Next Saturday, August 11th, will be the third annual Topps National Baseball Card Day, when you can get free packs of baseball cards if you jump through a few hoops… like finding a participating hobby shop and making a qualifying purchase. It might help boost sales for certain retailers, but it’s not doing a thing to bring new collectors into the hobby or promote baseball.
The cool part of the promotion is starting earlier — each Major League Baseball team will distribute packs of baseball cards as a stadium giveaway for one of their home games in August. The Mets are doing this today. And this is the part of the promotion that I like because it’s getting baseball cards into the hands of folks that like baseball, but who aren’t necessarily card collectors. And maybe a few of them will decide that baseball cards are something fun and they’ll ask for (or buy) a few packs the next time they’re in Target or WalMart.
I’m not at the Mets’ game today, but I did go last year and got my pack of four cards (from a nine-card stadium giveaway set.) I also got the tenth card from the hobby shop promotion. The player selection made me feel a bit nostalgic when I got them – David Wright is one of the greatest players in team history, but we’ll probably never see him on the field again. It’s even more so now.
When I started collecting autographs in the late 1980s, if a baseball player was hired to sign autographs at a card show, you could frequently get a signature for $10… sometimes less. A star or Hall of Famer might cost $20 or $25. Larger shows would often have a free signer with paid admission.
I give JP’s Sports & Rock Solid Promotions credit for keeping the free signer tradition going for most of the shows that they run. At their White Plains show later this month, perfect game pitchers Tom Browning and Len Barker will sign for free on Saturday, Jan. 14th.
My friend Greg sent me some assorted Florida State League souvenirs this week… some baseballs, ticket stubs, and a pair of baseball cards from the 2014 Florida State League Top Prospects set.
Each Florida State League team had a pair of prospects featured. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo and pitcher Steven Matz represented the Mets organization. Nimmo is a name we might talk about in Feburary and March if the Mets don’t re-sign Yoenis Cespedes this winter. Otherwise, it’s hard to see how he could fit into the major league outfield picture before next September.
Matz, on the other hand, is already an important part of the New York Mets roster. Tonight, he’s going to face the Cincinnati Reds as the Mets start their final road trip. Coming off a 3-6 homestand that was their first losing one of the season, the Mets badly need a good performance from Matz (and the rest of the team.)
Fortunately, the Nationals weren’t able to take too much advantage of those recent Mets losses. And the Dodgers have been playing .500 baseball over their last ten games, so the Mets still have a real shot at home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Nimmo’s caught in an awkward lunge for a ball in his baseball card photo… it’s a break from the posed shots and the standard “action” photos of batters in their stance and pitchers in their set positions that we see on a lot of minor league baseball cards. But it’s also a reminder of how many action shots can make baseball players look goofy.
Matz’s photo is a wonderful glimpse of the world of minor league baseball. If you’ve only been to major league games, it’s probably hard to imagine all those empty seats at the field level of a ballpark. But particularly on school nights in April, May and September, you will see a lot of empty seats at minor league games… even the ones in those first few rows. And it’s really fascinating to be able to hear the umpires make their calls and the bench jockeying that goes on when players and coaches don’t like them.
The St. Lucie Mets uniforms also give you an idea of what New York Mets uniforms could look like if the team decided to make more use of orange. It’s a distinctive look for the farm team, but I’m glad the Mets have mostly stuck with tradition (outside of the turn of the century black uniforms.)
Last night, Matt Harvey pitched like an ace for five innings, but left after 77 pitches under the usage limit compromise the Mets negotiated with Harvey and his agent. Nine pitches later, the Mets’ 1-0 lead was gone. Before it was over, the bullpen managed to surrender a total of 11 runs.
The Mets still have a six game lead over the Washington Nationals with 13 left to play, so it’s not time to panic yet.
But I’m certainly beginning to feel uneasy.
There’s no escaping the Harvey question.
“More than anything, I want to be out there,” Harvey said after Sunday’s game. “I want to be out there more than anything. I know where I want to be, and that’s on a mound, pitching for the Mets.”
And yet Harvey was sitting in the dugout watching someone else pitch for the Mets in the sixth inning last night.
And ok, fine… maybe it’s a good idea to save those pitches for games that mean more. But when Harvey starts against the Dodgers in the NLDS next month, he’s gotta have a chance to pitch seven, eight or maybe even nine innings, right? I certainly hope so… but there’s no guarantee that we won’t see a repeat of Sunday night’s early exit.
But that’s only one source of concern.
Jacob deGrom pitched like a Cy Young candidate in the first half, but since the All-Star Break he’s looked… ordinary. Every team would take a pitcher who posted a 3.48 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .239 batting average, but the overall trend is worrying. In April, batters hit .278 off of deGrom. In May, he lowered that to a miniscule .195. In June and July, he got even better: .157 and .151. But in August, that opponents’ batting average stat climbed to .228 and in September it soared to .343. It’s no wonder the Mets are skipping his turn in the rotation tomorrow… we can only hope that rest solves deGrom’s problems.
Noah Syndergaard has been impressive in his rookie season, posting an 8-7 record and 3.39 ERA while limiting hitters to a .233 average. But over his last seven starts, he’s gone 2-2 with a 5.09 ERA. Syndergaard’s home and road splits are even more stark. At home, he’s looked like an All-Star: 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. Away from Citi Field, Syndergaard is 1-5 with a 4.47 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Good luck trying to figure out what to do with those numbers when setting up a post-season pitching plan.
Steven Matz has a sparkling 4-0 record and a 1.80 ERA in five starts, but his entire major league career consists of 30 innings. I like what I’ve seen so far, but the biggest game Matz has pitched as a pro to date was a Double-A playoff game for the Binghamton Mets.
Bartolo Colon has played like he’s discovered the Fountain of Youth. No one could have asked for more than he’s given the Mets this season. And yet at age 42, how much can you trust what Colon has left? Is he part of your playoff rotation? Your long reliever in the bullpen? A reserve in case someone on the playoff roster gets hurt? It’s a fascinating question that I’m glad I don’t have to answer.
Ideally, you’d be auditioning Jon Niese as a potential playoff reliever over the season’s last two weeks. But innings limits and extra rest needed by other starters precludes the Mets from doing this. I could even envision circumstances where Niese is a part of the Mets’ playoff rotation despite having the worst numbers of any starter on the roster.
And then there’s the offense. Yoenies Cespedes had a ridiculous hot streak that pretty much carried the Mets for most of August and early September, but he’s returned to earth. The Mets managed to score seven runs in 27 innings against the Yankees this weekend. I can tip my cap to Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and even CC Sabathia, but the Yankees’ bullpen is filled with guys who probably still have to pinch themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming that they’re in the major leagues.The Mets hitters are going to have to figure out how to deal with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke in a couple of weeks. Does that worry anyone else?
I hope that these worries are things that we can laugh about in a few weeks… hiccups and challenges on the road to a World Series title. But right now, I’ve definitely got that uneasy feeling.
How great was Jacob deGrom‘s All-Star appearance? By next week, I’m pretty sure I will have forgotten the outcome of the game…but deGrom’s completely unhittable, 10-pitch three-strikeout inning is going to be a lasting memory.
The All-Star Break is over and the New York Mets will be back in action tonight. Noah Syndergaard takes on the St. Louis Cardinals to open up the second half.
The next couple of weeks will tell us a lot about whether the Mets really have a chance to play post-season baseball this year. Can they hold their own with the Cardinals and Dodgers and gain ground when they play the Nationals? Will Sandy Alderson make any moves at the trade deadline? Will he instead follow in the footsteps of the Cubs and promote 2014 first-round draft pick Michael Conforto to try to spark the offense?
I guess we won’t have much longer to wait to find out.
Speaking of Syndergaard, he and Steven Matz are scheduled to sign autographs at the The East Coast National Show at Westchester County Center in White Plains, N.Y., on August 15th. The signing fees are a bit steep – $69 for photos and baseballs, $79 for bats and jerseys – but that seems to be the way things are headed, unfortunately. (Should either pitcher be scheduled to start that day, or should Matz be on a minor league rehab assignment, their appearances will be cancelled.)