentin (ACL injury, looks like a month on the shelf) to the MASH unit in the Bronx, it will bear watching how well the Mets cope with these injuries.

The Mets don't have a lot of depth at starter (evidenced by the fact that it appears as though Chan Ho Park and his 7 plus era will be going for the Mets tonight). If another pitcher gets hurt (or Pelfrey has to be sent down with his chronic case of ineffectiveness) the Mets could be looking at a Chan Ho Park/Aaron Sele 4/5 spot. I hope Delgado and Wright wake up soon because the Mets will be needing a lot more runs.

Valentin will assumedly be replaced by Easley with Anderson Hernandez and his eight errors coming up to fill the bench spot. Valentin is a very capable hitter and was playing great second base so far 9one error - many beautifully turned double plays) and he will be missed. Still he was the 8th place hitter and he can be replaced in the short term. Again, if Wright and Delgado bust out of their slumps, the Mets will be fine until they can get Valentin back.

- Speaking of the Mets, what to make of Aaron Heilman? Last year, I thought and observed that he was pitching pissed off that he wasn't starting and it seemed to affect his pitching and concentration. This season he seems to be pitching with a complete lack of confidence and diminished stuff. His fastball at times could get up to 95 last year doesn't seem to be reaching over 93. And it looks very flat. When he goes out there to hold a lead, I have no confidence he's going to get it done. Yesterday, he loaded the bases and had to get pulled for Schoenweis to get a huge out in the 8th. I am starting to feel as though the Mets will bridge to Wagner by committee until someone established themselves as a very reliable 8th inning guy.

- And speaking of wright, he has shown some slight improvement. I believe he is one home run away from really breaking out. Though I am more concerned about him than I am about Delgado.

- In football news, the Jets wheeled and dealed and turned their draft into a possible starting corner (perhaps the closest thing to a shut down corner in the draft) who has been compared to Ty Law (and hopefully not because he takes a lot of illegal contact penalties) and a run stuffing interior linebacker projected by some to go in the late first round to the Patriots. While they were unable to fill holes at DT, DE, TE and third WR, still they seem to be heading in the right direction to compete for the 2009 Super Bowl (I don't think they have a realistic chance this year - actually no one does - unless New England implodes under the weight of the shaky character people they brought in since the offseason began).

- Kudos to the New York Rangers who outplayed Buffalo the majority of Game 3 and then managed to score in overtime to get themselves back in their second round series. If they can ride the garden faithful to a win on Tuesday night, then it's anyone's series. If they lose, it's over. I think Buffalo is more talented but the Rangers play a great team game and if they can get the top 2 lines scoring, they have a good chance.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Some Thoughts On The Mets

Just some random thoughts I've been wanting to write about since the season started:

- In sports like football and basketball, I enjoy watching great goalies in hockey and I enjoy watching a superb pitcher being an artist on the mound. In fact, of all of the above, i probably enjoy watching great pitchers the most. Even eyeing a diminished Pedro these last few years has been a joy - despite the low velocity on his fastball, he found other ways to make hitters get out. That being said, and no disrespect meant at all, I take no pleasure at all in watching Tom Glavine pitch. I don't know if it's the 86 mph heater, the fact that he doesn't have classic up/down or sideways movement or what - he simply bores me. To be at 293 wins means you are a very good pitcher and I don't mean to take that away from him. he has spent an entire career hitting spots and winning with average stuff. But that don't mean he's an experience you know?

- David Wright's early struggles are puzzling. He seems to be really pressing up there which makes you wonder: Is he drowning under the expectations? Is the new contract weighing him down? Or is he simply going through an early season funk which he will snap out of as soon as he launches that elusive first home run? The real troubling aspect is that if you look at it, this slump is really a continuation of his poor performance in last years' playoffs. I don't think there is any reason for concern, but I'll be keeping a close eye on Mr. wright.

- Let's see if Carlos Delgado's homerun last night (his first) gets him untracked.

- Carlos Beltran's great play so far this season makes you note how SMOOTH he is out there. Everything he does looks effortless. It's amazing. Even his swing is smooth. He's right back in the MVP race this season.

- I asked my buddy Brian the following question on the train this morning: How long can John Maine be a sub-2 era pitcher with an assortment of two pitchers (fastball slider) especially when that fastball tends to the 89-91 range (as it did last night)? Though in his defense, his fastball has good movement on it and hitters seem to have trouble picking it up. So we will see. In the meantime, he's developing into a 7 inning guy for the Mets, a pleasant surprise (though probably not completely unexpected considering his age and run support).

- As yesterday's comments indicated, I do not yet trust the bullpen despite their league low era.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Responding to Joe

I would ordinarily put this in a comment, but I feel that I was unfairly attacked on my last post for a) not writing my Met predictions and then crowing when they played well and b) happily finding myself sucked back into the Rangers again. So here goes:

a) I didn't write the Met article simply because i wasn't writing anything at the time. One thing you cannot accuse me of here is being a liar. I think it's fair to say that between Joe and me, I have taken the more glass half full position with regards to the Mets in the past. My predictions regarding the season, without all of the analysis, are simple. The Mets will win the east, though not by as many games as last year. I would have told you 3 weeks ago the most serious challenger would have been the Phillies. It appears, however, it will be the Braves. So I was seemingly wrong on that score though it's early.

Now onto the major point:

b) Joe Joe Joe - I understand you almost HAD to rip me for something because I ripped your (so far) incorrect baseball predictions BUT:

- A bandwagon jumping, front-running phony? Really? I have been a Ranger fan my ENTIRE LIFE, dating back to the diminutive Smurfs, Ron Greschner, Lucky Pierre, the comedic goaltending stylings of Steve Weeks, and all the rest. I was a Ranger fan when they stunk, when chants of "1940" were as commonplace as "Potvin Sucks" are today. So please, don't pretend to assume that you can make that evaluation of my loyalty to the team. It's not like I suddenly ditched the Rangers and began following the Devils or Lighting. I decided that I no longer wanted to watch hockey at all. THAt was the point I made MUCH more frequently than I don't like the Rangers (though you conveniently fail to mention that here). And if I was such a front runner, would I have wasted my season closely following the subpar Knicks all season???

- And let's look at some of those comments I made:

- Yes, I incorrectly predicted a very slumping Ranger team (at the time) would not make the playoffs and suggested that they should start calling up some kids from the AHL. While Girardi was up, that's exactly what they did with Ryan Callahan, who has been a real find for this team from an energy and toughness perspective (not to mention he's fun to watch), though he wasn't the most touted of the Ranger prospects.

- After last season's playoff disaster with the Devils, I no longer liked hockey. Not the Rangers, HOCKEY. Saying I hated the Rangers was a silly overstaement, but that's me - I am an emotional sports fan, always have been. Aaron Heilman can give up a big home run one night and I'll rue the day the Mets drafted him - but if he strikes someone out in a big spot the next night, I'll tell you he's the next Rollie Fingers. It's just the way I operate, right or wrong. Joe and I have talked about this many times.

- As for not watching the regular season - I think, for me, it was a great move. I had more free time to spend on other things (not TV, by the way). The Rangers stunk the first 3/4 of the season anyway, so it's not like i missed out on anything that important except maybe whih bad tie was Tom Renney going to wear on any particular evening.

But a funny thing happened. The Rangers realized the season was on the brink and they responded in a big way. They made some nice deadline moves (bringing in Avery will stand out), they survived injuries to guys like Tyutin and Hossa (who suddenly "got it" and started playing very well - he carried this over to the playoffs upon returning from his injury, totally outplaying his much better brother) and the horrendous Shanahan concussion and they started playing defensive hockey - the formula that got them to the playoffs last year. They got timely scoring and gritty play from the three "service lines" and Jagr started working his bad wing back into shape for the stretch run. Nylander had his best season as a pro, suddenly finding a scoring touch to go along with his wonderful passing skills and some lesser players really stepped up their games Hossa until he got hurt, Callahan, etc).

But the sudden turn around really came about because of the play of Henrik Lundquist, whose play down the stretch was nothing short of transcendent. His GAA average was minuscule and it seemed like he went 20 games in a row giving up 2 or fewer goals. he made all the saves he was supposed to and plenty of the "impossible" ones as well (which, by the way, makes me think that, when it is all said and done, he'll be a greater goalie legend than Mike Richter who made at least one "I can't believe he just stopped that puck" save a night but would too often give up a gimme).

So as the Rangers crept back into the playoff race, and actually cracked the 8th, then seventh and finally sixth spot, I found myself watching 5 minutes here, 8 minutes there, a complete period every once in a while. And I remembered something - last season (until the season ended like a bad ending to a movie) the Rangers were fun as hell to watch. Jagr skating through the neutral zone like a shark in bloody waters, Lundquist being brilliant, heck even the goofy fan salutes at the end of the games make you smile (and I haven't even mentioned Petr Prucha yet). And the team seems to genuinely like playing with each other. So yes, I got back into it. And from my analysis above, I think it's safe to say I was probably following it more than I even realized.

So yes - I know the regulars, though perhaps I cannot tell you who skates on whose line and I even have a good sense of how the Rangers made the playoffs. And that formula mentioned above made me realize why I liked the Rangers to begin with. So I came back. OF COURSE it helped that the Rangers made the playoffs. If they didn't, if they continued to slump at the end, I wouldn't be writing this.

Will I ever follow hockey game to game, face off to face off like I used to? Probably not. But I was too quick to write it off.

So despite Joe's protestations as to my loyalties, I think I will continue to enjoy the ride anyway.

And if he doesn't like it, I guess we can limit our conversations to the level of competence of the Mets bullpen.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Do's and Don'ts of the Last Few Weeks

Welcome back to anyone still checking this blog. The last month has been a whirlwind for me. I quit my job (worked hard during the 2 week notice period - no time for blogging), took two weeks off (where I went off the grid completely) and am now settling in at my new place (i.e. confident enough to blog during the day). A lot has transpired in my absence and there's no way to blog it all without a gimmick. SO without further ado, some do's and don'ts we have learned:

Don't - start the baseball season with a pitching staff that average 67 years old and then get surprised when half of them end up on the Dl when it gets cold outside. I mean, duh.

Do - expect Greg Oden to declare for the draft.

Don't - be shocked if Durant goes first though.

Don't - worry about Wright's power. It will return. So will Carlos Delgado's.

Don't expect to go too far in the playoffs without a legitimate big man Nets fans (and that's no knock on Mikki Moore). Not to mention the fact that Moore is the starting five's most reliable outside shooter. bad sign.

Do - worry about the Jets starting the season against the Pats (home) and Ravens (in Baltimore). Not a great way to begin to build on last year's success.

Don't - lose faith in Mangenious, however.

Do - look for the Jets to take a corner in round one.

Don't - slam me for falling back in love with the Rangers. There's a perfectly good explanation for this. As the decimated Knicks started falling apart, i found myself watching a surging Ranger team more and more. And hey, how can you not love guys like Girardi and Callahan? Do you realize that if Messier was still around, these kids would be in the minor league while the team tried to figure out why it failed to make the playoffs despite having Jagr, Shannahan, Kovalchuk and Sidney Crosby?

Don't be surprised the Rangers won their first round series (I was actually planning to write an article predicting this) but you can be a little surprised it went 4 games.

Don't kill Joe too much for these statements:

"Despite the availability of several decent free agents, the Mets brought back Jose Valentin as their starting second baseman." Meanwhile, he's hitting .277 in the 8th hole and playing GOLD GLOVE defense. Yep, we definitely should have over payed for some second rate second baseman instead of trusting the guy who stepped in so well last year.

"Minaya correctly declined to overpay for Barry Zito, but he failed to sign or trade for any of the other available starters. Instead, he gave Orlando Hernandez a surprisingly generous two-year contract, decided to rely on John Maine and Oliver Perez as the third and fourth starters, and brought in retreads like Chan Ho Park, Aaron Sele and Jorge Sosa, while letting Steve Trachsel and Victor Zambrano go, trading Brian Bannister and refusing to move Aaron Heilman into the starting rotation." In the meantime Maine has been brilliant so far, Oliver Perez has had a good start and a bad one, El Duque has been solid (one bad start) and Sele has stepped into the Darren Oliver role quite nicely. And Joe, you still want Heilman and his bad elbow (and his 2 pitches and his penchant for the longball) in your starting rotation? I don't even want him bridging for Wagner.

But here comes his biggest doosey:

"The Mets' biggest offseason failure was with their bullpen, which is now worse than at the end of '06. Chad Bradford, Darren Oliver and Roberto Hernandez all left as free agents, with Bradford's loss the most significant. Heath Bell and Royce Ring were traded to the Padres for Ben Johnson and Jon Atkins, both of whom were disappointing in spring training. Guillermo Mota, his 50 game suspension for steroid use aside, was given a large contract. So was free agent Scott Schoeneweis. Mota and Schoeneweis were both released during the 2006 season. " Sele is making Oliver's loss moot. Smith and Shoenweis have been terrific - neither has given up a run yet. Bell and Ring both had good stuff but for whatever reason it wasn't translating in the majors (though Ring never got a fair shake). Besides, Feliciano is the left specialist so there's no real need for Ring. And before it's all said and done, the Mets are going to need Mota's arm.

Could the entire bullpen melt down like Three Mile Island? Sure, but as of today, Joe's dire predictions seem to be off. So maybe the Mets future wasn't THAT bleak after all. And just three months till Pedro returns to boot.

Do - be pleasantly surprised with how well Isaiah's draft picks have worked out. even Mardy Collins seems to be a player. Do also, however, slam your head against the wall repeatedly as the Bulls grab a top 10 pick the Knicks really could have used.

And finally: DO keep checking back here. I fully plan on writing more regularly again.