For a New York Baseball Fan, Fantasy Land Begins Tuesday

Maybe it’s the excitement of having two brand new stadiums? Or perhaps it is the fact the Mets have suffered two epic collapses in the course of the last two seasons? Maybe it’s the fact the Yankees DIDN’T make the playoffs for the first time since 1995 last year? Or perhaps it has to do with the fact that our country is going through the economic tumble of a lifetime? Whatever the reason, the passion for baseball in New York City is back this season and back big. And all this anticipation culminates on this second week in June, right as we can begin to taste summer in the air.

Certainly New York City isn’t the epicenter of baseball like it was in the 1950’s. But after New York Baseball fans had to tolerate one autumn without either of their teams in the Playoffs, for the first time in fourteen years (oh the agony), the hunger between Mets and Yankees fans to see their team reach Valhalla is a hot topic on many a bar-stools through out the five boroughs. And coming this week, both the Mets and the Yankees will begin a week that could possibly be remembered as the “turning point/s” of their 2009 campaign.

Certainly, every season has a story. And for the Mets thus far, the story has been the snake bitten way that most of their team has fallen to injuries. These injuries have marred the Mets season thus far, to the point where it defies logic how one team can face so much terrible luck and bad health.

Hip surgery for their star 1st basemen, an inability to throw strikes from a key component of their pitching rotation, an injured leg for their all-star speedster at short, a stomach flu that left their quiet leader in center field and a starter pitcher a couple feet from a bathroom at all times for a week, a man who was to be the “8th inning guy”- a bonafide closer in his own right- going under the knife with an elbow injury, and even the replacements for these people breaking fingers and pulling hamstrings. Did I even mention the fact that they had a member of their television crew come down with the dreaded Swine Flu?

It’s been that sort of season for the Mets, who coming into play Monday were some how only 3 games back from the Phils who are in 1st place. Yet the Mets will have a chance to even that up as the two teams play a 3-game series in Citi Field starting Tuesday.

As for the Boys from the Bronx, the season has already seen peaks and valleys- more peaks as of late, with strong starting pitching, late hitting heroics and red hot hitting. Despite being 0-5 verse the Red Sox this season, the Yankees find themselves 1/2 a game up in the division and looking to make a statement this week as they will face the Sox in a 3-game set, starting on Tuesday Night. The Yankees, who have (to put it bluntly) been completely embarrassed by the Sox thus far this year, have to take two out of three this week- if all else for their own mental well-being and to keep the ‘whoa is me’ Yankee fan at bey for a bit. Losing two out of three, doesn’t mean they won’t be a contender for the rest of the season, but it sure will leave a terrible taste in the mouths of Yankee Universe.

The big game of this series for the Yankees will be Wednesday when a enigmatic Chien Ming-Wang takes the mound for what is probably the biggest start of his career since Game 5 of the ALDS in 2007. Wang, who has been downright dreadful, is attempting to build up his confidence and make a case that he deserves to stay in the rotation for the foreseeable future. But Wang, who seemingly has the mental toughness of a self-sympathetic child at times, can ill-afford to be embarrassed up at Fenway. An embarrassing start with Wang on Wednesday and it’s possible that his confidence will be gone for the foreseeable future. Also of note will be CC Sabathia’s first start vs. the Red Sox, as a member of the New York Yankees on Wednesday. CC who is a lifetime 2-4 vs. the Sox with a 3.91 ERA, is looking to set the tone as the staff ace and rebound from his last couple notable performances verse the Sox, which took place in the 2007 ALCS, when he was roughed up by the Sox in the playoff against them. But despite perception created from that playoffs series- CC has pitched VERY well at Fenway in the regular season, as he boasts a 2.35 ERA in 23 ip there for his career.

After those 3-game sets, the Yankees and Mets will turn their attention to each other for the first of two sets of the “Subway Series”. What will be interesting is to see what the mental states of both these teams are coming into the series. If the Mets get smacked around by the Phils, desperation will be in the air on a mid-June weekend. If the Yankees get smacked around by the Sox, there will be a lingering sense of defeat all weekend long. If both teams play well against their “other” rival, expect Yankee Stadium to be its usual unruly “‘Go back to Queens’-‘Way to buy all your championships'”-self, that is a trademark during the Subway Series.

Ahhh boy, Summer is in the air, and baseball is running into it’s peak. So sit back and enjoy the show- cause before you know it, it will be winter again.

Here’s some of your pitching probables for this week:

Tuesday 6/9, 7.05pm-

Burnett vs. Beckett – Happ vs. Santana

Wednesday 6/10, 7.05 pm-

Wang vs. Wakefield – Hammels vs. Pelfrey

Thursday 6/11, 7.05pm –

Sabathia vs. Penny – Moyer vs. Redding

Friday  6/12, 7.05pm – Maine vs. Chamberlain

Saturday 6/13, 4.05pm – Hernandez vs. Pettitte

Sunday 6/14 1.05pm- Santana vs. Burnett

Fess Up Mets Fans: You Were Wrong About Sheffield

With the certain string of injuries seemingly wiping out the entire Mets team the past month (are muscle injuries contagious?), the Metropolitans and their fans must spend nights counting lucky stars that General Manager, Omar Minaya, had the cahones to take a flyer on a man who prior to signing with the team was a quickly fading star, with achy shoulders, who was stuck at 499 home runs.

Gary Sheffield’s reputation as a clubhouse cancer has followed him his entire career. But it’s very important to remember that this label never seemed to come to Sheffield while ON the team (at least over the course of the last 10 seasons, it rarely has). It was always after an ugly divorce with the teams who decided to let him go that has been the foundation of his reputation (wow sounded like Jessie Jackson there). That reputation strings from verbal punches at teammates, managers, general managers, fans, children, puppies, and the ground crew, after he left a city.

The Yankees, for whom Gary spent 3 strong seasons with in ‘04 to ‘06, all seemed to like having Gary around, when he was on the team. He was arrogant and cocky and called himself the best hitter on the team, but no one seemed to mind someone with some swagger on the team. Gary proved the Yankees with the sort of attitude that was missing from their everyday line-up, a real tough guys. After getting beamed by a pitch by then Red Sox, Pedro Martinez in ‘04, after the game Gary, who at the time was dealing with a very bad shoulder, was quoted as saying, “He (Pedro) is lucky my shoulder is in pain or I’d see him out in the parking lot right now”.

The problem with Gary was when he was dealt by the Yankees after a disappointing end to the ‘06 season, Gary called Joe Torre a racist (which is almost laugh out loud funny). Torre, at the time, was mired in a very difficult situation. That season the Yankees had exceled with a more athletic lineup featuring Melky Cabrera in centerfield. Gary missing almost the whole year with injuries was available for the playoffs. It was then that talks sparked about Gary possibly moving to first base, to get his bat in the lineup. Sheffield agreed to try it out and Torre inserted him in there in the playoffs. That experiment failed miserably. Torre, seemingly trying to appease Gary and get him into the lineup, was two months later called a racist, by Gary.

With that being said, after his time with the Braves was through, Chipper Jones said he was the best teammate he ever had. And after his time with the Yankees was done, Gary still had positive words for Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. And seeing Gary hugging and smiling with people on the bench as a Met, it’s seems that Sheffield is not as difficult as the media makes him out to be when he’s on a team. But let Gary go, and you’ll be hearing him howl on his way out the door.

Upon the news the Mets had signed Gary Sheffield right before Opening Day, Mets fans seemed worried. Worried Sheffield would bring down the youth that he was competing against for playing time. They worried that Gary wouldn’t take well to sitting on the bench, getting less at-bats, and not play where he wanted to in the field. But it’s always important to remember that over the course of a baseball season, problems in your teams’ depth often solve themselves. Players get hurt, go into prolonged slumps, and fall in and out of favor with their managers. And now the depth that Omar Minaya added to his Mets team is paying off big time. Case and point- Gary Sheffield’s play of late.

Gary has an 8-game hitting streak after Friday night’s extra inning win vs. the Marlins. A win in which he scored the game winning run. Going into Friday night, in the month of May, Gary was hitting .362, with 19 runs scored, 4 home runs, and 15 RBI. He’s proved important in the batter’s box, and has played a very solid outfield. He had quite a few big hits in the Red Sox series, and tonight, he ended the game with some nice base running. Gary’s helping the Mets separate from the pack in the National League East, and hopefully for Mets fans, stay healthy and happy.

And for all the Gary haters out there, here’s a cool picture of him I stumbled upon on the Internet.

Must have been very cool being a grown up in '86

Must have been very cool being a grown up in '86

Nick “The Stick” the subject of many trade rumors

So- rumors have it that Washington “Natinal” first basemen, Nick Johnson is being shopped around like he’s the panacea for the common cold.

It’s been said that in recent days, the Red Sox have rejected an offer that was said to give them Johnson, in exchange for reliever, Manny Delcarmen. Delcarmen would be a great fit for a Nats team that has been the victim of their bullpen getting beaten around like a speed bag, and with the Sox having an influx of arms in their ‘pen it makes sense.

But I think in the end two things broke the deal for the Red Sox:

1) Trading for Johnson would begin the process of phasing David Ortiz out. Something that based on their reluctancy to move Ortiz from the #3 position in the lineup, is something they’re not willing to do.

2) Johnson’s propensity of getting injured CONSTANTLY creates a situation where to get Nick Johnson, the team is going to have to overpay with one of their best arms.

Another heavy rumor comes out of Mets camp, which says the Mets would be interested in Johnson. Johnson would be the perfect candidate to replace Delgado while he’s away for up to 10-weeks after hip surgery. But there’s a couple problems for the Mets.

1) Delgado is expected back by August. When he comes back, what do you do with Johnson then (if he is even still healthy)? You’d be stuck with the problem of trying to get Delgado at-bats to get him back to form, but also with playing Johnson and his notoriously great hitting abilities.

2) The Mets farm system is still attempting to recover from the trade that landed them Johan Santana in the winter before the 2008 season.

Perhaps the Mets would consider dealing someone like Bobby Parnell, who has been a stud for their bullpen thus far this season. But if the Mets did that, they would have to consider their bullpen whoas of the past two seasons before getting rid of any part of their bullpen, which this season has been a real strong spot for them.

As of right now it is difficult to establish who else would find themselves in the Nick Johnson race, but it is important to note that VERY FEW good teams are without a very solid first basemen. If you think about it almost all the best teams in the league come with a first basemen who can straight up mash. In the American League, if you’re a good team- you have a DH who is very capable of hitting also. So the potential suitors for Mr. Johnson are very few in numbers.

Maybe the most unattractive picture I could find of Nick on the internet.

Maybe the most unattractive picture I could find of Nick on the internet.

But of the few teams who MIGHT be in the running for one as the season continues on, here are a handful of teams.

The Blue Jays- The Jays still roll out Lyle Overbay at first base most nights, but if you’re still in the running for a playoff spot as the summer goes later on, Nick Johnson is the type of small addition you can make to help a team dramatically. That being said, the Jays are very unlikely to do it since any move that takes away young talent from them, is going in the wrong direction of their ‘big picture’.

The Angles- Once Vlad comes back from injury, I assume the Angels will have him DH’ing most nights. With that being said I don’t think it’s out of the question to move Kendry Moralis back into the outfield to open up a spot for Nick Johnson. But on the other hand, the Angels are already in a logjam in the outfield with Abreu, Hunter and either Juan Rivera or Gary Matthews Jr. roaming the green grass of Angels Stadium. So once again, the price would have to be perfect for the Angels, and even then- it’s an unlikely match.

The Giants- of all the teams I look at, the Giants might be the only ones that make sense outside of the Red Sox and Mets, and maybe even more so than both. The Giants, who hypotetically should be the only team that will be able to give the Dodgers a run in the NL West, are in desperate need of production at firstbase. Put it this way- Today (May 25th), the Giants got their first home run from a first basemen this season. The Travis Ishkawa experiment has not been going well, and if you were to trade for Nick Johnson, you’re lineup becomes just a little longer and a little better than it was before. The Giants, who seem to have Jonathan Sanchez dangling from a string for the past 2 season, should consider a move like this. And with the abundance of young arms their team has, it’s likely that risking the loss of a Jonathan Sanchez might be a roll of the dice worth taking.

Either way, Nick Johnson’s batting average seems to still be lingering in the .330, and it will be best for him to keep it up that high. If he can, he most likely will find himself playing baseball on a team that’s contending comes the end of the summer.

Most Remarkable Statistic of the 2008 MLB Season

Had all the games the Mets played in the 2008 season ended after the 8th inning, they would have won the NL East by 8 Games.

(click on image for carrer stats)

(click on image for carrer stats- Jeez I'm so technologically advanced!)

Yet another reason this guy needs to be the last guy on the mound for them in close games, come the 2009 season…