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Mudville: November 24, 2020 7:26 pm PDT
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Opening Late: Terrific or Jake

Move over Tom Terrific. Make room for Super Jake.

The best pitcher in Mets history remains Hall of Famer Tom Seaver because of his 311 wins, 198 as a Met. Jake deGrom has 66 wins total, so for all of deGrom’s greatness he will never be in the same win total ballpark as Seaver.

New-age number crunchers do not like to hear that but that’s life. Seaver earned 231 complete games over his 20-year career, deGrom owns three. In 1973 Seaver fired 18 complete games.

deGrom is catching up in some vital categories as he is off to a strong start to win his third straight Cy Young award.

Seaver won three over his career. At the pace deGrom is going the path is wide open for deGrom to beat Seaver in that all-important category and that will strengthen his argument to answer the question: Who is the greatest pitcher in Mets history?

Since the start of the 2018 season deGrom boasts a 2.03 ERA. Seaver owned a 2.86 ERA over his career while deGrom stands at 2.61.

Here’s where deGrom owns another advantage. He is facing the modern-day uppercut hitter. I call it LAB. Launch. Angle. Baseball.

deGrom is smart enough to make it work for him and if Seaver pitched in this era, he would do the same thing.

deGrom and I were discussing that launch angle swing phenomena a few years ago when he told me that he loved the launch angle, saying, the more the batter would take that vicious uppercut looking for home runs, “the higher in the zone I am going to throw it. Keep swinging like that.”

There is no trophy room on Earth big enough for Jake deGrom

For all his physical greatness, deGrom, who is a phenomenal athlete, is a master at reading swings. Watch how he attacks a batter and you will soon learn the hitter’s weakest part of his swing. That is the secret to deGrom’s success. Such was the case in the Mets 1-0 win over the Braves on Opening Day. Jake got a no decision. Again. He surrendered one hit, a weak single, and struck out eight Braves, including the first hitter he faced in Ronald Acuna Jr. with a 99-mph fastball against the right-handed phenom.

deGrom’s ability to easily elevate the baseball at high velocity works wonders and will continue because he is such a good athlete. It all comes down to keeping it simple for deGrom, who enters the game to the Lynyrd Skynyrd 1973 classic Simple Man. Opponents don’t change their approach against deGrom and he turns what they think is their strength into a weakness. Instead of trying to make contact and get on base and get deGrom in the stretch to make him uncomfortable and maybe steal a base, they continue to swing from the heels like it is Showcase Saturday Night.

deGrom has thrown 28 straight scoreless innings following this plan. He also stays singularly focused on the task at hand and has an amazing ability not to let anything get in his way. Asked about not having fans in the stands on the strangest of Opening Days this 2020, he stated, “When somebody steps in, I want to get them out.” Keep it simple.

Nothing else matters but the battle with the hitter. deGrom is the perfect pitcher made for these Launch Angle times and over his last 16 home starts owns a 1.63 ERA, is working on four straight scoreless starts and has a lifetime 1.90 ERA vs. the Braves, his favorite team growing up in DeLand, Florida.

DIAZ DAZE: It took only two games for Mets closer Edwin Diaz, who allowed 15 home runs his first year as a Met to get back to his troubled ways. With the Braves down to the last strike Saturday, Marcell Ozuna drilled a fastball over the right field fence to tie the game at 2-2. The Braves went on to a 5-3 victory in 10 innings. What is exasperating for Diaz is he just made Ozuna look bad on a slider but outsmarted himself opting to go to the fastball away that Ozuna put away. Diaz should learn to read swings a little bit like deGrom.

SEE THE GAME IN A NEW WAY: Note to network executives. Networks should be using several different camera angles this season with no fans in the stands. They can place their cameras basically anywhere and as Rob Dibble told me it can almost be like an NFL Sunday. You can devote a channel to multiple camera angles so the viewer could choose how he wants to watch a game. Also the technology is there to put tiny cameras in so many different places for unique angles. Not just a catcher’s camera or umpire cam, either. Imagine if such a miniature camera were on a baserunner’s helmet, baserunning cam, I’m all in. Instead, what we are getting is piped in fake crowd noise and virtual fans instead of giving us fascinating camera angles and mics galore that could pick up many of the little things that make it such an interesting game. Give us more nuance and less fake items like cardboard cutouts that look way too big or virtual fans doing the wave where it looks like an episode from The Simpsons. Bring the game home with a new variety of camera angles.

SURVIVAL MANAGEMENT: How bad of a train train wreck is it going to be watching Gabe Kapler manage the talent and fundamentally challenged Giants? In the first two games against the Dodgers, the Giants were outscored 17-2 and struck out 17 times. It could be worse, I guess – the Royals struck out 18 times in their season opener. The Giants committed five errors in those two games, looked to be in disarray in the field with their over-dramatic shifts, outfielders missing cutoff men, baserunners running the bases poorly. On defense, the Giants could not execute a simple run-down play. Kapler also lost a challenge on a play he never should have challenged in the first place and is using his bullpen in a more than questionable way. The Giants did win the third game of the series, hanging on for a 5-4 win as the Dodgers ran into four outs on the base paths, but Kapler is not naming starting pitchers sometimes until the day of the game, pulling out starters early and holding back lineups a bit. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts referred to some of Kapler’s moves as “gamesmanship.”

YO-YO: Yoenis Cespedes has a record that will never be broken, homering in three straight games over a lengthy time span that stretches back to May 13, 2018. Cespedes homered in that game against the Phillies, was out with more injuries and didn’t come back until July 20, 2018, when he homered against the Yankees and then had even more injuries and that fateful run-in with the legendary wild boar that destroyed any chance of returning for 2019, creating the long layoff and the opportunity to hit the game-winning home run on Opening Day against Atlanta, his first game back since that home run against the Yankees in 2018. That is more than two years in moth balls. Perhaps that’s why the Braves’ Chris Martin was thinking he could sneak a 93-mph fastball past Cespedes, who lives to crush fastballs.

Nothing is better than the Dads’ brown & mustard

PADRES ON FRIAR: Having spent 10 years in San Diego from 1988-97 it warms my heart to see the Padres wearing their old colors, and the return of the Swinging Friar patch, making the Padres Opening Day uniforms the best of the day. The Brewers came in second with their bright colors.

FISHING FOR SUCCESS: The rebuilding Marlins strength is their starting pitching that has been the game plan under Derek Jeter and his top aide Gary Denbo. Opening day pitcher Sandy Alcantara was impressive in the 5-2 win over the Phillies. Don Mattingly finally has a fighting chance as a manager. This was the Marlins first Opening Day win in six years. “This is the club that Derek and those guys talk about,” Mattingly said. “We want a club that is athletic, exciting and aggressive. We’re moving in that direction.”

The Marlins believe they could contend for a playoff spot in this watered down 16-team playoff race in 2020. We’ll see. They will not baby their starting pitchers and have them worked up to 100 pitches ahead of other teams and Alcantara, who came over from the Cardinals in the 2017 trade for Ozuna, has added a changeup to go along with his power sinker. He loves to induce double plays so much so that he has this tattoo on his left arm 6 + 4 + 3 = 2, that would be shortstop to second to first. He is not accounting for the third baseman being shifted to second base.

TOURNEY TIME: The best way to approach this 60-game season with a 16-team playoffs is to look at this short season as a giant WBC tournament. “This regular season is like an exhibition season, it’s not a season,” a former manager told BallNine. Managing will be more important than ever.

LINEUP QUESTION: Everyone loves the Rays but that Opening Day lineup with ex-Padres Manuel Margot batting fifth and Hunter Renfroe batting second (.293 lifetime OBP, strikes out 38 percent of the time) and Jose Martinez batting cleanup, may be a little short. The Rays are good at making adjustments and the next day with a much different lineup they rolled to a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Blue Jays. Manager Kevin Cash offered this honest assessment after the opener, saying, “Opening Day is exciting, I’m not going to sit here and lie to you guys and say it wasn’t weird. I’m talking to you on a screen right now and everybody is looking at me in masks and I had a mask on for nine innings. It’s weird, there’s no doubt about that but we’ll get used to it really quick.”

FLUID PINSTRIPES: There is no doubt Giancarlo Stanton is lighter and looser than in his recent past injury filled, muscled-up years. That is an adjustment Stanton had to make. Both Stanton and Aaron Judge appear to be locked in on fastballs and as I said in radio interviews and podcasts prior to the start of this season most hitters are not behind the pitching coming out of summer camp. The hitters caught up rapidly at the end of summer camp with the exhibition games. It’s also interesting to see players like the speedy Tyler Wade – old-school speed merchants – something every team should access more. The Yankees are built a little differently this year and that’s a very good thing. Teams will need to take that approach into the “MLB Classic” postseason. Most of all in their favor is that with the new playoff format, an ace like Gerrit Cole has never been more important. Winning that first game will be vital.

Leaner & meaner, Stanton is primed for another MVP season - photo: Men’s Health

FORGOTTEN FUNDIES: Let the record show that the first MLB runner gifted second base in extra innings – that terrible new rule introduced by Rob Manfred – was thrown out because he took a lazy secondary lead on a ball hit to first baseman Matt Olson. Bad execution. That runner, the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, who had made the last out in the ninth by striking out, was so late breaking and was such an easy out that he wound up in a rundown in the hopes the batter would hustle over to second – but that batter Jared Walsh never even tried. Such a fitting start to a rule that is supposed to help teams score. Even with help some teams can’t produce an extra-inning run. Olson won it in the bottom of the 10th for the A’s with a grand salami. The lesson here is that the runner at second base needs to create some action by being in action. You can’t just stand and watch the game even if you are gifted second base.

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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