Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jets Select Penn State's Hackenberg in 2nd Round

The Jets quarterback quandry got even more interesting on Friday night when the team selected Christian Hackenberg out of Penn State with the 51st pick of the draft. Hackenberg had been linked to the Jets for days leading up to his selection after rumors about Paxton Lynch heading to Gang Green died out by Thursday night.

Once former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington announced to the crowd that the Jets had selected Hackenberg, a collective gasp could be heard in the audience in Chicago. Those dressed in Jets gear sat in their seats,  with their hands on their heads in total disappointment and shock, and who could blame them. The Jets have totally made their quarterback position into the biggest joke in the NFL. Not event the Cleveland Browns can claim this much instability at the position.

In Hackenberg the Jets get a total project. He was brilliant his Freshman year under Bill O'Brien's pro style offense for the Nittnay Lions, but struggled horribly when O'Brien left for the Houston Texans, and was replaced by James Franklin. In his two years under Franklin, Hackenberg's completions percentage took a total nose dive. He completed only 55 precent of his passes in 2014, and a horrible 53 percent in 2015. Not to mention the turnovers shot up. After throwing 20 touchdowns and 10 picks his rookie year, he threw only 28 touchdowns and 21 picks in his final two years in college.

Hackenberg developed plenty of bad habits from inaccuracy, to turnovers and sacks. A lot of scouts were reported as saying they didn't think Hackenberg would do well at the NFL level. The only one who seemed enamored with the quarterback was Jets GM Mike Maccagnan, and it will be on Maccagnan for not just this pick, but an entire draft that left nothing but a sour taste in the mouths of Jets fans.

Rich Cimini, who covers the Jets for ESPN New York, called the drafting of Hackenberg a 'panic move' and he would be exactly right. This was a total panic move by the Jets, who have no idea whether Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to return or not. Instead they now have two rookie quarterback projects in Hackenberg and last year's draftee Bryce Petty, and an underachieving hot mess in Geno Smith. This is not good. Three back-ups and not one of them is a starter.

Hackenberg is not going to see the field this year, meaning that New York wasted an impact draft pick on a guy who may not see the field for two years, if he ever sees the field for this franchise.

The drafting of Hackenberg now throws another monkey wrench in the Fitzpatrick sweepstakes. Reports are the Jets still want Fitz back, but now on a one-year deal. Fitzpatrick has been looking for a long term deal in the $16 million per year range, and this will only make negotiations even more difficult. Why will Fitzpatrick sign a deal with the Jets now, when he knows he has no future with them? Why would the Jets now cave and give Fitzpatrick more than $10 million for one-year? It won't happen. If it does, than the Jets, Fitzpatrick or both parties are that desperate.

Then again, the Jets could also swing a deal with the Los Angeles Rams for Nick Foles. Yes, that rumor is now out there too. The Rams can afford to shop Foles after they drafted Jared Goff with the first pick in the draft. Goff will start, and Foles has no spot now. Three years ago, Foles had one of the best years of any career when he threw 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions for the Eagles. He has never come close to that production. Yet, he is a big armed quarterback who stands at 6-foot-6. He's got the attributes a team looks for, but the consistency has not been there.

As one can see, Maccagnan has made his search for a franchise quarterback into a total fiasco. One has to wonder how Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker feel right about now? How Matt Forte, who signed with Gang Green in March, feels right about now, and veterans like Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis feel right about now? It can't be good. Not when a franchise can't help but keep itself in the headlines over an issue that should never have been an issue when the 2015 season ended around New Year's.

Oh, and mini camp is just weeks away. How much more fun are we in for with regard to the Jets?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ryan Fitzpatrick rather "sit" than take Jets offer

The stalemate between the New York Jets and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hit ridiculous speed a long time ago, as neither side can come to terms on any kind of deal. Heck, they can't even meet halfway right now.

Reports surfaced on Thursday that Fitzpatrick would rather sit out the entire 2016 season than play for the Jets and their offer. The Jets reportedly offered a deal in the $7 million to $8 million range. Fitzpatrick wants a deal around $16 million a year. Even the Denver Broncos steered clear of Fitzpatrick when his asking price was too much for them.

The Jets want to get a deal done with Fitzpatrick, if for no other reason than the fact the quarterback had great locker room chemistry with his teammates and played well last year. Fitzpatrick has seen the likes of Brock Osweiler, Sam Bradford and Chase Daniels cash in on mega deals, and none of those guys threw 31 touchdown passes last year. Fitzpatrick did.

If Fitzpatrick is fixated on sitting out an entire season because he won't get the contract that he deems is fair, the Jets really need to move on. While bringing Fitzpatrick back makes all the sense in the world, (nobody wants to see Geno Smith start this year), the Jets have to understand that they can't force Fitzpatrick to sign a deal he doesn't want.

Granted, the Jets are offering a very fair contract for a player who never once in his career dominated the position. Fitzpatrick had a career year last year and the Jets rewarded him with an offer for $8 million a year. That is not too shabby. Fitzpatrick has to realize that if he is going to play any down of football this year, he needs to lower the terms of his contract demands. Not only are the Jets staying away but so are other teams. If Fitzpatrick plays this out and does sit out (as unlikely as it is) he can pretty much kiss his career good-bye. Nobody will want to even pay the veterans minimum to a 34-year old quarterback who took a year off, because he was making a public statement about his salary.

Fitzpatrick needs to realize that the Jets are the only destination out there for him. It's the only outlet that guarantees him a starting job this year. The Broncos are going to start Paxton Lynch after trading up to draft him. The 49ers are stuck with Colin Kaepernick. The Browns just signed RGIII, and the Rams and Eagles drafted quarterbacks in round one. There are no more starting spots available, except the Jets.

Time for Fitzpatrick to put aside this ridiculous charade and sign a contract.

Jets and Giants stink it up with first round selections

It has been a pretty bizarre off-season, at least for one of the two teams in New York.

In one corner, Giants GM Jerry Reese is under the gun to get the G-Men back on track, or else face the wrath of John Mara and company at the end of the upcoming season. In the other corner, the Jets continue their kamikaze off-season. It has not been fun for either team this Spring.

It didn't get any better after the first night of the NFL draft.

The Giants pretty much panicked with their first pick in the draft when the selected Eli Apple, a corner back out of Ohio State with the 10th pick. A lot of people had defensive end Leonard Floyd falling to the Giants at 10, but the Bears traded up to nine to get him. The Giants could have tapped Shaq Lawson, the talented pass rusher out of Clemson, but surprisingly passed on him.

Yes, the Giants needed a cornerback, they had one of the worst pass defenses in the league last year, but Apple is a guy who is extremely raw, and was kind of a reach at the 10th pick. While he has good size, 6-foot-1, he is extremely young, only 20-years old, and was a pass interference machine in college. He loves wrapping himself around receivers, which means teams in the NFL will pick on Apple all day long.

This is not the impact defensive player that the Giants needed to get. They needed an edge rusher more than anything, and totally dropped the ball here. Reese called Apple, a "value pick." But, in the first round, your objective as a NFL team is not to get a value pick, but to find an immediate impact player. The Giants didn't get that in Apple.

As for the Jets, they totally underwhelmed with their first round selection of Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee. Lee is an undersized inside linebacker, who while he has good speed, might be an odd fit in Todd Bowles defense. Lee had only four sacks last year for Ohio State, and is more of a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. The biggest knock on him is that he gets beat way too often against the run. This pick was a huge gamble, and one that may not produce instant results for Gang Green.

While the Jets were smart to avoid taking a quarterback, such as Memphis' Paxton Lynch, they really could have been more aggressive and bold and taken a flyer on Myles Jack from UCLA. Yes, Jack has an injury history, but he was the better player on the board when the Jets were picking.

As for the Lynch to the Jets stuff, I will say this, it might be the best for both worlds. The Jets would have thrown Lynch into the kerfuffle that is their quarterback situation.  They are still trying to sign Ryan Fitzpatrick to a long term deal, and are not sold totally on Geno Smith and Bryce Petty. Lynch, by all accounts is a developmental quarterback, and the pressure cooker of New York probably would have been too much for him.

 Lynch instead goes to Denver, where there is little question that he will be the starter at some point this season. There is no way in H-E-L-L that John Elway is going to live with Mark Sanchez under center for the Broncos. Lynch is going to be his guy, and watch him flourish in Denver. The Broncos have a good system and know what they are doing ... unlike the Jets.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Jets and Giants 2016 Schedules Announced, Analysis

The 2016 NFL schedule is now available! The schedule, which was not supposed to be released until next Thursday, was instead released this evening with a whole slew of surprises, big games and monster primetime match-ups.

 From the national perspective, the NFL hits a monster homerun with its top two primetime games in week 1, the Panthers will visit the Broncos in a Super Bowl rematch on the opening Thursday night. Meanwhile the Patriots will visit the Cardinals on Sunday night football.

The NFL did drop the ball a bit by having Rams and 49ers in San Francisco rather than in Los Angeles in Week 1 on Monday Night Football, but there is a chance the reason the Rams didn't get a single primetime home game had a lot to do with the team playing in a college stadium.

As far as the local teams, the Jets will open the season at home for the seventh straight season, and for the second straight year it will be against a AFC North opponent from Ohio. No not the Browns, but the Cincinnati Bengals. Will be a fascinating game. The Bengals are still in search of that first playoff win, and need to get off to a good start in 2016. The Jets have been a team in total flux this off-season, and who knows who their quarterback will be by Week 1.

The last time the Jets and Bengals opened the season against one another, you'd have to go back to 2004, when the Jets hosted Cincy at the Meadowlands, a 31-24 Jets victory. It is also interesting to note that the Jets have opened the season at home every year MetLife Stadium has been opened, dating back to 2010. The Jets are 5-1 in their previous home/season openers.

The Giants on the other hand have get the short end of the stick again in Week 1. Not only will they open on the road for the fourth consecutive year, but they will face the Cowboys in Dallas for the second straight season. While this game won't be on Sunday night, it will be the headline game on Fox at 4:25 p.m. in Week 1. This is the fourth time in the past five seasons, dating back to 2012, that the Giants and Boys open the season against one another. Three of those match-ups now, 2013, 2015 and 2016 have been in Dallas.

Both New York teams get a total of five primetime games.

The Giants first primetime match-up is in Minnesota in Week 4 on Monday night football. The following week they visit Green Bay on Sunday night. Big Blue will host the Bengals on Monday night football in Week 10, and the Cowboys on Sunday night football in Week 14. Their final primetime game will be in Philadelphia on a Thursday night in Week 16, which is also on NBC. The Giants also face the Rams in London in Week 7.

The Jets five primetime match-ups include a Week 2 tilt with Rex Ryan and the Bills on Thursday night football on CBS and NFL Network. That will be a huge game, considering the Bills beat the Jets twice last year by the count of 22-17. It was a no-brainer these two teams would see each other early in the year in primetime. The Jets also visit Arizona in Week 6 and host the Colts in Week 13, both games will be on Monday night football. The Jets host the Patriots on November 27 in their lone Sunday night contest. The Jets final primetime game will be on Saturday, December 17 at home against Miami.

The Jets will play six games on the road in nine weeks, certainly a very difficult stretch.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Jets acquire Broncos tackle Ryan Clady to replace Ferguson

When reports surfaced on Friday that D'Brickashaw Ferguson had decided to retire from pro football everyone was stunned, except for the Jets.

Perhaps Gang Green really did anticipate his retirement coming, because 36 hours after the announcement the Jets formally acquired Ryan Clady and a seventh-round pick from the Denver Broncos in exchange for a fifth-round pick.  

All of sudden the Jets have replaced Ferguson, who started 167 consecutive games over 10 years for New York, with a tackle who when healthy is a physical presence on the offensive line, who stands at 6'6" and 315 pounds. 

The big question regarding Clady is health. While his predecessor was always the top bill of health, Clady was the opposite. He has missed 30 games over the past three seasons.  He played only two games in 2013 when he suffered a Lisfranc injury (foot injury) that led him to miss the rest of the '13 season. Clady missed all of the Broncos 2015 Super Bowl season. 

Because of the health concerns and high price tag ($9.5 million over two years) the Broncos and GM John Elway had been looking to trade the offensive tackle after they signed former Seahawk, Russell Okung when free agency began. 

In order to make the trade happen, the Jets had to work out new deal with Clady, and restructured the deal to a one-year deal worth $6 million, with $3 million guaranteed. Clady also gets a one-year option for $10 million if things pan out this year. 

This is a huge gamble for the Jets. If Clady remains healthy this year and reclaims the status that made him one of the games top left tackles, this could be an absolute steal for the Jets, especially since it cost them only a fifth-round pick. Obviously, if Clady is not healthy, the Jets issues at left tackle will only persist. 

It should be interesting to see how this trade affects the Fitzpatrick negotiations, if at all. The Jets have taken a hard stance on Fitzpatrick's contract, refusing to pay him more than $7 million a year. Fitzpatrick has been looking for something in the $10-$11 million a year range.

In addition, the Clady move could still have an impact on the Jets draft plans. New York had been expected to target either defense line or even quarterback before the Ferguson retirement. Now they might have to settle for a tackle. My guess is they will still target the offensive line with their first pick in Round One. 

Ferguson Retires After Jets Ask him for Paycut

D'Brickashaw Ferguson won't take a paycut to stay with the Jets. Instead the pro Bowl leftt tackle decided to retire for reasons most still are not sure of.

One thing is for sure, the Jets offseason which has been pockmarked by the ongoing Ryan Fitzpatrick negotiation, has now taken a new twist with the Jets losing their blindside protector for the quarterback, which will almost undoubtably change the course of the Jets draft plans.

For Ferguson the announcement of his retirement comes as a big surprise, even if the Jets claim that it isn't, at least to them. While Ferguson's production had dropped off the past couple of years, there was no indication from him until the day it happened that he was going to retire. In fact, it is ironic in more ways then one that he made his firm decision only after the Jets spoke to him about a pay cut.

Reports have indicated that Ferguson had considered retirement for sometime, especially if he couldn't meet his own standards. Perhaps the contract was the final straw.

Last week, Jets GM Mike Maccagnan spoke to Ferguson about taking a pay cut that would free up cash for the Jets to sign Fitzpatrick. Ferguson had a $14 million cap hit in 2016 and the Jets, with only $1 million in cap room left, felt pushing Ferguson to accept less money was a home run for everyone. Well, as it turns out its really only a home run for Ferguson who leaves with a full bill of health and plenty of money saved after a long and productive playing career.  The New York Post reported that Ferguson was approached at the Jets facility about the reduction in pay, which didn't surprise the left tackle. There were no formal negotiations either.

Those who want to run around and claim that Ferguson retired because the movie "Concussion" heavily influenced him are making a fairly weak case. Yes, Ferguson was troubled by the movie, he spoke out heavily against the NFL's lack of transparency.  A lot of players who have been victims of concussions are ticked off at the League for its lack of transparency on the issue, and there are certainly enough active players, troubled by it as well. But, to say it was the deciding factor is a bit far fetched.

Ferguson's decision is simply about money, and whether he felt he should keep playing at a high level for less. Sorry, conspiracy theorists, Will Smith gets no credit here.

According to the New York Daily News, Ferguson was troubled by the sense that the organization was trying to replace him, something he saw firsthand when the Jets drafted bust Vlad Ducasse to push out veteran Allen Faneca. When Ferguson got word the Jets wanted HIM to take a pay cut, it was the tall tell sign that he needed to make a move.

Make no mistake Ferguson was a great player for the Jets. He missed only one snap his entire career, playing in 167 straight games for the Jets since they drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He will be missed, and he made a decision that was sound and well thought out. Ferguson has a bright future in the business world, whether it is sports related or not. You will be hearing a lot about his success off the field for years to come.

As far as the business of football is concerned, the ball is really in Maccagnan's court now, and he can't screw this up. He asked Ferguson to take less so he could keep Fitzpatrick, and now has lost his left tackle. While the loss frees up $9 million in salary cap space, the pressure is on the Jets to get the Fitzpatrick deal done.

Fitzpatrick has done a terrible job handling this himself. He and his agent overvalued  the quarterback's worth to the point that nobody, not even the Denver Broncos who went out a traded for Mark Sanchez, want a piece of him. Fitzpatrick is negotiating against himself and the Jets know it.

 The Jets are right to hold firm in this negotiation, but as they do, RGIII is now in Cleveland and Colin Kaepernick looks destined for the aforementioned Broncos. The 49ers seem poised to draft one of this year's top quarterbacks in a draft that is rail thin on good quarterbacks. So the pressure is on the Jets to get something done soon. If Fitzpatrick were to somehow, by a miracle, find a landing spot elsewhere the Jets would be in huge trouble. The idea of Geno Smith or inexperienced Bryce Petty starting under center is starring them in the face.

Moreover the Jets were even looking at Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch last week. Rumors were swirling that Lynch could be the Jets guy at the 20th pick, but with the latest developments on the offensive line, the Jets will probably scrap any plans to draft a quarterback early in the draft, if at all.

And that leads to this question: Who is going to play left tackle? A lot of people have speculated the Jets would go out and trade for Ryan Clady, who is due $19.5 million over two years from the Broncos. The Broncos are still in negotiation with San Francisco for Kaepernick, and would probably ask for a kings ransom from the Jets in the form of draft picks and compensation. While a trade is always possible, this is one that seems unlikely -- at least right now.

The other option of course is to draft a tackle. The draft is full of top lineman, many of them are expected to go early in the draft. Unless someone falls in the draft, the Jets might have to trade up to get a top guy. Then again, the stock on some of the second tier lineman might start to go up.

So while the Jets may have gotten what they wanted with money off the books, it may come at the expense of Fitzpatrick, who right now, has nobody to protect his blindside. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Giants and Jets preseason schedules announced

The 2016 regular season schedule for the NFL must be coming up fairly soon. How do we know? Well, the preseason schedule was released this afternoon.

Most already knew that the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts were to play a preseason game at the Hall of Fame at the start of August, but the rest of the meaningless slate is now available.

Regarding the Jets and Giants, the two New York teams will face one another in their annual Preseason Week 3 tilt with the Jets serving as the home team.

The Jets will open the preseason hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Meadowlands. The last time these two faced off in the summer, you have to go back to 2013. The Jets and Jags did meet in the regular season last year, with the Jets getting the win. The Jets will then visit the Redskins in Week 2 of the preseason schedule. New York will close out the summer with a trip down I-95 to Philadelphia.

The Giants, meanwhile will have a AFC East flare to the schedule. In addition to their annual match-ups with the Jets and Patriots, the Giants will open up the preseason at home against the Miami Dolphins, and will visit Rex Ryan and the Bills in preseason week 2.

JETS preseason schedule
JACKSONVILLE
@ Washington
NY GIANTS
@ Philadelphia

GIANTS preseason schedule
MIAMI
@ Buffalo
@ NY Jets
NEW ENGLAND

Monday, April 4, 2016

Yankees Postpone Opening Day

Due to the inclement weather on Monday, the Yankees smartly postponed their season opener against the Houston Astros til Tuesday at 1:05 p.m. It was the right decision, in fact the Yankees made the announcement around 8:00 this morning, which was a classy move. Instead of having 50,000 people travel to the Stadium and sit in rain for no reason, might as well postpone it.


The Game will be a rematch of last Fall's Wild Card game between the Yankees and Astros with the same pitching matchup, Masahiro Tanaka and Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel dominated the Yankees last season in the playoffs, and is one of the American League's top starters. Tanaka is one of many Yankees out to prove that he is more than an aging player who gets injured too often.


Mistakes Doom Mets Once Again in Kansas City

ROYALS 4, METS 3

The Mets opened up 2016 the exact same way the closed out 2015, getting buried by the Kansas City Royals amid a plethora of mistakes and bad decisions. A bobbled ball in the outfield by Yoenis Cespedes, a misplay in the outfield by Juan Lagares, questionable decision making by Terry Collins, and poor at bats did the Mets in on a night where they had to sit through an entire World Series celebration ceremony. 

While it is only one game, and there are 161 more games to go in the season, Sunday's loss was disturbing. Disturbing from the vantage point that the Mets may have been exposed a bit as a team that needs more work on the fundamentals if this season is truly going to be a success. 

This is not to take anything away from the Royals, who have built a reputation as a team that prays upon and cashes in on other teams mistakes. There is a reason why Kansas City has been to two straight World Series' and has a championship to boot.

Still this was a tough one to sit through for the Mets. And it started right away when Yoenis Cespedes bobbled a fly ball off the bat of Mike Moustakas in left field. A ball that Cespedes should have caught, he dropped leading everyone to have flashbacks to Game 1 of the World Series when he dropped a fly ball in center field that led to a Royals rally. 

The Cespedes error wasn't the only mistake of the inning. Travis d'Arnaud had a pitch from Matt Harvey bounce off his glove, allowing Moustakas to get into scoring position. Of course the Royals made the Mets pay later in the frame when Met-killer, Eric Hosmer lined a base hit through the hole at short, driving in Moustakas to make it 1-0. 

For Matt Harvey this was not his night, but it wasn't his fault the Mets lost. He made his pitches, kept his team in the game and threw strikes. The problem was the defense behind him was just putrid. Harvey kept it 1-0 and 2-0 for the longest time, before everything fell apart in the sixth inning. 

In that frame, Harvey walked Lorenzo Cain to lead things off. Then, Hosmer put down a perfect bunt single to move Cain over to second. How the Mets allowed themselves to get duped on this, I'll never understand. After Harvey got Franklin Morales to ground into a double-play, he was almost out of the inning, were it not for Juan Lagares misplaying a fly ball off the bat of Alex Gordon. The ball bounced in and out of Lagares' glove, allowing a run to score to make it 3-0. 

Harvey soon exited the game for Bartolo Colon, who proceeded to give up a run scoring single to Omar Infante. Why Mets manager Terry Collins decided to bring Colon into the game is a real head scratcher. While Colon didn't give up any runs on his own personal ledger, this was a spot for Collins to put faith in his bullpen and he didn't do it. Instead Collins went to his fifth starter, an obvious sign that there is something wrong with the Mets front end of the pen. Collins doesn't trust them and it was obvious on Sunday night. 

Now trailing 4-0, the Mets finally woke up against Joakim Soria in the eighth. Lagares singled, Curtis Granderson singled, and Cespedes walked to load it up for Lucas Duda. Duda punched a single to left to score two runs and the Mets were in business, down 4-2. Neil Walker, who had a ho-hum evening at the dish, grounded into a fielder's choice for a RBI to make it 4-3. 

The effort wasn't enough. With the tying and lead run on base, the Royals went to Luke Hochevar, who struck out Asdrubal Cabrera swinging on a pitch low in the zone. A bad at bat by the Mets in a crucial spot. 

However, the biggest blown opportunity came in the ninth inning with runners on the corners and one out with David Wright at the plate. Wright fell behind 0-2 and decided to take a fastball down the middle for strike three. Wright didn't swing to defend inside and came away fooled by Wade Davis. Now it was up to Cespedes with an opportunity for some redemption; but, Cespedes ended up striking out on pitch way outside to end the game. 

The Mets (0-1) didn't look good on Sunday. They were exposed. If the Mets are going to be a repeat National League/World Series contender they are going to have to clean up a lot over the course of the season. Sunday was just a start, but not a good one. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mets Set For Royal Rematch


The Mets are back in Kansas City for the first time since Game 2 of the World Series last October. The last time these two teams met it was Game 5 of the World Series with the Royals erasing a 2-0 deficit to comeback and stun the Mets in extras 7-2, taking the Fall Classic in five games. The series was best know for Kansas City's uncanny ability to be clutch at the most opportune of times, while the Mets were exposed and beset by terrible mistakes in the field.

Make no mistake these two teams respect one another, but aren't exactly fans of one another. Two of the games were decided by two runs or less, and Game 5 had extra innings. There was even an incident involving Noah Syndergaard going high and tight to Alcides Escobar in Game 3 that resulted in Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas screaming at Syndergaard from the Royals dugout. Many expect KC to seek revenge this week, although when a team raises a World Series banner and distributes rings, I don't find it hard to believe that plunking someone is better retaliation than that.

Lets look at the match-up.

Pitching Match-ups:
Game 1, Sunday night: Matt Harvey vs. Edison Volquez
Game 2, Tuesday afternoon: Noah Syndergaard vs. Chris Young.

Sunday night's match-up is a rematch of Games 1 and 5 with Harvey matching wits with Volquez. Both games were classics last year with the Mets holding late inning leads, and in both cases blowing those leads. In Game 1, the Royals came-back from a 4-3 deficit when Alex Gordon homered off Jeurys Familia. The Royals won in extras 5-4. Game 5 we talked about above. In both games Harvey out-pitched Volquez, but the veteran did more than enough to keep the Royals in the contest. Should be interesting to see how amped up both starters are for this one. For Harvey it is his first Opening Day start, and first game since that Game 5 meltdown. For Volquez he has a chance to get things off on the right foot for the champs.

Tuesday's game will feature the Game 3 starter for the Mets (Noah Syndergaard) against Royals newcomer Ian Kennedy. This will be a fascinating match-up. Kennedy is not exactly one of the games top starters. The Royals are taking a flyer hoping he can become something with the Royals stout bullpen and lineup backing him up. Syndergaard is looking to back-up his dominant effort against KC in Game 3 last Fall with a big effort on the road. This is a big year for Syndergaard, who many expect to come into his own this year.

Starting Pitching: Edge METS.


Key Battles: 
1st Base: Lucas Duda vs. Eric Hosmer: Edge ROYALS. Hosmer is as clutch as they come. He belted 18 homers and drove in 93 last year during the regular season. While his batting average in the playoffs was low, he still found ways to get big hits in big spots like he did against the Mets in the World Series. As for Duda, he's always good for some power, but is way too inconsistent.

3rd Base: David Wright vs. Mike Moustakas: Edge ROYALS. This is the first game of a telling year for Wright. He needs to show that his back troubles are truly behind him, with a solid start to the 2016 campaign. While nobody expects the David Wright of 10 years ago, if the Mets get 130 games out of him this year they will take it. As for Moustakas, he really came into his own last year. Belting 22 homers, driving in 82 and hitting .284, Moustakas had his best year. He is a powerful left-handed bat in the middle of the line-up for KC, and has become an very difficult out.

Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud vs. Salvador Perez: Edge ROYALS. The Royals have the edge going into this series at catcher for the simple fact that Perez is coming off the World Series MVP, and is a guy who just hits all the time. In the last three years, Perez averaged 140 hits a season, which is tremendous for someone who catches almost everyday. The Royals really should think about giving him more days off to rest him for later in the year, but his presence in this series will be apparent.

As for d'Arnaud, we need to see more than 67 games caught during the regular season. Health has always been a concern with him, and when he does play, d'Arnaud doesn't always wow with the arm strength. He does have some pop in the bat, and could be good for a big hit at some point in this two game set vs. Kansas City.

Left Field: Yoenis Cespedes vs. Alex Gordon: Edge METS: Yes, I know Gordon had a better Fall Classic than Cespedes did, but if you ask me, I'll take Cespedes everyday of the week and twice on Sunday over the aging Gordon. Cespedes has a chance this weekend to let the Royals have it after he had a lackluster World Series against them. This is not a guy the Royals should fool around with.

Closer: Jeurys Familia vs. Wade Davis. slight edge: ROYALS:  Davis gets a lot of credit as the games top closer today, and it is with good reason, the guy has microscopic ERAs the past two years. Last October, Davis had a 0.00 ERA with four saves in four chances. He is an absolute stud, but so is Familia for the Mets. While the nation didn't see it in the World Series, Familia is a big time closer. He nailed down 43 games last year, and has the stuff to be a dominant closer in this league for years to come.

Intangibles: It's Opening Day, both of these teams are going to be ready to rock and roll tomorrow night. The Royals are raising their World Series banner at home which is added incentive for them to clobber the Mets. But, for the Mets this is a chance for some revenge. They are basically going into this game a heavy underdog, expected to roll over to the World Champs. They also will have World Series highlights shoved in their face throughout the pregame. That in of itself will be enough to jack them up even more. Edge: METS.

Prediction: Mets and Royals split the two games in Kanas City. 

LISTEN to Mets season preview from BlogTalkRadio. LISTEN to Royals season preview from BlogTalkRadio.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

2016 Mets season begins with high expectations

Last Fall the New York Mets gave us a run that nobody ever expected. First they won the NL East, then they outlasted the Dodgers in the NLDS, and stunned the national darling Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, dominating them in a four game sweep. Suddenly a franchise that couldn't do anything right was in its first World Series in 15 years.

While the Mets came up short in the Series to the Kansas City Royals, a series plagued by hideous mistakes, it was still a pleasant surprise to even see the Mets reach the pinnacle of the sport.

Now the expectations are much, much higher. Many think the Mets have what it takes to win the World Series this year. Others think it's World Series title or bust.

No doubt as we head into the 2016 season, the Mets come in with one of the best, young rotations in all of baseball. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz are not only all under the age of 28; they all can light up a radar gun in the mid to upper 90s, and have already had a full taste of postseason experience. Some believe this quartet has a chance to be the best ever, and might be the only time we see four potential aces all in the same rotation.

That is a lot of hype and promise for a young rotation, but these guys have earned it to an extend.

Harvey proved his "ace" status with his performance in Game 5 of the World Series. Even though Kansas City came from behind and tied that game and won it in extras, Harvey shut them down for much of the night, and had he finished that game with a 2-0 shutout it would have been one of the best World Series game outings in history. With that said, Harvey is always a guy that stirs controversy, some of it his own volition.

Before the Spring started he and his agent Scott Boros floated out stories about his pending free agency and desire to remain a Met long term. Then at the end of camp amid a rather frightening story regarding a bladder issue that nearly cost Harvey his Opening night start, he refused to talk to the media. Yes, Harvey is a controversial guy, but he is the bulldog of the staff.

As for deGrom, expect another outstanding year from him. deGrom won 17 games between the regular season and playoffs combined last year, and would surprise nobody if he won 20 games this year. While Harvey might be the bulldog of the Mets staff, deGrom is probably the Mets most reliable starter, pitching to an ERA around 2.61 and a WHIP of 1.04 his first two years in the League.

Syndeergaard will be a guy to watch this year. This being his first full year in the Majors, syndergaard is a big, strong kid with a tremendous fastball. He has electric stuff, and is not afraid to challenge hitters inside as we saw in the playoffs last year. This should be a 10+ win year for him this year.

While the Mets rotation doesn't have many questions, except for maybe the pending return of Zach Wheeler later this summer, the biggest questions regarding the Mets entering Opening Day is its lineup and bullpen.

Regarding the bullpen, the Mets must find out who is their bridge to Jeurys Familia. Addison Reed did a pretty good job in the roll when he was acquired at the deadline, but really struggled in the playoffs. Reed's track record does not say "set-up man" either, so one has to wonder if either veteran Antonio Bastardo or Hansel Robles end up taking that 8th inning role as the year progresses. We have to wait and see.

As for the Mets lineup, here are some key story lines:

1) Yoenis Cespedes: Cespedes signed a three-year deal with the Mets in the off-season, a contract that is really a one-year deal, since he can opt out after the 2016 season. This will be the Mets first chance to see Cespedes over the course of 162. While nobody should expect the kind of torrid stretch we saw from him last August and September, expect Cespedes to be the Mets biggest and most powerful weapon in the lineup. He hit 35 homers and drove in 105 last year, and at age 30 is still in his prime. This guy made a pitchers park like Citi Field look hitter friendly last year. That being said there are worts in his game, namely his defense. While he is a gifted left-fielder, Cepsedes had a lot of trouble in center last year for the Mets. The Mets will trade defense for offense  here, but he needs a better year defensively in center this season.  Of course the biggest story with Cespedes will be whether he opts out after the season.

2) David Wright: Wright's health is once again a story line. He dealt with spinal stenosis for almost the entire season, and yet came back in late August and still ended up hitting .289 for the season. Wright deserves a lot of credit for finding a way back onto the field last year, but the question is at what cost? How much Wright will we see this year? Wright already missed a chunk of time in Spring Training, and we should expect him to get plenty of time off early in the year as Terry Collins plays it safe. The Mets would love 130 out of Wright this year, but, that is a proposition that might be asking a lot. If Wright doesn't play much it means we could see more of Wilmer Flores or Eric Campbell at third.

3) Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Walker's addition is going to draw a lot of scrutiny since he is replacing Daniel Murphy, the guy who set the world on fire with his home-run happy postseason run through the National League. While Mets fans will miss Murphy's grit, they are getting a player in Walker who is a slight upgrade. Walker is a better fielder (.989 fielding percentage in 2015) and one who hits for a lot of power, averaging 16 or more homers in each of the last three years. Murphy was a good player, but not always the most consistent. While, Walker has to adjust to life in the Big Apple, he is going to likely hit around .270 and produce 15 homers and 70-80 RBI when the season is over.

Cabrera, however is a bigger gamble. The Mets basically signed an older version of Wilmer Flores. Outside of one really good year in 2011 with the Cleveland Indians, Cabrera has really struggled over the years. Not to mention he is a terrible field short stop. Cabrera's addition to short might come under heavy scrutiny, especially with fans clamoring for more Flores.

 4) Michael Conforto: Conforto has a chance to become of the baseball's best young hitters. Breaking out with nine homers and 26 RBI in 56 games last year, many expect Conforto to become a bigger line-up presence this year. And with good reason. Just look at him, he's a big strong left-handed hitter. he has 30-100 written all over him. The good thing for Conforto is that he can hide in this lineup. The Mets have Cespedes and Lucas Duda to take some pressure off of the young man in the power department. And with veterans David Wright and Curtis Granderson around, Conforto doesn't have to carry the load so quickly. Come 2017 and 2018, Conforto will be the face of the franchise along with deGrom and Syndergaard.

2016 Prediction: 93 - 69, 2nd place behind Washington. With tremendous expectations comes great pressure. We have been here before with the Mets. In 2001 the Mets were coming off a World Series appearance and ended up winning only 82 games. In 2007 and 2008, the Mets had teams capable of getting to the World Series, only to choke in the month of September. So there is no guarantee that the Mets are destined to succeed in 2016. The Mets are a good team, they could be great if everything breaks right.

The National League is very deep however. The Cubs are probably the best team on paper. The San Francisco Giants have gamers and can pitch with the best of them. The Arizona Diamondbacks have a young, aspiring team. The Pittsburgh Pirates still have a lethal lineup, and the Washington Nationals are not going to choke this year like they did in 2015. Expect the Mets to be in a dog fight for the NL East right down to the wire with the Nationals in 2016, with the loser getting a wild card.