Pedro Martinez Injury Continues “The Curse”

I’ve already explained how the Mets came to possess the Curse of the Bambino, and it looks like they are in for another miserable season at the hands of the curse. Pedro Martinez left tonights game against the Marlins with an injured hamstring, after giving up 4 runs on just over 3 innings.

After the performance last night by Johan Santana, Mets fans the world over were on cloud 9.  But tonights injury to Pedro will certainly bring them back down, and force them to face the reality that Mr. Minaya and company traded away a very promising crop of much needed outfielders so that they could trot Santana out every 5 days, while forgetting that they would need to find at least 3 more pitchers to eat up innings the rest of the week.

I stand by my claim that Omar Minaya is the literal embodiment of The Curse, and the Mets have a lot more of The Curse to look forward to.

Braves Spring Training Highlights and Stuff

Why am I not in Florida right now watching spring baseball?…Seriously.

Anyways, here’s a few quick notes from the Braves spring training performances so far:

-Yunel Escobar is really lighting it up right now.  I’m still not sure what to expect from him, but he looks very good on paper.  He’s hitting a cool .500, with only 4 strikeouts in 28 at-bats, so maybe his numbers last year will show up again this year.

-Jair Jurrjens is pitching his way into the starting rotation, while Jo Jo Reyes is turning into Kyle Davies.  I don’t think Jurrjens is going to be spectacular, and I don’t think Reyes is going to be a total dud, but there really is no comparison between the two.  Jurrjens is just plain better than Reyes, and that’s all there is to it.  Reyes would be good coming out of the pen, but I don’t want to see him in the starting rotation anytime soon…at least not until he learns to throw strikes.

-Mike Hampton isn’t out for the season!  He did have a groin injury or something like that, but it doesn’t look serious.  At 35 years old, and coming off a 2 year hiatus from baseball, I hope Hampton takes it nice and easy for the next 6-8 weeks and doesn’t hurt himself again.  You’re not 25 anymore Mikey!  In fact, you’re not even 30 or 32, so please be kind to your old bones and ligaments.

-Matt Diaz is still a hitting machine.  After looking at his stats, 2 things stuck out to me…

1) Diaz has 2 stolen bases.  When did those wheels show up, Matt?

2) He’s got a .423 average, with an on-base percentage of .407.  How does that happen?

-Javy Lopez leads the team with 2 homeruns.

-John Smoltz will make his first start of the spring this Saturday.  So far, it sounds like he’s got all his pitches working for him and he’s feeling good.  With Glavine, Jurrjens, and Hudson all performing well as of late, that gives us at least 4 solid starters, and if you throw in Chuck James and Mike Hampton, that’s a pretty good rotation.  Cross your fingers and say your prayers that no one gets hurt.

The Origin and Evidence of a Mets Curse

I know that this is a Braves blog, but as an avid Braves fan, I take special interest in the woes of the New York Mets. The more I read some of the things floating around the internet, the more I feel that the Mets are on a downward spiral brought about by some kind of mystical curse. A recent article titled Why the Mets Must Sign Bugs Bunny provided several comical, yet valid reasons why the Mets aren’t looking all that great even after the addition of Johan Santana. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Mets have caught the Curse of the Bambino from the Red Sox, and I’ve done some significant research into the matter connecting the 2 teams, but before I get into the details, here are a few recent bits of evidence that the Mets are indeed suffering from some kind of curse:

-The cataclysmic meltdown of September 2007 — Could it have been worse? Yes. Could it have been much worse? No.

-The off-season trade that saw Lastings Milledge go to the Nationals in exchange for 3 empty Coke cans and a broken Nintendo controller — Scouting reports obtained by the Mets indicated that one of the Coke cans had a nasty slider.

-The coincidental rash of outfield injuries that came shortly after off-season trades that sent 2 great outfield prospects to other teams — The Mets are left with 3 healthy players, and tons of question marks surrounding the health of Moises Alou, Carlos Beltran, Marlon Anderson, Ryan Church, Endy Chavez, and B.J. Johnson. For the record, Milledge is hitting .346/.452/.500 with 4 steals so far for the Nats.

-Lack of significant production from Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado since 2006, who made a combined $28.5 million in 2007

-Omar Minaya

So the evidence isn’t rock solid, but it’s beginning to build up, and from the research I’ve done I think the curse first came in contact with the Mets when they signed Pedro Martinez. At the time, Martinez was coming off a 16-9 2004 season with the Red Sox, including a Game 3 World Series win that helped the Sox rid themselves of the Curse of the Bambino.

Following the ’04 season, Martinez and the Curse needed new homes. The Mets thought Martinez was worth a 4 year, $53 million contract, and from 2005 through early 2006 it looked like the Mets would get a great return on their investment, as Martinez went 15-8 in 2005, and began the 2006 season at 5-1. But suddenly, things began to fall apart. On May 26th, 2006 Martinez was asked by umpires to change his undershirt during a start against the Marlins and while heading to the locker room, he slipped in the corridor and injured his hip. At the time, the injury seemed minor, but Martinez never fully recovered, and beginning June 6th, Martinez went 4-7, including a 3 inning appearance against the Boston Red Sox, during which he gave up 6 earned runs on 7 hits as the Red Sox went on to a 3 game sweep of the Mets.

The second half Pedro Martinez’s 2006 season was marred by injuries, including a torn muscle in his left calf and a torn rotator cuff. Meanwhile, the Mets went on to gain a spot in the play-offs, but lost to the Cardinals in 7 games in the NLCS. While the Cardinals went on to win the World Series, the Mets were on their way to a fateful 2007 season that will forever haunt the memories of Mets fans.

While there are still plenty of things for Mets fans to look forward to this season, the Mets themselves are still trying to shake off the lingering effects of last September. It is becoming more and more evident that the Mets are not as confident as they pretend to be, and the clubhouse suffers from an overall dark and negative vibe. In my opinion, Pedro Martinez — a native of the Dominican Republic, where voodoo is widely practiced — actually became the temporary embodiment of the Curse of the Bambino when he left the Red Sox and signed with the Mets. Upon falling and injuring his hip, the Curse was released from Martinez’s body and soon came to control the entire Mets team, and quite possibly has taken total control of Omar Minaya himself. Of course, the only man powerful enough to break the Curse is Theo Epstein, and he will never in a million years provide his services to the Mets.

As a fan of the Braves during the late 80’s and early 90’s, I can sympathize with Mets fans that have been and will continue to be subjected to watching their favorite team self-destruct over and over again. But as a Braves fan, I also take great delight in watching the Mets collapse every summer. Only time will tell how long the Curse will be with the Mets, but I foresee it lasting for decades, and maybe even centuries, or until the Mets get designated to some obscure AAA league. Until then, I’ll enjoy every moment of the Curse of Pedro.

Barry Bonds a Brave?

Back in the early 1990’s there was a deal that was 99.9% done that would have made Barry Bonds a Brave, but Pittsburgh Pirates management pulled out at the last second, forever changing the landscape of the NL East.  Phil Rogers, of ChicagoSports.com suggests in a recent article that the modern day Barry Bonds, who is still looking for a team to sign with for 2008, would best fit in with the Atlanta Braves.  Rogers argues that with a hole in left field and Bobby Cox as a capable ring leader, the Braves would benefit from the services of Bonds and could do so at a nominal fee.

First, let’s straighten a few things out.  There is no hole in left field.  Matt Diaz is a proven hitter (at least in a platoon situation), who plays left field as well as the ancient Barry Bonds.  Brandon Jones is a young talent ready to take his hacks playing part time in left with Diaz, and it is to the Braves’ advantage if they let him get a full season of experience under his belt in 2008.  And though Bobby Cox is known as one of the best “player’s coaches” in all of baseball, the presence of Bonds would turn the clubhouse on its head, and I can’t imagine that Chipper Jones or John Smoltz wouldn’t have a problem sharing space with such distracting individual as Bonds.  Cox might stand in the dugout and let out a few cheers for “Bondsie” whenever he came up to bat, but beyond that there isn’t much a manager can do for a player as old as Bonds, even if that manager is the legendary Bobby Cox.

The only reason the Braves might even consider bringing Bonds into the picture would be to attract a larger fan base, but they would also risk alienating half of their current fan base.  Braves fans are a conservative bunch, who love to cheer for the good guys, and love even more to boo the bad guys.  Bonds would be seen as the most despised pariah in all of Atlanta sports (and there are plenty of those to go around at present), and a freak show not worth paying good money to see when cable t.v. is so much cheaper.  Besides, fate has already shown that Bonds was never meant to be a Brave.

Hampered Hampton

I’ve been really bogged down with exams lately (right now I’m taking a break from studying for a biochem exam), but I’ve been keeping an eye on the Braves as they get Spring Training underway. It looks like Mike Hampton is working his way back, but who knows where he’ll be in a few months. Braves fans haven’t seen him for 2 years now, although I saw him in the players parking lot last summer while I was waiting for autographs from other players. At the time, a few fans asked Hampton to come over and sign, but his arm was in some kind of sling device and most of the kids under 10 years old had no clue who he was.

So far, there are indications that Hampton’s arm is holding up well, and he seems to have recovered from his little leg injury in Mexico over the winter. But even if he stays healthy the whole year, his pitching arm won’t be ready for 150+ innings, and he probably will need at least 50 of those innings to get any kind of grasp on locating his pitches or refining his mechanics. I think the Braves would like to be able to pencil Hampton in as the #4 starter for most of the season, but they realize that the pencil they use will need to be accompanied with a large eraser at times, and they should probably have multiple options to replace Hampton at any given moment. On the other hand, last season the Braves brought in Mark Redman to throw batting practice for opposing teams, so you gotta’ believe that even if Hampton struggles he’ll be more productive than Redman.

My prediction: Hampton struggles through mid-June, has a few injury concerns, and then puts together a nice string of outings after the All-Star break. By the end of August Hampton will begin to feel the effects of his 2 year DL stint, and will struggle to contribute during a tight play-off race. The Braves will fall apart in September due to too many old arms and not enough pitching depth, and Hampton will finish with a 8-9 record, a 4.75 ERA, and ultimately be signed to a 2 year deal for about $8 million by one of the AL Central teams (maybe the Rangers or the Royals). Meanwhile, the Braves will entomb John Smoltz in carbonite ala Han Solo, and will forever be on display at Turner Field until the Braves finally reach another World Series, at which time Smoltz will be thawed out to start Game 1.

Ok, so the part about Smoltz was unnecessary, but I think my predictions about Hampton are mostly reasonable, which makes him a solid #5 pitcher for 2008, and even a good #4 or #3 at times.

Let’s Look at Jeff Locke

Chop-n-Change recently ran a Q&A with Jeff Locke, one of the Braves top young pitching prospects. After a sub-par first year at rookie ball, Jeff came back last year and posted some fantastic numbers for Danville, raising his ground ball rate from 38% to 55%, and dropping his ERA from 4.22 to 2.66. By his own account he throws a decent fastball, curve, and is working on his change-up.  A mixture of those 3 pitches should help him work his way through the minors, and if he can maintain a K/9 rate of 7+, a BB/9 rate under 2, and a ground ball percentage in the 50% range, then he might make a decent starter for the Braves in a few years.

More Spring Training Advice and Autograph Tips

There’s a lot of information floating around cyberspace about Spring Training and making the most of your experience, so I decided to make a little compilation of different sites you can check out:

Spring Training Reader Tips

This site is a mix of tips from various fans across the country. You can find information for the best times and places to get autographs and travel tips. The Spring Training Tips homesite has a bunch of information about schedules, teams, weather, and planning your Spring Training trip.

The Ultimate Baseball Collector

A blog run by Chris Los who knows a lot about getting free baseballs. He has a few posts about through the mail (TTM) Spring Training autographs and which players are the best about signing.

Autographed Baseball Tips

An especially informative site by Barbara Crew about acquiring and displaying autographed baseballs. I don’t advise spending much money on sending autographed baseballs through the mail, and prefer to get them in person, but Ms. Crew says that she’s had a lot of success so maybe it’ll work for you.

USA Today Spring Training Tips

Generic tips about all sorts of Spring Training topics. The information is 2 years old, but mostly valid and accurate.

What to Love About Spring Training

Josh Pahigian has a nice article at the ESPN website highlighting some of the best things about Spring Training. There are also links to ESPN guides to the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues.

These are just a few of the many sites that you can check out to pick up good information about Spring Training. There are plenty more if you’ll just do a quick search on Google or any other search engine, and you can always check out various team forums and ask for advice from other fans. From my experience, the best things to keep in mind are:

-Plan ahead

-Have a pen that works

-Be courteous to other fans and players

-Get to the ballpark early and often

-Don’t be afraid to ask for directions or advice

-Bring your own snacks to the ballpark to save money

-Stay away from large crowds

So there you have it. Good luck with your Spring Training plans and activities!