Posts Tagged ‘New York Mets’

To the Would-Be Victors Come the Would-Be Spoilers

The Seattle Mariners may have been on a bit of a tear of late, but they’re not exactly looking for a postseason shot that they’re just not going to get. However, read carefully: the Mariners have the single most tough schedule in the American League to come down the stretch of the stretch.

The New York Yankees and their minions love to say, no matter how the Yankees might be struggling lately, that the road to the Serious still goes through the south Bronx. But for the Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland Athletics, and the Texas Rangers, the road to the postseason is going through Seattle: 21 out of the Mariners’ coming final 24 games will be played against those clubs. The lone set with no postseason prospect involving the Mariners is a three-set against the Toronto Blue Jays.

And the Mariners won’t necessarily be pushovers, either. They might be dead last in the American League West (67-71, with only a vague hope of reaching .500 if at all) but since the All-Star break they’re tied for the second-best jacket in the circuit with 32-20, even if they did kind of fatten it at the expense of Kansas City, Cleveland, and Minnesota.

And it gets even more delicious when you factor in that it won’t only be the Blue Jays who have to deal with Felix Hernandez, who’s already thrown four shutouts in his last ten starts including his perfect game. Including the regular season’s final day, when—if he works on his regular rest—the Angels would have the pleasure of figuring him out, possibly with a wild card spot on the line for Mike Scioscia’s troops.

So who else really gets to play spoiler down this stretch? First, the American League:

Los Angeles Angels—One more slump, however, and the Angels go from possible wild-card sneak-ins to spoilers alone. They face the third-toughest AL schedule behind Seattle and Oakland. Six games to come against the Rangers, four against the A’s, and three each against the Central-fighting Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox. On the other hand, they also face six games with the Mariners . . . over their last nine games on the season. If the Angels are going to be fated as spoilers after all, their time is sooner than you or they might think.

Boston Red Sox—On scheduling paper the Red Sox have the fourth toughest AL schedule to come. Six games each against Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and the Empire Emeritus. That’s on paper only. In reality—don’t exactly bank on this year’s Red Sox becoming last year’s Orioles. Since The Big Deal they’ve gotten worse instead of better and it doesn’t look like anything can help them now. Which is another good reason to dump Bobby Valentine post-haste. He can’t even get them to muster up for playing for pride anymore.

Toronto Blue Jays—They have four against the Orioles, seven against the Yankees, and three versus Tampa Bay. Sorry, Yankee fans—the road to this postseason just might be going through Toronto or Boston, though right now Toronto looks like the heavier stretch to pave.

The National League’s prospective poisoners aren’t looking at quite the kind of roads the AL spoilers-in-waiting face. The league’s toughest schedule to come belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are fighting for a postseason berth still. But the second-toughest belongs to the Miami Marlins—who look at this writing and probably for the rest of they way as though the only thing they could spoil would be their fans’ lunches or dinners. The road to the National League postseason isn’t going through southern Florida this time.

As for the rest of the league?

New York Mets—They’ve been looking a little better since busting out of their last free fall with an 8-3 record over their previous eleven games. They still face six games with the Atlanta Braves, three with the Washington Nationals, and a four-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are still clinging to postseason hopes and just might get a chance to have the Mets throw them over the stern. Unlike the Red Sox, the Mets are playing for pride now and have the right manager under whom to do it. Terry Collins is what the Red Sox only thought Bobby Valentine would be, the difference being Collins learned from the past and hasn’t been swatting flies with atomic bombs or betraying his players no matter how no-nonsense he is with them.

Milwaukee Brewers—They’re facing four with the Nats and three each against the Braves, the Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cincinnati Reds.

San Diego Padres—Don’t laugh; the Friars just took two out of three from the Dodgers and have three more to play against them. That’s in addition to three games each with the Cardinals and six with the San Francisco Giants.

Further spoiler alert: At least a few of the aforesaid contenders (we’ve already mentioned the Angels in this context, alas) could be reduced to spoilers themselves by the time at least one of the current candidates gets to them.

Dickey Floats On–First 18-Game Winner . . .

The New York Mets aren’t playing for anything but pride, now. One source of pride: R.A. Dickey, who just became the first in Show to win his eighteenth, a nifty 5-2 conquest of the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday afternoon.

Floating along . . .

It almost doesn’t matter whether Dickey pitches on the road, as he did Wednesday, or at home this season. His splits are nearly dead-even. His strikeouts-per-nine differential between Citi Field and the great beyond is -1.1—he gets one more strikeout away. He’s a little more hittable on the road (sixteen more hits away; a mere 37 points higher in the batting average against him), but his defence is a little more potent at home. (The batting average on balls in play against him is 59 points higher on the road.)

His ERA is only 36 points higher on the road; he’s 8-1 at Citi Field and 9-3 as a traveling man. He’s thrown only one less complete game on the road than at home, and one less shutout in the bargain; he’s walked only two more on the road than at home, but he’s struck out twelve more on the road.

Dickey is even pretty even when you look at him against .500+ teams and .500- teams. Against the .500- teams he’s 9-1/1.72; against the .500+ teams, he’s 8-3/3.53. When you’re +1.81 higher against the winning teams, you’re not exactly a pushover, and you’re doing just about what a good pitcher should do between the two. You expect the better teams to do a little damage even against a likely Hall of Famer; if you’re giving up +2.25 or better against the winning teams, though, that’s when you’re flirting with big trouble.

He was a big reason the Mets looked so good in the first half of the season: he didn’t lose in May or June, and he posted a 1.38 ERA over those two months. Now he’s one of the better reasons to keep an eye on the Mets, even as they’re all but mathematically eliminated, and the club starts looking toward their 2013 options. It’s not for nothing that analysts through this date are divided on whether the Mets should pick up his 2013 option or buy him out for $300,000 and invest the rest on solidifying the lineup or the farm.

 

 

Yes, children—minus Strasburg, this Nats rotation DOES have good postseason chances

Let’s try this again.

Assume the Washington Nationals will stick to the script and implement, some time in September, the exclamation point of the Strasburg Plan. Period dot period. Assume, too, that there’ll be enough blue murder screaming over the Nats torpedoing their own postseason chances. Maybe even some conspiracy theorists demanding a formal investigation, perhaps into whether someone isn’t buying the Nats off bigtime to tank. (Would the conspiracy theorists surprise you, really?)

Now, shove all that to one side and look at the Nats’ rotation without Stephen Strasburg.

Zimmermann—Without the Stras, he won’t be leading a rotation of pushovers . . .

Jordan Zimmermann—At this writing, Jordan Zimmermann leads the team with a 2.63 earned run average. If wins and losses are still your thing exclusively, dismiss him if you must as barely above a .500 pitcher, since he’s 9-8 through right now. Want to know how many no-decisions Zimmermann has on his jacket through today? Nine. If you define pitching well enough to win as surrendering three runs or fewer, he pitched seven of those nine games well enough to win, and in five of those seven the Nats did go on to win. So if you still look at wins and losses first and last, Zimmermann should have a 15-8 won-lost record through today.

What do you know. That would give him as many wins as Strasburg has and a mere two losses more. But Zimmermann’s quality stats include a 1.13 walks/hits per inning pitched rate (team lead), a 3.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio (second only to Strasburg’s 4.23), a 1.8 walks per nine rate, and a 0.8 home run rate. He also has 2.9 wins above a replacement level pitcher. I’m not exactly convinced the Nats would be in terrible postseason shape with Zimmermann at the top of the rotation.

Gio Gonzalez—He’d probably win the Cy Young Award if it were going to the most congenially quotable pitcher in the league. He has the second best winning percentage (.696) to Strasburg (.714) as of today. He’s also third among the rotation in ERA—with a nifty 3.28. He only has three no-decisions, and in only one did he pitch well enough to win, according to the above definition. So, instead of his current 16-7 won-lost record, he’d be 17-7, since the Nats went on to win that one game. If you want to cut him a break and say four earned runs or less is good enough to win, Gonzalez could—since the Nats went on to win all three of his no-decisions thus far—have a 19-7 record.

He’s got a 1.16 WHIP through today; he has a 2.80 K/BB rate, he has a 9.5 K/9 rate, and he has a 0.5 home run rate, if that matters to you. He also has 1.6 WAR. In a Strasburg-less postseason rotation, I don’t think you’d be in grave danger with Gonzalez as your number two man.

Edwin Jackson—Start and end with wins and losses and you’d start worrying here. After all, Jackson only has an 8-9 record despite his 3.53 ERA. He also has eight no-decisions, one fewer than Zimmermann. And, by the aforesaid measurement of pitching well enough to win, in six of those games Jackson did pitch well enough to win. The Nats only went on to win one of those games, alas, which would make Jackson a 9-9, but since four of them ended up as one-run games, and you’d like to think a pitcher working well enough to win or better than well enough should have come away with a pitching win. By that, Jackson should be 12-9.

His quality stats are solid for a number three man. He has a 1.17 WHIP and a 2.85 K/BB rate; he has a 1.1 home run per nine rate and a 2.8 BB/9 rate. Look at a Strasburg-less Nats rotation and, so far, you can’t really think of one good reason why this rotation can’t succeed come postseason time. Among Zimmermann, Gonzalez, and Jackson, they average to a 1.15 WHIP rate. Folks, that’s 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers, 1969 New York Mets, or 1971 Baltimore Orioles territory.

Ross Detwiler—The sleeper of the bunch. He’s 8-6 with a better than respectable 3.52 ERA. He has a pile of no-decisions in his own right as a starter (he’s also seen some very effective bullpen duty)—seven, to be exact. Of those seven, he pitched well enough to win six of them, and the Nats went on to win four of those. By that, Detwiler should have a 12-6 won-lost record.

Detwiler’s quality stats are just about even with Jackson’s. He has a 1.17 WHIP and a 2.31 K/BB rate; he has a 2.4 BB/9 rate and a 0.6 HR/9 rate. As a number four man in a Strasburg-less postseason rotation, it doesn’t exactly look as though Detwiler’s the weak link. It doesn’t even look as though the Nat rotation without Strasburg is a weak link.

The entire Nats pitching staff through this writing is worth 17.4 WAR. With Strasburg, the rotation is good for 13.5; without him, they lose a mere 2.6. Believe it or not, Zimmerman leads the rotation with his 4.0. Are you trying to tell me a rotation configured to equal 10.9 WAR would go into a postseason with a gaping handicap?

Of course there’s no way the Nats are where they are without Strasburg. Assuming they hold those levels the rest of the stretch, nobody else going to the postseason in the National League should assume the Nats rotation minus Strasburg would be pushovers. Whoops! you say—whaddabout postseason experience? Gotcha! There’s Edwin Jackson, and there’s all the rest, and shouldn’t the Nats bring every damn last weapon to bear they can bring including Strasburg?

Well, now. Let’s take a look at a few rotations that went into a postseason with little to no such experience to carry into it and see what they did:

A tale of two Hall of Famers—little did Kid Palmer know . . .

1966 Baltimore Orioles—The only pitcher on the entire staff with postseason experience was reliever Stu Miller (1962 San Francisco Giants). Who also led the team in ERA. Except for oft-injured lefthander Steve Barber, the Oriole starters were kids: Jim Palmer was all of 20, Wally Bunker 21, Dave McNally 23, and John Miller 25. You’d have given a staff like that three chances in a World Series against the last of the great Dodger teams of the middle 1960s. Those Dodgers still brandished Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, plus Claude Osteen as the number three rotation man and Phil (The Vulture) Regan having his career year out of the bullpen. The Orioles swept the Dodgers in four straight, though they did get a little help from Willie Davis’s fatal inning in a Game Two in which Koufax otherwise looked like his usual self until then. Maybe they had some incentive not to get another turn against Koufax, but whatever works, works.

Koosman, doing what even a Hall of Famer couldn’t, beating the Orioles twice in the ’69 Miracle . . .

1969 New York Mets—Not a damn one of them, not even veteran Don Cardwell, had postseason experience to speak of entering that postseason. The Mets had one bona-fide Hall of Famer in the rotation (Tom Seaver) and one bona-fide Hall of Famer (Nolan Ryan) as a spot starter and relief option, and about the only postseason experience either had was watching on the tube or in the stands. The Mets steamrolled the Atlanta Braves to win the first National League Championship Series, then won four straight—with Jerry Koosman, not Seaver, winning twice—after losing Game One of the World Series to a Baltimore Orioles team that, on paper, was supposed to make three squares a day out of those Mets.

1970 Cincinnati Reds—The first of the teams to be known as the Big Red Machine had one pitcher (Jim Merritt, a 20-game winner) who’d been to a World Series in 1965 (with the Minnesota Twins) but pitched only 3.1 innings in two relief appearances. Not exactly a well-seasoned veteran of the wars. After burying the Pittsburgh Pirates in three straight in the NLCS, they went down in five to the Orioles in the Serious.

1971 Oakland Athletics—These A’s featured a rotation topped by Vida Blue (having his career year) and Catfish Hunter (future Hall of Famer) and nobody with postseason experience. They got overwhelmed by the Orioles and their four 20-game winners in the League Championship Series, alas. Call it a dress rehearsal for what was to come—namely, three straight World Series rings.

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates—The Fam-I-Lee had one starter, Bert Blyleven, with any postseason experience, and that was a mere two-inning relief gig with the 1970 Twins whom the Orioles blew away in three straight. It may have been one of the classic full-team efforts—no Pirate pitcher was all that dominant in the World Series, other than Blyleven and closer Kent Tekulve—but the Pirates did win it in a seven-game thriller.

“One Tough Dominican . . .”

1982 St. Louis Cardinals—None of this rotation had postseason experience going in, and they didn’t exactly go in looking like a particularly threatening rotation. (Their best starter: Joaquin Andujar, whose 1.09 WHIP was the only one on the staff below 1.25.) The only pitcher on the whole staff with postseason experience was Jim Kaat, by then working as a relief pitcher who only started two on the season. The Cardinals ground out a seven-game Series win over the Brewers, but you couldn’t really say that either team threw a deadly rotation up there. (The Brewers, in fairness, had a rotation slightly worse than the Cardinals’ and two pitchers—Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Don Sutton—on staff, but Sutton was a mid-to-late season pickup and Fingers, of course, was the closer.)

1986 New York Mets—They had no 20-game winners, three starters with ERAs under 3, and nobody with postseason experience. After they steamrolled the National League in the regular season, they had to win the pennant the hard way against a feisty collection of Houston Astros, then win the World Series the hard way against a star-crossed collection of Boston Red Sox. If you looked at the rotation’s WHIP overall, it compares pretty favourably to that of this year’s Nats thus far.

1990 Cincinnati Reds—The stars of this show, arguably, were the Nasty Boys bullpen, among whom only Randy Myers (1988 Mets) had any postseason experience. In the rotation, only Danny Jackson (1985 Kansas City Royals) had been there, done that; in the non-Nasty bullpen contingent, only veteran Rick Mahler (who had sixteen spot starts during the season) had gone to any postseason, and there he’d pitched less than two innings for the 1982 Atlanta Braves. These Reds ended up stunning the A’s with a Series sweep after needing six to beat the Pirates for the pennant.

Young, loud, and snotty . . .

2003 Florida Marlins—No postseason experience ever among the rotation, including young, loud, and snotty (You lost! Go home!) Josh Beckett. Beat the Yankees in six in the World Series, after shoving the Giants out of the way in the division series but winning an arduous League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs.

2007 Colorado Rockies—Had six starters on the year, none of whom took postseason experience into these rounds. These Rockies swept the Philadelphia Phillies out of the division series and the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the League Championship Series—only to be swept out of the World Series, in turn, by the Red Sox.

2008 Tampa Bay Rays—No rotation postseason experience. Not quite as good as this year’s Nats with or without Strasburg. And they got rolled in five by the Phillies in the World Series, after taking the Chicago White Sox in four in the division series and wrestling to a seven-game LCS win over the Red Sox.

Lincecum—no experience necessary . . .

2010 San Francisco Giants—They made themselves into a no-experience-whatsoever postseason rotation. The only member of the 2010 Giants with any postseason experience of which to speak was Barry Zito (when he was with the early-2000s A’s)—and he’d pitched so horrifically in 2010 the Giants didn’t dare include him on the postseason roster. This took the Giants to a World Series against a Texas Rangers staff that had two postseason-experienced starters. (Cliff Lee and Rich Harden.) The “inexperienced” Giants rode that pitching and some very timely and half unexpected hitting to a five-game Series conquest.

Covering twelve teams since 1966 who took little-to-no postseason-tested pitching into any postseason, it shakes out like this: eight of those rotations proved World Series winners. One of those rotations, moreover, beat a rotation loaded with two much-experienced Hall of Famers including maybe the greatest peak-value lefthanded pitcher of the post-World War II era at least and possibly all-time at most.

An 8-4 World Series-winning record among the inexperienced over a 46-year span isn’t exactly a great reason to be alarmed that the “inexperienced” Washington Nationals rotation—with or without Stephen Strasburg—is going to be guaranteed dead meat going into this year’s postseason. If the Nats stick to the Strasburg Plan on behalf of keeping their man’s arm from breaking off long-range, it is not going to kill them going in if they go without him.

That doesn’t guarantee the Nats’ survival, of course. But it does suggest that the alarmists bleating about whether they’re shooting themselves in the feet or “cheating” their fans out of the best possible chances to win are bleating through their derrieres.

Deja Vu, All Over Again—Colon Drydocked For Synthetic Testosterone

Fifty games out for Tortilla Fats . . .

That’ll be a fifty game siddown-and-shaddap against Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon.

Tortilla Fats got bagged for synthetic testosterone, the same actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance for which Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants got nailed last week. Except that nobody yet suspects Colon’s buds tried hoisting a phony Website hawking a phony product their man could say he bought without knowing what was really inside.

With a 3.43 ERA in 24 starts, Colon was having his best season since his Cy Young Award-winning 2005 with the Anaheim Angels, if you don’t count that he was 1-4 with a 5.80 ERA over one seven-start span. He spent 2006 on the disabled list following rotator cuff surgery; he’d been dogged since then by other shoulder and bone chip issues; he underwent a notable if controversial surgery to inject his own stem cells into his shoulder and made a comeback with the New York Yankees (while fighting a hamstring issue) and, then, the A’s.

There have been many who suspected Colon’s health issues earlier in his career stemmed from his conditioning, or apparent lack thereof. There will now be many suspecting Colon is just the second revelation in an apparent or feared new trend toward synthetic testosterone as the actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance du jour.

Victor Conte—you may remember him being the BALCO mastermind once upon a time; you may not know he’s become of late a powerful advocate of closing real or imagined loopholes in baseball’s drug testing programs—is on record saying that one such loophole lets players using synthetic testosterone via creams, gels, and patches to beat test detection fast. Whatever else has ever been said of Colon, no one has ever accused anything other than his fastball of being particularly fast.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

Cabrera.

SPEAKING OF MELKY. . . it’s beginning to look like Cabrera himself is cooked so far as the Giants are concerned. They yanked an order for about 2,500 Melky Cabrera T-shirts right fast after he got nailed; and, there’s a real chance the Giants may not want him back, for the postseason or any other time. “I’m getting a strong sense that the Giants’ higher-ups are so angry with Cabrera for taking a performance enhancing drug and sticking a knife into their playoff hopes, that the chances they would let him appear in any postseason games this year, if he’s eligible, or re-sign him for 2013 are close to nil,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Henry Schulman. “Besides their anger with Cabrera, the Giants, from what I’m hearing, understand that they need to be proactive about distancing themselves from the steroids story even if they are being branded unfairly now because two of the four big-leaguers suspended this season wore their uniform.

Santana.

AS I WAS SAYING ABOUT JOHAN SANTANA . . . pitching hurt has only hurt him. From coming back well enough from shoulder surgery—including that stupefying no-hitter—Santana has since battled ankle and back issues and, now, it looks like the Mets, whose season is probably lost already despite a gallant first half, are shutting him down for the rest of 2012. The specific shutdown cause is lower back inflammation, which was probably aggravated by Santana perhaps returning too soon from an ankle sprain, combined with that 134-pitch no-hitter following which he didn’t look anything much like the same pitcher.  The best news: Doctors have told Santana and the Mets he won’t need surgery and can rehabilitate with medication and rest, in plenty of time to be ready for spring training 2013.

Wolf.

THE BOYS WHO CRIED “WOLF!”—Actually, they’re the Milwaukee Brewers, releasing veteran lefty Randy Wolf . . . on his 36th birthday. Not that Wolf is going to make a big stink over it. The one-time Phillie standout himself says he’s not certain what went south on him this season. (Opposing batters hit .312 against him this season.) Releasing Wolf gives the Brewers room to bring back Shaun Marcum from a rehab assignment, and possibly makes Wolf—well-liked and well-respected in the Brewer clubhouse—a target for a contender needing veteran help down the stretch. General manager Doug Melvin said he would be surprised if Wolf doesn’t pitch the rest of 2012.

Pedroia Gives Valentine a Vote of Confidence, Sort of, for Now

Hours after the original story appeared at Yahoo! Sports, and after the Boston Red Sox collapsed 7-1 against the Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards Tuesday night, Dustin Pedroia spoke about the now-notorious 26 July meeting between a number of players and team brass in New York. Depending upon your point of view, the second baseman either clarified what Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan reported—citing unnamed inside sources—or backpedaled.

Dustin Pedroia tries to dissipate a storm . . .

Passan’s story, reported with reasonable meticulousness and a sober lack of malice, implicated that the players who did buttonhole the brass in New York, including Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, were a contingency of players fed up with Valentine’s apparent divide-and-conquer managing style. After early followup reports disclosed that Gonzalez and Pedroia might have become reluctant to talk to the press too much the rest of 2012, Pedroia did talk.

He didn’t exactly give Valentine a ringing endorsement, but neither did he suggest there should be a guillotine in or out of Fenway Park with Valentine’s name on it. If there can be such a thing as one of his team leaders giving Valentine a vote of confidence, Pedroia has given him one. Whether that proves what votes of confidence from the upper brass often prove to be remains to be seen.

“I don’t think Bobby should be fired,” Pedroia told reporters after the loss to the Orioles. “Listen, we haven’t played well. That’s the bottom line. I’m not going to blame anything on Bobby. It’s on the players. Last year wasn’t on [former manager Terry Francona]. I know he took it hard. We all did. It’s on the players, man.”

Pedroia has been known, since he arrived in Boston in the first place, as a stand-up player whose first and foremost concern has always been the cohesion of the team. He denies ripping Valentine during the meeting with the brass, though he admitted he spoke up during the sit-down. “When I spoke,” he continued, “I said we all need to be better. That includes owners, Bobby, coaches and especially the players.”

Some could take that to mean Pedroia didn’t exactly give Valentine a ringing endorsement. But then neither, necessarily, did principal owner John Henry and general manager Ben Cherington, when they issued Valentine votes of confidence a fortnight after the New York sit-down.

Pedroia went on to acknowledge he had one individual, one-on-one meeting with the manager early in the season. He added that that meeting might have been contentious—could it have tied to Pedroia’s public dismay (“That’s not the way we take care of our business here”) over Valentine’s public rib of Kevin Youkilis?—but that his own relationship with Valentine since has been rather on the fine side.

I went into the office and talked to him like a man. And he talked to me like a man. We’ve been great. We’ve had a great relationship. That’s all I could really say about it. I’ll go out there and play for him every day of the week. It’s unfortunate that all this stuff comes out. I know we lost last year and we had big, huge signings and all that stuff, but we’re trying to play the game the right way and have an organization that does things right and play winning baseball. It’s tough when all this stuff comes out that everyone’s trying to get the manager fired. That’s not the case, man.

One feels for Pedroia, who seems clearly enough to be trying to make a workable peace, or at least clear a path to survive the rest of a season that may or may not be lost. Since the New York sit-down the Red Sox have gone 8-10.

Despite Pedroia’s vote of confidence, has Bobby V. lost his clubhouse at last?

It seems to have been Gonzalez who put into an explicit text message to the brass what a lot of players were feeling at the time, outrage that Valentine had left Jon Lester in to take a ferocious, eleven-run beating from the Toronto Blue Jays a few days before they got their meeting. Gonzalez, too, has now tried to tone down the furies, calling the sit-down nothing much more than a chance for players and their employers to hash out about the team’s struggles.

And there seems as well to be forming a consensus that, whatever Valetine’s in-clubhouse critics think otherwise, the real problem seems to be that Valentine generally doesn’t know where the line is drawn between private remarks, private complaints, private concerns, and public airing of those private thoughts. It’s one thing to demand accountability, as Valentine and other managers do, but Valentine is re-earning a reputation he formerly had for violating player confidences, possibly as part of the kind of divide-and-conquer style that helped him alienate his players in previous terms in Texas and New York.

When backup catcher Kelly Shoppach—traded to the Mets this week—complained about a lack of playing time in May, despite Jarrod Saltalamacchia hitting well, Shoppach may have been thinking selfishly but, apparently, he brought it to Valentine privately and not to the press. It was Valentine who made the Shoppach complaint public, and there are those around the Red Sox who think Valentine did it to compel bringing up Ryan Lavarnway as the backup and to neutralise Shoppach entirely.

In June, when Josh Beckett went on the disabled list, and Felix Doubront being skipped a turn, Clay Buchholz—who might have taken the turn on his regular rest—requested an extra day’s rest. It wasn’t Buchholz who took that one public, it was Valentine—who seemed unaware that Buchholz’s teammates might interpret the manner in which Valentine disclosed it as another instance of the manager questioning a player’s heart.

And, this past Sunday, when the Red Sox thumped the Cleveland Indians and Carl Crawford in particular had a big game, Valentine spoke out, unprompted, that he’d lifted Crawford late in the game because of a sore wrist. The only problem with that was that it wasn’t something Crawford was ready to advertise. Which is what the press learned the hard way, after they took Valentine’s comment to the outfielder himself, and Crawford seemed entirely surprised by his manager’s disclosure.

Pedroia may be trying to cauterise a situation that’s careened beyond his or, really, anyone’s control, other than that of the men who brought Valentine aboard in the first place. And even they were divided about that, you may remember. Why, front office sources were said to have taken pains to assure various Red Sox players that Valentine wasn’t even a topic. Until . . .

Terry Collins with the Mets has been what the Red Sox only thought Valentine might be . . .

Ponder this: Until the Mets hired him in 2011, Terry Collins hadn’t managed a Show team for slightly longer than Valentine’s absence from the Show had been. Like Valentine, Collins’s previous image was that of an intense type whose intensity helped blow up a couple of Show clubhouses, too, in Houston and Anaheim. Like Valentine may have been now, Collins was the target of a player mutiny (in Anaheim). Like Valentine, Collins went to Japan and managed there, though he didn’t exactly become the icon there that Valentine became.

Valentine returned to become an ESPN analyst, a job he held earlier, after his firing by the Mets in 2002. Collins returned to become the Mets’ minor league field coordinator for 2010, getting to know the organisation intimately enough. There were still those who wondered whether Collins had come far from his overwrought Houston and Anaheim days when he took command in the Mets’ dugout.

The Mets haven’t had an easy time of things. They looked like contenders in the first half and deflated since the All-Star break; perhaps they really were playing over their own heads in the first half. But Collins hasn’t built a rep for playing contradictory head games. He hasn’t questioned his players’ hearts, even when holding them accountable for the net game results. No known contingency of Mets has felt compelled to buttonhole the brass complaining that Collins has inspired the clubhouse theme music to be “19th Nervous Breakdown.”

Collins, in other words, has been the manager the Red Sox only thought they were hiring when, however divided the brass might have been about it, they acquiesced and hired Valentine. There was a time this season when they talked of Collins in Manager of the Year terms. There have been too many times when they talk of Valentine in Manager of the Fear terms.

The Mets are all but gone from this year’s races by now, but nobody thinks Collins will face a firing squad at season’s end. He’s called for player accountability but gone out of his way, for the most part, to observe a line between demanding accountability and violating players’ trusts. This year’s Red Sox may be addled by underachieving and/or injured stars, but they’re addled even further by a manager who can’t navigate troubled waters without leaking oil.

It didn’t begin, either, with Valentine leaving Lester in to be nuked by the Blue Jays and, allowing for a bullpen emptying the night before and a coming twenty games over the next three weeks, finding no option—say, a starter on his between-starts throw day, who might have worked an inning or two before turning over to the pen?—to spell a pitcher who’d actually been pitching better than his inflated ERA suggested.

(What would it say, I wonder, if it should turn out that Valentine’s stock has fallen low enough in his own clubhouse that no Red Sox pitcher thought to volunteer himself, on a night Lester clearly didn’t have anything, to take one for the team rather than let Lester stay out there to be battered and embarrassed, the way the Blue Jays battered and embarrassed him, after outings enough—ten overall, to be precise—when Lester did pitch well enough to win but his team didn’t play well enough to win for him?)

If by some unforeseen juju the Red Sox find a way to stay in the races, Valentine will survive to the postseason, at least. Beyond that, nobody knows. If the Red Sox continue taking their lumps on the field, and fall out of even the wild card races, vote of confidence or no, it may be Valentine taking his lumps. Maybe even before the season ends.

The Dempster Backstory, and other heads and tales . . .

Turns out the Chicago Cubs got a pair of A-level minor leaguers, Christian Vilanueva (3B) and Kyle Hendricks (RHP), from the Texas Rangers for Ryan Dempster . . . decent prospects but not necessarily blue chips. For the most part, few no-questions-asked blue chip prospects moved in the non-waiver trade period, Jean Segura (SS) possibly having been the bluest of the chips when he went to Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke deal.

How and why did the Rangers—hungering for rotation help with Colby Lewis gone for the year (entering the final fortnight, his was the hole they needed to fill)—end up settling for Dempster when all was said and done? According to Fox’s Ken Rosenthal:

* Approaching the non-waiver trade deadline the Rangers’ real first love was Cole Hamels—but Hamels signed that $144 million, six-year extension with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Ryan Dempster—the Rangers landed him only too much in the nick of time . . .

* With Hamels out of reach, the Rangers’ next great love was Zack Greinke—but they were out-bid for him by the Los Angeles Angels, simply because the Rangers were unwilling to surrender any of their top three farm prospects (they offered their numbers six and fifteen; the Brewers said not quite) and less likely than the Angels (who sent the Brewers Segura as part of the trade package and have the farm depth to have been able to make the deal) to be able to sign Greinke long-term. Which made the Rangers only too normal under today’s collective bargaining agreement that puts serious reins on spending for prospects.

* With Greinke out of reach, the Rangers went talking about every other starting pitcher known to be available. Except that Miami’s Josh Johnson is an established health risk, Tampa Bay’s James Shields picked the wrong time to slump, their own one-time World Series carrier Cliff Lee was too damn expensive, and Boston’s Josh Beckett had just too many issues—from his own expensive salary to his own history of health and clubhouse issues. (Which means, Rosenthal says, the Red Sox may have missed their own best shot at moving Beckett, and the Rangers lost out on a possible blockbuster that might have included another element they hoped to get: seeking a lineup sparkplug, they’d coveted Shane Victorino, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but would have taken Jacoby Ellsbury if the two sides could work a blockbuster that didn’t happen.)

* With Dempster, the Cubs themselves were over the proverbial barrel—the new rules would have given the Cubs draft pick compensation if Dempster left as a free agent after the Cubs made him a single-year, qualifying offer, which they might not have been willing to do for a pitcher Dempster’s age if it meant losing a first-round pick.

* Dempster himself helped the Rangers’ cause when he spurned a deal to the Atlanta Braves; the Dodgers—Dempster’s known first choice—didn’t want to part with their top prospects for him (they refused to budge on Allen Webster, not that you could blame them), and Dempster himself was in the Cub front offices watching the haggle with the Dodgers, perhaps enough to cause him to change his mind on his hoped-for choice. Then, if a deal couldn’t get done with the Dodgers, Dempster let it slip that he wouldn’t say no to the Yankees or the Rangers, and for likewise personal reasons: in New York, two Dempster allies (former Cub GM Jim Hendry, former pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who now has that job in the Bronx) are there, and in Arlington there’s another former Cub teammate he respects (future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux) working in the front office.

“Time will tell,” Rosenthal writes, “if Dempster made the right decision by rejecting the Braves and switching leagues just months before he enters the free-agent market — he not only is moving to the more hitter-friendly AL but also to hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark.”

And barely had Dempster agreed to the move—which happened practically as the period expired—when the Rangers got hit with a double-whammy: Neftali Feliz, their closer-turned-starter, who looked impressive enough in the new job until he went down with elbow trouble in May, now needs Tommy John surgery and will be lost until the middle of next summer at least; and, Roy Oswalt, whom they signed as a free agent in May, continued showing his age and has been transferred to the bullpen.

They could still end up with a Cliff Lee homecoming, though—there’s always a chance of making a deal on Lee once a) he clears the waiver wire; and, as just about every analyst figures, the Phillies get it into their thick skulls that they’re going to have to eat some money to move him. Which would embarrass the Phillies far less than the Red Sox have been embarrassed since they moved Kevin Youkilis: the erstwhile Greek God of Walks is enjoying a renaissance with the White Sox, while the Olde Towne Team ended up with a small-enough return for moving Youkilis, Scott Podsednik, and Matt Albers.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

There were some deals that didn’t get made but might or should have:

* Chase Headley—San Diego did a lot of talking about moving their third base prize; lots of people wanted Carlos Quentin and Huston Street, too, but those two signed contract extensions while Headley, who stayed on the market until the non-waiver deadline, went nowhere. Leaving the Padres, according to Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, to see if they can get a better package for him after the season.

* Michael Cuddyer—The former Minnesota mainstay now with the Rockies and struggling a bit, there was a GM or two who wanted him but the Rockies didn’t want to let him go, for whatever reasons.

* Chris Perez—Cleveland needs to continue rebuilding; Perez could have brought them a decent if not spectacular return from a team in dire need of relief fortification (the New York Mets or the Brewers, anyone?), but the Indians decided to hold him.

* Denard Span—The Twins wouldn’t mind moving him, and the Cincinnati Reds—who fortified what might be the best bullpen in baseball this year when they added Jonathan Broxton before the non-waiver deadline—could have plugged in their leadoff hole nicely with Span. And the Reds right now are baseball’s most solid team without Joey Votto; they’d have been downright filthy with Votto and Span in the ranks.

* Scott Hairston—Among pieces the slipping Mets might have moved, Hairston would have brought the best return. Maybe the Mets aren’t giving up on the season just yet, maybe they are, but if they’re not giving up on the season it’s to wonder why they didn’t offer up Hairston seeking badly-needed bullpen help, since the only thing making their bullpen look anything close to serviceable is the horror of a bullpen in Milwaukee. The Mets aren’t being run by dummies anymore, and you know damn well they won’t even think about moving the like of David Wright, R.A. Dickey, Ike Davis (who’s beginning to rehorse after a frightful beginning this season), Matt Harvey, or Bobby Parnell (they may still see him as their closer of the future, if he can get that explosive stuff of his under control), but holding Hairston when his trade value was at peak may have been a bigger mistake than it looked as the non-waiver deadline approached.

Now They Really Need Dempster: Feliz Gone for the Season, Oswalt to the Bullpen

. . . because Neftali Feliz—out since May with a right elbow tear following an impressive beginning to his life as a starter—will need Tommy John surgery to repair it and is expected to be away from the team until the middle of 2013.

The Texas Rangers had already lost Colby Lewis for the season to surgery for a torn elbow flexor tendon, which made it an urgency to chase and land Dempster before the non-waiver trade deadline. Now they lose Feliz, who looked as though he were coming along well in three rehab starts at Round Rock (AAA) until elbow discomfort scratched him from a fourth start Sunday.

Moved to the rotation after being the Rangers’ closer, Feliz opened 2012 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in seven starts, before he went on the DL with what was thought an ordinary elbow sprain.

Oswalt.

The Rangers also decided to move struggling Roy Oswalt to the bullpen, with freshly-acquired Dempster taking his rotation spot. Oswalt’s most recent start was a disaster against the Los Angeles Angels; he surrendered eleven hits and was charged with eight runs in 5 1/3 innings’ work, including giving up the first of Kendrys Morales’s two bombs in the sixth inning.

Once a formidable pitcher—he had five top-ten Cy Young Award finishes, back-to-back 20-win seasons, and a National League ERA title with the Houston Astros—Oswalt in Philadelphia went from a stellar beginning (7-1/1.74 after he was obtained at the non-waiver deadline) to a 2011 in which he was bothered first by tornadoes which prompted him to leave the team to secure his family in Mississippi, then by back trouble that put him on the disabled list awhile.

The Phillies declined his option after the season and made him a free agent; the Rangers signed him in May, after Oswalt spent the winter hoping for a good deal from a team within reasonable reach of his Mississippi home.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

WHAT RELIEF?—It looks like the New York Mets are going to ride out the season with what they’ve got, after making no noticeable non-waiver deadline moves to shore up a bullpen best described as a) incendiary, but b) at least not the Milwaukee Brewers’. TheSportsXChange says the team losing 13 of  their first 15 since the All-Star break factored in the non-activity, particularly since many teams weren’t all that willing to surrender young, inexpensive players under team-control contracts for players the Mets might have thought to move, particularly Scott Hairston, who’s having a solid enough season to have provided a solid bench bat for another contender.

NO RELIEF . . . for Chicago White Sox lefthander John Danks: he’s due for season-ending shoulder surgery after being on the DL since late May and a setback during his only rehab gig at Charlotte (AAA) in June.

SOME RELIEF . . . for New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixiera, who has no structural left wrist damage according to an MRI result. He plans to continue treating and resting the wrist until a projected Friday night return. Nick Swisher will spell him at first base until he returns. Teixiera first felt pain Sunday night swinging against Boston’s Felix Doubront, but he irritated it more Monday diving for a ground single by Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy, causing him to leave the game.