World Baseball Classic Offered Something No Other Sport Could

The World Baseball Classic ended the way all baseball fans hoped it would. Shohei Ohtani was pitching against Mike Trout with a one run lead and the championship on the line. Los Angeles Angels players, the two best players in the sport, were head-to-head with everything on the line.

This is what made the World Baseball Classic great, and really, it is what makes baseball great.

Baseball is the most unique of sports. It is thoroughly a team sport, but it is continuously highlighted by head-to-head match-ups. The pitcher against the batter. The catcher trying to gun out the base stealer. The speedy runner against the arm of the infielder or outfielder.

This is something unique to baseball, which outside of boxing, really can’t be replicated by the other sports.

The two best quarterbacks in the game are never directly head-to-head. The 1980s were highlighted by the match-up for Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but again, this was rarely head-to-head. And even in the rare occasion it did, there were double teams and team defense at play.

Hockey often sees the best against the best, and it is something that did happen when NHL players participated in the Olympics. However, it wasn’t solely one-on-one. For example, aside from a contrived shootout, we will never see teammates going head-to-head the way Ohtani and Trout did in the finale of the World Baseball Classic.

All told, baseball can deliver moments like no other sport could ever imagine. While other sports can try to make it happen in some way, this happens in baseball due to the greatness and uniqueness of the sport. Because of that, we were able to see a moment we will talk about for generations to come. It was a moment that launched the World Baseball Classic into another stratosphere and will help the event grow exponentially in future years.

Remember, baseball is the greatest sport there is. We saw that with Ohtani against Trout. We will see similar moments in the future which will only further prove this to be the case. We were all lucky to watch the moment, and we will be lucky to see future great moments like this in the future that only baseball can deliver.

Jeff McNeil’s WBC Setting Tone For 2023

The New York Mets sent many players to represent their countries in the World Baseball Classic. That included Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso who represented USA.

Alonso wouldn’t get into this game, and McNeil wouldn’t start. However, we would see McNeil get two huge plate appearances, and he would deliver.

In the seventh inning, McNeil came to bat for Tim Anderson to face Taisei Ota to lead off the inning. He drew the lead-off walk which should have started a big rally.

However, after a Mookie Betts single, Mike Trout lined out to right. Paul Goldschmidt followed with a horrendous at-bar culminating in an inning ending double play.

In the top of the ninth, with Japan leading 3-2 and the world awaiting the Shohei Ohtani-Mike Trout matchup, it was McNeil who led off the inning. McNeil had one of the best at-bats you will ever see.

While McNeil’s other three walks were the result of pitchers completely losing the zone, he had to earn this one. The seven pitch at-bat culminated in one of the best takes you will ever see in that spot.

This at-bat shows how much McNeil has developed as a hitter. Yes, we did see him swing at the first pitch in the at-bat. However, we would also see him be patient at the plate.

McNeil remains aggressive attacking strikes. However, he’s not impatient. He’s not getting himself out. He has an ability to go deep into at-bats with his ability to foul off pitches and eventually draw a walk.

With Betts and Trout due up next, this lead off walk should have set the stage for a game tying rally at the very least. However, Betts hit into a back breaking double play before Trout struck out to end the game.

Certainly, this game will forever be known for the greatness of Ohtani and that epic match-up against Trout. That was one of the great moments in baseball history.

However, when viewed through the Mets prism, we see how ready McNeil is to play in big games this season. He showed up in the big moments like a player ready to win a World Series.

Sure, he wasn’t great in the Wild Card Series against the San Diego Padres. That said, in this game, McNeil looked better for having that experience.

Arguably, this was the biggest game McNeil has ever played. He came up with two great plate appearances which should’ve helped his team win. That is exactly the player we hope to see come October.

If the Mets get this McNeil, their chances increase exponentially. This McNeil is a real difference maker. Like the WBC final, this McNeil is exactly who the Mets want in the biggest moments.

When McNeil delivers then, we could see this team winning their first World Series since 1986. Months

Mets Should Be Fine Without Edwin Díaz

The biggest fear you could possibly have with the World Baseball Classic happened when Edwin Díaz suffered a potentially season ending injury celebrating Puerto Rico defeating the Dominican Republic to advance to the quarterfinals. No one, but no one wanted to see that happen.

Yes, you would like to think the injury was avoidable. Then again, spring injuries aren’t avoidable at all. Just go ask Brandon Nimmo and Bryce Montes de Oca, each of whom have suffered injuries this spring. We may see Nimmo on Opening Day, but Montes de Oca may take longer.

With Díaz, the question is how do you replace the irreplaceable. Last season, Díaz was finally the pitcher the Mets thought they were getting, and the Mets rewarded him for it by making him the highest paid reliever in the game. That’s what you do for the best closer in the game. You pay him and keep him.

Of course, this was a question the New York Yankees had back in 2012 when Mariano Rivera went down with an injury flagging down fly balls in Kansas City during batting practice. How were the Yankees going to possible replace Rivera.

The answer is you don’t. In reality, it is just the next man up. That man was Rafael Soriano. He was nowhere near as good as Rivera, and yet, he was still good enough to get the job done. In fact, he would finish in the top 20 in MVP voting.

That season, the Yankees won 95 games. That was not only enough to win the AL East, but it was also the best record in all of the American League. The Yankees would go to the ALCS before getting swept by a Detroit Tigers team with a dominant starting pitching staff led by Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

That’s just it. The dominant starting pitching is always more important than the closer. Also, it helps having another reliever with closing experience who can step in and do the job. Fortunately, the Mets have that with David Robertson. The Mets also have other talented relievers like Drew Smith who could potentially step in to do the job.

Overall, closing Díaz is horrible. The Mets can’t replace him much like the Yankees couldn’t replace Rivera, the best to ever do it. That said, as we saw with the Yankees, you can lose your great closer and still be great. You just need the rest of the roster to do the things you expected them to do to get leads to the closer. From there, the Mets need 1-2 more players to step up.

In the end, the Mets were dealt a significant blow, but in the end, they should be fine. And if they aren’t, they have the assets to go get someone at the trade deadline or sooner.

Mike Piazza And Matt Harvey A Dream From A Different Era

Back in 2015, it seemed like the New York Mets were about to become perennial contenders. It seemed like Matt Harvey was going to be the guy who got the ball in big postseason games, and it was Mike Piazza‘s duty to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

So much has happened since then.

Harvey had TOS as well as his own personal demons. he would be designated for assignment and traded to the Cincinnati Reds. At the moment, after his suspension stemming from the Tyler Skaggs death and subsequent investigation, he seems like he will soon be out of baseball.

With that, we thought we saw the end of Harvey and Piazza being united on the same team and on the same field. That was until the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

Piazza represented Italy in the first WBC, and he has worked his way up to become their manager. Due to the relative paucity of options for his team, he found himself turning to Harvey to not only join the team, but also be their ace.

Harvey pitched three scoreless innings, and he had a moment with former Mets teammate Yoenis Céspedes. They gave each other a nod, and Harvey would get Céspedes to ground out.

The game went extra innings with Italy pulling out the surprising win. It would also prove to effectively eliminate Cuba from the World Baseball Classic. This isn’t Italy’s biggest or more surprising win in the WBC, but it was an important first step to make noise in this year’s classic.

Credit for this win deserves to go to Piazza for leading Italy the way he did. Credit should also go to Harvey who stepped up and pitching three scoreless.

Seeing Harvey and Piazza out there for big games and coming away with a victory was part of the dream in 2015. We hoped it would continue for the next decade, but it didn’t.

Now, we have this one final glimpse. As Mets fans, we should relish this run for as long as it lasts because in reality, the next time we see these two together will be at an Old Timer’s Day at Citi Field.

David Peterson Gets His Chance

We knew entering the 2023 season the New York Mets rotation was old, and by extension, more susceptible to injury. We were just hoping that we could at least get to Opening Day, or at least the start of the World Baseball Classic, before the team had to face a starting pitcher injury.

As it turns out, José Quintana has a broken rib. As a result, he had to pull out of the World Baseball Classic, and he is almost a lock to be out on Opening Day. In reality, he may be out much longer than that. Of course, the hope is he misses as few starts as possible.

With Quintana out, it presents an opportunity for David Peterson. In some ways, this is really his first real chance to prove himself as a Major League starter.

Yes, he was a surprise add to the Mets 2020 roster during the pandemic shortened and impacted season. He performed better than anticipated. On the strength of that season, he was given a starting job at the outset of 2021. Unfortunately, he predictably failed, and his career has been in limbo ever since.

Since that time, Peterson has developed as a promising starting pitcher. We see he has excellent arm extension on his pitches. He has also developed into a pitcher who generates a high amount of strikeouts. His slider has become an excellent weapon, one that was one of the best in the majors last season.

Peterson has done all he could do in the minors. He now needs to be in the majors working on his craft with Jeremy Hefner. As an aside here, Hefner works extremely well with sinker/slider pitchers like Peterson. Hefner working with Peterson could very well have Peterson reaching another level of his game and/or becoming more consistent.

Peterson has earned this chance. He needs to be in this position. Now, it appears he is getting that chance to be a part of the Mets rotation. He now has to pitch so well the Mets simply cannot remove him from the rotation when everyone is healthy.

Fanatics Personalization Options Offensive

One of the great things we have seen happen with Major League Baseball in recent years is the correct spelling of players’ names on the back of their jerseys. For example, Yoenis Céspedes jersey in 2015 had “CESPEDES” on the back, but in 2016, that was changed to the correct spelling of “CÉSPEDES.”

This matters because that is how you actually spell his name. The accent mark directly impacts how the names is pronounced. More than that, by not having the accent mark, tilde, or other marking, you are misspelling a player’s name. That is offensive and wrong.

It took way too long, but Major League Baseball finally got it right. Give credit where it is due. For some reason, Fanantics refuses to do the same despite being the entity which sells approved team and player jerseys and other merchandise.

If you go to Fanatics, there are player jerseys available, but your favorite player may not be one of the ones available. Fortunately, Fanantics has a drop down menu for every player on the roster. The problem is not all of the players are available or are spelled correctly.

Take Francisco Álvarez as an example. There is a very clear accent mark on the “A” making it an “Á.” With Álvarez being an uber prospect on the verge of making it to the majors, there are fans who will want his jersey. There’s a significant problem.

When you go to the Fanatics personalized Mets jersey selection, they do not have Álvarez as an option. Instead, it is the incorrectly spelled Alvarez.

At least, you can choose Álvarez as Alvarez for a personalization option. However, you cannot opt for reigning National League batting champion Jeff McNeil.

McNeil is a name of Irish origin; one of the few on the 2023 Mets. If you want a St. Patrick’s Day Mets shirt for McNeil, you can’t. That is because Fanatics deems the little c because of the “special spelling of the name.”

That’s right a lower case c is not worth Fanatics making a screen printing. They’d rather have shirts for the reigning NL batting champ and two time All-Star completely unavailable. If you want to be clever and have an apostrophe in front of another Mets player, forget it. They don’t offer apostrophes either. If you wanted an O’Díaz, you might as well just forget it.

You can probably guess like McNeil, Díaz is unavailable as well. After all, who would want the jersey of the very popular closer?

You see, rather than offer options for popular players or spell names properly, Fanatics decides they shouldn’t bother. They won’t because they don’t care and know you can’t go elsewhere. This is unacceptable, and it’s shocking MLB or the MLBPA has never sought to intervene and halt these offensive and discriminatory practices.

Jeff McNeil Could Chase .400

There is a certain irony in baseball. As we get smarter and smarter, it seems hitters averages go lower and lower. Part of the reason could be hitting .300 just isn’t nearly as valued as it used to be. In all honesty, it probably shouldn’t because we know there is more value in OBP, wRC+, or whatever other stats you choose to analyze.

With that, the chances of becoming the first player to hit .400 since Ted Williams have gone by the wayside. Williams did it in 1941, and no one has done it since.

That was 82 years ago. The last time it happened in the National League was 1930 when Bill Terry hit .401 for the New York Giants. That’s over a century ago.

There was a time when we thought George Brett could do it. We were sure Tony Gwynn could, and he might’ve if not for the 1994 strike. Surprisingly, Ichiro Suzuki never really made the run at it we thought he could. However, now, it doesn’t seem like there is an obvious candidate anymore, and really, it is a feat which has been long overlooked.

Enter Jeff McNeil.

McNeil is a throwback hitter. In an era where it seems everyone has shifted to boom or bust, McNeil focuses on putting the ball in play. He’s the hitter who tries to hit it where they ain’t. That led to him hitting .326 in 2022 and winning the National League batting title.

McNeil is the type of hitter who is always going to have a shot to win the batting title. Now, with the new shift limitation rules, his batting average could go even higher than we ever imagined it could be.

Now, this concept runs counter to what Mike Pietrillo of postulated. In his article, he did not the success McNeil had hitting against the shift partially due to his ability to go the other way. While his analysis is sound based on the numbers, we also know McNeil is a constantly adapting and evolving hitter in terms of his approach.

Take 2019 for example. The league adjusted to his rookie breakout season by shifting him more to go the opposite way. McNeil responded with a career hit 46.3% pull rate. That year, he hit .318 and had a career best 144 wRC+.

In terms of that, we do need to dig a little deeper on McNeil. Looking at his career, he is actually NOT an opposite field slap hitter. In fact, he only goes the other way 25.8% of the time. He has a much more up the middle approach. That type of approach was one of the most harmed by shifting with a middle infielder essentially standing on second base.

Another factor not contemplated is the new dimensions of right field at Citi Field. McNeil does have power to pull one out of the park. The change will only be about 8-10 feet. If you’re Pete Alonso who hits tape measure shots, that doesn’t matter as much. For a player like McNeil, it could make all the difference.

Now, there are other factors at play like how pitchers and McNeil adjust to the pitch clock. However, looking at the stats and how McNeil’s approach at the plate, it does seem like there is an opportunity for him to make a run at .400.

McNeil has the unique ability to adjust his approach to how the defense is positioned. As he adjusts, the defense is restricted in how they can adjust back to him. This is the perfect situation for him to make a run at .400. It is really going to be fun seeming him do something that hasn’t been done in a century.

Rangers Following Steve Cohen’s Footprints With Tarasenko, Kane

Steve Cohen has set out to stretch the financial boundaries of Major League by doing all he can do to help the New York Mets win. In successive offseasons, he has signed a future Hall of Fame pitcher still near the top of his game.

The Mets are a far cry from the Wilpon era. Instead of trying to sell replacing Zack Wheeler with Marcus Stroman (despite both pitchers being in the same rotation), there is a healthy and fun debate whether Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander should be the Mets Opening Day starter.

This win-now attitude has infected the Mets and their fanbase. It is also something we are seeing with the New York Rangers.

Last year at the trading deadline, Chris Drury made a series of inspired moves. They were able to add Justin Braun, Andrew Copp, Tyler Motte, and Frank Vatrano. The end result was a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. After going up 2-0 in the series, they were within a blown lead of going to the Finals.

Drury would again not be deterred. He went out and got Motte back, who was a popular addition last season most Rangers fans were hoping would return. Then, he made a master stroke to surprisingly add Vladimir Tarasenko. While exciting, there was some mild disappointment because it meant the Rangers were out on Patrick Kane.

We were wrong, and for the most part, we have Drury and Kane to thank.

Kane had a no-trade clause with the Chicago Blackhawks. That meant Kane could go anywhere he wanted, and that anywhere was Madison Square Garden. The trick was finding a way to make it work under the salary cap.

Whereas Cohen has the option to absorb every nonsense financial penalty derived to punish trying to win, the Rangers needed to navigate through a hard cap. That involved some real creativity.

Picks had to be moved to the Phoenix Coyotes for them to absorb salary. Vitaly Kratsov was essentially given away to clear cap room. Jake Leschyshyn was waived. This was all done in the name of getting Kane and making the Rangers legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Like the Mets with Scherzer and Verlander, the Rangers have Kane and Tarasenko. They pushed the limits of spending in their sport, and they put themselves in a position to win the Stanley Cup. With any luck, there will be two parades down the Canyon of Heroes this year.

Eduardo Escobar In LF For WBC Helps Mets

Eduardo Escobar is going to play in the World Baseball Classic for Venezuela. Venezuela has a lot of talent in the infield, but outside Ronald Acuña Jr., they do not have a lot of talent in the outfield. As a result, there have been discussions about Escobar playing left field in the WBC.

Obviously, if the New York Mets had an issue with this, they would attempt to prevent Escobar from playing out in left. As a general rule, Venezuela would seek to acquiesce the Mets request. However, that is not what is happening here.

Instead, the Mets are looking to play Escobar in left field during spring training. Make no mistake, this isn’t just to help Escobar be in a position to play well out there for Venezuela. Rather, they are doing this to help the Mets in 2023.

If you recall last season, the Mets opted to have Escobar as the short side platoon for Luis Guillorme. For a moment, it seemed like Escobar lost the third base job forever as Brett Baty made his Major League debut. If not for Baty’s torn thumb ligament, Escobar may never have played third base for the Mets again.

In fact, there is an open question as to whether he is the best fit for the Mets in 2023. As noted here previously, with the elimination of the shift, Guillorme should be the Mets second baseman. As others have argued, Baty is the Mets best option at third because of his offensive potential, and the fact Escobar has not been a good Major League third baseman.

In 2022, Escobar had a -6 OAA at third, and he was a -3 OAA the previous season. Long story short, Escobar is not a good third baseman. Listening to Buck Showalter, he is going to prioritize defense and rightfully so. That should mean less of Escobar at third.

Not playing Escobar is justified, but that is not the same as saying he is not an important part of this team. Obviously, he profiles well as a platoon option at DH with Daniel Vogelbach. It should also be noted the Mets only have four outfielders on the roster. They could (and probably should) move Jeff McNeil out there.

However, it would make sense to see if Escobar can play out there. If he is going to be a semi-regular or utility player, he is going to have to play more than just second and third. He needs to learn left to be of more utility to the Mets.

Overall, the WBC presents an easy cover for the Mets to get a look at Escobar in left. Truth be told, the Mets needed to do this anyway. As a result, the WBC presented a unique opportunity for the Mets, and they took advantage of an opportunity to make their 2023 team more versatile.

Dominic Hamel Poised For Breakout Season

Dominic Hamel was the New York Mets third round pick in the 2021 draft that will is known for the Mets failing to sign first round pick Kumar Rocker. With each passing season, we may soon call it the year the Mets drafted Hamel.

Hamel, 23, split the 2022 season between St. Lucie and Brooklyn, and he was 10-3 with a 3.48 ERA, 1.151 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, and an 11.0 K/9. As you can see, what really stood out with him was the strikeout numbers.

In 13 starts and one relief appearance with St. Lucie, he struck out 26.6% of the batters he faced. Then, against a higher level of competition in Brooklyn, Hamel would strike out 33.2% of the batters he faced over his 11 starts there.

Seeing the results, it should come as no surprise he was named the Mets 2022 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Moreover, Hamel was selected for Team Puerto Rico for the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

The World Baseball Classic is an opportunity for Hamel to accelerate his development as a pitcher. He will be playing for the recently retired Yadier Molina, who was adept from handling young pitchers during his career. The staff will also have former Mets bullpen coach Ricky Bones.

He is going to be on a team with some of the best in the game including Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor. More than the mentorship, he is going to be able to see how his stuff plays against the best in the game.

Hamel has excellent spin on his fastball and slider. With the spin and vertical breaks, both pitches are strikeout pitches. In the bullpen, he can be a potentially lethal weapon for Puerto Rico in the WBC. Of course, that is if he is not overwhelmed by the moment and loses some control over his pitches.

The control has been an issue for him as he has walked a higher rate of batters. He has gotten away with it with his strikeout rates and his keeping the ball in the ballpark. What is holding him back more is the lack of a true third pitch which would allow him to stay in the rotation.

Both his curve and change have real promise. They have good spin, but he does not quite have the control he needs of them. This is the year he need to harness them as he’s heading to Double-A at some point during the season, and again, he’s facing the best of the best in the WBC.

There is no better lesson on what he needs to do than to pitch against the best. He is also going to get mentored by some of the best in the WBC. All of this has Hamel poised to learn a number of lessons which can help him towards a big breakout season. We can and should expect that, and if all breaks right for him, he may even see time in the majors at the end of the season.