Mike: We have a full week of New York baseball under our belts. While it's dangerous to draw any firm conclusions off such a small sample size, the story thus far has been the generally excellent Mets starting pitching, with all four starters shining thus far (Maine pitched very well initially before struggling mightily with his control in Monday's home opener). Meanwhile, the Yankees pitching was terrible before Carl Pavano (of all people) righted the ship in Minnesota. Of course, with their hitting, the Yankees can just beat teams with their bats most nights. What's caught your eye out of the gate?
Ted: As you said, Mike, the pitching has been the story so far. Is it me or did everyone get so caught up in talking about how the Mets would have no pitching that they forgot how weak the Yankees' staff is? I imagine Mike Mussina will right the ship. However, though Andy Pettitte has performed well in the Bronx in the past, he's returning to the better-hitting league and coming off one of the worst full seasons of his career. He had really cut down on his walk totals in his last few years with the Yanks and his first two seasons in Houston, but he faltered a bit last year and may be showing the effects of age. I know a lot of Yankee fans are really counting on Chien-Ming Wang coming back to bail them out, but I'm not sold on him yet. I'd like to see how he fares with a little more exposure, because I think he was lucky for a lot of last season.
Mike: I'm buying Wang. He's not a slop thrower, with one of the 10 fastest average fastballs in baseball last year (according to Baseball Info Solutions). But there's a lot of "just past the diving Jeter" when Wang pitches. I'm with you on Pettitte, who is a demi-god to Yankee fans. I'd be concerned that he's halfway down the wrong side of the mountain, in the wrong league and in the wrong division. But, really, if the Mets and Yanks have merely league average starting staffs, they'll likely prevail in their respective divisions -- that's how good their lineups are.
The Mets need to be concerned about Aaron Heilman, who is just not dominant enough in that eighth-inning role. Get me Brad Lidge. I'm also concerned about David Wright's power outage, which dates back to the '06 Home Run Derby. Speaking of third-sackers, how long before Yankee fans are calling A-Rod "Mr. April"? I give them three weeks.
Ted: Ha! Mr. April. I love it. I remember Barry Bonds declaring himself "Mr. July" a few years back. At this point, though, I actually feel bad for A-Rod. You just know the fans are going to be on him as soon as he cools down -- which is inevitable. Wright's power outage is definitely a cause for concern, but let's give him a month or two before we really start discussing it. I'd like to think he's had time to get things together in the offseason, though I agree that the Home Run Derby may have had something to do with his drop in power (see Bobby Abreu for details). Brad Lidge would be a nice little pickup. I think a new team -- and a pitcher's park -- would be just the change of scenery the guy needs now that he's got absolutely zero value in Houston. He definitely suits the role of Rick Peterson reclamation project, and he probably wouldn't cost the Mets too much in return. Let's just hope they don't dump Lastings Milledge for him. I think we're in the same camp there.
Mike: As long as A-Rod hits five homers a week, Yankees fans will be cool with him. But he's still no Jeter!
Wright is one of three players in New York baseball history to record two 25+ homers and a .300-plus seasons before their 25th birthdays. The other two are Mel Ott and Joe DiMaggio. So, Wright should be gold-plated in my mind. But he's not. Jose Reyes, though, is. You know you're older when you no longer want to be the player, you want to own the players. Reyes makes me want to be a player again and thus makes me feel young, for which I'm grateful. What is up with Willie Randolph and the lack of platooning? Jose Valentin and Shawn Green can't be benched for a day even? That's silly. This is a tougher division. The Braves are dangerous. Willie needs to get take these little advantages while he can. I'm going to be at the point soon where I'd rather see Ambiorix Burgos than Heilman. It's not just Game 7. Heilman's too hittable when his change isn't spot-on and it's hard to get that pitch working right out of the pen. I'm not a big fan of finesse relievers.
Ted: The platoon thing has really started to bother me. I know it's early, and I suppose it's important to establish your starting lineup or whatever, but why carry Milledge if you have no intention of getting him into a game before the seventh inning? Any momentum he may have had coming into the season from Spring Training is almost certainly spent by now, and the guy must be getting antsy on the bench. I was able to speak to him yesterday, and he said all the right things and maintained that he wants to be up with the big club, but I can't imagine he'll last past Friday, when the Mets have to recall Mike Pelfrey to start. I'm still not sold on Burgos. I appreciate his strikeouts, obviously, but he's so wild. Speaking of which, what was Willie thinking letting him pitch to Howard in that spot yesterday? Why do you carry a left-handed specialist -- no less two of them -- if not to pitch in that situation?
Mike: Milledge on the bench has the same expression as my six-year-old when he gets a timeout on our stairs. Journalism 101, Ted, is to get the player confused so you get the quote however you want it. You should have asked Lastings this, "Would it be false to say you are not unhappy with the way the Mets are playing without you?" Willie likes a set lineup and he likes power arms in the late innings. Remember last year in the playoffs when he left Mota in for a second inning rather than bringing in Heilman? Burgos is going to get every chance to get a prominent spot in this pen. I think Willie trusts Feliciano -- but not Schoeneweis -- and he wanted to save Feliciano for the late innings. Not agreeing with it, just speculating.
One more April thought on the Yanks: what did they see in Kei Igawa that was worth $50 million? He better make a quick adjustment with Phil (don't call me Philip) Hughes chomping at the bit at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. You turn out the lights for the week while I figure out how Jeff Weaver silenced the Mets last October.
Ted: Igawa hasn't looked good, and I wonder how long it'll take before more people start pointing to him as a makeup signing after the Yanks missed out on Dice-K (I suppose this long). His stats from Japan last season are good, but not nearly as good as Matsusaka's, and I wonder if it was fair of the Bombers to start him in the rotation right off the bat instead of giving him a little time to adjust to the American game. I guess in this case, as in so many others, money talked.
I trust Feliciano more than Schoeneweis, too, so I guess Willie and I have that in common. But I'd like to see even more of Feliciano in the late innings. I'll close out with this, though: Of all the early-season statistical trends that are making this Mets fan happy, none has impressed me more than Jose Reyes' improved plate discipline. The young shortstop has walked five times in 35 plate appearances. I know it's early, but he's walking about twice as frequently as he did last season. It looks like the tutelage from Rickey Henderson -- my favorite player of all-time -- is really starting to pay off.