Saturday, October 13, 2012

2012 in Review: The Night is Darkest

Perhaps it was fitting that this, the New York Mets' 50th anniversary season, came on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's doomed maiden voyage. Like the famed ocean liner's one disastrous trip, when things went bad for the Mets, they went bad very fast. But no one denies that the first few days on board the Titanic were amazing. Such was the case at Citi Field before July 8, the day the Mets hit their own iceberg; those days before the 8th? Oh, they were grand.

For the fourth straight season, the Mets finished 2012 at fourth place in the NL East, this time with a 74-88 record, three games worse than their mark in 2011. But even though it's hard to remember things that went right, the year was not all doom and gloom. Yes, the ship sank in mid-July. But the team had flashes of glory as it went down with the ship, even if they came fewer and farther in between when things were smooth-sailing.

Here's a rundown of the highlights, lowlights, and everything in between when it comes to the Mets in their golden anniversary campaign.

The Bad Stuff:
  • Talk About Free Fallin' - The high point came on June 3 when the Mets were in a three-way tie with Washington and Miami for first place. New York was 31-23 at that point and riding the momentum provided by that weekend (see Good Stuff). But after holding steady and finishing the first half 46-40, the bottom fell out just about immediately.
    • The Mets played to the tune of 28-48 the rest of the way, including just 11-25 in the so-called "friendly" confines of Citi Field.
    • Those games in Flushing were the most painful: from July 22 till a September 21 thrashing of Miami, the Mets failed to score more than three runs in a game. Also buried within that embarrassment was an 110-inning drought of multiple-run innings: for 100 consecutive frames, New York scored either 0 or 1 run; this lack of "crooked numbers" fell just short of the 1909 Washington Senators' all-time record of 119 straight futile frames.
  • And You Thought K-Rod Was Bad - The unit got a major facelift in the offseason, but not even all the botox in the world could make the Mets bullpen look good this season. Their closer, Frank Francisco, posted a 5.56 ERA and was injured half the season. But the crazy part is that as bad as Frank-Frank was, the team missed him when he was gone. Because no one else came close to resembling anything close to a closer. Offseason import Ramon Ramirez disappointed with a 4.24 ERA. Tim Byrdak couldn't make 38 the new 30, giving up 4.40 runs per 9 innings before getting blown out in mid-season. While great in the set-up role, Bobby Parnell didn't have the mettle to work the 9th. Guys like Manny Acosta, Elvin Ramirez, Pedro Beato, and DJ Carrasco got way too many chances on the mound; each of them had an ERA well over 5.00. But as bad as their numbers were, no one takes the cake quite like Garrett Olson, who, even though he appeared in one game, will forever have an ERA of 108.00 next to his name under "2012." Ouch.
  • Field of Dreams, Outfield of Nightmares - It was supposed to be one of the team's strengths in 2012. Instead we got this: a Jason Bay who was even worse than in 2010 and 2011 (did you even think that was possible?), an old and disappointing Andres Torres, a power hitter who couldn't hit (or field) in Lucas Duda, and a cast of platoon players about as big as a Roman legion. All of them had their moments, of course; we all cheered for Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, and Jordany Valdespin at some point in the season, but put them all together and you get nothing but an unstable, unproductive outfield. The lone exception was Scott Hairston, who hit a career-high 20 home runs as a part-time player.
  • Anything for a Backstop - After the '62 Mets took journeyman catcher Hobie Landrith at the beginning of their expansion draft, Casey Stengel mused, "You have to have a catcher because if you don't you're likely to have a lot of passed balls." The '12 edition of the Mets would've been better off with all passed balls, because the four men who manned the backstop did nothing to resemble even one good major league catcher. Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas, Rob Johnson, and Kelly Shoppach combined to hit five home runs all season with a combined batting average of just .219. In a season dedicated to the late Gary Carter, his old stomping ground proved to be one of the weakest points on a team filled with weak points.
Okay, now the worst is out of the way. Let's get to the best of the year that was (trust me, there was a good amount).

The Good Stuff:
  • R.A.-Dickeylous - He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to help fight human trafficking in Mumbai. He exorcised past demons and wrote a bestselling memoir in the process. He took his famous knuckleball a step further, developing control of the pitch no one had seen before. He tossed back-to-back one-hitters against the best of the AL East in June. He was an All-Star Game rookie at 37 years young. He went on Letterman. He starred in a documentary and action trailer alongside his knuckleball compatriots. He won 20 games on a sub-par team, becoming the first Met to break 20 since Frank Viola did it in 1990. He led the league in strikeouts, edging out Clayton Kershaw with 230 Ks. He could have a Cy Young Award in his near future after finishing top two in the Triple Crown categories, not to mention leading the National League in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts. He believes in the power of the force. He is The Most Interesting Man in Baseball, if not the world. He doesn't always pitch for the New York Mets, but when he does, he is the undisputed Ace of the staff. Stay motionless, my friends.
  • Return of the Wright Stuff - After a couple rough campaigns and an injury-plagued 2011, David Wright was back to his All-Star form in 2012. He was hitting .400 a quarter of the way through the year and .351 at the Break. He cooled off significantly while trying to do too much for a struggling ball club, but he finished with a respectable .306 batting average, 21 home runs, 93 RBIs, and an .883 OPS, breaking Ed Kranepool's all-time team record for hits and Darryl Strawberry's record for RBIs along the way. While not technically a contract season, Wright's performance this year could go a long way to him staying with the Mets for the rest of his career, as David has said he wants to.
  • We Like (Post-June 8) Ike - His 2011 was cut short by a freak injury in Colorado, and the absence showed when Ike Davis rode the interstate for the first two and a half months of 2012. The low point came on the aforementioned date when he was batting only .158. But things picked up for him in the middle of that series at Yankee Stadium, as he hit .265 with a .913 OPS from June 9 on, including garnering 27 of his eventual 32 home runs and 69 of 90 RBIs. He hits at that rate the whole season and he's got 44 HRs and 112 RBIs. While at the end of the year it only shows him with a .227 mark, Ike's second half gives the fanbase a lot of confidence going into what will be his second full season in the bigs.
  • Jose Who? - While Ruben Tejada certainly was no speedster, the 22-year-old shortstop thrived in the full time role, hitting .289 with 26 doubles in 114 games. At one point he was leading all major league shortstops with a .323 batting average on August 9. The fact that he's doing so well and barely able to buy a beer with his teammates is incredibly encouraging.
  • A Glimpse into the Future - Matt Harvey had only 10 starts, but his 2.73 was on par with R.A. Dickey's. His strikeout numbers were outstanding, his WHIP solid. At age 23, Harvey is already a good major league starter. Imagine what he'll do with a full season under his belt. Can you say "A-C-E"?
  • "It Has Happened."  - June 1, 2012. 134 pitches, 5 walks, 8 strikeouts, no runs. no hits. 8,020 games prior. Need I say more?
  • Meant to Be Broken - In addition to Johan Santana's historic performance against he Cardinals, David Wright's collection of team marks, and R.A. Dickey's Vander Meer-esque June, two more Mets had record-setting 2012s: Jordany Vadlespin, who belted a team-record 6 pinch-hit home runs, and Mike Baxter, who drew five walks on August 4 in San Diego, tying the National League record for free passes in a contest.
Final Analysis:
The New York Mets once again fell below my predictions for the season: while they did finish fourth again, they by far missed the 81-81 mark I set for them. But while things ended up far closer to Worst-Case than Best-Case, I was still right in predicting the famous would need to find a new purpose.

So where do we go from here? This was supposed to be a year forward, but it ends three steps behind the original line. Can we really say next year will be better? Or is it time to blow the team up and start over? I think we're closer than people anticipate. The starting pitching performs to its peak and the offense just has to hold steady and we're at least 10 wins better. The infield is there and perhaps a serviceable outfield can be pieced together. Things may have been their darkest in the last couple months, but, as they said in The Dark Knight, "The dawn is coming."

The dawn is coming, Mets fans. See you in April.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Game #162: Mets 4, Marlins 2

If Monday night was a microcosm of everything that went wrong for New York in 2012, today's finale was a shining example of what could and should have been.

Andres Torres, Scott Hairston, and Ike Davis hit home runs to back up Jeremy Hefner, who delivered a fine performance to give the Mets a season-ending victory over the Marlins, 4-2.

The Good Stuff:
  • Andres Torres hit his third home run of the season in the 3rd inning to put New York on the board.
  • Scott Hairston had a 2-run bomb in the 4th inning, giving him an impressive 20 home runs in 2012.
  • Ike Davis capped his second-half comeback with his 32nd home run and 90th RBI, finishing the season at a more-reasonable .227 batting average.
  • Ruben Tejada had 3 hits in the finale to finish with an average of .289.
  • Jeremy Hefner earned his 4th W of the year with a 7.1-inning, 5-hit, 2-run performance, including 2 walks and 7 strikeouts.
  • Bobby Parnell earned his 7th save, going through Miami 1-2-3 in the 9th and capping the year with a strikeout of Bryan Petersen.
The Bad Stuff:
  • Aside from the obvious? No more Mets baseball for six months! Otherwise, today was a pretty good day.
Final Analysis:
Great pitching, clutch hitting, solid bullpen work. The equation for a successful baseball team. While they didn't have it for much of the season, especially the second half, the Mets had it today, and just like last year will send fans into the offseason with a W to chew over.

New York finished 74-88 in 2012, 3 games worse than their 77-85 mark in 2011. Coming up within the next week, Midwestern Met will give you the season in review, best games of the year, and worst games of the year. Let's go into the offseason right.


October 3: Bobby Thompson Day

In addition to being the last day of the regular season, today marks the 61st anniversary of the most famous home run in baseball history: Bobby Thompson's Shot Heard 'Round the World that propelled the New York Giants to the World Series over the Brooklyn Dodgers, forever immortalized by Russ Hodges's famous call: "THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!"

Here are a couple peaces I wrote to commemorate the 60th anniversary of October 3, 1951 last year.

First, a comparison between Thompson's home run and Evan Longoria's playoff-clinching blast from last year.

Second, a baseball biography of my paternal grandfather, who moved to New York City and became a Giants fan in 1951, just in time for the famous event.

Happy reading, happy Game #162, LGM!


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Game #161: Marlins 4, Mets 3 (11)

While they finally figured him out after many a dominant start, Miami couldn't keep R.A. Dickey from closing out his season in quality style.

Dickey finished 2012 with a 6-inning quality start, while a Mets comeback was undone by Collin McHugh in the 11th, resulting in a 4-3 loss to the Marlins.

The Bad Stuff:
  • New York left 10 men on base and couldn't score a run off Jacob Turner of all people until the 8th inning.
  • In the 11th, Collin McHugh gave up a leadoff triple to Jose Reyes, intentionally walked the next two, got a strikeout, then surrendered the winning hit to Donovan Solano. McHugh's once-promising callup now sits in an 0-4, 7.59 ERA ruin.
The Good Stuff:
  • While he wasn't at his best tonight, R.A. Dickey bowed out of his Cy Young-worth season with a quality start, giving up 3 runs on 7 hits in 6 innings, walking none, and striking out 8.
    • His final numbers in 2012: 20-6, 2.73 ERA, 1.053 WHIP, 5 CG, 3 SH, 230 K, 233.2 innings. I'd say he's done enough.
  • David Wright added his 93rd RBI of the year, going 1-4.
  • Scott Hairston went 4-5 with an RBI.
Final Analysis:
While it's disappointing the Mets are ending on such a weak stretch (lost 4 in a row now), Dickey's night is the biggest story. While his ERA increased slightly, he still should be the frontrunner for the award named for a man who won 511 games in his career. And unless Clayton Kershaw does something spectacular in the next couple days, R.A. Dickey the knuckleballer will lead the National League in strikeouts. I'd say he's Winded Up in a good place this year.

On a "triumph of the human spirit" note, congratulations to Adam Greenberg, who made it back to the major leagues for an at-bat tonight after being struck on the head in his only previous at-bat, a 2005 venture with the Chicago Cubs. He may have struck out on 3 pitches from Dickey, but it's the greatest anyone's ever felt about a strikeout in a long, long time.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Game #160: Marlins 3, Mets 2

New York opened up its final series in 2012 against a team it had owned all year. Apparently the statute of limitations ran out when the calendar hit October.

The Mets bullpen let runs trickle in in the 6th, 7th, and 8th, letting the Marlins off the hook and resulting in a 3-2 loss.

The Bad Stuff:
  • Jeurys Familia may have allowed only one hit on the night, but it came opposite 6 walks. It took him 75 pitches just to get through 4 scoreless innings, and Terry Collins wasn't going to risk sending him out there in the 5th.
  • Manny Acosta, Jon Rauch, and Ramon Ramirez let single runs score in the 6th-8th frames, turning a once-sterling 2-0 lead into a 3-2 deficit the team could not make up in the 9th.
  • Despite 11 hits, including going 5-15 with RISP, the Mets stranded 12 men on base and could only muster the two runs.
The Good Stuff:
  • David Wright went 2-4 with his 92nd RBI of the year, all but assuring he will hit .300. He also picked up stolen base #15.
  • Mike Baxter had a pinch-hit RBI double in the 6th.
  • Daniel Murphy and Jason Bay each had 2 hits.
Final Analysis:
In a way, this game was a microcosm of the Mets' entire 2012 season: staring off well, getting hopes up, then slowly and painfully letting it trickle away into disappointment. What more is there to say that hasn't been said in the previous 159 games? I would wish for something more to write about in recaps 161 and 162, but then again, isn't there that old Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times?" Let's just get through Wednesday with some uninteresting (yet winning) baseball and we'll all be good.