While I watch the SF Giants battle it out with the Dodgers and the Padres in a nip-and-tuck sprint for the NL West title, my brother and father are watching the Yankees blow the Al East away to the tune of an 8.5 game lead over the Red Sox heading into this weekend’s series in Boston, and my cousins watch the Mets stumbling around in the NL East’s equally tight race. It’s an interesting way to view baseball, my NY roots and my West Coast roots intertwined, allowing me to see a team whose fortunes I follow doing well pretty much all the time.
However, the Mets falling apart has my family and many New Yorkers calling for a tribunal, or at least a recount. In fact, after testerday’s loss to the lowly Expos, the NY Daily News online edition has a insta-voting device asking the question of whether Mets’ reliever John Franco (who gave up a tie-breaking two-run home run to Tony Bautista last night), should retire and let the Mets win in peace. 90% say he should. My two cents? Art Howe is the one who should be taking the heat for Franco’s recent failings. Here’s the Daily News’ version of the eighth inning:
Franco replaced Glavine to open the eighth inning of a 1-1 game, and quickly retired Brad Wilkerson and Endy Chavez, dropping the average of lefty batters against him to .145 this season. Art Howe and pitching coach Rick Peterson intended for Franco to face the first four batters of the inning, despite the fact that righties are hitting an atypical .320 against him and switch-hitting Jose Vidro and the righty-batting Tony Batista were due up.
Vidro singled to left and only then did Orber Moreno begin warming, as Peterson visited the mound. Batista followed by belting a two-run homer to left on a fat, 85 mph fastball after Franco fell behind, 3-and-1.
What was Howe thinking? The only reason Franco is still in the league is because he get’s left-handed batters out. Allowing him to pitch innings at a time, facing both lefties and righties, is idiotic. He’s a batting practice pitcher to righties, while he owns some of the best lefties in the league, including Superman, who is something like 5 for 40 against Franco.
Howe didn’t show me much in Oakland, (where he was known to be Billy Beane’s puppet), and he hasn’t shown me much in New York either. Other than the fact that the Mets have proven to be able to come back from devastating losses, (in and of itself a good thing, but how many devastating losses should any team have in one season?), his team has been anything but consistent. What is strange to me is that in NY, the pressure cooker for sports figures, Howe has gotten a free pass from the media for most of his tenure. Almost all of the bad press on the team has focused on the players, and not the manager. I’m not saying he should be roasted, I’m just saying it’s strange that he hasn’t.
Meanwhile, the Giants continued their recent meanderings, losing again to the Padres, this time to the tune of 9-4. The loss was particularly galling because the Padres beat Schmidt, ending his 12 game winning streak. The big righty gave up 8 runs, the most he’s given up wearing the black and orange, and said he felt fine, they just got to him. OK, he’s gotta lose occasionally, but it was a bad game to get blasted.
The Giants need Schmidt to continue carrying them while their pitching staff flops around, sometimes awesome, but mostly awful. If it’s not the starters getting blown out, it’s the exhausted relievers melting down leads. And don’t get me started on Reuter, who is showing no sign of regaining the form that gave Sabean the idea of giving him a four year deal instead of Russ Ortiz.
Anyway, the loss drops the Giants into third place in the West, a suddenly stunning 5 games back in the loss column, and the team is on the verge of letting the season get away from them. When the Giants lost to the A’s on June 25th, a game in which the bullpen allowed the A’s to steal a game the Giants could have won, (allowing the A’s to twice break a tie game the offense had worked so hard to forge); here’s what Jim Brower had to say at the time; “A one-run loss is nothing to cry about. We wanted to win the game, but all the signs of our winning streak are still there.” Uh, no. All the signs of the winning streak weren’t there, and haven’t been since. The Giants are 12-10 since that loss, treading water while the Dodgers have gone 18-5, and the Padres are 15-8 over the same span.
So, just when the summer’s heating up, the Giants have cooled off. They need a boost, something to pick up the team, and it’s up to Sabean to give it to them, now. Another week or two of .500 ball, and the season could be over.