The Greatest Sports Day Of My Week

Saturday, April 29th began like any regular Saturday. I woke up, made coffee and dropped off my laundry. Cleaned up around the apartment and settled in to watch the Mets because, in the words of Apu, the NY Mets are my favorite squadron.

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As recently as this past Thursday, the Mets’ season looked to be on the brink of complete and total implosion after injuries to Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard and, with a weekend showdown against the division-rival Washington Nationals on the agenda, it wasn’t hard to think the Mets could have three feet of dirt shoveled on top of them by Sunday night.

To the shock of everybody, the Mets stormed into the nation’s capital on Friday and defeated defending Cy Young Winner, Max Scherzer thanks in large part to catcher, Travis d’Arnaud’s monster two-homer, five RBI game. It was a nice, surprising way to start the weekend and you hoped – but didn’t expect – for things to continue on Saturday when they’d be pitted against Stephen Strasburg.

Early on, it looked as if it’d be another one of those days for the Metsies, but, in the 5th inning, they finally broke through against Strasburg and hung a 3 on the scoreboard, topped off by Michael Conforto’s two-run homer. Shockingly, they never relinquished the lead and even added a couple of insurance runs thanks to dingers from Jose Reyes (who is apparently back to being a Major Leaguer) and Conforto who added his second of the day as the team held on to a feel-good 5-3 win in DC that, at the very least, gave them the series win with a chance to sweep on Sunday.

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Even better, as if the mood around the Mets hadn’t already done a complete 180 since Thursday, Noah Syndergaard will be starting, says he feels fine and just needed a couple extra days to get himself back together. Now, I never give the Mets the benefit of the doubt on anything when it comes to injuries because of their well-documented track record, but I am willing to buy Thor telling me he’s fine since he hasn’t burned me yet. By 5PM on Saturday afternoon, everything was right in Metsville.

Those of you who know me, know that I’m also a very big hockey fan. While you would think, I’d be a Ranger fan based on where I grew up, that’s simply not the case. I’m actually a Pittsburgh Penguins fan and, yeah, there’s some front-running involved in that.

When I was kid, I didn’t have cable, so I never watched hockey. I didn’t become interested in the sport until the original NHL Hockey game came out on Sega Genesis. My cousin, Mike – a Devils fan – was the first dude I knew with a Genesis and – him growing up on Long Island – was very into hockey since the afterglow of the Islanders’ dynasty was still alive and well. When I’d go over to his house, I’d play the game and just ask who the best team in the game was since I didn’t know any better. It was, obviously the Penguins who were the defending Stanley Cup champs and, the more I played, the more I familiarized myself with their players and – voila! – I was a Pittsburgh Penguins fan for life.

Over the course of being a Pens fan, I certainly have hatred for the Flyers and I think comparing Sid and Ovi is absurd, but I have a genuine dislike for the New York Rangers. And that, obviously, is because of where I grew up. All my friends were Rangers fans and after winning the Cup in 94, the Rangers were the absolute bee’s knees around town. So it was a constant shit-talking situation between all of the kids I went to school with and myself.

To this day, some of the supreme sports shit-talking in my life is over hockey and I take a genuine delight in the Rangers failing just as my friends love to bust my balls when the Pens shit the bed.

I had the Rangers/Senators game on my second TV while the Mets were on Saturday and it warmed the cockles of my heart to see the Rags blow a two-goal lead in the last three minutes of regulation before sealing the deal with a loss in double-overtimes after JG Pageau put his fourth goal of the game behind Henrik Lundqvist to close out a 6-5 win and have the Senators in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 lead in the series.

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I’m not willing to say that this series is over, but four goals in a playoff game is hella impressive and you can’t imagine the joy I get from watching the Rangers fans having a meltdown on my social media timelines.

What a time to be alive.

Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get better, the Penguins had the night game against the Capitals in their Game 2 matchup in Washington. I’ve said from the beginning, never bet the Caps against the Pens in the playoffs. I don’t care how good they were during the season, I don’t care how much they upgraded their roster. Until they actually finally get over that hump, don’t believe it will ever happen.

The Pens had won Game 1, but you had to figure it would be tough to take both games on the road, especially when the Caps came out flying in the first period and thoroughly dominated all aspects of the game…except they couldn’t score.

They skated complete circles around the Pens, but after 20 minutes, the game was still scoreless thanks to a great effort from Marc-Andre Fleury, the greatest goalie in Penguins history who had been relegated to backup duty late last year after the team called up wunder-prospect Matt Murray to take the reins in net.

Murray backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup last season and was expected to do the same again, but was injured during warm-ups before Game 1 of the Pens’ first-round series against Columbus forcing Fleury back into the starting role. Fleury has been even better than you could have hoped and once the Pens got rolling on Saturday, the man we lovingly call “Flower” was able to make the lead stand up as the Pens took Game 2 with a 6-2 victory.

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As opposed to the Rangers/Senators series, I am willing to go out on the limb and say that, for all intents and purposes, this series is done. Washington looked defeated and you can tell they have that “here we go again” mentality taking over. They threw their very best at the Pens in Game 2 and came away with not only nothing to show for it, but had their doors blown off on the scoreboard to go with it.

I was drinking Tito’s Vodka pretty casually throughout the day and by the time this game ended, I was in a terrific mood. It was simply the greatest sports Saturday I’ve had in…jeez, I don’t even know.

It may never happen again when all the ducks lineup in a row like this, but for one day, it was perfect. Although, now I do need to make a run to liquor store since I’m all out of Tito’s and – let’s be honest – Tito’s is fucking fantastic and you should never be without it.

I doubt very many people got the same enjoyment out this day that I did, but if you did, let’s pretend we watched it all unfold together as things just continually got better as the day got older. Raise your Tito’s and let’s toast to many more happy Saturdays.

Salut.

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

Podcast! Awards! Postseason! Mets!

Greetings! You may or may not be aware that I do a weekly pop culture podcast (The Car JoeMez Podcast) which is a lot of fun to do, but following the Mets’ Wild Card loss to the Giants, we recorded a special baseball only episode where I speak about my IBWAA awards ballot, postseason predictions and I even examine what the future could bring for the Mets’ roster. Oh, I shit on Terry Collins too. You know how I do. Anyway, I hope you’ll give it a listen and if you like, maybe check out some of the other episodes.

The Wild Card Is Awesome…Even When Your Team Loses

Welcome to a post-Wild Card wrap-up on ShoesOnSports. The Mets didn’t get the result we were hoping for, but take a step back and think of that game before Jeurys Familia left that pitch up in the zone to Connor Gillaspie. Before that ball was smoked into the Mets’ bullpen…man, that game was fucking fun, wasn’t it?

You had two aces on the top of their games, mowing through the order like nobody’s business knowing full well that the first team to make a mistake probably loses.

It was drama of the highest form and – with the championship dreams of both teams hanging in the balance – we were treated to brilliance from the up-and-coming Noah Syndergaard and pure dominance from the postseason living legend that is Madison Bumgarner.

Over the past few days, the amount of talk that has gone on concerning the Wild Card format has been unreal. From what I see in my social media feeds and the blogs and articles that I read, there’s a minority of people who approve of the single-game play-in, while most would prefer some kind of series like a 2 of 3.

I’ve always been in the minority since this change was made to the Wild Card. Put more emphasis on winning the division and give the team with the best record an advantage since – in theory – the Wild Card winner would be burning their ace pitcher in the Wild Card game just to get through to the Division Series. You can say all you want that that’s not fair, to which I reply, it’s not supposed to be! If it bothers you that much, you should have won your division to not put your season on the line in one last game.

But if after watching both the AL Wild Card game be won on a walk-off homer by Edwin Encarnacion and then the NL game go to the 9th before the Giants were finally able to push across a marker, how can you possibly say this wasn’t awesome? Sure, you’re apt to have some stinkers in there, but you’ll get even more of them by adding more games. Plus, we’re in a period now where there’s already a shortage of pitching to handle all the innings for a team making a deep postseason run so adding more games to a schedule already overloaded isn’t exactly the best idea.

Either way, the one game format provides drama and excitement that we rarely get with divisional races anymore at the end of the regular season. Outside of the famous “Game 162” day of the 2012 season which was just bonkers, we probably hadn’t seen such a meaningful final day since the 1993 season where the Giants won 103 games, but didn’t make the postseason finishing a game behind the 104 win Braves.

These Wild Card games give us a dose of the drama while not sacrificing the integrity of the regular season. Teams now have a vested incentive in winning their division whereas before this play-in game, they make use the final weekend as an opportunity to align their rotation to play in the Division Series. And I say that as a fan who just last night saw his team get bounced from potential postseason play in the Wild Card game.

It’s not fair. But it’s not supposed to be. And it’s perfectly summed up in this tweet:

To next season, we go.

Collins Puts Mets At Strategic Disadvantage

You can say that Terry Collins has players wanting to play for him. You’d be right. You’d can also say that with the sheer quantity of impact injuries the team has suffered that them even being in this spot tonight is incredibly unlikely. You’d also be right about that.

One thing you cannot say, however, is that having Terry Collins calling the shots on your bench – in what is assumed to be a pitcher’s duel tonight in the NL Wild Card game – inspires much confidence in a late-game situation where he would need to outmanage Bruce Bochy.

Collins rode a historic hot streak by Yoenis Cespedes to get into the postseason and then hopped back on the horse to ride Daniel Murphy’s historic hot streak to get into the World Series where he was completely exposed as a dumpster fire of a tactician who trusted history over current results (Michael Cuddyer), was unable to identify when a pitcher in a big spot was gassed (Steven Matz) and was unable to deviate from the script he had written for himself in regards to managing a bullpen that led to him using his closer in less than optimal situations which led to two “blown saves”.

Add that to everything we’ve seen this year. Wilmer Flores is unavailable for the remainder of the season because of an injury sustained in a home-plate collision because Terry Collins admitted he forgot to pinch run for him. The decision early in the season to destroy Jim Henderson. Also, he’s been a mad man using every single player available to him since rosters expanded in September and, should tonight’s game be close in the late innings, I’d be shocked if he’s able to use ONLY 25 players.

The Mets are only carrying 9 pitchers tonight which – in theory – is plenty for one game and maximizes your bench options. But with the way Collins has grown accustomed to playing musical match-ups over the past month, I genuinely have to question if Collins will have the foresight not to burn through all his players and put himself at a disadvantage should the game go into extra innings like last night’s AL Wild Card game.

One thing I can promise is that Collins is no Showalter and won’t be questioned for NOT using a certain player. In a perfect world, the Mets jump on Madison Bumgarner early and take the game out of Collins’ hands. But should Noah Syndergaard give up a couple of early runs and Collins has his hand forced, this could be an ugly game for the blue and orange.

The Octopus! Eight Ways to Fix Baseball!

With the talk of reducing the current 162 game regular season schedule gaining some steam among insiders, it’s time to take a look at other possible changes and improvements. I know you definitely won’t agree with most if any of them, but I believe in them and, hopefully, you’ll at least see the reasoning behind it. So, without further ado, I give you the inaugural ShoesOnSports OCTOPUS! Eight ways to fix something that is more profitable than ever!

1. Reduce the schedule to 154 game

The most obvious. The World Series ends far too late in the year. I think everybody would agree with that. This is also not a game meant to be played while wearing four layers of clothes and a mesh mask to protect from frostbite. In a perfect world, I’d actually reduce this a bit further, but we know what a ruckus this will cause over the income being given up by the owners by reducing the amount of event dates. Cutting just over a week off the schedule makes games more meaningful, helps players better manage their personal wear and tear and ends the season sooner in the calendar year. This should happen.

2. Abolish interleague play!

It came, it was fun for a while and now it’s redundant for no reason. A lot of teams don’t have “natural” rivals and so much of this is forced beyond the fact that it takes away from the appeal of the World Series and All-Star Game. Those events had an extra layer of intrigue to them in the past because we hadn’t seen these teams or players go at it during the year. That’s lost now and it’s time to fix it. Plus, as a Mets fan who couldn’t care less about the Yankees, those games have zero extra meaning to me beyond being a game I could make money on by re-selling my tickets. Besides if we’re going to cut games off the schedule, we need to reallocate those matchups because we’re about to…

3. Abolish divisions!

Right now, we have three division leaders and two Wild Card teams that qualify for some form of postseason play in each league. We also have unbalanced schedules within divisions and interleague play which leads to an unequal strength of schedule between the teams all competing for the same playoff positions. By eliminating both interleague play and the heaviness of a predominant inter-divisional schedule, we turn to playing all teams within the NL equally with the top 5 qualifying and playing under the same postseason format. If we want the regular season to matter, we can’t continue to have teams from stronger divisions (i.e. the 2015 Pirates) get punished while division winners in weak divisions (i.e. the 2015 Mets) get a guaranteed series of play because of quirk. The best teams should be in the best positions.

5. Force hitters and pitchers to hurry up

I was watching a Mets classic game recently and was taken aback with how quick the game moved from pitch to pitch. Ron Darling was on the mound for the Mets and as soon as he received the ball back from the catcher, he was back on the rubber ready to throw his next pitch. The hitter never left the box and was prepared for it and the game moved at a brisk pace. This is important. Games take too long. I love baseball and I think games have an incredible tendency to get boring and slow. What does that say about casual fans? Where’s the incentive for them to sit and watch or attend a game? I’m constantly disheartened by how many people at games nowadays couldn’t care less about the game. They’re there for the clubs or perks or whatever else the stadium offers that means they don’t have to sit in their seat and watch the game. You’re not building newer, younger fans with a three and a half hour trudge through molasses.

6. Call the high strike

We say it all the time: the strike zone is from the knees to the letters, but hardly ever is anything above the belt called a strike. Start calling it. Make these players swing the bats and keep the game moving. We all get strategy and the benefits and taking pitches and trying to get the starter out of the game, but we’ve got other stuff to do and while we want to watch the game, we also want to get to bed at a decent time. Offense drives interest. Make players swing the bats. This isn’t even a new rule. Just call it the way it’s written.

7. Ban “God Bless America”

Keep your politics out of my baseball. This is not the national anthem and I do not have to stand and remove my hat for this. I don’t and I never will. We honor America at the beginning of each game by playing the real national anthem. That’s sufficient.

8. Day games on weekends: No excuses

No more ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. No more FOX game of the week at 7 PM on Saturdays. Give both networks an NFL-like 1Pm east coast and 4PM west coast game and that’s it. While I understand that people work weekends now more than ever, you’re not doing yourselves any favors by continually making kids leave games early because they take forever and Dad wants to beat the traffic. This also serves another purpose by making MLB destination afternoon viewing during months without other sports competition and opens fans up to seeing players and teams they’re not accustomed to. The game has become so regionalized that this would help in the marketing and exposure of superstar players. Sure, you know Mike Trout is great, but how many of you that don’t have MLB At-Bat and don’t work nights actually get to see him play. He’s just a name in a box score to most people. That has to change. This is a good way to help that along.

There you have it. Eight ways to improve the presentation and nature of the baseball season. Comments, complaints and verbal jousting welcome and expected.

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower, E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

 

 

Playoffs?! Are Mets Playoff Bound? Would That Even Be Enough?

I try to have realistic expectations when it comes to the Mets and, a lot of times, those come off as rather negative, but – when it comes down to it – we all want the same thing: for the Mets to win the World Series.

Coming into the 2016 season, I said how strange it felt to actually have genuine expectations for this ballclub. As Met fans, we’ve basically gotten used to being out of things before the trade deadline, but still seem to enjoy the few bright spots whether that be an overperforming fan favorite (see: Dickey, R.A, 2012) or a singular moment of awesomeness (Santana, Johan, also 2012). There are times when the team is bad, but there’s still enough to have fun while taking in the day-to-day grind of the season.

There’s been plenty of years where I’ve gone to a ton of games during lost seasons and found ways to still maximize the fun value whether that be through cheap tickets, short lines for bathrooms and concessions or not having to wait to get out of the parking lot. That kind of stuff matters to a ballpark experience.

This year was different, though. Coming off a surprise World Series appearance last year, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the same seats at the same prices anymore. I knew I’d have to wait a bit longer than usual to get a steak sandwich. More importantly, I knew I had a team on the field that wasn’t building for the future, but meant to contend right now.

To be honest, the fact that the Mets are only 6 games out in the NL East right now despite all of the injuries they’ve suffered in the lineup is an accomplishment in itself. The team has looked so inept offensively at times that you have to wonder just how much of a catastrophe this season would have been had the front office followed the original blueprint and not resigned Yoenis Cespedes.

But let’s not play the “what-if” game right now. Let’s take a genuine look at what we have as we start the second half tonight in Philadelphia. Can this team make the playoffs? Is making the playoffs enough to fulfill the preseason expectations? Can Daniel Murphy just leave us alone? Let’s examine.

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Is there enough pitching to hold this together?

This is the most important question and the answer isn’t as simple as it was even a month ago. Matt Harvey hasn’t been the Matt Harvey we thought we were getting and will now miss the remainder of the season due to surgery. For now, at least, he’ll be replaced in the rotation by Logan Verrett who has basically been your typical 6th starter/swingman out of the bullpen. Key thing to remember here is that while Harvey has a lot of name value, the performance that needs to be replaced wasn’t Cy Young level so Verrett should – hopefully – be able to give you what you were getting out of Harvey before the injury.

A bigger problem is the setbacks in the rehab of Zack Wheeler. Originally expected to be returning to the rotation around now, Wheeler has continually suffered what the team has classified as “minor” setbacks and hasn’t even thrown off a mound as of yet. That is not good. At this point, it’s basically unreasonable to expect any kind of significant contribution from Wheeler in 2016.

Which brings us to Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz who both have bone spurs in their elbows which doesn’t even include Thor’s recent “dead arm” issue. If one or both of them decides that the pain from the spur is just too much and decides to have surgery to remove it, this team is dead in the water as there just isn’t the depth in the system that there used to be because of promotions, trades and Rafael Montero completely forgetting how to pitch. Bartolo Colon was brought back this season to give the team a bridge in the rotation until Wheeler would come back at which point he’d move into the pen and provide depth. He’s been terrific and the Mets have needed it as their best-laid plans have caught fire.

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Why didn’t they re-sign Daniel Murphy?

Look, Murph was here for a long time and was a nice player, but aside from two weeks in October, he never looked like the player he has apparently become. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and the Mets desperately needed to upgrade defensively after they were absolutely exposed in the World Series against the Royals. Allowing Murph to leave gave them the chance to add a comparable offensive player in Neil Walker who was a definite improvement with the glove while also being able to add a first-round sandwich pick in the draft after giving Daniel the qualifying offer. With Dilson Herrera waiting in Las Vegas to take over 2B in Queens, the ability to use Walker as a one year stopgap and get back another compensation draft pick when he leaves as a free agent after this year was a smart tactical decision by the front office. Sure, it stings that Murphy has had a great year and has hit something like 43 homers against just the Mets so far, but sometimes these things happen. I’m not rooting against Murph. For a team that lacks positive moments in their history, Murph provided us with one of the all-time great postseason runs – not just in Mets history – but in all of baseball. We should always be grateful for that.

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Is Jose Reyes the biggest addition we’ll see for this lineup?

From how it sounds…probably. But is this enough? I wasn’t enamored with the idea of signing Jose. As much as I was a fan during his first go-round in Queens, the combination of declining skills and him grabbing his wife by the throat and slamming her into a door didn’t exactly put him at the top of my list. But he’s here. He’s shown obvious signs of rust which is to be expected since he hasn’t seen major league action since last October, but, aside from that, there does appear to be something left in the tank. He’s obviously motivated to reclaim his career and – even if he isn’t as fast as he used to be – he’s still a net positive on the basepaths (as long as he can get on base with any consistency) because the Mets – as a team – may have the least footspeed of any team ever. This team is strictly station to station which limits the things you can do offensively if you can’t steal a base or go first to third on a single to right or even score from second on a base hit. This team needs to be able to generate more runs so Reyes could be valuable if he finds even some of what made him special way back when.

The lineup will still need another addition, but it’s doubtful it will come from outside the organization in another Cespedes-type acquisition like last year. Lucas Duda seems no closer to returning than he did when he first went out and the team may have to rely on Walker, Curtis Granderson to provide bigger second halves to go along with the return of Michael Conforto once he returns to the big club from a stint in Triple-A. Before going down, Conforto looked absolutely overmatched and was an automatic out. Hopefully, he comes back in a similar fashion that d’Arnaud did when he was demoted a few years back with a renewed approach and clear head.

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Is Terry Collins the right guy to be leading this team?

I hate Terry. It’s no secret. I can’t kill him too much this season because of all the injuries, but do I have faith that Terry Collins will be to outmaneuver anybody come crunch time? No. Not in the least. Unfortunately, barring an unforseen and atypical ballsy move by Alderson, Collins is here to stay.

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Is this a playoff caliber team? Is just making the playoffs enough?

Can this team as currently constructed make the playoffs? Tough question. I’d lean toward yes, they can, but it’s far from a sure thing. The Marlins have been surprising and while the Pirates haven’t played as well as you may have expected, there’s still plenty of time for them to get hot. The Dodgers currently hold the first Wild Card spot, but if Clayton Kershaw’s back injury is anything longer-term than thought, they are in real trouble with a thin rotation.

The Mets had huge expectations coming into the year with a maturing pitching staff that was considered the best in the game and a solid lineup that Collins never figured out how to work before everybody dropped like flies anyway. I am not confident that the Mets will catch the Nationals. It wouldn’t be absurd if they did, but this is not the Nationals of last year. They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and are taking extra enjoyment each time they can humble the Mets, especially when Murphy is the one leading the way.

The Mets will have to slide in as a Wild Card where they have as good a shot as anybody as long as they don’t lose any of the other pitchers. But would that be enough to satisfy preseason expectations?

Honestly? Yeah. To me, yes. The Mets – in their history – have only qualified for the postseason in consecutive years one time (1999-2000). That’s it. We’ve sat through such consistency of losing that our great teams are standalone years as opposed to transcendent eras of winning. This team has enough pieces in place where this can be a sustained run of competitiveness and – with the amount of teams that now qualify for the postseason – should be playing meaningful September and October baseball for the foreseeable future.

Only eight teams (the two that lose the Wild Card game really don’t count) in the majors make the playoffs. It’s an accomplishment to get there after such a long season and should be respected and appreciated as such. As a Mets fan, you’ve learned to deal with extended periods of losing baseball while keeping the optimism high that the future holds better days. Well, that future is here. This team may not be blowing teams out of the water like the 86 or 06 teams did, but they’re a far cry from being “the worst team money can buy” of the early 90s.

Yes, missed opportunity to score a run from third with less than two out is going to frustrate you, but sometimes you have to take a step back and remember, “Hey…we went to the World Series last year.” I know I do. It actually happened. I have a cap and jersey that actually say “World Series” on it. Enjoy the good times, friends. Because, as we’ve seen, they can be fleeting and then you’ll be left wishing you enjoyed them more as they were happening.

Contact: @MaximusSexPower or via e-mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com