The Yankees’ Outfield Suddenly Looks As Bad As The Mets’

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Of course that’s in context. If you look at the projected outfields of the Yankees and Mets based on their players on paper, the Yankees are still superior. As diminished as Ichiro Suzuki is, he’s more proven that the cast of characters (led by Mike Baxter) the Mets have vying for right field. But whoever the Yankees put in left to replace the now-injured Curtis Granderson isn’t going to be better than Lucas Duda. Brett Gardner is a good player, but he’s not a prototypical “Yankees center fielder” along the lines of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, or even Bobby Murcer, Bernie Williams all the way down the line to Granderson.

In his first spring training plate appearance, Granderson was hit by a pitch and had his forearm broken. He’ll be out until May and now the Yankees are seeing how a bad bench and limited ready-for-prime-time minor leaguers can harm their rapidly declining chances to win a title. With a team this old, it’s inexplicable that they scrimped and saved to let Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez leave. Granderson’s one of the younger players on this ancient roster and got hurt while playing the game. The other, older players like Derek Jeter, Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis could wind up on the disabled list by waking up after sleeping in a strange position. What is going to harm this team to a greater degree—and one that hasn’t been mentioned as often as it should—is the inability to use PEDs and amphetamines to get through the season. There’s not a cure for what ails them other than letting nature take its course.

The Mets are rebuilding and had no intention nor realistic need to spend any money on players that weren’t going to help them in the distant future or were going to cost them the eleventh pick in the draft as Michael Bourn would’ve. The Yankees, on the other hand, have expectations of a championship in spite of their newfound austerity and conscious decision to stick with what they had and keep the severely declining Ichiro. With the money-related departures of Chavez and Ibanez, they’re left with limited veterans Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz as the probable left field replacement for Granderson with the possibilities of Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte.

Soon fans will start reverting to their “stars replace stars for even one game” template and demand the Yankees pursue and get Giancarlo Stanton. Whether the fans and media will have the nerve to suggest they pursue Mike Trout is the question. Neither will happen. Other possibilities of the more reasonable variety are Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano or Drew Stubbs. None are probable. Considering the expectations and lack of offense at catcher and right field with the aged and injury prone players they have in the lineup, they now have to function with an outfield that, plainly and simply, ain’t gonna cut it.

If this is an omen for the Yankees, it’s a bad one. It took one day—one day—for their weak bench to assert itself as the unpredictability of baseball from moment-to-moment reared its head. They went with the cheap bench and they’ve got the cheap bench. If a worst case scenario was predicted for the 2013 Yankees, this injury to Granderson and a comparison to the Mets is a great place to start.

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National League Breakout/Rebound Candidates (Or Cheap Gets For Your Fantasy Team)

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Last week, I looked at breakout/rebound candidates for the American League, some of whom will be very, very cheap pickups for your fantasy clubs. Now I’ll look at the National League.

Wilson Ramos, C—Washington Nationals

Ramos is coming back from a torn ACL in his knee and because the Nationals traded for Kurt Suzuki from the Athletics last season, there’s no need to rush Ramos back before he’s 100%. But he will eventually take over as the starting catcher and it’s not just because he’s a future All-Star and potential Gold Glove winner.

Suzuki is a competent everyday catcher who’s shown 15 homer power in the past. Even if he’s not hitting, the Nationals lineup is strong enough to carry one mediocre bat and Suzuki’s good with the pitchers.

There’s a financial component though. Suzuki has a club option in his contract for 2014 at $8.5 million. The option becomes guaranteed if Suzuki starts 113 games in 2013. Barring another injury to Ramos, that is not going to happen. Ramos will be catching 5 of every 7 games by the summer.

Freddie Freeman, 1B—Atlanta Braves

It’s easy to forget about Freeman due to the number of power-hitting first basemen around baseball, but he’s gotten steadily better every year as a professional and with the infusion of Justin Upton and B.J. Upton into the lineup, plus Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla, teams won’t be worried about Freeman’s power leading to him getting more pitches to hit.

Lucas Duda, LF—New York Mets

Given the Mets on-paper outfield (Collin Cowgill, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Marlon Byrd, Marv Throneberry, George Theodore, Jan Brady, Cindy Brady, Gilligan, Barnaby Jones, Cannon), there’s plenty of fodder for ridicule. Duda is the butt of jokes because of his last name; that he’s a bad outfielder; because he seems so quiet and reticent. The criticism is missing an important factor: he can hit, hit for power and walk. If the Mets tell him he’s their starting left fielder, period, they’ll be rewarded with 25-30 homers and a .360+ on base percentage. So will fantasy owners.

Bobby Parnell, RHP—New York Mets

With Frank Francisco sidelined with elbow woes, Parnell has been named the Mets’ closer…for now. They have Brandon Lyon on the team and are still said to be weighing Jose Valverde. None of that matters. Parnell was going to get the shot at some point this season and with a little luck in Washington last season when defensive miscues cost him an impressive and legitimate old-school, fireman-style save, he would’ve taken the role permanently back then.

Jacob Turner, RHP—Miami Marlins

The Tigers were concerned about Turner’s velocity at the end of spring training 2012 and he wound up being traded to the Marlins in the deal for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez. He acquitted himself well in seven starts for the Marlins and will be in the 2013 rotation from start to finish. He has all the pitches, a great curve, command and presence.

Justin Ruggiano, CF—Miami Marlins

It’s natural to wonder if a player who has his breakout year at age 30 is a product of unlocked talent and opportunity or a brief, freak thing that will end as rapidly as it came about.

Ruggiano has been a very good minor league player who never got a shot to play in the big leagues. He took advantage of it in 2012 and will open the season as the Marlins starting center fielder.

Billy Hamilton, CF—Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have major expectations in 2013 and much of their fortunes hinge on their pitching staff; they’re functioning with Shin-Soo Choo playing an unfamiliar position in center field; at mid-season (or earlier) it may become clear that Choo can’t play the position well enough for the pitchers nor to bluff their way through to the playoffs. Hamilton is in Triple A learning center field after a shift from the infield and can make up for any educational curve with sheer, blinding speed that has yielded 320 stolen bases in 379 minor league games. He also provides something they lack: a legitimate leadoff hitter and an exciting spark that other teams have to plan for.

Vince Coleman spurred the 1985 Cardinals to the pennant by distracting the opposing pitchers into derangement and opening up the offense for Willie McGee to win the batting title and Tommy Herr and Jack Clark to rack up the RBI. The same thing could happen with Hamilton, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Choo.

Jason Grilli, RHP—Pittsburgh Pirates

Grilli is a first time closer at age 36, but he’s a late-bloomer with a fastball in the mid-90s and a ripping strikeout slider. The Pirates starting pitching and offense are good enough to provide Grilli with enough save chances to make him worthwhile as a pickup.

Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP—Chicago Cubs

Fujikawa was a strikeout machine as a closer in Japan and history has proven that Japanese closers tend to transition to North America much better than starters without the fanfare. Takashi Saito and Kazuhiro Sasaki are examples.

The Cubs are in full-blown rebuild and will trade incumbent closer Carlos Marmol during the season. They’ll let him close at the outset to boost his value, then dump him, handing the job to Fujukawa.

Dale Thayer, RHP—San Diego Padres

Closer Huston Street is injury prone and the Padres, for whatever reason, don’t think much of Luke Gregerson (they tried to trade him to the Mets for Daniel Murphy and when Street was out last season, they let Thayer take over as closer.)

Thayer has a strikeout slider that leads stat-savvy teams like the Rays, Mets, and Padres continually picking him up. If Street gets hurt, Thayer will get closing chances.

Yasmani Grandal, C—San Diego Padres

His PED suspension has tarnished his luster, but he’s still a top catching prospect and once he’s reinstated, there’s no reason for the Padres not to play him with Nick Hundley and John Baker ahead of Grandal. Neither of the veteran catchers will be starting for the Padres when they’re ready to contend; Grandal will. He hits and he gets on base.

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Michael Bourn vs. the #11 Pick: Which is Right for the Mets?

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Operating under the premises that if the Mets sign Michael Bourn they will: A) not receive a waiver from MLB to switch the number 11 pick in the first round of the 2013 draft for a second round pick, and B) pay something close to what B.J. Upton got from the Braves and probably more to get him, we can look at what the risk/reward of signing Bourn will be now and later.

The draft pick

The past is not indicative of the future in the draft. A myriad of factors dictate what a club will get from whatever player they draft at whichever spot, but the eleventh pick in the first round is a high pick. From 2003 to 2010, players taken at eleven have been:

2003: Michael Aubrey

2004: Neil Walker

2005: Andrew McCutchen

2006: Max Scherzer

2007: Phillippe Aumont*

2008: Justin Smoak*

2009: Tyler Matzek**

2010: Deck McGuire**

*Aumont and Smoak were both traded for Cliff Lee.

**Matzek and McGuire are mentioned because players selected after them were traded for name players.

After the eleventh pick, the following players were taken in 2003 to 2010 in the first round:

2003: Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin

2004: Jered Weaver, Billy Butler, Stephen Drew, Phil Hughes

2005: Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz

2006: Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain

2007: Jason Heyward, Rick Porcello

2008: Brett Lawrie, Ike Davis, Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, Wade Miley

2009: Mike Trout, Tyler Skaggs, Brad Boxberger

2010: Yasmani Grandal, Chris Sale, Chance Ruffin, Mike Olt

Odorizzi was included in trades for Zack Greinke, James Shields and Wade Davis. Skaggs was part of the Angels trade for Dan Haren. Boxberger and Grandal were traded by the Reds for Mat Latos. Ruffin was traded by the Tigers for Doug Fister.

This isn’t a final determination on any player’s worth, but a clue as to what these draft picks mean. It underscores another underrated aspect of the draft in finding players that a club may not have much of a plan to use themselves, but will develop to trade for established help.

What this shows isn’t specifically connected to the number 11 pick as if it’s a spot that cannot be surrendered. The pick itself is irrelevant in comparison to the talent level in the 2013 draft. Judging the rest of the first round should tell the Mets which is better; which is going to help them more.

The 2005 draft was strong enough that the Red Sox were able to get Ellsbury and Buchholz late in the first round, the 2006 draft was weak. If there isn’t enough talent in the pool to make an impact, then Bourn would make more sense.

The money

It’s not financial, it’s projective. The Mets can sign Bourn even if they have no immediate money to pay him upfront. With Jason Bay and Johan Santana both coming off the books after this season, they can backload any deal for Bourn and get him.

Scott Boras represents Bourn and is willing to keep his clients on the market into spring training without concern as to the public perception, industry ridicule or media panic. Boras has acquiesced with short-term deals for clients that didn’t have much of a resume such as Kyle Lohse in 2008 with the Cardinals. That worked out well for Lohse because he pitched wonderfully in that first year with the Cardinals and was rewarded in-season with the money he didn’t get the previous winter. With established players like Prince Fielder, Boras has waited and gotten his client paid. It’s more likely than not that he’ll eventually be rewarded with Bourn without significantly lowering his demands.

Practicality

The current Mets outfield is ludicrous. I believe Lucas Duda will be a productive bat, but defensively he’s a nightmare. Center field and right field are empty. Bourn gives credibility and quality defensively and offensively. He will certainly help them at least for the next three seasons when he’ll be age 30-33.

Richard Justice reports on the Mets apparent decision to steer clear of Bourn if it will cost them the first round pick. Craig Calcaterra makes a ridiculous assumption on HardballTalk that Bourn won’t help them when they’re “legitimately competitive.” When does he think they’ll be “legitimately competitive”? 2017? 2020? Is it that bad for the Mets? Are they the Astros?

The Mets are flush with young pitching, will be competitive and could contend by 2014; the 2012 A’s and Orioles are evidence that if the planets align, an afterthought team that’s the butt of jokes like the Mets can contend in 2013. For someone who bases his analysis in “reality,” it’s an uninformed, offhanded and unnecessary shot at the Mets for its own sake.

Let’s say he’s kind of right and the Mets aren’t contending until around 2015. Bourn will be 32. Is Bourn going to fall off the planet at 32? In many respects, a player comparable to Bourn is Kenny Lofton. Lofton was still a very good hitter and above-average center fielder until he was in his mid-30s. There have never been PED allegations with either player so there wasn’t a shocking improvement at an age they should be declining with Lofton and it’s reasonable that this would hold true for Bourn.

We can equate the two players and expect Bourn to still be able to catch the ball with good range in the outfield and steal at least 35-40 bases into his mid-30s. Bourn’s not a speed creation at the plate who will come undone when he can no longer run like Willie Wilson; he can hit, has a bit of pop and takes his walks. He’ll be good for at least the next four seasons.

The bottom line

It’s not as simple as trading the draft pick to sign Bourn and paying him. The Mets have to decide on the value of that draft pick now and in the future as well as what would be accomplished by signing Bourn, selling a few more tickets in the now and erasing the idea that the Mets are simply paying lip service for good PR by floating the possibility of Bourn with no intention of seriously pursuing him. As long as they’re not spending lavishly, that will be the prevailing view. They re-signed David Wright to the biggest contract in club history, but that still wasn’t enough to quell the talk of the Wilpons’ finances being in disastrous shape.

What’s it worth to the Mets to sign Bourn? To not sign Bourn? To keep the draft pick? To lose the draft pick? To sell a few more tickets? To shut up the critics?

This is not an either-or decision of Bourn or the pick as it’s being made out to be. The far-reaching consequences are more nuanced than the analysts are saying and there’s no clear cut right or wrong answer in signing him or not signing him. That’s what the Mets have to calculate when making the choice.

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A Simple Solution to Cure the New York Times’ Implied Disease of Being a Mets Fan

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If it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, the end result was closer to finger-in-throat.

Combine pompous verbiage and inept analysis and you get thisthe New York Times article by Michael Powell about the New York Mets that has some calling it the “best” piece written about being a fan of the Mets they’ve ever read.

I suppose it is if you consider “good writing” to be maudlin whimpering masquerading as insightful poignancy.

Powell writes the Gotham column in the Times. That and his identification as a Mets fan somehow qualifies him to speak for the entire fanbase regarding how difficult life is rooting for a struggling, rebuilding team.

First, the writing is a study in attention-grabbing, overuse of horrific metaphors and ludicrous assertions. Some examples:

We step through the turnstiles to find 22 ticket scalpers, lost souls all, clustering around us.

We walk in, a beaut of a stadium with fans scattered in so many nomadic clumps amid acres of green seats.

22? Exactly 22? Did he stand there counting them for accuracy in his portrait? Or is it a nice round, ridiculous number to punctuate the absurdity of what the Mets have become—something similar to just about every other team that is playing out the days of a season in which their playoff hopes are gone?

“Nomadic clumps amid acres”? Good grief!!!

Ruben Tejada, our shortstop, steps to the plate. He’s a soft-bodied, sweet-fielding kid who is hitting .286, an average made up almost entirely of little tear-drop singles to all fields. He replaced Jose Reyes, our rangy and powerful All-Star shortstop whom the Mets, in their infinite wisdom, chose to let walk away without first trying to trade him.

Naturally, without context it sounds like a farce. Is Tejada supposed to imitate Reyes and be something he’s not? Try to steal bases, hit triples, pop 12 homers a year and, I suppose, spend a substantial amount of time on the disabled list?

The Mets didn’t trade Reyes when they had no intention of signing him unless he got hurt and/or his market crashed. This is true. But the Mets were still trying to attract fans to the ballpark in August and September and, misguided as it was, they had no chance of keeping him if they traded him. If they kept him, maybe he would’ve stayed. It was a retrospective mistake, but not a catastrophic one. In fact, it was understandable in a business sense.

The only team that did offer Reyes the $100+ million he wanted were the Marlins, and the Marlins are the team the Mets have beaten in the past two days; the team that spent the money the fans (and apparently Powell) wanted the Mets to spend, but didn’t because: A) they couldn’t; and B) they’ve tried that in the past and it didn’t work.

The Marlins are also the team that will keep the Mets out of the basement in the National League East. They are an organization in far worse shape on and off the field with a new, empty ballpark that has their ownership under investigation because of alleged financial chicanery that got the thing built.

But they have Reyes who, by now, must be growing comfortable playing for teams that are viewed as disappointing at the high end and disastrous on the low.

The most exhausted and cynical Mets fan looks at the Marlins and says, “I’d hate to be rooting for them.”

…[Jason] Bay might recover his stroke and Lucas Duda might stroke homer after homer deep into the periwinkle skies over Flushing Bay.

I’ve mistakenly used the same word twice in short order, but I’m not writing for the New York Times nor do I have an editor supposedly perusing what I’ve written and gently nudging me in a preferable direction. “Stroke” and “stroke” twice within six words? And periwinkle? Good grief!!!!!

Oh, and I looked up “periwinkle.” I had to because I didn’t know what it meant. It means a pale, bluish purple. If nothing else, I’ve learned a new word I’m never going to use.

What’s our choice? To root for the triumphalist Yankees is to describe an impossibility, like walking through Manhattan chanting: “Goldman Sachs! Goldman Sachs!” Instead, we adopt the mien of Scottish highlanders facing the English army — loss is assured, but let’s go out with panache and a touch of humor.

There’s an obsession that Yankees fans have of Lording (in keeping with the rancid English army allusion) their success over the Mets. 27 World Series, blah, blah, blah. Never mind that the Yankees have been in existence over 60 more years than the Mets; that the bulk of those championships were won long before anyone had even formulated the concept of the Mets, but this inferiority complex on the part of Mets fans when it comes to the Yankees and the Yankees superiority is based on absolutely nothing other than an inveterate desire to bully or supplicate. There’s no connection between the two other than what’s created by dueling fanbases and a biased media.

We’re just in time to watch the manager pull Dickey for a pinch-hitter. His chances of winning 20 games officially are on life support; you want to page Manager Terry Collins and point out that Dickey has a better chance to get a hit than any of the Ghandian hitters on the Mets’ bench.

Ghandian?!? GOOD GRIEF!!!!!!

“I have a lot of faith in the Wilpons,” Commissioner Bud Selig told Newsday’s Marc Carig on Wednesday. “I have a lot of faith in Sandy Alderson.” He went on: “I’m very confident about the Mets. Very confident.”

The Mets have, after a fashion, constructed a very 21st-century New York team. Crony capitalism by Flushing Bay, with Selig in the role of crony enabler.

Going back to the Wilpons’ $25 million loan taken from MLB nearly a year ago to meet operating costs, it’s been expected that the financial circumstances surrounding the club due to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme would sink them once and for all. Based on speculation and extrapolation, but not fact, it was taken for granted that the Mets would be unable to pay all their debts.

Well, to the disappointment of many, the Mets paid back the MLB loan when they settled the case with the government’s trustee of the case, Irving Picard, and still own the team.

Selig is the commissioner of baseball, a position of considerable power, but still an employee of MLB owners. He is not in a position to force an ownership to sell anything. Selig is the crony enabler? Of what? He’s the commissioner, not the King.

Getting past the words and scouring the content of the article itself, I’m having trouble seeing the point.

What was the purpose of this other than to add to the attempted embarrassment lavished on the Mets and to make the fans feel as if they should be ashamed to support their team?

There is a segment in Mets fandom, propped and promoted by the media—Mets haters and not—that takes joy in attacking the organization no matter what they do. It’s a story with a secondary benefit. “Oh, we’re Mets fans. Poor us. We’re destined to suffer.” But is there a team anywhere, including the Yankees, that has a gaudy enough record in recent vintage that would make it a hopelessly losing endeavor to be a Mets fan that a non-self-loathing fan, as the article implies, should abandon the club or accept the lot in life of loser?

The Dodgers were recently a financial nightmare due to the alleged misuse and abuse of the financial coffers on the part of former owner Frank McCourt and are now again one of the high-end destinations in baseball and spending insanely with Magic Johnson as the frontman of the new regime.

The Orioles have launched themselves back into the playoff picture for the first time in 15 years after their reviled owner Peter Angelos ran off one baseball man after another and treated the club as if it was an underachieving, poorly managed offshoot of his law firm.

The Phillies, the losingest baseball franchise ever, became a champion and turned into an incarnation of the Yankees, spending, trading, signing amid fan-booing their way to a $170 million payroll and a .500 record in 2012 with an entire roster laden with stars in their early-to-mid 30s and rolling over the hill.

The Yankees, whose main metric is based on winning a World Series otherwise the entire season is a failure, have achieved their goal once on the past decade with a payroll that dwarfs every other team in baseball.

The Red Sox, the totem of how to rebuild a dysfunctional mess and rejuvenate it to become a contender on an annual basis has come apart with worse infighting and dysfunction that the hard-partying, drugged out, underachieving Mets of the late 1980s never could’ve fathomed.

Being a fan guarantees nothing. Because you like Tom Cruise doesn’t mean you’re going to love every movie he appears in. If you enjoy the writing of John Grisham doesn’t promise the endless enjoyment of every book he writes. And being a fan of whichever team in any sport doesn’t mean you’ll wind up being able to gloat—and that’s the main idea—about “your” team.

The meme transferred from one entity to the other is rife with a egomaniacal narcissism. “We predicted the team would be this bad.” This comes from Mets haters like Michael Kay; from Mets antagonists like Mike Francesa; and self-proclaimed Mets supporters, openly despondent at the state of the franchise, Bob Klapisch and Howard Megdal.

I didn’t hear anyone in June saying the trash they’re saying now because it would’ve made them look foolish and, in a strange way, honest had they so baldly betrayed their poorly hidden agendas by ripping the Mets while they were playing well. Instead, they waited until things came apart. Now, they were “right.” Their “predictions” of doom and gloom came to pass.

Except they weren’t right; their predictions didn’t come to pass in the spirit of honesty.

The theme in the Times article appears to be one of imprisonment. “Woe is me, I’m a Mets fan.” But there’s a solution for Powell and for anyone involved with the club in any fashion as a player, beat writer, a front office employee, or any individual whose life is somehow diminished by being a Mets fan or chronicler. I’ve said on multiple occasions, the Mets have to stand up and tell those who revile the club and themselves to this degree that they’re compelled to write it in so histrionic a manner. It’s simple.

Leave.

Go root for another team. Go play for another team. Go cover another team. Go work for another team. We’ll get someone else. If you have become so jaded that the current situation of your baseball team is infecting your being so you can’t be a professional and need to project that hurt in multiple, self-destructive ways, then say goodbye. Move on. It was this one act that the Rays of 2007-2008 began their rise into annual contender while they were a laughingstock for their entire existence, running into one another like a slapstick comedy with an empty park and no hope. They said, with their actions, that they didn’t want people who didn’t want to support them and be happy to be members of the Rays organization and fanbase. This is what the Mets have to do.

Leave.

Go elsewhere. But you can’t come back. And you can’t whine. And you can’t cry. And you can’t derive the clear supplementary boost you get from identifying yourself as a Mets fan with a shrug and an eyeroll as if it’s a terminal disease for which there’s no cure.

But there is a cure. A simple one. Excise the disease.

Leave.

We’ll start a registry and track you so you can’t come back. But you can go. You’ll be free. With such burdens in everyday life, the last thing I would want is my diversion of a baseball team making it worse.

It’s tragic, it’s horrible, it’s depressing. So end it.

Leave.

In a way, writing is like a mathematical formula without numbers. It’s artistic; it doesn’t have limits; there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do it, but either it works or it doesn’t. When there’s a forced shoehorning of bad use of language and rotten word choices in an effort to anoint oneself the representative of a large group of people who didn’t nominate you, didn’t elect you, don’t agree with you, and don’t want you, you get the New York Times piece on the Mets by Michael Powell. It’s poorly written, pretentious, self-indulgent pabulum.

And my solution to Mr. Powell is simple. So simple that I’ll say it again.

Leave.

Trust me. We’ll be fine.

The article is entitled “Turn Out the Lights.”

Fine. I’ll turn them out. After you leave.

And don’t come back.

Ever.

//

Meet The Mess Or A Mess To An End?

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There’s no spinning an eight run first inning, a 16-1 loss, and rampant humiliation the type the Phillies have inflicted on the Mets over the last three games. Only the Mets could let a Phillies team that’s dealing with an embarrassing season of their own do this. The Phillies, with a too little-too late comeback, have made their disappointing season a bit more bearable. But it’s still disappointing. That aside, they walked into Citi Field and backhanded the Mets and the Mets took it. Again. No doubt the Phillies were laughing on the bus back to Philly and they had reason to. It can be glossed over through the prism of payroll and preseason expectations or lack thereof, but the Mets participating in the Phillies downfall earlier this season by beating up on them is rendered meaningless by the past three games.

Suggestions that the Mets have quit are inarguable. It’s not about talent anymore, it’s about incompetence. A big league team cannot allow another big league team—regardless of disparity in talent and money—to treat them like a punching bag and leave them lying in the dirt shrugging as if it’s accepted that this is the way things are and will remain. The Mets could’ve hit the Phillies back for once and ended their playoff hopes. Instead, they gave them a lifeline. Behind the Cardinals by 4 with 12 to play and having to leapfrog both the Dodgers and Brewers make a Phillies playoff appearance all but impossible, but it could’ve ended this week and the Mets could’ve been the ones to do the deed. Instead, they chose to lay down.

Are the Mets this bad? No. Were they as good as they looked in the first half of the season when they were one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises and talked of buying at the deadline rather than selling (and did neither)? No. But there’s no escaping the 9 straight home losses and 14 of 16 since August 19th. Comparisons to the 1962 version of the Mets are based on nothing other than attempts at ridicule and pure numbers—there’s no comparison between the situations, but that it’s mentioned in this context is bad enough.

No one wants to hear the likes of Michael Kay saying, “I told you so,” when he had the team winning 50 games before the season. He didn’t tell anyone anything. The end result doesn’t prove the prediction accurate. Nor does anyone want to hear Mike Francesa, who earlier in the season repeatedly stated that Mets’ manager Terry Collins deserved a contract extension and is now speculating on the same manager’s job security. The beat writers have taken to Twitter and other outlets with their passive aggression and self-indulgent agendas.

It’s all meaningless.

But this has to be examined logically. Does it make a difference whether the Mets won 81 games? 77 games? Or 70 games? No. The front office is presumably angry about the perception of disinterest on the roster; that the stands are completely and deservedly empty; but in the big picture, they’ll take the higher draft pick and get a better player.

What can they do to fix this to avoid the same fate a year from now and have the Mets a more welcoming and inviting destination for prospective free agents as they have money to spend with the expiring contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay at the conclusion of 2013?

Collins isn’t going to be fired. There are increasing pushes for Wally Backman to take over as manager because he’s a feisty and aggressive, in-your-face type that won’t tolerate the mistakes that are being tolerated now. Backman will be on the coaching staff in 2013 as the bench coach in part to be feisty; in part to provide a link to the 1980s; in part to prepare as a possible heir apparent to Collins. The only coaches on this current staff that will return are Tim Teufel (he’s popular with the Wilpons); and Dave Hudgens (GM Sandy Alderson likes the way he teaches hitting). Apart from that, they’re all gone.

As for the players, the Mets have to get some fighter types who aren’t going to meekly accept the bullying of other clubs. This current group is too cerebral and passive. No one hits back. How about some mindless tough guys who don’t take garbage from other teams?

Jonny Gomes and Kyle Farnsworth are two of the types of players the Mets should consider adding. It’s not because they’re supremely talented or are drastic improvements over what they currently have. We don’t know what Farnsworth will do on the field one year to the next—he’s no worse than what they currently have—but he’s known throughout baseball as someone not to mess with. Gomes has pop off the bench and walks, but more importantly is always ready to drop the gloves and it was him who sent the message to the Yankees and the rest of baseball in 2008 with a spring training brawl that they weren’t going to shove the Rays’ collective heads into the toilet anymore.

Even if it’s a lateral move talent-wise, the Mets have to get some of the faces that have epitomized their fall over the past 5 years. By that I mean trading Bay for something, anything and eating money if they have to. Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez for Bay and $5 million would match up financially and the change-of-scenery might benefit the players, the Mariners, and the Mets. Shin-Soo Choo is going to be available and so will Chris Perez from the Indians. Maybe two bad teams could come to an agreement for a Bobby Parnell, Lucas Duda deal.

The notion of trading Ike Davis was floated recently. The source was in question and the Mets, as usual, were blamed for spreading the rumor that Davis doesn’t listen and parties too much. The truth is that the source in Adam Rubin’s piece was referred to as a “baseball source.” No one from the Mets was said to be that source other than via uninformed speculation. That doesn’t diminish the logic behind the idea. If the Mets can bring in an impact bat at a key position like Justin Upton as part of that deal or in a three-way trade, they have to explore it. I’d try to get Upton or see if the Rangers would want to be creative with Ian Kinsler. That would free the Mets to revisit the proposed trade by the Padres in which Daniel Murphy would’ve gone to San Diego for Luke Gregerson and perhaps ask for the speedy and versatile Everth Cabrera.

Many good things have happened to the Mets in 2012 in spite of the ludicrous conclusion to the season, but they can’t move forward with the roster and coaching staff in its current state. It comes back to the original question of whether this is a mess with an end or a simple mess.

Right now, it’s a combination of both. Behind the scenes and without fanfare, the farm system is being rebuilt well with plenty of young talent infusing the organization. Some, like Matt Harvey, are beginning their big league careers, and Zack Wheeler is on the way; but changes—cosmetic and practical—have to be made if only to put forth the perception of doing something. Anyone would’ve accepted the Mets being outgunned. It was expected. But players who should be happy to have a job can’t been seen as giving up. And that’s what’s happened. Keeping those players who’ve either quit or can’t play—Andres Torres, Josh Thole, Bay—won’t help, but dumping them certainly will if only for the sake of appearance.

Appearance is currently all they have left and, right now, it’s not particularly attractive. In fact, it’s downright ugly.

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The Ike Davis Trade Rumor Mania

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I would trade Ike Davis if I could get what I want for him. What I’d want for him would be a legitimate outfield bat like Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks; a package centered around Dustin Ackley and one of the Mariners’ young pitchers; or in a deal for the Rockies’ Dexter Fowler and Drew Pomeranz.

Lucas Duda is a better overall hitter than Davis, will hit 25-30 homers if he plays every day, hits lefties better, has a more discerning eye at the plate, can play first base well enough defensively, and hasn’t accrued—in a ridiculously short period of time—the reputation as a whiner and umpire-baiter as Davis has. Davis is streaky; Duda has a compact swing that would be resistant to long slumps.

This is not a controversy nor is it a new concept that the Mets would be willing to part with Davis. His name was bandied about as long ago as last winter when he was recovering from his ankle injury and before he was reported to have contracted Valley Fever. Back then, they wouldn’t have gotten much of anything for him other than a similarly talented player whose future was in doubt. Now, with a big power year, he’s a trade chip. Davis is a limited player who is not, under any circumstances, untouchable.

The frenzy over the Mets willingness to listen on Davis stems from where it came from and why. ESPNNewYork.com Mets beat writer Adam Rubin cited an unnamed source that implied the organization is unhappy with Davis’s unwillingness to listen to coaching suggestions and that he stays out too late after games. Rubin doesn’t say the source is anyone involved with the Mets, but the reaction on Twitter seemed to automatically think it did come from the Mets. Rubin’s piece says nothing of the sort. It says a “baseball source,” which could be anyone from anywhere.

There were even suggestions that the source doesn’t exist; that Rubin made it up to write the story. While there are so-called writers who would have no qualms about creating a phony source; talking to a team mascot outside the stadium and quoting him or her as an “employee” and “insider”; or making one up entirely (see Sherman, Joel of the Post, New York), I don’t believe Rubin would do that.

The conspiracy theories had grown to such loony proportions that it was only a matter of time before Rubin took refuge at the Ecuadorean Embassy seeking asylum from his pursuers a la Julian Assange.

There’s an irrational hatred of the Mets that is difficult to understand and much of it stems from their own beat writers (not Rubin) and those who classify themselves as “lifelong Mets fans” such as Howard Megdal, yet take joy in attacking the organization no matter what they do. Did someone from the Mets drop this nugget to Rubin to send a message to Davis? If so, it’s highly doubtful that they haven’t said it to Davis privately. Putting it out there publicly could be a message for Davis to tone it down. Or it could’ve come from someone who’s not involved with the Mets at all and is relating what he’s been told as the club lays the foundation for a possible trade. It might be speculation based on whispers floating in the air.

We don’t know.

There’s a freedom inherent with using an unnamed source and the reaction tends to be mindless and agenda-laden. If you read what Rubin wrote, there’s no case to finding a guilty party with the Mets, but like the game of telephone, it grew in intensity as if something was said by someone, somewhere and no one knows who, what, or why.

The ancillaries are meaningless. The facts are highly relevant. And the facts are that while the story has veered off into a direction of blame and accusation centered around the Mets and Rubin, trading Davis is a viable idea that the Mets should pursue if they can get what they need to make themselves better.

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National League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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Washington Nationals

They have the minor league system to do something significant, but looking at their roster and the players they’re due to have eventually returning from injury, they don’t need anything.

Their offense has been somewhat disappointing as they’re 10th in the NL in runs scored. They’re not particularly patient at the plate, but they spent a large chunk of the first half of the season without Michael Morse and Jayson Werth; they lost Wilson Ramos and were playing Rick Ankiel in centerfield.

When they have their regular, everyday lineup out there and put either Bryce Harper or Werth in center to replace Ankiel, they’ll be fine in the run-scoring department.

Their bullpen has been lights out and Drew Storen will be back. In regards to Storen, I wouldn’t put much stock in his rehab results—he got blasted yesterday; as long as his velocity and movement are there, let him get back in shape without worrying about how he pitches.

What do they need? Some bench help? Okay. That’s something that can be acquired after the trading deadline when more teams are willing to clear out some players. Marco Scutaro, Ty Wigginton, Mike Aviles, Justin Turner are names to consider, but the Nats will be perfectly fine if they simply stay where they are and move forward with who they have.

Atlanta Braves

They need to buy but I don’t know if they will.

The Braves could use a big time starting pitcher but as has been the situation in the past, are they going to add payroll to get it?

GM Frank Wren made a big show of looking for a shortstop after Andrelton Simmons got hurt and then was forced to act when Jack Wilson got hurt as well. He traded for Paul Janish.

That’s not a big, bold maneuver.

They’ve been linked to Zack Greinke but I’m not getting the sense that the Brewers are ready to sell. Recently the suggestion was made that they were looking at Jason Vargas. Vargas and the words “impact starter” were used in the same sentence. Vargas is not an impact starter, but if I were a Braves’ fan, Vargas or someone similarly meh is what I’d expect them to obtain.

New York Mets

The three game sweep at the hands of the Braves is being taken as a calamity, but the Mets have been resilient all season long. They’re not buyers and nor are they sellers. They’ll look to improve within reason and not give up a chunk of the farm system to do it. Can they add payroll? No one seems to know. I’d guess that they can add a modest amount in the $5-10 million region and that’s only if it’s a player that the front office believes can make a significant difference and/or they’ll have past this season.

I’d avidly pursue Luke Gregerson for the bullpen and inquire about Joe Thatcher, both of the Padres.

Here’s one thing I would seriously consider: crafting an offer for Justin Upton centered around Ike Davis and Jordany Valdespin. The big time pitching prospects in the minors—Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler—are off the table. The Mets could move Lucas Duda to his natural position of first base and get a 25-year-old, cost-controlled, potential MVP in Upton.

The Diamondbacks can consider moving Paul Goldschmidt for pitching.

Miami Marlins

They should probably just stay where they are and hope, but they have little choice but to be buyers.

Carlos Lee was acquired from the Astros to try and fill an offensive void and he hasn’t done much so far. Would they think about including Logan Morrison in a trade to shake things up? Justin Ruggiano is killing the ball in his first legitimate opportunity to play regularly in the Majors and his numbers mirror what he posted in the minors as a regular. But he’s 30. They have to determine its legitimacy.

The bottom line is this: they need pitching in the rotation and bullpen and are running out of time. Francisco Liriano is a target as is Grant Balfour, Jonathan Broxton, Huston Street and any of the other suspects.

Philadelphia Phillies

Here’s the situation: In spite of winning the last two games of their series against the Rockies, the Phillies are still 39-51 and 14 games out of 1st place in the division. They’re 7 ½ games back in the Wild Card race. Some of the teams still in the Wild Card race are going to fade. Realistically it’s going to take around 88 wins to take the last Wild Card spot. In order for the Phillies to reach that number they’re going to have to go 49-23 the rest of the way. Even with Roy Halladay returning tomorrow night, it is an almost impossible feat for them to pull off. If they were playing reasonably well, I’d say, “Okay, maybe they can do it.” But they’re not.

I have no idea what’s going to happen with Cole Hamels as the new talk is that they’re preparing a substantial offer to keep him. Maybe it’s true. But they need to get rid of Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino; see what they can get for Wigginton.

It’s not their year and if they sign Hamels that will probably assuage the angry fans—to a point—if Ruben Amaro Jr. concedes the season and gets what he can for the veterans who definitely won’t be back.

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Omar’s Players

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The talk of the Mets in recent weeks has centered around their twin aces Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey. Santana pitched a no-hitter two weeks ago tomorrow and Dickey just had a team record scoreless innings streak ended in the ninth inning of last night’s 1-hit masterpiece against the Rays.

The Mets, who most observers (including me) had losing over 90 games, have been examined with a new set of questions wondering whether they’re real contenders and if they’re going to be buyers at the trading deadline.

We don’t know yet. They’ve surprised so far and with their plate discipline and opportunistic play. With the aforementioned Santana and Dickey pitching like this, there’s no reason to think they’re going to completely collapse to the depths of their negative expectations.

One thing that’s glossed over amid the eye-opening resilience and positive vibe hovering around the team is that the majority of the good work they’ve done has been because of players that former GM Omar Minaya brought into the organization.

Minaya was called one of the worst GMs in baseball during the waning days of his tenure—an assertion that is based on indistinguishable parameters. It’s ridiculous. He had his strengths and weaknesses as a GM. In today’s game he would have to be in the right circumstances to get another chance as a GM because he’s great when making a big trade or signing a big star, drinking in the accolades at a flashbulb-popping press conference with his big smile and expensive, tailored suit. He’s fine when he’s charming people one-on-one who take his frequent English malaprops as a part of his charm. But when things went wrong he turned from the toast of the town to just plain toast.

As an assistant (now with the Padres) he’s a valuable voice to have around and has always been a sound judge of tools and talent. He has a great rapport with and understanding of young Latin players.

The players on the team now that have helped the Mets to their 34-29 record were almost exclusively acquired under Minaya’s watch.

Santana arrived via trade. Dickey was a veteran signing with a fluky pitch signed as an afterthought—but it was the Mets and Minaya who signed him. Jonathon Niese, Lucas Duda, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Bobby Parnell, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, Dillon Gee, Josh Thole and Justin Turner were all brought in by people working under Minaya.

It’s a fact.

In response to the credit I’m giving Minaya, you can expect it to be said that the scouts and developmental people were the ones who handled the young players; that Dickey was blind luck; that if Minaya was still the GM, none of the young players would be with the Mets now because they would’ve been traded for expensive veterans or not given a legitimate chance; that his faults don’t outweigh whatever positives can be mustered. It will brought up that he also signed Jason Bay and botched the firing of Willie Randolph; that he allowed Tony Bernazard to run roughshod over the club and over people; that he doesn’t have the linguistic skills to be a GM in today’s atmosphere of the rock star GM and political spinmaster who has to respond to questions with deftness and ambiguity.

It’s all true.

But I’m of the belief that if you get the blame you also get the credit. By that criteria, Minaya deserves to receive credit for this Mets team because it was put together, mostly, by him and his staff.

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Trolling Questions and Actual Answers, 5.23.2012

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Have you noticed that certain storylines take on lives of their own and are promoted as fact when they’re—at best—rumors or simple considerations taken by clubs performing their due diligence?

Let’s take a look at three.

Will the Red Sox trade Kevin Youkilis?

The Red Sox are so ravaged by injuries to their outfielders that they fielded a lineup last night with Youkilis at first base, Adrian Gonzalez in right field and rookie Will Middlebrooks staying at third base. For the moment, they don’t have to worry about what to do with Youkilis and Middlebrooks.

Eventually they will have to come to a solution.

The Red Sox won’t trade Youkilis while his value is nonexistent. He hit a home run last night and they still harbor hopes for a playoff run this year. He’s making $12 million this season and the club has an option for 2013 at $13 million with a $1 million buyout. They’ll hang onto him to see if they’re in a playoff race by August and September and if they’re not, they’ll see what the market is for him.

The best bet in dealing Youkilis will be if he plays well for the remainder of the 2012 season and the Red Sox put the word out that they’re trading him. They can come to an agreement with an interested club and exercise Youkilis’s option before pulling the trigger. One year of Youkilis at $13 million is a good deal if he’s healthy.

Will the Mets send Ike Davis to the minors?

It’s nearly June and he’s currently batting .156 with 5 homers.

So yes, the Mets would send Davis to the minor leagues if he doesn’t start hitting.

Jason Bay is still a few weeks away after fracturing a rib, but when he gets back the logical maneuver would be to send Davis to the minors, move Lucas Duda to first base and keep Kirk Nieuwenhuis in the big leagues to play right field.

It wouldn’t hurt Davis to go down to Buffalo for a couple of weeks to a month. One mistake the Mets can’t make is to repeat what the Braves did with Jeff Francoeur when they demoted him and brought him back to the big leagues immediately. It makes no sense to do that. If they’re sending him down, it has to be done with a plan.

Is Kevin Long to blame for the Yankees’ hitting woes?

It’s floating around the Twittersphere and other social media outlets from the armchair experts and cranky, spoiled fans that Yankees’ batting coach Kevin Long needs to be fired for the club’s lack of offensive malaise.

Just so I understand, it was Long who was credited with Curtis Granderson’s subtle changes at the plate in clearing his hips quicker and turning on inside pitches to take advantage of right field at Yankee Stadium, but now it’s Long’s fault that the team isn’t hitting?

As I said when Mickey Hatcher was fired by the Angels, the batting coach is there as a sounding board and adviser when he’s asked for advice. As a scapegoat, he’s a perfect foil, but he’s not to blame when a veteran team is slumping.

In the spring of 2011, at the suggestion of Long, Derek Jeter tried a “no stride” style of hitting. It wasn’t working. He wasn’t comfortable and switched back to his normal style. For much of the first half of 2011, Jeter was thought to be finished. Since recording his 3000th hit, he’s enjoyed a renaissance.

Jeter went to Long; Long made a change; Jeter tried it; it didn’t work; Jeter switched back to what he knew.

That’s how it goes.

If George Steinbrenner were still around, Long would definitely be in the Boss’s crosshairs. But he’s not. Considering the year GM Brian Cashman’s having—on and off the field—it would take an audacity beyond all comprehension for him to fire anyone.

Long’s not getting fired. Nor should he. It’s not because he’s done such a great job, but because firing him is not going to do any good.

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Believe It Or Don’t—The Good

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Let’s take a look at some teams that—based on preseason expectations—are overachieving, how they’re doing it and whether or not it will last.

  • Baltimore Orioles

What they’re doing.

The Orioles are 27-14 and in first place in the tough American League East.

How they’re doing it.

Led by Adam Jones’s 14, the Orioles have the most home runs in the American League. The starting pitching was expected to be led by youngsters Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter—they’ve been okay. Two ridiculed acquisitions Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen have been excellent. The bullpen and manager Buck Showalter’s manipulation of it has been the key.

Believe it or don’t?

The Orioles have gotten off to good starts before and wilted in the summer heat. They can hit and hit for power; their defense is bad. But if Arrieta, Hunter and Brian Matusz pick up for Hammel and Chen when they come down to earth and the bullpen is serviceable, they can surprise and finish in the vicinity of .500.

They’re on the right track, but 13 games over .500 is a stretch.

Don’t believe it.

  • Oakland Athletics

What they’re doing.

The A’s are 20-21 after being widely expected to lose 90-100 games following a strange off-season in which they cleaned house of young arms Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey, but signed Yoenis Cespedes and Bartolo Colon.

How they’re doing it.

Slumps and scheduling have greatly assisted the A’s. They caught the Royals, Angels, Orioles, Tigers and Red Sox during lulls.

The starting pitching with youngsters (Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone) and foundlings (Colon, Brandon McCarthy) have been serviceable-to-good. Manager Bob Melvin knows how to run his bullpen.

I was stunned when I looked at the numbers and saw that Josh Reddick has 10 homers.

The Moneyball “stolen bases are a waste” Athletics are leading the American League in stolen bases.

Believe it or don’t?

They’ve lost two straight to the Giants and are heading to Anaheim to play the Angels and New York to play the Yankees. The Manny Ramirez sideshow is coming and no one knows if he can still hit enough to justify his presence. Cespedes’s hand injury saved him from being sent to the minors.

Don’t believe it.

  • Washington Nationals

What they’re doing.

The Nationals are 23-17 and in second place in the National League East.

How they’re doing it.

The Nationals’ starting pitching has been ridiculously good. Gio Gonzalez has been masterful; Stephen Strasburg is unhittable when he’s on (and hard to hit when he’s slightly off); Edwin Jackson, Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler have been good as well.

The bullpen has been without closer Drew Storen all season, but Henry Rodriguez is filling in capably. Manager Davey Johnson is adept at handling his bullpen.

Injuries have hindered what should’ve been a strong lineup. Mike Morse, Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth are out. Ramos is gone for the season with knee surgery; Werth broke his wrist and won’t be back until the late summer. 19-year-old Bryce Harper is adapting to the majors and showing exquisite talent and baseball intelligence amid growing pains.

Believe it or don’t?

This is a talented team whose run-scoring ability has been hampered by injuries. They’re 5th in the National League in home runs, but 14th in runs—that will get better once Morse gets back and Harper’s hitting consistently. The loss of Ramos is a big blow. The starting pitching won’t keep up this pace.

Believe it.

  • New York Mets

What they’re doing.

The Mets are 21-19 in an NL East that might be the most talented division in baseball.

How they’re doing it.

The Mets are 4th in the NL in on base percentage. David Wright has been an MVP candidate for the entire first two months; Johan Santana’s been excellent. That they’re managing to stay above .500 with Ike Davis batting .160 is a minor miracle. Everyone—especially the youngsters Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Lucas Duda—is contributing.

The starting pitching is short-handed and the bullpen has been, at best, inconsistent.

Believe it or don’t?

Unless Davis starts hitting when Wright cools down; unless the rest of the starting rotation and bullpen pick up for Santana when he slows down, they can’t maintain this pace especially when the Phillies get their bats back.

Don’t believe it.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers

What they’re doing.

The Dodgers are 27-13 and in first place by six games in the NL West.

How they’re doing it.

Matt Kemp was laying the foundation for a run at the triple crown and the MVP before he strained a hamstring. Andre Ethier is having an All-Star comeback season. Their starting pitching has been a wonder; the defense has been good. The entire organization breathed a sigh of relief when the reign of owner Frank McCourt came to an end. They’ve been reinvigorated by the enthusiastic presence of Magic Johnson as the ownership front man and the competent organizational skills of Stan Kasten.

Believe it or don’t.

Believe it within reason. They’ll be aggressive at the trading deadline to improve and are in for the long haul, but Chris Capuano and A.J. Ellis aren’t going to be as good as they’ve been so far. They’re going to need a bat and probably a starting pitcher. Ned Colletti will get what he feels the team needs to win.

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