Good Bye, Sweet July

What's Uncle Bobby been smokin?

Indeed a month to remember? Well, if a 16-9 record for July isn't particular spotless at least the closing certainly was spectacular.

The hottest Mets in July were undoubtedly Paul LoDuca, who hit .410, Beltran of course, who had 10 homers and 32 RBIs and John Maine, surreptitiously sublime despite a deceiving 1-2 record with his sparkling 1.63 ERA 8 walks and 21 Ks in 27.2 innings of work.

Well done, lads.


Backroom solutions toTom Glavine's early late season swoon: Baseball Prospectus gives props in its Monday Morning Ten Pack to none other than Phillip Humber, making the scene with a magazine:

RHP Philip Humber, High-A St. Lucie (Mets)

Now, if you're looking for a Florida State League comeback that's real, here you go. Humber has been receiving rave reviews of late, and he looks to be all the way back from Tommy John surgery, showing the same stuff that made him the third overall pick in 2004. On Saturday, the former Rice star struck out seven over five shutout innings, and in his last four starts, he's giving up just one earned run in 23 innings with twice as many strikeouts (22) as hits allowed (11). The Mets have no need to rush Humber; he'll likely finish the year with a handful of starts at Double-A Binghamton, where he was pitching last year when the elbow finally snapped. While mid-2007 as a date for a big league debut seemed far too optimistic a month ago, it sounds about right now.


Running with the Blogs the theme of which seems to be shoving Marcus Giles' words back down his throat beginning with Metsradamus' Dissin' Sister and then onward to a wonderful parody for Marcus from Yes Joe, It's Toasted sung to the theme song of the Beverly Hillbillies entitled The Ballad of Marcus Giles.

Further down the line, Willie Ball notes, heaping the misery on the Braves with intrepid glee:

"Just how severe was this pummeling?
After the game, manager Bobby Cox was quoted as saying "We'll try to win tomorrow."
The Braves are off today.
Cox was whooped so badly he forgot what day of the week it was."


Braves Killah

It's taken nearly a year and a half but finally, the Carlos Beltran everyone hoped for, the Carlos Beltran of the 2004 NLDS, has arrived on the Mets.

After a massive performance against the Mets most virulent rivals, leading the Mets to a season-ending three game sweep for the Braves, inclusive of back to back games with a brace of homeruns, his third grandslam of the month, four homeruns in all and twelve RBIs in three games.

The 2006 Beltran is much improved.

Incidentally, Beltran is only the eighth player in Major League history to hit three slams in a month. The last was Devon White in May 2001, when he played with the Brewers. Piazza hit three with the Dodgers in April 1998.

Not to be left out, Carlos Delgado, a day after getting plunked by Tim Hudson, had four hits, including a two-run homer, and Reyes had three hits and scored three runs for the Mets, who had a season-high 19 hits.

Once again the Mets used their time-tested formula for victory which is score early. They scored in the first inning in all three games of this series -- seven runs in all and a big-league high 95 first inning runs for the season on their way to yet another impressive victory over the once-feared Braves, this time by a 10-6 margin which increased their lead over the Braves to 15 games.

The Mets swept a four-game set in Atlanta from July 4-7, 1985. Their last sweep of any series there was a two-game set May 1-2, 1989.

A laughter it was. They led, 7-0, after batting in the second -- all seven came against losing pitcher Chuck James (4-2), who retired only three of 12 batters.

One concern in this laughter however is that even in the wake of El Duque's magnificent pitching display the day before, Tom Glavine has yet to appease the jackals of doom howling at his 2006 door. Even with such a daunting lead Glavine continued to struggle yesterday allowing 10 hits and 6 runs over a mere four innings of work. Following this abysmal performance, in his last two starts (14 runs in 10 2/3 innings, two losses and five no decisions in last seven starts, one might begin to wonder if much like his Hall of Fame counterpart Greg Maddux, Mr Glavine isn't beginning to lose a little steam.

Perhaps after being knocked out of the NL East race, the Braves might like to reward us with a parting gift in the form of John Smoltz? Sweet dreams indeed.

So with the weekend over the Mets have a day off and have played their last game of July 2006 having swept their most serious rivals under the carpet for the season. Next up are the Florida Marlins.

Tuesday, Mike "Bats In The" Pelfrey will take on Scott Olsen who hasn't given up a run in his last two outings, a span of 12 2/3 innings. This is Pelfrey's day to shine or spend the remainder of the season honing his sunflower seed spitting skills in the bullpen.

Steve Trachsel then takes the mound on eight days rest provided in advance with a convenient excuse for a dismal outing: "I've had too many days off in between starts, blablabla."

And then the mighty showdown on Thursday, Pedro against the D Train, provided of course that the two maestros are not teammates by then - yes, we can all dream. I would give up Milledge AND Pelfrey AND Heilman for such a dream.

So good night sweet Braves, don't let the door hit your arse on the way out.


Bye Bye Braves!

El Duque asks the question, Zito Who?

A sixth inning 7 run explosion led by a three run homer from Beltran, his second of the game and 30th of the season, and capped by El Duque's two run single up the middle (his first career RBI) that realistically deflated any miscreant hopes the Atlanta Braves might have had about continuing their 14 season streak of NL East titles as the Mets crushed their most hated rivals 11-3 at Loser Field.

And perhaps just as big a story as the crushing of the spirit of the Braves was El Duque's sterling performance in which he retired 17 in a row, allowed nil earned runs over 8 innings, no walks and 7 strikeouts and looked very cosy as a postseason solution.

Meanwhile, amid the speculative frenzy, the oft-proclaimed saviour of the Mets postseason rotation, Barry Zito was surrendering a first inning grand slam to the Blue Jays before surging back with six scoreless innings and a victory thereafter.

So forget Zito, (and the Army appears to be quite behind the times - Alyssa Milano is no longer dating him rather she now straddles Dodger pitcher Brad Penny) so perhaps our emphasis in restocking the rotation should be in swooping Penny off his feet to land Milano to Shea for once and for all.

Penny for your thoughts...

Ah but I've been seriously derailed from the topic at hand, the final shovelfuls of dirt being tossed on the grave of the Braves 2006 season.

Yes. Let's savour this moment for a few hours more. The last time the Mets came to Turner in the latter stages of the season with the weight of pressure crushing them only to respond with a pitching gem and an offensive juggernaut? It isn't that I can't remember, it is that there is no such history. Save for Saturday's game.

Not to forget before his predicted late season swoon, Paul LoDuca continues to grind away with 4 hits in for at-bats, raising his season average to .311. In addition to LoDuca, Carlos Beltran, continuing to vindicate his arrival to New York even though his road stats are much better than his Shea stats, hammered two homers and drove in 5 RBIs to put him on pace for 146 on the season. The kind of season of actually earning the millions and millions he is being paid. The kind of season that chases away boo birds like a cat among the pigeons and allows the baseball world to recognise the crown jewel in the future Mets. MVP anyone?

Not to forget the ageless ex-Brave Julio Franco stealing another base, and the relentless Endy Chavez filling in masterfully for the Xavier Experience with a pair of hits and a trio of RBIs. Chavez is hitting .326 over the last month, an unheralded yet clever offseason bargain acquisition for a mere $500,000.

So, on the heels of taking two from the Braves already and with the Braves entrenched hopelessly 14 games behind the mark, the Mets go for the meaningless sweep today, meaningless in the sense the throat has already been cut on the Braves season. A Tom Glavine gem against his former mates would be an appropriate and emphatic conclusion to the NL East race.


Mets Hammer Another Nail In Braves Coffin

It certainly wasn't a pretty beginning. The game marked the fourth time this year, but merely the sixth time ever, that the Mets have begun a series leading the Braves in the standings: once -- April, 15, 1966 -- before divisional play, and again one day shy of 36 years later.

(Reyes celebrates whilst bench coach Jerry Manual, looking more like Morgan Freeman every day, shares a larf.)

Well, a lead off homer by Jose Reyes and two runs for the Mets in the opening frame was certainly cause for excitement and cause to quiet a record Turner Field crowd of 53,943, most of whom were probably there for the post-game fireworks show.

But with a trepid Pedro, still recovering from food poisoning weight loss, in his first appearance in 30 days on the mound and giving up a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases with none out in the bottom half of the first, it started getting ugly quick.

Then Andruw Jones slams a two-run double to tie the score and in days of auld, this might be head-hanging time with the score tied and the Braves still having none out. A sac fly gave the Braves their lead and then Francoeur doubling yet again to score yet another run to make it 4-2.

All in the first inning alone and in years previous, this would be head-hanging time for the Mets.

Amazingly, Pedro returned from this 30 day lay off without a rehab start, thrown to the wolves in his first outing back.

But the Braves wouldn't score again the rest of the night and their brief hopes of trying to put the fear of the past into the Mets and add some excitement to their dwindling NL East hopes all came to an end after the Mets came roaring back to tie the game in the top of the 2nd after Pedro himself doubled to start his own rally, Reyes walked and then Carlos Beltran singled them both home a batter later to tie the game at 4-4.

(Carlos Beltran, with 57 RBIs on the road and a mere 27 at Shea, is 4th overall in the National League in RBIs and just ahead of David Wright's 81 RBIs)

There was no looking back thereafter. After having thrown 38 pitches in the first two innings alone and working out early inning weakness and concerns, the Pedro of auld recovered to retire the final 12 Braves he faced and combined with yet another husky bullpen outing which saw a total of 17 consecutive Braves retired in all, the Mets gradually pulled ahead with solo runs in the 3rd and 7th innings (the latter from David Wright's22nd homer of the season)to give the Mets a 6-4 victory and another kick to the collective nuts of the Braves.

Who's the genius now, Bobby Cox?

Feliciano set the Braves down 1-2-3 in the 7th.

Duaner Sanchez struck out 2 in the 8th, finishing with a delicious strikeout of Andruw Jones, styming a Braves offence that had averaged 8 runs a game since the All-Star game.

Billy Wagner got his 21st save of the year striking out two to work a perfect 9th inning, the Mets went 20 games above .500 and the lead over the Braves now bursting at lucky 13 and the Braves now 3rd behind the Florida Marlins.

Those three relievers have ERAs of 2.23, 2.60 and 2.27 respectively. Is a third "name" starter such an imperative with at least two or three long arms in the bullpen and 7th, 8th and 9th inning finishers like this?

(Two Auld Mets Celebrate Another Victory Over the Braves)

And not only that, Larry Jones left the game reaggravating his left oblique muscle while batting in the fifth inning.

Saturday, Tim Hudson, who has a 2-1 record but a 7.56 ERA in four starts in July, will face El Duque, who for my money, is a perfect third starter for a post season considering his post season record. That's El Duque with a career postseason record of 9-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 19 appearances, 14 starts.

This regular season with the Mets, in five of his last eight starts, he has pitched at least seven innings and allowed a total of eight runs -- a 1.95 ERA. In the other three, he has pitched a total of 6 1/3 innings and allowed 13 runs.


Pedro Returns To Try And Earn His Pesos

Although the talk all preseason was about the infamous toe, what felled the Mighty Pedro in the end this season was an inflamed hip and some dirty Dominican chicken.

But now, after the Mets have held their own in his nearly month-long absence, with the Mets having held off the Braves in spite of a hard charge by those vainglorious rubes south of the border, Pedro is returning to resume his glory and put his definative stamp on the Mets final sprint to the finish.

Indeed, it is still only July and there is still much to be decided but a healthy and effective Pedro will do alot towards spelling a quick and painless end to any belated challenges from the Braves or anyone else in the nearly comotose NL East.

Pedro will taking the mound to face the resurgent Horacio Ramirez, who allowed only a single run in each of his past two starts. Exclusive of an embarassing outing against Cincinnati on July 7, when he allowed seven runs in one-plus inning of work, and Ramirez has allowed only six earned runs in his past 34 2/3 innings pitched.

Pedro has had two starts against Atlanta already this season, picking up two wins while allowing five runs and only 10 hits in 13 2/3 innings. In those same two outings he fanned 13 futile Braves.

The series itself will not be considered the virtual Armageddon it might normally be perceived as if for no other reason than the Mets' bulging 12 game lead over the Braves and the fact that in spite of a Braves post-All Star Game run, they haven't made up any ground on the Mets. Even a sweep by the Braves will only barely reduce the lead to single digits and the best they can hope for will be a psychological blow to the team they have so thoroughly dominated in the past.

The Mets are a different team with an entirely different psychological makeup, even without Pedro this season. They never feel completely out of a game, they are always prepared to rally to a late inning victory and they don't quit. They are confident of their talents and regardless of the past history with the Braves, the Mets aren't likely to lose much ground this weekend.

Start calculating the Magic Number!


Maine Outduels Prior, 1-0

No, not a new bizarre Mets torture ritual rather a celebration following Jose Valentin's two-out 10th inning game-winning RBI single off Chicago Cubs pitcher Glendon Rusch to give the Mets a 1-0 victory.

So, here were the Mets sitting on a three game losing streak like an ostrich egg, the irredeemable Cubbies having humiliated them twice in a row and Mark Prior throwing a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings - who comes to the rescue?

You might argue it was John Maine. The same John Maine who may have magically pitched his way out of the starting rotation with the return of Pedro Martinez. Willie would not guarantee Maine a start on the upcoming road trip.

""We'll see," Willie said with cryptic glee, "He needs to solidify a spot."

Hmmm. Solidify? He pitched a shutout against Houston Friday, allowing just four hits and needing only 98 pitches. Yesterday, he threw 118 pitches, allowed three soft singles struck out seven and allowed a mere three hits. Looks pretty bloody solidified to me.

Although he might look like a hair consultant and might have pitched only one inning outside of Shea, according to reliable sources, surely his performance has been more impressive than that of Mike Pelfrey over the last month.

But wait, all of this is irrelevant anyway. They'll all be shuffling out to the bullpen once the Mets acquire The D Train. According to CNN's John Heyman, who never seems happy with the Mets, the MUST trade for Dontrelle.

And if Heyman were Omar Minaya, according to Heyman, he'd make this suggestion: offer Lastings Milledge, Aaron Heilman and Phil Humber to the Marlins for Dontrelle Willis.

(Personally, I think this hysteria about needing a third starter, a superstar, a name, an anybody who isn't nobody, is rubbish. Look at the Astros last year. They had three starters and look where it got them. Would the jackals stop howling if we had Petitte (of last year, not this year), Clemens (of last year, not this year) and Roy Oswalt (ditto)? Sure they would and then they'd whinge about how we need insurance against Lo Duca's certain late season swoon as his body breaks down, inch by inch, how we need a superstar second baseman like second baseman cum left fielding superstar bat Alfonso Soriano, etc. etc.)

No, David Wright is not trying to squeeze a few more shutout innings out of John Maine's head rather appears to be attempting to congratulate him after seven shutout innings of work...

And if you think this tough love for Maine was limited to David Wright, listen to what Manager Willie said of his sixth inning mound visit to Maine:

"I just got in his face and challenged him to finish up strong," Randolph said. "I gave him a little kick and he responded well."

Sweeter still perhaps was that Valentin's game-winning hit came off of former Met Glendon Rusch, he who was 19-24 with the Mets. That's the guy we traded the irrepressable Dan Murray for. That's the guy traded to the Brewers with Alex Ochoa and Lenny Harris to get Jeromy Burnitz, Jeff D'Amico, Mark Sweeney and Lou Collier. How strange the spinning wheel of GM wheelings and dealings especially in the light of the deadline coming up.

What we have in hand is the end of the losing streak, the beginning of a winning streak and the Atlanta Braves looming on the immediate horizan like the Death Star:

The Jones Boys, a rejuvinated Edgar Renteria, Adam LaRoche, hitting .419 since the All Star break, Francouer, Tim Hudson (thankfully, Smoltz pitched last night,) and oh so much history to make up for.

Fox's Dayn Perry thinks the The Mets should rest their starters.

"They're on pace for 97 wins this season, they hold the largest division lead in all of baseball (11-and-a-half games ahead of the second-place Braves), and the folks at Baseball Prospectus give them a 99.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. If common sense carried the day, the Mets would use these comfortable straits to concentrate on doling out rest and otherwise getting — and staying — healthy over the final two months of the season."

Tell that to the Braves.


Playing Catch Up

Good news sportsfans!

The hiatus is over and although the Army has been following the plights and exploits of the Mets from a respectable distance, it's now time to rejoin the human race of Mets supporters once again and play catch up on the season since we last looked in:

1. The Lead Is Still Double Digits!: (11 1/2 games and falling over the Atlanta Braves. A month ago, it was the same 11 1/2 games only it was over the Phillies and the Braves were 15 1/2 out.



Over the last 30 days, Paul Lo Duca is hitting .370, no homers, 7 doubles, 10 RBIs.
Over the last 30 days, Mike Piazza is hitting .429 with 5 homers and 16 RBIs.

Over the last 30 days, David Wright has 25 strikeouts and 10 walks.
Over the last 30 days, Jose Reyes has 13 strikeouts and 6 walks.

Over the last 30 days, the ERAs of the six Mets starters still standing:

John Maine 1-2 2.18 ERA
Tom Glavine 0-2 4.76 ERA
Steve Trachsel 3-1 6.15 ERA
El Duque 2-1 3.97 ERA
Mike Pelfrey 2-1 5.38 ERA
Pedro 0-1 18.00 ERA


Now as to the schedule:

One more against the Cubs, then three in Atlanta to close out the month.

August: 3 @ Florida, 6 @ Shea v. Phillies and Padres (Piazza's homecoming), then back on the road for 7 games against the Nats and Phillies. Then a 9 game homestand against the Rockies, Cardinals and yet again, those pesky Phillies before closing out the month at Colorado.

Overall, 10 games against the Phillies for the month, loser of 3 in a row, 13 1/2 games out of first and the hotbed of Met Killah trade rumours.


More later to follow