Friday, June 23, 2017

London Calling: President Trump Nominates Jets Owner as Ambassador

The inevitable is about to become a reality. Jets owner Woody Johnson is heading to England to become to United State Ambassador to the United Kingdom, after President Donald Trump nominated him this week.

 If the U.S. Senate approves Johnson's appointment, than the Jets will be left in the hands of Johnson's brother, Chris. Oh by the way, Johnson's appointment will be for three years, and he will have to live in England. While some cynical Jets fans might be happy that Woody might be leaving, he will remain the principal owner of the team.

Such an appointment is not unusual, since late Steelers owner Dan Rooney was the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland under President Obama. Keep in mind that was the Steelers -- one of the best run organizations in sports. This is the Jets.

It will be even more fascinating to see how Chris Johnson, who has no football experience, runs the franchise during the most critical point in its history. The team is visibly trying to tank the season in order to improve its draft status for 2018. There is also questions about the job security of both head coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan. If the Jets are 3-13 or worse, many think both will be fired. But, will that happen, considering 1) that Woody Johnson won't be around much? And 2) the team is not planning to do anything this year anyway?

And should the Jets part ways with either Bowles, Maccagnan or both, who will be in charge of finding their replacements?

All these questions are now on the table for the New York Jets in 2017.

Knicks Don't Trade Porzingis After All

The bizarre times of the New York Knicks continues to be, well, bizarre.

After fielding calls for days leading up to the NBA Draft about forward Kistaps Porzingis, Knicks President Phil Jackson decided not to trade the Knicks All Star, mainly because he was asking for too much. There were rumors that the Knicks were close to a deal with the Phoenix Suns, but nothing came of that deal, because the Knicks wanted Devin Booker and the number 4 overall pick in return.

Jackson even committed the biggest sin of all taking calls from the division rival Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, but nothing happened either.

So instead the Knicks decided to stand pat on Porzingis, at least for now, and drafted Frenchman Frank Ntilikina with their eighth pick in the draft. Ntilikina is a point-guard by trade, and the Knicks desperately need leadership at the position. While they passed on more well known players like Malik Monk, who went to Charlotte, the Knicks are hopping that Ntilikina turns out to be ... well ... like Porzingis. A guy that the fans didn't want that ends up winning their hearts.

How ironic.

Even with the dust settling on the draft, it doesn't change the fact that Jackson and Porzingis have some serious making up to do. Jackson went on MSG and made no qualms that he was looking to trade the Latvian star, even going as far as to claim that he never had any player not show up to a season-ending exit interview. A claim that is apparently a flat out lie.

As we all know we got here because of Porzingis' refusal to respect the Knicks GM by not showing up for that meeting, and reportedly tweeting out his support of fellow teammate Carmelo Anthony in his own battle with Jackson. There were even rumors that Porzingis wanted to play in Europe over the summer against the Knicks demands.

So while Porzingis isn't going anywhere right now, it doesn't mean that a trade isn't forthcoming. If the Knicks and Porzingis can't find common ground anytime soon, it will only make the fractured relationship beyond repair (if it isn't there already).

Where's James Dolan in all this? Well, he was singing the 'Blues' , literary, in New York with his band JD and the Straight Shot during the draft. Guess, unless a former player is throwing F-bombs his way, Dolan could care less ...

Friday, June 16, 2017

Odell Beckham and Giants Podcast

Part II of my show from June 15. Here Karen Vankat and I talk about the drama surrounding Odell Beckham Jr. Since Karen is a big Giants fan, I wanted to get her take on what is going on with Big Blue's star wide receiver.

The reports were rampant that Beckham skipped OTA's because of his contract. Perhaps, even though OTA's are voluntary. Still Beckham is one of the lowest paid receivers in the NFL, but is he worth it considering the drama he brings on and off the field?

Harvey lands on DL with another injury

Just when ya thought things were starting to look up for the Mets, the events of Thursday night happened. Matt Harvey will be sidelined for "several weeks"with a stress injury to the scapula bone in his right shoulder.

This is the latest setback for Harvey who has already undergone Tommy John Surgery and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome the last two seasons. According to reports Harvey's velocity was way down, averaging only 91.8 mph on his fastball in the Mets 9-4 win over the Cubs. Harvey lasted only four innings in that game.

Harvey was even quoted as saying he hasn't thrown 87 mph with a fastball since he was in high school.

This is a huge setback for a pitcher who is starting to turn an injury prone career. Once a budding superstar, Harvey's career has come crashing to earth. Last season, Harvey was lost for the year with the Thoracic Outlet injury in his shoulder, after pitching in only 17 games. Before being disabled he was putting together the worst year of his career, posting a 4-10 record with an ERA 4.86.

This season, Harvey hasn't come close to recapturing the former stud he once was in 2013. He has been woeful all season, pitching to an ERA that has been over five. This latest injury doesn't explain the issues on the hill, but it certainly doesn't help.

On top of that Harvey has had his share of issues with the Mets front office. Most recently with the all-nighter he pulled the night before a ball game. At the time, reports were that Harvey was out golfing, which he confirmed, just hours before the ball game. After a night of partying and a morning of golfing, Harvey didn't show up to Citi Field. He was suspended three games for his actions.

One has to seriously wonder, what this guy has left in his Mets career.

On top of that bad news, the Mets got word that second baseman Neil Walker will be out for a very long time after suffering a partially torn hamstring. Hamstring injuries can be very tricky. The Mets say it will take 2-3 weeks of rehab in addition to more time to rest the muscle. In short he could be out a couple months -- considering coming back early from such an injury could do even more damage.

Later, the Mets learned that ace, Noah Syndergaard, out since May 1 with a lat muscle injury won't be able to throw for four weeks. Syndergaard has been working out with a trainer to get his strength back, but still hasn't picked up a baseball. This would likely mean his chances to return this year get slimmer.

Finally, (there is always a final injury) Juan Lagares hit the self after breaking his thumb while trying to make a diving catch in the outfield. No word on how long he will be out.

And so go the walking wounded of the New York Mets.

All Rise: Aaron Judge and Yankees Podcast

Check out my podcast from Thursday night where I talk about Aaron Judge's torrid stretch with the New York Yankees, and whether he can get to 60-plus homers this season. My guest on the show, is Karen Vankat.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Aaron Judge might give us first "Legit" 60-homer season since Maris

It's hard to believe that it has been almost 20 years since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa dazzled us all with their pursuit of Roger Maris' then-record 61-homer season from 1961. It was a time when baseball came back to the fans after the bitter 1994-lockout that canceled that season's World Series.

1998 was the pinnacle of the sport at that time. We had heroes. McGwire and Sosa were our heroes. The Yankees won a record 125 games, and baseball once again reminded us why it is and will always be our national pastime.

As we all know, some 19 to 20 years later, 1998 was just that a mirage. Allegations, followed by testimony, followed by one embarrassment after another proved that McGwire and Sosa, and soon Barry Bonds were all using steroids. The great home run seasons? The records? They all meant nothing.

 In fact, Jose Canseco's proclamation that the majority of players were using steroids, disturbingly seemed more plausible by the day.

We'll never forget the grand jury hearings with McGwire and Sosa. No one will forget Rafael Palmeiro pointing his finger at congress, denying allegations that turned out true.  We'll never forget Bonds denying and denying and denying he never juiced, and who will forget Roger Clemens and his snake oil-salesman lawyer when "the Rocket" was accused multiple times of drug use.

It was a time that left all of us baseball fans suspicious about what players were doing behind closed doors. Anytime someone started hitting home runs, the first guess would be that that person was on steroids. It was also a time that put Baseball Writers in a huge pickle that they still can't get out of when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa -- likely will never get into the hallowed Halls of Cooperstown because of steroids. If they ever do, it might be another 5 to 10 years from now.

Alex Rodriguez, who was the most recent steroid case, likely will face even greater scrutiny when his name comes up for the Hall of Fame in a few years. The allegations and reports will likely cost A-Rod any chances of getting in on his first ballot.

While some of the steroid noise has calmed down in recent years, we now have a young guy named Aaron Judge who is on pace to do something we haven't seen since the infamous steroid era, hit 60-plus homers.

Judge is having one of the best rookie seasons in Major League history. He leads the American League in runs scored, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and WAR. He also leads the AL in homers with 22. He is second in the AL in RBI with 49 and seventh in the league in hits with 75.

Judge is amazing. And according to Business Insider, Judge is on his way to 60 homers this season, the first time we have seen that since 2001 when Sosa hit 64 and Bonds hit the infamous 73. But if you believe that we now play in a clean era, perhaps Judge has a chance to become the true home run record breaker. Perhaps, and somewhat fitting, he gets a chance to tie and break Maris' record of 61.

We certainly haven't seen any Yankee come close to 60 homers in a given year since Maris, which makes Judge's pursuit even more fascinating. Even A-Rod's best homer season in 2002 produced only 57 homers while he was playing for Texas.

In recent years we have seen some players come close to the 60-homer plateau, only to fall just short. Ryan Howard hit 58 homers for the Phillies in 2006. Jose Bautista blasted 54 in 2010 for the Blue Jays. Rodriguez hit 54 in 2007 for the Yankees, and David "Big Papi" Ortiz hit 54 in 2006. The most recent 50-homer player was the Orioles' Chris Davis, who hit 53 in 2013.

So it isn't easy, and recent history suggests that Judge may fall short. But consider the ferocity in which this man is hitting the baseball, there is really no telling when Judge will cool down. Judge has been hitting consistently over .300 since April 28, and has not had a hitless streak longer than two games (May 21 and 22) during that stretch. He has also had 24 multi-hit games already this season, and the Yankees have played only 61 games!

A lot of hitters his size, which is 6-for-7, usually have a weak zone, sometimes up and in, sometimes down and away, and thus far, nobody has figured it out. He is hitting .409 on pitches inside and low, .524 on pitches middle-in, and .500 on pitches over the plate but outside. Yes, he has struggled a bit with pitches up-and-in, but his tremendous batting average everywhere else on the plate makes it very difficult for pitchers to locate properly on this guy. In short, there is nowhere, right now, to put the baseball.

What makes Judge's pursuit of certainly the greatest rookie season we have ever seen even more enjoyable is the fact we have not heard any steroid talk. No rumors. Nothing. This is a good thing. It shows how far we have come from the infamous steroid era of the late 90s'/early 00s. We no longer question. We no longer call for investigations. We just enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Mets Ride deGrom Gem to Top Cubs


The suddenly resurgent Mets won their fourth in a row in dominant fashion against the World Champion Chicago Cubs at Citi Field on Monday. The win was the latest in a recent string of success for New York as they try to turn their season around in mid-June.

New York waisted little time getting the party started. In the bottom of the second, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera cracked a solo home run off embattled veteran starter John Lackey to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. Cabrera had a huge night for New York. In the fourth inning, Cabrera hit another solo homer off Lackey to push the Mets to a 4-0 advantage.

Truth be told, Cabrera needed that kind of game -- he has not played well this year, and there has been a call from Mets fans for the team to call up top prospect Amed Rosario. While the Mets don't want to rush Rosario, Cabrera watch has been on for a while. This performance will help cool the temperature a bit.

Speaking of heat, how about Jacob deGrom? deGrom was bringing the heat at the Cubs all night. The right-hander rebounded nicely from rough starts against Milwaukee and Texas to completely shutdown the World Champions. He gave New York its first complete game of the season, holding Chicago to just a run on five hits. deGrom never broke a sweat. He held Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to a hit a piece, and never allowed Jon Jay and Ben Zobrist touch first base.

It was a dominant effort, an effort the Mets desperately needed considering the plethora of pitching issues this team has faced all season.

With the win, New York is now 8.5 back of Washington for first in the NL East. They are also tied with Cincinnati for fifth place in the wild card race. They are also a half game back of St. Louis. New York needs this series in order to climb the ladder to the Dodgers and D-Backs in the wild card chase.

While the win was important, the Mets did receive a scare on Monday. Yoenis Cespedes, playing in only his second game since coming back from a hamstring injury, left the game against the Cubs with a slight limp. Word is he suffered a sore left heel. There was no word beyond that. The injury will be monitored before tomorrow's game.

Mets Series Win in Atlanta Must Be Turning Point

At 28-33 considering all the circumstances of this season, the Mets are still floundering. There is nothing good about being five games under .500, 9.5 games out of first in the NL East, and 8.5 out of a wild card.

But if the Mets want to take any solace it is this. It is only June 12. And the events of this weekend should (believe it or not) should give Mets fans some sliver of optimism. The Mets are coming off a huge weekend. A weekend where not only did they take three of four from the Atlanta Braves on the road, but got healthier in the process.

Yoenis Cespedes returned to the Mets lineup on Saturday after missing a better part of the last month and a half with a hamstring injury. The Mets missed having the slugger in their lineup, they were 15-19 without him, and watched their lineup become lefty-dominant -- which is never a good thing. Once back in the lineup, Cespedes gave the Mets some credibility on Saturday afternoon, and when he cracked a grand slam homer in the ninth inning to give the Mets a 6-1 win, it was a weight was lifted.

Suddenly the Mets were feeling good about themselves. Robert Gsellman pitched a gem that afternoon, and for the first time in a long time, with the second game of the double-header that night and a game on Sunday, the Mets had something to look forward to.

Why? Because they had Steven Matz and Seth Lugo returning from season long DL stints making their season debuts on the mound. Neither disappointed.

Matz was masterful over seven innings against the Braves. He held Atlanta to just a run on five hits, and looked like the dominant lefty that came up through the Mets system two seasons ago. Jay Bruce added a three-run homer to boot, and the Mets were on their way to an 8-1 win.

Then on Sunday, Seth Lugo was terrific for the Mets in his season debut. He worked in and out of trouble all day, including getting a favorable replay call on a double-play ball in the fifth to hold a slim 2-1 lead. What was even more impressive about Lugo on Sunday, was that even after getting out of that fifth inning jam, he would return to retire the side in order in his final two innings of work. Lugo's line seven innings pitched, allowing only one run on six hits with six strikeouts.

Like Gsellman before him, Lugo has been the mystery man in the Mets rotation. He pitched well in a very small sample size last year when the Mets needed bodies at the end of the season. Then in Spring Training, he dazzled for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic before getting injured. Yet the questions remain as to how good Lugo can be? Perhaps Sunday was the first of many answers. At least Mets fans can hope.

While the Mets stand at 28-33, and will face the toughest part of the schedule over the next 10 days with games against the Cubs, Nationals and Dodgers on the docket -- there is a sliver of hope. The Cubs stand at .500 at 31-31. That is right a team many thought coming into the season was a shoe-in for a repeat run at the World Series is a mediocre bunch that comes limping into Citi Field.

The Cubs lost four straight before winning on Sunday against the red-hot Rockies. Chicago has had its issues. They aren't hitting the ball as well as one would think. The talented Anthony Rizzo leads the team with 37 RBI -- slightly disappointing when one considers that Kris Bryant only has 27 RBI, Addison Russell has only 20 and Kyle Schwarber can't get out of his own way with a .171 batting average.

Not to mention that the Cubs starting rotation has seen its fair share of bumps this year and almost everyone has an ERA near or above 4.00.

This is not to say the Mets are perfect and should beat up the Cubs. Quiet the contrary. The Cubs should do well this week -- they are the better, more talented team. But, for the first time since Opening Day the Mets should feel that this is their second, and likely, final chance to turn around this season.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Noah Syndergaard and the Order of Cholula

On Thursday morning I had the opportunity to head to the Norwood Club on West 14th Street in New York City to meet up with Mets ace Noah Syndergaard to talk about his partnership with Cholula Hot Sauce. Syndergaard has joined a new team, the "Order of Cholula", or a group of individuals who have enjoyed using the spice in their lives.  Thor, as he is better known by adoring Mets fans, is a no stranger to hot sauce, in fact he craves it, especially with his now legendary "Bowl of Doom."

According to a press release issued by Cholula Hot Sauce:

"The first person to join the Order of Cholula is Noah Syndergaard. Known for his on-field prowess and flavorful character, Noah shares his love for Cholula by headlining a recruitment-style video debuting today at The captivating short film features inspiring stories of real Cholula fans who credit the role the flavorful hot sauce plays in their lives – including Syndergaard himself. The video encourages viewers to join Noah and other flavor-seeking zealots by applying for admittance into this members-only club by sharing their Order-worthy stories of Cholula devotion.

“'Cholula is a part of my life – whether it’s the morning before a game, in an after-game meal or during an off day, it’s a brand with a personality I’m naturally drawn to,' said Syndergaard. 'Having grown up in Texas I’ve tried all the hot sauces. Cholula is not about simply delivering heat, it’s about bringing a unique flavor and attitude, which really mirrors how I try to live on and off the field.'"

Folks without further adieu check out my interview with Mr. Syndergaard right here on the SportsTalk Nation. The interview will also play during the Open Mike Program on Friday, June 9 at 6 p.m. In it we talk about Cholula Hot Sauce and then get to business talking about the 2017 New York Mets. 

Also, check out the Order of Cholula commercial that features the Mets ace as he talks about his passion for Cholula Hot Sauce.