MLB

Mandel’s Musings: Yankees, Missing Table Setter, Still Haven’t Fixed Lineup Issues

It’s early, of course, in the 2019 season but the New York Yankees, one of baseball’s favorites to win the World Series this year are looking very much like last year’s team, which fell short in the playoffs for one major reason. Their lineup of home run hitting sluggers was unable to put bat to ball when they faced top of the line pitching rotations like the Astros or the Red Sox.

This season, so far, has that same feel, know what I mean?

The Yanks’ lineup remains the most fearful in the game. From one through nine, a healthy Yankees’ batting order will do damage to most American League pitchers over the course of a season. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks, and Gleyber Torres will all hit more than 20 homers this year. Hell, they’ll all probably hit more than 30.

The question is, how many of these bashers will also hit .280 or better and strike out less than 100 times?

The Yankees dilemma this year is the same as it was last year. Hitting homers in batches, as the Bombers did in 2018 (266 – a major league record) puts fans in the seats, even bringing back the early-arrival fans who enjoy watching these very large men take their pre-game batting practice hacks but, it doesn’t win championships.

But, who are the table-setters?

Nothing wrong with power, in this age of weight-training, protein drinks, and any other enhancements used in professional sports. But, even in 2019, championship teams must possess lineups that include a smattering of hit-to-contact types so the bashers can get big, sweet fastballs to swing at with runners on base. Opposing pitchers prefer to pitch off the plate to big swingers, who tend to feast on fastball strikes but without ideal bat control, can be fooled by pitches that expand the strike zone to include breaking balls in the dirt. Base runners force pitchers to throw strikes, a good scenario for big swingers like Judge and Stanton and Sanchez.

But, who are the table-setters?

The Houston Astros’ second baseman, Jose Altuve, has, at 5’6″, 160 pounds made himself into a superstar by getting on base, not striking out, and making opposing pitchers jittery when he’s taking leads off first.

The Red Sox have Mookie Betts, who also knows how to make contact and does so to all fields with power, despite his diminutive body-type.

Guess which teams won the past two World Series? If you answered the Astros and the Red Sox, you’d be right.

I’m not saying the Yankees should have held onto a popular player of theirs from the past two seasons, Ronald Torreyes, but let’s just say, by getting rid of a “Torreyes-type,” they no longer have a diminutive contact hitter in their lineup who rarely strikes out. Brett Gardner is going to be 36 during this season, and never was a hit-to-contact type with a high on-base percentage. Tyler Wade has a lifetime batting average of .164. D.J. LeMahieu, a solid acquisition during the off-season, doesn’t fit the profile of an Altuve or a Betts, either.

Yesterday, the Yankees beat the lowly Orioles, 8-4. Their offense, third in the American League in strikeouts and at the bottom of the league in stolen bases, has been slumping for several games now.

Once again, the Yanks were in their collective offensive funk against Alex Cobb, the Orioles starting pitcher who will NOT be in the running for the Cy Young award, until the sixth inning. Cobb was treating this Yankee lineup as if he was pitching for the Astros or the Red Sox, in post-season games.

Baltimore, on paper the worst team in the sport, had a 4-1 edge going into the sixth inning, the Yankees lone run coming on, you guessed it, a home run by Gleyber Torres. Other than that, against Alex Cobb, zilch.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning when the pinstripes exploded against the putrid Orioles bullpen for four runs, on, yes, a solo home run by Sanchez and a three-run homer by Torres, his second of the game, coming after two singles by Bird and LeMahieu.

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Altuve is the perfect table-setter for the Astros

Here’s the thing about home runs. They come in bunches and practitioners of the art of home run hitting tend to be streaky. They will hit 10-15 in a month, then, nothing but ground outs and strikeouts for a few weeks. Nobody seems to know why that is. It’s one of baseball’s mysteries that keeps this game interesting. But, it doesn’t help a team when most of its lineup is comprised of precisely those kind of bashers who have their hot and cold streaks during the season, but are especially cold during the playoffs, when the strikeouts and ground outs are almost a guarantee.

Note to Yankees’ General Manager, Brian Cashman: The Yankees will not win a World Series without scrappy, speedy guys with high on-base percentages to set the table for their sluggers.

Where have you gone, Ronald Torreyes?

Cano, deGrom Pay Early Dividends Leading Mets to Opening Day Win

by Scott Mandel

Now is when the true bosses of major league baseball teams, the general managers, get to see if their off-season brilliance of player signings and acquisitions turn out, on the field, as well as they seemed to be in the planning stages, on paper.

Welcome to the 2019 baseball season. For the Mets, after one game, so far, so good.

If Brodie Van Wagenen is keeping score after today’s opening day game for his New York Mets, he’s accepting high-fives from the Wilpon family tonight after the Mets defeated the Washington Nationals in Washington, 2-0, behind his key acquisition.

Robinson Cano, acquired by Van Wagenen from the Seattle Mariners to be the number three hitter in the Mets lineup, supplied the offensive firepower, such as it was, to bring the Mets home to a 2-0 win this afternoon over the second best pitcher in baseball, Max Scherzer of the Nationals. Cano led the way with a first inning home run and a clutch single to the opposite field in the sixth inning, driving in both Mets runs to pave the way for the first win of the season for the best pitcher in baseball, Mets ace, Jacob deGrom.

Watch Cano’s home run today:
https://www.mlb.com/video/robinson-cano-homers-1-on-a-fly-ball-to-center-field

Cano’s production led to the first win of the season for deGrom, he of the two-day old, ink not quite dried $137.5 million, five-year contract extension. After his Cy Young season in 2018, in which the Mets averaged 1.7 runs per game for him, the two runs Cano drove in must have felt like a deluge.

But, deGrom made those runs stand up, shutting down a solid Nationals lineup in front of a full house in D.C.

DeGrom finished his day, throwing six innings, allowing five hits, zero runs, zero walks, and 10 strikeouts. A dominating performance even if his command early in the game wasn’t at its peak.

“I made some good pitches when I needed to,” deGrom said. “I threw some sliders and changeups, especially later in the game. I didn’t have great command of my breaking pitches early on but I was able to battle.”

Last season, deGrom, finished only one game over .500, with a 10-9 record, as astounding a set of numbers for a Cy Young winner as has ever existed. He almost needed to shut out opposing teams to have a chance at getting a win. Even though his support today wasn’t much better, the presence of Cano, the former Yankee who is on a Hall of Fame track as one of the best hitting second basemen the game has seen. adds star power to a Mets lineup that can only look better because of his presence.

“Scherzer is one of the best out there,” said Cano after the game in discussing his home run in the first. “I was looking for a pitch over the plate. I was able to make contact with one right over the middle.”

DeGrom was thankful for his two runs but just as happy to get good defensive support from his mates.

“We had good plays in the field, behind me,” deGrom added. “I was nervous today. Once I get out there, I’m okay. But, I felt the pressure today with it being Opening Day.”

This was the first time Cano had played behind deGrom.

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DeGrom gets his first win of 2019 against the Nationals

“DeGrom is so special,” Cano said. “It’s unbelievable how he can pitch out of tough situations. He’s fun to play behind.”

To top off the Brodie ratings of player acquisitions, the Mets new closer, the 6’3″, 165 lb. beanpole, Edwin Diaz, pitched a tidy and high-powered (hitting 99mph on the radar gun) last inning to close the matter out.

Brodie Van Wagenen was smiling at the end of the game.

Notes: Today’s outing by deGrom was his 30th straight start allowing 3 runs or less, a major league baseball record. Cano was the 10th player in Mets history to hit a home run in his first at bat with the team. Mets rookie first baseman, Pete (“don’t call me, Peter”) Alonzo got his first major league hit, a single in the eighth inning.

Breaking News: Mets Complete Deal with ace pitcher, Jacob deGrom

According to Andy Martino, a Mets beat reporter for the New York Daily News, the Mets have reached a deal with their National League Cy Young award winner, Jacob deGrom, on a contract extension.

DeGrom’s new contract calls for another five guaranteed years, with a no-trade option for $137.5 million. This deal is on top of the current one-year contract the pitcher signed for this upcoming season, in which the Mets are paying him $17 million.

DeGrom will receive a $10 million signing bonus, and the 25.6 million per year average when the $137.5 extension is added-on to his current $17 million deal for 2019 is in line with similar deals for club aces, such as Chris Sale of the Red Sox.

DeGrom will have a full no-trade clause and can opt out of the deal in 2022, while the Mets have a club option for $32.5 million in 2024.

DeGrom, 30, had recently expressed concerns that he was losing faith a deal would get done.

“Honestly, I really have been trying not to think about it,” he said Saturday after his final Grapefruit League appearance before starting Opening Day against the Nationals. “Yeah, I said I wanted to get something done, but it’s getting close to Opening Day and I think my focus is on that right now.”

Noah Syndergaard also had begun politicking for deGrom, and while he couldn’t get the team’s trip to Syracuse canceled, at least he can be happy about this.

“Jake is the best pitcher in baseball right now,” Syndergaard said. “I think he deserves whatever amount he’s worth and I want to keep him happy so when it becomes time to reach free agency, he stays on our side and pitches for the Mets. I just think they should quit all this fuss and pay the man already.”

Up until last season, deGrom had been represented by current Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen at CAA. DeGrom opted to stick with that agency, and Jeff Berry handled negotiations with Mets brass this offseason.

DeGrom pitched to a brilliant 1.70 ERA last season, striking out 269 batters in 217 innings.

The deal is pending a physical. He is in NY right now for physical while the rest of the Mets team is in Syracuse, New York, the home of their Triple A minor league team.

Marty Noble, Great Baseball Writer, Dies

Marty Noble, whose capacity to report on baseball and write artful prose about it was surpassed only by his love for the sport, died on Sunday evening in Florida at a ballgame, a family member said.

Noble was a mainstay on New York baseball coverage at Newsday for more than two decades and shaped the way the paper approached his favorite game. He was 70.

Noble grew up in the Bronx and was a college basketball player, but he was best known as a source of information and perspective on the baseball team in Queens. He chronicled the Mets’ rise in the 1980s and their ups and downs in the 1990s. He developed close relationships with players, front office executives and support people. Noble was on either a first-name or nickname basis with an A-list that included Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and David Wright.

The man whom fellow writers considered a wordsmith began his reporting career in New Jersey at the Herald News in 1970 and moved to the Bergen Record in 1972, joining the baseball beat there in 1974.

He arrived at Newsday in 1981. During his early years, the paper had beat writers switch beats during the season, so he went back and forth between the Yankees and Mets. He covered the Mets exclusively from 1990 to 2004 and later worked for MLB.com.

He was widely recognized for decades worth of scoops, from his days with Billy Martin’s Yankees to his seasons with Bobby Valentine’s Mets. When the Mets were flailing in 1999 and replaced their entire coaching staff during a Subway Series against the Yankees, it was Noble who came up with the story a day before the club made its announcement.

He covered the Mets-Braves game in Atlanta on July 4, 1985, that went 19 innings and lasted 6 hours and 10 minutes.

Long before baseball discovered analytics, Noble was a devotee of numbers, and he often used them in his stories and Sunday columns. He was a strong devotee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, usually attending induction weekend festivities even when he was not assigned to cover them.

His ability to dig for stories and find unusual angles became a model for a generation of baseball writers, many of whom wrote for him in his most recent role as editor of the program for the annual New York Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner.

In the most recent edition, Noble expounded for several pages on some of his favorite things in the game. That list was long and eclectic, reflecting his encyclopedic knowledge of baseball, especially New York baseball, and his passions for storytelling and the newspaper craft itself.

He maintained his sharp reporting instincts when he later wrote for the major leagues’ digital platform. He covered the Mets for MLB.com and also compiled numerous extremely detailed and engaging obituaries.

He prepared those long before his subjects died, interviewing people who were puzzled by the process. He occasionally spoke about the time he called Ford about a contemporary and explained that the fellow was not yet dead but that his website wanted to have something ready for when the day did arrive. Ford wondered if his own obituary had been prepared yet. Noble told him it had, and Ford offered some additional information.

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If there was anything that captured Noble’s heart as much as the sport and his family, it was music. He had encyclopedic knowledge and a passionate devotion to all kinds of music, particularly early rock. His email address was “dw5254,” representing “doo wop” and two of his favorite baseball seasons.

Astros Ink Verlander, 36, to Two-Year, $66 Million Deal

After announcing the signing of All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman to a $100 million extension on Friday, the Astros reached a new deal with Justin Verlander, a source confirmed to MLB.com. The two-year deal will pay Verlander $66 million.

The club has not commented, though Astros owner Jim Crane said on Friday that both sides were talking about a contract and that any extension would likely have to be finished before the club breaks camp on Sunday.

“I don’t think anything is final, but if it’s going to get done, it’s going to get done before we get out of here,” Crane said. “He doesn’t really like to do it during the season, but that could change, too. There’s interest on both sides, so we’ll see what happens.”

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Verlander, 36, was acquired by the Astros on Aug. 31, 2017, and helped them win their first World Series that year, when he was named ALCS Most Valuable Player. Verlander went 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA last year and led the AL in strikeouts (290) and quality starts (26), finishing second in the AL Cy Young race to the Rays’ Blake Snell.

Set to become a free agent after the coming season, Verlander said last month that he wasn’t dwelling on free agency, but he expressed happiness about pitching in Houston.

“The city, the fans, my teammates, the organization from top to bottom — from Mr. Crane all the way down to the locker room — stuff has made my transition easy and joyful,” Verlander said. “I felt accepted right away, and I really enjoyed my time here. That’s a testament to all those people.”

Will Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant Team Up for Broadway Opening?

There’s a strongly held insider’s theory Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who are good friends, intend to join up with the Knicks. After Kyrie finally publicly pledged to stay in Boston a few months ago, an NBA general manager said, with some skepticism, “We’ll see.”

Both players are mercurial, which is to say their flights of fancy often take off from the wrong airports and head to the wrong towns. For Durant, Oakland wasn’t exactly what he thought it would be. They didn’t need a savior as much as they needed another piece to fit in with Klay and Steph.

Despite Durant now fashioning not one, but two new rings as a member of the Dubs, his legacy still doesn’t make him the key player in bring a city an unexpected world championship.

Irving is in the same boat. He won in Cleveland, but, as great as he played there, particularly so during the championship series, most of the props (okay, all of the props) went to homeboy, LeBron. So, like KD, KI is searching for that legacy-building franchise.

Enter your poor, awful NY Knicks, who haven’t won a championship since 1973, only 46 years ago. The hometown is getting restless.

It’s a good setup for the two stars to join the ragtag Knicks, who will be getting one of the top five picks in the upcoming draft. Let’s face it. though, the only pick they want is Zion Williamson, of Duke. He is surely the best player in the NBA minor league, aka, the american university system. He may even be a top 10 player in the NBA, right now, his talent being so enormous at age 19.

So, hold tight. We shall see.

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