Giants-Pirates Wild Card Rundown

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If the 2010 Giants were “Torture”, then the 2014 Giants are “Vomiting In My Mouth a Little”. The Giants just finished a thoroughly frustrating roller coaster ride of a season where they combined stretches of utter dominance with weeks where they barely resembled a major league team. One week they’d look like a 100-win behemoth, the next they’d look like the local beer league softball team who had somehow stumbled drunk onto a real baseball field. On June 8, the Giants sat at 43-21, ten games up on the Dodgers, and looked primed to cruise to the NL West division title and maybe even their first 100-win season since 2003.

Then things fell apart. The Giants went 22-30 in June and July and coughed up their lead to the Dodgers faster than you could say “Yasiel Puig bat flip”. Hitters stopped hitting, closer Sergio Romo shat the mound in epic fashion (particularly in one nightmare weekend against Colorado), Angel Pagan and Matt Cain got hurt, and Tim Lincecum continued to disintegrate. By August, it looked like the Giants were ready to fall out of contention altogether, sinking to 63-57 at the summer’s lowest point.

Luckily, the team rebounded, as Buster Posey regained his MVP bat, midseason acquisition Jake Peavy dominated upon his arrival, and rookie Joe Panik gave the Giants some much-needed .300 hitting after the team had gotten zilch from second base all year. The Giants chugged into the playoffs a mess, with an up-and-down offense and only two truly reliable starting pitchers, but they made it, and they’re hoping that the small sample size magic of postseason baseball can bring them their third World Series title in five seasons.

It’d be tempting to blame the Giants’ struggles this year on injuries again. Angel Pagan missed a huge chunk of the season again with a back injury, Matt Cain went down at midseason with bone chips in his arm, and Brandon Belt played in only 61 games after having his thumb broken with a pitch and then suffering from a concussion. Mike Morse also missed most of September with an oblique injury. So, yeah, the Giants dealt with their fare share of injuries for the second year in a row, and that certainly didn’t help them.

Except that I just don’t think that the injuries merit all that much blame for the Giants’ crappy mid-summer play when all is said and done. The Angels, Orioles, Nationals, and Cardinals all suffered a number of injuries yet sailed into the playoffs. Hell, the Dodgers went without Clayton Kershaw for three weeks and they turned out just fine. Let’s make a quick list of little facts that probably had a lot more to do with the Giants stumbling to the finish line after their hot start.

-Tim Lincecum was, frankly, terrible…again. His 74 ERA+ would have been dead worst in the NL if he had enough innings to qualify. That’s a 73 ERA+ over the past three years, folks.

-Mike Morse, brought in for his power, hit 13 home runs through June 5. He hit just three more after that.

-Sergio Romo started blowing leads like it was a fad in May, and was booted from the closer role. He regained his effectiveness when used as a ROOGY, but I’m not sure anybody really trusts him in a more expanded role anymore.

-Tim Hudson was brilliant to begin the season, but his ERA in the second half was 4.73, and 8.72 in September. It appears as if the BABIP monster bit him in the butt hard, and he’s a shaky option as a postseason starter right now.

-The bench, for the most part, contributed next to nothing all season. Gregor Blanco was a solid fourth outfielder, but he was pressed into regular service with Pagan out and he’ll be the team’s regular center fielder in the playoffs. Other than Blanco, there was a whole lot of nothing, as bench players hit .234/.295/.313 on the year. Joaquin Arias, Tyler Colvin, and Juan Perez, in particular, provided little at the plate.

The Giants will have Gregor Blanco and Travis Ishikawa as starting outfielders, and either Ryan Vogelsong or Yusmeiro Petit as their fourth starter should they advance in the playoffs. Gulp. Basically, if the Giants want to win it all, they’re going to have to do a lot of odds-defying, and they’ll have to conjure up some serious magic juju. Hey, it happened before, first in 2010 when Cody Ross hit like Joe Dimaggio for three weeks and then again in 2012 when the Cardinals forgot how to field baseballs and Barry Zito became a world-beater for two starts. Anything is possible.

The Giants do have to be confident going into tomorrow, with their unqualified ace, Madison Bumgarner, going up against the Pirates in Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card game. Not only is Bum the team’s best pitcher, he was extra-tough on the road this year, going 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA. He also has a history of big game success, having made dominant starts in both the 2010 and 2012 World Series. One of Bumgarner’s worst starts came at home against the Pirates in July, but that was back at the point when the Giants were giving games away like kittens.

On the flip side, the Pirates will be going with Edinson Volquez, and the Giants have to be somewhat encouraged by this. Volquez had a solid year, but he’s just a season removed from being one of the worst pitchers in baseball, and his control problems are well-documented.

He posted a shiny 3.05 ERA this season, but his 4.15 FIP suggest that something was rotten in Denmark, namely that Volquez was getting very lucky on balls in play and in the air. He did post the best walk rate of his career, but I’d much rather face him in a do-or-die than, say, Gerrit Cole. Also, for what it’s worth, Volquez got lit up in his only postseason appearance back in 2010.

The Pirate offense is worrisome. They finished fourth in the NL in runs, they boast one of the most dynamic hitters in baseball in Andrew McCutchen, they had five hitters post an OPS+ over 120, and they’ve been red hot for the past month. However, they were worse against left-handed starters this year, and of course Bumgarner is one of the best around.

The Giants have an imposing middle of the order with Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, and Brandon Belt, and can trade body blows with the Pirates should this turn into a slugfest. The Giants finished right behind the Pirates in total runs scored despite playing in a park even less friendly on hitters. Let’s put it this way: I’d rather be going against the Pirates’ lineup with Bumgarner than against the Giants’ bats with Volquez.

Well, I’ve got my Costco-size tub of antacids ready for guzzling tomorrow. This is the part where being a baseball fan ceases to be enjoyable and instead becomes an exercise in psychosis. If the Giants have anything at stake in October, I’m pretty sure I’m a frightening person to be around. If Juan Perez makes an at-bat with the game on the line tomorrow night, I shouldn’t be allowed around sharp objects. It’s a catch-22: if the Giants keep winning, they get closer and closer to another championship, but that merely prolongs the deterioration of my mental well-being.

The Pirates are tough cookies but Bumgarner has been a road warrior his whole career and the Giants have had their bats going for the past few weeks. I think the Giants will get a bunch of runs off of Volquez early and then, because they can never do things the easy way, barely hold on for a 5-4 victory and a date with the Nationals.

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A’s-Royals Wild Card Rundown

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A funny thing about the A’s: despite all the losing in the second half of the season, they still finished the year sporting baseball’s best Pythagorean Record, at 99-63. Unfortunately, a lot of that insane run differential was racked up when they were scorching the league in the first half of the season. The fact that their actual record is eleven wins worse isn’t just because of a run of bad luck; they legitimately played like crap in the season’s second half.

There are theories abound for why the A’s suddenly started stinking it up, but I think it comes down to one simple answer: a bunch of guys played way over their heads in the first three months, and they all regressed at the same time in the last two months, and as a result, the team stopped hitting. The A’s hit an anemic .233/.306/.352 in the season’s second half, and hit just 48 home runs after hitting a whopping 98 (!) in the first half. The pitching more or less stayed the same, which isn’t surprising considering Billy Beane bet the ranch by acquiring Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester in July. Nope, plain and simple, it was the hitters suddenly not doing hitter-type things that brought the A’s to within one game of an embarrassing collapse.

The power dried up, and then so did the wins, but the drop in offense was probably foreseeable, considering some of the guys who were tearing it up in April and May. Let’s take a quick look at the main culprits in this second half offensive drought.

Derek Norris
Pre-All-Star Break: .294/.402/.474
Post-Break: .245/.314/.324

Norris hit .226 in his first two major league seasons. Kickass beard and all, there was just no way in hell he was going to keep hitting .386, as he did in April. He didn’t exactly tank, but he did start to hit (predictably) like his normal self in the second half, which smarted even more when the A’s other catcher, John Jaso, went down with a concussion for the second straight year.

Stephen Vogt
Pre-Break: .358/.388/.532
Post-Break: .225/.275/.363

I love Stephen Vogt, and he’s done nothing but hit in a lengthy pro career, but .358? No way. Vogt’s ice-cold second half brought his numbers more in line with his 2013 output. He had fans thinking he’d turned into a star hitter for a while, but in the end he’s simply a solid bench/platoon bat and not much more.

Brandon Moss
Pre-Break: .268/.349/.530
Post-Break: .173/.310/.274

The disappearance of Moss’s bat was perhaps the most inexplicable of any of the slumping A’s hitters. After clubbing 21 homers in the first half, Moss hit four…count ‘em, four…after the break. He hit his 23rd home run of the season on July 24th, then didn’t hit another one until September 14th! Needless to say, the sudden ineffectiveness of one of their most reliable power bats absolutely killed the A’s. Moss has bashed 76 home runs in three seasons with the A’s but as a Three True Outcomes type he’s slump-prone, and his sordid second half may unfortunately be an indicator that he’s following the path of so many Jack Custs before him.

Coco Crisp
Pre-Break: .291/.387/.449
Post-Break: .191/.272/.258

The A’s top-of-the-lineup catalyst couldn’t get on base to save his life after the break. His poor hitting was probably at least partially attributable to a nagging neck injury that bothered him in August and September, but certainly also to the fact that he just isn’t a .290 hitter. He hasn’t hit that high in a season since 2005.

In addition, John Jaso got hurt, Jed Lowrie slumped, and Alberto Callaspo couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag all year. None of those factors helped matters much, but the lion’s share of the blame for the offensive tank job was placed on the trade of Yoenis Cespedes to Boston and the resulting psychologically negative domino effect his absence had on the rest of the lineup. I definitely agree that his presence was missed, but he had a .303 OBP when he was traded. His offensive impact was probably a little overstated, in general.

The A’s stopped winning when they stopped hitting home runs. I mean, they hit a lot of home runs in the first half, at a rate that was unsustainable, given the history of the players hitting them. Maybe if Cespedes stays they keep up the pace, but I have my doubts. Cespedes himself only mustered five home runs in 51 games with the Red Sox, despite playing in a much friendlier park for home runs.

Josh Donaldson and Moss were both on pace to hit close to 40 home runs when the All-Star Break hit. This isn’t the late-90’s sillyball era anymore. Only one player made it to 40 homers this season (Nelson Cruz), and only seven players reached 35. To think that Donaldson and Moss could keep up that pace, in a tough home run park, no less, was probably unrealistic. Also, Norris, Vogt, and probably Crisp were hitting over their heads in the first part of the season. Frankly, it would have been completely shocking if they hadn’t dropped off a bit (Donaldson hit extremely well in the second half, but just not with the same kind of power).

So the A’s roll into a one-game playoff having narrowly avoided a near-historic collapse, and boast an offense that has been in a trance since before Guardians of the Galaxy came out. That’s the bad news. The good news? There are only a handful of pitchers in baseball who you’d rather have going in a do-or-die elimination game than Jon Lester.

Lester was brought to Oakland at the trade deadline for this very reason: to start huge games and win them. Lester has been lights out all season and he has more big game experience than just about any pitcher in the big leagues now, having won all three of his career World Series starts (including the Series-clincher for the Red Sox in 2007). A’s fans should feel very confident in resting their team’s season hopes on this guy.

The A’s also get the benefit of facing a Royals team that sports a lineup that just isn’t very good. The Royals are in the playoffs for the first time in 30 years, which is great, but they did so in spite of a pretty crummy hitting attack. They have easily the most impotent offense of any playoff team, having finished ninth in the AL in runs scored and dead last in home runs.

Unlike, say, the Tigers, Angels, or Orioles, the Royals lack a true star-caliber impact bat. Billy Butler used to be their best hitter, but he forgot how to hit this year for some reason and so now they basically have Alex Gordon and a cast of bats you could charitably deem average. No Kansas City player reached 20 home runs (Gordon led the team with 19), and just two of their regulars finished with an OPS+ over 100. They led the AL in stolen bases, but what does that matter if your hitters can’t get on base? To wit: they finished dead last in walks drawn and near the bottom in OBP. Their offense is definitely their Achilles heel.

The Royals will counter Lester with their ace, James Shields, aka “Big Game James”, who was called that before he had pitched a single actual big game with Tampa Bay, so the nickname is a bit ridiculous. However, he’s a tough cookie who won’t play into the patient Oakland lineup’s hands by walking batters, and he’s the type to make short work of a lineup if he gets into a groove.

The Royals also sport one of the most imposing bullpens in history, behind the insanely good troika of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera. Davis and Herrera threw a combined 142 innings this year without surrendering a single home run. Thats…incredible. Davis in particular was otherworldly, striking out 109 batters in 72 innings and posting an absurd 1.19 FIP. Holland might be the best closer in baseball, but he’s still a relative obscurity. He wasn’t as good as Davis, “only” posting a 1.44 ERA. So, basically, if the A’s get behind early, they’re probably totally screwed.

I think in the end I’d put my money on Lester chewing through this weak Royal offense to put the A’s on top. Shields stays in the strike zone all game and can consequently get homer-prone. I think the A’s will club a couple of early home runs, Lester will dominate thoroughly for eight innings, and the boys in green and gold will prevail tomorrow, 3-0, to advance to the NLDS to take on the Angels.

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Big Donkey To The Rescue

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Way back in the year 2001, Adam Dunn was one of the more hyped prospects to show up on the major league scene. A star quarterback in high school, Dunn looked to have a promising future in college football at the University of Texas, Austin, but the addition of Chris Simms to the program and the coaxing of the Cincinnati Reds led Dunn to focus solely on baseball. After shredding the minor leagues, the massive Dunn (6′ 6″, 285 lbs) was called up midway through the ’01 season by the Reds, and a lot of prospect mavens believed he had the potential to be the league’s next great pure power hitter.

I recall an incident in a fantasy keeper league I was in that year, when Dunn first got called up. Being a keeper league, Dunn obviously had oodles of value at that point, and managers were on him like sharks on chum. Eventually, some guy essentially blew his load trading for Dunn, then posted a breathless message on the league’s board that Dunn would (I shit you not) become the first 50/50 player in major league history. As in, fifty home runs, and fifty stolen bases. This rant was mostly in all caps, of course. His prediction for Dunn, in case you were wondering, never came to fruition.

The reason I bring all of this up, of course, is because Dunn was acquired by the Oakland Athletics yesterday morning for minor league relief pitcher Nolan Sanburn and some cash to help cover the rest of Dunn’s contract. Dunn was brought in to help the slumping A’s offense and he introduced himself quite nicely to A’s fans, launching a towering home run in his first at-bat this afternoon. The A’s are hoping Dunn’s intimidating power bat can inject some life into a suddenly moribund offense that hit just .223/.301/.345 in August.

While Dunn never lived up to my former fantasy colleague’s rather outlandish expectations, he has had a very successful fourteen-year career. Exactly how successful, is a matter of some debate, however. Dunn has blasted 460 home runs in his career (and counting), and he’s had seven seasons with 40+ homers (and two more with 38). Any way you look at it, he’s been one of the most prolific home run hitters of the last decade.

He’s also been one of the most polarizing players in recent memory. In some circles Dunn is seen as a sabermetric darling. In others, he’s viewed as everything that was wrong with baseball in the homer-happy 2000’s. Dunn is one of the most famous Three True Outcome hitters in history, with almost exactly 50% of his career plate appearances ending in a home run, a walk, or a strikeout. This would seem to make him a hero of the sabermetric, mom’s basement stereotype who stays up all night crunching numbers in his underwear between bouts of WOW. Despite some low batting averages, Dunn’s lifetime OBP is .365, and that has generally endeared him to the saber-crowd.

However, there’s also the bad. Dunn broke Bobby Bonds’s single season strikeout record in 2004 (Mark Reynolds has since blown Dunn’s record away), and his strikeout prowess has ranged from a mere nuisance in some years to downright crippling in others. His inability to make contact has led to some perennially low batting averages, which many scribes have argued marginalizes his value. In fact, a number of analysts called his 2012 season (he hit 41 home runs while batting .204/.333/.468) one of the least-valuable 40-home run seasons of all time.

There’s also the issue of his defense. Just click here and look at his work in the outfield, and fight the urge to go take a long, contemplative shower. His glovework in the outfield makes small children weep, and his work at first base isn’t a whole lot better. So, basically, he has zero defensive value, and probably negative value. He’s like a pure scorer/non-defender in basketball who can score 20 points in his sleep while giving up 30. He’s an American League-born player who has unfortunately spent the majority of his career in the NL, and that has helped take away a lot of his overall value as a player. If you really want an example of the horror show that is Adam Dunn in the outfield, take a gander at his attempt to tame right field at AT&T Park last month. Yeah.

So his proponents point to his impressive home run totals and bushels of walks, while his detractors point to his miserable defense and low batting averages. One camp has him as underappreciated, while the other has him as an overvalued lout who is a product of a dying era in baseball. The truth is somewhere in the middle, but Dunn certainly has garnered strong and loud arguments from both sides over the years.

One fact can’t be denied, though: Dunn is one of the most interesting players in baseball (and who can forget this?). The fact that he initiates such a heated debate among fans shows that he is one of the most colorful players around, and it’s no surprise that he finds himself now on an A’s team that has prided itself on collecting an wide assortment of misfits over the past few years. In fact, Dunn is like a decade too late to this team; he would have fit right in on the Matt Stairs/John Jaha A’s of the late-90’s, early-aughts.

The A’s got themselves a seriously flawed player, but one who will still be useful for them down the stretch. He’ll be useful for the simple fact that he’s a presence. The A’s lineup fell into a funk the minute they traded Yoenis Cespedes. Whether that is causation or coincidence is debatable, but the A’s clearly sacrificed some modicum of offensive firepower in building their imposing starting rotation. There’s something to be said for the mental aspect of simply having a player with massive home run pop in the lineup. I’d argue that the Giants got that lift with Mike Morse this season. With Cespedes gone, the A’s lost some of that subconscious boost. With the acquisition of Dunn, they’ve gained it back.

As opposed to Cespedes, Dunn is more of an Oakland type of player. Like Dunn, Cespedes had power out the wazoo, but his plate discipline had deteriorated since his rookie year, and that’s likely what soured the A’s on him. Even with memories of Moneyball fading, the A’s still love them some OBP, so Dunn should slot right in and look right at home in a patient lineup that leads the American League in walks and runs scored.

To some, the acquisition of Dunn reeked of a panic move. That might not be totally untrue, but for the price of a single-A relief pitcher, heck, why not? Again, the A’s have made it clear with the Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija trades that they’re all in this season. If it takes a Dunn to revive the offense and get the team rolling in September and October, it’s worth it.

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The Amazin’ Trades of Frank Cashen

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Monday saw the passing of Frank Cashen, the architect of the 1986 Mets World Championship team, and the colorful Mets teams that only once won fewer than 90 games between 1984 and 1990. The teams Cashen built were some of the most talented (and dysfunctional) that you’ll ever see, and Lord knows I’m a sucker for any opportunity to rant about the mid-80’s Mets.

Cashen got his start in Baltimore in the ’60’s, where he helped Harry Dalton build some perennial juggernaut Oriole teams. He was instrumental in the Orioles’s acquisition of Frank Robinson, a trade that is seen as one of the most lop-sided in history (just ask Anne Savoy).

Cashen left baseball for a while in the ’70s, but was later hired to run the Mets in 1980. The Mets in the late-70’s and early ’80’s were an abysmal wreck, struggling through the post-Seaver era where the only highlights were Lee Mazzilli and Dave Kingman’s booming home runs and surly personality. Cashen’s machinations brought the franchise out of this dark age and made them relevant again.

Cashen is perhaps most famous for his role as the architect of the 1986 Mets, a juggernaut of a team that won 108 games and beat the Red Sox to win the World Series that year. That team was like the perfect model of team building, a beautiful combination of seasoned star veterans and young talent reaching their potential. Players like Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Wally Backman, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Roger McDowell, and Rick Aguilera, all Mets draft picks, blossomed into either very good regulars or full-blown stars.

That team, and the 80’s Mets dynasty as a whole, couldn’t have been built, however, without the help of some truly incredible trades. Cashen proved himself an astute judge of talent and orchestrated some trades that bordered on the out and out criminal. Starting in 1982, Cashen made a series of deals that would turn the Mets from doormat to force of nature. Some of these deals merely brought in key complimentary pieces for pennies on the dollar, while others were genuine heists of All-Star players. The following is a list of the best trades made by Frank Cashen in his reign as Mets GM, every one of them essential in the franchise’s 1986 World Championship and 1988 division title.

April 1, 1982: Mets trade Lee Mazzilli to Rangers for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell

This must have seemed like a cruel April Fools joke to Mets fans, as Mazzilli was a Shea Stadium favorite and one of the few bright spots on some really abysmal late-70’s/early-80’s Mets teams. However, he hit just .228 in 1981 and would be no better than a bit player for the rest of his career (and besides, the Mets got him back for the ’86 stretch run, anyway).

Darling, of course, became an instrumental member of the Mets starting rotation, and won 86 games from 1984 to 1989. He’s probably remembered as being a bit better than he actually was (career ERA+ of 95; 101 with the Mets), but he was legitimately great in ’85 and ’86 and was brilliant in Games One and Four in the 1986 World Series.

Terrell pitched a couple of league average seasons with the Mets, but he was later flipped for another very useful piece, as we’ll see a bit later on.

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June 14, 1983: Mets trade Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey to Cardinals for Keith Hernandez

This trade was probably the most significant of Cashen’s entire tenure in New York, both because it brought in a franchise name like Hernandez and because it immediately put the Mets back on the map as a team to be taken seriously. Hernandez initially voiced his disgust at being traded to a perennial ne’er-do-well, but he quickly changed his tune and his arrival in New York signaled an almost immediate turnaround for the franchise. Hernandez was a former MVP and one of the National League’s premier first basemen with the Cardinals for a number of years, but his manager, Whitey Herzog, just hated him. Herzog wanted him out, and the Cards’ loss was the Mets’ gain, as Hernandez went on to post four straight All-Star-caliber seasons with the Mets, all while continuing to display his all-world glove at first base. He’d turn into a franchise icon and also later made a noteworthy appearance in a Seinfeld episode where he blew off Jerry’s invitation to help him move.

Meanwhile, Allen had a couple of years as a useful, albeit faceless, reliever, while Ownbey made seven barely-notable starts with the Cardinals. The move constituted a classic case of a personality clash between manager and star player leading to a terrible baseball move. Herzog was the man in St. Louis at the time, and clashed with Hernandez over his perceived unwillingness to run out grounders and his past substance abuse issues. The Cards were forced to more or less trade Hernandez at gunpoint, and that never, ever works out. Mex was 30 in 1984, but he still had a lot left, hitting .305/.396/.440 with the Mets from 1984 to 1987.

December 8, 1983: Mets trade Bob Bailor and Carlos Diaz to Dodgers for Sid Fernandez

A criminal heist by the Mets. Fernandez posted insane strikeout numbers in his first couple of years in the minors, so it’s hard to see why the Dodgers gave up on him so quickly. El Sid reached the majors at age 20, and then the Dodgers traded him for an over-the-hill bench player (who was never that good anyway) and a relief pitcher who was out of the majors in three years.

Fernandez would go on to win 98 games with the Mets and was notoriously difficult to hit, three times leading the league in fewest hits given up per nine innings. He won 16 games for the 1986 champions and 12 more for the 1988 division winners.

August 28, 1984: Mets trade Gerald Young, Mitch Cook, and Manny Lee to Astros for Ray Knight

This one didn’t look all that one-sided at first. Knight was a solid hitter who enjoyed some All-Star seasons with the Reds and Astros (he famously replaced Pete Rose in Cincinnati and hit .318), but in 1984 he looked finished, and then in 1985 he was downright miserable, hitting just .218. In the ’85-’86 offseason, though, Knight worked himself back into shape and played his way back into the lineup as the team’s everyday third baseman, hitting .298. Of course, he’s most remembered for his huge hit in the tenth inning of Game Six, and for his go-ahead home run in Game Seven, both of which earned him the 1986 World Series MVP.

Young was lightning-fast and stole 65 bases with the Astros one year, but he really couldn’t hit at all. Lee actually made his mark as an all-glove shortstop with the Blue Jays, but the Mets already had a young, up-and-coming shortstop in Kevin Elster. Cook never pitched in the majors. So the Mets basically got a starting third baseman on a championship team for a shortstop who couldn’t hit a lick.

December 7, 1984: Mets trade Walt Terrell to Tigers for Howard Johnson

Tigers manager Sparky Anderson hated HoJo for some reason, which led to this trade. Johnson was a backup infielder in ’86, but once Knight left in free agency, Johnson blew up. Johnson became the team’s regular third baseman for the next seven years and had three seasons where he hit 30 or more home runs, including an absolutely monstrous 1989, when he hit .287/.369/.559 (a 169 OPS+), clubbed 36 home runs, and stole 41 bases.

Terrell, who had been acquired along with Ron Darling a couple of years earlier, would go on to have a decent career as a league-average starter, but he wasn’t anything like the star HoJo turned into.

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December 10, 1984: Mets trade Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham, and Floyd Youmans to Expos for Gary Carter

The other big one. Carter’s arrival in New York turned the Mets from simple contender to juggernaut, as they won 98 and 108 games in Carter’s first two seasons with the team, respectively. The ever-smiling Carter had been a star with the Expos for years, but Expos owner Charles Bronfman absurdly singled him out as the reason the Expos kept missing the playoffs each year. Carter came over and cemented his Hall of Fame worthiness with the Mets, with big years in ’85 and ’86, and he became an icon in the Big Apple. He also knocked in nine runs in the 1986 World Series.

This trade wasn’t quite as lop-sided as many tend to remember. Here is each players’ WAR total after the trade was consummated:

Carter: 14.3

______________

Brooks: 8.2

Fitzgerald: 2.1

Winningham: -0.4

Youmans: 6.6

That’s 16.5 WAR for the players the Expos received, for those scoring at home. You’re going to come away with the short end of the stick more often than not when trading a star player, but the Expos didn’t get totally screwed. Brooks in particular turned out pretty well, and made the All-Star team a few times. Fitzgerald was at least a decent catcher for a number of years. Youmans looked like he was going to have a solid career before falling victim to drug problems. When you trade a Hall-of-Famer, though, and the team you traded him to immediately wins the World Series…well, you’re going to have egg on your face.

November 1, 1985: Mets trade Calvin Schiraldi, John Christensen, Wes Gardner, and LaSchelle Tarver to Red Sox for Bob Ojeda and three others.

This trade turned out to be a doubly fantastic one not only because Ojeda had a career year in his first season with the Mets, but also because Schiraldi acted almost like a sleeper agent in the 1986 World Series, virtually handing the Mets Games Six and Seven with his crappy pitching. Ojeda went 18-5 with a 140 ERA+ in 1986 to become the surprise go-to guy on the staff that year. He would never be so good again, but he did win 51 games with the Mets.

Schiraldi is seen as a villain in Red Sox circles because of his role in blowing the ’86 series. He was a largely mediocre reliever for the rest of his career, with one unremarkable season as a starter with the Cubs. Gary Carter famously questioned his intestinal fortitude when he was a member of the Mets, and he has a lasting reputation as a choke artist, deserved or not. Of the other three guys the Red Sox got for Ojeda, only Gardner had anything resembling a decent major league career, and he was just a spot starter/mop up man.

January 16, 1986: Mets trade Billy Beane, Bill Latham, and Joe Klink to Twins for Tim Teufel

Yes, that Billy Beane. Of the three players Cashen dealt for Teufel, only Klink would go on to contribute anything in the majors, and that was basically two years as an interchangeable lefty with the A’s. Teufel wasn’t an All-Star, but he was a useful platoon second baseman (spelling Wally Backman against lefties), and he hit a robust .308/.398/.545, with 14 homers, in 1987. He accumulated 7.4 WAR in six seasons as a Met

coney

March 27, 1987: Mets trade Ed Hearn, Rick Anderson, and Mauro Gozzo to Royals for David Cone

How do you steal a future All-Star from a Hall of Fame GM for a backup catcher and two faceless relievers? Ask Cashen, who ripped off future Braves general manager John Schuerholz in this now-legendary fleecing. Cone had control problems in the minors and apparently that was enough for the Royals to send him along for a bunch of tripe. Cone, as we all know, broke out with the Mets, winning 194 games in the majors and 81 in the Big Apple. His breakout 20-win season in 1988 was instrumental to the Mets rolling to 100 wins and the division title.

None of the players the Royals received for Cone did anything in the majors after the trade, although Hearn did pen an inspirational biography detailing his battles with kidney disease.

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As is the case with every general manager, not every trade Cashen made turned out in his favor. In the interest of fairness, we should take a look at a couple of deals where Cashen and the Mets came out losers.

December 10, 1982: Mets trade Mike Scott to Astros for Danny Heep

This one nearly came back to bite the Mets in a big way, as Scott almost single-handedly won the 1986 NLCS for the Astros with two utterly dominant starts. Heep spent four seasons with the Mets and was a pretty good fourth outfielder and bench bat. Scott, of course, went on to win 110 games with the Astros and earned the Cy Young Award in 1986.

It’s hard to fault Cashen for trading Scott away in this instance. Scott was 27 at the time of the trade and had just come off a horrible 1982 season. He hadn’t shown anything up to that point to indicate that he would turn into even a decent pitcher, much less a star. It would have taken a crystal ball for anyone to predict that he would go on to develop the split-fingered fastball (or another, less legal, pitch) and start dominating the league.

December 11, 1986: Mets trade Kevin Mitchell, Stan Jefferson, Shawn Abner, and two others to Padres for Kevin McReynolds and two others

Whether this was a bad trade in the end depends on how one decides to look at it. McReynolds had some big years with the Mets, most notably 1988 (he went 21 for 21 on stolen base attempts), and filled a big void in left field. In six seasons (two stints) with New York, he hit 122 home runs. Mitchell came from a rough upbringing and was seen by more than one Mets front office person as a bad influence on Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry (lest we forget this rather dubious story).

On the flip side, McReynolds was seen as a complete zero in the clubhouse by his teammates and wasn’t particularly well-liked (one common accusation was that he cared more about duck hunting than winning). It didn’t help that Mitchell got his behavior under control and turned into one of the most fearsome sluggers in the National League, winning the NL MVP in 1989 with the Giants. Mitchell accumulated 6.9 WAR in 1989; McReynolds racked up 3.6. The Mets lost the division to the Cubs that year by six games, so this trade didn’t kill their playoff hopes all by itself, but it certainly didn’t help.

June 18, 1989: Mets trade Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell to Phillies for Juan Samuel

Just an awful trade, and one that marked the end of the Cashen-era Mets dynasty. The Mets traded their center fielder and an effective reliever for a second baseman-turned-center fielder with a .309 career OBP. It went about as well as expected. The only way this makes sense, then and now, is as a dump of Dykstra’s personality. Samuel wasn’t much good when the Mets got him, he sucked in half a season as their center fielder, then he was immediately traded away for Mike Marshall.

It’s one of the all-time head-scratchers, for sure. Dykstra was and remains a creep, but he was just 26 and would develop into something like a star with the Phillies. His monster 1993 season led them to the World Series. McDowell had another six or so seasons left as a good reliever. Just a stinker for the Mets, any way you look at it.

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Stop the Tim Lincecum Roller Coaster Ride, I Want to Get Off

Tim Lincecum pitched a no-hitter yesterday. We love him again!

Tim Lincecum pitched a no-hitter yesterday. We love him again!

On May 28th, Tim Lincecum pitched five no-hit innings against the Chicago Cubs, earning the victory in an eventual Giants win. Why was he only allowed to go five innings, you might ask, with a shot at a feat that only comes about once in a blue moon? Well, it’s because it was perhaps the ugliest five no-hit innings you’ll ever see, with four walks, a hit-by-pitch, lots of deep counts, and 96 pitches all told. Bruce Bochy was less concerned about Lincecum’s bid for history at that point than he was about his own long term health deteriorating after having to watch that display.

That start basically sums up, in a nutshell, what Tim Lincecum has become in the past couple of years. The high-strikeout ace of yore seemingly died the second the curtain fell on the 2011 season. What we have now is a pure, inefficient mess. He’s still kinda difficult to hit, as evidenced by the 8.6 hits per nine innings in 2012-13. However, as we all know, his walks and home runs have gone through the roof and most of his starts these days degenerate quickly into pitch count hell. The quick inning became a foreign concept to Lincecum some time around 2012.

In fifteen starts before yesterday’s game, Lincecum had averaged just 5.5 innings thrown, mostly because he was racking up high pitch counts after one or two innings, even in his good starts. He’s frustrating, sometimes just flat out unwatchable, and there are times when I ponder (as I did here) just why in the hell the Giants felt they needed to hand him another $35 million to come back.

Then he goes and pitches a beauty of a no-hitter, one measly walk from a perfect game, and I start to ponder why I even bother projecting rage onto a keyboard on a barely-read blog anymore. Lincecum’s work on the mound in Wednesday’s game against San Diego was pure artistry, a performance on the scale of Olivier or Oldman, only without the anti-Semitic apologia. As opposed to his 148-pitch slog of a no-no against the Padres last year, Lincecum needed just 113 pitches to get it done this time, allowing nary a baserunner after the second inning. He was a dominant force, pure and simple.

Amazingly, Lincecum is only the second pitcher ever to throw two no-hitters against the same team. Many pitchers have thrown multiple no-nos. Hell, Nolan Ryan did it seven times, but never twice against one opponent. I guess on a large scale that fact is merely a barely-relevant historical curio, but on a more micro level, it’s kinda cool for a pitcher to know that he can call one franchise his bitch.

Naturally, no-hitters do things to fans to make them think and do irrational things, like a meteor from space that crashes and turns people into brain-eating zombies. It gives fans the (nonsensical) belief that one brilliant start means that the pitcher has turned over a new leaf. After Phil Humber threw his perfecto a couple of years ago, you would have thought from the fan response that he was the next Don Drysdale. Phil Humber! No hitters are amazingly fun, but not really indicative of long term success. Lots of great pitchers never threw one. Conversely, lots of crappy pitchers have thrown one. Bobo Holloman threw one, for God’s sake, and in his first major league start! Who is Bobo Holloman? Hell if I know!

I’ve seen some Giants fans suggest (to prominent national baseball writers, no less) that this second no-hitter should cement Lincecum’s entry to Cooperstown. Um, no. I love Timmy as much as anybody, but let’s get real, here. Two no-hitters don’t wash away two-and-a-half years of crappy pitching. Not to mention the obvious wrinkle that he was facing an unfathomably miserable Padre offense (albeit one that had somehow scored 13 runs in the previous two games against the Giants). That in no way devalues Lincecum’s achievement (no-hitters are hard against any lineup just going by probability), but still…he wasn’t exactly facing Murderer’s Row.

What’s my point here? I guess it’s that Tim Lincecum pisses me off…but in a good way. Franchise icons are great, and essential, and basically a major reason we as fans hold long-standing allegiances with our baseball teams. When franchise icons do historically amazing things, like throw two no-hitters in the span of a year, it sends a fan base into a joyous frenzy, and it very well should.

If Yusmeiro Petit had completed his perfect game last year, it would have obviously been an unforgettable moment in Giants history, but that was Yusmeiro Petit, random Quad-A starter in there because Barry Zito sucks. It wouldn’t have been quite on the same scale. Tim Lincecum pitching two no-hitters in two years is just more important because he’s our guy. He’s the two-time Cy Young winner who put the Giants back on the map on the national stage and he was perhaps the instrumental player who paved the way to the team’s resurgence and eventual championships in the post-Bonds era.

No matter what happens from here on out, we’ll never forget yesterday’s no-hitter, or last year’s no-no, because it was just another moment where Lincecum cemented his status as a Giants legend. Think something like the generation before watching Juan Marichal or Willie Mays accomplish amazing feat after amazing feat to make their mark in Giants lore. Every time Timmy pulls one of these performances out of his hat, it’s the next step towards our kids or grandkids posing next to a statue of Lincecum somewhere in China Basin.

And yet he pisses me off. He pisses me off because we know this isn’t going to last. I don’t need to list off the declining numbers or go to Fangraphs and copy and paste his sinking velocity charts. Lincecum has been teasing us like this since the beginning of 2012. If it isn’t a no-hitter, it’s a lights-out bullpen performance in the playoffs, or an 11-strikeout performance against the Braves. Every time we get our hopes up, and start to believe that he’s going to morph back into Tim Lincecum: Ace (or, hell, even Tim Lincecum: League-Average Starter), he goes out in his next start and gives up seven runs in three innings and suddenly that mustache changes back from “sorta creepy-yet-adorable” to “oh god I want to light that wispy piece of shit on fire” again. I don’t think I even need to mention that his road ERA this year is made of nightmares.

So in the end, an open letter to Tim Lincecum. I love you, man. We all love you. That no-hitter was an amazing moment, probably the highlight of my week and that of many others, and it was exactly what the Giants needed in this rough stretch of games. But you’re seriously turning me into the guinea pig of a self-administered trial to determine if antacids can turn into an addictive substance, and this seriously needs to stop.

Naivete runs high when no-hitters are thrown. Fans start thinking crazy things, and when that happens, it leads to disappointment and incoherent KNBR callers demanding AAA scrubs be traded for Mike Trout. Remember the wisdom of the aforementioned flesh-eating zombie analogy (or was it brain-eating?). Let’s bask in the moment, savor the no-hitter over the next five days, but keep our wits and our common sense about us, and not develop the baseball equivalent of the taste for medulla oblongata. Take Lincecum’s no-no for what it is: an important part of Lincecum’s status as a Giants immortal, but not a foreshadowing of amazing things to come.

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