Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Crosstown Traffic

Honestly, everyone should have seen this coming. Sure, no one really expected it to happen last night, but Shawn Chacon was bound to have a bad outing. A guy who throws so few strikes isn’t going to win them all.

And the bats aren’t always going to be alive and ready for a monster comeback. Yesterday was yesterday, and the quicker the team forgets it and gets back to pulverizing the Mariners the better. Hey, remember, a sweep was the optimistic goal; three of four was the realistic one, which is still alive.

If it is any consolation, however, Chacon’s pitch count in the fourth inning was 81, 40 of which were strikes. His final numbers were six innings, 113 pitches, 62 strikes. And he only allowed runs in the second and third innings. True, he didn’t look particularly strong in the other four innings he hurled, but it indicates that this was an aberration.

We are one day away from the Second Season. Of course, the Second Season doesn’t necessarily start exactly on September 1st. It really depends on the team’s schedule. For instance, the Yanks second season doesn’t really start until Friday in Oakland, even though the games against Seattle are meaningful. Well, a second season began last night out in Queens.

Before I launch into this Mets diatribe, I need to set forth a disclaimer. I am not a Mets fan. I never have clamed to be, never will. I am, however, a baseball fan. And since the Mets a) are just as local as the Yanks and b) have no bearing on the outcome of the Yanks season, I’m finding myself engrossed in their story line.

They blew it last year by dealing Scott Kazmir (inexcusable) for a guy who couldn’t find the strike zone at 29 years of age (and still can’t a year later). Sure, Benson came at a relatively cheap price, and they got rid of Ty Wiggington in the process, which is, as they say, addition by subtraction.

Of course, the Mets fell short last year, as was expected. In fact, they played worse in the second half, than the first, even dropping 11 straight in August through September, and 19 of 21 overall. So let’s get this all straight. The Mets are a mere few games out of the Wild Card hunt at the end of July, so their GM deals their top pitching prospect, amid other slightly lesser prospects, to get a guy who has a reputation for being blind to the strike zone, and to an overrated hurler who becomes a free agent after the year.

Say goodbye to your job, Jim Duquette. And at this point I’d like to say that Steve Phillips wouldn’t have made such an egregious move at that point in time. I’ll tell you who else wouldn’t make such a blunder.

Omar Minaya. He took over a franchise officially in “oh shit” mode, and quickly solidified them to the best of his ability. He re-signed Benson, ostensibly overpaid for Pedro Martinez – though the way he looks now, he could still be solid for his next contract year in ’08 – and forked over Scott Boras dough for Carlos Beltran. Sure, that deal isn’t exactly panning out the way the Mets had hoped. And damn, I’m glad the Yanks didn’t nab him. But when you consider Beltran’s performance in September and October last year, I’m sure the Mets are damn glad to have him on the roster right now.

Over the course of this year, the Mets have developed into contenders. Maybe they weren’t on Day One. But as the season progressed, a pair of 22-year-olds emerged as the best hitters on the team. David Wright and Jose Reyes have stepped up their games and have exceeded expectations for the year.

Holes were created at first and second bases. When Doug Mientkiewicz hasn’t been on the DL, he’s looked like garbage, which is also a perfect way to describe Kaz Matsui at second. But the Mets have plugged both of those holes well with a combination of Marlon Anderson, Miguel Cairo, Chris Woodward, and recently Mike Jacobs.

Victor Diaz has been plugged into the void left by Mike Cameron in right, and Juan Castro has been close to “the man” status during his stint filling in for the injured Mike Piazza. So all the sudden, the Mets have a solid one through eight punch. And just as soon as they find this, they also find themselves with a surplus of starting pitching.

Even though another quality arm in the bullpen would help the Mets immensely down the stretch, they should for no reason trade Steve Trachsel, especially since there are only two, maybe three guys in the rotation who are irreplaceable – Pedro, Tom Glavine, and Kris Benson. Don’t tell me that Trachsel can’t replace Zambrano or Seo, because he sure as hell can.

Having the extra starter also provides the Mets with insurance against injury or fatigue. Pedro admitted last week that he’s feeling rather tired at this point in the season, and a few extra days rest here and there, to be provided by Trachsel, could keep him fresh for a playoff run.

Or what if the Mets have a Mussina situation, where a starter has a problem like an inflamed shoulder, and it is uncertain when he’ll pitch next? Who is a better option, Trachsel or Ishii? Did I even need to ask that question?

The Mets took all of this into the beginning of their Second Season last night, facing off against the Wild Card leading Phillies. Down 4-2 in the seventh, the Mets eeked out a run to pull within one. But hell, Marlon Anderson must have just missed the sweet spot, because his shot to right looked like a dinger off the bat. But at least it allowed Ramon Castro, who led off the inning with a double, to advance to third with one out.

It took a wild pitch, though to score Castro, but they were chipping away at the lead. And finally, in the eighth, against the usually solid Ugueth Urbina, the Mets finally struck. Wright walked to lead it off, stole second, which was followed immediately by a Brandon Jacobs strikeout. He’s a rookie, it happens.

Victor Diaz walked, which prompted commentator Gary Cohen to ponder pinch-hitting for the catcher, Ramon Castro. Silly idea, Gary, at least in hindsight. Hell, in foresight even. Just read the above paragraph and you’ll know that there was no way Willie was pinching for Castro.

His three-run shot was the difference, and the Mets pulled to within a half game of the Wild Card lead. Sure, there’s a month of baseball left, but it all begins here for the Mets. Take two of three from the Phils, and they’ll have gained some momentum entering a time of turbulence.

But if last night began the Second Season, the test of the Second Season comes next week at Turner Field, where the Mets battle the NL East leading Braves. There’s going to have to be a reversal of fortunes for the Mets to prevail at Turner, and they’re going to need those wins to continue their hunt for the NL Wild Card.

More on the Yanks and Mets tomorrow.