Mets are in the hunt for a playoff spot

It’s only been seven years since the Mets were relevant and fighting for a playoff berth in August and September, however it feels like much longer. Coming into this season with cautious optimism, I certainly did not expect to have a three and a half game lead in the NL East with 42 games to play. Yet that’s where we sit.

This season has been a roller coaster – a ride that has been mostly ascending for the last three weeks. The events of the last month were more than most teams deal with in an entire season. Trades being made, trades falling through, crying players, walk-offs, brilliant pitching, offensive sparks and offensive lulls – the highest of highs and the lowest of lows – it was exhilarating. Out of the chaos came a team that finally has a major league lineup to compliment a dominant pitching staff.

Since the Jully 31 trade deadline, the Mets are 12-6 and have built a lead in the division thanks to the Nationals playing some tough competition. Bottom line: the NL East race is going to come down to the wire – and what an amazing feeling that is as a Mets fan to be in a pennant race again!

Going forward, each game is going to be more important than the last. The pressure is on and Citi Field will be more alive than it has ever been. The six games left against the Nats will likely decide the division, especially the final three of the season.

The front office has been working towards a season like this for the past 6 years. David Wright returns from the DL on Monday and our young arms getting another reinforcement with the return of Steven Matz. But innings limits are creeping up for some of best pitchers and I just hope the front office doesn’t prioritize an arbitrary limit on innings determined months ago over a vital September game.

After Tommy John, Harvey must be dealt with carefully but this is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s time to unleash all of our weapons and go for broke. We are in a race with a good chance to win the division and make the playoffs. Our rotation can carry us on a memorable postseason run – we just have to give them the chance to do so.

At the beginning of the season, contending for a playoff spot was a possibility but it still seemed far-fetched. Now we’re doing it and I can’t wait for the next six weeks (and hopefully beyond).

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Mets take 11-game winning streak to the Bronx

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What a start to the 2015 baseball season for the New York Mets and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I certainly didn’t realize that when Beltran took Adam Wainwright’s curve ball for a called third strike in the 2006 NLCS, we would have to wait 9 years for good baseball again. Yes, we started out great in 2007 and 2008 but major collapses and no postseason berths set the tone for the next decade. (I also understand that 9 years of futility isn’t that long compared with some other franchises, however it’s been a while since exciting Mets baseball).

As fans, we stood firm every April, trying to get behind the optimism that the front office was selling but also realizing that we were far away from competing for a postseason spot. Havery’s Tommy John surgery took 2014 off the table as THE year of a return to relevance so that put a lot of pressure on 2015.

New York fans are only so patient. The San Francisco Giants (a team that wore the current Mets logo from 1948-1957) has won the World Series three times since our last playoff appearance. A quiet offseason worried many that the front office was still unwilling to commit to a winning team. But a solid Spring that featured loads of quality young talent coupled with an overall thirst for something to be excited about had expectations high.

Starting the season with two of three against the Nats and the dominant return of Matt Harvey was exciting enough. But to rattle off 11 straight wins and start the first homestand of the season 10-0 has me and the rest of the fan base in a tizzy. I know that it’s only April but I haven’t been this excited about Mets baseball since 2006 and we finally have a reason to be optimistic.

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One could argue that this winning streak has come against the bottom of our division, but good teams are supposed to beat the bad teams in their division. Not to mention that we have played through injuries and changes to the lineup without missing a step. Wright, Wheeler, Mejia, D’Arnaud and Blevins are all out for varying lengths of time yet it’s the next man up and we keep winning. Duda is an emerging star and Granderson continues to get on base. Wilmer Flores looks like a major league shortstop and Juan Lagares might be the best defensive centerfielder in the game right now.

It’s a small sample size of course and a regression is likely but I’m not apologizing for being ecstatic about this start. Citi Field has been electric early on, so much so that Michael Cuddyer said he got chills standing in left field during a big out early on in the homestand. Mets fans have been longing for something of a good baseball team to latch on to and it looks like we’ve finally got it.

The team believes that it can win and belief is a powerful thing. A loose clubhouse and confidence can take any baseball team a long way. And if those two characteristics fall by the wayside, our starting pitching should be there to pick up the slack. I’m hard pressed to find a weak spot in our rotation right now and it’s a blast watcing Colon, deGrom, Harvey, Niese and Gee go to work each night.

Terry Collins knows he’s fighting for his job, the Mets organization knows it’s fighting for its fan base and the guys on the team know that the time to win is now. There’s been talk of the Mets taking back New York. Well, what better way to signal the shift in New York baseball than setting a franchise record for consecutive wins in the Bronx? This is the most important Subway series since the 2000 World Series. Both teams are in first place and although it’s only April, this series can prove that the Mets can win important baseball games. So far a little belief has taken us a long way. Here’s to hoping it will continue all the way to October.

Brady, Belichick claim 4th Super Bowl

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The hype that surrounds the Super Bowl is remarkable. Every year the game breaks a viewership record that it already held; the halftime shows get bigger; the commercials cost more and the social media mentions skyrocket. No one who watched or attended the first Pro Football Championship game in 1967 could have predicted what an event the game would become a half century later. It’s an unofficial American Holiday that carries more weight than many official ones.

Super Bowl XLIX (the last Super Bowl to use Roman numerals) had the seemingly impossible task of living up to all of that hype. But not only did it deliver on all levels, it exceeded expectations. Two of the best teams in football matched wits in between depressing Nationwide commercials and a lion-riding Katy Perry dancing with sharks and when it was all said and done, the Patriots had won their 4th Super Bowl.

This year’s playoffs had already had its share of amazing moments but the 4th quarter of last night’s game topped them all. First, Brady turning a 10-point deficit into a 4-point lead in typical Brady fashion. Two perfectly executed drives (9 and 10 plays respectively) against the best defense in the league.

With the Pats leading 28-24 and 2 minutes remaining, Russell Wilson looked prime to do what he did at the end of the first half – lead his team on a TD drive. He got them into New England territory very quickly and then a miraculous circus catch by Jermaine Kearse on a deflected ball put Seattle inside the 10 with 60 seconds left. Shades of David Tyree and Mario Manningham had everyone wondering if another spectacular, out of the ordinary, once-in-a-lifetime catch was going to spoil another Patriots Super Bowl.

So much transpired in the final 1:20 of the game that I am still processing it all and I’m sure I’m not alone. Lynch runs the ball down to the 1-yard line and the clock continues to move. Should Belichick have called a timeout to preserve time for Brady after this sure-to-happen Seahawks touchdown? He’s been in this exact position before and decided to let the Giants score the go-ahead TD in Super Bowl XLVI. He didn’t take the timeout this time.

Lucky for Bill, Seattle decided to take the ball out of the hands of its biggest goal line weapon. Undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler picks off Russell Wilson on a slant route and the game is over. If that play is completed for a touchdown, we never discuss the play call. Since it’s picked off, it will be talked about for years and some Seattle fans may never be able to let it go.

Obviously, I think he should have run the ball with Lynch and if he didn’t get into the end zone, then call a timeout and run it again. It might go down as the worst play call in NFL history, given the circumstances, personnel and stakes but credit must be given to Malcolm Butler who was well prepared. He practiced that specific play, knew what was coming and jumped the route for his first career interception. As Peter King pointed out, Butler made a play in the biggest moment of the game and that’s why the Pats are the Super Bowl champs.

It was a great game – maybe the best Super Bowl ever (for fans with no rooting interest in either team) – although that could very well be recency bias. Brady and Belichick win their 4th trophy on their 6th try and they now moves from NFL legends to immortals.

Much has been written already and will be written about Brady being the greatest quarterback of all-time. He now holds just about every Super Bowl record there is. The former sixth round pick is tied with Joe Montana having won 4 Lombardi trophies and 3 Super Bowl MVPs to go along with a record 13 Super Bowl Touchdown passes.

Despite throwing two interceptions yesterday, Tom finished with 328 yards, 4 TDs and a Super Bowl record 37 completions. Most importantly, he went 13-for-15, with 121 yards and 2 TDs in his final two 4th quarter possessions. Hate or love him, he’s one of the best to ever do it. Tom’s legacy has been cemented and can never be questioned after this win but had Seattle handed the ball off to Lynch and won Super Bowl XLIX, then Tom Brady’s legacy is quite different – and that is absurd.

The narrative would be clear. Brady won three early in his career and despite getting back to the big game, he could never get back over the hump. Belichick would of course be included in this narrative and although some would still argue that Brady is the best ever, it would be hard to convince the majority based on his last three Super Bowl outcomes.

But even if Seattle hands the ball off to Lynch and wins the game, Brady still delivered a performance for the ages. He struggled at times but overcame his mistakes and led his team back. He was unflappable in the face of extreme pressure against an outstanding defense.

Because Belichick didn’t use his timeout to stop the clock, Brady would have gotten the ball back with about 20 seconds left needing a field goal. The game would have likely ended the same way that Super Bowl XLIX ended – Tom coming up short on a game-winning drive and you can see the headlines now: Brady loses 3rd straight Super Bowl, Passing of the Torch, A New Dynasty Emerges.

We were so close to that reality but all of that didn’t happen and it will be a universally held opinion that Brady is one of the greatest QBs ever. The outcome of the game has a huge effect on his legacy but it really shouldn’t. He did everything he needed to do in that 4th quarter.

Think about this – the Pats are two crazy plays away from winning 6 Super Bowls in the last 15 years. I’m ecstatic that they didn’t because my Giants won both of those games but I don’t know if we will see a QB/coach pairing like these two ever again.

It was a Super Bowl that will be talked about for as long as there is football. I’m far from a Pats fan but I definitely appreciated what I saw last night and I hope others did too. While it would have been a fun and intriguing story line had the Pats lost, the outcome of the game wouldn’t change my opinion of Brady. For the rest of the media and NFL fans, it certainly helps his legacy to be on the winning side last night.

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Finally, there is the other side of the coin. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks lost a heartbreaker in the biggest game of the year. Some might say it’s karma after Seattle won a thriller against Green Bay, who defeated Dallas in ridiculous fashion, who controversially beat the Lions. But this loss will sting much more for the Seahawks than the losses suffered by the Packers, Cowboys and Lions.

Pete Carroll had the game won – all he had to was hand the ball to Lynch and rely on his defense to stop the Pats for 20 seconds. But it’s a call that he makes many times throughout the game. Carroll said he was playing matchups and chose to throw against their goal line formation. It didn’t work out and he regrets it.

My favorite non-Giant in the NFL is Russell Wilson and I feel for him to have thrown a game-ending interception. The best part about Russ though is his attitude and he won’t let this setback get the best of him.

Wilson has overcome many obstacles in his life and this will be another. He’s one of the most exciting players to watch and Russ will be back on that stage again, possibly as soon as next year. A lot can be learned from Wilson in the way he handles himself when winning and when dealing with adversity. Now having been to two Super Bowls and experiencing both victory and defeat, he will only be more motivated to win again.

Last night’s game was what a Super Bowl should be. It lived up to its name and here’s to hoping the Giants can make it back to the big game soon. If it’s not the Giants, I’ll be rooting for Wilson and should Brady be waiting there for either matchup, that would be appropriate.

Giants Off to another Slow Start

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Unfortunately for Big Blue, 2014 feels a lot like 2013. No one predicted an 0-6 start last year and we dug ourselves too big of a hole to climb out of, despite playing better in the 2nd half of the season. After losing yesterday to the Cardinals (against a QB who hasn’t played in 4 years), the Giants are standing on the edge again, one step away from falling into yet another hole too big to recover from.

Yesterday’s loss was especially frustrating because we made the same mistakes that we have consistently made since the start of last season. Drew Stanton did lead his team down the field on the opening drive of the game but the Giants beat themselves yesterday. Turnovers, poor execution and special teams cost us the game and allowed Arizona to score 15 unanswered points in the 4th quarter.

Our offense has a lot of stuff it needs to work out and I understand that it takes time with a new coordinator and a new system. Play will improve but it’s tough to fall to 0-2 in a game that you should have won. A great 90-yard drive to take the lead in the the 3rd quarter, only to give up a punt return and turn the ball over in the 4th. Turnovers have been the achilles heel of this team for some time now and until that gets remedied, we can’t expect to be legitimate contenders.

Newly acquired defensive back Walter Thurmond was also lost for the season with a torn pectoral. A huge blow to what was supposed to be a revamped secondary. Finally, the most frustrating thing about yesterday’s loss was that the team faced adversity, appeared to overcome it, only to squander the chance to win late.

Having a lead late in the 3rd quarter, I was confident that we had righted the ship and we were going to find a way to win. But instead the Giants handed the game to the Cardinals. 0-2 is very different than 1-1 and when you look around the league, there are teams who faced the same adversity against tougher opponents and found ways to win. The Chargers lost to Arizona in Week 1 and faced the defending Super Bowl Champs in Week 2. Philip Rivers led his team and found a way to win against a quality opponent to avoid falling to 0-2.

The same goes for the Packers who fell behind 21-3 in their home opener after losing Week 1. Rodgers led his team back and pulled out a win. Chicago is another example of a team that lost in Week 1 and faced major adversity in Week 2 (trailing 17-0 in the 2nd half against a good team in their first game at a new stadium). Yet, Jay Cutler flipped a switch and the defense continued to make plays to lead the Bears to a hard fought win.

Finally, even in our division, the Cowboys and Redskins both had bounce back victories (even after RGIII went down with a gruesome ankle injury). They found ways to win and they didn’t beat themselves. That’s something I thought that the Giants would do too, especially against a back-up QB.

If any team knows the perils of starting off super slow, it’s this one yet we didn’t do enough yesterday. It’s possible that those teams are just better than us this year and that’s why they were able to come out with W’s. I don’t want to believe that just yet though.

There’s still plenty of football left to be played and although the result was not there this week, that doesn’t mean the season is lost. We have a tough game against the 2-0 Texans this week and we need to bounce back. This team desperately needs some confidence and something to build upon – a win over Houston would be just that. If we have a chance to compete for the NFC East, this is the week we need to prove it. Hopefully Tom Coughlin has the team ready to play smart, turnover-free football. Eli played well enough yesterday and if he can continue to acclimate himself to the new offense, then I think the Gmen have a lot of potential.

0-2 is not quite 0-6 but we’re headed in that direction. This is the week to change all of that. Because if it doesn’t happen now, then when we are finally ready to play good football, it will be too late. Week 3 is often the week that new systems begin to take hold as well. We saw it in 2007 with Steve Spagnulo’s defense and hopefully we will see it in 2014 with Ben McAdoo’s new offense. Although yesterday was frustrating, it’s only two games. We’ve got 14 left and I know that we can be a playoff team and I hope we can show the rest of the league that fact on Sunday.

Chris Pratt Raps Forgot About Dre

I was already a huge fan of Chris Pratt from his work on Parks and Rec and various movies and now I’m an even bigger fan. Flawless rap and I love the pause in the middle when he decides to keep going. 

This album came out when I was 10 years old it was the first rap album that I ever bought. I still remember buying the CD and how excited I was. Like Chris, I know every word but it’s so awesome to hear him rap it.

Guardians of the Galaxy is turning Pratt in to a mega movie-star but the fact that he’s still a big goofball capable of rapping an entire verse during a visit to Shade 45 makes me love him even more. 

How Did I Just Discover Big Brother?

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It’s Season 16 of Big Brother and I knew it was on but I always ignored it – until now. The first episode that I watched, which was in the middle of this season, was very confusing but I caught on quick. I’m so glad that I gave it a try because this show was made for me. I love Survivor and I knew it was similar to Survivor with players voting one another out of the game but Big Brother is so much better than I expected. 

First of all, it’s played in real time, so the “house guests” are currently playing the game as I’m typing this. Yet the show is still edited week-to-week like Survivor with intriguing story lines to keep it from becoming boring. 

Second, there are live feeds to watch the game at any time of the day. You can look into the house and see who is talking to who at any time during the day or night. Just as Ray Bradbury intended. 

Thirdly, it’s on 3 days a week with live episodes mixed in with the edited programs throughout the week. It’s such a cool dynamic to be able to watch the season play out and get live commentary from the players involved. 

Finally, there are three types of competitions. There are competitions to become the head of household and then the heads of households must nominate players to go “on the block.” The nominated players compete in pairs with the losers being eligible for elimination. But there is also a power of veto competition in which the players on the blocks can save themselves. Of course, alliances come into play and then each Thursday, there is a live vote for eviction where the house guests must choose between one of two players up for elimination. It’s definitely confusing but it calls for superior social strategy and physical ability. 

The competitors are completely disconnected from the real world so while they are on TV, they have no idea how they are being received by the viewers. It’s a cast of good-looking, young, pretty goofy people that are cooped up in a ridiculous house playing a game for $500,000. Brilliant. 

I love Survivor and nothing was surpass that as my favorite reality show, but I can’t believe that I just discovered Big Brother. The voting and alliances aspect would have been enough to draw me in but the real-time twist puts it over the top. America even votes on missions for the house guests to complete. I’m completely hooked now – time to go check out a live feed. 

Are the Mets poised for a big 2nd Half?

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The Mets ended the first half of the season with an 8-2 homestand that seems to have reinvigorated their fan base just a little bit. A 45-50 record heading into the All-Star break isn’t that bad. Now we’re just 7 games out of 1st place, trailing the Braves and Nats. Unfortunately, prior to winning of 8 of 10, the Mets lost 8 of 10, including getting swept in Atlanta.

That’s been the most frustrating thing about this year’s team – we haven’t been able to string together a couple of good weeks. That homestand was the first time the team was able to build any momentum, evidenced a seaon-high 4-game winning streak and a sweep of Miami.

So we were finally playing good, consistent baseball and then the All-Star break interrupts. Not the best timing but at least it gives Mets fans a chance to feel good about the team without any threat of returning to our inconsistent ways. Starting tomorrow, we open up a 10-game road trip in San Diego. Everyone should be rested and ready to continue what we started over the past two weeks.

So could this be the time that this team turns it around and becomes serious playoff contenders? It’s unlikely given that the Braves and Nats sit tied atop the division and there’s a logjam in the NL Wild Card with 6 teams separated by 3 games. But this upcoming road trip can set the tone to play meaningful games in August and September, something this franchise hasn’t done in about 6 years.

We’re finally starting to play better at home (25-23) but our play on the road has diminished (20-27). That’s what makes this upcoming road trip so important. Terry knows that he can’t keep his job by clinging to mediocrity. We’ve battled injuries and once Niese returns from the DL, our rotation will be as close to what we hoped it would be on Opening Day. Dillon Gee is poised to continue his ascent as a strong mid-rotation guy, while Wheeler continues to improve and Jacob DeGrom has been a pleasant surprise.

I’m well aware that for all of this to come to fruition and actually play meaningful September baseball, a lot needs to go right. Aside from keeping up the strong play at Citi Field and maintaining above-average pitching, David Wright needs to return to form. Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda need to continue their strong power hitting while Travis D’Arnaud stays hot and avoids reverting back to his pre-demotion form.

It’s a tall order that also requires a competent bullpen but like I said, that 10-game homestand has at least reinvigorated me. All year I was waiting for a win streak to build on and it finally came last week. Hopefully after some rest, we can pick up where we left off prior to the break.

If it all falls apart during the 2nd half like it has the last couple of seasons, then we become sellers yet again and hope for 2015. Luckily, I’m not thinking about that just yet.