New York Mets vs. St. Louis Cardinals: A Quick Preview

The New York Mets return home to Citi Field Monday night after a decent  road trip that saw them split two series to playoff contenders. The record on the nine game swing was 5-4, beating the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins and dropping a set to the Chicago Cubs. In the standing, the Mets are five games out in the National League East and half a game out of the second Wild Card. They now open a three game set against another contender, the St. Louis Cardinals, a team they have not faced yet this year. The Cards, at 52-46 are almost a mirror image of New York. They are a game off the second Wild Card and trail the Cubs in the National League Central by 7 1/2 games. St. Louis is also like the Mets in that they have dealt with a lot of injuries and ineffectiveness during 2016.

Courtesy: nydailynews.com

Courtesy: nydailynews.com

All-Star Matt Carpenter missed the Midsummer Classic and is still on the disabled list because of an oblique injury. Around the same time, Brandon Moss, who is tied for the club lead in home runs with 17, went on the DL because of an ankle sprain. Both players are looking to re-join the team by the end of the month. Jhonny Peralta, who missed the first two months of the season with a thumb injury, is again sidelined with a strained thumb ligament which is unrelated to his previous injury. Rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who forced Peralta to third base because of his outstanding early season play, is heating up again after a tough stretch. He is hitting .319 over his last 30 games and leads the club in batting average and is second in on-base percentage. Second baseman Jedd Gyorko is in one of the hottest grooves of his career with five home runs over his last seven games and his hitting .370 in his last seven contests. Second year man Stephen Piscotty has filled in very well for the departed Jason Heyward. His 106 hits and 58 RBI’s are both team-highs.

It is in the rotation where St. Louis has faltered this year. Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and free agent signee Mike Leake all have ERA’s over 4.00. The only hurler out of this bunch the Mets will see is Wainwright who gets the ball on Wednesday. Carlos Martinez, who has been the club’s best starter is given the opening night assignment against Noah Syndergaard. Martinez is 9-6 with a 2.83 ERA in 18 starts and sports excellent control with 37 walks and 96 strikeouts in 114 1/3 innings pitched. Jaime Garcia will pitch the middle game against the ageless Bartolo Colon. Garcia is 7-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 18 starts. The Cards’ rotation isn’t the only part of the staff that has had issues. Closer Trevor Rosenthal has been removed in favor of Seung-hwan Oh. The hard-throwing Rosenthal has allowed 39 hits and 24 walks in only 32 1/3 innings. Meanwhile Oh, a 34-year old Japanese import, has converted four of his first five save opportunities and has 67 strikeouts in only 49 1/3 innings. He is holding opposing hitters to a .162 average and possesses a WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings pitched) of 0.85.

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New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros: A Quick Preview

The last time the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros met, it was a cold three days in New York to open the season. The Yanks took two out of three games and after that both teams proceeded to have tough Aprils. However, while the Yankees can’t seem to put together any kind of sustained momentum with a 50-48 record, Houston has emerged as one of the hottest teams in baseball. They have managed to crawl out of their horrific 7-17 start to their present ten games over .500 at 54-44. They are only 2 1/2 games out first place in the American League West and a half game behind the second Wild Card spot. The Yanks and Astros now meet for three games at Minute Maid Park.

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In order for the Yankees to prevail in this series, they need to contain Most Valuable Player candidate Jose Altuve. Houston’s second baseman leads all of Major League Baseball with a .360 batting average, a .426 in-base percentage and 136 hits. His double play partner, shortstop Carlos Correa, is having an outstanding sophomore campaign. He leads the club in RBI’s with 64 and also has 15 home runs. Right fielder George Springer is tops in long balls with 21 and is third in runs driven in with 59. On the flip side, outfielder Colby Rasmus is hitless in his last 26 at-bats. Re-enforcements are on the way for the Astros. Top infield prospect Alex Bregman, the second overall pick in the 2015 Draft and MLB.com’s #18 prospect, has been called up to the big club and will be in the lineup Monday night. Also, the Astros landed the latest star Cuban import, third baseman Yulieski Gourriel with a 5-year, $77.5 million dollar contract. He has been assigned to Houston’s Rookie League squad but the organization expects him to be in the Majors before the end of the season.

Monday night’s starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel is a Yankee killer but he has endured a terrible 2016 season. The lefty is 6-9 with a 4.70 ERA and will oppose Michael Pineda. Doug Fister has been Houston’s most consistent starting pitcher and he will get the ball on Tuesday, opposing C.C. Sabathia. Fister is 10-6 on the year with a 3.42 ERA and is tops among qualified rotation members in just about every important category. Wendesday’s starter is Lance McCullers, Jr. who was dominant in his last outing. He shut the Los Angeles Angels over eight innings, striking out ten.  McCullers has 90 strikeouts in only 70 1/3 innings along with a 3.33 ERA. The ‘Stros have had a revolving door in the closer role. Ken Giles, whom the team obtained for a steep price from the Philadelphia Phillies, flopped in Spring Training and was replaced by Luke Gregerson, the team’s stopper last year. At the beginning of June, Gregerson struggled and was replaced by Will Harris whose dominant first half was rewarded with an All-Star selection. The 32-year old Harris has struck out 42 batters in 41 innings and has walked six while allowing just one home run.

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New York Yankees’ Player of the Week 7/17-7/23: Starlin Castro

In a week full of games in which the New York Yankees needed to make a statement, it was Starlin Castro that made the biggest impact of all. He posted nine hits in 26 at-bats as the Yanks took three of four from the first place Baltimore Orioles and split the first two contests against the San Francisco Giants. He also helped the Bombers hold off what would have been a brutal three game sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.

Courtesy: nj.com

Courtesy: nj.com

It started last Sunday as New York dropped the first two games coming out of the All-Star Break against the Sox. On Sunday, Castro went 2 for 4 and accounted for two of his club’s three runs as the Yanks avoided the sweep with a 3-1 victory. His fifth inning double tied the game and he scored the go-ahead run in the same frame on Austin Romine‘s single. On Monday, Castro singled in three at-bats as New York took the opening game from the Orioles by a score of 2-1. The following evening was his big game of the week as his two-run home run in the first inning put the Yankees on the board and his two-run double in the eighth inning gave them a big 5-1 lead on the way to a 7-1 win. After going 0-3 the follow day in which the Bombers win their fourth straight game, Castro provided the only highlight with an RBI single as the Yanks failed to complete the sweep of the Birds. Against Madison Bumgarner and the Giants Friday night, the second baseman went 3 for 4 and drove in the first run of the game in a 3-2 Yankee victory. Saturday was a rough day for Castro, who went 0 for 5 and the Bombers’ offense as they dropped a 2-1 decision in 12 innings to San Francisco.

The Yankees posted a 5-2 record over the last seven games in order to remain on the fringes of playoff contention. This was in large part to Starlin Castro, subwaybaseball’s Yankees Player of the Week.

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New York Mets’ Player of the Week 7/17-7/23: James Loney

About six weeks ago, I wrote a post proclaiming that James Loney was a “savior” for the New York Mets. Perhaps the term “savior” was a little strong but he has done a nice job for a Met team that has their droughts offensively. He also has been a tremendous asset in the field at first base. In a tough week for the Mets in which they went 3-3, the 32-year old Loney was a shining star. Thought he did not start every contest, he nevertheless owned a hit in every game he appeared in this week thanks to a nifty pinch-hitting appearance Friday night.

Courtesy: mlb.com

Courtesy: mlb.com

The week started off with a bang as Jacob deGrom delivered one of the most dominant pitching performances in team history, allowing just two baserunners while facing the minimum number of batters in a 5-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. Loney went 2 for 4 and scored two runs including the first one of the game. He did not start the first game in Chicago vs. the Cubs, a 5-1 loss. Loney went 1 for 4 on Tuesday as the Mets evened the series with the Cubs by a score of 2-1. New York dropped the finale at Wrigley by a score of 6-2 as the veteran continued his hitting streak with a fourth inning single. After an off-day Thursday, the Mets traveled to Miami to for an important set with the Marlins. Loney did not start Friday night’s game but delivered a key pinch-hit, two-run home run in the ninth inning for the difference in a 5-3 Mets’ victory. Saturday was another disappointing loss, this time by a score of 7-2 with Loney extending his hitting streak to seven games with an eighth inning single and he drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.

It was an average week for the Amazins. For James Loney, it was a very productive stretch as he had eight hits in 25 at-bats. For that reason, he is subwaybaseball’s New York Mets Player of the Week.

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New York Yankees Deadline Deals: David Justice

It appears that for the second straight season that the New York Yankees will not be buyers at the trading deadline. They last made significant upgrades in 2014 when they acquired Brandon McCarthy, Martin Prado and Chase Headley in an attempt to send Derek Jeter into retirement with one final October moment. The Yanks ultimately fell short that year before rebounding to make the Wild Card game last season. It is a strange predicament for the Bombers as they are usually looking to upgrade for an annual playoff push. One of their most successful deadline (or in this case, an early deadline) acquisitions came in the year 2000, also known as the year I got married, when they obtained David Justice.

Courtesy: nytimes

Courtesy: nytimes

The 2000 Yankees were gunning for their third consecutive World Series Championship and toward the end of June they were in second place in the American League, three games behind the Toronto Blue Jays. This was uncommon occurrence since they were on cruise control in the division the prior two seasons. So, on June 29th (a special day indeed…..my birthday), New York swung a deal with the Cleveland Indians, acquiring the power-hitting Justice who had already hit 21 home runs. In return, the Indians received 1998 World Series hero Ricky Ledee, right-handed pitcher Zach Day and fellow righty Jake Westbrook, who would win 105 games in the Majors. The Bombers got hot, building a nine game lead by September 13th before stumbling down the stretch and eking out the division crown. Meanwhile, Justice clubbed 20 home runs in 318 plate appearances, finishing with a career-night 41. However, the best was still to come for the veteran slugger.

After producing four hits in 21 plate appearances in the five game divisional series vs. the Oakland A’s, Justice had only six hits in 28 plate appearances in the six game American League Championship Series vs. the Seattle Mariners. However, four of those six hits went for extra bases including two home runs. In fact, it was his seventh inning, three run-blast that put the Yankees ahead for good, propelling them to another World Series appearance while Justice was named the ALCS Most Valuable Player. The Yanks, of course, would go on to capture their third consecutive World Championship, a five game victory over the New York Mets.

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New York Mets vs. Miami Marlins: A Quick Preview

It s easy to say that this next series for the New York Mets is the biggest one of the 2016 season. After all, they are playing the Miami Marlins, a team they are neck-and-neck with in the division and for the second Wild Card. At 50-44, the Mets sit 1 1/2 games behind the Fish. who are 52-43, in both sets of standings. The Marlins return home after taking three of four games from the Philadelphia Phillies while the Mets are 3-3 on the first six games of their nine game road trip. Miami is rumored to be in the market for starting pitching help, having been linked as interested in Michael Pineda and Andrew Cashner.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

The Marlins have had three young players blossom all in the same year.  Left fielder Christian Yelich  leads all full-time players with a .395 on-base percentage and a .318 batting average while center fielder Marcell Ozuna is supplying a good deal of pop with 17 home runs and 52 RBI’s to go along with a .303 batting average. Catcher J.T. Realmuto is hitting .315 and owns 23 hits over his last 65 at-bats, a .365 average. Four Marlins are in the top 15 in the National League in hitting: Yelich, Ozuna, Realmuto and Martin Prado. Then there is the wonderful Ichiro Suzuki who is four base knocks away from the historic 3,000 number for his Major League career. At age 42, Ichiro is having a fabulous season with a .419 on-base percentage and hitting .343 in 178 at-bats. There is a chance that he could make history this weekend at the Fish Tank. Though Giancarlo Stanton has struggled lately with six hits in his last 27 at-bats, the Mets remember him well from his last visit to Citi Field when he clubbed a series of monstrous home runs. Miami will get some help by the end of the month when Justin Bour comes of the disabled list and Dee Gordon returns from his suspension for using a banned substance.

The Mets will be facing the two best Marlins’ starting pitchers this weekend. Left-hander Adam Conley gets the ball in the opener Friday night. He averages nearly a strikeout an inning with 103 punchouts in 104 2/3 frames. He is 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched) over his last seven starts. On Saturday, New York gets to face Marlins’ Ace Jose Fernandez, one of the best pitchers in the game. The 23-year old right-hander is second in all of baseball in strikeouts with 168 and his WHIP of 1.01 is tied for seventh. He owns a record of 11-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 18 starts. In his last outing on Monday vs. the Phillies, Fernandez allowed two earned runs over 6 1/3 innings while striking out 14. A.J. Ramos has turned himself into an outstanding closer with 31 saves in 32 opportunities and a 2.03 ERA. In 40 innings pitched, Ramos has allowed only one home run. The bridge to get to the ninth inning has been fortified with the recent acquisition of Fernando Rodney. Kyle Barraclough and David Phelps have proven to be able relievers, although the latter has surrendered four earned runs over his last seven innings pitched.

This marks the fourth time these two teams meet. The Mets hold the advantage at 5-4. They will meet for seven more games after this weekend, four in New York to close out August/begin September and three games in Miami, the last home series for the Marlins in 2016.

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New York Yankees: 4 Potential Trading Partners

Despite the New York Yankees’ current four-game winning streak, most observers feel that the club should begin exploring trade possibilities. In fact, there are reports the Yanks have spoken to a couple of teams about potential deals with nothing especially serious developing. The most desirable Yankee commodities of course are the three powerful arms in the bullpen: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. With an abundance of relievers and bullpen arms at a premium at this time of the year, general manager Brian Cashman has the luxury of letting teams bid against each other to get what he wants.  Here are four teams that have been mentioned as possible trading partners, all of whom feel that one of these players can catapult them to a World Series.

Courtesy espn.com

Courtesy espn.com

Chicago Cubs: This is the team that has been mentioned the most with power-hitting Kyle Schwarber being the price tag for either Chapman or Miller. Chicago President Theo Epstein has indicated that Schwarber is off-limits but that could be just posturing. Surely, he wouldn’t surrender him for Chapman, who would be no more than a rental but a package with either Miller or Betances as the centerpiece would be awfully tempting. However, a trade just went down that could cool any talk of a Yanks-Cubs swap. The Cubbies acquired left-handed reliever Mike Montgomery from the Seattle Mariners for two Minor Leaguers. Montgomery owns a solid 2.15 ERA in 61 2/3 innings.

Washington Nationals: The Nats are the other team that has been heavily linked as interested in New York’s bullpen. Scouts from the Bombers’ organization were checking in on the Syracuse Chiefs, Washington’s AAA farm club. Though closer Jonathan Papelbon has done a good job with 19 saves and a 2.73 ERA, any of the Yankee relievers would be an upgrade. However, remember the big stink Papelbon made last year about closing upon being traded to Washington? Miller and Betances wouldn’t have a problem setting up but what if the Yanks send Chapman, who insists on closing, to DC? Think of all the fireworks that would erupt in that clubhouse.

Texas Rangers: Texas needs all sorts of pitching help, not just in the bullpen. They have been linked to a bunch of starting pitchers, namely a couple of names in the Tampa Bay Rays’ rotation but they are also interested, like everyone else, in the Yankees. The prize Cashman would seek would be either infielder Jurickson Profar, finally living up his former status as #1 overall prospect after a series of injuries, or current top prospect Joey Gallo. The Rangers lack a true shutdown option and Chapman, Miller or Betances would slide quite nicely into that role.

Cleveland Indians: What do you get the team with arguably the best starting rotation in baseball? A premier relief pitcher to lock down games. With the injury to Yan Gomes, the Tribe’s attention figures to be split between a catcher and the bullpen. It is my opinion that Cleveland will put all their chips into All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers. That means there won’t be enough to pry away Miller or Betances but may be just enough to lure Chapman.

Remember, all of these scenarios are predicated on the fact that the Yankees have given up on 2016. Based on the last four days, the players haven’t.

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New York Mets Minor League Report 7-20-16

With deals at last year’s trading deadline along with the re-acquisition of Kelly Johnson earlier this season, don’t expect there to be much movement within the farm system of the New York Mets. A lower-level player could be dealt for a veteran reliever but there won’t be the dealing of a top prospect like Michael Fulmer was a year ago. Players that were promoted such as Michael Conforto last year and Brandon Nimmo this year means the likelihood of a significant Minor League piece helping out the big club will be limited to September 1st call-ups or the occasional spot start.

Courtesy milb.com

Courtesy milb.com

Left-handed pitcher P.J. Conlon just might be the Mets’ organizational Pitcher of the Year for 2016. The 22-year Conlon was recently promoted to St. Lucie of the Florida State League where his domination has continued. In five games for the Mets, he is 3-0 with a 2.18 ERA, a span covering 33 innings. He has allowed eight earned runs while surrendering only one home run with a WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched) of 1.00. For the season, he is a sparkling 11-1 with a 1.94 ERA in 17 starts, pitching a total of 111 1/3 innings. Conlon, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland was the Mets’ 13th round selection in the 2015 Draft out of the University of San Diego.

Let’s stay in the Sunshine State where St. Lucie has gotten of to a fast start in the second half of Florida State League play. Before losing on Tuesday night, the Mets had reeled off six straight victories, putting their record at 15-10, in first place by a half game in the FSL’s South division. This mark is all the more impressive considering that shortstop Amed Rosario, one of the team’s best players in the first half, was promoted to Double A Binghamton. However, the one-two punch of Conlon and Ricky Knapp at the top of the rotation means St. Lucie will continue to be a tough team to face as the Summer rolls on

First baseman Dominic Smith continues to shine for Binghamton. He has 14 hits in his last 37 at-bats, a span covering ten games. The organization’s #1 prospect according to mlb.com, Smith is fourth among Eastern League hitters with 65 RBI’s. New York’s #1 pick in 2013 out of Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, California, Smith leads the B-Mets in batting average at .294, hits with 98 and doubles with 18 and is second in on-base percentage at .353. The 21-year old Lefty swinger was selected for this year’s Futures Game and played for the United States squad. He went 0-4 with an RBI on a force out, one of only three runs the U.S. scored on the way to a 11-3 loss. His steady rise through the organization should result in a promotion to the big club some time in 2017.

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New York Yankees Minor League Report 7-20-16

The trading deadline is near which means the rosters in the Minor League system of the New York Yankees could look a little different over the next couple of weeks. If the team does start dealing veterans such as Aroldis Chapman and/or Andrew Miller, a few new prospects will began to filter through the organization. What does that mean for the current group already on their respective teams? It will be like Spring Training all over again with players fighting it out for time in the lineup and on the mound.

Courtesy: NJ.com

Courtesy: NJ.com

The long road back for outfielder Mason Williams is almost complete. He was once the darling of the Yanks’ Minor League prospects after being taken in the fourth round of the 2010 Draft, finally making it to the Majors last June. After recording six hits in 21 at-bats for the Yankees, Williams injured his shoulder diving back to first base. He hadn’t played a game in 2016 until the beginning of this month. After rehabbing in Florida in the Gulf Coast League and then the Florida State League, the 24-year old Williams was promoted to Triple A Scranton Wilkes-Barre this week. As long as he shows the organization that he is fully recovered, expect him to be a call-up in September, if not sooner depending on what happens with Carlos Beltran.

Speaking of the Railriders, they have continued their status as the top team in the International League. They opened the second half of their season by winning four in a row in Gwinnett before dropping the first two games of a three game set in Charlotte. Their record stands at 60-37 in first place by three games over Leigh Valley. Chad Green enjoyed another great outing on the mound on Thursday.  He threw eight shutout inning of one-hit, no walk ball, striking out eight and lowering his ERA to a league-best 1.41. Come playoff time, the Railriders’ roster figures to have quite a mix of players brought up when the rosters expand on September 1st. We will see if they can maintain that same blistering pace of play as they seek to become International League champions.

The Class A Staten Island Yankees have a dominating arm of their own in right-hander Adonis Rosa. He has allowed a grand total of one run in his last four appearances, three of them starts, a span covering 23 innings. For the season, Rosa has thrown a total of 34 innings and allowed only seven walks while striking out 27. Opponents are hitting .189 off him and his WHIP (Walks plus Hit per Innings Pitched) is 0.88. The 21-year old Rosa was signed as an International free agent out of the Dominican Republic in December 2013. He registered a 1.62 ERA in 12 outings in 2014 in the Dominican Summer League and a 3.93 ERA and seven wins for Pulaski of the Appalachian League last year.

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New York Mets Trade Target: Joaquin Benoit

According to Marc Craig at Newsday (via mlbtraderumors.com), the New York Mets are looking for right-handed relief help. They came close to signing Kevin Jepsen who opted to go with the Tampa Bay Rays. I had written a post in June stating the team should look at Brad Ziegler. That did not pan out as the veteran was traded to the Boston Red Sox. So here I am again, speculating on another arm the Mets should look into and with my track record in this department it probably means they will pass. The Amazins should now focus on Joaquin Benoit.

Courtesy: Phil Long / The Associated Press

Courtesy: Phil Long / The Associated Press

The 38-year old Benoit is not a name that has been brought up in any trade discussions. The relievers you hear about for playoff contenders include the Big Three of the New York Yankees as well as Ryan Madson of the Oakland A’s and Jeremy Jeffress. All of those pitchers would cost a significant prospect or prospects. Benoit is in the final year of his contract at a salary of $8 million dollars. His numbers aren’t great with a 4.37 ERA in 24 games and he missed about a month in earlier in the year with shoulder inflammation. However, he has been a good to very good reliever over the last six years, registering ERA’s of under 2.00 in two of them. Benoit has pitched better as of late as he has been unscored upon in each of his five July outings. He has also owns a 2.82 ERA in 20 playoff games, though his most recent work in 2013 was less than stellar.

The Mariners are heading for a disappointing season and the price tag for Benoit should be right up the Mets’ alley. Mariners’ general manager Jerry Dipoto could recoup at least one of the prospects he gave up for the veteran but not one that is significant within the Met organization. Sandy Alderson better act soon before another one of my great ideas goes out the window.

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