"I Know the Game Like I'm Reffing It"

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mets Midseason Report - Where do they go from here?

Ah, the Mets.

Let me start by admitting I’m a life long Mets fan, so my feelings vis-a-vis the Amazins are usually either hopelessly optimistic or depressingly pessimistic. Sometimes both at the same damn time.

Cautious optimism is winning out today.

As poorly as the Mets’ offense has looked over the past three months, they have managed to keep their heads above water. There is no reason to think they won’t be able to do so the remainder of the season, whether or not changes are made to the roster.

The Mets finished the first half of the season five games over .500 at 47-42, 2 games behind the Nationals in the NL East.

Not too bad and maybe acceptable had you asked Mets fans prior to the season.

However, remember the Mets started the season 13-3, so that means since April 24th they have been a less than average (5 games under .500) baseball team. That’s three months of inconsistent to bad baseball.

Yes, injuries have hurt the team.

David Wright has been absent since the beginning of the season and his return is still greatly in question.

Travis d’Arnaud has been their best offensive player when healthy. Unfortunately, he has very rarely been healthy and starts the second half of the season on the DL.

Daniel Murphy, though one of the worst fielders I may have ever witnessed on an everyday basis, is a solid bat in any lineup. But again, Murphy has had a couple stints on the DL already this season and has been unable to get into any kind of offensive rhythm.

The rest of the offense has just been bad, without the benefit of health excuses.

After a promising start to the season, Lucas Duda had a putrid month of June, hitting just one homerun. Michael Cuddyer, GM Sandy Alderson’s prized free agent bat during the offseason, has convinced me that there may be a Mets free agent curse, particularly in left field. Cuddyer has resembled Jason Bay, as his confidence is shot and he has become close to an automatic out with or without runners in scoring position, but especially when runners are on.

So, why the cautious optimism, you ask?

The pitching, of course.

The Mets currently have two #1 pitchers, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, in their rotation and two other guys who have #1 potential, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, though Matz is currently on the DL.

The other two pitchers in the rotation aren’t too shabby either. Jonathon Niese and fan favorite Bartolo Colon have more than held their own on the mound.

The pitching has absolutely carried the Mets, to the point where if the offense could just muster three runs a game for the remainder of the season, you’d feel pretty confident that the Mets could make the postseason.

That brings us to the big question. What can Alderson do to bolster the offense so that all of this dominant pitching is not wasted?

Every fan and New York media member has taken their turn bashing Alderson for failing to make a successful move in the offseason or a move at all so far this season.

“Do something!” has been the cry.

But, when you ask about specifics it’s crickets.

I’m a believer that “something” must be done, whether it’s obtaining a big bat or little bat, but not at the expense of any of the young pitchers. Now, if a team is offering up a young stud, a la Trout, Harper, Pederson, Goldschmidt (of course they are not), then now you’re talking, but anything else, no thank you. So, in other words, the Mets’ young stud pitchers should be untouchable, including Zack Wheeler, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Thus, it is hard to argue with Alderson’s inaction at this point. People keep predicting the demise of the Mets this season, but somehow the team has found a way to stay within reach of the division leading Nationals.

There have been reports of the Mets having interest in little pieces like Oakland’s Ben Zobrist or Milwaukee’s Aramis Ramirez, either of which could help.

More recently, however, Jon Heyman reported that the Mets are showing interest in another Brewer, Carlos Gomez, and the Padres’ Justin Upton. Those are two potentially bigger bats that could give the Mets the boost they need to become a true threat in the National League. As long as the core five pitchers are not touched, I’m all for that type of move, one year rental or not.

Regardless, I predict that the Mets will be a playoff contender late into the summer. The pitching will keep them in it and even without a major move (though, I think one is coming) the offense cannot perform any worse than it already has. It is only up from here.

Though you cannot count on Wright’s return, it is possible, as he recently was cleared to resume baseball activities. d’Arnaud should also be back in a few weeks and if he can somehow avoid another injury, he will be a huge offensive addition.

The Nationals are formidable, but they haven’t shown the ability to run and hide.

Expect the Mets starting pitching to stay dominant, the relief pitching to improve with the return of Jenrry Mejia, and for Alderson to make a move that gives the offense that much needed boost.

For the first time in a long time, expect meaningful baseball games in August and September in Queens.

A Look at the Knicks' Summer - Progress Made

It’s been a busy summer for Phil Jackson. A lost summer, if you are even half listening to the chatter.

Phil’s name, of course, triggers serious sports emotions in New York. So, when attempting to assess the job he’s done so far, New Yorkers must sift through that emotion.

With only two low salary spots available, we can now start to get a feel for how the team will look when the season starts in the fall.

Guess what? 

It ain’t as bad as you’ve heard.

The Knicks’ starting lineup will likely look like this: Jose Calderon (PG), Aaron Afflalo (SG), Carmelo Anthony (SF), Kyle O’Quinn (PF), Robin Lopez (C). However, Jerian Grant (G), Kristaps Porzingis (F/C), Derrick Williams (F), and Langston Galloway (PG) should all be in the rotation.

It is clear that Jackson’s plan was to create a roster that was more versatile, selfless and possessed a higher basketball IQ than the one he was saddled with last season.

I have heard arguments from Phil detractors – of which there are many – that the roster he inherited (J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tyson Chandler, etc.) was more talented than the group he assembled this summer.

That may be true if you define basketball talent strictly as jumping ability, one-on-one prowess, name recognition, and swagger. But, Phil seems to have successfully put talented role players around the one true star on the squad.

Carmelo Anthony should enjoy playing with this season’s Knicks a lot more than he has in the past. He will be surrounded by guys who will be eager and capable of getting him the ball in the correct spots. Moreover, this team now has multiple players who enjoy doing the dirty work (see defense), which should also be appealing to Melo.

At the same time, this particular roster puts much pressure on Carmelo. Not only must he carry the team offensively, but the pressure is also on him to get this team into the playoffs, which a player of his talent and stature should be able to do, though it won’t be easy.

Now, are you ready for a shocking statement?

Wait for it…

Phil Jackson’s best work this summer was done in the draft.

I know, I know, what about that poor little Knicks fan whose hopes and dreams were shattered on draft night? No, not the actual draft pick, but the kid who was caught bawling on camera. Well, sources tell me he was actually planted in the crowd by ESPN (just joking).

In all seriousness, despite the crying and ridicule from fans and media after the selection of Kristaps Porzingis - including from yours truly, after two weeks of summer league play it is clear that Porzingis has as much potential as anyone in the 2015 draft.

The 7’3 Porzingis is fluid, athletic, has seemingly unlimited range on his jumper, and has a high basketball IQ. He is also tough and media savvy, which might be his most valuable traits while playing in New York City.

While my originally preferred target with the 4th overall pick, Emmanuel Mudiay, has looked like a keeper for Denver as well, it was relayed to me that the Knicks’ brass felt Mudiay was too “ball dominant” for their liking.

Porzingis’s biggest question mark was basically just that. He was an unknown from Latvia whom fans and most media had never seen. But after seeing him play for all of ten minutes, you get a glimpse of the talent that reportedly prompted Knicks Head Scout Clarence Gaines to say he would’ve taken the 7’3 Latvian #1 overall.

With all this talk about Porzingis, it’s easy to forget that Jackson also pulled another first round pick out of thin air. He acquired the rights to the #19 pick, Jerian Grant, for Tim Hardaway Jr.

Grant, a 5-year Notre Dame combo guard who led the Irish to their best season since Digger Phelps roamed the sidelines, is kind of like a Mudiay-lite. He’s light on the Mudiay potential and athleticism, but also light on the ball domination and inexperience.

Grant is a very talented two-way guard that can score and pass and has a great chance to play major minutes in his rookie year.

So, despite all the Knicks/Phil Jackson jokes – and they will continue with force, New York has added some good pieces.

Yes, the Knicks struck out on all of this year’s “big” free agents. And yes, a couple of them refused to even meet with the Zen Master.

However, if there was a year to strike out, it was this year.

LaMarcus Aldridge is a high-end complementary player, but he is not winning you any championships.

By subtracting Chandler, Smith, Shumpert, and Hardaway Jr. and replacing them with Afflalo, Lopez, Porzingis, Grant and others, the Knicks have become more well-rounded and more importantly, more stable.

How many wins that translates into will depend largely on the type of bounce-back season Carmelo has, along with the type of coach Derek Fisher matures into.

But, the Zen Master has started the rebuilding process in an intelligent, responsible fashion that hints that he is in this for the long haul (his five-year contract), not the quick fix that New Yorkers irrationally long for.